Gifts Of Experiences, Not Things, Will Keep Giving Long After The Holidays

Motorcycle sidecar in the Canadian rockies
Terri Colby

Experiences, rather than things, are the gifts that will keep giving long after the holiday season is over.

They may even improve your relationship with the recipient. A 2016 study in the Journal of Consumer Research by Cindy Chan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and Cassie Mogilner, an associate professor at UCLA, says experiential gifts are more emotional and effective at improving relationships.

"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession," says Chan, an expert on consumer relationships, in a report on ScienceDaily.com.

So, here are a few options that I’ve either experienced myself or have put at the top of my always-growing wish list: experiences designed to wow you in the moment, and to leave you with memories that will last a lot longer than the striped tie or fancy tech gadget.

It’s not surprising that Chan would mention the awe experienced during a safari. It’s a transformative experience to be in the wilds and see the beasts in their natural surroundings. With the numbers of wild animals like elephants and rhinoceroses declining, don’t wait to put a safari adventure at the top of your list. See the animals before they’re too hard to find.

Check out Abercrombie & Kent’s luxury small group journeys and its great migration safari in style. Limited to 18 travelers, the 14-day trip takes you through Kenya and Tanzania and includes six nights in the heart of migration country, three in the Serengeti and three in the Maasai Mara.

With prices beginning at $14,645 a person, this is definitely a deep-pockets journey. But the trip is destined to be a once-in-a –lifetime experience. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have the chance to do a repeat safari.

On the other side of the world, consider an educational experience that takes you to a place that’s been locked in time. Photographer Alex Garcia leads 8-day photo tours of Cuba that include instruction for amateur photographers as well as those with more experience. Limited to 10 participants, the small groups stay with local host families.

Garcia aims to take you beyond the typical tourist spots and offer immersive experiences. Accolades on the Cuba Workshops website include this, from a participant.

This trip taught me confidence in approaching and capturing candid street shots and I walked away with tangible evidence of every crazy and amazing thing I did.

“This trip taught me confidence in approaching and capturing candid street shots and I walked away with tangible evidence of every crazy and amazing thing I did, which would otherwise have felt like a dream by the end of it. A personally-guided tour of non-tourist areas in a communist country with a group of passionate artists is a priceless approach for taking your photography skills to the next level.”

Prices start at $3,450, not including airfare. For more information, check out the website.

Yes, travel is among the greatest adventures of all, but sometimes an experience of a day or less, depending where in the world you are, can afford the same kind of “wow” event.

In Chicago, check out Breakfast in the Sky, 103 floors up in the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. The views are astounding and you get to step out onto the glass enclosed boxes jutting out from the building.

The breakfast, $250 for two, includes a catered menu and access to the Ledge before it opens to the public. From October through February, the breakfast is available Monday through Friday at 8 a.m. During March through September, breakfast is available at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance. You can book your table online here.

One of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had all year is a ride in a motorcycle sidecar through the Canadian Rockies. What an experience you can have in Jasper, Alberta.

First, you show up in downtown at Jasper Motorcycle Tours and get dressed in your motorcycle leathers, including pants, jackets, gloves, headgear and a heated vest. Just donning the gear and taking photos in your motorcycle persona is fun. But when you hop in the sidecar, plug your vest in and hit the road, wow. Beautiful views, up close and personal, with a little rebel attitude to spice things up.

We had booked the 1-hour sidecar tour, for about $200, and climbed 10,000 feet into the mountains where October snowflakes started falling. It was magical.

The professional drivers were skilled and helpful, seeming to enjoy sharing the ride with us as much as we did trying it out for the first time.

Another ride in October also delivered an unexpected experience. At Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman, Michigan, you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh (if there’s snow) to view elk in their preserve on the property.

After the ride, a five-course tasting menu is waiting for you at the Elk Antler Cabin. With a roaring fire warming the space, the chef preps pear and apple dumplings, shrimp cocktails, chicken noodle soup, sweet Napa salad and a crown roast of pork with red potatoes. Dessert is chocolate mousse-filled pizzelles with raspberries.

The carriage ride and dinner costs about $110. But packages are available including lodging if you’re interested in spending more time at the beautiful resort on Northern Michigan’s Sunrise Coast.

Another experience worth booking is with a Wyoming horse whisperer. At Diamond Cross ranch at the base of the Grant Tetons outside of Jackson, Grant Golliher offers bespoke experiences for large and small groups.

Watching his connection with the horses is mesmerizing. The setting is outstanding and the food would be the envy of ranch hands anywhere.

Visits to the ranch for the horse whispering demonstration can be crafted to meet each group’s needs. But a typical experience would include the demonstration at an indoor arena followed by personalized instructions to guests on haltering, saddling and more. There might be riding instruction inside the arena and then in the pastures, possibly followed by some cattle herding and then a campfire lunch or dinner.

Prices vary widely based on what is included but a group of six could get something like the above experience for about $2,500. Contact Diamond Cross Ranch through their website or email Lauren Long at [email protected]

And while it’s definitely all about the experience, some actual things have come in pretty handy this year.

Traveling to cold-weather locales require proper gear. These days, I’m sporting a down winter coat from Lands End that is warm, water-resistant and packable.

It folds up small enough to fit in one of its own oversized pockets. At mid-thigh length it helps keep me warm in even the coldest of places. But it’s not too bulky and has an upscale silhouette. Expect to pay about $200.

Two suitcases that are making me smile this year are from ebags.com. Check out the TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-inch wheeled carry-on.

It’s got sleek styling, a lot of easy-access pockets to make staying organized a snap and wheels that make it easy to maneuver. It holds quite a bit more than you might expect. But the key feature is the variety of pockets that help to keep your in-flight essentials at hand. The company’s TLS 22 inch hybrid spinner is just slightly larger and it has four spinner wheels rather than the two like the mini. But again, it offers outstanding access to all your stuff while in flight.

Two old favorite pieces of travel gear I need to recommend every year.

Garnet Hill’s cashmere pashmina is a large but lightweight shawl, perfect for wearing on planes. I always take it with me in my carry-on. It also doubles as a light wrap over a sleeveless dress or for spiffing up jeans and boots. At $189, in 10 color choices, it can also serve as an oversized scarf with a winter coat if you need some extra warmth. I have it in gray, which is a perfect neutral for travel, but I’m determined to get another color as well.

One of my all-time favorite travel items is reading glasses that have tiny lights on the arms of the glasses so you can read in dark places. These are perfect for dark restaurants, hotels with no bedside lamps, and on planes when the overhead lights are turned off. I buy my Foster Grants at Walgreens, but they’re also available at Amazon and other places for about $25.

">

Experiences, rather than things, are the gifts that will keep giving long after the holiday season is over.

They may even improve your relationship with the recipient. A 2016 study in the Journal of Consumer Research by Cindy Chan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and Cassie Mogilner, an associate professor at UCLA, says experiential gifts are more emotional and effective at improving relationships.

"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession," says Chan, an expert on consumer relationships, in a report on ScienceDaily.com.

So, here are a few options that I’ve either experienced myself or have put at the top of my always-growing wish list: experiences designed to wow you in the moment, and to leave you with memories that will last a lot longer than the striped tie or fancy tech gadget.

It’s not surprising that Chan would mention the awe experienced during a safari. It’s a transformative experience to be in the wilds and see the beasts in their natural surroundings. With the numbers of wild animals like elephants and rhinoceroses declining, don’t wait to put a safari adventure at the top of your list. See the animals before they’re too hard to find.

Check out Abercrombie & Kent’s luxury small group journeys and its great migration safari in style. Limited to 18 travelers, the 14-day trip takes you through Kenya and Tanzania and includes six nights in the heart of migration country, three in the Serengeti and three in the Maasai Mara.

With prices beginning at $14,645 a person, this is definitely a deep-pockets journey. But the trip is destined to be a once-in-a –lifetime experience. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have the chance to do a repeat safari.

On the other side of the world, consider an educational experience that takes you to a place that’s been locked in time. Photographer Alex Garcia leads 8-day photo tours of Cuba that include instruction for amateur photographers as well as those with more experience. Limited to 10 participants, the small groups stay with local host families.

Garcia aims to take you beyond the typical tourist spots and offer immersive experiences. Accolades on the Cuba Workshops website include this, from a participant.

This trip taught me confidence in approaching and capturing candid street shots and I walked away with tangible evidence of every crazy and amazing thing I did.

“This trip taught me confidence in approaching and capturing candid street shots and I walked away with tangible evidence of every crazy and amazing thing I did, which would otherwise have felt like a dream by the end of it. A personally-guided tour of non-tourist areas in a communist country with a group of passionate artists is a priceless approach for taking your photography skills to the next level.”

Prices start at $3,450, not including airfare. For more information, check out the website.

Yes, travel is among the greatest adventures of all, but sometimes an experience of a day or less, depending where in the world you are, can afford the same kind of “wow” event.

In Chicago, check out Breakfast in the Sky, 103 floors up in the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. The views are astounding and you get to step out onto the glass enclosed boxes jutting out from the building.

The breakfast, $250 for two, includes a catered menu and access to the Ledge before it opens to the public. From October through February, the breakfast is available Monday through Friday at 8 a.m. During March through September, breakfast is available at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance. You can book your table online here.

One of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had all year is a ride in a motorcycle sidecar through the Canadian Rockies. What an experience you can have in Jasper, Alberta.

First, you show up in downtown at Jasper Motorcycle Tours and get dressed in your motorcycle leathers, including pants, jackets, gloves, headgear and a heated vest. Just donning the gear and taking photos in your motorcycle persona is fun. But when you hop in the sidecar, plug your vest in and hit the road, wow. Beautiful views, up close and personal, with a little rebel attitude to spice things up.

We had booked the 1-hour sidecar tour, for about $200, and climbed 10,000 feet into the mountains where October snowflakes started falling. It was magical.

The professional drivers were skilled and helpful, seeming to enjoy sharing the ride with us as much as we did trying it out for the first time.

Another ride in October also delivered an unexpected experience. At Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman, Michigan, you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh (if there’s snow) to view elk in their preserve on the property.

After the ride, a five-course tasting menu is waiting for you at the Elk Antler Cabin. With a roaring fire warming the space, the chef preps pear and apple dumplings, shrimp cocktails, chicken noodle soup, sweet Napa salad and a crown roast of pork with red potatoes. Dessert is chocolate mousse-filled pizzelles with raspberries.

The carriage ride and dinner costs about $110. But packages are available including lodging if you’re interested in spending more time at the beautiful resort on Northern Michigan’s Sunrise Coast.

Another experience worth booking is with a Wyoming horse whisperer. At Diamond Cross ranch at the base of the Grant Tetons outside of Jackson, Grant Golliher offers bespoke experiences for large and small groups.

Watching his connection with the horses is mesmerizing. The setting is outstanding and the food would be the envy of ranch hands anywhere.

Visits to the ranch for the horse whispering demonstration can be crafted to meet each group’s needs. But a typical experience would include the demonstration at an indoor arena followed by personalized instructions to guests on haltering, saddling and more. There might be riding instruction inside the arena and then in the pastures, possibly followed by some cattle herding and then a campfire lunch or dinner.

Prices vary widely based on what is included but a group of six could get something like the above experience for about $2,500. Contact Diamond Cross Ranch through their website or email Lauren Long at [email protected]

And while it’s definitely all about the experience, some actual things have come in pretty handy this year.

Traveling to cold-weather locales require proper gear. These days, I’m sporting a down winter coat from Lands End that is warm, water-resistant and packable.

It folds up small enough to fit in one of its own oversized pockets. At mid-thigh length it helps keep me warm in even the coldest of places. But it’s not too bulky and has an upscale silhouette. Expect to pay about $200.

Two suitcases that are making me smile this year are from ebags.com. Check out the TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-inch wheeled carry-on.

It’s got sleek styling, a lot of easy-access pockets to make staying organized a snap and wheels that make it easy to maneuver. It holds quite a bit more than you might expect. But the key feature is the variety of pockets that help to keep your in-flight essentials at hand. The company’s TLS 22 inch hybrid spinner is just slightly larger and it has four spinner wheels rather than the two like the mini. But again, it offers outstanding access to all your stuff while in flight.

Two old favorite pieces of travel gear I need to recommend every year.

Garnet Hill’s cashmere pashmina is a large but lightweight shawl, perfect for wearing on planes. I always take it with me in my carry-on. It also doubles as a light wrap over a sleeveless dress or for spiffing up jeans and boots. At $189, in 10 color choices, it can also serve as an oversized scarf with a winter coat if you need some extra warmth. I have it in gray, which is a perfect neutral for travel, but I’m determined to get another color as well.

One of my all-time favorite travel items is reading glasses that have tiny lights on the arms of the glasses so you can read in dark places. These are perfect for dark restaurants, hotels with no bedside lamps, and on planes when the overhead lights are turned off. I buy my Foster Grants at Walgreens, but they’re also available at Amazon and other places for about $25.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

A Chicagoan by birth and by choice, I'm happy to be on the road exploring new destinations, especially in February, often the grimmest of the city's winter months. I hol...