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Birthday Parties, Gifts and More

How to Gift an Experience: Ideas for Birthdays and More

Giving an experiential gift is awesome!  Tips for the most popular experiences and how to gift wrap them.

How to Gift an Experience: Ideas for Birthdays and More

When people start thinking about gift ideas, the majority of people think about “things” they could get the person.

It turns out that gifting an experience—tickets to a concert, show or sporting event; an invitation to afternoon tea at a favorite restaurant; lessons to learn the ukulele—can result in some of the most memorable gifts of all.

As cool as experiential gifts can be, HOW to give the gift is not always obvious!

Continue reading the article to learn:

  • Benefits of Wrapping an Experiential Gift Creatively
  • A Real-Life Example of Gifting Lessons to a Teenage Boy
  • Five Tips for Giving an Experiential Gift
  • Most Popular Categories of Gifting Experiences and Gift Wrapping Ideas

4 Benefits of Wrapping an Experiential Gift Creatively

Sure, you could just print out tickets to a concert or write a note in the card explaining what’s ahead…but doing so denies you the opportunity to make the gift exchange really fun and memorable. 

1. The key to wrapping an experiential gift is to find a physical object that represents the experience.  The item can be big or small, cost a little or a lot, whatever you like. 

You are only limited by your creativity! 

(Remember when you were a kid?  You had lots of chances to be creative—art projects, writing short stories, making up shows in the backyard with your friends…

Then you became an adult…and there were fewer opportunities to let your creative juices flow.  Take advantage of this one.)

2. Even if you’re not looking to flex your creativity, wrapping up an experiential gift also has other benefits, including overall greater gift satisfaction, a more entertaining gift exchange and more memorable gift giving overall.

A variety of studies have indicated that gifting an experience can result in higher levels of satisfaction than gifting a material item.

This seems to be because these experiential gifts have longer “emotional horizons”:  the person is delighted when they learn of their experiential gift; they anticipate the experience in the days leading up to it; they have the enjoyment of the experience itself; and then relive the memory of the experience.

By making the presentation of the gift more interesting, it lengthens and deepens the horizon of the experience, and makes it more memorable.

3. Wrapping up a tangible item to reflect the experience tends to make for really entertaining giving---not just for giver and receiver, but for others in attendance.

4. Most of the time when we give a gift, the recipient has expectations of what it will be based on prior gift exchanges.  Opening up something that doesn’t fit that narrative tends to be endearingly confusing.

Giving an Experience to a Teenage Boy

Take the example of a friend’s 18-year old son who is really into cars.  He’s been hard at work for several years restoring an old car that he bought with money he'd been saving for years.  He had a vision of one day racing it.  Maybe even driving it like the Dukes of Hazzard.

My friend found a Rally Car Driving School up in Seattle and decided to gift him lessons.  She got a Matchbox car (just like the ones he used to play with when he was a toddler) put it in a box and wrapped it up.

When he opened the gift, he was tongue-tied. ”You got me a Matchbox car…just like the other ones I haven’t played with….in years?”

My friend let him squirm a bit more.  “We figured that one was a favorite so you might want to have a second one.”

At some point, she let the cat out of the bag.  She said that she (and likely her husband) had been paying attention all those times he said he wanted to be race cars and go fast around sharp turns.

He still sat there, unimpressed that his parents had remembered a seemingly trivial detail.

It wasn’t until she said, “Since we know how much you’ve always wanted to do driving stunts like that, we figured you ought to have lessons.  You’re going to Rally Car driving school.”  He was thrilled.

(As she told me the story, I could practically hear Bob Barker say, “Johnny, tell him what he’s won!”)

Fast forward several weeks, and off they went to driving school.  (Not only did her son take lessons, but so did she and her husband.)  Everyone had a fabulous time.   

Experiential birthday gift for a teenaged boy

I guarantee that gift will go down as one of his all-time favorites.  Maybe, just  maybe, one of the Matchbox cars will find its way into the stuff he packs when he heads off for college.  At first glance, a kid's toy, but upon closer inspection, a tangible reminder of how his parents understood what mattered to him and would light him up.

5 Tips for How to Give (or Gift Wrap) an Experience

Anyone can make the gift of an experience more memorable.  It just requires a bit of thought and a sliver of time.  

If you haven't gifted like this before, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Whatever the physical object you select to represent the experience, make it easy to gift wrap.
  2. If you’re worried about giving something that will just get tossed away, make the item something functional.
  3. Take a picture of the person and the item. The photo will make for a great story after they’ve enjoyed the experience. (Take pictures at the experience too!)
  4. If you want the person to instantly understand what the item represents, add a note to help them connect the dots.
  5. Give a consumable product that the person will finish right before the experience occurs. (If you gift someone a box of dozen chocolates, you could write something like, “One a day until we head to chocolate making class…or the whole box now.)

I’ve found that wrapping the gift in a creative way adds tremendously to the gift exchange and starts revving up the anticipation for the actual experience.

4 Common Experiential Gifts and How to Wrap Them

There are as many experiential gift ideas as there are experiences, so have fun! Here are some common types of experiences to give and some suggested wrapping ideas.

1. Travel

Giving someone a trip is one of the most frequently gifted experiences.  Depending on where you go and what the accommodations are, the trip may be a bucket list item  (“Honey!  We’re finally going to Italy like you always wanted! Happy 50th birthday!’) or something closer to home (a road trip to the Jelly Belly Factory because, like Ronald Reagan, jelly beans are the person’s favorite guilty pleasure.

  • Give something the person could use while on the trip-a luggage tag or leakproof bottles for a toiletry bag could work in just about any situation.

Gift experiences with creative gift wrap ideas


  • Gift something that hints at the destination-a travel guide book, a pair of flip flops, The Book of Hygge (if you were headed to Copenhagen)

Book of Hygge, A Perfect Way to Give a Travel Gift to Copenhagen

  • Find creative items that provide a clue to where they’re headed-if you’re headed out of state, you could take give a state quarter with the destination. As strange as this might sound if you’re not someone who wears nail polish, OPI and Essie have many fun-sounding colors such as Miami Beet and Moon Over Havana.

Fun idea for birthday trip to Miami


2. Sporting Event

Depending on what the event is, finding a representation of it may be easy or hard.  

  • Give an obvious gift symbolizing the sport-for instance, a sleeve of golf balls or a basketball. You might also give a t-shirt or jersey from their favorite team.

Give a gift of a Warriors t-shirt for a 50th birthday

  • Go for a play on words-if you want to be less direct, instead of giving someone a sleeve of golf balls and tees, you could give them a box teabags (bad pun, but it will keep them guessing what you’ve just given them for a much longer time!)
  • Give them something they might wear at the event-perhaps a visor for a tennis tournament or a scarf for a hockey game.
  • Give them something that is part of the sporting experience-a box of  Cracker Jacks or bag of peanuts would work well for someone headed to a baseball game.

Cracker Jacks great gift idea for giving baseball tickets


3. Gifting Tickets to a Show or Concert

This can be awesome gift to give, especially if it’s something they’d be hoping to see for a while. 

  • Give something that will immediately tip them off-a t-shirt featuring the band, a book by the featured artist
  • Give something that captures the essence of the show or concert-since more than a few performers have fragrances, you could give a bottle of Beyonce Heat perfume and then surprise them with Beyonce tickets.

birthday gift for her beyonce heat perfume

  • Gift them something that represents the type of entertainment-for instance, a box of the candy Chuckles or even a Snickers bar would work for tickets to a comedy show 
  • Make them think-if the recipient is a big fan of charades or puzzles, they might get a kick out of the indirect approach. For example, someone who appreciates improvisation might love to see a touring performance of Whose Line is It Anyway?  You could simply draw a line on a piece of paper and wrap that up!

4. Giving Lessons is another popular experiential gift because it's something the person is interested in AND it will also improve their skills.

  • Give something obvious-for a class that teaches you how to make macarons, a sample box of the decadent treats to whet your appetite; several Blow-pops for a glassblowing class.
  • Give something complementary-if you’re sending them to a cheesemaking class, you could give a bottle of wine and write, “Thought this would go nicely”

Educated guess red wine for turning 50


  • Gift something useful-if you’re giving the gift of knitting class, you could get a few balls of yarn and add a note of foreshadowing, “I know you’ll make something beautiful.”  Gifting guitar lessons?  Wrap up some guitar picks in a box.


No matter what experiential gift you give, it's a great chance to think outside of the (gift giving) box!


How to Gift a Experience-Birthday Butler