Decades ago, the standard in luxury travel was staying in five-star hotels, dining in Michelin-starred restaurants, and perhaps getting a private tour of a museum, led by an art expert. These days, high-end travelers are looking not just to spend a few nights in Paris, but to indulge in once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They may still go to Paris (and even stay at the Four Seasons), but that trip might now include a front-row seat at a Paris fashion show followed by a visit to designer Coco Chanel’s atelier. Celebrity worshippers might prefer to not just attend the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, but also go to one of those buzzed-about private parties with the stars, while thrill-seeking travelers will not pass up a chance to go ballooning over the Napa Valley before sipping wine in its famous vineyards.
“I observed that my friends were redirecting their travel plans towards life-enriching experiences,” says Trevor Traina, explaining why he founded California based membership-site ifonly.com three years ago. “So I built a website offering some of the coolest experiences available. I’m always amazed by how broad people’s interests are, and how many people want to do things that enrich their imaginations.”
To make his clients’ dreams come true, Traina works with organizations like Sotheby’s and American Express, as well as many charities, to help create his one-of-a-kind packages. They have spanned from that Napa Valley balloon trip to having tea in Manhattan with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, cooking with San Francisco-based chef Gary Danko or sitting down to a private dinner at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy.
The IfOnly team spends many hours in the lead-up to each trip making sure everything meets the highest standards. “Every experience is vetted before we offer it,” says Traina. “Sometimes, we send someone with the client to make sure everything goes perfectly, and our team always spends a great deal of time with clients beforehand so they know what to expect.” Moreover, while the website offers thousands of experiences at any one time, members are encouraged to come up with their own vacation-of-a-lifetime ideas. “Even if it’s not listed on the website, we can make it happen,” he promises.
I TRAVEL CONSTANTLY, GOING EVERYWHERE I CAN, ALWAYS LOOKING FOR THE MOST INTERESTING EXPERIENCES I CAN OFFER MY CLIENTS.”
— VICTORIA HOFFMAN
Victoria Hoffman, owner of conciergebyvictoria.com, is also among the entrepreneurs who specialize in making fantasy vacations a reality. Hoffman, who has an extensive background in travel and marketing, creates customized, experience-based trips for the most discerning customers using her large network of friends around the world. As a result, Hoffman can arrange anything from taking part in France’s famed Tour de France bicycle race, going on a guided tour of British artist’s Damien Hirst’s studio, visiting a monastery in Tibet overseen by the Dalai Lama, cooking with one of Europe’s greatest chefs or learning to blend your own cognac. “I travel constantly, going everywhere I can, always looking for the most interesting experiences I can offer my clients,” says Hoffman.
Her site also offers the chance to grab the “in” ticket for some of the world’s most coveted events, including the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television) Awards, Art Basel and golf’s Ryder Cup. She will also make sure you’re lodged luxuriously no matter which experience you choose. “I make sure the tourism offices of these countries let me know about their newest and most extraordinary properties, so I can check them out personally when I visit. Whether you want to stay in a private castle, a villa or a fivestar hotel, I can make it happen.”
Another excellent option for those seeking the up-close-and-personal experience is to attend local charity events that include extraordinary auction prizes. For example, as part of the Grand Auction held every September in New York City as part of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ annual Flea Market, you can purchase backstage visits and walk-on parts to Broadway’s hottest shows (bcefa.org), while the New York Pops, one of the world’s finest symphonies, serves up a chance to conduct the orchestra on the stage of the legendary Carnegie Hall as part of the auction held at their star-studded Birthday Gala each spring (nypops.org).
You can also bid on the many auctions held on charitybuzz.com. Earlier this year, in the same day, you could place dibs on a visit to the set of Downton Abbey at London’s Ealing Studio, complete with a meet-and-greet with some of the cast members; a chance to be interviewed by talk show legend Larry King in Los Angeles (as well as receive a personalized voicemail recording); lunch with television star Mark Feuerstein on the set of his TV show Royal Pains; the opportunity to spend four days learning to be a Grand Prix race car driver in Arizona; or a ride on the Goodyear Blimp. Like many of the offerings now available to the savvy traveler, the experience will give you an all-time high.