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Authenticity, nature and silence. A redefinition of luxury travel

A woman sitting outdoors with a casual pose. She's wearing a blue tank top, light-wash denim jeans, and a white and blue baseball cap with the text "caption your content" on it. Her blonde hair is styled in loose waves, and she looks contemplative or relaxed. In the background, there's a tree and some shrubbery, indicating a park or a similar green space.

Elisa Richards

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The concept of luxury in travel is a deeply personal and subjective one, shaped by individual preferences and values. While some may find luxury in the trappings of wealth and extravagance, others derive fulfillment from the freedom to explore, connect and experience the world on their own terms. It’s this latter interpretation that resonates as the true essence of luxury travel for Elisa Richards. It’s about the freedom to authentically immerse yourself in a destination, to wander aimlessly, connecting with local culture and nature on a deeper level.

“I really love when I can stay in an Airbnb and the owner also lives in the Airbnb or next door because I can get all the information about what to see, what to do and so on. All the books and online searches will give you the top 10 spots, etc., and they are all the same, but hearing about it all from a local—insider knowledge—that’s authentic!” Elisa, a hard-of-hearing advocate, actor and director, is an avid traveller who loves the outdoors and for her, this is luxury.

Travel is about embracing spontaneity and serendipitous encounters, allowing the day to unfold organically rather than by a checklist of must-see attractions. Her most memorable experiences are often found off the beaten path, in unscripted moments. “It’s the simple things,” Elisa said. “I have the best time when I say, you know what . . . I’m just going to walk around town today and see where that leads me. That allows me to make friends, talk to store owners and get to know them. They’ll often say, you’ve got to check out this or that . . . this is the experience I’m looking for, plus time and freedom to explore.” For many travellers like Elisa, luxury travel can be redefined as the gift of time itself, unhurried days, unfettered by the constraints of a packed itinerary. This allows for leisurely strolls through cobblestone streets, impromptu conversations with locals, and indulgence in local cuisine. It’s about savoring the small moments that often go unnoticed in the frenzy of sightseeing, whether it’s sipping espresso at a sidewalk café or pausing to admire street art tucked away in a quiet alley. 

But travelling for Elisa, regardless of the destination and experience is sometimes accompanied by silence. She has severe to profound bilateral hearing loss and at times, deliberately, does not wear her hearing aids. She embraces the silence, “especially if I go camping,” she shared. “Most people do go to those places to find silence and to get away from the street noise. I use this opportunity to lean into the silence because it allows me to reset.  Sometimes I think I have an advantage because other people are still hearing the birds, the creek and other hikers on the path. But without my hearing aids, I visually take in the aesthetic of the surroundings. I breathe the fresh air. It’s meditative and I think it’s really cool that I have the choice to completely turn off the noise and allow my other senses to step in.”

Elisa was overwhelmed as a child going to busy places such as school and restaurants. The barrage of noises that would assail her when she wore her hearing aids included the sharpening of pencils, the flipping of book pages, people talking all around her, people unfolding napkins and blowing their noses, the clatter of trays and plates. This led to listening fatigue which was very tiring. Now older, she has grown used to the multitude of auditory stimuli in her surroundings but has learned to deal with it. 

Camping, hiking or just being outdoors with nature such as at Yosemite National Park, California, in silence, is luxury. Despite the stress that sometimes accompanies her outdoor excursions, these are still treasured moments for Elisa. She recounted instances where she was stranded in remote areas and had to be rescued by strangers. She’s faced the challenge of finding a place to camp before dark, worries about having the right supplies, and her fear of spiders. However, these all fade in comparison to the sense of freedom and expansiveness she feels when in the wilderness. Elisa believes these experiences positively influence her art and ability to handle stress. They also enrich her problem-solving skills, understanding of storytelling and her performance in front of the camera. 

A woman with a cheerful expression looks back towards the camera on a forest hiking trail. She is equipped with a walking pole and a backpack, suggesting she's prepared for an extended trek. The trail appears well-trodden, bordered by rocks, green shrubbery, and towering pine trees. In the background, two other hikers with backpacks are walking away from the camera, further along the path, which suggests this is a popular route for nature enthusiasts. The overcast sky indicates potential cool or early morning weather, ideal for hiking.

Being a hard-of-hearing actress comes with its own share of challenges. Elisa recalls at the start of her career she always wore her hair down so her hearing aids weren’t visible. Although potential employers are not legally allowed to dismiss someone because of their disability, Elisa felt her chances of being given a role would be hindered if they knew—they’d probably wonder if she was able to do the job. “Only after maybe my first shoot, I would say, okay, I should tell them that I’m hard-of-hearing,” she admitted. “I feel good about what I’m doing and I can help change perspectives in the workplace.” She believes disability in the industry should be normalized. There is no more hiding for her. Although she may not mention it at an audition—simply because it might not be necessary to do so— she is nonetheless a vocal advocate and her social media accounts are a testament to that. 

Throughout her posts online, humour is infused to lighten whatever is being shared about deafness. Elisa states, “humour is the best way to help make everyone around you comfortable and sometimes disability is an uncomfortable topic only because people are so scared to offend you that they don’t even know how to have that conversation.” Although she was always funny as a child, her humour never included talks about her disability because she was embarrassed by it. It was only within the past five years that she has become comfortable with herself. She stated, “As I got older, I concluded that no one was going to see me the way I want them to see me unless I saw myself that way. So, I started having fun with myself, finding different ways to show off my hearing aids, fun ways to get comfortable in my own skin. And once I did that, I was able to joke about it because it was not a heavy weight on me anymore.” Elisa has brought that humour about her deafness into the workplace. Whenever she starts a new job, if she realizes that people are uncomfortable, to lighten the mood she’ll say, “Sometimes I’ll ask what seven times before we get anywhere, but that’s just part of the journey. I’m not rude, I’m just deaf, hahaha.” 

Travel, humour and advocacy are important to Elisa. “My favourite place I’ve ever travelled to is Bar Harbor, Maine. I love that place! I think I really am naturally drawn to the ocean, I’m happy just to be near water. I’m also passionate about visiting national parks in the U.S. and being close to nature.” However, advocacy is not only important, but necessary to ensure equal opportunities in the workplace; in Elisa’s world, this is Hollywood. “I think people with disabilities should be hired for normal roles.  Right now, it seems you can only audition for roles that align with your disability . . . for me that’s hard-of-hearing or deaf characters. But we, deaf/disabled people, live in a normal world. So let us play normal characters in a normal world. Sure, our disability may be visible and it may change some of our mannerisms or dialogue, but our storylines don’t need to be focused on just disability. We live colourful and full lives alongside our disability. Having disabled characters with normal jobs, lifestyles and friendships on TV changes the perception of our community. After all, 1 in 4 Americans have a disability.”

Elisa can be found on Instagram and TikTok: @Elisa.Richards

Check out her Etsy shop: BionicOutlaw where she de-stigmatizes disability in a funky, colorful way!

Elisa Richards is known for Setting Boundaries (2019), The Illusions of Control (2019) and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999). 

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