19 experience gifts that are better than Christmas presents

Looking for the best products to gift — and to get — this holiday season? Check out Underscored’s Holiday Guide here.

There’s no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted the travel industry. While many borders are now open for vaccinated travelers, some travelers are still rightfully nervous about jet-setting. However, even if your adventure-seeking friend isn’t up for a big adventure just yet, they probably still have a travel bug.

After all, for those with wanderlust, the last two years have been a swift change in routine. Luckily, they can still experience the wonders of the world, brush up on their language skills and expand their knowledge with a plethora of virtual travel experiences.

Think of going on a safari through South Africa, mastering gnocchi and ravioli with an Italian mastermind and even diving with sharks right from their own home. What we love most about these digital gifts is how they encourage connection, since they’re the most fun when you experience them together.

Here are our 19 picks for the best travel experiences you can gift to someone — or yourself — this holiday season.

Sur La Table Date Night: Steak Frites For Two

Sur La Table

Sur La Table Date Night: Steak Frites For Two

If your favorite travel buddy is your spouse or partner, you can add a dash of romance to the holiday season by booking this Date Night class via Sur La Table. This cooking and kitchen store does offer in-person classes, but it’s also taken its library of instruction online to make it more accessible for all. In this experience, you’ll be guided through how to cook a perfectly seared steak, accompanied by golden and crispy frites. You’ll also make three classic French sauces and finish with a molten chocolate cake.

Airbnb Discover Buenos Aires’ Street Art & Sketch With a Specialist

Airbnb

Airbnb Discover Buenos Aires’ Street Art & Sketch With a Specialist

In addition to the copious amount of wine and empanadas you’ll consume in Argentina’s capital, you’ll also stand in awe of the street art that adorns nearly every corner of the city. While a trip to Buenos Aires might not be possible for many, you can still learn about the bustling art scene from a local guide in this Airbnb virtual experience. When you gift this to the artist in your life, you’ll give them an interactive experience, traveling through four dynamic neighborhoods: Banfield, Puerto Madero, La Boca and Palermo. As a bonus, the last 15 minutes present the opportunity to test their street art experience with a drawing of their own.

Corto

Corto Virtual Tasting Experience

Olive oil is a kitchen staple you might not think twice about using in your recipes. However, it’s sourced from destinations around the world — from Italy and Greece and Croatia to California. You can help your foodie and travel friend learn about how olive oil is crafted in this immersive virtual tasting experience with seventh-generation Italian olive farmers. The gift includes a flight of oils, all designed to showcase various flavors and intensities.

Carley Sheehy Sushi-Making Kit

Uncommon Goods

Carley Sheehy Sushi-Making Kit

Your jetsetting pal would likely prefer to be exploring the vibrant, colorful streets of Tokyo, sampling hidden treasures around each corner. But since they can’t make the long journey to Japan just yet, you can encourage them to learn the craft of one of the country’s signature dishes: sushi. It’s not an easy one to master, but this curated kit includes a rolling mat, instructions and drink pairings, as well as everything needed to make four servings. That’s right, it also comes with sushi rice, nori (seaweed), sesame seeds, rice vinegar fillings and spicy wasabi powder. The only thing missing is local, fresh seafood — and some patience.

Eat2Explore Explore the World Through Food Subscription Box

Amazon

Eat2Explore Explore the World Through Food Subscription Box

Consider this gift for a fun and engaging way to teach the children in your life about culinary traditions from Spain, China, Ethiopia and more. Each box includes three recipe cards along with spices, sauces and grains from the featured country of the month. If your kids love it, sign up for a monthly subscription!

Airbnb

Airbnb World’s Top Coffee Masterclass

You know your morning cup of joe starts your day off with ease, but what beans tickle your palette? What roast do you prefer? Grab this gift for yourself and a colleague or friend and you can experience what 2,000 5-star reviewers are raving about. The course walks through what makes a great cup of coffee and how to find your own brew, and includes a barista handbook. Then, when it’s time to explore the world again, you both might know how to order what you crave abroad.

Carley Sheehy Make Your Own Fortune Cookies Kit

Uncommon Goods

Carley Sheehy Make Your Own Fortune Cookies Kit

So, your gift recipient has been to a healer in Bali and a psychic in Spain, they take astrology seriously and their favorite part of a Chinese dinner is the fortune cookie at the end. Now they can write their own fate with this sweet gift set that makes 48 homemade fortune cookies. While it does come with 60 pre-written messages, it also has an edible ink pen so they can scribble out their own sentiments, too.

Airbnb Explore Kenyan Cuisines, Culture & Music

Airbnb

Airbnb Explore Kenyan Cuisines, Culture & Music

Kenyan food will have everyone who can’t get enough of spices and stews salivating. Give the gift of learning how to make Kenyan cuisine with this course that does more than teach authentic recipes, but also provides insight into Kenyan culture. You can book a private lesson or choose from a group experience, which covers different meals each day of the week.

  • Sunday and Monday: Kenyan nut stew served with mukimo (irio)
  • Tuesday and Wednesday: Kenya’s finest stew served with butternut chapati
  • Thursday, Friday and Saturday: Curry, chapati, ugali and steamed cabbage and carrot
Airbnb Live Virtual Wildlife Safari in South Africa

Airbnb

Airbnb Live Virtual Wildlife Safari in South Africa

Many Airbnb Experiences follow a structured schedule, but with this one, no two journeys are the same, since it’s live in the South African bush. The person you gift this experience to will be guided through a 240-acre wildlife sanctuary in search of elephants, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos and more. Along the way, the guide will tell riveting stories and teach about this neck of the woods — anyone will walk away stunned by the beauty. Invite a friend for all of the fun and make it a gift for two.

Airbnb Meet and Draw a Llama (starting at $28; airbnb.com)

Airbnb Meet and Draw a Llama

Airbnb

Airbnb Meet and Draw a Llama

Need a fun idea for your inquisitive kid who is obsessed with animals? Or maybe just has an affection for llamas? Whatever makes them adore these cute creatures, this fun digital class not only introduces them to a llama in real life (through the screen, of course), but also encourages them to practice observational skills to draw them. The lecturer will guide through pointed prompts like how the animal eats, moves and reacts.

Italki Subscription (starting at $25; italki.com)

Italki subscription

Italki

Italki subscription

Next year, your travel buddy could be ready to hit the open road, board a plane and get far out of town. To prep for the adventures that are sure to come, nudge them to finally learn a language like they’ve been talking about doing for years. An Italki membership will put them on the right path, offering more than 130 languages and 10,000 high-quality teachers that provide one-on-one online lessons.

Uncommon Goods

Macaron Kit

Experiences in the City of Lights can often be some of the most magical. If you went with your best friend, you likely explored the winding streets, admired the architecture and charm and, of course, ate your weight in food. Now, bring those sweet memories back to your travel buddy with this macaron-making kit. It includes a nonstick silicone baking mat along with a recipe book featuring flavors like rose, earl grey, pistachio and more, as well as a refillable icing pen with six tips.

Airbnb Make Gnocchi and Ravioli at Home (starting at $25; airbnb.com)

Airbnb Make Gnocchi and Ravioli at Home

Airbnb

Airbnb Make Gnocchi and Ravioli at Home

For the recipient you want to impress, this pasta-making class is the way to do it. Consider booking the experience for two as a romantic holiday-meets-date-night experience where you will prepare homemade gnocchi and ravioli. It’s taught by an Italian family who has passed the recipe down from one generation to another, making you feel part of history in the making. As a bonus, you’ll also learn how to make pesto for a topping, and you’ll get a discount to book again if you want to discover other pasta types.

The Lincoln Apartment Bakery Learn to Make Delicious Montreal-Style Bagels ($32; amazon.com)

The Lincoln Apartment Bakery Learn to Make Delicious Montreal-Style Bagels

Amazon

The Lincoln Apartment Bakery Learn to Make Delicious Montreal-Style Bagels

True bagel lovers are strictly Team New York or Team Montreal. For the friend who enjoys this breakfast must-have, consider gifting this class that teaches the fine art of the Canadian favorite. The Montreal bagel is sweeter and fluffier than its Big Apple competitor, so it might challenge traditional tastebuds. This class will cover various bagel styles, appropriate toppings and variations and hands-on instruction to make your own at home.

Masterclass

Masterclass Membership

There’s no doubt that travel-minded people are inherently curious. And they’ll always be up to learn something new and different. That’s why a Masterclass membership could make not only their holiday season, but also their whole year full of wonder. It features more than 100 renowned instructors — like Gordon Ramsey, Simone Biles, Joanne Chang and more — over 11 categories. Some are hands-on, others are lecture-style and all will make them think.

Intrepid Urban Adventures Peruvian Pisco: A Virtual Cocktail Class

Amazon

Intrepid Urban Adventures Peruvian Pisco: A Virtual Cocktail Class

After reaching Machu Picchu in Peru, there’s a great reward of a round — or two — of pisco sours to celebrate the victory. If you can’t make it to this wonder of the world yet, grab your best friend and give the gift of pisco with a Peruvian instructor. This class covers the history of this Peruvian-born liquor, how it’s distilled and, of course, two cocktails to shake up, sip and savor.

Nordiva Tours The Town That Trade Built: A Walk Through Historic Bergen ($20; amazon.com)

Nordiva Tours The Town That Trade Built: A Walk Through Historic Bergen

Amazon

Nordiva Tours The Town That Trade Built: A Walk Through Historic Bergen

Scandinavia has a unique aesthetic, style and way of life. Focused on families, function and preserving the environment, this part of the world draws visitors looking to better understand why citizens of these nations are happier and healthier. Take your gift recipient on a stroll through Bergen, Norway, a spot that’s largely considered one of the world’s best-preserved trading districts. It’s one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and while you may not see it in person yet, you will enjoy this virtual trip with a local host.

Amazon

Doughnuttery DIY Mini Doughnut Making Kit

For the family looking to make new traditions this year, trade out Santa’s cookies for mini doughnuts with this experience gift. Created by a shop in New York City, this kit includes all that’s needed to make 30 bite-sized doughnuts, as well as four gourmet sugar blends: coco loco, lemon pop, speckled strawberry and cinnamon. It also features a doughnut depositor and instructions that will get everyone excited.

Airbnb Dive Under the Sea with a Shark Expert

Airbnb

Airbnb Dive Under the Sea with a Shark Expert

Experience the heart-racing adventure of diving with sharks without leaving the couch or even getting wet. Guided by an instructor who has 21 years of experience in shark conservation, scientific research and more, go “underwater” to see these amazing creatures face-to-face.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.

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