How to shop for experiences

I suggest experience gifts, but that’s easier said than done. It’s easier to shop for physical stuff. Just check the ads or the commercials or the billboards or the millions of other advertising channels, literally.

Experiences, on the other hand, are tougher to purchase wisely. For me, though, here’s what I try to remember when I’m out shopping:

  • Don’t assume a higher price means a better experience: The most expensive experiences aren’t always the best ones. The correlation between how much you pay and how much you get is much weaker than when you buy physical stuff. You spend $2,000 on a thing, and it’s probably going to be better than a $200 thing. This isn’t always true for experiences.
  • Don’t compare the price of one experience to the price of another: This follows from the preceding point. While it’s true that a $200 experience might be just as enjoyable as a $2,000, this doesn’t always mean you should skip the $2,000 experience. It doesn’t work like that. Both can be worth it even if one seems way over priced in a strict comparison.
  • Barter for better experiences: Not the small ones, like going to the movies, but the big ones, like the cruise to Alaska — the price is negotiable. Search around. See if a friend knows a friend who works on one of the boats and can get you a deal. I’ll teach English in exchange for living in Korea. I’ll teach drums in exchange for drawing classes.
  • Buy new instead of used: For stuff, I’m all for used. A used car, like a year old, can cost just half as much as the new one and isn’t noticeably different (maybe a warranty or whatever). For experiences, though, doing what you’ve never done before is almost always better than trying to recreate a wonderful experience you had in the past. Try new.
  • Ask for recommendations, but look to combine what’s available: If you only ask what others have done and enjoyed, you’ll get one kind of experience, maybe a good one but probably not a remarkable one. The remarkable experiences come when you combine one or more of the recommendations you hear to create, once again, something new.
  • Shop on the edges: Look to push limits. Experiment with experiences that were popular in the past. Keep an eye out for those upcoming in the future. Try the quirky ones. In the end, it’s much more interesting to pursue experiences that stand out from the crowd than those everyone sees as glamorous.
  • Involve other people: Adding friends or family or even those you’ve never met creates an excitement unmatched in solitary pursuits. Maybe it’s just a personality thing, but I love to share my life and share my experiences, adding characters to my story.

Someone said experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. But that doesn’t have to be true. Experience can be on purpose. You just have to know how to shop.