Gifts of experience for less stress and more joy this holiday season

Posted on December 11, 2018 at 6:00 am

By Abra Cole

The holiday season is here again! I love the smells of goodies baking in the oven, the peacefulness of the fluffy snow falling outside, and the excited sounds of kids clamoring to get the best spot by the Christmas tree and all the gifts.

Usually at our house, that last one is over in the blink of an eye. We’re left with piles of crumpled wrapping paper, ribbons tripping everyone up, and torn boxes stacked haphazardly around the room.

Unfortunately, chances are good that most of those wonderful, highly anticipated presents will go unused after dismally few uses. And all that paper and cardboard? Depending on where you’re celebrating, much of it ends up in the trash bin rather than a recycling receptacle.

So, if you haven’t already gone completely mad trying to find the perfect gifts for your friends and family members this year, I’d like to propose an idea.

Give the gift of experience.

The idea is simple. You give gifts that require the recipient to go somewhere or do something. That’s it. Simple, right?

The experience could be to go somewhere new, on an adventure with the giver (you!), or to their absolutely favorite place to go.

A recent study from the University of Toronto found that 99% of gifts aren’t used after the first 6 months. So why are we putting so much energy into finding the perfect gift when no one wants it just a half year later?

This study and others have also shown that experiential gifts are more likely to produce an emotional reaction and more likely to be remembered years later.

I’ve jotted down some of my favorite gifts of experience and ways that you too can implement them to become a Santa Claus of Adventure for your own friends and family!

The following are a few ideas I’ve seen or received as gifts that I think are the bee’s knees. I hope you agree.


In the Spokane area, we have a plethora of classes that would make amazing gifts.

Depending on interests, you could gift a cooking lesson from The Kitchen Engine, or a yoga class from one of the studios in the area. You could gift them a spot in a jewelry making class from Rings & Things, a pottery throwing lessons from Spokane Potters’ Guild, a seat in a paint and sip class, or a gift certificate for a paint your own pottery place!

An added bonus with these class-taking gifts is that the recipient makes an item that is a memento of the experience or something they can then give as a gift to someone else, extending the experience.


What adventures do those in your life enjoy? How about one of these!

  • Tickets to a concert or show
  • Gas money and a hotel stay for a road trip
  • Restaurant gift card (yum!)
  • Gift certificate for bowling or ice skating (The Riverfront Skate Ribbon, perhaps?)
  • Follow the Inland Northwest Ale Trail with your favorite beer lover! Print out the map (there’s also an app) and pair it with a beer glass from your favorite local brewery, for this unique gift.
  • Ski lessons at one of our nearby ski resorts

For the whole Family

These can end up being a bigger gift (both in use and in meaning!) than individual presents purchased for each family member.

  • Family membership to a local museum
  • A stay at an AirBnB location—many homes are available, both near and far
  • Escape room experiences are available for families with older kids
  • Family passes to a local zip- line adventure
  • Rocking climbing wall or gym membership
  • Tickets to see the Spokane Symphony
  • A photo session for the whole family
  • A trip to Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle in the Garland District or other fun ice cream parlor
  • Passes to the local trampoline place
  • A Discover Pass to Washington State Parks for anyone who enjoys the outdoors


Since I work at a library, I am constantly surrounded by excellent inspiration for non-traditional gift “wrapping.” Books are among the best vessels for these experiential types of gifts. Not sure which book might be the best? Just ask a librarian—we’ve got a recommendation for every topic and genre.

  • Your favorite baking cookbook and registration to a baking class
  • The recipe for your most famous dish (and the cookbook it originally came from before you spiced it up!), along with a handmade coupon to teach them how the make it your special way
  • A collection of spooky stories to share on a camping trip
  • A travel book to go with train tickets to that destination
  • A DIY book and plans to create something from it together

More than just GIFT CARDS

You could create a “date in a box” for your favorite couple. The box could include ticket vouchers for a movie, boxed theater candy, a certificate for a restaurant, and even a personalized coupon created by you for an evening of free babysitting!

Giving gifts this time of year is so ingrained in many of us. Some may feel uncomfortable giving items that are exchanged for something intangible, like a gift certificate or admission tickets.

We can feel like a slip of paper doesn’t convey how we feel about the person receiving the gift. Or worse, it conveys that we don’t know them well enough to give them something more personal.

This is why, once I’ve identified the experience I want to give, my favorite part is figuring out how I’m going to “wrap” it. I love pairing these adventures with a corresponding item, such as a spatula to go with the cooking class, or a regular old rock from the yard to wrap with the gift certificate for rock climbing lessons! (Bonus points if you can stump your recipient with the corresponding gift before they see the gift certificate that explains it!)

In no time, you may look forward to the challenge of coming up with non-traditional wrapping!

Token items and other types of memory triggers can serve to remind the recipient of the fun adventure they had. Here are a few more ideas.

  • Tickets to a Spokane Indians game wrapped inside a baseball cap, or Spokane Chiefs tickets in a red and blue scarf
  • Marshmallow roasting sticks to take on the next camp out, along with a hiking map to the best camping spots
  • A pie pan and recipe, along with a promise to get together to bake a tasty pie

Often times, a tangible gift will lead to an experience—like these…

  • A tent to say, “Let’s go camping!”
  • A jigsaw puzzle that everyone can enjoy putting together
  • A kite to say, “Let’s go to the park!”


Gifts of experience are accessible to all budgets. Yes, some adventures can be expensive, but there are more affordable options too.

And more often than not, the less money you spend, the more fun the gift is!

Take advantage of free local events in your community. All of the libraries in Spokane County Library District have fun classes and programs you could “gift” to your family and friends.

Sign up your recipient and yourself for one of our craft or art classes. Right now, cake decorator Catee Ng is the Creator in Residence at North Spokane Library. Her workshops are full, but you can take friends and family to the drop-in hours on her residence days to get tips about cake decorating. In January, our Creator in Residence is Hannah Charlton, who will be sharing techniques for creating illuminated manuscripts at North Spokane Library, both during drop-in hours on her residence days and at limited-space workshops requiring registration.

Swing by your local seed library (we have three!), gather some of your favorite seeds, and give them with an inexpensive planter or gardening gloves.

Does your recipient have a library card? No? Pair your favorite book (purchased at one of our book sales, perhaps?) with a library card registration form. You could even throw in a homemade coupon for a ride to the library to finish the process.

Take advantage of our 3D printer at Spokane Valley Library, and create a personalized gift! It just might inspire your recipient to try their hand at 3D printing.

Turn your own favorite activity into an experience gift. Chances are, if it’s something you enjoy, your family and friends may enjoy it as well. Especially if you do it with them!

Gift giving really isn’t supposed to be stressful. So hopefully, you can enjoy this process of finding a gift of experience to show your appreciation for your family and friends.

And so, I challenge you not to come up with the perfect thing. Instead, I urge you to focus on having an enjoyable time, thinking about an adventure your recipient would like to share with you.

Have a great idea to share? I’d love to hear about the gifts of experience you’ve come up with!

Abra Cole

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