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Escape Artistry

There's a woman in tears in Jim Lafferty's office at the San Jose Jet Center, which caters to private Silicon Valley planes. A desk agent, she has cracked under the pressure. "I have eighty-five airplanes here," says Lafferty, a part owner of the center, "and sixty-seven people on a waiting list. They're buying planes faster than we can figure out where to put them."

A new obsession has gripped the upper echelon of travelers. The desire for privacy, once fulfillable for only the elite few, has become the craving of the crowd. From velvet-rope clothing stores like London's Voyage (where you need a VIP card to gain entry) to nightclubs with unlisted phone numbers, there has never been a better moment to, as Greta Garbo supposedly said, "vant to be alone."

We're not talking JFK sneaking out of the Carlyle Hotel through the kitchen, either. The new options are as luxurious as they are limitless. Rent a top-of-the-line Gulfstream V for $7,500 an hour (or settle for a G-III for a mere $3,900). Fly to Europe, pick up your own private Orient-Express train ($250,000), and wend your way to a hotel like the Splendido in Portofino, Italy, which you can take over entirely, turning it into a personal playground, for $51,780 a night. Unless you'd prefer a private five-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot, $3,050-a-night villa at Bali's Begawan Giri Estate, which comes with full hotel services. Or the late Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina O, available for private charter at $70,000 a day. Or a Scottish castle. Or an island of your own.

In New York City, the lounge Bungalow 8 is so secret that it has an unlisted phone number. Sister to Manhattan's cool club Lot 61, its name comes from one of the famous hideaways at the Beverly Hills Hotel, rare antecedents of today's craze for privacy. How does one get in?"Try charming the doorman," suggests proprietor Amy Sacco. In other words, don't get your hopes up.

Venture capitalist Heidi Roizen doesn't think she's self-indulgent, even though she and her surgeon husband will, infrequently, take over Necker Island, Richard Branson's private retreat in the British Virgin Islands, for about $29,000 a night. "You try to have perspective," she says. "So you live an ordinary life and then one day you decide to take twenty-four friends to the Caribbean."

THE PHENOMENON ISN'T LIMITED TO VENTURE CAPITALISTS. "High-profile types are inundated with people who want to be their friends," says John J. Melk, owner of Musha Cay in Exuma—where Faith Hill hides out. "Now it has multiplied a thousandfold because of the media. A decade ago, celebrities could hide in foreign countries. They can't do that anymore—they end up in Star magazine." Where hoi polloi read all about it. And want what Faith has. Like Musha Cay, which sleeps 20 and is yours, complete with staff, food, and wine, for a cool $325,000 a week.

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