Five Christmas gift ideas that aren't just more stuff

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Little girl holding tall stack of christmas presents, standing in living room
Christmas doesn't have to mean more unwanted stuff. Photo: Getty

For many of us, Christmas is synonymous with a whole lot of stuff - which is far from ideal if you’re trying to live a decluttered, Marie Kondo-style life, or just want to be gentler on the environment.

Of course, there are many ways to get around this if you chat to your nearest and dearest ahead of time. Instead of presents, you could go out for a fancy dinner, or do a group donation to charity, or organise a family Kris Kringle so everyone gets (and has to give) just one gift.

Or, if you still want to give gifts but don’t want to bury your loved ones under piles of things they don’t want and don’t need, there are loads of thoughtful activities that are fun and will give the recipient a chance to create meaningful memories that will last just as long as an unwanted gift will in landfill.

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The obvious ones that come to mind are Gold Class movie tickets, dinner vouchers, a massage voucher or a weekend away, but the possibilities really are endless.

Experience retailers - that is, brands that sell experiences - offer all sorts of unique activities to suit just about any personality type, whether they’re a foodie or an adrenaline junkie or something in between.

Here, we’ve gathered our favourite experience-based gifts we’re sure your nearest and dearest would love this Christmas.

Indoor plant masterclass

When you think of ‘experience’ gifts, skydiving or bungee jumping may spring to mind but they’re just the extreme end of the spectrum.

Gardening, indoor plants, composting, worm farming and veggie growing have all become popular pastimes since Covid entered our lives, which means more gardening related activities are also around.

kokedama
Learn how to make kokedamas. Photo: Class Bento

If your loved one is a green thumb - or aspires to be one - there are fun, expert-led workshops that could help them level up.

Class Bento has masterclasses on indoor plants, vegetable growing, kokedama making, terrarium making and even dried flower arranging. 

Thanks to the pandemic, there are also a number of online workshops you can purchase tickets for, like this worm farming course or this one on gardening for food and health.

Of course, gardening is just the tip of the iceberg, and with a bit of searching you can find a whole host of fun workshops on everything from candle making to pottery, and painting.

Overnight zoo stay

A unique experience for a big kid at heart is a night time visit to the zoo.

Overnight stays give you a behind the scenes glimpse of what goes on when the gates of the zoo close and the nocturnal animals come out to play.

It includes guided tours with a zookeeper, dinner, a night in safari-style glamping accommodation and breakfast the next morning.

Werribee Open Range Zoo offers overnight stays for $690 for two people, Melbourne Zoo’s Roar and Snore is $496 for two people while it’s $848 for two people at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.

Glamping at the zoo
Glamping at the zoo is an unforgettable experience. Photo: Werribee Open Range Zoo

For a slightly less pricey but also fun experience, you could look into paddle boarding, an escape room or surfing lessons.

If you’re shopping for actual kids, instead of buying more toys, you could give them a yearly membership to a local museum or zoo, or invite them out for a day of bowling, mini golf, rock climbing or even indoor skydiving for the more adventurous.

Hot springs spa day

Nothing says, ‘I appreciate you’ more than a pamper package.

It can be as simple as a voucher for a mani/pedi or a more elaborate spa voucher for a massage and facial, but giving someone the gift of relaxation and self care is a great way of showing how much you value that person. 

For something really special, you could organise a day trip to the hot springs so they can immerse themselves in the soothing, thermal baths and wash away their worries.

The Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula is a stunning location with dozens of natural baths filled with geothermal mineral water located about an hour and a half out of Melbourne.

two people soaking at Peninsula Hot Springs
The Peninsula Hot Springs lets you wash away your stress while drinking in. the magnificent views. Photo: Peninsula Hot Springs

TripAdvisor does a package that picks you up from Melbourne CBD, takes you for a day trip to the hot springs and returns you back after a coastal walk, with prices starting at $217 per person.

If you’re in Sydney, there’s a smaller Japanese style bath house in the Blue Mountains, about a two hour drive from the CBD, that offers packages starting at $85 per person. 

There are natural hot springs in every state and territory except the ACT, although apart from the above two, they’re all in rural locations.

Another cute self-care gift idea could be a yearly membership to a subscription service like Audible that lets you listen to a new audio book every month, or BINGE that has hundreds of TV shows and movies to choose from.

Wine tasting tour

If wine drinking was a popular pursuit during lockdown, perhaps a real life wine tasting tour is in order.

It’s a good opportunity to stock up the cellar and chat all things vino with a connoisseur. Adrenaline offers vouchers for wine tours throughout Australia on its website with packages averaging between $100 and $200.

For something a little more out there, you could try a combined horse riding and wine tasting tour in the Yarra Valley or a canoeing and wine tasting package in Margaret River.

Two glasses of red wine on a wooden barrel in the vineyard
Indulge a passion with a wine tasting tour. Photo: Getty

A wine tour doesn’t necessarily have to involve a day trip out to a wine region however, and there are also urban wine tasting tours like this one-hour one in Sydney that costs $86 a person.

Another option could be a lovely degustation dinner with wine pairing at a fancy local restaurant.

Pasta making class

Let them embrace their inner Italiano with a traditional pasta or pizza making class.

It’s strangely relaxing to roll up your sleeves and take any frustration out on a ball of dough, it can be very meditative - not to mention delicious.

Red Balloon has pasta making workshops available in most Aussie states for about $150. 

You could even try a parent and kids pasta class, or a kids only session if you want to help your little ones become mini Masterchefs.

home made pasta
Give the gift of a new skill that's also delicious. Photo: Class Bento

Pizza is another fun art to learn, and with the proliferation of small and portable home pizza ovens, you could be starting a life-long love affair that you’ll be able to enjoy when you’re invited over for a pizza night!

Class Bento has pizza, pasta, gnocchi, tiramisu and cannoli making classes throughout Sydney and online to embrace all things Italian.

Thanks to the pandemic, at home cooking classes have become a thing and while you often have to be in the same city as the company hosting so they can mail you out a box of ingredients, there are some classes that give you the option to buy your own ingredients which is great for people living in areas with less access to cooking schools.

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