Travelers notebook

With the holidays approaching, many of us are focused on — or even stressing about — what stuff to buy our loved ones and friends. But more studies show that experiences bring people more happiness and excitement than do possessions. So why not put this research into practice? Instead of buying the traveler in your life more stuff this holiday season, give the gift of a travel experience instead.

Here are five gift experience ideas to help you get started.

1. Cooking Course

One of the best ways we’ve found to go deeper in the understanding of a place is by getting our hands dirty and learning how to cook its food. The history and culture of the cuisine will emerge from the recipes and through the communication of traditions around the dishes. Often, cooking courses will begin at a local fresh market so participants have a chance to learn about the ingredients and specialties directly from vendors and producers. Eating the final product — the icing on the cake.

Inspiration: Afar has put together a list of top cooking courses from around the world and here are other cooking course suggestions from Travel+Leisure, The Daily Meal, and CNN Travel.

Cooking school students
Image courtesy of kattebelletje

2. Walking (or Biking) City Tour

When we first arrive in a new city these days, we often take a walking or biking tour on our first day to help orient us as to the history, layout, and culture of the city. Usually the guides are a wealth of information, not only about what to see in the city, but where to eat, drink, and seek out further points of interest and experiences. In addition to general tours, there are also topic-specific tours available that meet just about anyone’s area of interest, from street art to photography.

Inspiration: Context Travel offers in-depth cultural walking tours while Vayable offers a wide range of city tours covering specific topics.

City walking tour
Image courtesy of SPUR

3. Home-Cooked Meal in a Local Resident’s Home

Food is a great connector; it can quickly bring people together from very different backgrounds and build new friendships. Eating at local restaurants is great — but what about the opportunity to eat in a local person’s home? This not only guarantees a home-cooked meal, but also a local connection that provides another personal window onto the place you are visiting and allows you to dig a little more deeply into its essence.

Inspiration: You can book meals in the homes of local residents by visiting websites such as EatWith and MealSharing.

Harvest Ragoût-Filled Zucchini
Harvest Ragoût-Filled Zucchini — Image courtesy of Sarah R

4. City and Museum Cards

Many cities offer one-, three-, or five-day city cards that carry free or discounted entry to museums, attractions, and special events. Many of these city cards also include a big plus: free access to public transport. This feature alone often opens up the city in so many ways as it enables a visitor to explore all corners of the destination on the ground — and drop into museums on a whim without worrying about blowing the travel budget.

Inspiration: City Pass offers discount cards to many cities in North America while We Love City Cards connects you to discount cards in Europe.

5. Boat Trip or City Cruise

Sometimes the best — and most relaxing — way to experience a destination is from the deck of a boat. There is no traffic to disturb you and exploring a place by boat provides a different perspective on the architecture, flow, and atmosphere of a place. For a splurge, choose an dinner cruise — perhaps with live music — and enjoy an evening on the water.

Inspiration: Viator offers boat tour and city cruise options in locations around the world.

Harbour Cruise
Image courtesy of John Bostock

At this point, you might be sold on the idea of gifting a travel experience for the holidays, but don’t know how to arrange it.

If you know the travel plans of the gift recipient, it’s a bit easier. You could start with one of the websites listed above and look for a good experience match for that destination. Another option: Get on your favorite search engine and enter the destination name with the type of experience you’d like to give. You can sift through the quality of options by looking for customer reviews on the company website or on trip review sites like TripAdvisor.

If you don’t know person’s travel plans, consider purchasing a more open general gift certificate from a company that offers a variety of experiences in destinations around the world. Then, next time your favorite traveler plans a trip, she can choose which type of experience would be the best fit and let the travel dreaming begin.

And here’s the bonus nugget: As you search for travel experiences to gift, you might be so inspired that you decide to book a trip yourself.

Feature image courtesy of Thomas Huang

Editor’s note: Originally published on December 16, 2014, this article was updated in November 2018. 

By Audrey Scott

Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll are writers, speakers, consultants, and digital storytellers. By combining storytelling techniques, content strategies and social media platforms, they help clients market sustainable tourism in a jargon-free way. They run one of the world’s top travel blogs, Uncornered Market, that has shared stories from their journey around the world these last seven years. After visiting over 85 countries together, they are still going…and still married.