Who said paradise was only for lovers?
Vegas? Miami? The Maldives? The world’s leading honeymoon destination is certainly not a favorite place for a platonic friendship retreat, but the Maldives was exactly what the doctor ordered for my friend Layla and me at the end of the year last. After being quarantined on opposite sides of the globe, this trip was a well deserved reunion with rest, rejoicing and an air of romance to fall in love with the world all over again.
Having been deprived of in-person bonding time (like many friends around the world), we were thrilled to be able to experience our shared dream destination together. Before leaving, however, I was repeatedly asked why I chose a place that was full of honeymooners when I was traveling without a romantic partner. This got me thinking about our tendency to evaluate destinations based on the types of travelers who frequent them and how we view places as seasonal or suitable for our respective life stages.
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It occurred to me that before this travel opportunity presented itself, I had never considered visiting the Maldives without a beautiful romantic companion. In my mind, the archipelagic state had a symbolic “couples only” sign hanging above it, and I assumed it might be dull without someone’s eyes to watch adoringly as the sun set. I was wrong.
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A water bungalow for two please
To get the most out of our 24 hour Indian Ocean trip, we opted to island hop between two resorts and mix and match our perfect vacation. Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa was a breathtaking introduction to Maldivian hospitality, which began with a glass of celebrity-worthy champagne and an energetic musical performance by Boduberu. The luxury all-inclusive resort offered everything needed for a screensaver existence: a stunning infinity pool, delicious meals at four restaurants, an impressive spa with a hot tub in the center of a koi pond, dhoni boats for sunset cruises, and 120 dream villas. Our temporary home was a cantilevered overwater bungalow over the ocean with a wooden ladder to enter (which we often and happily did). We spent our days pinching ourselves and using our two free bikes to hop from one powdery white spot to another.
Layla and I lived in bathing suits and were mostly concerned with cocktails to sip, water sports to tickle us, and what to wear for our beach photo shoot with a professional photographer (also free). Going anywhere with your best friend makes life fun, even in a sea of couples. Important people may not always have the patience or the desire to preen and pose for pictures or realize that sometimes you really need to bring seven “emergency” bikinis.
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No matter where we go, Layla and I make great companions because we have common interests and a similar level of excitability. During our very first seaplane ride As we made our way to the Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, we alternated between enthusiastic shouts and awed silences as we gazed out at the endless expanse of blue water and small islands. We were too busy being captivated and entertained by dolphin cruises and comedy-filled teppanyaki dinner shows to care about being the only platonic duo on the island.
We also made friends with playful couples and lovely staff members who ultimately felt like our island pals too. Brian, a sommelier from South Africa, often regaled us with stories of Maldivian paradise life whenever he came to fill our glasses. Emblematic of the resort’s exceptional service, he always knew what delicious drink we would like to toast next.
Friendship is a cause for celebration
Snapchat Friendship Report 2020, a study of more than 30,000 people around the world, showed (unsurprisingly) that close friends are key to our happiness and nearly half of all participants surveyed (45%) felt more distant from their friends as they were unable to spend time together in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report draws insights from various global friendship experts, including Great Friendship authors Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, who notes how lasting friendships really need protection. “On a cultural level, there’s a lot of talk about friendship being wonderful and important, but not a lot of social support to protect what’s precious,” they point out. People often travel to commemorate and celebrate romantic relationships with singles, destination weddings, honeymoons, babymoons, and more, but what about trips that celebrate and honor adult friendships?
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It was so precious that Layla and I were able to spend time together in such a picturesque setting and live out our two wildest dreams. After a few blissful days at Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, we happily boarded another seaplane piloted by a barefoot pilot in shorts to the resplendent resort number two, LUX* South Ari Atoll. Located on the hard to pronounce but impossible to forget slender island of Dhidhdhoofinolhu, this resort had some of the most perfect beaches I have ever seen. All LUX* Resorts & Hotels offer a fabulous set of experience packages called collectable experiences, which means you never feel hungry, bored, stressed or uninspired. At LUX* South Ari Atoll, these include the Digital Detox Package, Learn to Sail in The Maldives and The Maldives Bucket List, which includes snorkeling with whale sharks in a marine protected area before canapes and drinks on a dhoni boat.
Eat, sleep, repeat was the collection experience we opted for, and it filled our calendars with a personal workout, four sleep-enhancing spa treatments using organic island oils from Dhigurah, a post-spa picnic at the lagoon next to a smooth sand bar that gently parted the Indian Ocean (the stuff of dreams) and a private three-course Maldivian meal in the herb garden of the complex where falling raindrops were simulated just for the two of us. In effect.
There’s no denying that these dream resorts are ultra-romantic. What couple wouldn’t appreciate snuggling up to watch a movie at the open-air Cinema Paradiso at LUX* South Ari Atoll, reading a good book facing the swinging ocean at the Wanderlust Library, out-of-this-world massages for a full couple in the over-water bungalow’s treatment rooms or close your eyes to make a wish together at the resort’s famous Tree of Wishes? Destinations like this may look like couples-only areas, but everywhere can be enjoyable with an air of openness and the right attitude.
Say goodbye to one-size-fits-all travel
This Maldivian ‘froliday’ showed me the importance of creating our own narratives for places, regardless of how they are perceived and to whom they are marketed. Paris is not only the city of lovers. Bali will not guarantee Eat Pray Lovestyle spiritual awakening. Bonaire is not just for diving, and paradise destinations like the Maldives go beyond the “sunny side of life”.
There are already enough obstacles to travel with PCR tests, visa requirements and Economic inequality. Our relationship status shouldn’t be another obstacle thrown in the way of where we choose to travel. Travel can be anything we want it to be, and we can take whoever we want with us. A ‘romantic’ destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it alone or with a cherished friend, because a great friendship is a gift worth celebrating in the Maldives, Miami or anywhere else.