For most people, the opportunity to enjoy luxury travel seems unattainable. But what if you could enjoy high-end travel for discounted prices, and at the same time help others enjoy the experience?
Whether it's acting as a companion for a visually impaired traveller, doing charity work while on vacation, or sailing the seas on a superyacht, there's a range of ways to see the world without busting the budget.
Those with very limited or no sight tend to appreciate a companion who can provide the eyes to an already stimulating experience. Travelling presents an obvious challenge to blind tourists, regardless of whether or not they have a travel partner. Amar Latif discovered this as a British student studying in in Canada for a year after losing 95 per cent of his eyesight. He wanted to see the world, yet virtually no travel company would accommodate him.
The problem inspired Latif to launch U.K.-based Traveleyes in 2004 with a model that would pair sighted with non-sighted travellers on luxury tours that benefit everyone – not least the sighted, who gain intellectual and spiritual edification when obliged to really take in their surroundings and share their perceptions in creative ways. Blind customers pay "mainstream" prices to take a trip with Traveleyes – "very in line," says manager Hannah Vince, with what standard tour operators charge. Their fee helps supplement their sighted companions – dramatically. On March's 14-day Malaysia and Borneo tour, including five-star sleeps, flights, meals and visits with orangutans and hatching turtles, the standard price for blind tourists is $4,868. The sighted price, only $2,430.
Out of 14 clients on every tour, on average, half are blind; they team up with different sighted participants every day, so everyone has a chance to meet someone new. For helping the visually-impaired enjoy the experience, the sighted get that 50-per-cent discount. And Vince cites other perks not even top-end travel companies can claim – such as moving to the front of long lines, or getting to touch museum artifacts that are normally off-limits.
"A lot of guides haven't come across a blind group before," says Vince. "The challenge excites them. They'll do a lot of prep, cut out the shapes of things [for travellers to experience through touch], take us to a model of the city so we can feel out the layout … In Florida our guide brought us loads of palm leaves because he realized some of us can't see how many different palms there are."
There are not many travel agencies in the world like Traveleyes, which can help avoid the sticker shock often associated with those "mainstream" holiday prices. If you travel smartly, you can get your luxury and then some, often for less than it's worth. Do you normally donate to international development charities? How much? The luxury travel company Hands-up Holidays offers upmarket adventures of the same calibre as high-end companies such as Gray & Co., but folds in a charitable element. For $8,000 you'll get a 10-day tour in Kenya, including a hot-air balloon ride, big-five game drive and giraffe excursion. But you'll also spend three days teaching, or building a school in a Masai community. A similar tour without the philanthropic element would cost about $1,500 less, but the difference goes a long way, helping to develop neighbourhoods.
"For the same level, our trips are [still] lower-priced than, say, Abercrombie & Kent," says Christopher Hill, the founder of Hands-up, referring to the luxury tour operator. "But because our model is 'philanthropic volunteering,' whereby our clients bring funding, pay for hiring local experts and buy materials, this pushes up the trip price."
Sure, many people consider working vacations at odds with the leisure concept – even if they're getting massive discounts through volunteering. But what if you could see the world for nothing in exchange for working?
Yacht-staffing hosts like Crewseekers and Superyacht Crew function on the premise that the superrich, prowling the Mediterranean or Caribbean, need a crew, and so provide steerage in exchange for hard graft. But it's no vacation.
Yet Crewseekers owner Iain Barbour says there are ways to insinuate yourself into an easier experience. You'll have to sing for your supper – perhaps literally – but you'll be doing it in plush digs with people who appreciate your company.
"Some skippers just want nice people to come along for a sail," says Barbour. "What can you offer – to cook? Sail? Play guitar? They'll ask you to make a contribution." When you're searching the classifieds on his site, Barbour recommends keeping an eye out for telltale key words, as if you're apartment-hunting. A yacht owner looking for help on a "holiday cruise" will likely be in vacation mode, and more open to a drinking or swimming buddy.
How do you feel about sitting up on deck, chilling to the sound of lapping waves while you keep watch? If you put yourself up for a "transatlantic voyage," you may simply be needed to keep a lookout for two hours at a time. "Sailing across the ocean, your boat is required to be manned 24 hours a day," says Barbour. "That's expensive. If you're there to watch, you're saving them a lot of money."
Currently, the skipper of a Cape Dory yacht is seeking a crew hand for a west-to-east Atlantic crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to Portugal – free room and board. Another is looking for two crew members on a Ta Chiao boat sailing from Cabo, Mexico, to the Panama Canal.
Barbour recommends holding out for an "Oyster," one of the most luxurious cruisers afloat. "You're talking [$8-million] worth of boat, with pretty much every modern convenience," he says.
"It depends on the skipper and what he wants you to do, but you should still have a very enjoyable time."