It’s no secret that we’re big fans of experiences. And this holiday season, we encourage you to give them without hesitation—you might just change someone’s life (or at the very least, their weekend.)
In this strange season of rampant consumerism, it can be easy to forget that experiences have been scientifically proven to bring us longer-lasting benefits than stuff.
After all, a new travel neck pillow is nice, but it isn’t going to change your life (but if you’ve found one that has, let us know). That’s why you always hear people referring to their “life-changing experience” and never their “life-changing travel neck pillow.”
So instead of buying material goods, consider gifting your loved ones a private cooking class via Skype with a Michelin-starred chef from Singapore, or a wilderness survival course, or even a mystery flight. Here are our editors’ top picks for experiences to gift this holiday season.
Getaway House tiny cabins
We all have those friends who like to just get up and leave. And now, thanks to Getaway House, you can gift them an escape that’s all about rediscovering the pleasure of nature, solitude, and unstructured time. The innovative travel company has built a range of fully-equipped tiny cabins across the US (you can currently “escape” from New York, Washington, DC, and Boston), the focus being on getting away from it all, unwinding, and living simply. You won’t find WiFi near these tiny cabins and there’s even a lockbox for your phone. Best part? The exact location is kept a secret until shortly before your trip, but all the cabins are within a two-hour drive of a major city.
Urban Adventures ‘Made In’ tours
Day-trip specialists Urban Adventures may be able to help your souvenir-obsessed friends with their new range of ‘Made In’ tours. Designed to showcase the very best of urban craftsmanship from around the world, these tours are led by a local guide that will lead you off the well-trodden tourist track and into the lives (and shops) of local artisans.
Think getting inked at a 700-year-old tattoo shop in Jerusalem, nabbing handmade Amish furniture in rural Philadelphia, scoring new threads from a Hungarian designer, or learning the shopping secrets of Marrakech’s medina. Any souvenir on these tours comes complete with a story, and helps support small local businesses that might not be on most travelers’ radars.
The Chef & The Dish private cooking class
Technology is a wonderful thing, and ‘The Chef & The Dish Kitchen to Kitchen’ experience—a product that allows you to beam the cooking expertise and guidance of highly-decorated chefs from all over the world straight into your kitchen—is no exception.
RELATED: Gifts for every type of adventurer
The service enables you to Skype chefs from Italy, Japan, New Orleans, Spain and beyond—chefs that have been featured on TV shows and worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, with classes for beginners, bakers, pros, pasta-lovers, and even kids. The best part? You’ll still get to be the guest of honor at the dinner table.
Visit.org travel experiences
You know what’s better than doing things? Doing things you know are helping the world—or other people. That’s what Visit.org is all about. From hiking in northern Vietnam and uncovering the culture of Barcelona to a river cruise in Bangladesh and whale-watching in Ireland, 100 per cent of the revenue from every single booking is donated to a local cause or charity. You can ‘book by cause’, too, so you can find a trip that’s right for both you and your conscience. Visit.org’s gift cards make their trips an ideal (and easy!) option for this gift-giving season.
US National Parks pass
An annual National Parks pass is a sure-fire winner for the nature lover in your life. For the measly sum of $80—which goes towards park maintenance, improvements, and restoration—the holder of the pass and up to three adults traveling in the same vehicle will have access to all of the United States’ National Parks for a whole 12 months. That’s 12 months to see 58 National Parks, or 4.83 (recurring) National Parks a month—from Yosemite to Zion, Buffalo to Bryce Canyon and beyond. Do you know someone up to the challenge? Sure you do.
Whether the adventurer in your life thinks the end of the world is nigh or simply wants to get back in touch with their primal instincts, a survival course has much to offer. From building shelters and navigation lessons to sourcing food and collecting water in the wilderness, these experiences are an education and an awesome outdoors experience all rolled into one.
Most companies in the US, UK and Australia offer trips ranging from a few hours to a few days. You can even gift someone week-long survival and wilderness experiences—if you think they’re up for it—but either way, there’s a course for the wannabe weekend survivalist on your list.
One key difference between Airbnb’s Experiences and other locally-led tours? Your guides or hosts will not be trained tour guides—they’re merely local experts offering personal experiences. So whether you go cycling in Miami, singing in Havana, or caving in Nairobi, you’re doing it under the wing of a local-in-the-know. Airbnb just launched experiences in Hawaii—where you can learn how to hula from a revered Kumu or ‘talk story’ with a local farmer in Kauai. You can also give a true feelgood gift with one of Airbnb’s social impact experiences where 100 per cent of proceeds goes directly to the organization. Our favorite? Surf with a purpose in Capetown—where the surf lesson you buy funds teaching surfing as a form of therapy to abused youth in the area.
And Airbnb have made it even easier to gift their Experiences with the introduction of their gift cards (currently only available to US residents).
Museum Hack tours
Visiting museums is great. Hacking museums is arguably better. Leader of “unconventional tours of the world’s best museums,” Museum Hack does just that. These guided tours give culture vultures a behind-the-art tour complete with some of the strangest, wildest ‘insider’ stories not normally told on a standard visit.
That could mean taking an Un-Highlights tour at Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art or discovering the ‘Badass Bitches of the Met’, the women making waves in the art world, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Or maybe you fancy donning the Sorting Hat for a Harry Potter-inspired mini-tour at San Francisco’s de Young Fine Arts Museum. And because they lead only small groups, each tour can be tailored to your personal tastes.
Online photography classes
For those friends or family on your list who want to take their travel snaps to the next level, an online photography course is a perfect gift. Creativelive offer a whole host of courses, from fine art landscape photography to photographic storytelling, post-processing for travel photographers, and a complete, all-encompassing guide to travel photography. Once purchased, courses are available from desktop and mobile, for a lifetime, and can even be streamed offline. Classes are taught by current industry professionals and even come with a 100 per cent satisfaction guarantee.
A mystery flight
What better way to tickle the travelbug of your serendipity-seeking loved one that by sending them somewhere completely random? That’s the idea behind mystery flights—you simply choose your budget, fill out a quick survey, pay your money, and let the destination be a surprise.
US-based “surprise travel agency” Pack Up + Go has earned a fantastic reputation for flinging fearless travelers out into the great wide question mark (they offer gift cards, too), while Australians can book mystery flights through Virgin Australia and UK adventure-seekers can get their mystery fix in Europe with Mystery Break (which also offers gift vouchers). What better way to broaden your horizons than to have absolutely no say in where you end up?
Everest VR is a cutting-edge virtual reality experience that seeks to simulate what it would actually be like to climb Mount Everest. The experience is compatible with a range of VR headsets (Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, Samsung Gear, etc.), and while it’s obviously not a patch on the real thing (and takes nowhere near as long to complete!) the simulation is designed to educate people on the topography, history and wildlife of Everest, and provide a feast for the eyes in the process. All VR experiences require a VR headset.
Private travel experiences
For those hard-to-buy-for traveler types, these travel experiences from Tinggly might hit the spot. They cover around 100 countries, so it could be a private tour to a brewery in Austin, Texas, stargazing in Egypt, a gelato making course in Italy, or volcano boarding in Nicaragua. You can buy gift vouchers of varying values, and each voucher is valid for two years—so plenty of time to choose one of the 500-plus experiences on their site.
Need more ideas? Check out our gift guide for every type of adventurer, each one handpicked by our editors.
Hailing from all across the globe, Adventure.com's team of editors are on the pulse of adventure news and travel trends, bringing you the latest developments and strange, interesting and peculiar happenings from around the world.