What is boutique travel, and why could it be your best vacation ever? Three out of four ‘best trips ever’ start with a local host or a knowledgeable friend. Frequently, travel stress and uncertainty strip away all the relaxation you hoped for, and you come home needing a vacation from your vacation. That’s where boutique travel comes in. You get a seamless trip planned just for you where all you have to do is show up and have a good time. Having a travel expert anticipate your spoken and unspoken desires and solve logistics doesn’t guarantee a good time, but it’s a great way to start.
You get to travel how you want, where you want, and when you want. After all, your vacation is about you, right? Discover why boutique travel might become your new travel go-to as we tell you our stories from the road that demonstrate the advantages of Boutique Travel.
Table of Contents
Piece of Mind: Boutique Cruising During the Pandemic
You might think cruising is the last thing you’d want to be during a pandemic. While that might be true for a 500 person booze-cruise, a small boutique cruise is different. You have a single, central location for food, housing, and activities.
Think of how many people you see passing through the hotel lobby, eating at three restaurants a day, and getting to various activities. On the boat, you see the same group of people every day, every meal, and every activity. What’s more, everyone there had to be recently tested to enter the county. Nothing is guaranteed, but we had peace of mind after looking at the numbers and running contact tracing scenarios in our heads.
Our Experience on the Aqua Cat Liveaboard
Some people thought we were crazy to go on a Bahamas diving liveaboard in early 2021. Sure, the Bahama dive sites are incredible, with the best ones only reachable by liveaboard. But how could this trip possibly work? It turns out quite well, thank you.
The company driver met us at the airport, so we didn’t have to worry about hopping in a random taxi. We went straight to the marina for margaritas and conch fritters while we waited for the crew to clean the ship from bow to stern from the previous week’s guests.
For the remainder of the week, we only saw 11 other guests and the crew. We never worried about which restaurants were still open or which activities had started up again. Our fabulous crew took care of everything. Not only could we dive five times a day, but there were also optional (included) excursions to the islands to hike, swim, and play. The new normal felt like the old normal we knew and loved, and that was precisely the peace of mind we were looking for from boutique travel.
Convenience: Boutique Tour – Ancient Egypt Tour with Nile River Cruise
Few experiences awaken the traveling spirit like ancient Egypt, and especially a Nile River cruise. Exploring a four-thousand-year-old civilization that built structures large enough to be seen from space is somewhere on everybody’s bucket list. It’s always been a question of ‘when’ are you going to Egypt. Although, it should also be a question of ‘how.’ One good answer is to take a boutique tour.
Is Egypt safe? Generally yes, but it’s confusing, hectic, dirty, and often uncomfortable too. Cairo has more people than New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago put together, and they don’t even use the Latin Alphabet. Add to that cultural differences and oppressive desert heat. Depending on the type of traveler you are, it may be a recipe for bad times. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
My Experience with Innovative Travel in Egypt
My husband Ed and I had totally different experiences in Egypt. He went with his family, who ordered trips à la carte. I went with a boutique tour group. He remembers being the only people standing during evening prayer time at the train station and crazy cab rides. I remember being greeted at my arrival gate by a company representative and getting whisked through immigration before entering the air-conditioned SUV with a phone charger and bottle of water waiting for me.
We, of course, both saw the pyramids. I stayed at the gates of Giza and could see the pyramids from the pool. We started our day at dawn and even had behind-the-scenes tours of the brand new Grand Egyptian Museum. Ed got a camel ride in the noon-day sun with the world’s most flatulent camel. We both saw the Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple, only I had our private group guide, and Ed just found somebody hanging out at the entrance. I also had a private excursion to Abu Simble, one of Egypt’s most impressive and remote antiquity sites.
I had all of these experiences and none of the headaches. Once I chose to book a luxury Egyptian vacation with a boutique provider, they took care of the rest. It’s hard to get more convenient than that.
Experiences: Boutique Bike Tour in Thailand
Sooner or later, every traveler ends up in Thailand. It’s such a common trope that we developed a personality test based on what experiences people have in Thailand.
There’s one sort of person who looks for the cheapest street food on Koh San Road so they can save enough money to collect ping pong balls in Pattaya. There’s another who drops big bucks to be surrounded by the latest western comforts and feel like they’ve never really left home. However, the really cool people take a locally guided boutique bike tour for two hundred miles down the Thai coast. I mean, if you find people like this, you should sign up for their blog or something
Cruising the Coast to Samui
We didn’t start our Thai adventures on Koh San Road, but rather at the Bangkok Conrad. Sure, that probably says something about us, but we got a smoking deal since I was a Concierge for Hilton and used my employee discount. We were expecting value-priced luxury, but everything felt so…. Western. That all changed when our guide met us in the lobby for four days of cycling Thailand.
We immediately saw ‘the real Thailand,’ or at least places most tourists don’t. We ate curried crab at oceanfront shacks that was better than anything we found in the city, and had the sweetest fresh fruit you could imagine from roadside stands. Instead of the chaos of the capital, we watched the countryside roll at 14 miles per hour. The key was the boutique bike tour.
From the moment our guide, Tic, met us at our hotel to when he dropped us at the ferry to Koh Tao, he was getting to know us. What food did we like to eat? How fast do we bike? What were we interested in seeing. He created a fully customized tour based on what we wanted to experience. We learned more and did more during our four days on a boutique tour with Tic than we could have done in four weeks of booking day trips from vendors on Koh San Road.
Guidance and Innovation – Boutique Ayurveda in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a fantastic country with a rich history that’s always intertwined but slightly different from India. It’s home to the largest species of Asian elephants, 2000 years of Ayurvedic history, and the ancient fortress Sigiriya Rock which is often called the 8th wonder of the world. Sri Lanka keeps topping lists as an up-and-coming travel destination with its beautiful natural parks, well-preserved antiquity sites, and oceanfront resorts.
With everything Sri Lanka offers, you might ask yourself why it isn’t already a well-established tourist destination. The 25 year-long civil war only ended in 2009, and a devastating tsunami on Christmas day in 2004 wiped out much of the tourist infrastructure. There’s a decent train system, but it’s not connected to the international airport, and the traffic feels like a scene from Death Race 2000. That’s why we chose to book a boutique Ayurvedic resort in Sri Lanka.
Experiences with a Boutique Ayurvedic Retreat in Sri Lanka
With all there is to see and do in Sri Lanka and all the obstacles in our way, we were glad that we went with a boutique Ayurvedic retreat. We weren’t greeted at the gate, like the Egypt trip, so we had a moment to experience the Sri Lankan chaos on our own. We couldn’t read any of the airport signs, but we followed the crowd to customs. There we could read the signs threatening draconian punishment for drug possession but could only guess about the rest of the penal code. After walking past the in-airport appliance store, we met our driver, who took us through the brutal traffic to our remote jungle retreat.
Once we were on the property, our decompression started in earnest. We ate healing herbs gathered from the retreat’s garden, had an ayurvedic consultation, and practiced mindfulness. It was a transitional time where Ed was leaving a job he held for 20-years, but even those stresses melted away at the retreat, and we felt at least a decade younger in our minds and bodies. If you ever need total relaxation and recentering, it’s when everything you own is on a shipping truck heading to a new home that you’ve never seen.
The day trips and conversation introduced us to a side of Sri Lanka that we never saw again after leaving the retreat. With the retreat’s information and guidance, we saw Sri Lanka from a local’s perspective and avoided the tourist mill.
After the retreat, we stayed over at Hikkaduwa and experienced the typical tourist tropes. For example, the Ayurvedic ‘herb garden’ was only interested in selling ‘cures’ and the best restaurant in town was a burger shop run by Australian ex-pats.
It’s hard to say which was worse, going to the turtle hatchery where they passed around a live sea turtle or the way overpriced ‘moonstone mine’ where I doubt they mined anything in the last 20+ years but still paid guys to stay in the pit and speak to the busloads of tourists. We experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of Hikkaduwa, but even the best parts couldn’t compare to our boutique adventures with the Ayurvedic resort.
Why You Should Consider Booking a Boutique Experience for Your Next Vacation
We showed you how boutique travel brings you peace of mind, simplicity and convenience, enhanced experiences, and guidance and innovation when you need it the most. These are just some of the benefits you’ll discover from boutique travel.
Think about how much each day of travel costs you, from taking time off work to booking airfare. Does it really make sense to try and cut corners with your experiences? According to the Harvard Business Review, not all vacations are created equally.
A closer examination of the Netherlands data shows that there is no happiness gain after vacation if there was moderate to high travel-related stress. Stress involved with managing transportation, trying to deal with details while on the trip, unfamiliarity with the location, and lack of feeling safe all contributed to travelers feeling less happy and more stressed, and they had lower energy at work after the average vacation. But not all travel is equal. Could a less stressful trip result in higher happiness and energy at work? Is there a vacation from work that scientifically leads to greater levels of happiness and energy, and lower stress?
The article goes on to say, “On the best trips, 77% knew and met with a local host or had a knowledgeable friend.” This sounds like a great reason to book boutique travel, and maybe, just maybe, find a travel blog or two to follow to be that ‘knowledgeable friend’ we all want and need.
Like it? Pin it for later on Pinterest!
Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman aka Coleman Concierge. In a nutshell, we are a Huntsville-based Gen X couple sharing our stories of amazing adventures through activity-driven transformational and experiential travel.