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Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I stared up in wonder as a giant hot air balloon expanded before me. I gasped as a gust of flame shot up mere feet away.
Get in! They yelled, and I not-so-gracefully slid into the basket.
Within minutes we were high above the ground. I stared in wonder over sleepy Napa Valley as the sun slowly spread its golden morning light across the tiny homes and rows upon rows of vineyard grapes.
All across the sky were other painted hot air balloons, which only added to the magic, and, let’s be honest, made my photos a thousand times better.
About twenty minutes into our flight, the balloon pilot crash landed into a golf course pond and took off again with a chuckle. For a minute I worried our ride was over, but before I knew it, we were off again into the sky.
Floating along with the wind is a strange and wonderful sensation. While I was freezing on the ground just moments earlier, I immediately took off my sweater up in the sky. Who would’ve thought that can’t feel the wind when you’re floating along with it.
All too soon, our flight was over and it was time to head back home and get ready for my friend’s beautiful Napa Wedding. We touched down in a large field next to all of the other balloons, and stumbled out of the basket, feeling slightly heavy after our hour of weightlessness.
It was my first time in a hot air balloon and I loved every minute of it.
Hot Air Balloons: The Best Romantic Gift
Men reading this: take notes! Hot air balloon rides are an epic romantic gift. Who needs jewelry, perfume, or any other “thing” when you can have a romantic experience to last a lifetime? If you want to really impress your lady, surprise her with an early morning wake-up call and don’t tell her where she’s going.
But seriously, whether it’s to celebrate an anniversary, birthday, or Christmas, booking a hot air balloon ride, or any other incredible experience is way better than any material gift.
I know what you’re all thinking. Did my boyfriend Chris treat me to a magical hot air balloon ride for our six month anniversary?
Haha nope! I shared the ride with my friend Hannah from high school. I guess that’s what Chris gets for being in Australia.
While the hot air balloon ride wasn’t necessarily a romantic experience, we did have an incredible time, and it was definitely a morning we’ll never forget!
Why I Love Experience Gifts
While most frequent travelers proclaim their undying hate towards “things”. I’ll be honest: I love buying stuff.
Last month I bought a fancy microphone for recording videos (more on that secret surprise later!). I love collecting handmade jewelry and paintings from local artists when I travel. And if I ever need a pick-me-up, I’ll run into a MINISO and buy a bunch of cheap stuff for my apartment. How can you resist when you have the best dollar store on the planet right next to your office?
But when it comes to gifts, I honestly believe experiences are a million times better, especially for people you really care about.
Memories to Last a Lifetime
When you give the gift of experiences, you create memories that will last forever. Both you and your partner or friend get to have a wonderful day together and develop your relationship in the process. While “things” are nice, they definitely don’t compare to a hot air balloon ride, cooking class, or wine tasting together.
The Element of Surprise
Sure, you can surprise your boyfriend with a gift, but wouldn’t it be way more fun to take him on an adventure instead? Don’t tell him where you’re going, and see the look on his face when you finally arrive!
Great for Those on a Budget
While a hot air balloon ride might not be great if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of surprise adventure gifts that don’t need much money. For example, when I was in high school I made my boyfriend strawberry ice cream from scratch (his favorite) and took him ice skating for Christmas. That was a way better present than anything my 17-year-old self could’ve afforded.
A Little More Thought and Effort
Creating an experience gift takes a little more thought and effort than going to the store to buy something and your friend or partner with notice. I absolutely love planning fun adventure gifts for people, and they’re always very well received too!
My Best Experience Gift
Before my boyfriend Chris moved to Beijing, he came to visit me for two weeks in December. This meant I needed to get him a combo birthday-Christmas gift since his birthday falls around the holidays. Rather than buy him a few things he doesn’t need, I decided to create an epic day of surprises for him.
First, I baked him a cake, which is actually harder than it sounds when you live in China. Who knew it would be so hard to find candles?! At least I know how to make frosting from scratch now.
For the whole day of his birthday-Christmas adventure, I took Chris around to my favorite Beijing spots. We wandered around Houhai Lake, window shopped on Gulou Dong Dajie and stopped for a coffee at my favorite cat cafe. We then roamed a special Christmas market set up for the weekend and ended with Zhang Mama, my favorite Chinese restaurant, and an alcoholic pie shake at Rager Pie. (In case you were wondering, a pie shake is a milkshake made from pie, ice cream, and alcohol, and yes, it’s amazing).
Overall the day was incredible, we both had a lot of fun, and we made some great memories in the process!
The Best Birthday Ever
In return, my boyfriend Chris gave me the best birthday ever this April. First, he booked us a night at the Orchid, my absolute favorite hotel in all of Beijing. Chris treated me to brunch at the Orchid and then surprised me with a hotel check-in! A boutique hutong wonder, a night at the Orchid was the most fitting birthday present I could’ve ever received. After a day of enjoying the beautiful hutongs and perfect weather, we split a bottle of wine on our private rooftop and watched the sun go down.
The next morning Chris surprised me with a car to a wild section of the Great Wall. While we may have accidentally hiked the wrong section (whoops), we did get to climb the wall with literally no one on it (probably because it’s unsafe). At the end of our trek, we had a much-deserved picnic overlooking the Huanghuacheng lake with homemade pickles, smoked salmon, strawberries, and sparkling wine!
It was literally the best birthday of my life… aside from the part where we almost died trying to get off a section of the Great Wall that’s not meant to be hiked.
Chris also wrote his own version of our experience gifts. Read it here!
Our Anniversary Gift Pact
While we were hiking the Great Wall, Chris and I decided that from now on, our anniversary will always be spent doing an adventure. While it’s somewhat unclear when we officially started dating, we’re just going with “the first week of October” as a rough guide. For our anniversary, we’ll go on a trip somewhere and each of us will prepare a surprise adventure experience for the other.
This year we’ll be in Bali so if anyone has any good gift ideas, please let me know!
How to Give the Gift of Experiences
Sometimes giving an experience gift isn’t as easy as you might think. Maybe your loved one lives far away, or you’ll be traveling during that special time. Even if you do live in the same area, actually planning and booking an excursion without the other person’s details can be really tricky.
My Experience Gift Failure
Let me bring you back to the first time I tried to give an experience gift and failed miserably. I was about to visit my long-distance Australian boyfriend for a month over the summer, and I had no idea what to get him for his birthday. Seriously, is it just me or are men ridiculously hard to shop for?
Anyway, I wanted to get an experience for the two of us, but whenever I tried, I came up empty handed. I thought about booking a hot air balloon ride in Yara Valley, but they needed me to book an exact date in advance, and I wasn’t quite sure if we could even get there easily from his home in a Melbourne suburb.
Then I tried a cooking class. They ALSO wanted me to book an exact time, weeks in advance! Why is booking an experience so difficult?!
Because I wasn’t familiar with the area and didn’t know which exact dates we would be available, it was almost impossible for me to book something.
Tinggly: The Gift of Experiences
If you’ve been reading along for a while, you’ll know that I’m obsessed with Tinggly, a website where you can book experience gifts for family and friends. Tinggly takes all the hassle out of booking a gift experience, and even sends a little gift box to the recipient!
How does Tinggly Work?
Tinggly has experience gifts scattered all across the globe. With more than 400 experiences in 100+ countries, it’s hard not to find something your loved one will like. As the gift giver, you can choose between three different price points: Essential ($79), Premium ($119). and Ultimate ($279).
Keep in mind that some experience gifts actually cover two participants, so the two of you can go on an adventure together!
All you have to do is pick one of the price points and a special gift box will be sent to your friend, partner, or family member. They then have the choice of ANY experience using their special gift code. The best part? They have up to a year to cash in!
Why Tinggly is Awesome
Obviously, this system is amazing for many reasons. Let me just walk you through a few of the best ones:
1. You Don’t Need to Live in the Same Place
Because the gift box is delivered via the website, you don’t need to live in the same place or know ANYTHING about the logistics of where the other person lives. Want to send your long-distance boyfriend a present for his birthday? No problem. Want to send your parents a Christmas gift? Easy.
2. THEY Get to Choose Their Experience
Not sure if your mom wants an Argentine tango class or a cooking lesson? Let them choose from over 400 experiences. This is perfect for people who are super picky.
You know what’s also great? Because Tinggly gifts are valid for a year, they also have the ability to pick a time that works for them. This would’ve really worked for that long-distance boyfriend in Australia. No more trying to schedule experience gifts in advance!
3. Experiences All Over the World
I live in Beijing, but I tried out a hot air balloon ride in Napa and diving with thresher sharks in the Philippines. Because recipients have a year to use their gift, they can treat themselves on their next big trip, or try something fun in their backyard.
4. Three Different Price Points
With three different price points, it’s easy to pick a gift that suits your budget. The Essential collection is perfect for a friend’s birthday or a big Christmas gift, while the Ultimate collection is great for a boyfriend/girlfriend, or a major celebration. Finally, the Ultimate Collection is great for a major wedding gift or group present.
There are at least 70 different experiences at each price point, and all of them are awesome. Sometimes the only difference between Essential and Ultimate is that the Ultimate package allows two people, so the two of you can go together!
What Kind of Experiences Can You Choose From?
Seriously, the sky’s the limit. From a VIP helicopter ride in Las Vegas to a pizza and gelato cooking class in Florence, you’ll find experiences all over the world.
Try a New Orleans jazz cruise, jet boating in New Zealand, a Bali spa day, or a Game of Thrones experience in Croatia. The world is your oyster!
When Tinggly first gave me the opportunity to check out one of their gifts, I chose to go diving with thresher sharks in Malapascua. My gift got me one thresher shark dive with Evolution, as well as a premium room in their dive resort. For someone who usually stayed in hostels, sleeping in a nice, air-conditioned resort room was a fantasy!
Personally, I think Tinggly is great for helping someone spring for an experience they usually wouldn’t buy for themselves. While I would’ve paid for a thresher shark dive, I always felt uncomfortable spending more than the bare minimum on my housing. As a poor Master’s student, I couldn’t justify staying in a dive resort. But for one night, I got to really treat myself!
What Do You Think?
While giving a wrapped Christmas present is always fun, I much prefer the gift of experiences. Whether it’s hiking the great wall for a romantic picnic, floating in a hot air balloon over Napa Valley, or diving with sharks in the Philippines, experiences create memories that will last a lifetime.
Now I want to know: What do you think? Do you like to give experience gifts, or do you prefer the more traditional method? What’s the coolest experience gift you’ve ever given?
I’d like to thank Tinggly for providing my friend Hannah and I an incredible morning hot air balloon ride. As always, I’m a huge fan of Tinggly, and I only promote products and services on this site that I truly believe in. I’m also an affiliate of Tinggly, so if you purchase an awesome Tinggly adventure, please use one of the links above which will help support this site at no cost to you!
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