Tired of giving the same type of gifts to the same people every year? Clothing, electronics, jewelry, sporting goods, and other knick knacks can get repetitive and boring and have about the same chance of ending up in the back of a closet as they do of becoming an everyday favorite. If you’re looking for a way to revolutionize your gift giving abilities, impress your family and friends, and most importantly, give a gift that the gift recipient will appreciate, enjoy, and remember, I encourage you to look at the growing industry of experience gifts.
What is an experience gift?
At the risk of sounding redundant, it is the gift of experience. Instead of giving somebody a material object like a sweater or a laptop computer you give them the gift of a unique experience. In many cases, these experiences are ‘bucket list’ type items – the sort of things that people always say they want to do but never actually set aside the time for themselves to do it. Examples are things like hot air balloon rides or a chance to drive a race car, but the opportunities are nearly endless.
Experience gifts are a relatively new development in the United States. The first US based experience gift companies opened for business in 2004 but at that time the industry was already booming in Europe in Australia. The first experience gift company in Europe and pioneer of the industry, Red Letter Days, was founded in 1989! That being said, US based experience gift companies have grown very rapidly and now offer hundreds of experiences for men, women, couples, families, and groups across the country. Below are ten of the most interesting, exciting, and ‘cool’ experiences you can give (or receive) in the US.
Race Car Driving
Most people that have seen a NASCAR, indy car, drag car, or even rally car racing event on television or in person has undoubtedly wondered to themselves about how exciting it would be to drive one of the vehicles being raced. Well, this is that opportunity. Whether it’s driving a stock car, riding along in an indy car, or testing your stills in a rally car, all of these experiences involve a real race car on a real race track. These are not glorified go carts or dune buggies. They are the real deal and are real fun!
City Food Tours
Certain cities, and even certain neighborhoods within cities, are famous for their specialty foods and other cities simply have an amazing collection of diverse and tasty foods and desserts. City food tours give participants a chance to travel to several of the area’s top restaurants to taste their finest dishes and speak with the chefs about how the dishes are constructed, the inspiration behind the dish, good wine or beer pairings, and anything else that comes up.
While you could make a reservation at one of the city’s top restaurants to taste their food, doing so will not give you a chance to get the behind the scenes experience that you get on a food tour plus a food tour generally stops at a minimum of 4 restaurants so you get to sample a wider variety of food. There are food tours in most major cities that cover entrees and desserts, or both in some cases.
Fighter Pilot for a Day
Movies like ‘Top Gun‘ attempted to take us all inside the cockpit to get a feeling for what it is like to participate in real air combat, but this experience takes that to an entirely new level with no experience necessary. The day begins with a briefing from a real combat pilot where you learn about the plane, cover the basics of formation flight, learn combat maneuvers, and get suited for a flight suit. Then you’re strapped in to a real Italian built fighter jet with a professional pilot sharing the cockpit with you.
The pilot will get the plane airborne and then turn the controls over to you for you to complete six combat missions. The first half of the flight involves identifying ‘enemy’ aircraft in the sky, tracking them down, getting them in your sights, and ‘shooting them down.’ The second half of the flight consists of the equally important skill of avoiding enemy fire and trying to escape from them. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience that is like nothing else in the world!
Who hasn’t seen a bulldozer moving thousands of pounds of dirt or debris with absolute ease and thought to themselves: “That looks like fun!” This experience is a chance to see how much fun it really is (hint: it’s even more fun that it looks). This is the grown up version of playing with cars and trucks in a sandbox – it takes place at a “heavy equipment play area” where you learn how to operate a bulldozer and an excavator in less than 10 minutes! The remainder of the 2 hours in the machine is all play time!
Learn to Fly
If the full blown fighter pilot for a day experience is a bit too much but you’re still after the experience of learning to fly, this is exactly what you’re looking for. Choose from learning to fly a helicopter, an airplane, or even a glider in locations across the country. Professional, FAA certified instructors provide the classroom instruction and hands on flight training that can get even the greenest of novices behind the controls of the ‘bird’ of their choice. Difficult maneuvers like takeoff and landing are left to the professionals on these instructional and fun experiences that can be the first step in obtaining a pilot’s license.
Exotic Dream Car Tour
Perhaps the thrill of driving an exotic car overwhelms that of driving a race car. If that’s the case, look no further than the Exotic Dream Car Tour. This day long experience starts with an introduction to a collection of exotic cars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bently, Audi, McLaren, and more as well as a detailed description of the 150+ mile long road course selected for the day including long flat straight-aways, winding curves, and gorgeous views.
Each participant then selects a supercar that they want to drive and the tour begins. Approximately 30 minutes later, the tour pulls over and everyone gets in a different car. In one day, participants will get to experience driving no fewer than 5 exotic supercars and truly learn what the nuances are the separate a Ferrari from a Lamborghini and an Audi V10 from one made by Mercedes. It is a car lover’s dream come true – a true glimpse in to the life of a writer for magazines like Road & Track or Car & Driver.
Michael Douglas starred in a film called ‘The Game’ in which his life was turned upside down by a mysterious 48th birthday present that he received from his brother. The live action role playing game that Douglas’ character participates in walks the fine line between reality and fantasy that includes guns firing blanks, actors pretending to be strangers, and a great amount of collusion between Douglas’ friends and family to make The Game seem like a great scheme meant to ruin Douglas financially, culminating in a “SURPRISE” birthday party and a realization that it all was a game.
While nothing that advanced is available as an experience gift, there are some experience gifts that come close. Two experiences designed for small to mid sized groups, called Da Vinci’s Gold Scavenger Hunt and The Heist, begin when the group is given a set of clues and an objective. The Da Vinci experience is designed to be in line with the Dan Brown books like The Da Vinci Code and involves a hunt through town looking for the clues, solving mysteries, meeting actors, and so on to find the gold. The object of The Heist is to execute the perfect crime by doing things like meeting with connections in the Mafia to get blue prints for the building and avoiding the motion sensors while you try to crack the code in the safe.
If those two are not enough, or if you’re looking for something meant for an individual, there is the Thirteen experience. Thirteen is shrouded in mystery and those that complete the experience (which can last up to two weeks) are members of a society like no other. All that can be said about Thirteen is that it will begin unexpectedly and at any given point in the game you may not know if what is happening is part of Thirteen or real, everyday life. You’ll find yourself asking if this person you just met is a complete stranger or an actor put in place to give you a clue. This experience is 100% customized to the participant(s) and is both physically and mentally challenging. It truly is the adventure of a lifetime for those brave enough to try to solve the mystery of Thirteen.
“I’d like to go skydiving one day.” How many of us have either said that or heard a friend or family member say that? And how many of those people have actually followed through and gone skydiving? This is the beauty of experience gifts. Skydiving is something that so many people around the world have expressed interest in doing but rarely do they actually do it. They can’t find the time, they don’t know where to go, etc. Experience gifts take care of all the legwork for you and give the little bit of extra push required to do those things they they’ve always wanted to do but have never been able to do.
Hot Air Balloon Rides
Much like skydiving, riding in a hot air balloon is one of those activities that many people want to do but never actually go out and do. Hot air balloon rides make great gifts for birthdays or even anniversaries or weddings as many of them involve a champagne toast or brunch and take can take place during sunrise, setting a very romantic scene for anniversary celebrations or even marriage proposals.
Golf is one of the most popular recreational sports in America. There are public and private courses everywhere across the country and more people are playing golf today than ever before. Instead of giving the golfer in your life a new putter or another golf shirt, consider a golfing experience gift this year. There are packages available like lessons with a PGA pro in most cities where the recipient gets one on one instruction (often with video recordings & reviews) with a PGE professional. Or, take it a step further and give them playing lessons with a PGA pro which will take them off the driving range and put them out on the course with the PGA pro – learning about how to improve their swing but also course strategy, shot selection, and much more.
Or, for the super-golfer, choose a golfing experience that gets them on one of the most prestigious courses in the nation like Pinehurst, PGA National, Barton Creek, and several others. Or perhaps a day of watching live action at the US Open is more their style. Experience gifts make all of this possible.
This is Just the Tip of the Iceberg…
There are literally thousands of experience gifts in the US for you to choose from – something for every taste, every budget, every location. Whether you’re looking to spend $150 or $150,000 you can find something for the people on your list that will help them create a memory that will last a lifetime. How long do you think that golf shirt is going to stay in style?
About the Author: Amanda Evergreen is a writer for Cloud 9 Living, an experience gift company based in Boulder, CO. She lives in Boulder with her two dogs and enjoys playing in the Colorado Rockies in her free time. Cloud 9 Living offers over 1,700 unique experience gifts in 43 cities across the US. Visit their site to learn more about any of the gifts mentioned here, to see their entire catalog of of Christmas gifts for men and women, or to find the perfect experience gift for any gift giving occasion at http://www.cloud9living.com.