Luxury tent in desert under starry night

Camping under the stars in the desert. Image by Wei Pan

Geoffrey Kent is a pioneer of luxury travel and the founder of the multi-award winning Abercrombie & Kent global travel operator. In his most recent column for LUX, Mr. Kent explains why the most luxurious travelling experiences are truly transformative.

Over the past decade the definition of luxury has changed. It has become much more flexible with an emphasis on experiences and personalised service, rather than the mere physical trappings of luxury. From the opulence of a palatial hotel to the serenity of waking up to a spectacular sunrise in a simple mountain refuge, I believe true luxury is the privilege of discovery, adventure, relaxation and insight, enjoyed in a context that perfectly suits the experience. Seamless service, safety and security are a given. But it is the unexpected that inspires a sense of wonder and elevates an adventure into a true luxury experience.

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There are some places that are just so exceptional that they have come to define luxury. These run the gamut, from African safaris to expedition cruises in Antarctica, but their commonality is that they are transformative experiences that do more than just take you to a new place, they challenge your understanding of the world. I have found that this kind of travel is a powerful way to induce the sort of shift in thinking in which creative breakthroughs spontaneously arise.

Desert polo in Jaisalmer Indian desert

A man poses with his camel for desert polo in Jaisalmer, India. Image by James Houston

Guests define luxury as having an authentic experience – an encounter that is true to the place and its traditions, incorporating elements of the past and reflecting the local culture. Spending time on a tropical island is appealing, but luxury guests want more than that. They want to get out and explore, experiencing authentic cultural traditions that do not reflect Western values. Your life will change when you are immersed in a culture so dramatically different from your own and reach a new understanding of how life is lived in another part of the world.

African safari in the golden light of dusk

African safari at dusk. Image by Sergey Pesterev

Recently I met a couple on the beach who recognised me. They told me that despite the money they spend on their holidays, they always feel richer when they get home.

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For discerning travellers, it’s not about checking places off a list – it’s about making connections through unique local experiences not found in a guidebook. It might be a camelback safari to an Indian desert camp, enjoying a hotpot dinner in the home of a Tibetan family in China’s Yunnan province, or taking a private cooking class in the Mercato Centrale in Florence with a local chef. It will be these kinds of inspiring encounters you’ll share with friends and family when you return – not the gold-plated Corinthian capitals in your hotel suite.

Geoffrey Kent is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent