A year ago, I almost got engaged. Instead, the 4½-year-long relationship ended.
Amid apartment moves and counseling sessions and therapeutic runs, I stared at a blank Google calendar once filled with dinner dates, birthday parties and — most important for a couple who shared a passion for off-the-beaten-path adventure — trips abroad.
After the breakup, though, I wanted to keep traveling.
Forget traditional beach locales like the Caribbean or the south of France. I wanted to get as far away as I could. If I fly 8,000 miles away from my daily life, I reasoned, maybe I will feel more like myself again. More curious, more confident and maybe, just maybe, content. The exoticism would, somehow, shake me back to normalcy.
And, my gosh, I’m lucky. My job as the travel editor at The Post enables me to explore the world during those precious vacation days and write about the results. (Thankfully, I am often hosted by new hotels on these jaunts, which makes them financially feasible.)
I sized up my dream destination: the Maldives. I had fantasized about honeymooning in the Indian Ocean archipelago for a decade. Frequented by couples celebrating milestones and A-list celebrities, the cluster of isles southwest of India and Sri Lanka is hard to get to, pricey and, as the kids say, so extra. All-inclusive resorts full of villas take up entire islands that are ringed by pristine white-sand beaches, themselves surrounded by water so blue it looks like a Photoshopped screensaver.
Initially, I balked at such a trek. Excuses abounded: It’s too far. It’s too extravagant. It’s going to be full of moony-eyed lovebirds, so I’ll be sad. But most of all, I told myself, I don’t deserve this.
But then I had a change of heart. The low-lying Maldives are often cited as a prime victim of sea level rise — the president famously held a cabinet meeting underwater in 2009 — and I didn’t want to wait anymore. Why should I twiddle my thumbs until I get married to take a bucket-list trip? An arbitrary life event shouldn’t dictate my PTO. And if I learned anything from the breakup, it’s that you can’t wait on someone or something else to go after the things that you want. You may never get them.
So I went. I flew Cathay Pacific to the capital city of Male via Hong Kong, a 24-hour journey that starts at about $1,000 roundtrip. Two brand-new resorts — the Standard Huruvalhi and the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi — made the week possible by inviting me to check them out firsthand.
The majority of the Maldives’ 300-ish inhabited islands (of 1,200 total) are so small that it’s impossible to land a traditional aircraft. Enter the seaplane: Trans Maldivian Airways operates a fleet of 56 propeller-ed gems — often helmed by pilots sporting shorts, sunglasses and (much to passengers’ delight) no shoes — that shuttle visitors to and from countless idyllic resorts.
The two I saw were no exception. The trendy Standard brand has beloved hotels in New York, Miami, LA and London, but the November-opened Maldives property is its only resort (from $475/night; use the code OASIS at StandardHotels.com). The seaplane landed by a floating pontoon, where a speedboat waited to whisk me off. I was one of the first guests to grace the curved boardwalks connecting rainbow-colored overwater bungalows with a street art-covered spa building and a small beachy island with more villas, a bustling main pool, restaurants and a water sports hut.
All-white snorkeling gear and a bright pink inner tube hang on the walls of the modern rooms. Every morning before breakfast, I donned a mask, fins and a life jacket to swim along the reef located a mere dozen freestyle strokes from the ladder that descended from my villa directly into the balmy water. Surrounded by schools of colorful fish, I could hear my own breathing, steady and becoming more assured. It was bliss.
I dined on fresh-caught fish at the BBQ Shak, gossiped with my manicurist (who had come from Aman’s Turks & Caicos property) about her former client, Beyoncé, and belted out karaoke hits on a glass-bottomed dance floor at Beru Bar, below the hotel’s claim to fame: the largest disco ball in the Maldives.
The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, meanwhile, is closer to Male. Immaculate staffers escort passengers through the fray of the arrivals hall and onto a waiting yacht, docked just outside the airport and stocked with champagne and snacks.
The sight is staggering. The newly constructed resort, opened July 1, has 122 villas arranged in a C shape (from $1,700/night). Each comes with its own pool — bigger than most New York apartments — plus outdoor amenities like swinging loungers and netted overwater hammocks.
Indoors, high vaulted ceilings made me feel like I was occupying my own castle.
Each villa comes with a kindly butler; mine handed me a face mask and suggested I rest after the epic flights from New York. I traversed the resort on the bikes parked beside each villa, scoping out the 11 restaurants, massive communal pools and the beachfront — and waving to everyone I pedaled by. (I think I smiled more during one bike ride there than in an entire week of Big Apple commutes.)
For such a luxurious place, the vibe is low-key. I didn’t recognize tennis champ Daniil Medvedev and his wife seated next to me at breakfast; Serena Williams, Alexis Ohanian and baby Olympia had been there the prior week. (Those guests made use of the pro-level tennis court.) Around that time, top model Emily Ratajkowski visited with her husband, posting villa, pool and jet-skiing snaps on Instagram.
After days spent swimming until my skin pruned, I noticed some changes. Shoulders? Normally hunched, they dropped down to a normal distance from my ears. My watch? Left in the room. My mind? As clear as the water.
Before I left New York, I had joked to a fellow editor, “I’m going on a hon-ME-moon.” A punnier colleague remarked, “It’s your ‘Hanamoon!’ ”
I laughed, but I was embarrassed to be so indulgent. Sometimes it felt like, as a single person at home in New York, I was not allowed to (pardon the weighty, therapy-inflected phrase) take up space. Every well-meaning “How are you?” had to be answered with “Fine!” — or else I was high-maintenance, whiny, overstepping my bounds.
Not so in the Maldives. A recently divorced friend joined me at the Standard; we danced wildly on a deserted beach to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” blaring from a portable speaker. Shimmying atop the buttery-soft sand, we literally let ourselves take up as much damn space as we pleased.
Yes, there were couples on the properties, but also extended families, groups of friends and bachelorette parties.
That’s because it’s not just singles who feel unworthy, who deprive themselves of splurges. Couples, parents and basically everyone I know tell me they routinely put off special trips, listing truly valid reasons like cost and childcare.
But if it’s at all possible — don’t defer that dream vacation. Just go.