For her wedding last May, Amy Henry set up a few different bridal registries. One listed traditional items like glassware and linens. Another was a fund to help pay for a honeymoon to South America--which appalled Henry's mom Valerie. "The gifts are to get someone started on their new life," she says. "It's a little insulting to say 'We already have everything, so send us on an expensive vacation.'"
Well, come on. Not everyone feels that way. The trendiest wedding present no longer comes in a box with a bow; instead, it's the gift of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure--from a guided hike through Costa Rica's Monteverde rain forest ($80) to a visit to a Kenyan Masai village to meet the chief ($50). According to Condé Nast Bridal Media, 10% of brides now register for honeymoons. Many do it because as Americans get married later in life, they are finding they already own the household items that the traditional registry was created for. At the same time, restless consumers are spending ever more money doing things vs. owning things. This has created a perfect market for experiential wedding gifts, and several entrepreneurial websites, including the tourism office of the government of Aruba, have successfully waded in over the past few years. According to thehoneymoon.com for example, only 392 people bought wedding presents on its site in 2001, but 20,000 did last year, and the company is on pace to double that in 2007.
People who give and receive honeymoon gifts are part of an emerging demographic: so-called transumers, a mash-up of transient consumers, who prize collecting experiences, discovering new things and living in the present. George Ritzer, editor of the Journal of Consumer Culture, says the trend reflects an affluent, hyper-consumerist society in which the Internet has accustomed people to ephemeral pleasures. "The middle class can get all the toys they want," he says. "That leads to a desire for services ... and nonmaterial experiences."
Which is why buyers of gifts for all kinds of occasions, from birthdays to anniversaries, are on the hunt for unique presents that just might fulfill lifelong dreams. Walter Friker, 63, recently drove a stock car 20 laps at Kansas Motor Speedway--something he had never done, though he had been on a racing crew as a young man. It was a Christmas gift his son and daughter bought from Signature Days, which sells participatory gifts nationwide. "They knew I appreciated the speed," Friker says. This appeal to both giver and receiver makes experiential presents work. Becky Meyer and Amber Sambrone had their commitment ceremony in San Francisco on June 16, and are now on a three-week honeymoon in Asia, thanks to their friends. "We're not into acquiring a lot of stuff," Meyer says. Besides, glasses break; memories of the trip will last forever.