Family Experiences

How to Give Experiences Instead of Gifts and Still Have the Best Christmas!

The Holidays are here and the mad dash for gifts has begun! This post will cover some awesome family experience gift ideas, and how to give trips instead of gifts WITHOUT losing all of the fun and magic that can come with Christmas. Keep reading and learn the top five ways to expertly give experiences instead of gifts so you can start now!

But First – Why Christmas Gift Experiences Might be Best

Here is the thing, everyone LOVES gifts. I mean let’s be honest. However, for me anyway, sometimes the stress of trying to figure out material gifts gets really stressful and I end up feeling like I am buying something for someone just for the sake of buying something. Between neighbor gifts, teachers, friends, family, and the like, my gifts get more and more thoughtless and more about just crossing off the person off my list. Sorry to my neighbor who I forgot and ended up just regifting the popcorn bucket. Totally not cool, totally not what Christmas is supposed to be about, but also, totally brutally honest.

We have been trying to figure out a way to still enjoy presents and all of the fun and wonderful things that come with the Christmas season BUT also simplify, save, and make things more intentional and meaningful. We have previously done a year with no gifts (you can read all about it here – A Year Without Presents) and we have also gone totally traditional before with the massive hoard of wrapped boxes under the tree. To expertly give experiences instead of gifts, it is nice to mix the two and meet somewhere in the middle. Let me explain how. 

Experiences over gifts for Christmas
Photo courtesy of Balsam Hill

Top Five Tips – How to Expertly Give Experiences Instead of Gifts

Of course, for us, these tips usually apply to trips, but these can apply to any sort of experience. Whether it be in your own backyard or across the globe. 

1. Be Meaningful and Intentional 

Pick experiences that are important to you and the person you would be giving them to. Think about what that person needs. For example, my little son Beckham LOVES to swim! I love to see him swim. I know that he loves his swimming lessons and that I also want to put him in more swimming lessons. So an example of an experience that I could give Beckham abroad would be a fun snorkeling excursion on a trip coming up. However, if I also know that I don’t have any big trips planned and it might not fit the budget, I could gift him some indoor swimming lessons. It is a total win! I am saving money in the long run (because I would probably buy those lessons anyway) yet, I am reframing my thinking as well as my son’s, that gifts don’t always need to be something physical. 

2. Set a Budget and Stick to It

Here is the fun thing with experiences. They are actually far more versatile in the budget than most tangible gifts. If a person loves to hike, you could give your time with them and plan a super fun hike for the spring at a nearby canyon that could be so inexpensive. OR, if the budget allows, you could fly to Kilimanjaro and hike it together. The best thing about experiential gifts is that they are simply just that… experiences. Some of my favorite gifts I have ever given AND received have been low cost and far more meaningful because of the experience that followed. If you need to save a little bit of money, experiences instead of things can be amazing. The trick here is to know how much you CAN spend and stay under it. Look for ways that you can give of your time and love.   

3. Mix A Traditional Gift with An Experience

Sometimes the idea of not having a plethora of gifts under the tree to open up on Christmas morning is weirdly scary and overwhelming because that is what we have grown up with. Switching up the status quo and trying something new can be frightening, especially when you might not be sure how your children or loved ones will react. So a good way to ease into gifting experiences is to gift something tangible that relates to the experience. If your family likes to game together, you could set up and plan a big family Mario Kart weekend competition and a tangible gift could be the game system or the game itself. We want to take our kids to Disneyland this next year, so we are going to have them each open up a small stuffed animal or toy that represents our trip. This step is more about reframing your thinking and making sure that experiences are meaningful and tied to what is important to your family. 

4. Communicate With Your Loved Ones

If you are worried that your loved ones might not be so keen on your idea of gifting experiences instead of material things, communicate. Tell them WHY you love to spend time with them. WHY making memories with them is important. A few birthdays ago I looked at Beckham and his toy room and said to him “Little dude, you have so many toys. Let’s think of some things we would like to DO TOGETHER instead of new toys to buy.”  He was all for it, and we ended up at a little fun painting class together. It was cheaper AND more meaningful. If you have been dying to take that dream trip but know that it is a little pricey, maybe consider asking your family if they would be okay putting the money that they would have spent on gifts for each other into the trip budget instead

5. Follow Through

This is sometimes the hardest AND the most fun part of gifting experiences. If you are going to gift experiences and try to make memories with your loved ones. DO IT! Don’t gift an experience but then not follow through. Go out, take that trip, do the things you want to do! Make the most of it and enjoy the time you get to spend with that person. It is a perfect way and excuse to carve out alone time with your children, parents, friends, significant others or siblings. After all, the whole initial purpose of giving a gift is to show love and care for someone – SO DO IT! 

experience gift ideas
Photo courtesy of

Some Super Awesome Christmas Experience Gift Ideas 

  • Take a trip together!
  • Plan a fun little weekend staycation.
  • Gift lessons or something that the person is wanting or needing (could be piano, swimming, painting, skiing, etc.). 
  • Plan a special “date” with the receiver. Take them to their favorite place, do their favorite things.
  • Be brave and learn something new with the gift receiver! Have you both been saying you have wanted to rock climb? Go take a class and do it!
  • Go for adrenaline! Do something that neither of you will ever forget. Bungee jump, skydive, go-cart race, or go ride some big roller coasters! 
  • Plan a fun family competition. Stay inside and get a whole bunch of fun board games and have a board game night or weekend. 
  • Read a book together. Give a book to your child that you want to read with them. You could take the whole next year and read a whole series if you wanted. 
  • Gift service. Is there something that the person really needs? Do your parent’s bushes need to be trimmed? Can you help take their Christmas lights down for them? Help them! 
  • Have a sled wrapped under the tree and plan a fun sledding experience with your kiddos.
  • Is there someone on your list who loves music?  Buy concert tickets to see their favorite artist. Consider opera tickets, symphony tickets or play tickets!
  • Do you have a sports lover in the family?  What about gifting tickets to a fun sporting event?
  • Everyone loves a good movie.  A gift card for dinner and then movie tickets would be a fun family outing.
  • A big fluffy blanket for cuddling up on the couch and having a weekend NetFlix binge could be great and something to look forward to.

Honestly, the possibilities are endless. I promise with a little time and intentional thought you can save money, and really focus on one of the most important parts of Christmas  – your loved ones. 

So get thinking, and start making those memories now! 

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Happy Christmas!




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