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6 Gifts for the Woman Who Wants Experiences 

By Alexandra Frost
December 15, 2023

If you ask someone what they want for a holiday gift, and they say, “Nothing,” it’s possible they really mean they don’t want anything. What you, or they, might not have considered, however, is that they’re actually saying they don’t want any more “stuff” but would potentially love an experience-based gift.

An “experience” gift may not be as popular as a material one, but for many of us, it’s more impactful. As we get older and into the middle years of our lives, we tend to recognize the value of time. Time alone. Time together with people we love. Time for self-care. Time to reflect. Many of us become aware how fleeting it all is and want experiences and time together rather than material items.

For these reasons, and many more, the following six women over 50 help clue us in on the experiences they hope to be gifted this holiday season, and why.

A Day of Cooking Together

The pandemic meant multiple moves for Tracey Zeeck, 52, in Oklahoma City, who found herself realizing the amount of unnecessary stuff she had (and didn’t want more of for the holidays). “What is all this [stuff], and why is it important? Do we love it? Do we need it?” she says, determining that she regularly sees only 2% to 10% of what she owns.

Tracey is looking forward to Christmas Day, when she wants to simply cook with her family from scratch and then enjoy the meal together on fancy china that doesn’t get used very often. One year it was tamales, but this Christmas she hopes to make ravioli, inspired by her Italian heritage.

“The gift is really the memory,” Tracey says. She's all about the process. Making tamales together is a memory she will cherish far longer than another pair of socks or a handbag, she says."Our family is big into food, my husband and me both, and our son, too,” she says, “so that's an activity we can do together."

And the holiday experience isn’t limited to culinary enjoyment. Tracey is also looking forward to traveling with her family for three weeks over the holiday on a road trip, spending time together hiking.

Good Food and Drink

The first experience gift Linda Heap, 67, of Oshawa, Ontario, was given came as a complete surprise from her daughter. It was a wine course, which involved four weekly classes, including wine tasting and education about various areas that produce wines, such as France, Italy, Germany, and Australia.

“We learned about all the wines, tasted them, and had tidbits of food from the region as well,” Linda says. “It was a fabulous experience, and I’ve never forgotten it.”

This helped Linda realize how much she prefers experience gifts. “As I get older, I realize that I want to get out and do and enjoy things. It makes you feel so alive,” she says. “When I reminisce about the experience, it also brings to mind the person who gifted it, with lots of love and warm feelings.”

Linda identifies with the feeling of already having all the material possessions she needs at this stage of her life, and is trying to actively declutter. She hopes to continue receiving gifts that have a cultural education slant, including visiting other countries, seeing how people live and eat, and more.

She also plans to pass on the favor, looking forward to giving her grandkids experiences as well.

Classes, Memberships, and Gift Cards

Gift cards have gotten a bad rap as being the laziest gift of all. But this is far from the truth for Marybeth Bock, 55, of Phoenix, who is hoping for memberships, classes, and gift cards to do activities.

“Experiences are absolutely more valuable now because, at this age, you are much more aware of the fragility of life, and there’s a sense of wanting to do activities that you know you might not be able to physically do in another 10 or 20 years,” she says, adding that she realized during the pandemic that “life is unpredictable, and accumulating things just seems frivolous.”

Marybeth hopes to receive Pilates class memberships; travel experiences, such as a hiking or kayaking trip; or gift cards—not to stores, but instead to movie theaters.

Marybeth has a recommendation for people trying to buy experience gifts: Ask friends of the recipient for helpful ideas rather than “panic-purchasing” something that isn’t actually appropriate for them.

The Gift of Laughter

For the first time in her life, Dorene Lorenz, 55, of Juneau, Alaska, lives alone, and is handpicking whom she gets to experience each and every activity with. “It’s very liberating,” she says. “When I had a husband, roommate, or child to consider, life was always a compromise.”

This New Year’s Eve, Dorene is taking her “very conservative” mother to her first transgender comedy show. “I’m looking forward to a fun evening made more exciting because she is willing to explore new experiences,” she says. “We have just started developing a relationship as single women of a certain age, and I’m rather enjoying this wilder, more open side of her that is developing.”

Her mother’s visit in itself is an experience gift, as she lives over 700 miles away, and the closest airport to her mother is a serious mountain drive away, as well.

Spa Days

Shannon Smithey, 56, of Pittsburgh, comes from a long line of family members proud and excited to give “things” as presents, for a valid reason: “My grandparents were young during the depression … during their formative years, so being able to provide people with things was special.”

However, Shannon prefers not to have gifts that she has to “tidy up, dust, or find a place for.” Instead, she wants something she can use. What’s more, as someone with attention deficit disorder, she says it’s especially difficult for her to deal with clutter.

Instead, she hopes to receive a spa day, inspired by a birthday present she really enjoyed over a decade ago. “It was wonderful, and I’m not a girly girl. I don’t wear makeup. … I don’t paint my nails,” she says. “But having people rub warm lotion into your feet and even paint your nails … and give you a facial and massage your hair as well as the rest of you—that was great.”

For her it’s not the beauty improvement aspect, but more about clearing her mind and relieving sore muscles from being hunched over a computer.

Swing Dancing Lessons

When a person has children who are starting to become adults, it’s a good idea to change the focus from gifts under the tree to activities both generations can enjoy together. Sara Cole, 52, of Seattle, says, “I’m looking to shift our relationships to more grown-up activities so that I have time to hear more about how they see the world and who they are becoming.”

Bird-watching and going out to lunch, taking a calligraphy or pottery class together, visiting a local art museum, and cross-country skiing with hot cocoa afterward are all experiences she’d be happy to be gifted.

“When I got ready to make my wish list, I sat down and thought about the things I love to do, or used to love to do, or have always wanted to do,” Sara says. “I figured out which of them corresponded to things my people also might enjoy.”

A late but important addition to the list? Swing dancing classes with her “dear hubby.”

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