Giving the Gift of Experiences

It’s the time of year for gathering with friends and family, enjoying delicious meals…. And scrambling for last minute gifts! We’ve all been there.

In the pursuit of sustainability, Heidi and Paige decided to consider some “outside-the-box” gifts this holiday season. In particular, we want to talk to you about giving the gift of experiences.


Photo by Markus Spiske

We’d like to think that one of the best parts of the holidays is spending time with people you love, and how better to extend that warm fuzzy feeling than by giving a gift you can share in together? By providing friends, family members, and loved ones with an experience rather than a physical item, you have the opportunity to spend quality time together while also gifting something very special!

Gifting experiences rather than “things” can be directly related to sustainability in all three facets: environmental, social, and economic. Celebrating the holidays in a sustainable fashion can encompass everything from supporting local businesses, contributing to causes you care about, and being resourceful and creative. Gifting experiences, rather than unwanted material objects, can be a rewarding and fun way to celebrate sustainably.

We (Heidi and Paige) came up with a list of 10 ways that you can give the gift of experiences to your friends and family members this holiday!


1. For the Nature-Lover



Do you know someone who loves nature, but isn’t so psyched about the cold? We recommend taking them to visit one of the many beautiful indoor gardens in the Ames area. Very close the Iowa State’s campus is the incredible Reiman Gardens, which offers free admission to Iowa State students! Reiman Gardens boasts not only an indoor collection of plants, but a butterfly garden as well! If you’re not in the Ames area, we also recommend the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden where you can see tons of plants even in the heart of Iowa winter! In addition, there is a café where you can enjoy lunch or dinner. In addition to their nature-related offerings, indoor gardens and botanical gardens are also highlighted by gift shops featuring local and/or artisanal products. For those who like the cold, there’s nothing better than exploring a new hiking trail together. Some of Iowa’s most beautiful scenery can be seen in the winter months! A hike and hot cocoa is not only a great experience to share in together, but it’s also free!

2. For the Drama Queen/King


            If you have a friend or family member who enjoys the performing arts, you can’t go wrong with tickets to a show you think they’d enjoy! Central Iowa has it all—dance, musicals, opera, and other performances! And if you’re an Iowa State student, many events at the Iowa State Center offer discounted ticket prices. In addition, the local theater production ACTORS has some excellent shows. If you’re still in search of tickets, the Des Moines Civic Center has a wide variety of shows in almost every art form and category!

If you’re looking for a children’s gift, helping them to host their own theater production in the garage or backyard will be an experience they’ll always remember!

3. For the Movie Buff


            If someone you love truly enjoys the cinema experience, you may consider taking them to Des Moines’ independent movie theater! Fleur Cinema is a movie theater and café that features classics as well as new releases; they have a heightened focus on indie, foreign, and quality Hollywood cinema, so you’ll find movies not playing at other theaters in the area. You can also enjoy a wide range of snacks and drinks (read: an astounding variety of desserts) during your movie!

Sometimes people just want a designated night to relax; if this is what you’re looking for, a low-cost idea is to host a theater night at home with your favorite streaming service and popcorn! You can purchase popcorn flavorings at most grocery stores, and all of your favorite toppings.

4. For the Stressed-Out Person


Do you know someone who’s had a hard semester or long few months? Someone who just needs a little “me” time this winter? We’re of the mindset that self-care is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and it also makes an excellent gift! Consider purchasing a gift certificate for a really nice haircut and style, or perhaps a massage or other spa treatment. There are so many great places in the Ames area, so we suggest searching local Yelp! Reviews and the Groupon deals to find an option that works for you.

For an at-home option, buying some bubble bath supplies and candles, or making homemade face masks (check out these recipes) can be just as relaxing!

5. For the Artist (or the aspiring one)


When the cabin fever of winter starts to kick in, your friend or family member can exercise their creative side with one of the many art classes available in Ames! The Workspace in the Memorial Union offers many free or inexpensive art classes, and the Octagon Center for the Arts offers classes working with many different mediums, for children and adults. You can often find art classes at other locations in Ames, like Reiman Gardens or the public library.

If you’re looking for a low-cost alternative, host your own class—or at least a craft night! Putting together a “Pinterest” craft night with a friend or small group of friends can be simple, fun, and free! Take a peek at our Pinterest boards for some ideas.

6. For the Busy Person


We all know those super busy people who just don’t have the time to clean at home (or despise doing it!). This may be a great gift for an elderly neighbor, new parents, or a big family. Heck, if you want to give me this gift I won’t argue! Another twist on this is to hire a professional organizing service person to come in—this could potentially help keep things clean for even longer. This is another great opportunity to search on Groupon or Yelp! for local businesses who offer cleaning and organizing services!

For a low cost option, you can find recipes here to make some unique and “green” cleaning supplies, or give a homemade coupon and offer to do the cleaning yourself!

7. For the Generous Person

download-2.jpg            We all have people in our lives who don’t want to receive gifts. However, if you know what they like and support, you can purchase a gift for a non-profit organization on their behalf! There are lots of non-profits, both local and international, which feature similar ideas. You could do something like purchase school supplies for families who can’t afford them, pay for trees to be planted to offset the person’s carbon footprint, or donate to an international non-profit organization like Oxfam or Heifer International which gifts livestock to families in developing countries who cannot afford them.

So while this isn’t necessarily an “experience” that your gift-receiver tangibly receives, they’ll have the experience of knowing they have helped someone either in their own community or across the world. This can be an especially powerful gift for a child (of the right age), through something like the “Kid for a Kid” project that gifts goat kids to families living in poverty!

8. For the Explorer


One of the best gifts I (Paige) gave my mom was a weekend getaway for her birthday! She lives six hours away from Ames, so I met her halfway at an Airbnb and we spent the weekend trying new restaurants, watching our favorite movies together, and just enjoying spending time together! She returned the gift on my birthday, and we got to spend another weekend together.

Whether it’s trying new restaurants or stores together, going on a road trip with no destination, or looking for new experiences in your own town, there are many ways to offer the gift of exploration! For a low cost option, you could even design a scavenger hunt throughout your neighborhood or town.

9. For the Green Thumb


Winter can be a sad time for your favorite backyard gardener, or local-food aficionado! But there are SO many ways to cheer them up! You could give them a coupon for “x number of hours weeding your garden” or a share in a local CSA. If you’ve got a garden pal who currently lives in an apartment or another place without a yard, you could even buy them a plot in a local community garden (there are several in Ames) or let them use part of your yard come springtime! As garden and local food fans ourselves, we highly recommend caring for the people who will give you their surplus veggies all summer long! 😉

10. For Everyone


Ahh, the classic coupon book! Most of us probably gave a parent or sibling one of these at some point as a kid. If you haven’t, a coupon book is a fun and free way to create vouchers for services you can offer the gift receiver: a back rub, to clean their kitchen or sweep the floor, or something fun like breakfast in bed or adventuring to your favorite park together.

While they may seem cheesy, it’s easy to make this into a very meaningful gift for someone you care about. Whether you’re giving coupons for hugs, an hour of your undivided attention, or a date night, your loved one will appreciate the effort you’re making to spend quality time with them! Make sure they know that these coupons can and should be redeemed so there’s no confusion.


And that’s it—ten ways to spark your creativity related to how easy and fun it can be to give the gift of experiences! We hope that these suggestions have sparked some inspiration for you in your holiday and future gift-giving endeavors. Never underestimate how valuable the gifts of time and experiences are.


                                    We hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday season!

— Heidi and Paige


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