Giving Presents Of Experience Is Like Giving Power

I remember last year, during the Christmas season, several of you commented that you prefer to give presents of experience. (And before I go any farther, let me just say to those who don’t celebrate Christmas the hubbub I know it can feel intrusive and exclusive and I do apologize but this year I need cheer and something to focus on.)

But experience. I received an inheritance when I turned 21. I was still in college. I had no interest in fancy shoes, or diamonds beyond the ones in my mother’s jewelry box. But I still wished. My first splurges; I bought an impractical Alfa Romeo sports sedan that everyone thought was a Toyota for myself, a silver cigarette holder on an impulse for a friend (we ducked in to Tiffany’s together, it was cold), and, about a year later, for someone else, an airplane ticket to England.

In each case, the experience was it. The car broke down a lot but served to drive me across the USA with my beloved middle sister. Waltzing into Tiffany’s and saying, “Yes” trumped the purchase itself.  And the ticket, although I didn’t really understand it then, was felt as true generosity.

Do you give experiences now? No inheritance required. Just considering the idea surfaces memories.

Oh traveler, oh vagabond. Extravagantly, you could send (or accompany) someone to a great city. I loved Washington, D.C, having really seen it for the first time ever in 2011. The D.C. St. Regis has a great chandelier and an even better location. Speaking of St. Regises (how does one make that a plural?), the one in San Francisco is completely gorgeous. You could bring the kids.

But if I were on the receiving end, I guess I’d want to visit a city I’d never seen. I’ve been to New Orleans, twice, but both times for business. I’d love to go back and spend some time. Maybe stay here? Otherwise, I’ve always fancied a road trip through the American South. I imagine roadside motels. (Or a renovated sharecropper shack?) A rental car with good speakers. Water-filtering water bottles. Sturdy Gals of a certain age are always thirsty but worry about contaminants.

And there’s always, always New York.

You could also give tickets to an event. A Canadian company called Venue Kings showed up in one of my affiliate networks, and reminded me that live performances still happen. That games are still played in stadiums. My son loved Stevie Nicks for a while, may still do. She’s touring. VenueKing’s interface lets you set a hometown, and they do support events in the USA. Of course you can always try the usual US suspects – Ticketmasters, Hubstub.

Or, writ smaller, dinner out. Do you guys use OpenTable for reservations? Their geographic coverage by no means perfect, but here in Silicon Valley it’s the way to go. They offer gift certificates. I took someone out to lunch the other day, it cost me almost nothing but made me feel so gracious and adult I think I got more than I gave.

That salad at Ladurée was better than 1,000 macaroons.

In this day and age, give subscriptions to online video, or print publications. Give someone an ad-free subscription to Hulu, or a year of Amazon Prime (free shipping, lots and lots of great free videos.) Or a publication. Let us all support high-quality journalism. I’ve subscribed to the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and the New York Times, online. Someone you love might prefer the Wall Street Journal, or Foreign Affairs. (While I admire The Economist I cannot for the life of me slog my way through it.)

The experience of taking a stand. Donate in someone’s name. To the ACLU, who fight for the rights of the bullied. To the Sierra Club, protecting the earth that was here before us. Those are my values. You will of course have your own, most important is to see them clearly, act, share.

Presents of travel and events tape a mark in the future spotlit with anticipation. Afterwards, memory’s smoke and mirrors, presto chango a story to tell. Presents of reportage or charity offer an opportunity for agency, to know what’s actually happening and that something’s been done about it.

Generous gestures give to the giver. No need, of course, to spend a lot of money. Generous time is often even better.

Photos: The bar at the St. Regis San Francisco || A red train passing a boy in India, 1982 || Reflection of a previously anonymous blogger in a cab on the way to dinner at the Mark Hotel || The Eugenie salad at Laduree in Paris

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  • An abundance of funds would make gift giving so easy. I don’t need anything and like you mentioned I prefer to collect experiences.
    That salad lunch in Paris would tick all the boxes for me!
    Best wishes for the holidays.

    8:32 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, Fortunately some experiences, like a dinner out, are fairly reasonably realized. Best wishes to you too.

  • Tangible presents only for grandkids, and few of those. Everyone else, including grandkids, contributions in their honor.

    David and I have always done trips for big occasions, rather than a pricey gift or a party. Nothing beats experiences and memories.

    Thank you for this. xo

    9:20 am
    Katherine C. James said...

    @Kathy, My family has done the same all my life. Few gifts when we were little, but wonderful food, conversations, experiences. As adults, presents for the grandchildren/nieces and nephews when they were little, but each adult donated to an organization in another adult’s honor. We chose our recipient out of a hat at Thanksgiving. I love the pleasure of a gift to something such as Doctors Without Borders. And trips instead of gifts? Yes. I’ve not traveled lately, and I miss it, it is my favorite thing.

    10:11 am
    Lisa said...

    @Kathy, I am so happy to hear you guys contribute in people’s names.

  • Oh yes indeed, experiences always trump physical presents.

    10:18 am
    Lisa said...

    @Mary anne, <3

  • I was wondering what to give my son and daughter-in-law living in Paris. And your post-Lisa gave me some great ideas! Thanks!

    10:18 am
    Lisa said...

    @Paula, My pleasure! I imagine living in Paris there are so many options.

  • We share a desire for a road trip through the south. I’ve never really spent any time there, and now, because of social media I know a number of wonderful people who I’d love to visit at the same time I got a feel for the states I’ve only read about. When I lived in Chicago, I used to take spur-of-the-moment car trips to wherever seemed interesting, but I never went south. Love the idea of subscriptions as gifts. I also subscribe to the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Mother Jones, the latter two in print and digital. Yes to the ACLU, The Sierra Club, as well as the NRDC. My parents gave to The Nature Conservancy and the American Indian College Fund—my dad thought education was the key to all change—and both gave donations to their respective colleges. If that were turned into gifts for others, one could give a gift to a college in someone’s name. For me, the most important gift would be related to our Fourth Estate, which I think had been under-respected and underfunded with disastrous results. I like ProPublica. I also like this list of international investigative journalism organizations, which would allow around-the-world support gifts.

    10:23 am
    Lisa said...

    @Katherine C. James, Spur-of-the-moment car trips out of Chicago sound wonderful, and quite full of prairies. Thanks for the suggestion of ProPublica, I think it’s important that everyone, no matter our politics, supports the truth as best we can.

  • My parents gave us museum memberships and New Yorker subscriptions every year.

    I give my husband an experience for Christmas. This year’s a a repeat of one several years ago. We will ride a Sno-Cat to the top of Mt. Washington to spend the afternoon at the weather station. The first time we did it, he was suffering a horrible gout attack and the trip was pretty miserable. Fingers crossed for a better go ’round this time!

    In our family swap (4 sisters) we give a gift and make a donation. One of my sister split hers this year – half goes to Planned Parenthood in the name of Mike Pence ;)

    2:22 pm
    Jane said...

    @Patsy, LOL – love your sister’s sense of humor/justice in donating to Planned Parenthood.

    10:29 am
    Lisa said...

    @Patsy, Oh man, you guys are hardcore! Sno-Catting to a weather station! But that’s the thing about experiences, you can choose your very own:).

  • Even though I AM a Southerner (sort of–I am a Texan), I yearn for a road trip through the South. I can see several in our future. One that I yearn for is a trip through Louisiana’s jazz dives.

    10:35 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan D., Oh yes! The one non-work thing I did on one of the work trips was go to a bar in a parish outside of New Orleans proper, for swing dancing. We didn’t dance, but the bar was amazing.

  • Have loved the St. Regis bar for more decades than I can remember. Thanks for reminding me of how much. Re experience presents to myself, I am currently obsessing over studying French at the Sorbonne. Anyone can do it! In the meantime I’m taking French lessons on Duolingo and can now mispronounce a lot more French words than I once could. Just moving the dial in the right direction. ;) Merry Christmas, Lisa, and to all your readers.

    10:37 am
    Lisa said...

    @Ann, Moving the dial – that is what a good experience does. Maybe we’ll see you at the St. Regis one day – good companions are the best movers of all the dials.

  • I like to give and receive presents of experience to/from members of family and best friends: theatre or concert tickets,dinner in restaurants,travel (it could be even an one day trip)… Gifts for children,of course,but older children in my family are very happy with tickets for (different kind of…:-)) concerts as a gift
    It is very valuable for me and always a great fun
    I like an idea about donating in someone name as a present,but it is not common here, or honored yet so I donate only in my name
    Great idea to write this post :-)

    10:38 am
    Lisa said...

    @dottoressa, Thank you. I do best when I take ideas from my readers;). And all the different concerts, all the different styles, all the different years! I remember my first was Peter and the Wolf and the second Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young;).

  • New Orleans! One of the best cities ever! I’ve only been there once, about 15 years ago with my BFF, but what a great place! Delicious food, lively & diverse music, rich and interesting history — what a unique place.

    Road trip through the South sounds fun too. I went to UNC Chapel Hill and it’s a great college town, also with great food and music (but not as festive as New Orleans). Charleston and Savannah are also unique and historically complex cities. Hope you can make this happen!

    11:46 am
    Lisa said...

    @Danielle, Ah thanks for the endorsement of what sometimes seems like a silly idea!

  • Lisa, I would have loved to go out and enjoy that salad with you. That would have been a gift. I am not a very good receiver I’m afraid. I love to give and feel very comfortable giving, but find it really hard to accept without feeling there may be strings attached, or have I shown enough gratitude, and it all gets too hard – a throw back to my upbringing, this was how my parents and some relatives were. It’s a hard thing to shake. Anyway, yes, we have done all the things you mention: given vouchers for romantic dinner for 2 to our daughter’s boyfriend, bought chickens and goats for poor 3rd world families on behalf of relatives – I could tell my dad would have preferred a gift for himself – trips for the kids, vip coffee club memberships to parents and parents in law, movie vouchers for the cleaner and his family to enjoy. I absolutely LOVE giving. I even keep cold cans of drink in my fridge so I can bless the workers who come through here in our heat with a surprise cold can of coke. In my small way, I hope it makes the world a better place. I am happy to be a Giver and it’s a privilege to be able to do it too. Blessings to all xxxx

    9:32 am
    Lisa said...

    @Tracey, Aw it must be wonderful to know you in person. And maybe if you think of presents in the Chinese way, i.e. if you let someone give you something you are promising to give back when asked, you’ll be happier to receive. xox.

  • Lisa, try “1843,” also by the folks at The Economist. Best of all, it’s free online. Warm regards–

    9:33 am
    Lisa said...

    @Diana, Great. Thank you. Adding them to my Twitter feed, which is how I have determined I can best keep up with good articles.

  • In years past, because they have all they need and nearly all they want, my husband and I have given donations in our parents’ names to animal welfare groups and the Wounded Warriors Project (per their request). We also give nice framed photos of our children as well since the grandfathers are always complaining that “no one has real photos anymore because they’re all on their phones.” Experiences and charitable donations are really our family’s favorite form of present.

    9:34 am
    Lisa said...

    @Elyse, I think I should begin doing this for my father as well. I’ll ask him.

  • Happy Holidays! Oh, Lisa, I loved this post. Am from Memphis and want you all to head to the South and visit our Blues Highway (read “Dispatches from Pluto” first to get in the proper frame of mine and maybe a bit of Tennessee Williams if you are headed to NOLA.) Start in Memphis and stay at the Peabody Hotel; do not forget to watch the ducks walk the red carpet.
    Feel free to email me if you head this way!
    Cheers for a peaceful holiday.

    9:37 am
    Lisa said...

    @MIchelle Snowden, Oh thank you! Dispatches from Pluto, OK! Tennessee Williams, check, from my high school days as an acting student. And if I come, I will gladly take you up on the invitation. Thank you so much.

  • Come south! I can help devise an itinerary.And thank you for this endorsement of experiences over objects. It is my feeling entirely too.

    9:44 am
    Lisa said...

    @maryn, You bet, you bet, you bet.

  • Soniat House, New Orleans, quiet end of the quarter. Route 61 south from Memphis to New Orleans. I think you would like.
    Missing the South

    9:45 am
    Lisa said...

    @Barbara Harris, <3. I can imagine it would be odd to leave the South. I could never get over missing California, so I came back.

  • YES. experiences … for the good feeling you get + (hopefully) the joy they will receive. joy lasts longer than the physical, anyway.

    + i realize this comment has no relevance for those under age 10. because unwrapping + shrieking at the excitement of the physical has its place.