True luxury travel for boomers is not about fully reclining bed seats in first class, or about the thread count of the sheets on your hotel bed. To the travelers in the know, luxury travel is that trip that provides the truest connection with the people, the culture, the art and the history of your destination.
I prefer to call it “extraordinary travel.”
When thinking about making your trip extraordinary, the first thing you want to do, of course, is ask yourself what aspect of your trip is most important to you. Are you taking a romantic getaway with your partner where all you want to do is indulge yourself with morning spa treatments, languorous afternoons by the pool, and romantic and delicious dinners at night? If that’s your goal, your needs can be met quite easily. There’s a list of hotels or all-inclusive resorts in every part of the world that can provide such services. Just pick your destination, choose a high-end hotel chain and you’re done.
But if you want to make those connections that make a trip more than just a superbly relaxing interlude, you need to do some research. Now, the questions become a bit more challenging.
First ask yourself, what am I truly interested in, and how can I best get to the heart of that interest? That’s going to require some more effort. But, your results will be so much more rewarding, and in many cases, they’ll be directly proportional to the work you put into your investigation.
A good place to start is the national or local tourist offices of your chosen destination. We may look at a guidebook or two, but we’ve found that the tourist boards can offer so much more than the obvious.
It’s probably easiest to start with the website of the national tourist organization. You can easily find that by typing, for example, Ireland tourism, into Google. But that’s just where the fun starts. From there, you can identify the sites you’d like to visit, e.g. the Cliffs of Moher or the Blarney Castle. But what will really make this trip extraordinary is to actually contact the tourist office directly and tell them that you are interested in going much deeper than just going somewhere where you can take a few pictures of some pretty countryside.
We did just that when we corresponded with Ireland Tourism and told them of our interest in Irish literature. “Who are your favorite authors?” they asked. “W. B. Yeats,” I replied, and they gave us the name and phone number of Damien Brennan, the local Yeats expert. The phone conversation with Damien ended up with an invitation to Damien and his gourmet-chef wife Paula’s home on the banks of Loch Gill in Sligo. Paula made us a delicious supper. Damien recited some poetry. And so, we got a verbal and visual tour of the area that included all the scenes of the lake that inspired Yeats’s poems. And, we made two new fantastic friends.
A similar spectacular outing grew out of a chance question we asked at the tourist office in Malmo, Sweden. My wife’s grandfather came from that part of Sweden, but her family had pretty much lost touch with any records of his immigration to the United States, and had completely lost touch with any family still in Sweden. But I thought to ask in the Malmo tourist office, “Do you have any office that has genealogical records of the region?”
They sure did. We were directed to an office just a few blocks away, and ended up meeting a kind woman who provided us with the complete records of my wife’s family, including all the brothers and sisters of her grandfather, and the name of the church yard where they were buried.
Armed with that information we returned to the tourist office where we came away with a map to the small town, and a reservation at a lovely bed and breakfast just a few hundred meters from the church yard. We also got the number of the church caretaker couple, who showed us around the church and led us right to the graves of Kris’s great aunt and great grandfather. They even had a parish record book that had a photo of Kris’s great aunt. Finally, they directed us to two families who had actually known her and could regale us with a few stories.
I could go on about other spectacular connections we’ve made through tourist offices, or through asking expert concierges at the various nice hotels we’ve stayed in places such as Toledo, Spain, Istanbul or Cairo. This is how we’ve got personalized in depth tours to the inside of ancient fortifications in Toledo, the sewers of Istanbul and the battlefields of Gallipoli and a remote 10th Century Coptic monastery that was led by the abbot himself.
And yes, we’ve stayed at very nice hotels with very nice sheets. But it’s the depth of contact we’ve made with the local culture that makes these trips truly luxurious and memorable long after the effect of the hot stone massage has faded.
Tom Bartel blogs about his travels at www.travelpast50.com.