In addition to my championship-level cheese eating and "Thriller" dancing skills, I like to think that I know how to give great gifts. I am totally the friend who makes note of the salt and pepper shakers you liked so much at that restaurant, finds a pair and then gives them to you for your birthday three years later. (And devotedly hopes you remember that you liked them and aren't kind of creeped out by my insane memory.) So: How do you give great gifts?

You Give Amazing Gifts by Listening

The truly awesome gift does not come off a wish list. It’s the thing that your friend mentioned in passing several times or that you always see them fawning over when you’re out shopping. It’s the sort of thing that they mention liking but can’t justify buying when there are bills to be paid and cars that need repairs. It’s the sort of thing that you know will bring them joy.



You Buy Awesome Gifts by Shopping Year-Round

But I’m sure you already know this, right? Riiiiight? Waiting to shop until it’s the holiday season is wicked stressful. Wading through seas of women in cat sweatshirts: not how I want to spend my winter weekends. So if gift-giving inspiration strikes you in August, buy the gift then, for Pete’s sake! If you’re on a summer road trip and your friend is coveting some turquoise in New Mexico, buy the necklace and stash it till Christmas. Aren’t you the clever one?

Photo by Ben White


You Get Personal

Now, I’m not one to sneeze in the face of pillar candles or a basket of scented bath things, but I also wouldn’t shriek “Wow! You know me so well!” to the giver of these gifts. Give the people in your life something that shows them you know who they are and what they’re about  an aerial map of a city where they used to live or an artist’s sketch of their childhood home. Or what about one of those custom-made photo albums that have the photos printed on the page? Or Indian cooking classes for your friend who spent a year in Mumbai? Or tickets to a reading with their favorite author?


You Resist the Urge to Give Them Gifts That You'd Like

I know it’s incredibly tempting to give your lovely but fashion-challenged cousin a gift card to a chic boutique, or give your technologically backward grandma a digital camera. But gift giving isn’t about you and the life you think these people are missing. It’s about giving them something that they want, something that will make them happy. So you'd best not be buying me a hair straightener or a kitchen-shop gift card, because they will gather dust and lead me to question our friendship.


You Embrace the Power of the Small Gift

For her 30th birthday, I gave my BFF a novelty eraser and $5. And she loved it! Really! But before you decide that you don’t ever want to be my friend, you should know that the eraser looked like a delete button (we’re both internet obsessed) and the $5 bill:

  • was brand-new from the bank,
  • featured a homemade sticker, and
  • was a payoff on a long-held bet/inside joke.

And I’m pretty sure that the BFF was more touched by my $6 worth of presents than the various picture frames/gift cards/novelty socks that she got. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

You Consider the Gift of Non-Stuff

If you are attempting to give a gift to someone over the age of 26 who has a "real job," there’s a pretty good chance that if they want something, they just buy it. And really, who needs another decorative bowl/set of cuff links/DVD? Non-stuff is more memorable and it doesn’t need dusting. Good non-stuff gifts include airplane tickets, gift certificates for spa services, a night at a B&B, classes or lessons, tickets to a sporting event or concert, or donating to a cause that’s important to them. Bonus: easy to wrap! 

Photo by Ben White


If You Don't Know What to Get Someone, You Ask Their Best Friend

If you’re an aunt or parent or spouse and you truly have no idea what to get someone for the holidays, just ask their best friend. More likely than not, the BFF knows what your niece/girlfriend/wife has had her eye on. And then you can buy it and delight her with your thoughtfulness. P.S. Here are 23 life-improving gifts you should just buy for your damn self.

This post was originally published at Yes and Yes. Head over there for many more tips on gift shopping, the holidays and overall awesomeness.

By Sarah Von Bargen

Sarah Von Bargen has roadtripped 15,000+ miles, most of them solo. She has pretty specific ideas about the best car snacks, how to avoid speedtraps, and finding the best roadside attractions. You can see photographic evidence of her roadtrips here and get her downloadable roadtrip checklist here