A Festive Guide for Gifting: Experiences

Katie Beswick (@ElfinKate) offers the wisdom of her gift giving experience to advise you on gifting experiences; it’ll all make sense, if you read to the end.

Gift giving is a very important part of human nature. So important that some sociologists have dedicated their careers to studying the way that different cultures give and receive gifts – although I have to admit, I’m not totally sure why they bother. Getting my head around the system of gift giving in my own culture has been hard enough, and I still regularly make faux pas (like spending less than the suggested £10 on the office Secret Santa, and taking my best friend’s assertion that ‘we won’t do gifts this year’ at face value), especially at Christmas. Luckily I’m such good company for the rest of the festive season that my lack of prowess in the gifting department tends to be overlooked. At least, that’s what I infer from the fact that in past years I haven’t been disowned by friends and family come January.

You can imagine then, that I’m rather flattered, if not a bit panicked, to have been asked to write a festive blog on gifting. I shall preface my advice by telling you that, like anybody with a sense of proportion and no children, I haven’t started Christmas shopping yet. Partly, this is because the wild eyed consumerism of the festive season makes me feel a bit nauseous; especially when checking my bank account post-shop. But, it’s also because, despite my pretend contempt for consumerism, whenever I leave the house with the intention of purchasing items for other people I come back loaded with shiny crap from Accessorize that I’ve bought for myself. For me, trips to the shops are proving futile. So this year, I’ve decided to change my strategy; I’m not giving people things as presents. I’m giving them experiences instead – stuff to do, stuff that’ll keep my loved ones busy and smiling through the January blues. Stuff to make up for last Christmas; when everybody got a union jack tea-towel or a CD from the bargain bucket at HMV.

So, my gifting advice, for those of you who need an inspiration nudge, goes like this:

There are plenty of experiences to be given, but you’ll need to pick carefully if you really want the wow-factor. I like to offer people experiences they’d be unlikely to choose for themselves, but which I’ll know they’d enjoy. Theatre is always a good one; although, if you’re a bit nervous about choosing a play for someone else, or unsure of their schedule, I recommend purchasing a theatre token, accepted at most theatres in the UK, and available here. A friend of mine is taking her in-laws, who I understand are ballet virgins, to see the Nutcracker at Leeds Grand – a gift I’d be quite pleased to receive, if anyone who loves me is reading.

Posh meals are great gifts too, and if you really want to splash out, most Michelin starred restaurants let you buy vouchers to give as gifts. Or you could do it the old fashioned way: book a table for a set date and pay the bill at the end.

Spa days are the classic experience gift for ladies and metro-sexual males. Leeds boasts the North’s only Lush Spa, which I’ve been desperate to try since it opened a couple of years back; I’ve also heard good things about The Waterfall Spa, which lets you buy gift certificates that can be exchanged for services rendered.

You could always browse ‘experience’ websites if you’re after a bargain deal or something less conventional. Groupon, lastminute.com and Virgin Experience Days are some of the biggies. Bestexperience have collated some of the best deals in Leeds, if you’re looking for something local. Although they’re usually fab, a warning: I found myself stomping my feet and shouting bad words down the phone the last time I purchased an experience gift with a third party company – my mumma only got her massage after my screeching reached glass-shattering levels. So my top tip: if you are tempted by the deals on offer, make sure you check the order’s been received by the company your booking’s with before you give the gift. It’ll save red faces in the long run.

I’m fairly mainstream when it comes to online shopping (security over ethics every time), but if you’re wary of the big corporate thirdparty names I mention above, I’d advise booking direct with the experience dealer. Like Wine unearthed, who offer wine tasting sessions at the Radisson. Be wary of third party websites you haven’t heard of – always get a recommendation, and, obvs do your research to check a company’s legit before handing over your card details.

So, there you go, I’ve set the gift giving bar at a new level. Let me know if you decide to give an experience instead of a jumper this year. Remember: the bonus of the experience gift is that you don’t have to wrap it.

*image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Look out for @GuestList_Leeds companion piece to this blog coming up soon


  1. Last Christmas I got a cupcake decorating course for me, my mum, auntie and cousin. It felt nice to buy them not only an experience, but one we could share together 🙂

    1. Ooh that sounds like fun – where did you find the course?

      Yes I totally agree, doing things together is fun (plus, it’s also *almost* like buying yourself a present, which is my favourite kind of gifting).

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