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How to Gift A City

NYC in a BOXIt’s no secret that I love New York City so much I try to force everyone else to, from over-planning visitors’ stays to over-gifting I “heart” NY shirts. While NYC is one of those things you can’t fit into a box—both because it’s overwhelming and something you have to see for yourself—several occasions have prompted me to try to. I’ve been working on compiling New York City-in-a-box for locals moving elsewhere and friends who’ve hosted me in their respective cities, but in these cases people have or will visit, and the impression in person is difficult to replicate.

The ideal opportunity to try gifting the experience comes this Christmas as I’m spending the holiday with my grandparents who are afraid to fly and are no longer able to travel anyway. While both not traveling and never seeing New York are heartbreaking concepts alone, I hate most that I can’t share my home and one of my favorite things with two of my favorite people whose home is my favorite place in the world. So in an attempt to repay all the love and hospitality they’ve poured out, I’m stuffing everything that remotely represents the New York City experience into a box: the quintessential, trademark elements of the city in a deliverable format.

Here’s my take on how to package that city you love into a take out box for someone that’s missing it, hates flying, or can’t afford to visit, even as a preview for whenever they can.

  1. Make a list
    It sounds obvious, but there’s a difference between raiding the airport gift shop, and compiling your own gift set of a city (refer to number three). The biggest challenge is how many stores this project requires going to, so planning in advance will go a long way toward not going a long way. Think of everything you love about this city including where you take visitors and where you go with friends—landmarks, restaurants, parks, shows—then brainstorm how to transfer those places into gift ideas. What’s the tangible takeaway from these events or experiences? I can’t deliver Central Park, but I can include photos or a book on it, and I can’t replicate a Broadway performance, but I can include the DVD or tickets to the traveling version of a show.

  2. Think broad spectrum
    With major cities like New York it’s easy to cover the obvious icons, but opening your list to every interest can make your box more diverse and accessible. Instead of just “touristy” things, try to cover sports, food, history, art, music, theater, the outdoors, everything. If I wanted to send Orlando in a box, I wouldn’t just fill it with Disney memorabilia; I’d represent the Magic, the Science Center, the Museum of Art, popular local Bar-BQ, Islands of Adventure, maybe even I-drive. Then…

  3. Translate into practicality
    No one knows what to do with little figurines, snow globes, or more random Christmas ornaments, especially if they’ve never been to the place represented. Sure you can get a pen, shot glass, coffee mug, the things you’ll find in every gift shop, but if you find items people can actually use, the box is less of a burden and a lot more fun to watch someone open considering there’s a lot inside. An easy shortcut is logo printing, best for covering local sports for example. I went in one sports store to look for a Yankees trinket and found ponchos, umbrellas, gloves, headphones, you name it. If the recipient is not necessarily a fan, go for practicality on their terms—you wouldn’t believe I found Yankees sunscreen for my grandparents who live on the beach. If they were die hard fans, I could’ve gone with the Yankees ear buds or speakers. Think bottle opener over pointless key chain.

  4. Non-perishable is possible
    You know you can’t send a Nathan’s hot dog or Grimaldi’s pizza in the mail, but that doesn’t mean you can cut food out, especially in a city centered around it. See if Nathan’s sells ketchup or if Grimaldi’s sells sauce or a recipe book. Then explore local craft foods that are generally made to gift like chocolate, coffee, tea, popcorn, beer, wine…these are definitive elements of so many cities. If all else fails go for a cookbook whether from an artisan shop or local chef.

  5. Cover the senses
    We have taste and sight, but what about touch, sound, and smell? Throw in a DVD or soundtrack of a local performance, the CD of a homegrown band, soap or lotion from that one-of-a-kind boutique, and even clothes with a logo or landmark store represented. I highly recommend the books of museum exhibits and movies that inspire travel or celebrate your city. New York is easy with Broadway shows, concerts, sporting events, and even ballet dances all on film. Plus, almost every landmark has a gift shop with a dozen ways to re-live the experience. These are gold mines for your city-in-a-box.

  6. Personalize it
    I have to admit this is already a pretty thoughtful gift because of how much time goes into it, but so far it’s only been about you. Think about who’s on the receiving end and a few more ideas may come to mind. My grandma’s devil dog is getting an I “heart” NY shirt, quite possibly because I’m running out of humans to force them on. My grandpa’s getting a statue of liberty 3-D puzzle, because he’s house bound and now one icon serves a dual purpose. This goes back to practicality, and almost anyone can appreciate a deck of cards, koozie, hat, umbrella, you get the idea.

This is a big project, but a fun one and great therapy for remembering all you love about a city—particularly one as harsh as NYC. Allot plenty of prep time, aim for lots of small and affordable items, and go all out with related tissue paper or a themed box if you love your city as much as I do. Then take pictures and share the idea, you might just inspire someone to visit. You can give the gift of travel and guarantee no delays, crowds, costs, or packing, and you get to do some exploring yourself in the process.

Check out 40 more travel gifts I recommend on Go Overseas.

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