One Christmas, my parents wrapped a box with vouchers for tickets to Kennedy Space Center. As a huge space nerd, I was ecstatic! During our vacation to Florida, we joined our cousins, piled into the old conversion van, and drove to Titusville for a day of memories I’ll never forget. I still look at the photos and remember how thrilled I was with the gift of travel. I don’t remember any other present I got that year.
Giving the gift of travel is giving memories that are priceless and will last a lifetime. It is easier than you might think to gift someone a vacation for Christmas, graduation, a honeymoon or a birthday. You don’t even need to know when or where they want to travel!
In 2023, after years of stress shopping and mindlessly ordering items sent to our homes, a lot of us don’t want more stuff. Almost everyone is ready to go somewhere! We all want to travel! Whether that’s a vacation abroad or getting out of the house more in your hometown, we are all craving the ability to break free and start making memories.
There are many reasons why travel is a better gift than anything you can buy in a store, including:
- Travel is the perfect minimalist gift. There is nothing to clutter a home if you are giving experiences.
- Everyone values experiences more than things. The memories you make and the pictures you take are far more valuable than a sweater or a kitchen appliance.
- Saving money on a vacation. When you buy lots of toys just to fill under the tree, you have still got to have a vacation budget later on. Why not funnel some of the vacation budget to your holiday gift budget and save money, or upgrade your travels?
Here are some helpful tips to remember when booking travel or experiences as a gift.
Give Gift Cards or Vouchers for Travel
One of the easiest, and safest, ways to give travel is to give a gift card for an experience they will love. For instance, give an airline gift card so that they can fly anywhere. Or a cruise line gift card. Hotel chains and Airbnb also offer gift cards.
If you have an idea of their likes, this is a great way to give a trip without needing to know specifics.
Tinggly might be one of the easiest and most flexible ways to book travel as a gift. A Tinggly gift will come in an actual gift box, which is way better than other gift card options. The recipient chooses what they want to do when they want to do it. All you need to do is pick a price point, and a gift box and book will be sent with your personal message.
You might be surprised at the types of gift cards that are available. State parks, such as Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, offer gift cards for their admission fees.
Xanterra, which operates many National Park hotels, trains and other experiences, also offers gift cards that have no expiration date. These can be used for lodging, dining, cruising, shopping and activities in places such as:
- Yellowstone National Park
- Zion National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Canyon South Rim
- Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel
- The Oasis at Death Valley (in Death Valley National Park)
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Mt. Rushmore Memorial
- Windstar Cruises
- VBT (slow bike vacations)
- Country Walkers (walking vacation)
Amtrak gift cards are available, too.
Sam’s Club offers a variety of gift cards for travel, including Disney gift cards. (Get a $20 Sam’s Club gift card for joining.)
Viator allows you to book tickets, tours and attraction admissions online. Such as a Chicago Architecture River Cruise or a Foodie Walking Tour. This is perfect if you want to book a day trip or a fun experience in their hometown or around the world. For most experiences, you can cancel at least 24 hours in advance and get a full refund.
Buy An Annual Pass
Get an annual pass for their favorite destination for a year of travel and adventures. Theme parks are perfect places for an annual pass. Or give a National Parks pass so that they can enjoy a year of adventure wherever and whenever they choose.
Consider pairing a National Parks Annual Pass with one of these awesome National Parks gift ideas.
Consider All of the Costs
Giving a vacation is sweet. And they will likely love it. However, your gift could actually end up costing them if they have to pay lots of hidden fees, or travel fees.
If you pay for airline flights, be aware that they will need to get to the airport and back. Can you, or someone they know, provide transportation or parking? There will be costs to board animals if they have pets. Then there are the costs of accommodations, eating out, etc.
All of these things add up. If you are giving travel as part of a vacation they are taking anyway, then it will help to save them money. Or if you are giving a train ride to go see family, then there won’t be as many expenses. But giving someone a week-long stay in Jamaica for the winter without any airfare to get there just adds to their expenses.
Don’t Book Specific Dates
Unless you are surprising your immediate family with a vacation and know with absolute certainty that they will be able to travel on specific dates, do not book an actual itinerary. You have no way of knowing what their schedule is, or what they might be considering for the upcoming year.
For instance, maybe they know that work will be super busy in the upcoming year and they can’t take as much vacation time. Or perhaps someone is pregnant and hasn’t told friends or family yet. Maybe someone has a surgery upcoming or medical problems they haven’t revealed. You never know what could be going on in someone’s life.
Even if a hotel or airline states that they have zero change fees, that still doesn’t get you off the hook. There might be a small window of time that the trip can be rebooked. Or when you go to change the dates, the costs could be more expensive and they will need to pay the price difference.
Don’t Book International Travel
Unless you know for sure that your gift recipient has a passport that is valid and won’t expire soon, do not book international travel or any type of travel (including cruising) that might require documents that they don’t have.
Don’t Use Your Frequent Flier Miles
Okay, I actually have used my frequent flier miles to surprise my mom with a flight to see her sister for her birthday. And using your miles is a great way to give a big gift without a huge expense.
However, this method can come with problems. If there are changes that need to be made to the reservation, or problems with the flights mid-trip, they might need to rely on you to make the changes. Keep this in mind if you want to use your rewards.
Don’t Use Their Own Points, Miles or Rewards Numbers
Using their own points, miles and rewards from loyalty programs or credit cards might sound like a great idea. Especially if you are using your husband’s or wife’s points because you know they won’t book it themselves.
Once the points or miles are redeemed, chances are they are going to get lots of emails about the reservation, upsell emails, confirmations, and more. They will likely be notified of the travel booking well before you are able to give the gift.
Be Certain of Legal Names
If you do book a cruise, flight or an annual pass, be sure to know the recipients full legal name if needed. When booking a flight, the name on the ticket will need to match their ID exactly. The same for cruises, too.
For annual passes, they might need to show their pass along with their ID for entry. So make sure to know what legal name to use.
How to Wrap a Vacation Gift
It can be hard to figure out how to wrap a gift of travel so that they aren’t disappointed and your present actually makes them smile!
If you are giving a physical gift card, it’s a bit easier. For gift vouchers and homemade gift certificates (here are some great Christmas gift certificate templates that you can download), the best way is to pair the sentiment with a physical gift that is from the destination. Here are some examples:
- A toy train for a train journey
- A bag of oranges or a tube of sunscreen for a Florida vacation
- Bathing suit for a Caribbean trip
- Ski parka, warm hat or gloves for a ski vacation
- Iconic food or drinks from the destination (macaroons for France, pasta and sauces for Italy, etc. Try the World offers beautiful gift boxes packed with delicious foods from countries around the world.)
Another idea is to give an item from the destination. You can find great gifts on Etsy. Just type in the destination name and see what comes up. Consider giving a Christmas tree ornament, snow globe or t-shirt representing the state, city or country of where they are going to go.
Visit Shop Americas National Parks for items sold within the NPS system.
Wrapping up a guidebook or a language guide is also a fun idea.
To make it really special, wrap the gift with an old map as wrapping paper. And add a luggage tag as the name tag.