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by Leigh Gallagher, FORTUNE*
People will pay a lot of money for some peace and quiet.
I am what might politely be called sensitive to noise. When I was growing up, the sound of Garrison Keillor’s muffled, nasal bass coming up through the floorboards of my bedroom from the kitchen just before dinnertime drove me crazy; I would pound the floor and plead with my parents to turn it down. (They finally bought me a white noise machine from the Sharper Image.) Today I sleep with earplugs and keep extra sets in my office and in my handbag for emergency backup quiet. I am the one on the subway giving the evil eye to anyone talking too loudly, dropping notes under the doors of upstairs neighbors about their music habits, and skulking around the office trying to identify the source of the speakerphone conference call. I would set up residence in an Amtrak Quiet Car if they’d let me. It’s not overstating things to say that silence is my drug of choice. (You might wonder why I live in New York City. It’s a fair question.)
So last year, when I decided to splurge on a five-day vacation after a busy work stretch, my destination of choice was Parrot Cay by COMO, a tranquil, Zen-like luxury resort in the Caribbean’s Turks and Caicos Islands. It’s a place that had long been on my bucket list, and when my beau and I arrived, I knew why. The place is on its own island, so you take a speedboat to get there, then drive three miles through mangrove trees, and even after you arrive you hardly see or hear anyone. (We were also traveling in May, an off-peak time of year and a favored month for the clamor-averse.) There’s not much to do at Parrot Cay—beach, yoga, meditation classes—and our days were simple, quiet, and far removed from our day-to-day jobs in New York (though for some reason I chose this particular week to read Lean In). Even our nights were quiet and still—there’s none of that pressure to “go into town” when town is a 40-minute boat ride away. All of this helped time pass more slowly than it might have elsewhere. On our last night, a pair of complimentary T-shirts arrived in our room adorned with the resort’s slogan for the season: “Silence is the new luxury.” I almost teared up. This hotel and I, we were one.
Turns out it’s not just me, and it’s not just Parrot Cay. The latest trend in luxury travel doesn’t involve thread count or a seaweed-mud wrap. It’s silence. Hotels from luxury resorts to business-travel chains are marketing things like noise-free zones, triple-paned glass, soundproof walls, and serene settings where the whole sell is the ability to hear a pin drop.
Some of this is related to the “mindfulness” trend taking the world by storm—Zen gardens and meditation rooms are de rigueur at many places, and Eat, Pray, Love–style silent retreats are a dime a dozen. It also takes its root in the desire to disconnect from our devices; more and more hotels now offer some kind of “digital detox” package. But a growing number of destinations are promoting the absence of noise not as part of a broader spiritual message, but as a virtue in itself.