As Americans begin to gingerly step out of lockdown, some are ready to go beyond the grocery store. But the desire for safety remains, so going private is the way forward for many. And while it’s easy to take the luxury route for privacy and exclusivity, there are also more affordable options for a private experience, from boat rentals to private tours to camping on the edge of a cliff (yes, really!). These are the most amazing private travel experiences to check out right now.
While large-scale cruising is out for the foreseeable future, chartering or renting a small boat or yacht is an ideal alternative. After all, when there’s nothing but the wide-open sea, it’s easy to social distance. Thankfully, there are a range of options in terms of boat type, length of trip, cost, and amount of staff (if any). Chartering a yacht is at the higher end; check out Kontiki Expeditions, who are launching a new yacht service on Dec. 13, 2020, with two itineraries along the coast of Ecuador. With nine staterooms, it’s easy to buy out, and the new ships also include a spa, fitness room, Jacuzzi, diving gear, and more. Or book the Alila Purnama, an ultra-luxe five-room ship that docks at different islands in the Indonesian archipelago and includes private air charter to the island of your choice, on-board Balinese spa treatments, and diving excursions. If you don’t want to be tied down, The Moorings lets you charter a yacht with no set itinerary, and they have bases around the world, including Florida, Tahiti, and several Caribbean islands. If you’re looking to steer (and stay stateside), reserve a houseboat on Arizona’s Lake Powell, with boats ranging from economy to luxury.
Rent a Private Island
Yes, this sounds extravagant. And it certainly can be—fully staffed luxury resorts like Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean or Kokomo Private Island in Fiji come to mind. But believe it or not, there are a few affordable private islands for rent, including several in the United States, like the no-frills Oar Island in Maine or the jungle-like Seabird Key in Florida. A private island is perfect for avoiding crowds, and well, anyone—especially if you choose one without staff.
Book a Private Tour
Get the ultimate in privacy and exclusive experiences with a private guided tour. Big-name companies like Abercrombie & Kent, Intrepid, Classic Journeys, Trafalgar, Scott Dunn, Tauck, Butterfield & Robinson, REI Adventures, Travelive, Wild Frontiers, and G Adventures are offering private, bespoke journeys with exclusive access to things like museums after hours, personal cooking classes, private hikes, and boating expeditions, and many have announced new U.S. tours for those who prefer to stay domestic. Some even include private jet transfers, like TCS World Travel’s recently announced custom jet trips, Perillo’s new North American family trips, Seamlessly by Touring Treasures in Australia and Smithsonian Journey’s Around the World by Private Jet. For something less lavish, book a guide through Tours by Locals, which has professional, local guides across the U.S. and the world. Check out their Off Grid Grand Canyon Tour, which gives travelers exclusive access to a section of the Grand Canyon called Tuweep that’s accessible to a handful of vehicles by permit only—luckily, local guide AJ is the proud owner of two. If you’re looking for adventure, try Moab Adventure Center’s private Hummer safaris, canyoneering, climbing, and SUP lessons.
Road Trip, But Make It Luxe
As the road trip skyrockets in popularity, many companies are offerings deluxe, exclusive versions, often with overnights at plush hotels. Exclusive Resorts partnered with luxury road trip company All Roads North to provide tailor-made trips with stays at multi-million-dollar vacation homes. Montage Deer Valley now offers a private guided luxury road trip as part of its Montage Expeditions program, stretching between Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, complete with private air and ground transportation. For a more extended excursion, Mercedes-Benz has teamed up with Auberge Resorts Collection and luxury travel company Black Tomato on a new series of multi-night road trip itineraries to Auberge properties throughout the United States, including routes through New England, Colorado, and Utah, and California—think of it as the ultimate test drive. For a more affordable option, look at AKA’s new East Coast road trip package, which includes stays at its properties in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., along with picnic materials, snacks, and Spotify playlists.
Camp in the Middle of Nowhere
Camping is one of the easiest ways to social distance, particularly if it’s in a remote location. But if the thought of setting up camp in the middle of nowhere gives you hives, leave it to the pros. Tentrr is like the Airbnb of camping, with property owners renting out prefab tents (think wooden decks, canvas tents, basic furniture, and simple outhouses) set on vast acres of land. If you’re looking for an actual one-of-a-kind experience—and have no fear of heights—you can dine and sleep on a portoledge set on the edge of a cliff. Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes, Colorado, will take care of the logistics and set up so you can have a cliff camping experience 75 feet above the ground—it doesn’t get more socially distanced than that!
Reserve a Spa for Yourself
With stress levels at an all-time high for most people, a spa day is desperately needed. Thankfully, several spas are offering private sessions where guests can have the relaxation haven all to themselves for a few hours. For example, Calistoga Ranch in Napa is offering spa buyouts where guests can enjoy private use of two geothermal mineral pools and a covered terrace with a roaring fireplace, complete with a massage or soak, butler service and a bottle of Champagne. And Four Seasons Las Vegas has buyouts for its spa and nail bar. Take it one step further by reserving an entire retreat for you and your pod at Twelve Senses Retreat (book with Porter & Sail for extra hotel credits), a four-room hotel designed on the philosophy of the four elements of nature. A takeover of this holistic haven unlocks private access to wellness experiences like guided meditation, energy healing, yoga, and paddleboarding.
Traverse the Country in an RV
Traveling across the country in an RV is almost a right of passage for Americans, and it happens to be entirely private as well. If you don’t own your own RV, check out RVshare’s peer-to-peer rental marketplace for your family’s ideal ride.
Taste Wines One-on-One
While virtual wine tastings have taken off, if you’re itching for that in-person experience, a personal wine tasting excursion is just the ticket. Sessions by Essentialist offers members intimate experiences like a meeting with Kerrin Laz, who recently opened K. Laz Wine Collection tasting room in Yountville, Napa Valley, or a private tour of Senses Wine in Sonoma with one of the winery’s founders. And TOR Winery has various private, by-appointment tasting experiences, including hiking and tasting at storied Pritchard Hill Vineyard in Napa Valley. Over in Santa Barbara, there are several multi-vineyard private tours with transportation, like Classic Wine Tours of Santa Barbara and Rooted Vine Tours, and in the Finger Lakes region of New York, check out Experience! Finger Lakes.
Fly Private to a Secluded Destination
Sometimes the flight is the best part of the trip, especially if it involves a private jet. Companies like Air Charter Service can help you charter a helicopter, plane, or jet to just about anywhere, while luxury hotel chains like Rosewood are partnering with various private jet companies to bring guests over in style. If you’re really a baller, go ahead and buy your own helicopter that can take you to any snowy mountaintop, remote island, or lush valley.
Safari, Private Style
A successful safari often means small families or groups anyway, so they are still an excellent option for privacy and seclusion. Extraordinary Journey’s Return of The Safari Pioneers is a 12-day safari in the Masai Mara, complete with a chartered flight from JFK International Airport to Kenya, private fly-in lodges, and four-person game drives, while Micato Safaris and andBeyond offer a plethora of private options. If Africa is too far-flung, Nayara Tented Camp offers a safari experience in Costa Rica, complete with plush glamping-style accommodations and personal naturalists for each guest that will lead them through the on-site sloth sanctuary and on early-morning bird sightings and evening frog walks.
Stay at a Fully Staffed Estate
While renting a vacation home is an excellent way to have privacy, you might miss the full service of a hotel. Enter the fully staffed estate or villa. Personal butler, housekeeper, and chef? Check, check, check. In Europe and the U.K., check out Masterpiece Estates by Oetker Collection, and in Greece, White Key Villas is the ticket. Caribbean options include the Eden Rock Villas on St. Barths, Le Barth Villa Rental, and Wimco. Villas of Distinction operates all over the world, including the U.S.
Ski Down a Mountain in Solitude
Skiing offers some great private options: first tracks are offered at many resorts, often through luxury hotels like the Little Nell in Aspen or exclusive clubs, like Seven Summits at Snowbird and Alta. For even more privacy—and adventure—book a private heli-ski trip to the most remote mountains—no full lifts here. Try CMH in Canada and Majestic Heli Ski and Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska.
Tour a Museum Without the Crowds
Several museums offer after-hours tours to no more than 20 people at a time, including the MoMA in New York City and the British Museum in London. In Nantucket, you can have the entire Whaling Museum to yourself on Sundays if you’re a guest of the Jared Coffin House. In the Catskills, you can book an after-hours tour for 25 of your besties at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Museum, the site of the original Woodstock Festival in 1969.
Ride the Rails Minus the Masses
We’ve covered planes, but let’s not forget trains—there are several options for private train travel that won’t disappoint. Anantara just announced the Vietage, a luxury train that serves only 12 passengers (perfect for buyouts!) and travels six hours through Central Vietnam between Da Nang and Quy Nhon. A gourmet three-course meal and snacks are served along the way, and each passenger receives a 30-minute massage. And just in case you happen to own your own train car, you can attach it to any Amtrak train for an annual fee. Or, you can charter one from the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners or Luxury Train Club.