Allow me to make the case for why experience gifts or travel experiences are better than material things.
Science says experiences are better
Science is definitely on my side. A recent study by researchers at San Francisco State University showed people “enjoy greater well-being from life experiences and consider them to be a better use of money.” Additionally, Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University found that overall happiness with material and experiential purchases is approximately equal at the time of receipt, but the overall satisfaction with material things bought goes down over time, whereas satisfaction with the experiences they had actually increased.
Millennials are leading the way when it comes to this trend. Harris Group recently found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material things. Your social media news feed is no doubt awash with people’s pictures of concerts, adrenaline-fueled adventures, 5k races, and food experiences. More and more, people are placing value in meaningful experiences as a demonstration of self-fulfilment. Just search for any travel-related hashtag for further proof.
Experience gifts are WAY more special
More often than not, you’re not choosing a gift for “most people.” You’re shopping for someone you love and care about, a person with real interests and passions. Most people don’t really care how much you spend on them, and much prefer a gift from the heart.
Two American travel-mad friends of mine recently got married, and rather than give them a nice shiny new blender or a set of homely cups, some mutual friends and I got together and chipped in towards entry passes for all of the United States’ National Parks. We know their nomadic spirits would put the passes to good use, and provide a year’s worth of powerful memories far more stirring than new duvet or toaster ever would.
Experiences last longer
The obnoxiously loveable Tom Haverford, Aziz Ansari’s character in popular sitcom Parks & Recreation once proclaimed: “Love fades away, but things? Things last forever.” Sorry Tom but you’re dead wrong! Stuff, things, possessions, they all fade away. Every single one.
I honestly don’t remember what I received for Christmas beyond last year. But I palpably remember the time my dad took me to see my favourite band play for the first time, and I smile every time I think about the weekend my college friends and I drove through the night to spend Comic-Con weekend in San Diego. Stuff fades, but experiences and memories only grow sweeter with time. Even the miserable experiences and unforeseen happenstances eventually turn into stories of laughter, even if they felt cringe-worthy at the time.
All my Mum ever wants for Christmas every year is a surprise. Literally, that’s it. So the competition each year becomes, who can surprise my Mum. The surprise doesn’t have to cost much money, in fact, some of the best haven’t cost us a penny! To this day, the all-time number one on the leader board of Mum’s Christmas surprises was the time my Dad saved up and surprised her with a weekend in Paris. To this day she revels in the memory of the little cafes, the exquisite art and the memories firmly fixed in her soul forever. Nice work Dad.
Experiences build relationships
Hopefully pretty much all of us have memories of holiday fun with loved ones, gathered around fireplaces singing and playing games, sharing meals and exchanging gifts. But what happens when holiday social bonanzas fade back into boring old work routines and lacklustre small talk? Sure Christmas and birthday celebrations may have brought some shiny gadgets into your life, but giving and receiving experiences can almost always prolong and even turbo-charge your relationships with those who accompany you on said adventures.
Why not whisk your loved one away for a (surprisingly affordable) weekend city break in beautiful Lisbon, historic Berlin, or even somewhere adventurous but closer to home? The bonds you form while travelling and experiencing the world with those you care about will make everyone involved far happier than any snazzy material thing.
Most material gifts received around the holidays are mostly only useful to those receiving said gift. They are largely solitary, whereas most experiences, especially when chosen with care are not only shareable, but actually are maximised by experiencing them with other people.
Do’s and Don’ts of gifting experiences
DO put the time in. Thoughtful gifts take time to plan, and no one wants a last minute bargain bin snag.
DON’T overthink it. There are a million different things that would make your loved ones happy. The most important thing is that they see how much you care. Take the time to plan but when you find something great, don’t second guess yourself.
DO try and understand what sort of traveller they are. Some people love city breaks, and others prefer adventure travel.
DON’T overdo it. You can have amazing experiences and adventures in your own country, so don’t feel like your loved ones will ONLY want a bank-breaking round the world trip. Obvs I’m sure they wouldn’t complain though 😉
DO pick something they can do with someone else. Any questions, just scroll up a little.
DON’T regret investing in experiential gifts. While you might not be giving them something shinny and fun to actually hold in their hands on Christmas morning, you’re giving them a lifetime of memories.
Examples from the travel community
Finally, a few examples to prove my point and warm your soul. We recently chatted with a few expert wanderers about the best experience gifts they ever received:
“As far as gifts go, tickets to canoe the Goulbourn River and afternoon tea in the Glass House Mountains were unbeatable. Being serial beach addicts we would never normally have ventured into mainland Australia having hugged the east coast for the majority of our 9000 km journey in our spring chicken of a camper, but these gift experiences were so worth it. We spent hours cruising along the river with nothing but nature between us and the rest of the world, coming across koalas and echidnas but luckily no crocs! Whilst tea and cakes might not seem exciting we assure you that driving a vehicle bigger than a hatchback for the first time in your life along the edge of a mountain was exhilarating! Let alone the incredible views we got at the end of it!
“The trainers have since been forgotten on a sleeper bus, the jacket torn to shreds from an adventurous midnight volcano climb and the book gathering dust, yet our memories of singing the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ theme tune canoeing up the Goulbourn in Eastern Australia will live with us forever.” – KH Travels
“I went bungee jumping with my dad in the South of France and it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. The view from the top of the bridge was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, at least in part because I feared for my life. My jump was described by my brother as “one of the most undignified jumps” he’d ever seen, and the fact my whole family were there to laugh/take the piss was even more special. It sticks in my memory much more than any material present ever could, and I’m glad I was able to share this experience with my dad.” – Emma
“Some of the best gifts I’ve ever been given are travel experiences and not things. Once upon a time a boyfriend whisked me off to Rome. He wrapped a guidebook up and laughed at my confused face as I opened it. He’d sneakily rung my boss and booked me time off work and we spent a long weekend exploring the ancient city. It gave me new insights and experiences I’d never have dreamed of. The following year he gave me… well I can’t remember as it was a thing and not an experience.” – Johanna
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