What is luxury travel? On the surface, this might seem like a simple question to answer. Luxury travel, as is the case with most other luxurious things in life, involves trading large sums of money for high-quality products, services and experiences.
However, due to the sheer range of my travel experiences—I’ve backpacked through Southeast Asia on the lowest shoestring budget, enjoyed breakfast within trunk-distance of elephants at the Four Seasons Serengeti and trotted the globe at every echelon in-between—I know intimately that this topic is much more nuanced. Well, in some cases.
Some travelers, of course, choose a “luxury” experience because they want to flaunt their wealth at every turn, to try and heal the psychological sores it’s meant to mask. No matter where you stand on this element of the luxury travel question, however, the real one is more personal: Is luxury travel right for you?
The Reality of Luxury Travel
When you think of luxury travel, you imagine carefree days spent at sunny pools, and lip-licking nights of multi-course meals and hand-mixed cocktails. The other side of luxury travel is that much of the magic of travel—which is to say the serendipity of getting lost in a neighborhood, or even invited into a local’s home—is lost to a reality that, while thoughtfully curated, is nonetheless synthetic and lacking in authenticity. The truth probably sits somewhere between these two extremes.
No matter how you feel about luxury travel, you’re going to have to pay dearly to enjoy it. Unless you come from or marry into generational wealth (and let’s face: a large plurality of luxury travelers do), you’ll need to generate substantial, sustainable income streams to pay for your five-star hotels and first-class flights, whether that’s through trading CFD by well-established traders like City Index, or creating a paradigm shifting service or application.
Key Elements of Luxury Travel
Luxury travelers are willing to pay a premium for top-of-the-line accommodation. However, this does not always entail five-star big box properties—sometimes it’s the complete opposite. Indeed, I’ve often found that travelers with bigger budget will spend more to stay in a boutique hotel with only a few rooms, particularly it’s styled in a similar way to local housing, such as the traditional longhouses of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. The key word here, of course, is “styled”—luxury travelers expect top-of-the-line amenities and pampering few people in the destinations they visit will ever experience.
Another key element of luxury travel is transport that’s as private as possible. For the top slice this entails personal jets, while others will splurge and first- and business-class seats on commercial flights. Down on the ground, this might take the form of limousine airport transfers in Bangkok or a personal driver for a trip around Israel, or a cabin aboard the legendary Orient Express train between Paris and Istanbul. If luxury travelers do wander onto a subway, street car or other public transport vehicle, you can bet it’s for a semblance of authentic, not utility.
One of the perks of going on the sponsored media trips often offered to me as a blogger is the dining. From sumptuous breakfast buffets like the safari one I mentioned earlier, to multi-course kaiseki dinners in Japan, I’ve come to realize that luxury travel is about indulgence, but not necessarily gluttony. Indeed, many of the most high-end meals I’ve eaten have left me feeling hungry, in spite of how stimulated many of my other senses were. This makes sense, of course: People who can afford luxury travel only go hungry by choice.
While I won’t go so far as to equate luxury travel with entitlement, it’s not inaccurate to say that luxury travelers want to feel like a a particular destination belongs to them. It’s why so many on the high end of travel have their own yachts, or are willing to pay to close down areas of restaurants or tourist attractions so they can enjoy them in privacy. For instance, if you have your own seafaring vessel, what’s to stop you from visiting Thailand’s Maya Bay (which is positively packed with visitors during the afternoon) early in the morning or late at night?
I can’t lie: I’ve become more favorable to—and, if I’m honest, more in need of—certain creature comforts the longer I’ve traveled. I haven’t stayed in a hostel in several years, and have become increasingly particular about both the quality of accommodation, transport and experiences, as well as the suitability of the aesthetics of a given surrounding to my tastes. What I’ve learned as a result of this evolution is a truth I imagine many luxury travelers, who are a proud and even stubborn breed, would never publicly admit: By exploring the world as if it’s your oyster, you miss out on the most beautiful wild pearls.
Is Luxury Travel Worth It?
Throughout my late 20s and even a bit past the age of 30, most of the luxury travel I enjoyed was on the dime of a tourism board or travel company. As a result, I was rarely critical of the high-end products and services I sampled. As I’ve gotten older, however, and have moved away from such a transactional way of exploring the world, I’ve had to reconcile whether particular indulgences are worth it or not. In some cases, they were: Prior to Covid-19, I would travel in business for all flights longer than five hours.
With this being said, I stand by one particular criticism I’ve made of luxury travel writ-large: That the obsession with exclusivity and privacy prevents the connections that make travel…well, travel. No matter where I stay or how I arrived there, my method of exploring is still the same as it was during my first trip to Europe in 2005. I hit the streets with my camera, a gear-filled backpack (a more stylish one, these days), a curious mind and an open heart. My feet are on the ground, even if my head is the clouds.
Other FAQ About Luxury Travel
What do luxury travelers want?
Luxury travelers want high-end accommodation, private transport, exclusive experiences and opulent meals. Many also claim to want authenticity, but are so intent on walling themselves off from ordinary people (except in scripted, paid settings) that this ends up being an impossibility. Psychologically, I believe that many luxury travelers travel the way they do in order to paper over psychological wounds and insecurity with a veneer of intrepid world domination.
Is traveling a luxury?
The paradox of luxury travel, of course, is that for most of history, visiting another country entailed a long, often treacherous and sometimes deadly journey that could last months or even years. Being able to board an airplane, arrive on the other side of the world the same day and mingle with a population whose language you can’t speak on account of technology and a common global culture is the ultimate luxury! Everything else is window dressing.
How can I travel cheap in luxury?
If you want to travel in luxury—i.e. expensive hotels, business class flights and high-end meals—without breaking the bank, you’ll need to educate yourself in the ways of travel hacking. In most cases, this involves accumulating large numbers of points with travel-related credit cards, and redeeming those points for experiences with outsized value according to your initial spend. The other way is to become a travel blogger and influencer, and shamelessly offer yourself up to brands and tourism boards.
The Bottom Line
What is luxury travel? Superficially, luxury travel involves staying in expensive hotels, eating indulgent meals, transporting yourself by discreet means and enjoying only the most exclusive experiences. The other side of luxury travel, of course, is that seeking luxury at any cost, particularly in poor parts of the world, separates from the authenticity you claim to crave. To take it a step further, I believe that many luxury travelers (or at least self-described ones) flaunt their wealthy way of globetrotting to mask or bury deep-seated insecurities, or to seek validation, shamelessly or otherwise. Never mind that fact that travel itself, as we enjoy it these days, is the ultimate luxury!