Nothing Is Too Exotic
Our area has long been home to generals and diplomats, politicians and lobbyists, academics and NGO staffers. People, in other words, not new to travel.
“No destination is off-limits,” says travel adviser McLean Robbins, owner of Lily Pond Luxury, an independent affiliate of Elite Travel International. “Washington is a global, cosmopolitan city, and the travel patterns reflect that.”
The airline route map also makes it easier. Airlines have added nonstops to familiar but distant places such as Hong Kong, which once required a change of planes. And the rise of airlines such as Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad have made unlikelier spots—Myanmar, say—one change away.
Outside of Asia, popular destinations include the Galápagos and Antarctica. Political changes, meanwhile, have put other places back on the map, says Damian McCabe, CEO of McCabe Travel: “We’re happy to see Egypt making a comeback after political turmoil kept visitors away. It figures prominently in the wish lists of families and couples.”
Washingtonians seem to thrive on being busy—except, increasingly, while on vacation. Catherine Hagle, president of Connoisseur Travel, says her clients in this area “often want complete disengagement, to shut it down. It used to be Wall Street was the stress center. Now it’s DC.”
She’s seen an uptick in interest in the Maldives and the Seychelles: “It’s pretty much as removed from their regular lives as one can get.” While clients tell her they want to disconnect, Hagle says they often stop short of leaving cell phones behind. “Some may be willing to forgo wi-fi, but they still want to be reachable by text if necessary.”
A-listers who are accustomed to (or maybe even crave) being in or near the lime-light—think TV pundits and politicians—tend to seek seclusion when on vacation. “We often suggest a villa in Tuscany and arrange for a private driver, and they love it,” says Hagle.
Fully staffed private islands in the Bahamas or the Caribbean are also options. They’re now easier to find, thanks to online platforms such as VRBO, onefinestay, and Airbnb. There’s also an added measure of security, which is no small consideration if you’re someone who feels like a target of vitriol in these partisan times. Even Washingtonians who aren’t famous often want peaceful settings these days, away from crowds.
For many in Washington, “spending more time with the family” isn’t just something you say after you’ve been pushed out of a high-profile job. “Clients are asking me, ‘Where can we go where we can be together and sit at a table and talk?’ ” says Hagle.
Parents aren’t the only ones who have packed schedules—children do, too—so family travel is a way to spend quality time together. Especially popular, says Hagle, are African safaris.
While safaris are primarily about exploring game parks, other trips currently favored by Washington parents focus on cultural immersion. Hagle is booking a lot of family trips to Russia and Japan. She also sees parents wanting to introduce kids to their heritage, with many trips to Italy, Ireland, and the UK. Although these aren’t necessarily new, there’s more of a willingness to take kids out of school for travel.
Inquisitive, Not Acquisitive
For several years, we’ve heard that people are valuing experiences over things, and travel is no different. “We often make arrangements for special experiences like a cooking class or a romantic day on a boat, or organize a guide with an expertise that matches their interest, as an add-on to a flight or apartment they might have booked on their own,” says McCabe. “We find that both younger travelers and retirees prioritize ‘living like a local’ when they travel abroad.” Operators and travel companies are increasingly packaging these experiences, too.
Robbins adds: “It’s no longer just about the most expensive hotel room and amenities. It’s about the total package—the most knowledgeable guides, the top restaurants, and insider access such as pre-opening visits to museums, chef’s-table dinners, and helicopter transfers to private islands.” For a couple, Robbins prepared a trip to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Hanoi that included a private nighttime motorbike tour of the city and a two-night river cruise as well as a special food-market experience.
Living Their Best Life
Travel specialists are seeing a growing interest in wellness, adventure, leadership, and learning vacations, with many people seeking personal transformation. “Our clients are asking themselves, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What’s it all about?’ ” says Hagle. “We actually have a life coach on staff. One trip he designed combined trekking and journaling in Peru.” Another focused on yoga, writing, and silence in Bali. “People are starting to realize that it takes more strength to be open and vulnerable than to be closed and tough,” says Scott Masciarelli, who designed these trips.
Some Washingtonians are booking journeys that combine networking and the outdoors. According to Mike Brcic, founder of Mastermind Adventures, which takes entrepreneurs on multi-day outdoor trips, “People have the opportunity for growth, connecting on a deeper level, and pushing their limits.” He’s taking a group to Utah’s Red Rock country this summer for thrilling rope ascents, mountain-biking, and bonding sessions.
These five tours include almost everything but the airfare:
Family Journey to the Old Country
The trip: Southwest Ireland: Kerry, Cork & Kinsale.
The operator: Thomson Family Adventures.
Highlights: Sleep in a 16th-century castle, ride horses through rolling hills, have a pint at a pub, and more on this nine-day trip. From $5,390.
Caribbean Beach Getaway
The trip: Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort, St. Lucia.
The operator: Apple Vacations.
Highlights: For six days, you won’t have to do anything at this all-inclusive resort but recline on the beach and sip rum punches, though you could also dine, dive, and spa. From $2,388.
Cycling Under the Tuscan Sun
The trip: Tuscany and the Enchanting Island of Elba.
The operator: Ciclismo Classico.
Highlights: On a nine-day tour, visit the Renaissance city of Florence, the vineyards of Chianti, and the tranquil villages of Elba on two wheels. Bonus: When you’re cycling, you can eat all the gelato you want. From $5,695.
The trip: Sonoran Desert Meditation and Yoga Retreat.
The operator: MT Sobek.
Highlights: This five-day tour deep in Red Rock country engages mind, spirit, and body. Plan on yoga, meditation, hikes (including well-known Camelback Mountain), healthy but delicious dining, and spa treatments. From $3,995.
East African Journey
The trip: Tanzania Classic Safari.
The operator: REI Adventures.
Highlights: Nine days in lodges and tented camps exploring the wildlife of the Serengeti, hiking the slopes of Ngorongoro Crater, and experiencing traditional Maasai culture. From $5,499.
This article appears in the April 2019 issue of Washingtonian.