Hello, YOLO—with a luxury spin. A growing number of people are making up for recent years of stifled or nonexistent travel by splurging on their upcoming vacations.
“People didn't spend money on travel for two years,” says AAA Senior Travel Advisor Joanna Kuo, referring to a widespread pause in most travel due to the pandemic. “Now they have the money to spend, and they're going to [spend] it. ‘Revenge travel’ is a phrase used a lot now, and I do think there is some truth to that.”
With COVID-19 restrictions easing up and borders around the world reopening, travelers are making up for lost time by booking vacations that include luxurious bells and whistles. While pampered vacations with private butlers and behind-the-scenes excursions might sound like vacations relegated to the wealthy, travel experts stress that you needn’t fall into this category to enjoy luxury on your next getaway. We asked several seasoned AAA Travel Advisors to reveal how travelers are turning travel plans for 2023 into the luxury vacations of their dreams.
BUCKET LIST JOURNEYS
It’s a “bucket list” bonanza. Agents with whom we spoke are seeing more requests and bookings for exotic destinations, such as Bora Bora in French Polynesia; marquee European destinations, such as Italy and France; and African safaris in Tanzania, Kenya, or Botswana. “They figure that now is the time, more than ever, to visit those destinations because you never know when the ability to travel might be taken away,” says Kuo. She adds that exotic destinations previously closed during the pandemic have become extremely popular, too. “As soon as Australia and New Zealand announced they would be open to travelers again, a lot of people began making requests with me,” she says. As is the case with most once-in-a-lifetime journeys, the level of luxury and cost factors for these trips typically fall on the higher end, as travelers don’t want to short change the long-awaited experience.
EXTENDED FAMILY VACATIONS
Make it a (luxurious) family affair. Big splurges on multigenerational family trips have been inspired by the pandemic, says AAA Travel Advisor Tammy Ecker. “Grandparents and parents want to do something special and memorable after this time of being separated,” Ecker says. She adds that most of the time, it’s the grandparents footing the bill, so they want to make sure the trip is designed with comfort and customization in mind. European river cruises, tours of Italy, and Alaska adventures are among some of the popular extended family destinations—as is Disney World, of course.
More and more travelers are foregoing the big-bus vacation tours for something much more intimate and upscale. “Smaller groups are a hallmark of a high-end product,” says Kuo. Guided vacations with group sizes of fewer than a dozen people not only include white-glove service you wouldn’t experience on other tours, but they tend to include exciting perks and exclusive access. For instance, a guided tour of Turkey might include a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. Or a guided tour of Italy might include private, after-hours access to the Vatican (versus suffering through midday's long lines with throngs of other tourists).
Private, private, private. This request has become a sort of travel mantra, according to travel agents. “I have had quite a few [clients] spending the extra money for private transfers and private tours,” says Ecker. Some of this might be motivated by a pandemic-inspired aversion to crowds, she adds, but it’s also something “extra” they want to do to make the vacation experience even more memorable. After all, what’s better: a private cooking class with a Parisian chef who is there to address all your questions and make sure you leave with tasty souvenir recipes; or a crowded tourist-centric cooking class where you can barely see the chef’s table?
CUSTOMIZED VACATIONS AND EXCURSIONS
For travelers who have a niche travel dream to fulfill, pre-packaged vacations just don’t cut it. Instead, people with a specific vision in mind can work directly with a travel agent to customize their itinerary. It comes with a cost, of course, but the memories are, as they say, priceless. Luxury Travel Consultant Dawn Baeszler has creatively worked to accommodate her clients’ unique requests. “I booked a customized trip to the UK for a couple who wanted to do a Beatles tour and a soccer tournament,” she says. “I also recently had a client request to dine at five Michelin-star restaurants in a row while on vacation, and I found a private barge in France that could accommodate that.”
LUXURY RIVER CRUISES
Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to cruise ships. Travel agents are noting increased bookings on smaller, more luxurious ships. “I’ve had a surge of requests for AmaWaterways and Tauk cruises,” Ecker says, referring to two of the high-end cruise lines. Smaller vessels that sail legendary rivers of Europe, like the Rhine and the Danube, provide travelers with an intimate onboard experience (typically no more than 100 to 250 guests)—complete with luxurious onboard amenities and uniquely tailored excursions. Bigger ships simply cannot access most of these river ports. Plus, many of these ports can only accommodate one or two river cruise vessels at a time, which gives river cruising a unique exclusivity. When it comes to ocean cruises, Ecker notes the same trend: clients are requesting the smaller, more luxurious ships over mega cruise ships that might carry 5,000 passengers, despite mega ships typically commanding a fraction of the cost.
LUXURY TRAIN TRAVEL
When it comes to traveling on dry land, luxury train travel is experiencing a renaissance. “For people who don’t like motorcoach [tours], the train has a feel of being more luxury,” says Kuo. Among the most popular is the Rocky Mountaineer, which boasts itineraries that weave through the Canadian Rockies. Its trains feature glass-domed ceilings, making each leg of the journey a truly immersive experience, with overnight stays at luxury mountain hotels. Another popular option: the Orient Express. It’s a train that evokes romance and adventure of a bygone era—as well as that of fictional fantasy. The train has been made famous by the James Bond film “From Russia with Love” and by "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie. The legendary long-distance passenger train travels from London to Venice, with art-deco glamour preserved throughout its elegant cars and suites.
Travelers are springing for the better rooms. “Instead of saving and doing a garden view room, they are splurging on the views,” says Ecker. That translates to staying in jaw-dropping accommodations such as oceanfront suites, over-the-water bungalows, and villas with private plunge pools. Sometimes, these upgrades also include luxe amenities such as private butlers, in-room cocktail stations, or complimentary open-air yoga. A similar trend is being seen on cruise bookings, says Ecker, where suites and penthouses are being selected over a basic veranda cabin.
It’s all about flying first class, baby. When you want to kick off a trip you’ve waited so patiently to take, a coach seat may not cut it. Even amidst the higher airfare prices flooding the market, travel agents are noting that, when compared to previous years, more people are springing for business and first-class seats. The more comfortable seats (some even recline completely) with additional leg room and personalized service make it a true luxury vacation from the moment those plane wheels leave the ground.