My Turn: Thinking Outside the Gift Box


Samaloinis Cp

Stories of supply chain issues, shortages at stores and backups with delivery services fill the news.

Industry watchers advise people to do their holiday shopping early this year to avoid the disappointment.

Yet, this opportunity could be ideal to start thinking outside the (gift) box and experiencing the holidays in a new way. Consider forgoing the hours spent shopping and wrapping or taking a hard pass on the small electronics that have a big impact on already rapidly inflating budgets and shift to experience-related gifts. Over the years, the best holiday presents I have shared with my sons have been experiences. They supplied the most lasting memories. Some included yearly passes to their favorite museums like The Franklin Institute, amusement parks and restaurants. My friend Amanda purchased the yearly pass to New Jersey Adventure Aquarium, and her family has enjoyed visiting again and again with their little one. Just two visits usually pay for the price of the membership which can be enjoyed for a year.

One year when my boys were 13 and 11, I planned a day adventure to New York City as part of their Christmas gift. I let the boys do internet research and select some of the sites they wanted to see. We discussed our travel plans and mapped our route to the train station, and I had them get information on which subway stops were closest to their chosen destinations, such as The American Museum of Natural History, The Nintendo Store and the Lego Shop, Little Italy (for gelato) and Central Park (for a walk and hot dogs and soda on a bench). Encouraging kids to pick places they want to see helps create ownership in the adventure and is especially helpful as teens get older. If they have a say, they are more likely to want to participate.

We left early one unseasonably warm winter day in late December, and when we detrained, they lead the way to the subway line. As luck would have it, the subway was not running that day. We adjusted our route—with smartphones it is easy.

The excursion also included a few life lessons like problem solving, teamwork, learning to navigate in the city, awareness of the prices of activities and an understanding of planning and the time it takes to get around an unfamiliar place.

Samalonis Natural History
New York City’s Natural History Museum and Central Park were part of a holiday gift experience.

“What a fantastic day,” said my oldest son as we slumped in a booth and ate a late supper at a diner before taking the train back home.

“My feet hurt from all the walking, and the city smells stinky,” said my younger one.

We laughed and then they asked: “When can we do it again?”

Afterward, I planned mini adventures as holiday gifts, as well as birthdays and graduation ones, too. The three of us visited New York City again for a few days, did road trips to Boston and Washington, D.C. and went to Disney World. Each time, I encouraged them to do some activity planning, find the related costs and attend to the other details. Years later, when my eldest son traveled solo to Paris and London to see his friend who was studying abroad, he said: “Mom, it was amazing, and I felt good traveling around because of our trips.”

Confidence, knowledge and an appreciation for travel are priceless gifts. Don’t let supply chain shortages on goods concern you. Remember that it’s a great time to create some memories while squeezing in a few family conversations about supply and demand, the value of things and experiences, and learning to be content and thankful for all that you have.

Lisa B. Samalonis writes from New Jersey. She is at work on a memoir about single parenting her two sons.


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