Luxury travel, whatever it means, seems to be the bread and butter of many a travel blogger. Reviews of exclusive resorts, cruises (God help us) and travel tips for those who, apparently, have ran out of ideas on how to blow away their cash, populate countless websites as well as my social media streams.
So, the question is simple: what is luxury travel? And who on Earth buys into it?
Before we get into this, let me tell you why I all of the sudden decided to write about this subject. I was looking around online, and found many websites that looked amazing, spoke of subjects I should have been interested in, but with a twist. The twist being high horses and pseudo discerning tastes; selling the travel high life that would have resonated well, I think, with 19th Century gentlemen going on the Grand Tour, but which, I couldn’t help but assume, would fall flat with a contemporary audience used to cheap Ryanair flights.
Is luxury travel an oxymoron? Travel and luxury are not, by any means, mutually exclusive, but the wide social gap between those who can travel and those who have never set foot away from their neighbourhoods has closed to a point of non-return. There are no destinations off limit to anyone, at least not based on monetary means. Which, of course, led to a “new” travelling trend for the discerning traveller in need of demarcations from his fellows, that of finding the luxury in things and places that are accessible to all.
To me, the very definition of travel excludes, to a certain extent, luxury of the likes offered by luxury travel websites. To go somewhere and learn about a new culture, immersing oneself in a new way of life, exploring and meeting new people are what I want from travelling. A cook on call 24hours a day and a 10 rooms villa accessible only by helicopter might seem attractive to some, but will always be associated in my mind with a gilded prison. I could, of course, understand the yearning for exclusivity: to do and see things not everyone does and sees, to stray from the beaten touristic trails is extremely attractive. And if I could afford it, I would certainly splash out on some “exclusive” experiences. But whilst that is part of the luxury package, it is a very small part of it. The bigger part has more to do with maids, and staff, seclusion and space, all things that might constitute non-negotiable requirements for HRH the Queen when having some time off, but seems to be an awful waste of money for the rest of us when on a two weeks vacation in a foreign country.
What is remarkable is that most luxury travel websites are focusing on the all important “where to stay” question, to the exclusion of “what you can do only at this location”. Let me elaborate: they will go to great lengths to explain the à la carte menu of activities you can enjoy at this or that resort, but correct me if I’m wrong, most resorts offer the same things: yoga classes, a couple of swimming pools, maybe a golf course… What is the point of having flown halfway across the world to take a yoga or spinning class I am pretty sure you could have gotten at your local gym? Surely there are things to see and do OUTSIDE (God forbid!) the walls of your “luxury” getaway resort? Or is that not the point?
Unfortunately, it truly seems to not be the point. To Hell with the country you find yourself in, it is all about what you can get from the comfort and safety of your very own little (not so little) “slice of Heaven” (Hell?). After all, you will probably get a taste of the country you are in, most of the staff (aren’t their uniforms sooo lovely) is local. And you will gush at how nice, helpful and serviceable the natives are when you’re back home, forgetting they were getting paid to not spit in your face.
I am not, in any ways, against a bit of luxury. It is simply that my views of what constitutes luxury are very different. I’d sleep on the floor if it meant I could go and see something truly amazing out in the jungle, I wouldn’t mind eating rice for a week if it meant I could get access to a secret room in a monastery… Missing out on those because I have a personal chef who can cook me EXACTLY what I get back home, with imported ingredients so that the taste is perfectly the same and I don’t have to get outside my comfort zone is my very idea of Hell. It doesn’t matter if it costs a fortune, if it’s supposed to make me feel like royalty or if it is truly almost impossible, but they managed it: it sounds like a nightmare.
To me, true luxury is not about money, it is about experiences, which, sometimes, require money, but they are not worth it because of how much they cost but because how truly exceptional they are. Finding myself stuck in a resort with like minded people from the same cultural background as I am, wearing the same Eres swimsuit I wear whilst drinking the same cocktail I am sipping poolside does not constitute an exceptional experience to me. I could do it anywhere in the world and it would be the same. No amount of money would ever make that kind of travelling worth a penny in my books.