You're supposed to lust after luxury. That's the dream. That's the ideal.
When it comes to travel the ultimate goal is supposed to be the most expensive experiences, the pampering, the comfort, the exclusivity. We're all supposed to want helicopter rides to private islands, five-star resorts with gold-class day spas, all the bells and whistles, all the gilt and finery.
And there's definitely a place for that. As someone who's been lucky enough to fly business class a few times, I can tell you that there's a lot to be said for the pointy end of the travel experience.
But is that as good as it gets? Is that what we should all really be dreaming about and saving for and focusing our attention on?
Not a chance.
The best travel experiences of my life have not been luxurious, or glamorous in any way. The trips I still dream about, the ones that affected me for the longest time and that I enjoyed the most have involved no helicopters, no butlers, no Michelin stars, no infinity pools. They've been rough and ready adventures, the types that have involved a bit of hardship, a bit of danger, a bit of time outside my comfort zone.
I spent a month camping in Southern Africa, and that was one of the best trips of my life. My partner and I hired a 4WD ute with a tent on top and drove through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
We tackled rough, rocky tracks and potholed highways. We stayed in weird, scary campsites and we stayed in beautiful game reserves. We got up each morning and made coffee over the fire and watched the sun rise and got ready to tackle the world together: where would we go, what would we see, who would we meet? Everything was up to chance.
I spent a week riding a scooter through the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and that was one of the best trips of my life. Me on the front, gripping the handlebars, working my way through the insanity of Vietnamese traffic. My partner on the back, hanging on for her life, yelling directions in my ear.
We got run off the road by trucks several times. We lined up for hours for car ferries to cross rivers. We rode through crazy tropical storms. We drank iced coffee and lay in hammocks by the side of the road. We stayed in dodgy guesthouses in funny little towns where everyone stared at us like we'd just dropped out of the sky.
I spent a month riding trains around India and staying in little guesthouses and hostels. I spent three months doing an "overlander" from Nairobi to Cape Town, camping and cooking my own food the whole way down. I backpacked with my brother through Cambodia and Vietnam. I rode the train from Moscow to Beijing. I travelled with friends in Laos. I camped with mates on a tour through Bolivia and Peru.
Those have been the best trips of my life. The game-changers. The life-changers. The ones I look back on with the most fondness.
Probably the one luxurious experience I still rave about is a couple of days spent at a hotel called La Residence in Franschhoek, South Africa, a place where any time you pause in front of a beautiful view someone hands you a glass of wine and which was pretty much the perfect property.
But other than that? No luxury. Luxury doesn't change your life. Luxury isn't an adventure. Luxury doesn't scare you or challenge you or even make you think. It doesn't help you bond with a partner or share joy as a family or create amazing memories with mates. It doesn't help you meet people. It doesn't give you great stories.
Great travel experiences, to me, should do all of those things. A little glamour or luxury can be a fine thing every now and then, but it won't change your life. It won't change who you are.
And this is good news for travellers: you don't have to spend your life saving for the best of the best, or feel bad because you can't afford to do what others can. For the best of travel you just have to curate holidays that leave room for adventure, that take you and your friends or family out of your comfort zones and into a world you don't know.
Go somewhere different. Do something different. Take chances. Take risks.
There's no pillow menu or day spa treatment in the world that can compare to that.
What has been your best-ever holiday? Your best experience? Did it involve luxury? Or was it something a little rougher?
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