Jaillan Yehia

The Difference Between Luxury and Paradise Is Long Spoons

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Spoons

Spoons as art at the Kimpton Amara Hotel in Sedona

Have you heard the Buddhist parable of heaven and hell? The tale goes that in hell all the tortured souls sit at tables heaving with delectable food which they can enjoy to their heart’s content without ever getting full.

It doesn’t sound too bad until you learn the only rule – they must eat everything with metre-long spoons, which of course makes it impossible for them to feast on a single morsel.

In heaven, there is the same table, the same food, and the same rule, but the difference is the people have learned to feed each other.

Here I explain why I believe finding the right people with which to share your travel experiences can make the difference between a heavenly and a hellish trip  – and how this really does go double when you’re travelling solo. 

One of my friends recently returned from a luxury honeymoon, the description of which had me drooling: a private suite which opened onto a stunning white powder-sand beach, footsteps away from a clear turquoise ocean. An unlimited supply of exquisite food, served by more staff than there are guests, each ready to cater to your every whim, and the entire experience book-ended by a romantic arrival and departure by seaplane. So far, so representative of everyone’s luxury beach break reveries.

Reading on the beach in Vietnam

Another friend on a luxury holiday in Vietnam. I think my friends may even go on holiday more than I do!

But as well as a smattering of other honeymoon couples, my friend noticed an interesting demographic amongst the clientèle.

By way of example she explained that at one point a Russian man of a certain age walked past her and her husband, accompanied on each arm by a tall, leggy, far-younger lady. The brunette and the blonde, each wearing evening dresses slashed to the thigh, were sporting high heels, despite walking on the sand in the middle of the afternoon.

My British newlywed friends’ reactions were laughter and curiosity, and they took advantage of the entertainment passing in front of their noses, and dined out on describing the scene for weeks after returning home.

But for a solo traveller without a friend or confidant by their side with whom to share a comical glance or a cutting comment, the same scene may instead have led to discomfort. And what is luxury if it isn’t the ultimate in comfort, and not just of the physical variety?

White-towels and poolside luxury at the Fairmont Makati, Manila

White-towels and poolside luxury at the Fairmont Makati, Manila

When we travel solo, the luxury we seek is twofold. Yes luxury can be silk sheets, marble bathrooms, milled soap and pillow menus, but more than these things it is a feeling of relaxation beyond anything which we could dream of at home, and it is a feeling of being our best selves, while still being true to ourselves.

When we go on a luxury trip as a solo traveller it is the destination that’s the biggest decision, and the sights we’re there to seek out, but it is the people we meet along the way who have the task, whether they know it or not, of making us feel completely at ease while simultaneously being overwhelmed with new sensations and pure exoticism. This is a balancing act as tricky as feeding a stranger shrimp with chopsticks as arms.

As well as the staff at our luxury hotel, our fellow clientèle play an important role in this feeling of belonging. The other travellers frequenting the destination signal to us whether we belong there, and if the match is right they help turn our dream of the perfect luxury vacation into a living breathing reality, complete with a wonderful cast of characters we couldn’t have conjured up no matter how vivid our imagination.

Hanging out in Antwerp with my best Belgian friends, whom  met at a hotel in South Africa

Hanging out in Antwerp with my best Belgian friends, whom I met at a hotel in South Africa

How often have you returned from a fantastic trip and told your friends that it was the people who made it so special? Or as I have many times, made new and long-lasting friends with my fellow guests from around the world because the distance that usually separates us isn’t as great as the tastes that unite us, and that brought us to the same hotel, in the same town, at the same time.

Conversely, we’ve all  heard Sartre’s line, ‘hell is other people’.

The day after meeting up with my newly married girlfriend, I coincidentally overheard two men discussing luxury holidays amongst the fog of my gym steam room.

One was explaining to the other how he liked to take his luxury holidays in Shanghai because of the amazing value – ‘you can get a 5 star hotel for £30 a night. They’ve got everything there. Forget New York: Shanghai, that’s a city,” he said.

The second man recounted the tale of the ‘poshest’ place he had ever been. It was a luxury 5 star resort in Turkey where a butler was stationed next to your sun lounger all day ready for the moment when you’d be hungry or thirsty. While you were swimming the attendant would replace your wet towels with dry ones. The food was amazing, the scenery was stunning. But what was his observation?

“There were men there,” he commented, “and you could see they’d never done an honest day’s work in their lives.” He concluded: “It was like a gangster’s paradise” and he sighed.

I've enjoyed trips to Turkey but found some that areas are not to my taste

I’ve enjoyed trips to Turkey but also found some areas that are not to my taste

Despite every outward sign of luxury, like my friend’s honeymoon hotel, the company was not the right match for this man’s own travel style – and when it’s not the right fit and you’ve noticed, it becomes hard to notice anything else.

For the solo traveller I believe finding that elusive ‘right fit’ is the ultimate in luxury, because we solo travellers are throwing ourselves into the experience and interacting with everyone around us in a way and to a depth that those travelling as a couple or a group simply cannot match. I’ve travelled to some destinations as part of a couple and then  returned solo, and the difference in my experience and opinion was almost night and day.

Don’t misunderstand my anecdotes – I am not saying that all luxury hotels are full of nouveau riche nightmares, that all glitzy destinations attract unsavoury characters, or that solo travellers won’t find feel happy surrounded by bling, far from it. I love luxury as much, if not more than the next person.

In fact I believe that luxury need not involve garish or brash indulgence or the creation of an ‘us and them’ philosophy, it can be far more subtle and varied.

Thakadu

Guide Patience shows guests a 5 Star experience as well as incredible friendliness

There are many wonderful luxury hotels and resorts which remind us that with the right attitude guests can be pampered rather than pandered to, and everyone can learn from one another – such as luxury tented safari camp, Thakadu on the South-Africa/Botswana border where female ranger Patience will take you out into the bush to spot lions by day and hang out with you by the campfire come evening, or the Sofitel Angkor which combines 5 star French service with unparalleled support for local Khmer farmers.

Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra combines Cambodian luxury with a conscience

Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra combines Cambodian luxury with a conscience

What I am arguing is that the smiling picture of luxury that we see in the brochures, magazines and websites can’t always be taken at face value by those travelling under their own steam – we owe it to ourselves to research a little further and take into account the type of crowd the destination and the resort caters for, as well as the atmosphere created by the people who bring it to life –  the staff and guests who we will rely on to metaphorically feed us if we wish to truly experience heaven.

To conclude, while in some versions of the parable the story is Chinese, in others it is being told by a Vietnamese Monk, sometimes the spoons are replaced with chopsticks, but the message always remains the same:  No man is a luxury island.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read what myself and some fellow luxury travel bloggers had to say about what defines luxury travel

 


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