Two years ago, I wrote about how I’ve shifted my spending to prioritize experiences over material possessions. It was a decision sparked by my family’s decision that Christmas to buy each other “experience gifts.” Reflecting back, I realize just how truly game-changing it was. Instead of accruing more random novelty items that we didn’t need, we experienced new cities together and shared some of my life’s most treasured moments. Think about it: Do you remember what you got last year for Christmas? If it was mostly “stuff,” there’s a good chance you don’t.
This year, my partner and I decided to keep this intention going well past the holidays. We vowed not to buy anything for each other for the foreseeable future, instead experience gifts that we could do together.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
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Why I’m Choosing Experience Gifts Over Material Things
Life’s best moments don’t come from gifts or things, but from the time we spend together. It’s the moments when we laugh, create new memories, develop our own language and inside jokes, and admire how we each navigate new spaces, cities, and people. For me, time creates intimate moments to understand and connect with my partner in ways I never thought possible. Quite frankly, time is the most important gift I could ever give or receive.
Quite frankly, time is the most important gift I could ever give or receive.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m anticipating a collective shift toward experience gifts and away from buying things with no sentimental value. I can say with confidence, this behavior of investing in experiences will carry us well into the future.
7 Experience Gifts to Share With Someone Special
I wanted to set this foundation of intentional spending in 2023. For the next 11 months and beyond, I’m making it a point to invest in the people I love and experience new-to-me places. With the tips below, I’m inviting you to dive into this new framework of gift-giving as well.
Below are seven experiential gift ideas to get you started. And if you have any go-to experience gifts of your own, be sure to share them with us on Instagram!
1. Dedicate a month to trying new restaurants
My partner and I love visiting our favorite restaurants. But this January, we decided instead to only try new restaurants. We realized that, in reality, we were frequenting the same four or five spots every time we went out. It’s fun to be a regular, but we’re both curious and love sharing new food experiences. Plus, if I’m going to keep writing restaurant guides for Camille Styles, I better expand my portfolio.
2. Start a book club together
Anyone remember the ‘BOOK IT’ program? It was a reading incentive program created by Pizza Hut in 1984 that motivated students to read by providing Reading Award certificates that earned you a free personal pan pizza. By all standards, it was the pinnacle of cool for me in the 90s and definitely motivated me to read more.
I’ve read significantly less in the past year and found that I’ve missed it. So my partner and I decided to rotate picking books for each other and with every one we finish, we’ll take ourselves out for pizza. Win-win. Of course, if pizza isn’t a tempting reward for you, simply swap it in for something else. Ice cream, massages, manicures, or even a trip to the bookstore for your next read! (P.S. If you want to see what we’re reading this year, consult our list.)
3. Plan a surprise day dedicated to your partner
Last September, I got a little confident while bowling with my partner and bet that whoever lost had to plan a full day dedicated to what the other person loves. (Pro tip: Always ask the level of experience before declaring yourself an early winner.) While I was mostly throwing gutter balls, my partner told me all about the amateur bowling league he was in. But I digress.
I had a blast planning the day. I broke it up into three segments (morning, midday, evening) and three things I knew he’d love: BBQ, music, and comedy. We drove to a neighboring town for BBQ in the morning to grab an early bite. After, I found a synth shop in Austin knowing he was building a synth at home, and we ended the day grabbing a drink and seeing a comedian he loves. It was fun to plan and cool to see him surprised.
Pick a few things you know your partner loves and design a day all around that. Find a restaurant they’ve been dying to try, grab tickets for a museum they love, and plan an itinerary all around their favorite things. I can speak from experience: you’ll have a blast, too.
4. Volunteer together
Both my partner and I are community-minded and want to ensure we’re giving in many different ways—from resources to time, to mentorship, and more. What a beautiful way to see your partner in a new environment and do something completely outside of yourselves.
5. Invest in lessons
Has your partner expressed interest in picking up a new language, learning to cook, or trying a new sport? Personally, I’m a terrible singer. I have no concept of tone-matching and singing something as simple as ‘Happy Birthday’ is a bit laughable. So I’ve been flirting with the idea of taking a few lessons and learning a bit about pitch and tone. Whether it’s something you want to do together, or simply giving them some quality alone time to dedicate toward a skill they want to hone, I guarantee they’ll be grateful.
6. Try something for the first time, together
This one is completely inspired by Camille’s December newsletter. In it, she wrote about a podcast where the guest, entrepreneur Jesse Itzler, spoke about why we remember certain experiences more than others. The throughline? Novelty. When you’re trying something new, you’re creating a sense of novelty that as humans, we innately crave.
At the beginning of each year, Itzler plans six “mini adventures” he wants to experience. The only requirement is that it’s something he’s never done before.
This inspired me to add a few things to my personal list: pickleball, visiting a new city (we’re treating ourselves to Oaxaca in March), cooking something new, and trying a new hike. And while I love the idea of exploring these firsts on my own, I know that sharing them with my partner will be all the more satisfying.
7. Book an off-the-grid weekend trip
In early November, we spent two nights in a yurt at Walden Retreats in the Texas Hill Country. It was one of the most fun getaways I’ve had in a long time. The 96-acre private property is located right along the cliffs of the Pedernales River, and the glamping-designed tents made us feel like we were still experiencing the outdoors without sacrificing the comforts of a luxury hotel.
The weather was fairly cold when we were there so we mostly stayed inside the yurt, snacking on cheese and charcuterie, drinking wine and playing cards until the late hours. During our stay, we booked a wine tasting at Southold Farm + Cellar and enjoyed nothing but the company of one another. We (mostly) had our phones away, laughed, and kicked back. TL;DR: book a getaway with no plans leaving room for serendipity and laughs.
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