Not every holiday gift has to fit under the tree. In fact, one of the best presents you can give this time of year is the gift of a meaningful journey or life experience. May we suggest a few thrilling trips for the globetrotting retiree, “Eat, Pray, Love”-ing single gal or wanderlusting post-grad on your list? (Virtual destinations included!)
Finch Hattons Flying Safari
It’s the gift of a lifetime: An eight-day safari through Kenya, to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Meryl Streep-Robert Redford romantic Oscar winner Out of Africa. (Trust us, moms love this movie!) Finch Hattons Flying Safari‘s special “I Had a Farm in Africa” trek takes a handful of lucky travelers to the hippo pools of Tsavo West National Park, to a yoga class with views of Mount Kilimanjaro, and aboard a private jet to Sir Richard Branson’s tented camp in Maasai Mara National Park, where your loved one(s) can enjoy a hot air balloon ride while watching leopards, cheetahs, wildebeests, elephants, zebras, lions, giraffes, gazelles and more roam the plains. Competitive siblings take note: This trip would secure your title as Best Gift Giver Ever. From $5,977 per person.
"Meet the Sloths" with Princess Cruises and Animal Planet’s Exclusive Tour
If your pockets aren’t quite deep enough to spring for an African safari, don’t stress – Princess Cruises and Discovery/Animal Planet have partnered to offer a slew of animal-inspired shore excursions to add on to your loved one’s sail. Our favorite is the “Meet the Sloths” offering, but they’ve truly got something for everyone. Packages to choose from include “Discover Alaska’s Whales,” “Bear Country and Wildlife Expedition,” “Exclusive Penguin Rookery at Punta Tombo Reserve,” “Shark Encounter” and “Lulu Lobster Boat Ride” among many more. Your gift recipient needn’t be a student to enjoy these “Discovery at Sea”-themed adventures; they’re fun and educational for all ages. Priced from $119.95.
The Napa Valley Wine Train
Yes, you read that right. This is a thing. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a true gift from the heavens – or from you, perhaps. The snobby oenophile and history buff alike will go nuts, er, grapes (wokka wokka) over this delicious and luxurious trip through California wine country. Guests will travel from Napa to St. Helena and back along a rail line built in 1864, and packages range from 1.5 hours to two days. Choose from a variety of rides, including Gourmet Express, Moonlight Escape, Murder Mystery and even a Super Bowl-themed one. Gift certificates range from $25 to $234.
The Bowery Hotel in New York City
Whether the recipient is from Smalltown, U.S.A., or a city slicker looking to flee the chaos and clutter of an urban apartment during the holidays, the Bowery Hotel is an escape to a bygone era of N.Y.C. nostalgia. Loft-like rooms feature vintage-chic decor, and both the lobby bar and Gemma restaurant are swanky without feeling snooty. Although rooms at the popular hotel fill up quick, may we instead suggest tickets to the establishment’s exciting New Year’s Eve party? The event features Prohibition style cocktails, a Russian Tea room-inspired caviar and ice bar, an all-girl Mariachi band, a champagne lounge, a cider hut from Blackman’s upstate farm, a scotch lounge with a live jazz band, a cigar lounge, and all the New York street food (pizza, pastrami, bagels and more) one can eat. Tickets start at $249 a person, and you can get them pre-sale now at 25 percent off.
Merge VR, Virtual Reality Headset
Instead of gazing vacantly out the window or coveting other people’s travel photos on Instagram, give the gift of virtual reality to the daydreamer or broke pal who isn’t able to jetset off to some faraway exotic locale this winter. No longer just for techies or the extremely wealthy, the new Merge VR headset is a relatively inexpensive way to see the world from the comfort of one’s own home or office (with the door closed, so coworkers don’t see them weirdly walking around in circles groping at the air). Visit Vietnam, trek to Machu Picchu, check out a resort and spa in Cancun, Mexico – and numerous other enticing destinations by downloading the YouVisit app (or choose from many other apps on Google Play and the iOS App Store). Just insert the phone into the Merge VR goggles; it’s super easy. The headset is compatible with iPhone 6 and newer, Galaxy S5 and newer, HTC One M8 and newer, LG G4 and newer. Also, Merge is made of a soft yet durable foam, so virtual tourists will be comfortable wearing them while laying out on Copacabana beach in Brazil – without any worry about tanlines, either. Get it now for $99.