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Ten things to consider when you are considering traveling in 2024 and beyond

lion cubs asleep - The Opulent Explorer
A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra

Let’s begin with what has changed since we last wrote on this topic. Airline prices got worse – here’s why. We met with United executives at Virtuoso Travel week in August 2023 who reported that aircraft deliveries are significantly behind. Pilot shortages are well documented and fuel prices, which were up 60% before the Ukraine war began in February 2022, are now 2.5x the prewar level in the case of Jet-A. That means a premium economy seat NY to Rome in June was $4900pp and business was $7400pp.

Five-star hotels usually have under 130 rooms and travel demand has not slowed so the scaricty of rooms has prices higher in 2024. The travel hack is to heed our advice and share your wishlist with us and we will contact you when it is the ideal time to book that location. Where can you find value? Not the time or place to address such a long topic but South America and Asia come to mind. Let’s have a travel chat.

The takeaway: While booking travel is within everyone’s reach, optimizing the experience takes a professional who has been where you are going next. Our guests don’t want more choices; they want confidence in the choices they make!

Stuart diving the Great Barrier Reef
Not afraid to boast that I have dove on six continents. They wouldn’t let me in Antarctica!
  1. Start with the experience and back into the location – This method has a much higher rate of success. For example, some say, “I want to make this trip about scuba diving and always wanted to go to Costa Rica, so this is a win-win.” Not really. Costa is not well known for it’s diving, whereas its cousin Belize is a top diving destination. We’d ask, “What is it about Costa Rica that appeals to you and does that exist in Belize? What about chartering a catamaran for the family and having dive masters meet you at the dive spots?” Does the internet know you well enough to give you the answer or do you know someone who does?
Leopard in Tanzania - A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra
A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra

2. Do you want a travel experience or a vacation – There are two ways to recharge our proverbial batteries. The tried and true beach chair vacation with a book and a steady stream of drinks brought to you – yes please! There is also Opulent Exploration. How does going on a 20k hike below Torres Del Paine in Patagonia sound when you chase that with a massage and a three-course dinner with Wagyu beef and a bottle of Chilean Carménère? What about an intimate 20-cabin cruise down the Amazon River where you may find yourself bird-watching from the top deck and then fishing for Piranha? In that case, maybe try Kangaroo Island and the Barossa Valley in Australia or visit Kruger and Stellenbosch in South Africa.

Penguin in Antarctica - A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra
A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra

3. Cruise or Expedition – This is a first cousin to vacation or travel. The luxury cruise lines are the vacation and the expedition cruise lines are the experience. Did you know that only 100 people can go ashore in Antarctica at a time? Did you know that luxury cruise lines probably only make one landing a day? This means that on a luxury cruise line you are, at best, 50/50 to be able to go ashore in a given day. I flew the +24 hours to get to Ushuaia, Argentina, met the Aurora Expeditions vessel, and braved the Drake Passage for 2-3 days. I would have lost my mind if, after all that, I was restricted. Would you? Know yourself and know someone who can help parse the difference.

The Opulent Explorer in Aushwitz
A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra

4. How to become a travel expert – (A) Don’t take your friends’ trips, (B) Never book a luxury Hotel Directly (never use Expedia), and (C) Don’t book an unvetted guide! (A) Your friends are not luxury travel experts with access and resources. It may provide more peace of mind than picking off the internet, but not substantially more. (B) Accor (Raffles, Fairmont, Swissotel, Sofitel…) and Hyatt Hotels Corporation offer our guests upgrades within 24 hours of booking, not arrival! Belmond offers our guests a $500 voucher for their next trip when they spend $5000 on their most recent trip. How’s that for a start? Our reps for all of our preferred partner brands say, ”Every hotel says ‘upgrade based on availability,’ but someone has to be at the top of the list and for these invite-only travel pro memberships that someone is the guest of the travel advisor who is a member. NO higher priority program exists within our company.” (C) Imagine you are an art buff on your dream trip to Paris. You are at the midway point in your Louvre tour when you find out that the guide you hired online is an Uber Eats driver with no affinity for or education in the arts. True story. I learned this very lesson the hard way in Poland before finding a travel advisor and ultimately became one! The experience and the story are worth the click

The Opulent Explorer at Wimbledon
Carter and I at Wimbledon. Travel photography © Stuart Marra

5. Build around an event – I lost my mom suddenly in May of 2018 and my dream of taking her to Wimbledon was dashed. My wife spent her semester abroad in London and I spent 2 days there in 2000 because I couldn’t afford any more time. Last July, we are traveled with a purpose. We built the trip around seeing the women’s semi-finals at Wimbledon. From there, we toured the city in style (as we could not afford to do so back in the day) and then explored the Cotswolds for castles and culture! Voila! A trip was built around completing a goal of taking my mom to Wimbledon (in spirit through our son). Sports fans we have incredible access to Ryder cup, Formula One and much more through officially licensed partners to events.

A film by Stuart Marra

6. Pick a culture, be inspired – Egypt: A country that merely requires showing up to be wowed. I have been twice. The first time, I was fresh out of college, weeks before stepping onto a trading floor in downtown Manhattan. We met some locals who showed us their Cairo. We climbed the Great Pyramid and stayed in a “hotel” that was probably one-half of one star! I returned with my dad in 2021 for a river cruise down the Nile. Some of the usual suspect hotels that are as consistent in their high-end perfection fell well short of expectations as did a few river cruise lines. I made it my mission to craft the ideal itinerary. Katy Perry charted a boat on the Nile for her 30th birthday. I now know and work with the people she used to curate our clients last eight trips. Bonus material: The story of building an itinerary

Copan Honduras - The Opulent Explorer
A lifetime of experiences through my lens. Travel photography © Stuart Marra

7. Find your nature, and then some – South and Central America are HIGHLY underrated when thinking about nature. Some of our favorite experiences are akin to safari, while others feel rooted in the jungles and beaches of Asia.

IDEAS: Costa Rica is a favorite gateway for families to transition from a Caribbean vacation to traveling abroad! Join us in the Galapagos in March 2025 on Aqua Expeditions and let’s watch our kids get lost in science and nature in style aboard a private yacht – show me more. Pair an iconic city like Rio De Janiero with either the Malbec region of Mendoza or Iguazu Falls. Join me on a “Travesia” to explore the Bolivian salt flats and the Chilean Atacama desert in March 2024 with Explora Lodges (Vodcast); my twentieth trip to Central / South America; Mexico NOT included! For more ideas, join our Wanderlist. A journey begins with inspiration!

travel matrix - The Opulent Explorer
The Travel Matrix: Part of our signature planning process.

8. How to succeed in crossing experiences off the list – The first step is to make the list. We have had the most success by first planning a call on how you like to travel and then making suggestions based on our experiences. With a list in front of you, it is far easier to say, “Stuart we spoke and want to tackle New Zealand in 2025. On the list you noted these months are the best time to go and we’d like to explore April.”

Film and Music by Stuart Marra

9. How to get your kids to to put the iPhone down – I’ve got a suggestion for you: Journey through 13 bite-sized Vlogs with a luxury travel expert and a luxury safari specialist. “How do I get my kids to put down their iPhones?” Put a Rhino in front of them on a game drive! Take a hot air balloon in Tanzania over the great migration. See elephants crossing the mighty Zambezi river just above Victoria Falls. Experience is the new luxury! I have been to Africa eight times and three of those trips were two-week safaris. My fourth safari will be Botswana 2025. My passion and experience here are unmatched.

The Opulent Explorer - Machu Picchu Peru
My wife and I in 2017 – Machu Picchu Peru

10. Undertourism is not the antidote to over-tourism – It’s our job to help you avoid the crowds BUT see the major sites. We accomplish this with both our experience and through our on-site suppliers. For example, in normal times, to ensure our clients have the best experience at Machu Picchu, we try to avoid morning visits. There’s a belief that the sunrise on Machu Picchu is something special, but since it’s in the middle of a cloud forest, it’s usually cloudy in the morning. We go in the afternoon when it’s usually sunny and there are fewer people. Another suggestion is to overnight in Machu Picchu so that you can experience it in the afternoon with fewer people, and then on the following morning. If you like, you can go back very, very early before people arrive by train or you can climb to the Huayna Picchu mountain, an in-demand experience within Machu Picchu that’s only available during the morning. Having been, having on-site relationships and booking often leads to optimal results.

We’re here to make your travels extraordinary – let’s collaborate!

Stuart Mara
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