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Everyone loves getting gifts. But for years, that sentiment has been steadily shifting, as people increasingly favor experiences over material possessions. According to this year’s Portrait of American Travelers study, 69% of respondents prefer to make memories, rather than acquire new things.

So this holiday season, in addition to the latest gadget, or an array of stocking stuffers, consider giving the friends, loved ones and family members on your list an experience that will never go out of style. From wellness retreats to experiences that give back to the planet and cooking courses that foster an intimate connection to another culture’s cuisine — you’re bound to find something for everyone on your list. 

An Unforgettable Lesson

The fastest way to a foodie’s (or Francophile’s) heart? A traditional bread baking course in Paris at one of the world’s most revered culinary institutions, Le Cordon Bleu. Over the course of two days, students will be taught to prepare a range of breads and pastries (such as chocolate rolls, brioche and rye bread), while learning about French bread methodology from start to finish. Buy: Le Cordon Bleu, $540

Who doesn’t love pasta, Italy and more pasta? With Mama Florence, students will take a three-hour course led by Italian chefs who have extensive expertise in the art of traditional, handmade pasta in the beautiful city of Florence. Participants get to prepare three different types of pasta and then — you guessed it — eat! Buy: Mama Florence, $125

(Photo by Justino Sanchez via Unsplash)
At Mama Florence, students learn how to make three different types of pasta. (Photo by Justino Sanchez via Unsplash)

You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate this textile workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico. Travelers will get an unforgettable glimpse into the Zapotec way of life while also, after a four-day intensive course, developing a very sacred weaving skill. Guests of Weaving the World will be lead on a tour of historical sites, stay in a Oaxacan boutique hotel, dine on delicious local cuisine and experience village life. Buy: Weaving the World, $2,960

Help someone on your gift list learn about his or her heritage this year. Giving an ancestry test not only allows a person to identify their roots, but can also inspire travelers to explore new destinations (and maybe even meet new relatives). AncestryDNA is one of our favorites, because it offers affordable and efficient ancestry tracking using one of the largest DNA reference pools available. Buy: Ancestry, $99

Break a language barrier by giving someone on your list a group class pack from Fluent City. There are sessions in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City and Washington, DC, as well as online courses and options to arrange private lessons. The crash course in Spanish or French could even inspire some future travels. Buy: FluentCity.com, from $399

An Actually Useful Membership

From Baltimore to Vancouver, Bali to Monterey, Dubai to Okinawa, the world is swimming with stunning aquariums that offer safe homes for both common and rare aquatic animals, as well as informative exhibits. An annual membership (think: an unlimited pass to the New York Aquarium or Boston’s New England Aquarium) will allow the sea-lover in your life to visit these aquariums as often as possible to learn more about life underwater. Buy: Websites and prices vary.

Aquariums typically offer a membership program – a unique and thoughtful gift for a loved one who loves the sea. (Photo by Zachary Spears via Unsplash)

If you know a frequent traveler who’s constantly on the go, he or she will surely appreciate a gift centered around something very important but often — if accidentally — overlooked: mental health. The Headspace app allows users to simultaneously plug in and unplug to decompress anywhere in the world, while learning meditation and mindfulness skills. Buy: Headspace, $96 per year.

The perfect gift for all the art, history and culture fanatics in your life, search for an esteemed museum near the recipient and purchase an annual membership so they can enjoy endless visits. In New York City, for example, consider The Met; in Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; in Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts. Even in Washington, DC, where most museums are free, you can purchase a Smithsonian membership in his or her honor (which includes a Smithsonian magazine subscription, discounts and, in some cases, access to special events). Buy: Websites and prices vary.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip

You’ve probably seen photographs of colorful balloons floating over vast mountain ranges and valleys — and we can confirm that experience is as magical as it looks. For the one in your life who loves seeing the world from a new perspective, give them the gift of drifting high above the Rio Grande, the Sonoran Desert or the Colorado Rockies, with a hot air balloon ride in the Southwest. (Just remind them — they can bring a guest!) Buy: Rainbow Riders, from $169 per person.

No matter where you live, chances are you can purchase a hot air balloon ride for a friend – and hopefully they’ll let you join in. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Ryders)

Think “Eat Pray Love,” but without the heartbreak. Send the yogi in your life on a week-long trip to a storied ashram. There are many programs to choose from, such as the 120-year-old Phool Chatti Ashram (phool chatti means land of flowers in Hindi), nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. Here, students will stay in simple, comfortable rooms; eat healthy, local cuisine; learn about ancient spiritual practices and ashram life; take mindful strolls along the Ganges river and through the gardens; and return home totally restored. Buy: Phool Chatti Yoga, Price available upon request.

You don’t have to buy the animal-lover in your life a puppy or pet fish for the holidays. Instead, give him or her the chance to really give back while helping wild elephants near Wasgamuwa National Park. International HQ is known for facilitating incredible volunteer opportunities, such as this week with elephants in Sri Lanka. This trip takes travelers to the sacred city of Kandy, from where they’ll head to the national park to observe elephant behavior, assist with research and work toward a resolution to the pervasive human-elephant conflict. Buy: Volunteer HQ, $285 for one week (flights not included).

Because most of these experiences won’t code as travel, make sure you’re using the right card when making a purchase. Check out the TPG guide to the best credit cards for everyday spending and our tips and tricks for holiday shopping.

Prices accurate as of publication date. 

Featured imagery by JD Mason/Unsplash, Zachary Spears/Unsplash, Rainbow Ryders, Justino Sanchez/Unsplash, Nadya Spetnitskaya/Unsplash, and Sheshan R/Unsplash.

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