The Hottest Holiday Gift This Year May Surprise You

There's been a shift in consumer spending, and as it turns out the best things in life aren't things.

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After spending the first two years of the decade mostly locked down, working on quarantine home projects, organizing our kitchens and overall reevaluating our lives, Americans seem to be making a shift. According to IBM Institute for Business Value, “2022 shopping budgets are up 8% over 2021, and holiday travel budgets are up by almost half.”

While material gifts aren’t going away anytime soon, what it the country is craving most this holiday season is travel.

Why now?

Part of this is the result of inflation and higher prices on consumer goods, but it’s also because working from home—or from wherever you are—has given Americans more flexibility than ever, and we’re taking advantage of it. Some people just want a change of scenery—trading city for the seashore or vice versa—and Airbnb and VRBO have made that more accessible than ever, with many rentals advertising home office setups. Some people even take their work abroad, using a digital nomad visa to stay longer than three months.

Benefits of travel

The pandemic drove home the lesson that nobody is guaranteed tomorrow and it’s important to act on your bucket list instead of just keeping a note on your iPhone. Jill Wheeler is a Boulder, Colorado psychotherapist who believes in creating lives we don’t need to “vacate.”

“There’s no denying the importance of exploring new lands, cultures and wild places,” Wheeler says. “Travel offers the opportunity to diversify our perspectives and challenge stuck-in-our-own-way mindsets through new experiences that expand our comfort zones.” With Frontier Airlines unlimited flight pass, travelers can access unlimited flights at a low cost.

Wheeler leads wellness adventure retreats, but she also customizes corporate, family and friend retreats in some of the most beautiful places in the world. “If you tend toward anxiety and high stress, consider a slower-paced itinerary that allows for mindful learning and restorative, nurturing activities,” Wheeler advises.

The best experience gift ideas

Sometimes the best gifts aren’t under the tree in your living room but are found sitting under a palm or a pine, expanding your view through fresh vistas, unfamiliar cuisine and learning new languages. Here are some of our picks for life-changing travel experiences.

Treat them to a wildlife tour

“Experiences are permanent, but things are temporary,” says Michelle Theall, Senior Editor and Photographer at Alaska Magazine. Theall owns Wild Departures, a wildlife-viewing tour company that includes photography guidance from Theall. “You might lose a souvenir,” Thrall says. “But you will never forget seeing wild animals in Africa or polar bears playing on ice. Surprise a loved with an excursion to see their favorite animal. From whale watching in Hawaii to spotting bears in Alaska, encounters with animals are always true bucket list trips. TripAdvisor is a great resource to find the best nature and wildlife tours all over the country.

Gift a Wildlife Trip

Buy concert tickets

Sure, you can dance it out in your kitchen—as so many families did while quarantining—but the return to live concerts in 2021 brought people out in droves. “All over the world, musicians are selling out stadiums, music halls, parks and boutique venues,” Rolling Stone reported. Maybe you know your parents’ favorite band or that one artist your best friend can’t get enough of. Purchase a ticket—or better yet—let them choose with a StubHub gift certificate.

Gift a Concert

Book a cruise

If you’re looking for a gift for the whole family, cruises are a great option because everyone can be somewhat autonomous while still experiencing the same amazing sights. There are some things to consider when booking a cruise—and some people can feel daunted by all the decisions—which is why smaller ships can be a better choice. Variety Cruises is a top-ranked small ship company based out of Athens, Greece. They travel to various unique destinations such as Greece, Italy, Malta, Seychelles, the Middle East and the Red Sea, West Africa and Cape Verde. Because the boats are smaller, passengers can access private beaches and secluded locations that larger cruise ships do not. Silversea is another great cruise company that offers small boats (the largest has 350 rooms) and sails to over 900 destinations on all seven continents.

Gift a Cruise

Gift a road trip

You can’t beat a good road trip. Whether you want to fly somewhere new and get an Avis or Budget rental car to explore the area, or you want to rent a camper van through a company like Outdoorsy or RVshare—there’s no better way to see the United States than meandering town to town. You can plot the trip in advance or wing it, using sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to help guide the way. There’s also always going the old-fashioned way with a map, curiosity and an open mind!

Gift a Road Trip

Book a farm stay

Farm vacations are more common outside the United States, but as people seek out deeper, more meaningful experiences, farm vacations are gaining traction here, too. Farm Stay USA is a vetted site of authentic working farms and ranches offering lodging. “We make for a great travel gift because we always exceed expectations,” says owner Scottie Jones. “And we offer a trip to a ‘foreign land’ that may be right in your own backyard.” Farm Stay lodging ranges from rustic to luxury and from farmhouses to tents, but each one offers an experience for people looking for connections to their food, fresh air, and the countryside.

Gift a Farm Stay

At its heart, travel isn’t so much about where you go, but about getting out there and seeing the world. A recent Amex Trendex global survey found that 42% of consumers say that their favorite type of gift to receive this season is a travel experience and 62% would rather purchase experiences as gifts than physical material gifts this year.


Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis writes about health, wellness, technology, nutrition, careers and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. In addition to Reader's Digest and The Healthy, her work has been published in Self, Wired, Parade, Bon Appétit, The Independent, Women’s Health, HuffPost and more. She is also a licensed massage therapist. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.