Hillary Richard is a travel writer, travel blogger, and editor specializing in luxury travel. She has lived in Galway (Ireland), Sydney (Australia), and Boston. She has spent the past six years living in New York City with her two favorite adventurers: her husband Alan and her Scottie dog Seamus. She spends as much of her time as possible outdoors, but online you can follow her blog about her escapades at www.lifewithluggage.com.
Thanks so much for having me! Well, I’m Hillary and I’m the person behind Life With Luggage. I’ve been traveling longer than I can remember. My mother was a teacher who loves to travel, so we would always go somewhere during school vacations. Growing up, I always wanted to be either a writer or a veterinarian. Once I came to terms with some of the tougher things vets have to do, I decided to major in journalism, where I wouldn’t have to put anyone to sleep or cut them open. (Presumably.)
I was lucky enough to land a great position as an editorial assistant for a sailing magazine after college, but it was coming to an end and the company was on a hiring freeze. I was in that post-graduation upheaval, unsure of where I wanted to go and frustrated that jobs in my field were scarce. (I can’t imagine what new grads feel like now.) So, I made the perfectly logical decision to move from Boston to the west coast of Ireland. All of the publications were in Dublin at that time, but I wanted adventure, wild landscapes, cows. That’s how I ended up in Galway in the pre-internet days. I worked extremely hard at finding a job, and eventually I got one – at an Irish travel magazine. I absolutely loved it. It was the type of magazine travel writing job that doesn’t really exist anymore – I was a full-time staff travel writer/editor who got to travel around the country reviewing top hotels, resorts, spas, and restaurants. This was my introduction to the luxury travel world. During most of the week, I wrote, edited, and did a lot of the managerial projects necessary for a magazine. On the weekends, I traveled around. This was right before smart phones, GPSs, and widely available WiFi so every day was an adventure and a lesson in being organized. I loved my job. I never got tired of it, even though at times it could get pretty hectic. I traveled all over Ireland and Northern Ireland in a small little Ford Ka (which was not built for those roads).
At first glance, your blog, Life with Luggage makes it sound like you’re traveling all of the time – is that true? If not, what’s a normal day in the life of Hillary Richard look like?
I work as a full-time freelance travel writer and editor these days. I travel frequently, but I try to limit myself to one big trip per month. The rest of the time I’m either in New York City working, or traveling more locally (within a 6 hour drive). In many ways it’s tougher to have a home base and do individual trips, but I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I live right next to Manhattan so I have my husband, my dog Seamus, my family, my friends, and most of my editors right here, yet a major international airport is only a few miles away.
I genuinely don’t have a typical day. When I’m not traveling, most of the time you’ll find me in my home office with Seamus, in my garden, or in a café near Union Square. I have a few meetings, interviews, or professional events to attend each week.
Let’s talk about your latest trips. Where have you been most recently? What was interesting about that place? What was your particularly luxurious touch that you indulged yourself in?
I just came back from Thailand. It was my first time there, so everything about it was fascinating. I spent a lot of time with elephants (for work purposes), which wasn’t necessarily glamorous but it was a real treat for an animal lover like me. I was invited to a very, very swanky charity fundraiser as part of an assignment and got to spend some time with professional athletes, supermodels, glamorous Thai ladyboys, and other fun people. The former CEO of Mercedes offered to carry my luggage up the stairs for me! (That is not at all typical of how I travel, by the way. My life is nowhere near that glamorous!) As far as indulging goes, I got a couple of Thai massages at the hotel spa and spent a day shopping in Bangkok. Shopping somewhere new is a major luxury for me, because I rarely get time to do it when I’m away and I love buying people presents.
Before Thailand, I was in England with my husband for his birthday. We spent some time in London, where my biggest luxury was probably having a very decadent breakfast every morning at Asia de Cuba (and then walking it off all day). Then we did a road trip all around the country, which was just beautiful.
What are some luxury items you never travel without?
I travel with a lot of gadgets. Probably too many, but I do use them all. I read a lot, both for research and entertainment purposes. I love my Nook for reading books, magazines, and watching movies. I have this very handy iPad holder with a built-in keyboard from Brookstone that allows me to bring along my iPad instead of my laptop, which is so much more convenient for me. I have my Canon DSLR on me most of the time when I’m traveling. I also bring an underwater camera if I’m going somewhere tropical. All of these things require chargers (plus memory cards, etc.) so I use a Grid-It to keep them organized. I remember traveling with just a (film) camera, a book, a notebook, and a Discman when I went on vacations growing up, and somehow I survived. Imagine that.
What exactly constitutes luxury travel in your mind, from what you’ve seen?
I think everyone defines luxury differently. To me, luxury travel involves the room with a view, the fluffy king bed, the beautiful surroundings, a wonderful staff, excellent décor, and some fun little details -- everything that makes your stay just that much better. I’ve seen a trend in luxury travel over the years that’s geared towards experiences, which I think is fantastic. I love a gorgeous hotel as much as the next person, but when I travel I’m choosing the destination first and foremost. It’s a luxury to visit a part of the world that was inaccessible before. It’s a luxury to get a chance to see a different perspective when you travel. It’s a luxury to try something completely new. I guess you could say that a lot of places are emphasizing the “travel” as much as the “luxury.”
I’m curious of the normal, less luxurious lifestyle of Hillary. How do you indulge yourself while you’re not traveling?
To me personally, luxury is very sensory and detail-oriented. I love a nice perfume, a super soft robe, brightly colored fresh flowers. I find that those kinds of things always pick me up and make me feel a little more glam, regardless of where they’re from or how much they cost.
My biggest indulgence when I’m not traveling is probably going to really disappoint everyone, but it’s just doing routine things with the people I don’t get to see when I’m away. Things like taking my Scottish Terrier Seamus hiking or to the beach, or meeting my best friends for happy hour in Manhattan, or going to brunch with my husband, or gardening with my mom. Sometimes when you’re away a lot, it can feel like you’re living two lives. This is the stuff I would be doing even if I never traveled, so I always make time for it. The benefits of a fancy massage don’t last as long as inside jokes or shared experiences.
Do you only travel luxuriously? Why or why not?
I definitely do my fair share of non-luxury travel. I’ve stayed in plenty of hostels in Europe and Australia. Not the nice ones, either. Anyone who has ever done a major road trip (especially with a pet) around the US knows exactly how un-glamorous highway motels can be. Each experience is totally different though, and traveling is all about adventure so I’m up for it. Personally, I believe that you can’t appreciate luxury properly if you have it all the time.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love my dog, Seamus. Any time I get to bring him for an overnight stay somewhere (that isn’t a motel), that’s a luxury. He’s actually started getting his own invitations to pet-friendly properties now, which I think is adorable. I hope he brings me along as his guest one day.
I love the outdoors and animals, so a lot of my personal time is spent off the beaten path hiking or hanging out with wildlife. I don’t know that I could turn that kind of trip into a luxury travel one and still get the same experience.
There’s more to luxury travel than picking the best place to stay and eat, could you talk on the subject?
I’ve learned that luxury is different for everybody. If you’re used to staying in hostels, luxury could mean your own room with your own bathroom where you don’t have to wear shower shoes. If you’re constantly dieting, luxury can mean indulging in some rich, fabulous food. If you get yelled at in your office every day, luxury can mean completely turning off your phone for a week.
While there’s definitely a typical image of luxury travel that involves things like a five-star hotel, an elegant spa, or a Michelin starred restaurant, that doesn’t have to be your experience. Just by definition, luxury travel sets the bar higher with regards to expectations, service, amenities, etc. It’s not five-star or bust, though. There are plenty of luxury properties that might also be eco-hotels or historic manor houses. They won’t have the golf course or the spa, but they still offer luxury. I identify luxury travel by the details. Can you tell the staff or owners take pride in their business? Does the décor do it justice? Are there any extra touches that you admire? Have they put thought into making your visit as pleasant as possible? Do you feel relaxed? I never like to call a place “the best,” because that’s so subjective.
Has there ever been a time that you overspent and felt a buyer’s remorse sort of anxiety? What would you suggest for people that have put themselves into similar situations?
Yes, definitely. There have been plenty of times I went out to eat with someone who had to try a hot new expensive restaurant, for example, and it was seriously disappointing. There’s something infinitely depressing about stopping for a slice of pizza after you’ve just had a $100 dinner. It’s all a process of trial and error. Over time, you learn what you feel is worth your hard-earned money. People are very dedicated to their luxury splurges, but it’s different for everyone. I would suggest starting out small. Get an affordable manicure for a special occasion and see if you feel it’s a worthwhile splurge or if you’d rather paint your own nails and break the bank on something else. If you love a particular perfume or makeup but can’t convince yourself to pull the trigger, ask the person at the counter for a sample and try it out for a week first. Ask for a spa certificate as a birthday gift if you want to try out a massage or spa treatment, or wait until the spa advertises a package. If you really, really want to try a certain expensive restaurant but are worried you might not like it, visit the bar area first one night and order an appetizer there. Or, go for lunch (which is usually much cheaper).
How have you seen the luxury travel market change over time and where do you see its future?
I see a lot of travelers and companies acknowledging that luxury travel comes with responsibility. Luxury is generally expensive, and when you pay for something, you’re endorsing it in a way. Cutting down a rainforest to stick a five-star resort in it isn’t in the spirit of luxury in my mind. Nor is traveling far and wide to hunt something exotic, or to eat an endangered animal. I cringe when I hear people brag about that kind of thing. I’ve seen a real push to be eco-friendly among the resorts I’ve visited in the past few years, which I wholeheartedly support. Expensive resort companies are the ones who have the money to invest in a community, so I’m glad that’s become a priority for many hotel groups. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit hotels of all sizes that value their surroundings, their neighbors, and the culture. I think some people have this idea of “luxury travel” as a runoff of the waste and extravagance of previous decades, but that’s (thankfully) not always the case. I see a lot of emphasis on preservation and sustainability.
Besides the typical trip to Disney World or the all-inclusive Caribbean cruise, what are some tips on finding a unique, yet luxurious experience abroad? What are a few tricks for finding affordable deals without skimping on the usual luxury travel perks?
If you want this kind of luxury, it’s not going to come cheaply. Be realistic about your budget and keep that in mind when you choose a destination. A five-star hotel in London or New York City for a week with all of the perks just isn’t going to happen for most people. If you have your heart set on expensive destinations, compromise a little. Get a more affordable hotel and then go to a fancy roof bar with sweeping views of the city. The drinks will be outrageously expensive so just stay for one or two, but then you can skip the London Eye or the top of Empire State Building (both fairly expensive tickets). That said, never compromise your safety, your health, or anything that you feel is nonnegotiable. You won’t have a good time in that case.
Cruises and all-inclusive resorts are fantastic for getting affordable luxury on a set budget. I am a huge fan. Some people have this idea that they hold you hostage and you aren’t allowed to really experience a destination your own way, but that’s not true. You have to pick the company and resort very carefully, though. If you’re not a huge partier, go for companies that skew older. They tend to be classier and quieter and more educational, but still fun and entertaining.
If you like going on long tours, often times a luxury tour group will include your accommodation in the price at an industry rate. If you break it down, you’re paying a lot less for a luxury hotel that way.
High-end hotels run package deals very frequently – especially around holidays. If that’s out of your budget, sign up for their mailing lists and ask to be alerted about sales. Of course, traveling on the off season will get you a significantly better rate. If you don’t really care where you stay but just want to get a nice hotel for a decent rate, the best thing to do is use online hotel search engines.
I thank you for your time – it’s been quite a pleasure speaking with you! Can you offer up any last travel tips, wise words or whimsical thoughts?
Same to you! I’ve enjoyed it.
Don’t forget that travel is a luxury. Probably the ultimate luxury (but I’m biased).