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Giving the Gift of Experiences

By, Sarah Currie-Halpern, Co-Founder and Partner, Think Zero LLC

The holiday season is upon us! During this time of year, most of us feel compelled to buy lots of gifts for our loved ones, friends, colleagues or whomever, as that feeling of giving them a physical object feels both giving as well as fulfilling. But would you feel the same way if you knew that your recipient likely won’t actually use or like your gift? Americans spent around $15.2 billion on unwanted holiday gifts in 2019, and 4% of them ended up in the trash, according to a survey by and Pureprofile. It's time we upend this annual tradition of 1) Guessing what our recipient wants and assuming they need something (many people don’t actually need anything) 2) Buying a NEW item in the hopes that our recipient will need/want it 3) Buying gift wrap to wrap said item 4) Item is opened, gift wrap is trashed, thanks are given, and moments later it's all forgotten. Chances are that our recipient returns the item, it sits around in their house unused, or worse they throw it in the trash shortly thereafter. Returns are environmentally problematic too, according to Discover Magazine, “[the returns] shipping process emits around 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, and e-commerce returns produce 14% more waste than in-store ones, according to research by reverse-logistics company Optoro and Environmental Capital Group. What’s more, 5.8 billion pounds of returned inventory ends up in a landfill each year.” 

How do we get out of this vicious cycle? My answer is give nothing at all, or give the gift of experiences rather than stuff. Gift recipients are so much more likely to appreciate an experience because chances are you know the recipient and you know what kind of experience they would like. Many people are also stuck in the daily or weekly grind of life and don't get out enough to treat themselves or to have fun. Giving them an experience is giving them a happy, healthy excuse to get out and enjoy life!!

I categorize experiential gifts into a couple of basic categories:

  1. Adult personal experiences

  2. Adult group experiences

  3. Kids experiences

Adult Personal Experiences These experiential gifts are ones you give with the intention of your gift recipient experiencing on their own. Generally, but not always, these gifts are meant to treat them to some rest and relaxation, or in some cases, personal entertainment or enjoyment. These are my favorite gifts to receive! Every year my Mom gives me a gift certificate to a spa for my birthday and it’s the best gift to take some time off to enjoy a spa treatment. Some Ideas for gifts in this category include:

  • Spa, gym, yoga, Pilates, or climbing class gift certificates

  • Beauty or grooming gift certificates

  • Tickets to visit an art show or museum

  • Seasonal or annual pass to a local or national park

Adult Group Experiences These experiential gifts are ones you give with the intention of your recipient experiencing with you, their spouse or partner, or another group such as family or friends. What a great bonus after the holiday season to look forward to an experience together!

Ideas for gifts in this category include:

  • Concerts tickets

  • Movie tickets

  • Theme park tickets

  • The gift of a weekend away together

  • Taking them out for dinner

  • Taking them out for a game of golf or a sporting event

Kids Experiences Don’t think for a second that kids can’t enjoy an experiential gift, because trust me, they do! A few years ago my sister and I agreed to give each other’s kids an experience every Christmas that we can all do together instead of stuff. We have since been to all sorts of trampoline parks, children’s museums, theme parks, and arcades and it’s some of our best memories together! Even better, we have taught our kids that holidays are not about how many material items you GET but instead they are about the fun memories we make TOGETHER. Other ideas for gifts in this category include:

  • Zoo, children's museum or water park tickets

  • Movie tickets to a much-anticipated kids movie

  • Plan a visit to a working farm or horseback riding lessons

  • Tickets to see a favorite performer or kids' band

  • Gift certificate to a restaurant that's fund for kids or Chuck E. Cheese

  • Gift certificate to get a manicure and pedicure together (my girl's love a nail salon date!!)

I hope you found this blog post inspiring! I challenge you to get at least one experiential gift for all the people in your life you are buying gifts for this holiday season. Trust me, they will be all the more excited and grateful for it! Want to share some Zero Waste ideas? Reach out to me anytime at

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