051 | Tips for Gifting Experiences

With the holidays upon us and the media fraught with stories of supply chain issues and retailers bursting with consumerism, I thought I’d bring this episode out a little sooner than planned to help you navigate the holidays with experiences

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I want to pause and thank the many who reached out with kind words in celebrating our 1 year podcast birthday.  I even received a couple cups of coffee, which was splendid because I had a crafty weekend and woke up to snow on Sunday.  My kids were thrilled and scurried downstairs at 6:20 AM ready to go skiing in our backyard and were easily outside for several hours.  I on the other hand was inside being creative and hands down the one thing I reach for when being creative is a cup of warm flavored coffee.  I happen to have some Hawaii coffee left and it was the best moment of creative calm with inspiring aromas.  This cup was given by an anonymous buyer who shared:  “Love your outlook on life and adventure! I just started listening this year and now want an RV, hike the AT and who knows what else.”  Thank you to the someone who purchased it for me.  Can you see how that coffee led to an experience?  We are going to talk more about designing experiences much deeper in an upcoming episode, but we’ll definitely frame it up in a way that this episode can double as both education with a built-in gift guide to encourage connecting through adventures.  


Designing Experiences

Think of a time you went on an adventure. 

Where are you?  Who are you with?  Describe your surroundings.  What do you smell?  What can you hear?  

So often when we need to solve a problem, we begin with ideas and thoughts.  One of the most transformative learning I have experienced in my life is that when I really want to solve a problem I need to start with empathy and allow feelings to have priority.  This skill is really helpful when designing experiences.  I want to empathize with the recipient.  What is their life like?  What would make this experience meaningful in a way that provides them with the opportunity to connect and experience adventure?  

For example, we are headed out west to go skiing as a family gift before the holidays.  We didn’t just choose a ski resort we knew, we didn’t even choose the state.  We began by designing the experience based on how we wanted it to look and feel.  The primary reason for skiing was to feel challenged (being from the Midwest) but we weren’t looking for the best of the best.  We wanted to be encouraged enough that we could have fun and success on the mountain as well.  As I planned the ski weekend I kept the words challenge yet encouraged in the back of my mind to remind me of what to look for in deciding our destination.  

Similarly, for kid’s birthdays.  I try to design experiences that are creative and special.  Creative to me means it’s not something we would likely do on a normal day.  Special doesn’t always mean the center of attention.  I think about their love languages and try to use empathy to consider what help them feel special.  

When it comes to gifting experiences I put the gifts into 5 categories:

  1. The gift facilitates and experience
  2. The gift provides an experience
  3. The gift provides the ingredients to an experience
  4. The gift giving process is part of the experience
  5. The gift is a reflection of an experience

1. The Gift Facilitates an Experience

I encourage empathy to consider how might we make an experience better or solve a problem.  Think of a recent adventure experience that could have been better.  Is there a thing, a process, a amenity that would make it better, easier?

My husband and son each summer take a week and pack into the boundary waters to go fishing in Northern Minnesota.  They carry everything in, canoe to their campsite, and fish for days.  There are many little things that make this trip more enjoyable.  One was having water shoes they can hike in (they purchased Keens), another is having light canoes to portage.  After years of using aluminum canoes they rented Kevlar and it made a huge difference.  But one of the items that made it critical was to have camp chairs that didn’t take up as much space.  I am adding a link for Cliq Chairs* which pack down to the size of a water bottle which is ideal when carrying everything in like this canoe trip.  

One that I received from my boss last year was the perfect gift for solving a problem.  Having been home so much last year and cooking meals I was burned out from meal planning.  I also was getting sick of the same old things so every couple months we’d overhaul the menu and test different meals that the family could enjoy.  My boss got me a meal in a box kit.  Together my family and I created crab cakes (an adventure for this family) and had one less meal to plan and a new experience in trying foods out of our comfort zone.  

My daughter’s dream experience, as she shared with me last evening, is to ride a horse on a beach in Hawaii. That exact experience might be tricky but if I extract the most critical parts it is riding a horse in a location that she can’t do around here.  Meaning not a trail, not at a horse camp.  Her big gift this year is a riding helmet and riding lessons.  We’ll see if riding a horse on a beach fits into our travel plans for the upcoming year.  You know I hate tourist traps, so we’ll likely look for a private ride if possible.  

2. The gift provides an experience

Games.  Games are a great way to create and offer an experience to connect as a family.  Several have adventure built into the game as well.  Here are some of our suggestions related to games.  

  • I did an entire episode on games and shared a list of 20 family friendly games that foster connection and some even take you on an adventure throughout the course of the game.  Here is the link to episode 034 | Games of Adventure, if you scroll to the bottom of that post you can download the list of games we recommend.
  • I have a child who prefers physical activity and so we purchased him a smart soccer ball.  We don’t do video games but this is the first we will test a game using technology like this.  He has a friend who also has one so we are excited they might be able to play virtual soccer, practice some drills and footwork, while still getting some activity in even while it’s cold this winter.  Here is the link to the Soccer Ball we purchased.
  • Escape Rooms provide a shared group experience.  We learned about an at home escape room/scavenger hunt experience, Finders Keepers,* that is travel based.  The game allows you to solve a mystery based on saving a national park, or finding the hidden clues to reveal a treasure.  We chose the National Park challenge to begin and next will be exploring Machu Picchu.  They do offer it as a subscription so we shared this with family members as a potential gift item for our son.  

HINT:  Added bonus, if you are on my email list you will see how this game inspired our Christmas Card this year and you may potentially experience a version of this experience! If you aren’t on the email list, head to  ordinarysherpa.com/subscribe

Adventure Challenge* is an experience we recommend as a great all around adventure gift.  These are scratch-off adventures and the books are designed for solo adventures, friends, couples, and families. They also have Advent(ure) Calendar to scratch off for the advent holiday that we are really excited to begin using and countdown.  Ordinary Sherpa listeners get 10% off by using our link or using coupon code ORDINARYSHERPA 

3. The Gift provides the Ingredients of an experience

With these types of gifts when you put several items together it creates an experience or contributes to an experience.  Some examples include

  • Hygge Basket for my Boss.  My boss spent some time in Denmark so I wanted to replicate that experience by offering elements to recreate a Hygge experience in Wisconsin.  I went to the site Uncommon Goods which I love to find unique maker-based items.  Everything from Mixology Classes and ingredients, Games such as the Hygge game I bought my boss, to the vintage National Park puzzle that my Boss got me for my birthday this year 🙂
  • The year we gifted the kids Disney we had several gifts that led to the big reveal.  One being their  Travel bag (our favorite is the Motherlode Jr from eBags*), An activity to play in the car on our route, putting the parts together and a final BIG gift with little things inside (Box inside of a Box- nesting dolls) with pictures of their favorite Disney characters and Magic Bands

Not all the gifts need to be NEW things.  At least for our immediate family we are more than willing to focus on the experience and not the thing.  Sometimes finding things on FB Marketplace.  Last year we found a killer deal to get 4 snowboards for $100.  It was a great way to introduce snowboarding to our kids and simply offer a fun experience.  We took the snowboards to the local sledding hill following the gift opening.  We often look at rummage sales, Play it again sports, or Marketplace for used gear that could provide a meaningful experience.  

4. The gift giving process is part of the experience

A friend of mine was doing a buy nothing challenge and wanted to stay true to reducing non-consumables.  Their family gift was a vacation. The gift was a card under the tree with a clue to their next clue, and the morning was spent on an expedition in search for the pieces of paper that would create links in the paper chain that would count down the days to their trip to Europe.

With larger family gatherings and gift exchanges we like to turn the process into an experience.  I have used games and stories as part of the exchange process.  

A few years ago I had a companion pass through Southwest  I gifted my mom a mother-daughter trip to Texas.  I covered her airfare and our accommodations.  If you have someone who is a travel rewards fan, purchasing travel rewards for their favorite travel brands could be fun.  If you want to learn more about travel rewards, I have a free download (ordinarysherpa.com/rewards) and have several episodes on travel rewards tips and strategies

  1. 018 | Family Travel Rewards Tips with Melissa Lagerquist
  2. 019 | Our Family Travel Rewards Strategy 
  3. 032 | How a Family of 5 flew to Hawaii for under $500

5. The Gift is a Reflection of an Experience

Each year our family takes vacations and each person in our family creates their own adventure list. While it’s fun to look forward to the next thing, the holidays are a great time to look back and reflect on some of the memories and experiences shared together.  Some experiences that made their way into reflection gifts this year.  

  • I was in Estes Park for a wedding with the three kids.  We stayed in a old motel, a bit nostalgic but not many typical hotel amenities.  One morning we head to the Lobby to grab breakfast and noticed an entire smorgasbord of board games.  The kids and I played a game called Color Brain that was really fun and each kid could play and contribute (the kids are 6, 9, and 11).  So this Christmas, our youngest will be getting the game Color Brain.
  • Another tradition is each kid gets an ornament in their stocking.  A significant experience we had was surfing in Hawaii so one of our kids will get a surfing ornament to reflect back on our Hawaii experience.  
  • Often I find artwork either of the experience or from the experience that I might utilize for a gift.  The year I went to Katmai National Park with my dad to watch the bears, I create coasters of the photographs from that experience. 

Hopefully these tips will help you think about how you might begin to design experiences and give gifts that are less about the things and more about the ability to create memories together as a family.  

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