Now that nearly everyone has applied the Marie Kondo method to their possessions, it’s time to start giving your loved ones experiences as gifts instead of more stuff that may not spark joy. And what better experience to receive than the gift of travel? (Plus, you don’t have to worry about meeting last-minute shipping deadlines.)
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 give 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 our highly curated list of experience gift ideas.
Day Trips and Other Experience Gifts
These short experiences are great gift ideas to enhance trips your friends and family already have scheduled in their calendars.
1. A Walking Tour with Context
Buy now: From $100 per person, contexttravel.com
There are walking tours for all sorts of travelers, whether you’re looking for a gift for your food-obsessed dad or your best friend who is an architecture buff. One of our favorite walking tour companies is Context, which offers in-depth and academic aspects to both its small group and private tours led by chefs, scholars, and other experts. It has offerings 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. Not sure which tour they’d prefer? Context also offers digital gift cards.
2. Airbnb Experiences
Buy now: Prices vary by destination, airbnb.com
Airbnb Experiences has hundreds of options with local hosts around the world, from cooking classes to day trips to live concerts. You can attend a hidden concert in a houseboat in Amsterdam, take a churro making class in Mexico City, or learn about horse whispering with an equine therapist in Barcelona. To book, either reserve a specific experience online for them directly via Airbnb or purchase an Airbnb gift card to let them choose their own.
3. Vacation Photo Shoot with Flytographer
Buy now: From $285 for a 30-minute session, flytographer.com
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.
These classes will keep curious travelers engaged whether they’re abroad or preparing for their next trip at home.
Buy now: From $180 for a one-year All-Access Pass, masterclass.com
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, Apollonia Poilâne, and Mashama Bailey, 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.
5. Regarding Oysters: Oyster and Cocktail Class
Buy now: From $150 per person, regardingoysters.com
Any food-obsessed traveler heading to New York would be thrilled to spend an evening at Georgette Moger-Petraske’s Regarding Oysters salon, mastering the art of shucking bivalves and learning how to make cocktails. (Recipes come from the pages of her best-selling book Regarding Cocktails—a tribute to her late husband, Sasha Petraske, the famed bartender behind NYC’s cocktail bar Milk & Honey.) Classes are held in Moger-Petraske’s Murray Hill brownstone apartment on Wednesday through Sunday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; they include a welcome martini, a half dozen locally sourced oysters with shucking lessons, two cocktails with mixing lessons, and a variety of canapés, including savory madeleines and goat cheese bonbons. Per NYC’s indoor dining mandate, all guests must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
Not going to New York? Of course, you can book cooking classes at culinary institutes like Napa’s CIA at Copia, as well as at hotels like England’s Chewton Glen, which opened its own cookery school in 2017.
6. Rosetta Stone Language Classes
Buy now: From $36 for three months, rosettastone.com
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.
For a gift that keeps on giving, these annual memberships will open up doors for travelers both at home and on the go.
7. National Parks Annual Pass
Buy now: $80, usgs.gov
Got a friend who became a big hiker during the pandemic? 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.
8. Priority Pass
Buy now: From $99 per year, prioritypass.com
For travelers whose credit cards don’t automatically include airport lounge access, you can still give the gift of airport ease with a Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass gives its members access to free Wi-Fi, food, and beverages in more than 1,300 lounges in airports around the world.
9. Annual Museum Membership
Buy now: From $110 per year, moma.org
If your mom is the kind of person who spends her entire vacation museum hopping, give her the gift of an annual membership in her hometown so she can enjoy her favorite travel activity year-round. For example, New Yorkers will enjoy a membership to MoMA, which was recently renovated in 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 $79 for a six-month membership, clearme.com
A Clear membership will help frequent travelers get through airport security faster—even if they already have TSA PreCheck. Here’s how it works: After verifying their identity, travelers can walk up to a Clear kiosk at any airport where there is one and scan their fingerprints or eyes. Then a Clear representative will escort them straight to the security checkpoint, bypassing the regular line. You can give someone a gift card for either a six-month membership ($79) or a full-year membership ($149).
For those celebrating a major birthday or milestone, consider these splurge-worthy tours for a trip of a lifetime.
11. GeoEx’s Chile’s Route of Parks Tour
Book now: From $11,425 per person for 12 days, based on double occupancy, geoex.com
Luxury tour operator GeoEx’s new Chile’s Route of Parks tour takes travelers to 6 of the 17 national parks in the epic new route that opened in 2018. Offered November through March each year, this trip will take you everywhere from the glaciers of Cerro Castillo National Park to the forests of Queulat National Park to the mountains of Patagonia National Park. This 12-day trip is a splurge, but it includes all accommodations, excursions, and ground transportation, plus most meals. GeoEx requires all travelers on group trips to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
12. Intrepid’s Japan: Hike, Bike, and Kayak Tour
Book now: From $4,255 per person for 12 days, based on double occupancy, intrepidtravel.com
Crossing your fingers Japan reopens its borders in 2022? This sports-focused trip to Japan with adventure travel company Intrepid Travel has departures from April 10, 2022, and onwards. During this 12-day small group trip, you will hike, bike, and kayak your way across Japan from Tokyo to the Setouchi Islands and back again. 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. Intrepid requires all travelers to produce proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to participate in its trips.
13. G Adventures’ Wellness Costa Rica Tour
Book now: From $1,754 per person for 8 days, based on double occupancy, gadventures.com
Anyone who aspires to be more mindful can start their journey off right with a wellness-focused trip to Costa Rica. Hosted by the adventure travel company G Adventures, this 8-day small-group trip includes a stand-up paddleboard yoga class overlooking the Arenal Volcano, a hike to volcanic mud baths and hot springs in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and surf lessons on Playa Carrillo. G Adventures’ Vaccinated Tours Policy requires that all travelers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with the final dose given at least 14 days before the start of the tour.
After the experiences are over, these gifts will keep the memories alive for years to come.
14. Artifact Uprising hardcover photo books
Buy now: From $72, artifactuprising.com
Avid photographers can turn their memory cards full of jpegs into a beautiful linen-bound hardcover photo book from Artifact Uprising so they can relive their travels over and over again.
15. Master Storytellers bespoke memoirs
Buy now: From $3,920, master-storytellers.com
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but imagine if you had your parents’ or grandparents’ travel memories preserved in book form for future generations. Master Storytellers taps professional writers to turn interviews with your loved one into a bespoke biography that is printed and bound. Packages start at $3,920 for the Bronze package, which includes two interview sessions that are turned into a 10,000-word memoir with up to 10 images. (You’ll get five paperback copies to share once it’s printed.)
This article was originally published on October 9, 2019; it was updated in November 2021, and again on December 6, 2021, with current information.