1. Taking someone out to dinner.
Or brunch. Or lunch. You can present them with a card or a gift certificate of sorts if you’d like a formal way to actually give them something, but ask them when would work best, pick a restaurant—it doesn’t have to be an expensive one, but choose a place you’d think they’d like—and make reservations if you need to. When you get to the restaurant, turn off your phone and actually listen to your date. Giving them not only your time, but your undivided attention as well is what separates any old meal into something truly memorable.
2. Favorite books.
When I was a kid, I deeply resented anyone who tried to give me a book, no matter how quickly I tore through them or loved reading. It was just the principle of the thing. A book was not a toy. But books are magical things, and transport us into different worlds and make us feel special and connected to the characters we read about. When you give a book, don’t just pass it off as a tome of words and letters and stories. Pick a book that you loved, a book you hope the recipient will come to love, too, and fill it with Post-It notes or scraps of paper with your notes at your favorite parts. Write an inscription on the inside flap. You never know—it may become their favorite book, too.
3. A bunch of little favors.
Do you remember those coupon books we’d give our parents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? We’d make them out of construction paper and tie them together with yarn, and write little trade-offs like doing the dishes or 15 minutes of quiet time on each slip of paper. Make your own for your friends and coworkers, with favors like picking up a coffee for them before you head into the office, letting them pick where you should grab lunch for a week, or making you promise to save the first beach day of the season for a time when you can go together. Offer to grab them cold medicine and swing by their house when they’re too sick to make the trek to the drug store themselves. Make them seasonal if you’d like so that there’s incentive to make the favors last all year long.
Socks are actually the one thing I always forget to buy myself, and family members always seemed to give me the fuzziest, funniest socks possible as holiday presents. Pick out really crazy patterns, or pair them with gloves and hats and other little things that we always mean to buy, but either forget or buy and lose. (Bonus points if the person you do this for is a Harry Potter fan.)
5. Printed photos.
Grab your friend’s favorite photos from their Instagram feed, give them a disposable camera and the funds to develop the prints, or use the litany of selfies you’ve taken together that are no doubt lurking somewhere on your phone. There are lots of services online that will take the photos straight from the web, and in a world where we’re so devoted to our screens, sometimes having those glossy memories feels that much more special.
6. A home-cooked meal.
Like the date night at a restaurant, this is proof that food is so much more than just something we eat: it gives us something to bond over and share. You may think this is for the ambitious, but you don’t have to go all out when it comes to what you cook. Set the table, buy some flowers, uncork a bottle of wine, and use cloth napkins if you want. The fact that you’re welcoming somebody into your home and cooking for them will make even a fancied-up pot of boxed mac’n’cheese special.
7. A personalized playlist.
Does it have the quirky allure of a mixtape? Not necessarily, but sometimes that’s okay. Use Spotify to craft a playlist that they’ll be able to stream from anywhere; they’ll instantly feel as if they’re close to you when they listen to it. Take the time to find songs you’d think they’d like, and take note from Lloyd Dobler—the way the songs transition from one to the next is important. I still listen to a playlist an ex once made for me, because it was filled with songs I’d never known at the time but also featured my Rolling Stones song right in the middle of the track listing, and it just worked beautifully.
8. A day where you just escape the city together.
Give them a card asking when they’d be free, and pencil in a day when you both have nothing else to do. Rent a car or fill the tank of your car with gas, load up on snacks, and just drive. Head to a campground, a remote beach, or roadside stand somewhere up on a highway somewhere, and explore the world just outside the city limits. Get lost in nature if you’d like to, and scramble up hills as you go hiking. Resist the urge to Instagram everything you see, you can always upload your photos later.
9. A print of their favorite quote or song lyric.
They’re so easy to find on Etsy, or you can print out a graphic from Pinterest on high-quality paper. You can even get super crafty and make your own artsy version with scrapbooking and collage material. Add a frame, and know that you’ve given their walls or their rooms a little bright inspiration for both good and bad days.
10. A care package with inside jokes and little treats.
Maybe it’s a bottle of nail polish they said they liked when you wore the color. Maybe it’s a box of their favorite seasonal cookies. Do they like to swim laps at the gym? Include an extra swim cap. If they’re constantly losing pens or hair ties, throw a package of those in there. You don’t have to fill the biggest box in the world with tons of things, but just include a few little goodies that would be special to them and them alone.