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13 Experience Gifts Travelers Will Love

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Gift travel experiences instead of stuff this holiday season.

Photos by Shutterstock / Design by Emily Blevins

Gift travel experiences instead of stuff this holiday season.

For the travelers who already have everything, these experience gift ideas won’t clutter their home with more stuff.

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Now that nearly everyone has applied the Marie Kondo method to their possessions, it’s time to start gifting experiences to your loved ones instead of more stuff that may not spark joy. And what better experience to receive than the gift of travel?

There’s something for every kind of traveler and every type of budget in this gift guide. Whether you’re looking for a day trip to gift to a friend who already has flights to a specific destination reserved, an online class to keep your kid’s travel bug alive during the school year, or an epic trip to book for a very special someone, read on for ideas.

Day Trips and Other Experiences

These short experiences are great gift ideas to enhance trips your friends and family already have scheduled in their calendars.

Context’s Met Museum After Dark walking tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at the New York landmark.

A Walking Tour

There are walking tours for all sorts of travelers, whether you’re shopping for your food-obsessed dad or your best friend who is an architecture buff. Lead by chefs, scholars, and other experts, Context, an AFAR trusted travel partner, offers in-depth and academic aspects to both its small group and private tours. It has tours in cities around the world, including Melbourne, Singapore, and Mexico City, but one of our favorites is the two-hour Met Museum After Dark tour, in which an art historian or curator takes guests through the famous New York city landmark once the crowds are gone. 

Buy Now: From $50 per person, contexttravel.com

Airbnb Concerts include musical experiences like this bluegrass show in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Concert Tickets

Concert tickets are the perfect gift for your music-loving brother, but what if you don’t know what his favorite band is these days? Surprise him with a gift certificate to Airbnb Concerts, so he can seek out an intimate concert by locals on his next trip. There are hundreds of options in unique venues around the world, like Bluegrass at the Boathouse in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or the Hidden Concert in a Houseboat in Amsterdam, and the Peckham Hidden Jazz Club in London. To book, you can either reserve a specific concert online for them directly via Airbnb, or you can purchase an Airbnb gift card from a major retailer like Target and let them choose their own.

Buy Now: From $4 per person, airbnb.com

A portrait session abroad is a great souvenir for families.

Vacation Photo Shoot

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If your sister and her family return from their vacation each year with a phone full of selfies, give them a gift certificate to Flytographer, a company that connects you with local photographers for vacation photo shoots in such cities as London, New York, and Tokyo. Sessions can be booked via Flytographer for as short as 30 minutes (great for families with small children) and up to two hours. Thirty-minute sessions come with 15 prints plus the digital files and one location (travelers can choose the specific location of the shoot, or the photographer can offer suggestions). Longer sessions include multiple locations and up to 60 prints, including digital files. As Annie Fitzsimmons, the editor of AFAR Advisor, points out, you’re getting your photos taken, but you’re also meeting a fun local and supporting a creative field.

Buy Now: From $250 for a 30-minute session, flytographer.com

Classes

These classes will keep curious travelers engaged whether they’re abroad or preparing for their next trip at home.

Before making a pilgrimage to Chez Panisse, take the MasterClass taught by its founder Alice Waters.

MasterClass

For the person who makes reservations at restaurants before booking a flight to a destination, a gift certificate to MasterClass is a great present that will build anticipation for any upcoming trips planned around food. It has online cooking classes taught by renowned chefs, including Alice Waters, Massimo Bottura, and Gordon Ramsay, to mention a few. Avid travelers who want to learn more about photography or writing before their next trip can take classes like photography by Annie Leibovitz and creative writing by Margaret Atwood

Buy Now: $90 per class or $180 for a one-year All-Access Pass, masterclass.com

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The Rosetta Stone app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Rosetta Stone Language Classes

Kids and adults alike will benefit from online language classes before a trip abroad, especially if your child’s school doesn’t offer Japanese or if it’s been awhile since your partner’s high school Spanish classes. Rosetta Stone is known for teaching dozens of languages quickly through immersive classes that are available now on both desktop and mobile apps.

Buy Now: From $79 for three months, rosettastone.com

La Cuisine Paris offers a class in how to bake classic French tarts like the raspberry ones seen here.

Cooking Classes

Send a food-obsessed friend off on his next trip with a gift certificate to a cooking class; such classes are offered through private schools and as day classes at culinary institutes like Napa’s CIA at Copia, as well at hotels like England’s Chewton Glen, which opened its own cookery school in 2017. Any Francophile heading to Paris soon would be thrilled to spend an afternoon in the Marais district at La Cuisine Paris Cooking Classes mastering classic French sauces like béchamel and bearnaise or learning how to make a flaky pâte feuilletée levée in the croissant and breakfast pastries class.

Buy Now: From €69 (US$76), lacuisineparis.com

Memberships

For a gift that keeps on giving, these annual memberships will open up doors for travelers both at home and on the go.

A National Parks Pass gets you entry to Zion National Park and many more sites.

National Parks Annual Pass

Got a friend who can’t stop posting hiking photos to Instagram every weekend? A National Parks Pass will get him or her into 2,000 federal recreation sites for one year and covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges, plus day use fees at national forests and grasslands. Annual passes can be purchased as gifts online and come with a blank signature line for use by the recipient.

Buy Now: $80, usgs.gov

New York’s MoMA reopens in October 2019 after extensive renovations.

Annual Museum Membership

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If your mom is the kind of person who spends her entire vacation museum hopping, gift her an annual membership in her hometown so she can enjoy her favorite travel activity year-round. New Yorkers will enjoy a membership to the new MoMA , which reopens after extensive renovations in October 2019. MoMA members not only get unlimited free membership to MoMA and MoMA PS1 in Queens but also can participate in members-only previews of new exhibits, extended hours, and free entry to MoMA films, among other perks.

Buy Now: From $85 per year, moma.org

Tours

For those celebrating a major birthday or milestone, consider these splurge-worthy tours for a trip of a lifetime.

Kathmandu’s Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest Buddhist shrines in the world

G Adventures’ Wellness Nepal Tour

Anyone who has New Year’s resolutions to be more mindful can start 2020 off right with a wellness-focused trip to Nepal. Hosted by the adventure travel company G Adventures, this 13-day small-group trip includes daily yoga and meditation sessions, plus visits to Kathmandu’s Boudhanath Stupa, a two-night monastery stay, and a stop at Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace.

Book Now: From $2,999 per person for 13 days, based on double occupancy, gadventures.com

Intrepid’s bike tour of Japan includes a stop at the Seigantoji Pagoda and Nachi Falls.

Intrepid’s Japan: Hike, Bike, and Kayak Tour

Even if you weren’t able to score tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, you can still treat your loved ones to a sports-focused trip to Japan next year with adventure travel company Intrepid Travel. Hike, bike, and kayak your way across Japan from Tokyo to the Setouchi Islands and back again on this 12-day small group trip. Along the way, travelers will have the chance to hike part of the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, kayak around Ikuchijima Island, and bike through Kyoto. 

Book Now: From $4,017 per person for 12 days, based on double occupancy, intrepidtravel.com

Scotland’s red squirrels are a highlight of this Highland safari.

Wilderness Scotland’s Rewilding Scotland Retreat

Nature lovers can get a first-person view of Scotland’s rewilding efforts on this brand new seven-day trip with Wilderness Scotland. Together with rewilding expert and nature photographer Peter Cairns, you’ll spend most days outdoors exploring in and around Cairngorms National Park and the Bein Eighe National Nature Reserve. On this Scottish safari, you’ll get to see red squirrels, sea eagles, pine martens, and more in their natural habitats that are currently being revitalized across the Highlands.

Book Now: From £1,325 (US$1,618) per person for seven days, based on double occupancy, wildernessscotland.com

In addition to distilleries, this bike tour includes a stop at a historic Shaker village in Kentucky.

Trek Travel’s Kentucky Bourbon Country Bike Tour

Looking to combine your love of whiskey with your travel partner’s bicycling obsession next year? Gift yourselves this six-day bike tour of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country that has multiple departure dates in May 2020. Hosted by cycling tour company Trek Travel, you’ll spend your days riding past bucolic horse farms and making stops at a historic Shaker Village and Woodford Reserve, one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky.

Book Now: From $3,299 per person for six days, based on double occupancy, trektravel.com

This Argentina tour includes a stop at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park.

GeoEx’s Total Solar Eclipse Argentina 2020 Tour

Seeing a total solar eclipse is the gift (and trip) of a lifetime for any astronomy lover. The next one takes place in South America on December 14, 2020, and luxury tour operator GeoEx is organizing a tour hosted by Dr. Ed Krupp, an astronomer and director of Los Angeles’s Griffith Observatory. This 12-day trip is a splurge, but it includes hikes in Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks, as well as a chance to view the eclipse from a private ranch located in Argentina that should have the longest duration of totality and the best weather conditions.

Book Now: From $18,450 per person for 12 days, based on double occupancy, geoex.com

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