A few days ago, a friend of mine posted a link to this article about luxury travel and joy. The point was merely that luxury travel does not equate to joy-filled experiences, which seems obvious. I had never equated the two together before and was surprised to learn that other people do.
The author mentioned how she managed to find a bargain flight and spend little money staying in small lodgings on Bali, where she enjoyed beach-side massages. This really caught my attention because to me, a beach-side massage is an indisputable luxury, regardless of how cheap it is in comparison to your normal living standards. I realized my definition of luxury is obviously not the same as the author’s, and I spent some time thinking about what luxury and specifically luxury travel means to me.
According to my wonderfully handy Oxford English Dictionary, luxury is…
…(habitual indulgence in) choice or costly surroundings, possessions, food, etc.; luxuriousness.
… a means or source of luxurious enjoyment; spec. something desirable for comfort or enjoyment, but not indispensable.
It seems the article’s author was thinking of the former definition in terms of luxury, and I the latter as I read the article – though I agree with her sentiment about joy being a better goal than luxury. There is no doubt when you see “luxury travel” advertised, the agents and organizers are talking about a vacation with a high price tag. Price alone cannot guarantee you will actually enjoy your holiday. And this advertised luxury travel only implies you will be surrounded by excessive beauty – natural or man-made – and sleep on a mattress as soft and fluffy as white clouds on a summer’s day. But my own idea of luxury is something quite different from the brochures.
Traveling, for me, is the luxury in and of itself. I am just as interested in trying the local cuisine in the hole-in-the-wall, overcrowded, riotous neighbourhood café or pub as the trendy new wine kitchen with four tables filled first come, first served, or the Michelin-starred restaurant that requires a reservation one month in advance. In fact, being able to experience all of these types of eateries in the same city or region can give me a much better impression of life and culture in that place than frequenting the same type of restaurant repeatedly. And to be able to do so is certainly a luxury: it’s enjoyable, it’s fun, it’s completely unnecessary, but it enriches the experience.
Last weekend I was in Budapest and for breakfast alone I managed to try: the guest house, standard international breakfast; an Italian café in a cellar and run by an Italian; a Hungarian-Jewish café in the Jewish Quarter. Each was memorable and different from one another, and each added to my sense of morning life in Budapest. Adding a variety of experiences for lunch and dinner, we definitely were able to gain a bit of insight into the food culture in the city (and, admittedly, more than a bit of Hungarian wines).
I agree that paying an arm and a leg for luxury travel is not going to make your experiences any more positive and is not the only way to travel for enjoyment. On the other hand, the older I get the more I appreciate the smaller luxuries of travel: a comfortable bed, for example. Excellent food – whether cheap or expensive, eaten on hand-painted porcelain or compostable plates, is irrelevant to the enjoyment, though each has its own flavour and impression in memories. And the joy I feel when I discover my room has a spotless tub to soak in! After a long day of walking and neck stretching, there is nothing more luxurious than soaking in a hot bath before wrapping yourself in a down duvet. Of course you can find a cheap, clean, and comfortable room almost anywhere on earth. And paying your monthly salary for a week in a luxury resort does not guarantee any one of those three aspects. Though it may give you the courage to complain when your room is found lacking.
I have had many opportunities to completely forgo luxury when traveling. A trip to Portugal stands out in this regard. I was traveling with my sister, her husband, and two other friends, we arrived in the city after exploring the Lisboa Region for a few days. We had not booked any rooms in advance, and discovered that due to some convention, accommodation was not available anywhere in the city. We checked at a tourist office to see if anyone had a last minute cancellation or something, anything, that would suffice as accommodation for one night. They did manage to find us the last two rooms in Lisbon. They were the last two rooms for a very good reason. I shared a room with two others. The shower was in the room. I mean, not in a separate room attached, but actually standing there in the bedroom, obnoxiously sticking out in what appeared to be a bus shelter. Luckily it was rancid and none of us were interested in using it, despite being grimy and sweaty from hiking up mountains in the intense sun, and what not. We did have fun pretending to shower though, while waving down buses and at imaginary passers-by. The toilet was also frightening, but interestingly the bidet was quite clean and may never have been used. Even at the time, we found this hilarious while still being utterly disgusted. And at night we would not dare sleep in the bed, which not only had a large quantity of hair in and on it, but we suspected it also housed numerous parasites. Instead we made our own bed on our jackets and backpacks, on top of the bed. My sister and her husband had an equally nasty room and so it was quickly agreed that we would avoid sleeping as long as we possibly could that night, and got to experience more of the Lisbon nightlife than we otherwise would have.
This is really a great memory actually. I will never forget that day arriving in Lisbon, nor that hotel room, nor the circumstances around it. There was nothing luxurious about it, certainly, but also nothing particularly joyful. At least we have fun reflecting on it.
I cannot resolve to connect joy and luxury – neither as contrasting experiences nor as related ones. Either can happen in the most unexpected moments, in the least likely places. They may occur together, they may not. Regardless, I seek neither intentionally when traveling but am happy to find either one along the way. The luxury will likely be forgotten later, while the memory of joy found on the road can last a lifetime.
Nonetheless, a little luxury, remembered or forgotten, will add some comfort along the way.