Geeky experience gifts for Christmas

Splatting zombies in a shopping centre beats doing it on Xbox -- it's one of our top 10 experience gifts in this round-up.

Giving headphones, a DVD boxset or a laptop bag as a gift is all well and good, but making someone's dream come true like driving a tank, shooting a zombie or, er, operating a JCB, would be that much more special.

All these outlandish experiences can be bought as presents -- and they're often more affordable than you might think. Here are 10 of the weirdest and most fun.

Diggerland: Individual JCB experience

Price: £150 from Diggerland.

Diggerland: Individual JCB Experience

When you pass a building site, do you gaze longingly at yellow JCB diggers, drifting off into a hole-digging fantasy and dreaming of being swept around in its bucket? Of course you do, and Diggerland is the place for you.

In fact, there's more than one Diggerland, as JCB has centres in Yorkshire, Kent, Devon and Durham. With the JCB experience you get to drive a JCB 3CX Backhoe Loader around for 90 minutes with one-to-one guidance from an instructor. You get to do more than drive too, as you also dig holes, backfill them and much more.

Zero-G Experience

Price: $5,198 (£3,240) from GoZeroG.

Zero G experiences

The Zero-G Experience will be outside the budget of most people, but it's about the closest thing you can get to experiencing what it's like to be a floating astronaut, without actually being blasted into space. Several years ago our resident spaceman Rory Reid made a video doing just this .

Here, you're paying for a trip on a specially modified Boeing 727 that performs parabolic arc flying manoeuvres. This creates a weightless environment inside the plane, allowing you to float around as if you were in space. During the flight, the plane performs 12 to 15 parabolics, so you actually get to repeat the experience quite a few times. However, it's only available in the US, so you'll have to pay for transatlantic flights as well.

Single-seater race car driving

Price: £79 from Virgin Experience Days.

Single Seater Race Car Driving

This is the ultimate treat for those who are into racing games, as it gives them the chance to get behind the wheel of a thoroughbred single-seater car that's built from the ground up for racing. In fact, these cars have so much power, grip and handling finesse that they outperform many uber-expensive supercars.

As they're single-seaters, there's no driving instructor to nanny you around the course -- it's all down to instinctive driver skill. The experience can be booked at any one of five circuits around the country including Donnington Park, Rockingham Motor Speedway and Silverstone.

Paintballing for two

Price: £25 from Virgin Experience Days.

Paintballing for Two

Those virtual warriors interested in experiencing first-person-shooter style combat for real, but don't fancy being barked at to get down and do 50 press-ups, would be much better off going paintballing than joining the army. Those little paint pellets do sting a hell of a lot when you get hit, but you're unlikely to suffer any post-traumatic stress over it.

This paintballing experience allows two people to take part in up to 10 paintball games over a full day. It also includes the hire of military fatigues and semi-automatic paintball guns.

Zombie shopping mall

Price: £139 from Wish.

Zombie Shopping Mall

There's a zombie apocalypse going on in a shopping centre in Reading, and for a small fee, anyone can be armed by the Police Special Zombie Bashing Unit to get to work blasting undead scum. The experience lasts for 2 to 3 hours and is held in a disused shopping centre in the middle of a town, that's due to be demolished (the shopping centre, that is, not the whole of Reading).

You take on the zombies, who are in full movie-style make up, using Airsoft weapons, and you work together in a team of up to 15 people to survive. If you want to stay the right side of undead, make sure you read our guide on how to survive the zombie apocalypse first.

Aerobatic stunt flying

Price: £140 from Red Letter Days.

Aerobatic Stunt Flying

This experience is quite literally loopy -- ideal for those who have mastered the art of flight on PC simulators but want to see what it's like in real life. It starts off with a ground-based briefing during which the instructor will talk you through the flight and discuss how brave you want to be. You then hop into the plane.

Once you're off the ground, the pilot will demonstrate what the aircraft can do via aerobatic manoeuvres that may include a roll, loop and stall turn. Then once you've cleaned up your own vomit, you can take the controls to have a go at flying the plane yourself.

Tank driving

Price: £275 from Red Letter Days.

Tank Driving

Who doesn't want to take control of a massive military vehicle? In this day out, you don't just get to drive one of them, you try out a whole load of these beasts. When you turn up, you get kitted out with a camouflage suit and helmet and are given a safety briefing. Then it's time for tank driving.

You drive a Russian Grozdilka tank, a fully amphibious Hagglund tracked carrier, an FV432 armoured personnel carrier and a Rapier rocket carrier. And if you're the best driver on the day, you even get to crush a car with a 56-tonne Chieftain tank. Magic.

Evening photography city tour

Price: £30 from Virgin Experience Days.

Evening Photography City Tour

It might be a good deal more sedate than the tank driving, but this much more affordable evening out is likely to go down well with photography fans. It's run in 11 cities in the UK including London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham and is a walking tour with an expert tutor, helping you get the most out of your camera by shooting cityscapes.

During the 2-hour tour, participants use their own camera and are tutored on aperture, shutter speed, lighting and composition, to help them capture stunning night-time images.

Flight simulator experience

Price: £85 from Virgin Experience Days.

Flight Simulator Experience

A proper aircraft simulator that's used to train real pilots is a completely different kettle of fish to flying aircraft on a PC. This simulator contains 24,000 major airports around the world and you can choose the one you'd like to fly from during a 15-minute planning session.

After that, you take your place in the captain's seat, taxi down the runway and once you've taken off, you have 30 minutes of flight time. When you've landed, you taxi back to the gates and shut down the engines ready for disembarkation, content in the knowledge of a job well done.

Learn to snowboard in a day

Price: £175 from SNO!shop.

Learn to Snowboard in a Day

Those who've tried snowboarding games using the Wii's balance board might want to try out the real thing. You could, of course, book a foreign trip to a ski resort. But a better option might be a day's training closer to home at one of SNO!zone's indoor centres.

These have slopes that are covered in real snow and so are much more forgiving than a dry slope when you fall over. The price for the one-day course includes clothing, boot and board hire, as well as an après ski meal in the SNO!bar.

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About the author

Niall has been writing about technology for over 10 years, working for the UK's most prestigious newspapers, magazines and websites in the process. What he doesn't know about TVs and laptops isn't worth worrying about. It's a little known fact that if you stacked all the TVs and laptops he has ever reviewed on top of each other, the pile would reach all the way to the moon and back four times.

 

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