Our year-end edition toasts ultra-indulgence while travelling, featuring itineraries that many will know to be out of their financial reach. In producing these narratives, I was struck by a contrast.
Travel today is dominated by minimalists or downsizers, those who preach the gospel of “hard-knock wanderlust.” And they almost always reap universal admiration. They are characters to aspire to, examples of made-for-Instagram sayings such as, “All you need is a backpack” or “#MotorcycleDiaries.” Unable to join these gallivanting philosophers, others marvel at their brave rebellion—oh, to give up the predictability of overpriced tourist traps someday, they sigh.
In this context, luxury travel evokes a Molotov cocktail of feelings. A billionaire on a sailboat hosting Jazz Age-style revelries in the French Riviera is inevitably setting himself up for mockery. The heiress, who flits off to shopping holidays in Milan and Dubai, might as well buy an extra pair of sunglasses for the shade directed her way. Extravagance passes muster if it panders to affordability. In the last few years, it has become intertwined with entitlement, a radioactive pejorative today.
Upper-class travel doesn’t deserve this slight. As more astute aesthetes have reminded us in the past, refined tastes don’t have to be gauche. Living like royalty might have its privileges but it also spurs a temperament for beauty, grace and sensuality, which is why travellers will always fork out top penny for a night in Rajasthan’s many palace stays.
Wealth facilitates the kind of understated exclusivity seen in the English countryside’s several castles or manors, once a venue for elegant ballroom dances. Luxury could also simply mean time well spent—or doing nothing—floating atop a sundeck in an unending stretch of the ocean.
Professional travel writers are lucky to be granted access to these private paradises and, in December’s magazine, a handful of them have returned with colourful dispatches. One writer enjoys a happy recreational bubble in the Maldives, another is privy to up close views of big game in Botswana. There is also a roundup of New York’s elite food and drinking haunts, and coverage of the maiden cruise between Mumbai and Goa. All these retreats promise a hedonistic binge: grand feasts of fine wine and champagne, and views hidden from the typical trails.
Some of them will test your purse-strings but think of Holly Golightly. She couldn’t lay claim to real Tiffany’s jewels but that never stopped her from getting her heart’s fill, standing outside the window.
Lakshmi Sankaran fantasizes about a bucket-list journey to witness the aurora borealis someday. Editor in Chief at National Geographic Traveller India, she will also gladly follow a captivating tune to the end of this world.