With all the ads for toys, electronics and jewellery, you would think that material items always make the best gifts for friends and loved ones.

Retail marketing can be persuasive — 78 percent of respondents to a University of Toronto survey said their most recent gift purchase was a material item instead of an experience. That's no surprise, when the commercialization of the holidays has put the focus on buying that perfect present, not the actual spirit of giving and receiving.

However, there's a growing trend that's challenging these ingrained notions. More people are buying experiences, not physical gifts. With the value that a memorable experience can bring, you may want to consider scrapping material items for memories this December. 

The benefits of giving an experience 
How often have you received a gift, then barely touched it the following year? It sits on a shelf collecting dust, and while the gesture is certainly appreciated, the value of the gift can fade over time.

giftsExperiences can strengthen relationships more than material gifts can.

Giving experiences, however, can help deepen relationships, according to research by Cindy Chan, an assistant professor of management at the University of Toronto. Her study found that experiences strengthened relationships better than material gifts.

She attributes the power of experiences to their emotional associations. 

"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession," said Chan. 

Material gifts don't cause as intense of a response from the recipient. Instead of a physical item that may be used once and placed on shelf, an experience creates memories that can last a lifetime. 

Ideas for experiential gifts 
Experiential gifts are great options for children, spouses or other family members. There are countless experiences you can give, matching nearly any interest. Here are some ideas:

Nothing compares to the experience of live music — get the music lover in your life tickets to a show they'd enjoy. The concert will create new positive memories and emotional associations with the music. 

Theatre performance 
People who love live performances, but never seem to find the time to treat themselves to a show, will enjoy tickets to a ballet, opera or play. Make a night of it by including dinner before the show. 

Spa day
Spa days are great gifts for the loved ones in your life who spend so much of their time caring for others. Help them indulge with a spa day, complete with a massage, steam bath and facial. 

"There are countless experiences that you can give."

Tea time 
Afternoon tea is a luxurious ritual that modern life often forgets. Many high-end restaurants and hotels offer afternoon tea and finger sandwiches. 

Sports game 
Have a sports lover on your holiday gift-shopping list? Get them tickets to a game they'd enjoy. A fun way to surprise someone with this gift is to give them a jacket or sweatshirt with their favorite team's logo and hide the tickets in the pocket. 

Those with wanderlust will be excited to receive a trip to one of their must-see destinations. Whether it's an overnight trip or a week-long getaway, the opportunity to see new sights and places is priceless. 

Comedy show 
Sharing a good laugh together strengthens bonds. Tickets to a local comedy show — or even a live broadcast of a favorite late-night program — will be much appreciated by comedy lovers. 

Museum day 
Perhaps your child adores science, or your spouse is an art-lover — a day devoted to exploring museum exhibits will be a welcome gift! Other cultural destinations include botanical gardens and art galleries. Include a meal at the museum cafeteria or a nearby restaurant to complete the day. 

A hobby class 
Is there a hobby or activity your child, grandchild or spouse has always wanted to learn? Then classes in the subject would make a perfect gift. Painting, cooking, photography, karate, interior decorating - the class ideas are endless!

Giving your time 
Meaningful experiences don't always have to come from exclusive tickets or ventures far from home. They can also come from the gift of time. How about these ideas for "homemade" experiences: 

  • Make dinner. Treat your loved one to a gourmet homemade meal made up of their favourite dishes.
  • Go skating. Skating is a charming winter activity — pile on the layers and warm up with hot chocolate after a day on the ice. 
  • Form a reading club. If there's a book lover on your holiday wish list, pick up two copies of a novel or nonfiction book about a subject they're passionate about. Give them one of the copies, and say you'll read the other with them. 

Giving an experience can be a wonderful way to show appreciation for the loved ones in your life and forge lasting memories. If your gift includes travel, our gift to you is to make sure that your family is protected with travel insurance