Love Your Partner? Send Him Away!

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Gift-giving was so much easier when we were kids. Old Spice soap on a rope for Dad and something sparkly for Mom — whether or not they particularly liked these presents was secondary. It's the thought that counts, right?

Right. That flimsy excuse cuts it when you're eight. As an adult, you need to pony up for the good stuff — especially for the person who assures you that, no, those pants don't make you look fat, or dutifully gives you good-morning kisses before you've brushed your teeth.

So, forget the festive sweater he'll never wear, or the politically incorrect diamond she'll feel guilty owning. Instead, give your honey the world, or at least to a small chunk of it. Now's the time to take advantage of cheap hotel and airline deals for the new year — and plan a present your partner won't soon forget.

The Solo Voyage

There are several options for gift trips. One is to send the recipient off on his or her own. A Yankees fan, for instance, might appreciate a week at baseball camp. And what woman wouldn't want to escape for a weekend to a spa?

One year, Shawna Stiga's* former boyfriend sent her away to the islands. He knew that she really missed her best friend, who had to leave their hometown of Chicago to take a job in the cruise industry. So, for Christmas, he shipped Stiga to the Caribbean to meet up with her pal for a few days of unadulterated girl time. "It remains the single most generous and thoughtful gift I've ever received, from anyone at any time," says Stiga. "Don't tell my husband!"

Sending your partner on a solo trip works out especially well, if the two of you have opposing ideas of fun. For Chanukah this year, Bear Bergman sent her fiancé — a super-outdoorsman — on a five-day, backcountry ski trip in Québec with his buddies. She says she knew "less than nothing about backcountry skiing," but pulled the trip together with help from friends, research online and some professional advice. While her fiancé was off skiing the Canadian wilderness, from hut to unheated hut, Bergman was at home, "enjoying a visit from an out-of-town friend, eating meat (her fiancé's a vegetarian) and going to every last formulaic action-adventure movie of the season (which he cannot stand)." Talk about a win-win situation.

The Group Trip

The destination doesn't have to be extreme to be meaningful — sometimes the company is the main attraction. On Jill Valeri's 40th birthday, her husband told her to pack three days worth of clothes and be ready to go at 3 p.m. Then he whisked her away from their suburban Maryland home to New York City, where they lived when they first met. He had already arranged childcare, asked his wife's boss to give her a couple days off and hatched a plan with her sister, whom his wife hadn't seen in over a year.

"We were having dinner the first night at our favorite Chinese restaurant in our old neighborhood," Valeri says. "We were standing outside and someone bumped me. I turned to apologize, and realized it was my sister and her fiancé who live in Florida!" The foursome spent a memorable weekend catching up, going to the theater and revisiting favorite restaurants and places from years ago.

The Romantic Getaway

Solo and group expeditions are fun, but the most popular gift trip hands-down is the romantic getaway for two. To guarantee its success, the key is to tailor the trip to the person to whom you're giving it (i.e., not yourself). Says Tom Johansmeyer, a New York City–based writer, that was the trickiest part about planning the trip to Southern France he gave his wife for her 30th birthday — making sure it retained all the elements of a gift, while being enjoyable for him too. So, after putting her through an arduous hike up a steep cliff from the Riviera town of Eze-Bord-de-Mer (his idea of fun), he made sure there was a birthday cake waiting for her at the ritzy Chevre d'Or restaurant in the village at the top (everyone's idea of fun).

Another tip for would-be trip-gifters: not everybody appreciates a surprise. Leah Sherman, a Portland, Ore., based naturopathic physician received a trip to Las Vegas from her then-boyfriend, in celebration of her medical-school graduation. Although he had originally planned the trip as a surprise, he knew his girlfriend well enough to know she'd want to bring just the right outfits, so he reconsidered. "I ran right out and bought Vegas-y clothes — like minidresses," she laughs. "We flew first-class to Vegas and stayed at the Venetian...We ate at the most incredible restaurants — places like Bouchon — and he hung out with me by the pool, which was a big sacrifice for a pasty white guy." Though the two have since parted ways, she still remembers the vacation and the sentiment, if not the boyfriend, fondly.

Where you decide to take your loved one is totally up to you, but the best advice I can give is to take care of all the planning — every excruciating detail. With increased airline security and regulations, fee hikes, crowded planes, not to mention less expendable cash all around, traveling can be stressful for people, especially around the holidays. You can prevent unnecessary anxiety by preparing for every contingency. The couples I spoke with all said they were at least as grateful — if not more — for their partners' planning as for their paying. It seems that sometimes it's still the thought that counts.

*Not her real name