11 experiential gifts that won’t break the bank — from local tours and cooking classes to a service that’ll plan your next trip

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cozymeal cooking class

Connie Chen/Business Insider

If the collective wisdom of Harvard’s 80-year-long study on happiness and every film ever made are to be believed, it’s not stuff that makes us happy – it’s people.

Regardless of the backdrop (holidays, birthdays, or mundane weekdays), it’s our relationships with one another that lend meaning and joy to our lives.

So, unless it’s precise, like a personalized keepsake or thoughtful hobby accessory (take running for instance), you might be better off gifting an experience if your intention is to be impactful. They may not need another purse or a cutting board that can be used to artfully serve cheese. They may, instead, appreciate and remember an afternoon spent making ravioli with you and a local chef for far longer, and far more fondly.

And, contrary to most big-gesture rom-coms, an experiential gift doesn’t have to be a surprise flight to Italy or a tour of the South of France on a 50-foot yacht. You can book the chef and the ravioli and BYOB for the same as what you would have spent on the purse she’ll never use or the cutting board she’ll always feel slightly too guilty to give away.

Below are 11 great experience gifts that won’t break the bank:

Cozymeal: cooking classes

Connie Chen/Business Insider

Buy a Cozymeal Gift Card, from $50

Cozymeal lets them sign up for cooking classes to learn how to make everything from Italian pastas, to vegan soul food, to sushi for groups of one to 100 guests. They’ll select an experience, pick a date, and show up to learn from one of the nation’s top chefs – including a few who have worked in the world’s best Michelin-starred restaurants. Classes can be held at the chef’s location of choice or the gift recipient’s home.

You can read our full review of Cozymeal here.

Fandango: pro-level movie night

Fandango Facebook

Fandango gift card, available on Fandango, from $15

Who doesn’t love a good dressed-up dinner and a movie date, whether it’s for a significant other or just you and your grandparents? In the age of Netflix, it’s nice to make an occasion out of going to the movies.

Stubhub: live games, concerts, and theater


Browse live concert and game tickets, available on StubHub, from $15 per person

Is there a good concert, play, or game coming up in the next few months? Grab tickets and make a night of it with them.

Airbnb: a staycation or trip

Airbnb Facebook

Airbnb Gift Card, available on Zola, $100

Grab a card and a gift card to Airbnb to gift them a trip, even if it’s just a weekend away in a neighboring state. Plus, half the fun happens before the trip itself, shopping through options and checking out local activities and sights.

VNYL: an ongoing music experience

Vinyl Me Please/Instagram

Three-Month VNYL Gift Membership Subscription, available at VNYL, $99.97 (originally $120)

VNYL’s team of curators studies their music profile – assembled via a quiz and connected Spotify, Soundcloud, Instagram, etc. – to handpick new albums that they think they’ll love. Then, they send a vinyl of their tailored pick to their door. If they love music and have a record player, this is a thoughtful, ongoing gift that you can experience together if you wish (after all, the best part happens when you’re listening to the music).

Vinebox: an ongoing wine taste-test


Six-Month Gift subscription, available at Vinebox, $158

Vinebox sends a personalized wine flight to their door four times per year (six months equals two boxes) that’s curated based on their personal tastes and preferences. Each vial is portioned to be one full glass of fine wine, and members get $15 toward full-sized bottles each quarter.

Driftaway coffee: an ongoing coffee sampler

Driftaway Facebook

Three-Month Subscription, available at Driftaway, from $39

Introduce them to a cool, interactive coffee startup that gets smarter and better at its recommendations as time goes on by learning their palate preferences. They’ll discover new beans that are still in their wheelhouse, and they’ll think of you every time they have a great morning cup. If you’re both into coffee, make an ongoing coffee date to try to the new brews together.

Airbnb Experiences: entertainment, classes, and tours

Airbnb Experiences

Book an Airbnb Experience, available on Airbnb, from $15 per person

Too few people know about or take advantage of Airbnb experiences. You can book an experience in your local community that’s memorable, unique, and makes you appreciate your hometown in new ways. A few of the New York options, for example, are a Harlem Jazz Singer’s Showcase, a vegan food crawl, a guided bike tour through Central Park, and a mafia, crime, and food walk with a retired NYPD officer.

Check out your local options here, and use the reviews and ratings to steer you in the right direction.

Journy: a personal travel concierge


Buy a Journy gift card

Journy acts like a personal travel concierge for $25 per day. An expert takes into account your preferences, plans, and feedback and designs the ideal trip – including booking hotels and making dinner reservations. Find more details on the service here.

Airline gift cards: travel


Buy a Delta gift card on Best Buy or Target, from $50

Buy a Southwest gift card on Best Buy, Target, or Amazon, from $50

This idea is perfect for frequent travelers, and even better for family members who see trips home as opportunities to score more miles on their go-to airline. It’s also easier than booking a trip for them yourself.

If they travel by train most frequently, there’s also an Amtrak gift card.

Groupon: classes and experiences


Browse Groupon

Groupon’s daily deals include everything from pottery classes to beauty services to travel and fitness. You don’t have to spend a lot, and you can make memories while learning a new skill together.