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Guide to Gifting Travel Experiences this Holiday Season

Becky Hart | Feb 14, 2023

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Paddle boarding  during the holidays in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The holidays are here, and once again, evenings are spent hunched over a laptop, clicking between my gift list, my budget spreadsheet, and roughly 40 different browser tabs. As celebrations draw closer, gift-giving begins feeling less like an expression of generosity and more like a full-time job.

After another fruitless evening online shopping, it occurred to me: in a holiday season that is increasingly centered on things, why not give the gift of travel instead?

Why Are Experience Gifts Better?

Travel is (in our humble opinion) one of the best gift experiences you can give. Experience gifts have become increasingly popular in recent years as we re-evaluate what’s important in our lives and how we want to spend our time and money.

Best of all, travel is a gift that will last well beyond the holiday season. Plenty of research and reporting supports the adage that we should “spend money on experiences, not things.” For most people, a physical gift can bring temporary joy, but an engaging experience can be treasured for far longer. By giving travel instead of a trinket, you are offering something that can be anticipated in the present, enjoyed in the moment, and remembered fondly in the future.

Like a Christmas sweater or a new pair of shoes, travel can come in a variety of styles. You might spring for something grand, like surprising your partner with a trip to Europe, or you could stick with something budget-savvy, like creating a group vacation fund with a few close friends. No matter your preference or financial situation, the gift of travel is bound to bring holiday cheer.

And unlike a standard-issue stocking stuffer, travel plans offer multiple gifts in one. Let’s unwrap why gift experiences are better and the top picks for what to get someone who wants an experience.

Group of friends eating together in German gastropub.

The Gift of Quality Time

Everyone is busy. Work obligations, jam-packed schedules, and prior commitments can get in the way of even the closest relationships. Why wait for the next holiday season before getting back together with your friends or family? When you give someone the gift of travel, you are offering a chance to step away from the daily grind and spend time with the person — or people — who matter most.

1. Weekend in with your besties

Book a group Airbnb in a neighboring city for you and your friends. Explore your new surroundings, or stock up on food and drinks, set out some board games, stream some movies, and just enjoy a weekend in each other’s company.

2. Mountain getaway

Take the family to the mountains, a national or state park, or other outdoor recreational site. The chance to unplug from technology and the daily grind could be exactly what you need to reconnect and spend quality time with each other.

3. Super staycation

When sites are close by, we tend to not visit because “we can go there any time." All too easily, “someday” turns into “never.” This is the time to explore a popular museum or attraction right in your own town, connecting with the people you adore.

Making fresh fettuccine pasta in an Italian market.

The Gift of New Discoveries

Travel gives groups the chance to try something new together. Learning is an exciting process, but it is also a vulnerable one. There’s always something new to discover, not just about your destination, but about your travel companions as well. When you’re on the road, even the people you know best can surprise you.

1. Tasteful travels

Food is an important part of understanding the local flavor (yes, we said it). From learning how to make pasta at an Italian villa to how to debone a chicken or getting one-on-one lessons from global grandmas at this Staten Island, N.Y., restaurant, spending time with others in the kitchen is a great way to discover new talents and tastes.

2. New kind of Insta-worthy snaps

Create a scavenger hunt where everyone in your party has to return at the end of the day with photographic evidence of the items on a list.

Keep the list fairly general so you don’t limit the discoveries. “Yellow flower” could get you a beautiful picture of a newly bloomed daffodil or an adorable baby in a little flowered romper. “A smile” could result in a dental ad found at a bus stop or a selfie of your teen at their new favorite site. What else could everyone come up with for items like “funky food,” “a toy,” or “paper”? You get the idea.

3. Dance party

You might have two left feet, but your traveling companion might have a calling they’d never known about if you didn’t take them a flamenco/samba/waltz/Bharatanatyam class. Remember to be culturally sensitive when learning a new style of dance, but don’t be afraid to also laugh at your missteps and enjoy the experience.

4. Showtime

Like food, song, dance, and other forms of artistic expression can be the gateway to new perspectives. Seek out exhibitions by traveling artists coming to your own area, or look for a traditional show in a destination with a different culture than your own. Check out local theaters, dance and ballet companies, art museums — some have performance art as well as paintings — or those clubs that seem to spring up out of nowhere when the sun goes down.

Spiritual awakening camp on the beach.

The Gift of Wellness

It's easier than ever to find effortless entertainment, but there’s a great big world just beyond your screen. The gift of travel demands an increased sense of mindfulness, especially in a new destination, and provides refreshing opportunities for wellness. When you’re out exploring the physical world, you are forced to put the digital world — with its emails, texts, and push notifications — on hold.

1. Spa with a twist

You could gift your loved one a trip to the local spa, but what about something a little more unusual? It could be a seaweed bath in Ireland or a Vietnamese mud bath. If you’re looking for gift ideas for us, we’ll skip the snake massage and opt for a chocolate body wrap instead.

2. Wet and (maybe) wild

Water has many healthful properties, even if you don't just drink it. There’s a reason all those meditation apps use ocean and rain sounds. Water is calming. Take your loved one to the beach or out on the lake to relax in the natural sounds and gentle waves.

For those looking for more active wellness travel, learn a new water sport like eFoil or standup paddleboarding.

3. Solo travel treats

Many of our recommendations are things you can do with your gift recipient, but this is just for them. Give them the opportunity to escape and pursue a practice all on their own, whether that’s yoga, creative writing, meditation, or anything else they’d never treat themselves to.

View of the mountains in West Virginia during sunset.

The Gift of a Fresh Perspective

Travel is one of the best ways to get to know someone, no matter how close your relationship may be. Long hours on the road are the perfect environment for thoughtful conversations … and lessons in compromise and flexibility. Getting to know a community that’s unlike your own or exploring a destination that’s far from home can prompt rich discussion on traditions, values, and culture.

1. Market day

Even when two places call a holiday by the same name, they often celebrate differently. Visit a holiday market to see how your destination’s traditions differ from your own. Use it as a springboard to share childhood holiday memories with your travel companion that they’d either forgotten or hadn’t heard before.

2. Voluntour

Sometimes the best gift you can give is to a total stranger. Take your loved ones on a volunteer or mission trip and help another community in need. This type of travel, when done responsibly, not only benefits those at your destination, but also can be a rich, eye-opening experience for you. Planning a voluntour trip can take a little extra effort, but it’s certainly worth it.

3. Gap year gift

Through the chaos of the 2020s, many people have seized the opportunity to change their lives and pursue what fulfills them. For some, that means taking an adult gap year, otherwise known as a time away from work to travel and learn a new skill, gain perspective, and perhaps make a career change. Support their pursuit by supplementing their travel in a meaningful way.

Experience Happy Holidays, Not Winter Blues

The holiday season is a time to reflect on the passing year and celebrate the friends and family who matter most. And while travel can’t exactly come wrapped in a bow, its ability to bring people together makes it a gift worth giving.

Of course, any adventure can come with risks. Make sure that you can focus on making memories, reconnecting with your friends, and discovering new things. Travel insurance can help remove some of the worry about what-ifs while you’re breaking out of your comfort zone. Talk to a licensed travel agent from Seven Corners to find the best plan for you, whether it’s for a short getaway, a longer international adventure, or coverage for a whole group.

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