Planes, trains and automobiles: To make our time in them less monotonous, we cling to the drivel of gossip magazines or the buttons of our cell phones. The idea, generally, is to spend as little time as possible in these tried and true vehicles of transportation.
Only when I found myself barreling through India in the middle of a hot summer night lying on a swinging cot, though, did I begin to realize the potential of enjoying the ride.
Once you throw some five-star treatment into the mix, a vacation on a luxury train, jet or car can make your standard cruise seem on par with a paddle-boat ride.
Passage to Africa
There's little in South Africa as far as cruise options, and it's not a first on many travelers' lists. But its interior holds strange and spectacular scenery, wildlife and culture that are well worth the trip.
Rovos Rail takes its customers back to a bygone era. Impeccably restored train cars are decorated in a distinctly Edwardian fashion, with brass finishing and soft furnishings. "Rail travel was the most glamorous during that period," says David Patrick, marketing manager for Rovos. "We wanted to recreate that experience for our guests, with the modern conveniences."
There's very little on these trains that you won't find in a modern five-star hotel, including a private bathroom in every suite. "We are essentially a cruise on rails," Patrick explains.
Similar to a cruise, the cost of the trip is fully inclusive, including excursions. Rovos passengers" are completely in our hands," Patrick says, adding that the company has an excellent safety record, which can be comforting to passengers as they chug through such an exotic land.
Usually guests book the Rovos trip, which starts at about $1,800 per person, as part of a greater South Africa tour, using the train to link two destinations. However, the train makes memorable stops along its way, like the Victorian village of Matjiesfontein or Victoria Falls, a game reserve in Zimbabwe.
Most customers are well-heeled travelers from a wide range of countries, and are usually looking for unique wildlife experiences.
specialty rails seem to be reporting an increase in luxury rail travel," notes Patrick, referring to the growing popularity of travel by train.
But Rovos is the only luxury train company in the world that has its own private station -- Capital Park, just outside Pretoria. Patrick refers to rail tours as "soft adventure," perfect for discerning travelers who have been there, done that, and are looking for something different.
A Guiding Hand
I despise being labeled a tourist. The term carries with it a certain sense of naivete and ignorance. Rather than bumbling around the streets of some unfamiliar city, I have always wanted my own personal guide, much like in an Indiana Jones movie.
Author Nicholas Sparks wrote
Three Weeks With My Brother
, a book based on an around-the-world trip he took with one of
Travcoa's private-jet expeditions. In order to write about his life in the perspective of seeing the world, he was seeking a more authentic experience than the average tour.
my guests are looking for life experiences rather than more stuff," says Jerre Fuqua, president of Travcoa and
First Choice Expeditions.
Fuqua refers to his clients as "insatiable, in a very stimulating way."
On a private jet that seats 74, Travcoa guests go around the world, or on continent or themed expeditions that include stops at some of the world's most mysterious places. Trips generally last three weeks or longer and involve plane-hopping from destination to destination while staying in the finest hotels at each location.
Every destination is carefully selected by a team of experts. "That's the secret recipe," says Fuqua. "Knowing what's intriguing in the world and how it's accessible by private aircraft."
One trip, "Journey to History's Lost Cities," takes travelers to forgotten, fallen centers of civilization. But those 16,000 miles covered wouldn't mean much without an expert on board.
Guides, including university professors and museum curators, travel with the group and provide firsthand educational programs while on the aircraft and under way. "We all know when we go someplace the guide makes the difference," says Fuqua. "They provide a really dramatic insight and perspective."
When travelers go to Easter Island, for example, they can chat with the expert about the different theories of the
statues, but it's up to the individual to decide which has the most relevance.
At around $52,000, these all-inclusive expeditions aren't cheap. But compared to what you would spend trying to replicate it on your own, it's a great discount.
Travcoa owns all its aircraft, and jets land only at private airports, so travelers don't have to deal with security lines and congested airports.
Travelers "are looking for away to be immersed and come back different, and along the way, be treated well," says Fuqua. "You could not do this kind of trip in this short a period of time any other way."
Red Travel Ferrari Tour of Italy provides a true taste of
la dolce vita
. Here, guests travel to carefully selected spots -- which can be tailored to your requirements -- in a car that's as Italian as they get.
Locations include some of the finest five-star hotels and restaurants in Italy.
Most participants have a Ferrari at home, but want the experience of driving the latest model it in its original habitat. Americans, especially, are thrilled to drive the latest 599 GTB Fiorano through Tuscany. It's just not as fun in the clogged streets of Manhattan at rush hour.
So what's the advantage of choosing the red tour over simply renting a car?
For one thing, a tour director plans the trip, taking care of otherwise difficult parking situations in remote villages, ensuring the car is washed and full of gas, and planning the route on roads with no traffic. Your luggage follows you in a second car. Red Travel even has a deal with certain gas stations to stay open on Sundays (still a rarity) and is in constant radio communication with drivers, giving directions and fielding questions about the cars.
Then there's the added benefit of being on exclusive terms with the owners of the places you encounter. If you drive up to a castle, you'll get invited in, not just snap photos outside. In Siena, only the Ferrari tours can enter under the Duomo, the city's famous cathedral.
Trips last about eight days and start at $8,000 per couple.
If you find yourself constantly rushing through life, consider one of these trips. It's not a bad idea to sit back once in a while and enjoy a luxury ride.
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