Your Shopping Dilemmas, Solved!
You're trying to avoid the malls. You want to buy a meaningful gift that won't wind up in the back of someone's closet on January 1st. You just found out that your spouse's cousin is flying in unexpectedly…tomorrow…and you need a gift ASAP.
Whatever your shopping dilemma is this holiday season, here's one simple solution: Don't buy a gift; buy an experience. It's way more meaningful, and studies have even shown that people who appreciate unique experiences are considered more attractive than people who value stuff. What better gift is there than making someone more likeable? Plus, it's a gift that certainly wasn't made in a sweatshop, and you didn't have to get trampled at some soulless big-box store to find it!
We trolled the Web for cool experiential gift ideas suited to anyone's personality (and you can buy any of them online at 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve, should the need arise!). So put down the wasteful wrapping paper, and forget the pet rocks. Fill your loved one's stockings with vouchers for these cool gift ideas. (We've provided links to classes and events organized by national groups, but since most of these will take place locally, check your local yellow pages, call local community colleges, and visit sites like yelp.com to find similar experiences in your area.)
Feed a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish…and he might cook it himself rather than eating something fatty and fried at the unhealthy chain restaurant down the street. The best part about cooking classes is that you can make them ultra-personal: Buy a Spanish cooking class for the couple who just visited Spain. Turn the kitchen into a family bonding experience with a "Big Cook, Little Cook" class for a friend and her kids, or even for yourself and your child. Get your siblings on the organic bandwagon with an organic or seasonal foods cooking class. Know someone who's more into drinks than eats? Buy them a cocktail class where they can learn to be a bartender.
Read More: Stock Your Kitchen with the Healthiest, Safest Cookware
There isn't anyone on your list who hasn't secretly fantasized about a hot-air-balloon ride at least once, no matter how old or young. The trips usually start around $170 per person, but it'll easily be the most memorable gift under the tree! Online searches will usually turn up smaller local hot-air-balloon operators, or visit excitations.com for providers in major cities.
Give the gift of local and organic. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) memberships provide the people you love with local produce grown by a single farmer for an entire growing season, which usually lasts about six months. Memberships start going on sale around December (although that can vary, depending on where you live). Prices can run high for family memberships (some start around $500), but you can buy someone a half-share for around $200 to get them introduced to the idea. To find CSAs close to the people on your list, visit localharvest.org.
Read More: The Best Way to Eat Local on the Cheap
A National Parks Pass
For just $80, give someone—or an entire family—a year's worth of free access to America's legendary national parks, federal recreation sites, forests, and wildlife refuges. It's the cheapest way to appreciate the country's natural beauty. Buy one online at nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.
A "Home Ec" Refresher
School budgets for home economics skills are being slashed for kids, just as adults are rekindling their interest in do-it-yourself skills, whether it's basics like sewing, knitting, or food preservation, or more complicated skills like home brewing, cheese making, or creating fermented foods. Small community groups host classes in all those skills, or you can consult a local community college to see if it offers something similar.
Read More: 10 Things You Should Have Learned in Home Ec
Now that we're all walking around with a camera attached to our smartphones, give the gift of learning how to use it. Look for online courses that teach the basics of photography. Stick with reputable programs like those offered by the New York Institute of Photography. Or find classes at a local photography store or community college.
Zoo or Museum Memberships
Give the gift of having something to do every weekend! Gift a membership to a local museum, zoo, aquarium, or children's museum that you can match to your giftees' interests. Some attractions, particularly zoos or botanical gardens, belong to larger associations that allow members free access to partner organizations in other cities, too, so you can take your kids to the zoo by Grandma's or you can visit that garden near your sister when you visit.
Read More: Unique DIY Gift Baskets for Under $20
Gift certificates for a nice dinner are great, but take it up a notch with dinner and a show. Dinner theater shows range from the quirky to the risqué, from historical to comedic. They're cropping up in major cities nationwide; just type "dinner theater [your city]" into any online search engine to find one near you. Can't find one? Get your giftee tickets to a regular show, concert, or musical.
Photo: (cc) Travel Manitoba/Flickr
After The Hunger Games movie came out this past summer, archery suddenly became the hobby du jour. Let your giftee channel her (or his!) inner Katniss Everdeen in a lesson at a local archery or bow-hunting club.
Read More: 5 Great Last-Minute Fitness Gifts
There isn't a person alive who wouldn't love to have a home-cooked meal prepped by a professional chef. Great for anyone you know, and a particularly good gift for new parents who could use a romantic night but don't want to leave a newborn with a babysitter just yet. You can find one through the American Personal & Private Chef Association.
Guided City Tours
Know some folks who've moved recently? Buy them a guided tour of their new hometown. It's a great way to meet new people and help them learn more about what their new surroundings have to offer. You can find guided city tours, wine tours, ghost tours, and even Segway tours of major metropolitan areas starting at $60 at cloud9living.com/guided-city-tours.
Read More: Buying a Gift Anyway? Wrap It Right
Quirky Fitness Classes
Buying someone a gym membership may feel a bit, well, insulting, but if you want to give the gift of fitness, find a fun way to do it. Buy the dog-lover in your life a class of "Doga" (yoga with your dog) or a session of "Thank Dog Bootcamp" (a combination of exercise for humans and obedience and exercise training for dogs). For animal-free workouts, give the would-be dancer a ballet class or a "Ballet Barre" workout at a nearby gym. Or treat that kid brother who threatened to run away and join the circus when you were growing up to a closer-to-home trapeze class.