What is luxury?

What is luxury?

But it is pretty, I will give it that

I just got back from a week at the Royalton Punta Cana in a Diamond Club swim-up room. It was to be our last HURRAH trip as a family. The Eldest goes into grade 11 next year, The Youngest starts high school and Mr. Tucker wants to retire so we figured we would have one last blow-out before settling down for a bit. We splurged & paid quite a lot for the trip and it was…mediocre. If I was to be completely honest, I felt like it was a huge bait-and-switch and was not as advertised. But what I really want to discuss is the elusive concept of luxury and why I tend to upgrade as much as I can afford to when I travel. But it’s not truly luxury for me: the idea of paying a luxury price is to overcome barriers for disabled people.

If you asked my kids or anyone from Gen-Z what their definition of luxury is, they would probably list off a bunch of things that they’ve seen on TikTok: private airplanes, certain fashion brands, sports cars, large homes and (for some strange reason) fancy ice. When you are young you tend to think of THINGS as luxury because you tend to have few things and not a lot of money. But as a woman of a certain age I do have enough things and I also have enough money. So, if I had to define luxury right now in relation to my own life, it would be: the ability to minimalize friction by throwing money at a problem*.

Over the years, my idea of a good vacation slowly changed. I used to camp with my own equipment in my 20s. By the time I had kids in my 30s and had small kids, it was all about Glamping, then we started renting rustic cabins, and today I won’t rent a cottage that doesn’t have a certain level of amenities. When I was young I had mobility and a high tolerance for friction but no money. As I got older, that reversed course. In my 20s, I would have told you that there would be no way you would ever catch me dead lying on a Caribbean beach somewhere doing nothing. As far as I was concerned, travel was about seeing and experiencing things, about culture and history, about new food and drink! It was about backpacking and hostelling and $15 CAD Ryanair flights and sometimes just taking off for the weekend to Montreal with 20 bucks in my pocket and a floor to crash on. The adventures made the stories and honestly, I was able to do a lot of very cool things for not a lot of money. I was very proud of this fact and so completely convinced that this was the ONLY way to travel and experience the world. No pre-planned tours or packaged vacations for me, thankyouverymuch, I am here to live like a local!**

As you age and/or lose mobility the amount you are willing to pay to smooth over the friction that eats up your time and patience increases. Now that I have money but less mobility***, I use it to try grind off the edges of how user-hostile things have become. Keeping with the theme of travel, here are a few things I have done to minimize friction:

– The entire family has Nexxus/Global Entry cards.
– I have a credit card that gives me free luggage, insurance and other travel perks.
– I upgrade my airplane seats and use the priority line.
– Because I have a scooter to gate check, I always arrive early (and yes, there is always a problem).
– I have upgraded to the ship-within-a-ship cruise concept to minimize waiting for anything and to ensure I always have a large suite, an accessible seat at the theatre, that I am not left standing outside waiting for anything, that I get reservations for everything I want to do and to get special requests actioned quickly.
– I get private transport when possible because a bus transport may – or may not – be accessible for me and it’s a very difficult thing to know in advance because most people don’t know the difference between a step I can manage on a bus and one I cannot.

I know people will read this and think, “oh boo hoo, a luxury experience wasn’t good enough!” But it is more about being sold one thing and getting a completely different experience. I pay for the extras because walking is difficult, getting up is difficult, managing a buffet with a scooter is super difficult so instead I pay to reduce these things. My idea of luxury, again, is to smooth out the rough edges of an experience, or, put another way: I pay for upgrades just to have a similar experience to what an able-bodied person gets at a base tier.

What I found with this last trip though is that we spent a fortune on a “luxury” experience (swim out room! Turn down service! Butler! Priority reservations!) and got closer to a budget experience (pool is disgusting and full of detritus! Mold and must in the AC! No towels! Room looks like it was shot up in a war! Only resos are at 7:30pm!). I suspect that it has something to do with revenge travel that still looks to be going strong. I follow some travel folks on social media who are saying that deals on cruises aren’t really happening because they are finding their itineraries booked solid. What makes for less incentives for sales also makes for less incentives for customer service, too. I suspect that it what happened with our trip: the resort has no incentive to deliver on their promises because for every customer who is dissatisfied, there are 10 more lined up to pay for a garbage experience.

In the end, we feel completely scammed but if I was to takeaway a positive from this experience, it is this: it confirmed our decision to stay put until the kids are out of high school. When we got home last week I had never been so grateful to fall asleep in my own bed. Coming home, in fact, must be the most luxurious experience of them all.

*I want this on my tombstone.

** We love the myth of the “authentic travel experience,” even though it doesn’t actually exist. We pooh pooh the idea of all-inclusive resorts and cruises (or even hotels, really) as culturally bereft even though the idea that you can have a genuine “authentic” experience has been debunked in multiple articles such as this one and that one. But as I’ve aged I have come to appreciate the pre-packaged, they-come-they-spend-they-leave vacation as something that can be good for the soul, if only because a change of location is good for the mind.

*** The poverty rate for people disabilities is twice as high than for people who do not have disabilities. In 2021, 16.5% of people with disabilities lived in poverty, representing more than 1.5 million people. This is compared to compared to 8.6% of people without disabilities,” (source). Being disabled is incredibly expensive as well. So not only do you make less money you also have to spend more on just the day-to-day costs of living.

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