Memories are better than stuff.
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My kids have been lucky enough to be showered with gifts from their loved ones—and they definitely never lacked for anything. So starting with their third birthdays, we stopped presenting them with toys and tchotchkes, and started taking them on adventures instead. (The one exception: 2020, when there weren't a whole lot of places to adventure to—so my teens got guitars and AirPods to make life on lockdown a little more bearable.)

This might be the perfect year to start gifting adventures instead. There are reports that product shortages and shipping delays could impact your ability to cross everyone off your holiday shopping list—and if we've learned anything over the past 18+ months, it's how much we enjoyed (and missed) spending time with the people we love. So make memories instead!

If you want to give the gift of an amazing experience, here's how to do it—no gift wrap required.

Think about what they'll love

My kids have very different hobbies and passions, so their gifts are always very different. My artsy oldest generally gets performance-based gifts, with trips to Broadway shows and the ballet; my younger daughter is into nature and wildlife, so overnights at zoos and one-on-ones with dolphins have been her favorite adventures.

But sometimes it pays to think a little outside the box, to see if your gift recipient might be interested in trying something new. My parents may not have taken up pottery as a hobby, despite enjoying the pottery class I gifted them a couple years back. But they have returned to the shop several times to buy the owner's handiwork.

Keep your budget in mind

While you can definitely go big budget for this (a Broadway show and dinner isn't cheap), you don't even have to spend a penny to offer the gift of a good time. You could present them with a day at the lake, a hiking or biking adventure, or a fun day of crafting or baking at home. 

RELATED: 23 Amazing Gift Ideas That Don't Cost a Thing

Brainstorm your options

It does take some time to research and look for just the right gift. Try some of these gift ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Tickets to a concert, play, sporting event, or performance
  • Classes or lessons (cooking, dance, or crafts)
  • Camping
  • Theme park tickets
  • Museum visit or overnight
  • Horseback riding
  • Movie night
  • Baking or crafting day
  • Animal encounters at a zoo or aquarium
  • Kayaking, paddleboarding, or other water sports
  • Hiking or biking
  • A tasting excursion or food tour
  • Walking history tour
  • Zoo or aquarium visit
  • Spa day
  • Picnic
  • Tea party

Have fun with your presentation

We usually present my kids with a note that shares the details of that year's adventure (usually crafted with goofy pictures related to the gift). We went a little crazier the year that we took them to Universal Studios and Disney World—with a Harry Potter-inspired letter inviting them to Hogwarts, delivered by an owl balloon.

If you still want something they can unwrap, include a little something related to the gift—like a paint-by-numbers kit if your gift is a trip to an art museum, or a nice canteen if you're taking them camping. 

Decide if you're tagging along

While you don't have to be part of the experience, I'd definitely recommend it if it's possible.

My husband and I trade off years planning (and attending) our daughters' birthday adventures. For us, the chance to spend that quality, one-on-one time with our daughters is absolutely priceless—and a wonderful gift we're giving ourselves, too.