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For my niece’s fourth Birthday, we gave her swimming lessons! I thought it might be helpful to share how I did this because giving experience gifts can be more difficult to give than physical gifts. This post is going to cover four ways that you can give experiences as gifts.
I originally started coming up with reasons that experiences make good gifts. However, I realized that since people in general have become less materialistic, it’s not that I need to sell it as an idea. It’s that we (including me) need ways to present these experiences. With that being said, if I know for sure the recipient prefers physical items then I do prefer to buy them something. It really is about the other person and I try, keyword: try, my best to keep gift giving as low stress as possible.
1. Make a physical ticket or certificate.
We live in a world where we are not given physical tickets to board planes, or enter theme parks and event venues. In the case of my Niece’s swim classes, it’s a matter of my Sister scheduling the lessons and me paying for them. To make it more tangible for a 4 year-old, I created this fun certificate to represent the swim lessons.
The certificate I made is mermaid themed and can really be used to represent all kinds of aquatic experiences including swim lessons, a trip to the beach, pool, water park or even an aquarium. I left the fields blank so that you can fill them in with what works best for you. If you print it out and use it, please share it with me because I would love to see how people are able to use this certificate.
The certificate is a PDF attachment and free to print and use as you please.
Here are some other ideas for physical tickets or certificates to represent experience gifts:
-Boarding Passes for a surprise trip
-Theme Park Tickets
-Event Tickets e.g. Concerts, Comedians, Theatre Performances
-Gift Certificates to represent Bowling, Ice Skating, Roller Skating, Arcades, Laser Tag or any fun activity
This is a really great way to get creative! You can make it digitally or as an arts and craft project. If you get kids involved, it can become a thoughtful keepsake for family members.
2. Pair the experience with a physical gift
At the end of the day, the swim lessons were more of a gift for her Mom/my Sister, because I think that the best way to show support to children is to show support to their parents. Hopefully one day she will appreciate them too, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon 😆. We explained to my niece over the phone that her Uncle and I wanted to send her to swim lessons so that we could all go swimming together someday, however, I think the physical part of the gift made it easier for her to understand and got her excited about going swimming. Now, she really enjoys going to the classes and it has turned into one of the best gifts we have given!
I wrapped up a swimsuit, coverup, pool toy and beach ball in this personalized beach towel. I tied it up with a ribbon and stuck some water balloons, the certificate and card underneath the bow. My sister knows that my Mom was a big fan of water balloons so that was also a sentimental touch. Between the water balloons and the untraditional wrapping, my Niece seemed pretty excited to see what was inside!
I wish I would have actually taken a picture of the bundle but I was so excited to send it out that I didn't think of doing that; it looked super cute though!
Also, I apologize that I don't have links for the goodies I included. It took me so long to write this that the stuff I bought at Target is no longer being sold there and the other stuff I got from TJ Maxx. When it comes to the water balloons though, I got you!
Here are some other ideas for physical gifts to represent experience gifts:
-A coffee mug or coffee beans to represent a coffee date
Obviously, I want to give a shoutout to the mugs I design and sell on here. I think they make fabulous choices. Just a few of my faves that aren't specific to any holiday...
-A souvenir to represent a Disney or theme park trip. Side note: I live in Orlando, FL so Disney and Universal are always top of my mind for experiences. I realize many people don’t have access to that level of experience where they live.
-Hiking boots for a camping trip
-Snow gear for skiing or snowboarding
-Sled for sledding
-A shirt or hat for a sporting event
Pairing the experience with a physical gift can also be really helpful to the recipient if there are some necessary items that are needed to enjoy the experience. This is often the case for outdoor activities.
As someone who lives in Orlando, I own practically no cold weather items. You may be surprised to know that many Floridians don’t even think of hats and gloves when going to a colder climate. If you're on the opposite end of the spectrum and need some help surviving the Florida heat in the summer, these cooling towels are a game changer! So by providing essentials like these as part of the gift, you can actually maximize the enjoyment of the experience.
3. Give a card and/or write a letter
One of my Mom’s favorite stores was Papyrus. It was a gift store that specialized in beautiful, high quality and handmade cards. I gave her gift cards to Papyrus, and she always enjoyed the experience of picking out cards to give to others.
Even though Papyrus no longer has physical locations, you can still find their cards on Amazon and at stores like Target. The cards that my Mom gave me are now keepsakes that provide wonderful memories of her.
I think a card or letter can be a great way to explain the experience. Especially if your intention for the experience is to spend quality time with the recipient.
Here are some other cards (all from Papyrus) that you can incorporate with an experience gift:
-This adventure themed wedding card is a wonderful way to contribute towards the couple's honeymoon fund. Tuck some cash, a check or gift card inside and tell them how happy you are to contribute towards their adventures! You can even be more intentional and say that you want them to have a nice dinner together, enjoy a couple's massage or go sightseeing at a fun new place!
-This card that says,"Three cheers for your birthday? I thought you said free beers" is such a fun way to tell someone that you would like to take them to a brewery or place of their choosing to share some drinks!
-I definitely wanted to include an option for an experience gift to a griever. This heartfelt sympathy card is a thoughtful way to offer your condolences and let the griever know that you are there to support them. Many people don't know what to say or how to offer support to someone experiencing a loss. A good card can help you find the words to say, and provide a space for you to offer to support. It is also a helpful way for you to communicate how you can offer an act of service such as helping with yard work, cleaning and meal prep.
From personal experience, I think this is perhaps one of the most meaningful gifts you can offer someone. I will always remember the few people who offered their support when I lost my Mom
4. Give a gift card
Some people say that giving a gift card is playing the lazy game, but I truly believe gift cards make very thoughtful gifts. It shows that you know what the person really likes. I personally love giving and receiving gift cards. They can allow you to financially contribute to an experience with intention, but without limitations on when and how it is used.
Gift cards are really great when you don't live close enough to give them a gift in person. My sister lives in Colorado and there are a lot of times that the cost to mail a package is more expensive than the gift itself. So I'm very thankful that she appreciates a thoughtful gift card as well!
Here are some ideas for gift cards that can represent experiences:
-Restaurant gift card or a gift card to a restaurant group gives them options
-Disney gift cards can be used for tickets, food, merch, pretty much for anything on property. Many other theme park gift cards work the same way.
-Southwest gift card to contribute towards air travel
-Gift card to a favorite store. I think we can all think of at least one person who considers a trip to Target to be a world-class experience.
As you can see, there is a lot of overlap with these ideas. I did both ideas 1 and 2 for my Niece's Birthday gift. For a recent gift, I combined a Starbucks gift card (idea 4) with a Birthday greeting card (idea 3).
A really great example that I would love to share is my engagement proposal story! My husband proposed to me on Christmas night at the Gaylord Palms ICE! when they had the Peanuts theme (Peanuts characters as ice sculptures.) This was such a magical experience and a total surprise. He made physical tickets and gave them to me as a present on Christmas morning along with some Peanuts themed gifts like a Snoopy ornament. We now have a tradition where we give each other Snoopy ornaments at Christmas!
He also got others involved because my Mom gave me a Snoopy day calendar, and my now Sister-in-law gave me a Snoopy pillow that Christmas. I thought the tickets to ICE! was the big experience gift, so I was totally surprised when he got down on one knee at the end. The physical tickets along with the physical gifts are all now mementos from one of the best experiences of my life!
At the end of the day, the most important takeaway is that moments are more important than things. A lot of sentimental things and pictures that I had gotten from my Mom were stolen, and the memories of the time I have with her are really the most valuable possessions I have to remind me of her.
I wish I had taken time to think of ways to incorporate more experiences into the gifts that I gave her. She was the real OG of experience gift giving, and I don't think I truly understood what she was trying to teach me and the reasoning until she was gone. Now that I truly understand that every day is a gift, I want to honor her memory by sharing these experience gift ideas with others. I hope you are able to take some inspiration from this post and create valuable memories with those you love!
Mom and me at the Hard Rock Casino. This was an experience gift for her to celebrate Mother's and Father's Day. It was a great time! The picture with MJ was my idea 😁