Experiences Are Gifts Too!

Reasons that experience gifts are the best

It was 12:30 am and I was tired. My sister was taking me home from the airport where we had taken an evening flight from Boston with our youngest niece. As I pulled my suitcase out of the back of her car, she said “You know this is the last one.” Her statement hit me like a splash of cold water in my face.

What if you offered experiences as gifts?

This is the question I pondered many years ago. I am lucky to be the aunt to Drew, Megan, Hayley, and Taylor. When the kids were little, my sister and I decided that we were not going to buy them gifts for their birthdays or Christmas. Instead, we were going to invite them on experiences. This tradition gained momentum and when they each graduated from college, we took them solo on a surprise destination trip to celebrate their accomplishment.

At first, they enjoyed being with each other and their fun aunts. And then it felt like it became more than that. Don’t get me wrong, they still like being together and we’re still the fun aunts but it’s more about the feeling of excitement, anticipation, joy and maybe even fear that they experience.

Experiences are personal 

Everyone has their own interpretation, takeaways, and perspectives from our time together. There is comradery, fun, and growth involved. Personally, my favorite part of our experiences is the end. We typically grab a meal where we get to hear what they enjoyed, their unique perspective on things, and what they learned. We get to catch up on their lives, reflect and bond.

Experiences are memorable

Sometimes we sit around and talk about what we remember most from the last fifteen years of experiences. They remember being scared by the “kid catcher” when we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and didn’t want to get out of the car for dinner. They talk about the river guide on our white-water rafting trip who encouraged us to get out of the raft and swim to the rocks, and then the laughter that ensued someone hightailed it back to the raft when the guide said to watch out for snakes. They discovered that there is really a thing such as too much chocolate after we took a class with a chocolatier (And ate a lot of chocolate). It brings us right back to the emotions, smiles, and laughter of those moments.

Experiences expand comfort zones

Some of the experiences we have selected are things they might not have done on their own. They faced their fear of heights at the top of the Empire State building. They learned to let go and release doubt in trapeze class. Some were thrilled and some disgusted when they discovered that flies throw up when they land at an animal grossology exhibit at the Maryland Science Center.


This article is sponsored by Neely Coaching & Training


The fun of planning the experience, seeing the joy when you give the invite, and participating in the experience too is the icing on the cake for the “experience giver.” All the years later and they are still talking about their adventures and even in their twenties, they have voted to continue our outings together. That’s priceless.

Why are experiences important?

Referring to experiences, the website, everydaypower.com, states that:

Life is about, well, allowing it to happen, and then allowing yourself to learn from the events that have happened to you. You simply cannot develop as a human being without experience, as that is the only way to grow—through pain, through learning, and through struggles, as well as through love, happiness, and pleasure. These things make us human, and it’s our humanity that allows us to pass our experiences on so that others may learn from them.

Find some ideas for Experiences as Gifts with 5 Perfect Gift Experiences To Show You Care

How can you add more experiences just for you?

Daily, I’m not really the adventurous type. I’m typically risk-averse and I work hard to push myself out of my comfort zone. Except when I’m on vacation…then all bets are off. Especially if I’m in a new place. I’m curious about the food, cultures, lifestyles, and landscape. I want to hear from the locals about what they think and what they love about where they live. I want activities that allow me to explore and enjoy the location. This has led to some interesting experiences – swimming with stingrays, eating blood pudding (I would not recommend it), and exploring inside a glacier.

Sometimes my motivation is to simply say I had the experience. I once cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my entire family. I walked 39.3 miles by myself over 2 days for a cause. I co-wrote a book. Would I do those things again? I don’t know but I can say I did them once!

How can experiences help us learn?

The most common way people tell me they learn is “hands-on” and the most effective mode of learning I have seen to get results is through experience. Jump in, do something, ask questions, make mistakes, pause to ponder what just happened, and celebrate progress. People usually know the theory. They can sit in a workshop and tell me what is supposed to happen or how things should work. What they do when they go back to the “real world” can be another story.

This is why experiential learning theory can be so powerful. It is learning by doing. Psychologist David Kolb developed the theory built on the premise that knowledge is created through experience. There are four stages:

·         Concrete learning – something new is learned or interpreted in a new way

·         Reflective observation – the learner takes time to reflect and understand what it means to them

·         Abstract conceptualization – the learner translates that by adapting their thinking or constructing new ideas based on the experience and reflection

·         Active experimentation – the learner applies their new ideas to real-world situations and are open to making changes if needed

Experiential learning is not just for the workplace. It is powerful when used in parenting, volunteerism, or any venue where someone needs or wants to learn and grow. The extra bonus is the relationship building that can also occur throughout the process.

How do you make sure you get the most out of an experience gift?

Having the experience alone is not enough. Pausing to reflect is important. It can look however you want it to – journal, talk to someone, sit down somewhere by yourself and be thoughtful. This is what I did that night returning from the airport – reflected on the trips, how proud I am of the adults my nephew and nieces have become, and how grateful I am to be in their lives. Less than a month later, we were all together again for another experience… It is not the end. The adventures continue!


Debby Neely is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation who specializes in leadership coaching and facilitation. Her business, Neely Coaching & Training, supports both formal and informal leaders in realizing their potential and in getting results. Their mission is to help you be the best you can be.

Debby Neely
Debby Neely

Debby Neely is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation who specializes in leadership coaching and facilitation. Her business, Neely Coaching & Training, supports both formal and informal leaders in realizing their potential and in getting results. Their mission is to help you be the best you can be.

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