Luxury is about opening doors…or gates. The author at Burghley House in England.
“Show me something I can’t see on my own, introduce me to someone I could not meet. That is the trip I will take. Luxury is Access. “
That’s my travel mantra and apparently, many UHNW travelers share my view. At a recent meeting of Signature Travel Network’s Luxury Council, comprised of some of the top luxury advisors in the world, I was not surprised that the conversation quickly turned from ultimate comfort to ultimate access. Because there is access….and there is how to find it, and travel advisors know where to find it.
Over the top luxury travel offers are ubiquitous. Competition for larger private jets, gold-flecked desserts, higher thread count sheets, butlers, transfers in Bentleys or Ferraris is intense. But how much Beluga can you actually eat on a tiny mother of pearl spoon before you feel saturated? (metaphor)
I am fortunate that at this time in my travel career I am offered many wonderful trips. The question I am often asked is what is my favorite and how do I choose? The answer is the quote above. What access or opportunity will this trip offer me that I could not do on my own and can share with my readers? Below are a few of my top past ultra luxury adventures to date. I think you will see a pattern: luxury yes, but access first. And yes, I have been very fortunate in the trips I have been able to take and I am grateful.
Smithsonian World Leaders Cruise
One of my favorite trips, while I was at the Smithsonian, was a chartered Silversea ship around the Arabian Gulf. Great destinations, Dubai is always amazing, but what made this trip one that sold out in hours? Accompanying us on the trip were former Secretary of State James Baker and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. Walking through ancient sites in Bahrain with Secretary Perry, I asked if this wasn’t old hat to him? He said no, he never had the chance to see these sites when in government and his excitement exceeded my own. Access to these men, their contacts throughout the Gulf and their knowledge was what made this trip exceptional.
Every trip with author and historian Alison Weir and her many author friends has had the access I crave. I have written many articles on my blog about travels with Alison. Last month I enjoyed dinner, sitting beside David Starkey in the shadow of the magnificent Mary Rose ship. We argued about Martin Luther (he won) and I learned more than I would have in a year of university study about Tudor history.
Alison Weir and David Starkey at Hever Castle
The trip I met Egyptologist and now friend Salima Ikram was perfection. Every site visit and chat with Salima was extraordinary. We were alone in the tomb of Nefertari and we ballooned over the West Bank of Luxor, ancient Thebes, looking at sites outlined in the sands but not yet excavated. Look for her on the Discovery Channel.
Viking Cruises in Russia
I have visited Russia with Viking Cruises many times. Their contacts are superb in Russia and beyond. I visited the Hermitage on a Monday. This is not the early entry promised by many on other days, this is a visit when the entire museum is closed all day and curators have to unlock each door. Our group of 6 met the finest curators and had the world of the Romanovs all to ourselves. Oh, we also had lunch in the staff canteen with all the curators and staff. Viking was also able to get me into the Alexander Palace which was closed for renovations. In this palace, home, and prison to Nicolas II, the last Romanov Tsar, I was able to walk the steps of Nicolas II and his family as they left for their final imprisonment and execution, 100 years ago this summer. I also entered the children’s playhouse in Alexander Park. It looked as if they had just left. We visited the new Faberge Museum before it was officially open and I even toured several abandoned Romanov mansions.
The Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, Russia. Birthplace, home, and prison to the last Romanov Tsar, Nicolas II.
Jordan is one of my favorite places to visit, so much so it is almost a second home. Visiting Jerash, one of the finest Greco-Roman sites in the world, with the Minister of Antiquities made my last trip even more amazing. Tracing the chariot marks on the original cobblestone streets as he explained the history of the site was transporting in a way a movie never could. Visiting Petra with one of the top archaeologists at the site showed me how much has yet to be excavated.
All alone walking the streets of Jerash.
TCS World Travel Around the World by Private Jet
Yes, this screams the kind of travel I was giving short shrift in the first paragraph but let me go a little deeper. Because of the jet, we landed in private airports. We were also able to visit many private sites, most of which were rarely opened to the public. These included touring the private apartments of the Emperor in the Forbidden City with a Sotheby’s expert (only 20 people allowed each day), private dinner on the Great Wall of China and having dinner overlooking the Neva in St. Petersburg in a mansion unopened and unchanged since the Revolution. They also taught us to charm snakes in Morocco…..
Sometimes access is not exactly what you thought it would be.
Traveling from Jerusalem to Cape Town with Jared Diamond and Bushtracks Expeditions
Safaris are inherently about access. Access to the animals in the wild. I have never been on one that was not amazing. But it was my last safari, with Bushtracks and the author Jared Diamond that was my top. Not because of the camps or sundowners, but because I was watching the Great Migration crossing the Mara River with Jared. I was in awe, of both the scene and the company. That evening Jared told me that our 3 hours that morning was more spectacular than all his previous safaris combined. I knew my experience might never be surpassed.
The beginning of the “Great Crossing”, as many species gather.
I could go on, but you get my point. For me, luxury is great but in a world of so many luxury travel choices, I choose those with extraordinary access. What has been your most memorable travel experience? I bet it wasn’t about the bedding…
Writing my next article now on the specific top, ultimate access trips I am eyeing for the next 12 months. Hint–one is so exclusive I can’t publish many details but can tease.
The author with Hani, a bedouin guide I met on one of my visits to Petra who has taught me so much. We stay in touch via social media.