Experiences not things. How to give the gift of adventure this Christmas.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Twelve mountain days, eleven lonely beaches, ten Dartmoor tors, nine lochside ambles, eight city walks, seven misty trig points, six damp Munroes, FIVE WIND-BENT TREES, four bunkhouse nights, three lonely ridges,two camping trips, AND A TRAIN TICKET TO THE SEA.

‘I’m not buying as many Christmas gifts this year.’

‘This Christmas will be a cheap one.’

‘We’re just buying presents for the children.’

Whether it’s the cost of living crisis or our collective realisation that we need to reduce our desire for more things before climate change makes that choice for us, I’m hearing the phrases above more than usual this year.

It’s not impossible to avoid the Christmas consumerism dash but it’s not easy either. Whether external or internal, the pressures are all there. Last year we made all our Christmas presents. Crocheted blankets, jams and pickles, homemade sweets. It was hard work but good fun and very rewarding.

The gift of adventure

This year however I’ve had another Christmas gift idea that might suit those of you with less time. ‘Experiences not things’ was my mantra when our family was young. Partly because we didn’t have the income for many ‘things’ but mainly because I honestly believe that experiences make far better memories than possessions.

So how exactly can you give the gift of adventure for Christmas without resorting to yet another waterproof jacket, even more thermal base layers or the very latest smart watch? I’m not saying I don’t appreciate those things but I am pondering alternatives.

And I’ve come up with a few gifting ideas that might work:

The gift of travel

If you’re concerned about climate change but love to explore, one of the best ways to get around is by train. As I’ve found out this year, adventures by train can be brilliant fun but train tickets are often expensive.

Adventure present #1 – train travel vouchers

You don’t have to travel far by train to have a great day out but some of our train lines and stations offer fantastic adventure prospects. I’ve had a look around and found the following train vouchers and outings that could make great Christmas presents.

  1. All Aboard offer gift cards towards train trips booked on their website. Your loved ones could be heading up to Mallaig on the West Highland Line or discovering Scandinavia by rail. The possibilities really are endless.
  2. London North Eastern Railway offer LNER eVouchers that can be used to purchase tickets (from the LNER website) for trips across the UK (including other train lines). Along the LNER network your giftees could get all the way up to wonderful Inverness or enjoy the Mallard Experience at the amazing National Rail Museum in York.
  3. This one isn’t cheap or particularly sustainable but the wonderful Flying Scotsman celebrates its centenary in 2023. And I can’t think of a better reason to treat someone you love to a trip. Whether you think they’ll enjoy a Royal Duchy Tour or a trip along the rivers Thames and Severn, you might be tempted to join them on one of these very special train adventures.

The gift of experience

Adventure present #2 – accommodation vouchers

If travel is the most expensive element of an outdoor adventure, accommodation can come a close second. Not everyone wants to winter wild camp but your gift could make a winter adventure more possible. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Both the YHA and Hostelling Scotland offer vouchers for stays at their hostels. Your gift could be put against a private room or even pay for a whole night in a shared dormitory. Why not suggest an exploration of the Rothiemurchus Estate from dog-friendly Cairngorm Lodge Hostel or a beach break at YHA Borth? And yes, they can take their dog on the train.
  2.  The National Trust’s gift cards can be used against their beautifully located basic bothies and bunkhouses as well as entrance to their properties (and that all-important cake). I can recommend the North Devon bothies but you’ll need buses as well as trains to get to them.
  3. Why not avoid accommodation costs altogether and buy your loved one a ride in one of the UK’s sleeper carriages. This one’s definitely on my bucket list. I can’t decide which I want to do first; wake up in Fort William ready to explore from the Caledonian Sleeper or have a dawn dip in Penzance straight from Night Riviera train.

The gift of knowledge

Adventure present #3 – outdoor expertise

There are plenty of experience-based present options out there but to my mind the best of these are the ones that leave someone with useful skills as well as great memories. Here are a couple of ideas that you could combine with a train trip.

  1. Learning to navigate using a map and compass can help keep your loved ones safe when they’re out walking, running or gravel biking. The NNAS offer different levels of personal navigation courses, with recommended providers all over the country.
  2. SUP or stand up paddleboarding is experiencing a boom in popularity but as with all watersports, a bit of knowledge can go a long way towards safety. British Canoeing have recognised this with their new (2022) four-hour ‘SUP Safer’ award. Check out Paddles Up Training to find providers.
  3. Mountain walking in winter may sound exciting but doing it safely requires the right set of equipment and skills. To help your loved ones reach the next level of adventure, why not invest in a winter mountain skills course from Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre, Glenmore Lodge.

Budget-friendly gifts

Family train adventure

Of course, if all the above are beyond your budget, outdoor adventure can be found right from your doorstep, even during the Christmas Break. Here are just three ideas for budget-friendly adventure gifts that aren’t things but will create memories.

  1. Create a quiz with answers to be found around your local green space.
  2. Prepare a picnic with the Boxing Day leftovers then head to the park.
  3. Add ‘adventure’ forfeits to a favourite family game. Perhaps ‘sit in a local stream’, ‘create a mud sculpture’ or ‘throw a welly as far as you can’. The possibilities are endless.

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