Memories Over Merch: 30+ Awesome Gift Experiences for 2024

Judy Antell Avatar
TheWit Chicago reviews - Woman posing on a bridge overlooking the Chicago River, just minutes from theWit.
Posing on a bridge overlooking the Chicao River, just minutes from theWit. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

At SheBuysTravel, we value memories over merchandise. And we believe the best way to make memories is through travel and shared experiences. Yes, choosing the right gift experience requires more thought than buying a gift card, but the memories will last a lifetime. These are our favorite gift experiences — ones that we have given, received or put on our wish list this year.

“My favorite and most memorable memories with my grandparents were when we traveled together. My grandfather suddenly passed away when I was 17 and I’ve always been so grateful for those moments we had together. Those moments are more valuable than any ‘thing’ he could have given me.”

– SheBuysTravel contributor Breeze Leonard

Gift Experiences: Things to Do

CityPASS

Have friends or family who love to travel? Or who live near a city they’d like to explore more? CityPASS mobile tickets get you into a city’s major attractions. Available in cities such as New York City, Houston, Atlanta and Seattle,  CityPASS is best for folks who have travel plans or who have time to explore. Once you use your first admission you’ve got 7-9 days to use the rest.

Read More: Tinggly Review: Where Experiences Trump Stuff Every Time

woman enjoying a painted on facial at a spa gift experiences
A spa day can provide the relaxation a busy mom or dad needs! Photo Credit: Stock Unlimited

Spa Day

Give the gift of relaxation and send your loved one to the spa. We use Groupon to find the best deals on spa treatments and packages.

Waterpark Passes

A day at the waterpark doesn’t just have to be a summer fun item! Indoor waterparks like Great Wolf Lodge, Epic Waters, and more can make any day a beach day.

Movie Theater Gift Cards

In addition to gifting movie tickets or gift cards, you can also give someone the gift of Disney+. This is great for grandparents who watch their grandchildren. They’ll be able to stream those older Disney classics and enjoy them watching together with a new generation.

Indoor Skydiving

This is a great gift experience for teens on your list. Indoor skydiving spots like iFly have locations nationwide and will allow kids 6 and up to “fly.” Give the gift of adrenaline to your favorite active kiddo! You can normally find a great deal on this experience through Groupon.

Stadium Tours

Grab a ticket to tour the home of your favorite sports fan’s team.

Paint Your Own Pottery

Take your favorite kid to paint their own masterpiece. They’ll love the opportunity to be creative and more importantly the time with you.

Escape Room Gift Card

Not sure what to get for a group of people. Maybe you have older nieces and nephews who are hard to buy for? Well, an escape room experience is perfect. Not only will they have a blast (and maybe bring you) but they’ll have fun making memories together and working as a team.

Float Tank

Ever heard of sensory deprivation tanks? Floating is a fun new trend that checks different boxes for different folks. Some may head to the float tank to relax and shut off their mind for a bit. For others the zero gravity feeling may help with back aches and sore joints. Although there are chains like Just Float and Urban Float we’ve found Groupon to be one of the best places to look for these deals. You can usually snag a multi-float package for the price of one float. Admittedly, floating can be a weird sensation so trying it more than once is advised.

Bowling or Mini-Golf Money

Both make for a fun family outing. Alternatively, if your teen son or daughter has a significant other mini-golf certificates can provide for a fun date night.

Gifts that Keep On Giving

Membership to a Museum, Aquarium or Zoo

Memberships are a great gift idea. They allow the recipient access to that museum, zoo or aquarium as well as others that are part of a national reciprocal admission program. So grab an art museum membership for Grandma, a zoo membership for your niece and an aquarium membership for your daughter. The best part? A portion of the membership also qualifies as a tax deduction.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Planning a child’s birthday party? If you’re considering hosting the party at a museum, aquarium or zoo, buy a membership first! Members often get discounts, preferred time slots and more. You could save on the cost of a zoo birthday party plus get a year of visits.

Disney Annual Pass

Yes. This is a BIG gift that isn’t in most people’s budget. BUT if you can afford it, this makes an amazing experience gift!

National Park Pass

Some of our favorite memories (and stories) take place in National Parks. Set your loved ones on the right path with a National Parks annual pass so they can indulge in the natural beauty of the United States.

Ski Passes

Whether they’re beginning skiers or seasoned shredders, passes for skiing or equipment rentals will always be welcome.

When your winter family vacation includes a day on the ski slopes, be sure to layer your toddler to keep her comfortable all day. Photo: Diana Rowe
Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Rosetta Stone

If your significant other or parent is always looking to better themselves the gift of language immersion can pay off in big ways. They’ll think of you when they’re putting their new-found skills to work.

Magazine Subscriptions

OK, so technically it’s a thing, but magazine subscriptions can be a great way to enrich a kiddo’s mind year-round.

Lessons

Is there something a friend or family member has always wanted to learn? Give them the push they need by giving an experience gift. From cooking classes to sushi rolling classes to wine sommelier lessons, the sky is the limit for a gift experience like this.

Painting Classes

Loved one fancy herself an artist? Places such as Paint with a Twist are popping up all over. It’s the perfect opportunity to indulge your loved ones and their artistic endeavors.

Symphony Subscriptions

Have a music lover? Subscriptions to local symphonies, baroque music groups and more are a great choice.

Yoga Classes

Who doesn’t want to feel more flexible?

Cooking Class

Grandma wants to learn how to make ramen. Expand her horizons. This can be a fun gift to buy for someone or to buy as an experience to do with someone.

Food Gifts

Pizza Gift Certificates

You know what busy parents love? Easy dinners. Load up a Domino’s gift card with $50 or snag a $100 Little Caesars gift card for your brother. You’ll be his favorite person when life gets in the way and he needs to swing by for a few pies on the way home. Hooray for not dipping into the dining out budget.

A Special Food Experience

Food-related experiences can bond family members. Book a high tea, a tasting menu, or dinner at a special pop-up restaurant to take advantage of the company and conversation.

“Instead of tangibles this year, I gifted my pre-teen nieces and sister-in-law an afternoon ‘high tea.’ Something local and not super extravagant, but different and memorable. Great opportunity for bonding and conversation with that age group.”

– Lauren Bruce

Mealbox Subscription

Most meal box services will allow you to purchase and email a gift online making this an easy option when you’re not nearby. Then they can set up delivery for when it fits their schedule.

Here are some of our favorites: HellofreshHome Chef.

Event Tickets

Do you have a nephew who loves sports? Grab tickets to a game. A sister who loves to laugh? Look for a local comedy show. To make the gift longer lasting, consider season tickets to minor league teams. The cost is minimal but for a season’s worth of fun.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Know someone who loves the holiday season? Here are our favorite places to see the Nutcracker Ballet. 

“For Christmas 2019, I wanted to gift my parents something more meaningful than a new sweater or a cute platter. So I bought them a gift certificate to the TKTS booth in New York. Growing up, I saw so many Broadway shows with my mom and grandmother and later with my stepfather too, so I loved the idea of giving them something that was so meaningful to me as a child. The best part is that since it’s the TKTS booth — which we used to frequent — they can spontaneously go, choose a show and have a good time in New York.”

– Sarah Caron

Disney on Ice

Not everyone can make it to Orlando or Anaheim to experience Disney magic at one of the theme parks. So Disney brings the magic to a town near you in the form of its Disney on Ice touring shows. Trust us, the grandkids will love seeing Mickey and Minnie on skates! The memories you make together will last even longer than the songs stay stuck in your head.

Travel Gifts

Gift Cards for Travel

A gift card for air travel can help a young family afford that first big family vacation. Or, give your parents a gift card for a weekend at the Hilton to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

A Trip

We’d all be excited to unwrap a trip, right? Some of our favorite trips were ones we took together instead of trading gifts to celebrate a holiday. A multi-gen cruise is just right for giving big extended families time together to linger over dinner, with plenty of activities to keep everyone busy during the day. Or rent a big ol’ house on the beach or near the slopes. Spend the days playing and the evenings cooking together, playing board games and reconnecting.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Looking for the best countries to visit with kids? We have some ideas.

“My family took a Christmas cruise ten years in a row so we could enjoy being together as opposed to the stress that comes with the holidays. We brought both sets of parents, and siblings. Each person brought a $10 small gift (which could be packed) to open in a White Elephant Christmas brunch. Those are our favorite Christmas memories to date.”

– Melody Pittman

“My best friend took me to a weekend wellness retreat for my 50th birthday. Not only was it filled with good food, great exercise and peaceful yoga, I got the gift of 48 hours to spend with her!”

– Cindy Richards

Priority Pass or Airline Lounge Access

This is the gift for someone who has a big trip planned or who travels frequently. Make that trip extra special with Priority Pass or, if you know what their travel plans, passes to a specific airline lounge. Nothing says “I love you” like giving them the gift of peace, serenity, free wifi and unlimited snacks during a long layover.

Disney Gift Cards

If you’ve got Disney lovers who are planning a trip give them Disney gift cards they can use on a Disney Vacation. You can buy Disney gift cards at Target and save 5% when you use your RedCard!

“My parents gave us Disney gift cards for Christmas one year. My husband and kids and I had a planned Disney Cruise right after New Year’s and the gift cards paid for our spa treatments. They’ve gifted us in the past with season passes to water parks/theme parks.”

– Jill Robbins

Add-Ons for Planned Trips

Your grandkids are planning a backpacking trip to Europe. You’ve heard all about it. Buy them an experience in one of the towns they’re heading to or give them cash to choose their own. Be sure to say the only thanks you want is a text with the pictures! We love using Viator to book these experiences.

Professional Photos

What better way to celebrate family than with photos? As a mom, I am usually the one taking the pictures, so I’m rarely in the family photos. Or there are unflattering selfie angles involved. I would LOVE the gift of family photos that include all family members.

One of my favorite gifts I ever gave was to my sister. She and her husband went on a trip to Europe prior to starting down the family path. I was able to book a session through Flytographer for them to have their photos taken in Paris. The result? Stunning images of them with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Flytographer operates in most major cities both domestic and international. So whether you’re heading to San Francisco, New York City, San Antonio, Paris, Dublin, Moscow or Athens, you’ll be able to find a Flytographer.

SheBuysTravel Tip: USE CODE: FLY25 to get $25 off your first booking with Flytographer!

Gifts for Busy Parents

Babysitting Money or Offer to Babysit

For busy parents, sometimes the very best gift is your time. They love their kids, but they’d like time away for date nights without calling in a bunch of favors or doing more work than it’s worth. Offer to sit for a Friday night or two. Can’t do that? Put some cash in an envelope and tell them to give themselves some grown-up-only time.

Redbox Rental Credits

With low nightly movie rental fees, this is a great way to give a gift that is a lot of bang for your buck! Wrap up the credits with some microwave popcorn for a ready-to-go family movie night (or a way to keep the kids busy while their parents get a little alone time).

A Wine Tasting date

This is the kind of gift that you get your mom so you can tag along. From winery gift certificates to wine tours to professional wine tasting classes, there are lots of ways to spread a love of vino through gift experiences.

clean apartment
Nothing says I want to help like a clean house. Photo credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels

Housecleaning

Let me start by saying: Think about how well you know the person and how you’ll phrase this. A gift card for your bestie with a note that says “I love you and wanted to take something off your plate” is going to be better received than getting it from your mother-in-law with a note that says, “I thought you might need this.” Given and expressed properly, a gift certificate for help with housecleaning can help someone feel more at peace in their own home.

Professional Organizer

On that same note, make sure you know the person before handing over this gift. Sometimes we want things for ourselves but don’t really want to spend money on them. So, if you’ve watched your friend read every Marie Kondo book, pin every organizational idea she can find and still be frustrated, it may be time for a professional.

What is your favorite gift experience to give? Have you ever received one? Let us know about it!

Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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One response


  1. HI Nasreen, This is a great list! Museum passes and subscriptions are some of my favorite things to give. My 6 year old daughter recently got gift card to a local art class which she just loved. Because let’s face it, that random toy will just end up in the bag to donate anyway. I’ve recently been seeing a lot of box subscriptions for kids now. Not food, but of like of STEM activities or even clothing subscriptions for girls. Have you tried any of them?

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