Shirley and Vicki first met when they shared a home during the 2008-2009 school year and quickly became best friends. But other than that one year when Shirley studied in Claremont, CA, she has lived in the UK, Florida, Pennsylvania, and now Northern Virginia, while Vicki has not left Los Angeles County. So the pair have become experts in maintaining a long-distance friendship. Today, they share with us a shopping list of gift ideas for your dearest friends who aren’t the nearest to you.
1. Personalized Cards or Postcards
We’ve all seen and even maybe given the ubiquitous photo Christmas card. Well, this year, take advantage of that photo card to write a personal message on the back. You don’t have to write as much as Vicki does, filling every potential space with her tiny handwriting. But a personalized message is something your friends and family will treasure much more than just a blank photo card. Even better, when you go on vacation, instead of sending out generic postcards, make your own! Vicki uses templates at Walgreens or CVS that they print within an hour to send photos of herself or which she has taken herself. You can even spot Shirley and Vicki in the group picture on the left. Vicki never ceases to get positive feedback on her personalized postcards.
Or you can make more traditional looking postcards or cards like Shirley does. She took this photo of the Washington Monument from behind the fountain in the World War II memorial using her cell phone camera and had it printed up at CVS. If you pay attention to the website or sign up for its email, you will often find a deal to get a second purchase half off.
2. A Gift Membership to Audible
Enjoy reading and discussing books you both appreciate by giving your friend a gift membership to Audible. A 3-month membership costs $45 and includes lots of podcasts in addition to three book credits. This will give your friend and you something to enjoy together for months. You can get info on giving gift memberships here.
3. Local Foods
One of the fun ways Shirley has found to share experiences while apart from friends is by using things like local foods, which connect the friend to where she is currently and her experiences and discoveries. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that help do that and show loved ones she is thinking about them. For her home in Virginia, her go-tos these days seem to be Virginia peanuts and chocolate from a small local shop. These are fun because it helps her assure that her dear recipient is taken care of for snacks at least for some time, and they think of her while they have it and are nourished, which can somehow make our world seem a little smaller. Other fun ideas can be things you’d find at local farmers markets, such as kettle corn, jam, barbeque sauce, and apple sauce.
4. Local Souvenirs
This one may seem cheesy, but it shows friends that they are on their mind wherever you go, despite the time or distance. This can be something simple like a magnet, keychain, or even a postcard for them to add to a collection from you over the years. It can also make them feel like a part of them was with you on your travels, such as riding the trolley car with us in San Francisco. On days they need a smile and remember they are loved, they only need to look at souvenirs you’ve sent them as a token from your travels. And yes, I’ve even sent personalized trolly token keychains during my time in the UK! But local souvenirs don’t have to be limited to your travels.
Try getting souvenirs from your hometown to send your friend. Then when your friends see the souvenir, they will think of you at your home. Souveniers can be from souvenir shops as well as local museums and art galleries, etc., which helps recipients start or continue their collections for possible hobbies.
5. Interest-based subscriptions
There are monthly subscription of different types of stuff, depending on your dear friend’s interests. For example, Loot Crate offers subscriptions of monthly crates of stuff, specific to fandoms, and these vary in cost and size. This can be an ideal gift for the loveable geek and/or gamer in your life, and the aim is to unite people with fandoms.
6. Adopt an Animal
TheWorld Wildlife Fund offers a great way to give to the environment and give a small present to a friend at the same time. You select an endangered species to sponsor on behalf of your friend, and your friend gets some small gifts, with an acknowledgement of your donation in their name. You can visit the WWF giving site here.
7. Joint Membership to Amazon Prime or Netflix
Just because you aren’t geographically near your friend doesn’t mean you can’t share activities together remotely. If you share common movie or show interests, a Netflix or Amazon Prime membership (or even Hulu and other media providers) allows you to watch shows or movies together so you can then discuss these. This helps with connecting and sharing lives and experiences beyond the geographic barrier. Both types of subscriptions are handy and remind the recipient you were thinking about them, their interests, and their convenience whenever they want or need anything.
In addition to letting your friends watch television and movies, Amazon Prime is especially handy for letting them purchase those last minute items (through Prime Now) or even subscription items and needs with a great variety of options. It’s a lot of fun to share discoveries of items or shows with friends and families so they might also benefit from your finds.
8. Personal Photo Gifts
What better way to remind your friends of your friendship than with fun photo gifts! You can find all sorts of creative things to have your personal images put on. Two terrific places to look for great deals on unique photo gifts are Groupon and Etsy. Some of the items Vicki has given to family and friends include photo clocks, teddy bears wearing hoodies with photos on them, canvas prints, photo blankets, photos printed on metallic surfaces or slate or wood, necklaces with a photo charm, and light switch plates with their own personalized photo on them. In addition, she has made photo books, such as a book for her father on childhood pictures with him. These have always proved popular.
One of the best personalized photo gifts Vicki has ever found to give are woven photo blankets by http://www.photoweavers.com. Her parents never cease to get compliments on the blanket she got them a few years ago. You can get great deals on them at Groupon.
9. Advent Calendars
Advent calendars generally offer 24 pieces of chocolate to count down the days in December until Christmas. These are more common in the UK than the US, but they are gaining popularity stateside as well now. In fact, while Trader Joe’s has had at least one version of them for a few years now, this year they have expanded to different themes to suit the kids they are for, whatever the age. The ones targeted for a general audience are plain milk chocolate, and this year, they even have Adult Advent Calendars, which include a variety of chocolate types (about 4-6 total), with one for each day for this countdown.
While originally designed for the countdown to the Advent, or Christmas, these could also be used as Event Calendars, so you can count down the days until you see your dear friend, with something sweet as a reward for the long wait (or any major event you may be eagerly anticipating). Thankfully, these are no longer exclusive to Trader Joe’s, and can be found in other stores such as some grocery stores and pharmacies.
10. Handmade Gifts
Show your friends you think about them even when you can’t see them often by making your own presents for them. If you are a crafty person, try knitting or crocheting hats or scarves for your friends. Or if you are a beader, make some jewelry in their favorite colors and with their favorite materials. You can get patterns to make cute ornaments on Etsy or other beading tutorial sites. Check out my column on making presents here. You can get lots of great ideas for handmade gifts on Pinterest.