Here's a holiday quiz to give yourself: Would the men in your life like to find another shirt and tie under the tree this holiday season, or would they rather go skydiving or drive on a NASCAR track? Would the women prefer a sweater or cooking classes with a renowned chef? Would the kids be more thrilled by another action figure or an afternoon at a theme park with friends?
If the folks on your shopping list would opt for action over acquisition, this year, wrap up fun and excitement to make their season truly bright.
Robb Young is co-founder of Xperience Days (http://www.XperienceDays.com), a company that arranges adventures as gifts for people all over the country.
"The idea was born out of the need to stop buying stuff that you put away in a closet and forget about," he says. "Memories last longer than toasters and anything else you can buy."
Xperience Days can arrange just about any outing you can imagine, from hang gliding, sailing and biplane rides to wine tours, whale watching and old-fashioned train robberies. The company ships the gift certificate and all the necessary information inside a colorful box to provide an actual physical gift that is more exciting to open than a gift card in an envelope.
Young says most people purchase a gift for two so that the recipient can take a companion -- perhaps the giver.
"This way, the giver gets to take part, too, and to watch as the recipient enjoys the gift," Young says.
He says people often shy away from giving experiences because of cost, but some are less expensive than you might think. Most of the experiences Xperience Days offers are in the $200-$250 range, and a beginning helicopter lesson is just $99.
It's also possible to play Santa with an activity you put together on your own. Arrange a kayaking tour for your water enthusiast. Buy lift tickets for skiers. Enroll your favorite traveler in language classes. Give a couple a romantic dinner cruise or a night in a luxury hotel. Provide gym memberships for a buddy and yourself. A day of pampering at a spa is always welcome.
"People forget to take care of themselves, and this is a way to nudge them to relax for an hour or two and forget the stresses of daily life," says Mary Johnson, a representative from the legendary Ten Thousand Waves Japanese spa and resort (http://www.TenThousandWaves.com), in Santa Fe, N.M. "We don't do as much prevention in our health care as we should, and spa treatments can bring us back to that."
Her company and most others offer seasonal packages that include a variety of possibilities. Or give a gift certificate, and let your recipient decide.
If your budget is really small, plan a beach picnic, a fishing expedition, an afternoon of hiking or sledding, a round of golf, a museum tour, lunch at a new restaurant. The only limit is your imagination.
Ready to dream up some surprises for your loved ones? Here are a few tips for selecting gifts and avoiding disappointment:
*Choose a local gift so that in case of bad weather, it can be redeemed on another day. Buying a hot air balloon ride in a distant city for a couple going there on vacation can backfire if the outing has to be canceled because of rain.
*If climate is an issue where your recipient lives, opt for activities not affected by weather, such as dance lessons or a wine-tasting class.
*Be aware that some experiences, such as renting a high-end sports car, can create the obligation on the part of the recipient to put a damage deposit on a credit card. Make sure this won't cause a problem or embarrassment.
*If you're giving an experience gift to a child, include one or more of his friends to share in the fun.
*Arrange for children's gifts to be realized as close to the day you give them as possible so they don't have long to wait. The very best scenario is to be able to say to a child, "My gift to you is lunch and a movie -- and we're leaving right now!"