Skip to Content

Best Non-Materialistic Gifts (Experience Gifts for Every Occasion)

It can be hard trying to find the perfect gift for someone. And sometimes, when you get it wrong, they are put aside, or even worse, thrown out. Non materialistic gifts give recipients the opportunity to capture a memory, or an experience, which often means more to them as extra thought has gone into curating the gift.

Experience gifts are great zero waste treats for friends and loved ones and can be given at any time of the year. They are eco-friendly too.  Non material gift ideas which include experience days, creative or nature pursuits, or courses, don’t need to be produced or manufactured in the physical sense. They don’t need to be wrapped in packaging, and they don’t require being shipped across the country to be delivered, thus, creating zero waste and lowering carbon emissions too!

There are abundant free gift ideas, at home experience gifts, adventure gifts and more to be discovered online, but to make things easier, we have compiled a list of the top 40 best non-materialistic gift ideas below to spark some inspiration!

This article may contain compensated/affiliate links. See our full disclosure here.

Best Non-Materialistic Gift Ideas

There are many reasonably priced and even free experience gift ideas to choose from online, ranging from partaking in cookery courses, to dance classes, enjoying days out in nature, or even taking in a movie or theater show. Whatever you seek for your friend, family member or partner, we have a non materialistic experience gift to suit your taste and budget below. Read on to gain some great ideas!


#1. Amusement Park

One of the top non physical gift ideas for both adults and kids is a day out at a local amusement park. Bursting with adrenaline-fueled experiences, thrilling, nail-biting rides, stalls, themed dining options and live performances, this is one experience gift that keeps on giving and it’s available year-round!

#2. National Park Pass

Outdoor adventurers and nature lovers will be ecstatic if gifted with a pass for unlimited entry to some of America’s finest National Parks. This experience can be costly, but it does cover all National Park sites across all states and lasts for a full year, meaning they can visit as and when they choose! This zero-waste gift can be enjoyed by all ages and is one of the best non material gift ideas available.

#3. Day Trip

If you’re really struggling to find alternative experience birthday gifts for a friend or partner, why not organize a day trip to a nearby beach, lake, town, or attraction? It’s a non-expensive way to explore the local area and you can invite several people to join in at various times during the day at different venues to enhance the surprise, making it a thoroughly memorable experience for all.

#4. Hiking

If your budget is tight, treat a loved one or family member to a glorious day of hiking in the countryside, forest or along mountain trails. You can relish the beautiful scenery together, be at one with nature, see wildlife and birdlife and join specific trails en route. If you pack a picnic and scope out a local beauty spot with a view for dining, you’ll also gain extra points for attention to detail!

#5. Indoor Climbing

Fun for all ages, indoor climbing is the perfect non material gift idea. This fun, challenging activity is an exciting option for those who enjoy trying new things. Search for local climbing centers online and you’ll find reasonably-priced experiences for both children and adults.

#6. Indoor Skydiving

Another similar option to the above for adventure seekers is indoor skydiving. It’s a memorable experience for someone who has always wanted to try skydiving, but perhaps the weather isn’t suitable at the time of their celebration. Most indoor centers allow participants from age 3 and upwards, meaning everyone can join in with this exhilarating activity.

#7. Ski Pass

If you live near a ski resort and your friend or family member enjoys winter sports, a seasonal ski pass could be the perfect gift. Ski passes can be expensive, but it’s a superb option if a few friends or family members are contributing too. With abundant ski resorts dotted across the U.S., you can make your decision based on location or their favorite ski resorts and trails.

#8. Kayaking

Live by the sea or a river? Treat your friend or parents to a day of kayaking and admire the beautiful coastline from the water. If you plan ahead and speak to the company you hire the kayaks from, they will be able to give you some good spots to stop for a scenic picnic, where you can take photographs and enjoy the vistas.


#9. Comedy Show Ticket

Everyone enjoys a good chuckle, so if the recipient of your gift loves to laugh, treat them to a comedy show ticket! This is one of the best experience gifts for couples and prices can be quite reasonable too. Choose a comedy show in a huge arena or introduce them to upcoming talent playing in an intimate lounge or bar venue.

#10. Concert Ticket

Music fans will adore receiving a ticket to a concert by their favorite artist. Depending on the star value of the artist in question and venue, ticket prices can vary, and if their musical taste doesn’t align with your own, you can purchase an extra ticket so they can take someone else!

#11. Local Theater Gift Certificate

Theater lovers will rejoice in delight if you gift a ticket to an upcoming show as a gift. Even if you can’t afford the price of an entire ticket or the best seats, you can purchase an experience gift card which allows them to top it up themselves and see the show they are most drawn to when it does its circuit.

#12. Take in a Sports Game

If there’s a sports enthusiast in your family, or your friend or partner enjoys soccer, ice hockey, baseball or basketball, a ticket to a sports game may be the perfect experience treat for them. If they support a local team, or their favorite team is passing through your city, even better. Prices may vary depending on the seating, but this is certain to be an unforgettable zero waste experience the recipient will love.

#13. Enjoy a Favorite Movie

Avid film fanatics will thank you for a cinema ticket to a favorite movie or new release they’ve been wanting to see. This cheap and cheerful gift option is a popular choice with students, and you can let them pick the day and movie if you buy a cinema gift card.

#14. Ticket to See a Musical

If the excitement of seeing ‘Hamilton’ or ‘Les Miserables’ on the big stage brings your friend or partner out in goosebumps, purchasing them a ticket for their favorite musical is sure to go down a treat. If you have to travel to the venue, it may drive up the cost a little, but if you wait to see if there are local tours, you can purchase a ticket that won’t break your bank account.

#15. Escape Room

Escape Rooms are popular non material gift ideas and come in a variety of themes ranging from solving mysteries to fantasy, horror, or Sci-Fi. If you’re not sure which theme the recipient will prefer, experience gift cards allow them to make the choice for themselves. Most large cities around the world have several escape rooms, and this zero waste gift option is a fun experience for group events too!


#16. Take an Art Class

If you have a budding Claude Monet in the family, or a Jackson Pollock wannabee as a friend, an art class could be the perfect zero waste gift for them. Whether they enjoy painting, sculpting, pottery, sketching or quilting, there are art experiences suitable for young and old, plus, in most courses they get to keep their work of art afterwards. What better gift than one created by themselves!

#17. Enjoy a Music Lesson

If there is a child in your life who is eager to learn a specific instrument or would like singing lessons, then use their birthday or Christmas as an opportunity to invest in some lessons to see if they enjoy the experience. With plenty of in-person and online options available across the U.S., you’re certain to find one that suits your budget. 

#18. Learn to Dance

A dance class can be one of the most enjoyable experience gifts for parents, friends, or partners. These activities help you stay active and in shape while having fun and learning a few new moves at the same time! There are online and studio options available with salsa, ballroom, tango and many more styles of dance to choose from, with prices which are affordable for most people.

#19. Enjoy a Drawing Class

Creative adults and kids will adore the gift of a drawing class. There are many local teachers and options available, in addition to online courses from sites such as Skillshare and Udemy.

#20. Guitar or Drums Course

You may wish to treat your partner or family member to a course where they can learn how to play the guitar or drums. In most cases, it’s possible to purchase taster sessions to see if they enjoy the activity prior to purchasing an instrument and booking a full course. Music tutors are available online and in local areas and courses can be paid for by the hour, therefore, it’s easy to tailor these alternative birthday ideas to your budget!

#21. Photography Course

One of the best non material Christmas gifts is for keen photographers. A photography class can be a fantastic way to broaden knowledge and enhance skills. Many on-location workshops are available to learn landscape, street, night and portrait photography, and online courses cater to post-production techniques, and teach the more technical aspects of using DSLR’s v’s Micro Four Third cameras and smartphones for photography. Skillshare and Udemy are a great source of finding various photography courses to suit all budgets.


#22. Cooking Class

Cooking classes are always fun and memorable experiences, and with a variety available both online and in-person, this could be the perfect activity for the budding chef in your life. Alternatively, it can also be a subtle hint to help them improve their culinary skills! With sushi-making classes, vegan cookery courses and dessert and cake-making options available, there’s a suitable class or course for both savoury and sweet food lovers.

#23. Dinner

Most people enjoy good food and wine, and there’s no better gift than the treat of a yummy meal. You could prepare them a delicious lunch or dinner, with a table filled with all of their favorite foods or take them to a favorite local restaurant for a delicious feast.

#24. Wine Tasting

Wine tasting tours are always popular experiences. There are lots of wineries in the United States which can be booked for tastings, tours, and overnight stays, often in naturally beautiful settings. If there isn’t one locally, splash out on a weekend away and visit the vineyard that produces a favorite wine.


#25. Diet and Nutrition Course

For the person in your life that loves all things nutrition and healthy living, a diet and nutrition course could be a fantastic option. With a variety of options available online from UDEMY, Coursera and Centre of Excellence to name a few, you will have plenty to choose from.

#26. Fitness or Yoga Class

Online or in-studio yoga classes are fantastic gifts for more active friends and family members. Whether you have the budget to treat them to a single class or a full course, the recipient is sure to thank you for such a wonderful experience gift. You can book a course aligned to their skills and experience – beginner, intermediate or advanced, or if yoga is not their thing, there are plenty of other fitness classes available ranging from kick boxing to Zumba, Pilates, cardio, or step!

#27. Spa or Wellness Retreat

Everyone enjoys being pampered and treating someone special to a day at a spa or wellness retreat will definitely be well received. If your budget can stretch a little further, treat them (and yourself) to an extended mini-break. Most resorts or wellness centers have several packages available that include massages, facials, and access to fitness and relaxation amenities that won’t exceed your budget.

#28. Yoga Retreat

If a special friend in your life deserves a treat and they enjoy yoga, you can book them on a yoga retreat. These retreats take place all over the world, particularly in parts of India and Asia. You can research experiences online and curate an experience which will change their entire perspective on life and create magical memories in the process. Most yoga retreats include food and accommodation in the cost; however, travel will need to be covered as an additional expense.

#29. Meditation Class

If you’ve noticed that a friend or family member is rushing around a lot lately or they are looking after young children, you could treat them to a relaxing day of meditation. It’s a fabulous zero waste gift option for those who are interested in mindfulness, and classes and courses are available in person and online at various rates. Websites like Groupon tend to have deals on meditation classes too, which can save you extra money. 

#30. New Sports Lesson

It can be difficult trying to think of a non-materialistic gift for children, however, a new sports lesson may tick all the boxes. Whether you choose swimming, soccer, gymnastics or baseball, the possibilities are endless. They will have lots of fun, stay fit and healthy and meet new friends in the process!

#31. Personal Trainer Session

This could be the ideal gift for the person in your life looking to achieve health-oriented goals. You can arrange sessions with a personal trainer at a local gym, in a nearby park or online. Training in person can provide extra motivation and most personal trainers tailor the workout to suit the individual’s own needs and fitness goals.


#32. Language Course

With global travel opening up again, lots of people are eager to learn a new language. If you have a friend or loved one determined to become a digital nomad or visit a specific country in the near future, you may wish to treat them to a language course. Whether they wish to brush up their Spanish, French or Japanese via an online course, or with a locally based tutor, there are many courses available catering to different budgets.

#33. MasterClass

Masterclass offers recipients the opportunity to study and learn things like cooking classes, acting, book writing, public speaking and filmmaking. To make this concept even more interesting, the courses are taught by masters of these crafts. With tutors such as Natalie Portman teaching acting, Gordon Ramsay teaching cooking classes or Shonda Rhimes showing you how to write for the small screen, Masterclass is a special gift treat for those who want to splash out on a unique online course. It’s one of the best experience Christmas gifts you can give someone.

#34. Free University Course

If you’ve ever heard a friend say they would love to learn about something specific, then you can sign them up for a free university course where they can study at their own pace online! Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and other Ivy League Universities host a series of courses ranging from sustainability to technology, writing, public speaking, archaeology, and much more, all for free through the platform. You don’t receive a certificate for participating in the free courses, but a lot of the coursework is made available, and they can always upgrade if they love it to gain a professional qualification in the subject!

#35. Online Course

Online courses cover lots of different subjects and are often taught by qualified professionals who specialize in that field. Platforms such as Skillshare and Udemy are a great place to start. Whether there is a hobby that the recipient is passionate about or perhaps there is something different that you think they would enjoy, there are plenty of options available at varying prices.


#36. Museum Membership Card

Museum memberships are fabulous gifts for both adults and children. You can purchase gift cards that cover entrance fees to history museums, art galleries, archaeological centres and many more venues which give the recipient unlimited access and further deals for an entire year. What better gift could you ask for?


#37. Conversation Starter Cards

If you’re on a strict budget, why not create the perfect gift yourself? A set of conversation starter cards can begin interesting discussions, and you can make them from recyclable materials so that there is zero waste! These cards allow you to learn more about the recipient and vice versa. It’s a fun gift suggestion to give to kids who may be a little shy around friends or for a couple that has just started dating.

#38. Organize a City Mystery Tour

A fun and non-materialistic way to spend a day is to organize a city mystery tour. This costs very little; you just need to compile a list of clues which lead everyone to specific locations in the city at certain times! You could end up in local bars, at someone’s house, at a museum or at the highest viewpoint. The choice is yours. Apps like Typeform have quizzes you can compile and send to smartphones to make it even more interesting! This is great fun for groups.

#39. Write a Poem or Story

Writing a poem or story, detailing all the fun, adventurous or memorable things you’ve ever experienced with a specific person is sure to go down a treat. Compile a list of special qualities the person has and get to work, telling the story of how much you appreciate having them in your life.

#40. Offer to Babysit

The best gifts in life are free. If your friend or sibling hasn’t had a day or evening off in forever as they have young children, offer to babysit so they can go on date night or spend an evening in a hotel. Just this small act of thoughtfulness can go a long way, it will give the recipient a well-earned rest and it costs you nothing.

Bonus Non-Materialistic Gift Idea – Make a Donation on Their Behalf

Want to do good while gifting? Why not make a donation on your friend or family member’s behalf? This can be as simple as making a donation locally and then popping a reciept into a handmade gift card, or you could choose a charity that does special donation gift kits. WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is one such charity – you can “adopt” an animal as a gift and either choose an email certificate (for the least waste option), or the full adoption kit which comes with an adoption certificate, species card, photo of your adopted animal, and a plush toy.

As you can see, it’s super easy to find the perfect zero waste, non material gift for parents, friends, loved ones and children. Whether you choose an adrenaline-packed experience at an amusement park, indoor sky diving or prefer a theater date or hike in a National Park amidst nature, the above list shows that you don’t need to spend a lot to create magical moments and memories that last longer and are more eco-friendly than any physical gift.