Forget the Gifts, Give an Experience this Christmas

It seems to me people have great intentions when it comes to less materialism and more saving, but once the holiday spirit is upon us, most tend to lose focus.  Mountains of presents sit under a Christmas tree making for a pretty picture and ensuring a great holiday, right?

We tend to rationalize our decisions to buy stuff for ourselves and others pretty easily.  “Brian loves cars, he’s going to love this remote controlled do-hickey” or “I have to get that doll for Susie before they are all gone” and “Danny can’t be the only child without this new contraption” or the most common “We want to give our kids the childhood we never had, the toys that we did not have so that they don’t feel deprived”.

We haven’t had that image in our house for several years.  We aren’t so minimalistic that we don’t want things occasionally, but we realized quickly that the stereotypical image of Christmas just isn’t cutting it for us.  We like gifts, just not an overload where the quantity trumps the quality.

The Multiple Gifts at Once No-No

Multiple presents nearly always requires that the child keep opening gifts.  It’s more about opening than the actual gift.  The child pings from one gift to the next, usually without more than a quick “Oh wow” and then on to the next gift.  If this doesn’t encourage ADD and ADHD, I don’t know what does!

Our Solution:

We still want our children to experience the fun that Christmas time brings.  We don’t want to ‘deprive’ them of the magic of the season, Santa Claus and art of gift giving and receiving.  But we do want to instill a sense of gratitude.  Last year we did a multiple day Christmas.  It was very low key, but we had bought 4 small gifts for each child.  Each morning they woke up, they found one gift at the base of our designated Christmas spot.  These were small gifts:  one day it was 2 vials of Play-Doh, another day it was a harmonica and a book.  Each day G was able to focus on his new toy and played for hours with it.  And a year later, they are still his favorite toys.  I don’t think this would have been the case if we had opened all of the gifts at one time.

We will continue to give our children one or two gifts for Christmas, but want to make Christmas more of a time for experiences and giving.

The Kings Christmas Costa Rica 2010

The Kings Christmas - Costa Rica 2010

G enjoying his Christmas Gifts

G enjoying his Christmas Gifts Costa Rica 2010


Our favorite gifts to our family is the gift of experience.  Instead of spending hundreds on stuff, we want to use the time of Christmas to experience something or some place new.  Reducing the focus on materialism for Christmas and focusing on enriching life through experience is the ultimate Christmas gift.  We feel like we’ve been living this gift for the past 1 1/2 years of traveling abroad, but any family can give the gift of experience to themselves or others.


Gift of Experience Ideas

  • Mini-vacation
    There are usually lots of great places to go near where you live that people visiting your town would go to…so why haven’t you been there?  It may be an amusement park that is nearby or a cool museum that your family would enjoy. Or that drive into the mountains or countryside. It could be something grander that includes a plane trip (I recommend tropical destinations, but that is just me 😉 ). The point is to have a new experience together.  The memories last longer than wrapping paper.
  • Lessons (Cooking lessons in a foreign cuisine, golf lessons, language lessons)
    The gift that keeps on giving.  Learning or perfecting skills is hardly ever a waste.  The newly acquired skills are a gift to yourself and your family. A lot of people would like to try new things, but just won’t spend the money on themselves.
  • Tickets to a live performance (a musical, play, comedy or symphony)
    Again, these are fun things to do, but people rarely spend money on their own enjoyment.
  • A gift certificate for a dinner and a movie to a restaurant they wouldn’t normally go to.
    An evening out is special.  If the family has children, you can treat mom and dad to a night out while you babysit.  (We like the thought of that one, and if anyone would like to gift US with that…we’d appreciate!)
  • Practical Gifts
    For sure, this may be the least exciting category.  However, in these economical times when families are struggling with money, a practical gift that helps alleviate some financial stress may be just right.  Ideas for practical gifts are oil change certificates, grocery store gift cards, and gas cards.
  • Giving of your time or to those less fortunate.  Volunteering your time at a shelter or giving a meal to a family who cannot afford much is a wonderful experience and low cost.  We think this will be our choice this year.
Our Best Christmas Advice: Buy or treat them to something that is going to add value to their lives – don’t just buy stuff.

There are so many other ways to make this holiday season less about presents and more about family and amazing experiences that will be remembered long after packaged gifts are forgotten. I would love to hear what you do to make your holidays special and less materialistic! Please comment below and share your thoughts and tips this season. Happy Holidays.


The following are different articles from other traveling families on their perspective of Christmas:

Pearce On Earth: A Different Kind of Christmas

Family Trek: What’s For Christmas? Dear Santa, do we really need more stuff?

The Nomadic Family- Poverty for Christmas

New Life on the Road – Dear Mr Santa Claus Whats For Christmas

With 2 Kids In Tow, It’s Backpacking We Go:  Dear Santa, For This Christmas We Wish…

Living Outside of the Box –  The Best Christmas Presents

Discover Share Inspire – Christmas is Coming – What Do We Give on the Road?

Bohemian Travelers- Gift giving while living a simpler life

Presence vs Presents –
Christmas Time for Travelling Families

Family Travel Bucket List – Feliz Navidad Without All the Stuff

Livin On The Road’s kids:  Peter and Susan

A minor diversion – Reinventing Christmas

Carried on the Wind – Christmas Giving

Edventure Project


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21 Responses to “Forget the Gifts, Give an Experience this Christmas”

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