The days of poorly made plastic toys that pile up in your house before they pile up in the landfill may well be behind us. More and more millennial parents — and their kids — are opting for experiences over things. So ditch the last-minute holiday mall lines and give your little one an experience of a lifetime this season.
Here are five ideas for experiential gifts, including some that definitely won’t break the bank.
Take a trip
OK, so this one might be a bank-breaker. But travel is likely the most mind-expanding, perspective-flexing, exciting educational activity you will ever do with your child. Hide a couple of plane tickets in a card — or inside one of those poorly made plastic toys. Or you can even create a little scavenger hunt with clues about the destination that lead your kid to the tickets.
While you’re at it, why not opt for an eco-vacation that teaches your child an appreciation for nature? (Plus, eco-travel can be a lot cheaper). Some destinations that are big on eco-options — and which are on the more affordable side — include Costa Rica, St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Brazil (the Galápagos Islands are also amazing, but are a bit less accessible and more expensive).
But you don’t have to drop serious cash on an international flight to take your kid somewhere new and exciting. Hop on a bus or train or take a drive for a one- or two-night stay somewhere out of town. You can even shop Airbnb for a cool rental like a teepee or a yurt to give your child really unique experience.
Participate in a cultural event
I don’t remember what dolls and games and sporting equipment I got for the holidays as a kid, but you’d better believe I remember when my parents took me to see my first Broadway show. Whether you nab tickets to a musical, a pass to the nearest planetarium (all the better if it’s a special stay-up-past-bedtime show where you all wear pajamas and drink hot chocolate and look at the starry sky — not that I’ve done anything like that) or game day seats to see your kid’s favorite team, you can bet kiddo will be thrilled. For a less pricey option, you can even come up with a themed tour around town (pizza history tour? desserts from around the world?) and lead it yourself. No matter what you choose, a cultural activity that introduces your child to something they haven’t done — or something they love to do — is a gift of memories that will last a lifetime.
Book an adventure activity
Has your kid been bugging you for two years to go to that theme park? Why not surprise them with a springtime day pass as their holiday gift? They’ll look forward to the experience all winter, and you’ll both get an awesome day together riding roller coasters and eating hot dogs to your heart’s content (in that order and not the reverse unless you want to risk some seriously unwanted events).
If you know you have a pint-size adrenaline junkie on your hands, think about an adventure activity your child hasn’t yet tried. It might be rock climbing or indoor skydiving or a zip line ride in the woods; even a horseback riding lesson can be a major adventure. There are plenty of cool activities that cost under $100 and will provide the thrill of a lifetime for your little daredevil.
Be a tourist in your own town
How many times have you walked by that building with the rotating restaurant on top where everyone who visits your town eats, but your family has never been? Have you eyed that whale-watching tour, but never actually set foot offshore? Have you ventured to the other side of town to explore those weird little food joints? Are you a New Yorker who’s never taken your kid to the Empire State Building? Don’t underestimate how much your child might love some close-to-home fun. Take advantage of what’s right in front of you, especially if it’s something you’ve never tried before — and enjoy being tourist for a day in your own neck of the woods.
Spend quality time together — anywhere
This is the easiest option of all. You might assume kids want stuff, but when faced with a choice to receive material goods or spend more time with their parents, most kids choose their parents every time. In this age of overworked moms and dads and overbooked kids, all with too many digital distractions, the best gift we can give one another this holiday season is our time. Give your child the promise of evenings with no phone and just your full, undivided attention; make coupons for things like, “build a fort,” “scary story time,” “make s’mores” or “tickle session,” and let them cash them in whenever they want. Just make sure you take the gift seriously: Turn the phone off and enjoy real quality time with your child.
Regardless of what your budget is for the holidays this year, one thing is for sure: Love is the most important gift we can give one another. So flex your creative muscles and provide your child with an experience they will never forget — because you can’t put a price on that.