This post on experience gift ideas is in partnership with Tinggly, but all opinions are my own. Photos taken around Copenhagen in December 2018.
Christmas doesn’t look the same for people who travel. The vacation days surrounding Christmas provide a buffer for the big trip they can’t swing the rest of the year. This means they’re prepared to swap fir trees for date palms or baobabs. They’d forgo a Christmas roast for a Nepalese thali or a Bandeja Paisa any day. And rather than hearing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” 13 times a day, they’d gladly sub-in the call to prayer or Spanish flamenco. But the lack of Christmas nostalgia means that shopping Christmas gifts for people who travel can be a complete pain in the ass. No candy cane socks, please.
One of the first posts I ever wrote was 21 Easy-to-Pack Gift Ideas for Travelers. If you’re a committed gift-giver, you’re probably on the right track choosing something travel themed. But I think there’s a misconception that people who travel just want more travel gear. The truth is, most of them already have rain jackets and portable batteries and collapsible water bottles that they spent months researching. If you want to give a gift that they will seriously remember, plan an adventure for their upcoming trip, give them travel credit for services they already use, or subscribe them to something that goes with them anywhere. Finding one of these experience gifts that someone who travels doesn’t already have shouldn’t be too hard at all.
Want to give a better gift? Here are 21 experience gift ideas for travelers that aren’t things at all.
Grab them a national park pass. The America the Beautiful Pass ($80) grants free, unlimited access to more than 2,000 federal lands in the US while the Discovery Pass ($67.70) offers unlimited admission to 80 parks in Canada for a full year.
Or buy them another outdoor membership. Look into Alpine associations ($45), diver’s associations ($35), and tons of other membership organizations that offer insurance, exclusive information, or discounts on accommodation to their members.
Enroll them in a wilderness survival or backcountry skills course. Everyone who ventures into remote places could benefit for a bit more survival know-how. REI runs regular courses (varies), or you should be able to find courses in most major cities with an outdoor scene.
Buy them a ski or snowboarding day pass for their winter holiday. We all know that skiing and snowboarding are so damn expensive. Take the financial burden off them for their next ski holiday and pay for one of their day passes using a service like Liftopia (varies).
Contribute to a diving or snorkeling trip for their beach vacation. They’re probably down to give up a day of cocktails and tanning for some adventure.
Book them a rafting adventure. Whitewater rafting makes for a great gift because it’s less cheesy than many adventure travel day trips and even independent travelers will need a guide to do it.
Plan a wildlife experience. If you know they’re going to a place known for wildlife, contribute to the cost of their safari, send them dogsledding, or buy them a whale watching excursion.
Give them the gift of relaxation. There’s a rising global wellness scene. Give them a meditation course, yoga retreat, or spa day on their upcoming trip.
Get them a gift card so they can hear live music abroad. Or attend a sporting event. Or catch a play. Basically, anything live is at their fingertips with Stubhub (varies)
Set them up with a city pass for an upcoming vacation. Many North American & European cities offer a city pass that grants discounts on public transport, museums, villas, gardens, etc. in increments of 24, 48, and 72-hours.
Sign them up for a hands-on food experience. If they love to cook, send them to a cooking class or workshop where they can learn to make local foods.
Book them a tasting. Mezcal in Mexico. Craft beer in Vancouver. Yakitori in Japan. You name it, and there’s a tasting. You could also sign them up for a food tour so they can enjoy everything the city has to offer.
Gift them Airbnb credit so they can stay anywhere. With more than 4 million listings in over 65,000 cities, Airbnb credit is super flexible, and they can surely find a way to use it even if they don’t have any big trips planned (varies).
Give them wheels. Sixt, Enterprise, and Alamo, oh my. Take a look at which rental car agencies are operating in-country and give them money toward their car rental.
Sign them up for an International Drivers Permit. AAA will translate licenses into 10 languages and serve as a valid form of identification in 150 countries ($20).
Give them a Priority Pass for airport lounges. This one is killer for frequent travelers as they’ll get access to 1,200 airport lounges worldwide for $32. While they might not use it all the time, there will be a day when they desperately need a shower or a snack, and they’ll think of you ($99).
Pay for their music streaming subscription. Everyone likes no ads, and tunes all the time on Spotify ($9.99/month).
Re-up their movie streaming subscription (… or give them your password). Some TV streaming services don’t work abroad, but Netflix is available in 190 countries ($7.99/month).
Give them a year of mindfulness. The Headspace app offers short guided meditation sessions or bedtime stories that you can use from anywhere. ($5.99/month)
Sign them up for a language learning program. If they’re struggling to learn a language, the Rosetta Stone app is super handy and also easy to use on the road ($49/3 months).
Or, give them an experience gift box they can redeem anywhere. Let them decide how, when, and where they use it.
Tinggly creates gift boxes that can be redeemed for 500+ experiences worldwide. If the idea of booking a tour or cooking class for someone else seems impossible, Tinggly lets you choose a gift box that is worth a fixed value so the recipient can choose the experience gift that’s most interesting to them. You’ll find everything from night diving in Hawaii to home-cooking classes in Tokyo in their marketplace. Experience boxes are themed for birthdays, honeymoons, and any other occasion and range from $79-$289. Most experiences sitting around $119.
The best parts of Tinggly boxes are that they are flexible and customizable, so the recipient can really do whatever they want with the gift you give them. The biggest drawback is that they work with pre-selected operators which can be a bit limiting if the traveler has a specific tour or experience in mind.