Go ahead and spend a little extra on that next vacation—or you may regret not doing so.
“Life is too fragile and short,” says Dawn Baeszler, a AAA agent who specializes in luxury travel. “Splurging on experiential things like travel is the way to go.”
The experience of travel comes with risks when you cut corners, after all. A bargain hotel might feature an uncomfortable bed that makes for sleepless nights and miserable days of sightseeing. A deal you score on an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise could land you in a too-crowded environment with non-existent service.
“I have experienced so many beautiful places and am so passionate about locating the perfect combination of white-glove service and hidden gems,” Baeszler says. She helps travelers (and not just super-wealthy ones) craft their dream vacations, leveraging her extensive Rolodex of travel knowledge.
To avoid cutting corners that could compromise your travel experience—and ultimately tarnish your memories—heed Baeszler’s advice on which vacations deserve a splurge.
THE RESORT VACATION
Don’t shortchange where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time.
“It matters where you are,” Baeszler stresses. Even if you pick the most idyllic travel destination—such as Thailand, Mexico, Turks and Caicos, or the Maldives—the resort you choose can make or break your experience, says Baeszler, as it becomes more than just a place to rest. Amenities such as the concierge team, the onsite dining, spa and entertainment options, and unique guest perks all factor into the experience—as does the room itself. Baeszler recommends upgrading your room category whenever possible. (Hello, oceanfront suite or overwater bungalow!) As for where to stay, seek out the expertise of a AAA Travel Advisor, who can help you narrow the choices based on your desires and splurge-worthy budget. Baeszler has a “black book list of favorites” that she shares exclusively with her clients.
SMALL-SHIP AND RIVER CRUISES
Opt for smaller vessels that offer luxury and better access.
Think twice about the mega ocean liner cruises, where you might be one of thousands on board, for something smaller and more intimate, says Baeszler. Although smaller ships and river cruises typically come at a premium, this is generally an all-inclusive cost that includes luxury service. Conversely, mega cruises can be notorious for nickel-and-diming passengers with basic add-ons. Smaller vessels can also access less-touristed ports that big cruise ships cannot, allowing you to literally step off the boat at a destination. Ocean liners typically dock further out and require an additional boat ride to land. Baeszler says among the destinations where small-ship cruising is a “must”: the Greek Islands and Croatia, the Danube River in Europe for the Christmas markets, and Alaska. “One of my favorite picks for small ship sailing in Alaska are Windstar and Seabourn’s 14-day itineraries,” she says. “Both offer an exceptional experience that takes the client beyond the norm.”
Invest in family vacation memories that multiple generations will cherish.
“It’s almost always the grandparent wanting to treat their grandkids,” says Baeszler of trips that she’s organized for extended families. Three recent standouts she helped to organize include: a Walt Disney World vacation that included private dinners and tours for 50 people; a Grand Canyon adventure vacation for a family of 19 people that included private tours, plus a stay at the Las Vegas Bellagio; and a “Discover Your Roots”–style family journey through Scotland and Ireland. It takes careful coordination and a spare-no-expense attitude to do it “right,” she says, as there usually are a lot of people, young and old, to consider. Because the memories attached to these multi-generational family vacations are among the most precious—and priceless— trips you’ll ever make, they're worth the splurge.
NICHE AND OFFBEAT TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
Pay extra to make sure those unique-to-you travel dreams come to life.
If you’ve got a particular vision in mind for your vacation, then a cookie-cutter, pre-packaged tour may not bring that unique vision to life. Whether your dream revolves around food, photography, or a specific event, you’ll want to pay extra for customization, to ensure that you get the experience you desire, says Baeszler. For instance, she recently worked with upscale, golf vacation vendors to design a bucket-list journey for a group to attend the 150th Open at St. Andrews in Scotland. She arranged a food-focused European vacation that satisfied another client’s wish: to dine at five different Michelin-star restaurants while touring France. Baeszler also partnered with Kensington Tours to customize the travels of a photographer visiting Iceland. “She wanted to helicopter over a live volcano [to take photographs] and was leaving in two weeks,” she recalls. “She wasn’t wealthy, but this was a bucket list thing for her. She really wanted those pictures, and she got them.”
This bucket-list trip is a well-deserved splurge.
Safaris don’t come cheap for a reason. There is a lot that goes into keeping travelers safe, comfortably housed, and well fed while in the African bush. So any attempt to penny-pinch this bucket-list experience could result in regret and undue stress, which isn’t something you'll want on an adventure that requires travelling halfway around the world. Timing the safari trip around renowned events, such as the Great Migration, will come at a premium, too, but it's 100-percent worth it. Bottom line: Don’t hesitate to save and splurge for a luxe safari vacation. “I can design a custom land trip that is five star, or options that work for a more conservative budget,” says Baeszler. “I can also design a rail or river cruise option through Africa, for those who prefer a ‘gentler’ version [over a rigorous safari].”
Expect to pay a premium to escape the crowds and travel like a celebrity.
“Privacy has become a bigger deal for people,” Baeszler says of the luxury travel trend that’s grown in recent years. To guarantee that you’ll enjoy a vacation away from crowds, she recommends splurging on a private villa or bungalow within a resort—or renting an entire home. AAA Travel Advisors can also arrange private tours and excursions so that you’re not sharing the experience with strangers. Whatever level of privacy you wish to secure, expect to pay a little (or a lot) more. “I just planned a honeymoon for a couple in the Maldives in an over-the-water bungalow for US $12,000,” she says. “It was a fantastic bargain [for that style of trip].