"The best gift ever" Today, on the palm-fringed beaches of Caravelle, in Guadeloupe, I met a friendly couple from Switzerland. The man, who was a quadri-lingual globetrotter, had just turned the big 4-0! For his birthday, his wife had gifted him the gift of travel. Best present of his life he said. Everything had been a surprise, and he was blissfully unaware of the specifics of the trip. He couldn't even tell me the nightly rate of the pool-side villa they were renting.

He rattled off the names of the places they would be visiting over the next ten days, his face eager and excited. I congratulated his wife for having chosen such a great gift. She told me they had toyed with the idea of visiting Guadeloupe for years - and here they were! I made a mental note to remember this in a few years when my own turns 40.

This unexpected and fun encounter with the bubbliest Swiss I've ever met (it was shocking, they really don't have a reputation for being chatty), got me thinking. What would I prefer for my 40th birthday, a fancy yellow diamond necklace or a trip to Bhutan? I'd pick the latter every time.


Well, maybe because it's the holiday season and the year is quickly coming to an end, but I've felt the need to reflect, as we all do around this time. Not only this year but the other ones that always seem to slip through my fingers.

My musings have sent me sailing across the world somewhere, bringing me to unfamiliar places that beckon discovery. I find myself strolling down the beach with my niece and nephews under a fiery sunset in Venice, scaling a waterfall wall with my husband in one of Colombia's wild national parks or feeding ravenous monkeys with a group of close friends on Manuel Antonio beach in Costa Rica.

And so I ask you..

What are some of your fondest, most vivid memories? Are there any experiences that have marked you deeply, so much so that you can still take in the smells penetrating the air, feel the breeze rustling through your hair, touch the drops of sunlight dancing across the horizon?

The experiences that have marked me the most have often been away from home, away from the mundane and in some faraway land. Those are the experiences that have taught me the most and helped me grow more than anything else.

The Science of Experience

Psychology Professor at Cornell University, Dr. Thomas Gilovich, has spent his career studying economics and human behavior. Based on four extensive studies he conducted on human happiness and spending habits, he came to the following conclusion:

"Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum of our experiences."

Yes, age and experience tell me this is true.

Based on his research, Dr. Gilovich also states “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

We also adapt to our environments and we sometimes need to step away to catch a fresh perspective, to evolve, to remember how vast this world really is, how rich are the cultures of the people who inhabit it and how awe-strikingly beautiful is the ground we trod on. And those realizations become part of us - our vision broadening and our openness to the unknown increasing.

And this is why he recommends purchasing experiences as opposed to things. Fond memories stay with us forever as inseparable companions.

So back to my encounter with the Swiss couple on the beach. His travel experience - his best gift ever. I'm more than certain he'll be forever marked by his hike up La Grande Soufrière Volcano, his four-year-old son in one arm, his wife leaning on the other. Sweaty, laughing, exhausted. All exhaustion evaporating when reaching the peak as jagged rocks give way to jaw-dropping views of 50 shades of turquoise sea and the myriad of islands within.

But before giving the gift of an experience, there are a few things to consider.

How to give the gift of travel:

Spend some quality time together first

Grab a glass of wine and snuggle up beside a cozy fireplace or head over to your favorite coffee shop and dedicate a few hours to looking at all the possibilities. Talk about potential countries, tours, accommodations. Keep it fun and light, this is in itself; an experience.

Find out what your loved one wants

The goal is to discover and listen. Does your significant other, mom or bestie prefer a fun-filled, adrenaline-packed vacation to Turkey, or does she dream of a romantic getaway to Spain, let's say, discovering castles, flamenco, and wine. Do they want to go trekking in Nepal or is partying the night away in Mykonos more their thing? Ask questions, dig deep. It's hard not to project your desires and dreams onto other people so try to stay neutral. Take notes if necessary.

Come up with a list of top three

Once you've come up with more or less of an understanding of what your loved one wants, choose a list of top three destinations. Talk about tours, activities, dates, the weather in those destinations during your dates of travel, the crowds (if the goal is to be away from them or in them), the timing of specific events or festivals that you may want to attend.

Surprise! ...or not

Doing the above is entirely possible even if you want it to be a surprise. As long as you approach it with an attitude of "maybe we could travel this summer so let's talk options," your loved one will be oh so surprised on the day you present the flight ticket and the travel itinerary. If it's something that you plan to book together in the near future, but you take initiative and book it alone; making it concrete. Your gift of an experience will be received with shouts or maybe tears of surprised joy. Especially if it's about their dream travel experience!

If this gift is for a loved one who you're not planning to travel with, enlist a good friend to do the above and then send lots of feedback your way.

You can do this!

More blessed to give than receive

Since it's the holiday season, our team wants to offer you a 10% off any tailormade Travelous experience booked before Dec 31st to make it that much easier to give. It doesn't matter if you've been naughty or nice, book this December to receive reduced rates.

Travel is the gift that keeps on giving!

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