Surprise! This travel agency keeps your vacation a secret until you get there

Tierney Kain and her best friend Lindsay Newlen are co-workers, neighbors in a Washington, DC suburb, and travel companions. They’ve been everywhere, from a Caribbean cruise to Italy, where they’ve climbed Mount Vesuvius. The only thing is, when planning a vacation to the United States, they have a hard time deciding where to go.

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“Europe is easier; it’s hard to be disappointed,” says Kain, who said they were puzzled when they tried to find a Memorial Day getaway. “I have a soft spot for Southern cities with their manners and mansions, but Lindsay wanted to go somewhere new. We just couldn’t decide ”

Enter Pack + Go, a start-up launched in January 2016 with a twist: It specializes in surprise vacations. Travelers don’t know where they are going until they get to the airport. Would you like to go on a mystery trip?

Pack Up + Go is the brainchild of Lillian Rafson, who started the business when she was just 23 years old. Yes, you read that right, she was only 23 years old.

Kain decided to try Pack Up + Go after she read about Rafson’s new venture on a blog. “II didn’t feel like this was the perfect solution – lGet someone to plan a trip for us, rather than getting mad at Yelp reviews and Travelocity offers. “

Aother friend, Married Loredo, decided to join the adventure. After completing a questionnaire and choosing a budget (the cheapest option), Pack Up + Go selected a destination for the trio. Envelope please …


To be honest, I was initially disappointed. I had always thought of Chicago as a place like “New York City Lite” “, admits Kain. “I wasn’t really excited until I saw our hotel, the Allegro, which seemed to come out of my interior design dreams. Then I spent some time reading the route and got more excited. We ate so well and were able to enjoy all the highlights in a short weekend. “

Some entrepreneurs dream of starting a business and work a large part of their life towards it. Rafson had the idea of Pack Up + Go last year. After graduating from college, she started working for a office supply company in New York – and quickly discovered that an office job wasn’t for her. I loved the people and the company atmosphere, but I was restless, “she said.”I knew I would rather travel. “

Rafson resigned and walked over to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. “I found myself traveling up the Baltic coast and Eastern Europe, and I was first introduced to the idea of ​​a surprise travel agent there. “

She thought the idea would be a hit with her – and she even had altruistic reasons for starting the business. “I thought it would be really good to encourage Americans to travel and I even thought about the economic benefits and how much money could go to small businesses, restaurants and stores through tourism,” she says. “A lot of American cities are getting this robbed because we’re so quick to travel overseas.”

Rafson the initial projection was that Pack + Go would plan 50 to 100 trips per year. But the idea took off; Almost six months later, the company has already processed around 250 trips.

Here is how it works. There is a whole range of budgets. Customers have the choice of taking a road trip (from at $ 450 per person) or by booking a vacation that includes the flight (from $ 650). Then you fill out a quick survey and tick off a list of things you like: craft beer, live music, comedy clubs, outdoor activities, and more. Pack Up + Go selects a destination, book all your trips and create a list of recommendations that you can use on a Google Maps app. The company also offers day by day routes.

The trips are all two nights, three days long, and Rafson tries to keep the journey time under four hours. If someone leaves Boston, we are not going to send them to San Diego because they would be spending the whole weekend on the plane, ”she explains.

Traveler Megan Moore traveled to Nashville. (Courtesy of Megan Moore)

Travelers receive an information packet in the mail, telling them what time to get to the airport and some information to help them pack. A sealed envelope reveals the destination. Most people wait until they get to the airport to open it and know where they’re going (although some take a look earlier).

This is when the fun begins.

“We loved the element of surprise, and not knowing where we were going until the day we left“Says Megan Moore, who traveled to Nashville.”The suggestions, sample itineraries, map and accommodations were perfect. “

Pack Up + Go eschews more obvious choices like New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, believing these are places people would plan trips on their own. “We send clients to bigger cities like Chicago or Miami, but my favorite trips are mid-sized or small cities: Portland, Maine or Burlington, Vermont,” says Rafson. “Every city has a lot to offer. We offer cities that people don’t necessarily seek organically. a chance to shine. “

One of her favorite choices is Salt Lake City, thanks to all its outdoor activities, rich history, craft beer industry and booming restaurant scene. “A lot of people said, ‘I opened my envelope and wasn’t sure what to expect,’ but they had a blast,” Rafson says.

Pack Up + Go targets a range of ages and demographics: family trips, girls’ getaways, etc. “We’ve had two women who have been best friends for 45 years traveling together, we’ve had recent retirees, many 20+, also mother-daughter trips.”

A Based in Dallas father and 8 year old son wanted to take a trip for Father’s Day, and San Diego was the perfect choice. “There is a large aquarium and many parks and museums suitable for families,” Rafson explains.

One of the highlights was when a couple from New Jersey took advantage of their trip to Miami to get engaged. “I had no idea this was going to happen, I had no idea he was planning this”, Rafson said.

Rafson says she comes from an entrepreneurial background – both of her parents are small business owners – and took business and finance courses while she was a student at New York University. But she learned almost everything on the job: “I’m still learning a lot of lessons about entrepreneurship and owning a business, especially when it comes to all the fringe operational things that you don’t consider when you think, “Oh, I’m going to start a travel agency. “”

She encountered surprising obstacles due to her age. “One very simple thing that no one explains to you is dealing with the banks and getting a higher credit limit,” says Rafson. “There are some fundamental aspects of business that are a little more difficult as a youngster.”

But she believes that people of her generation still have a remarkable sense of fearlessness and adventure when it comes to building businesses and taking risks like this. “I guess it’s a “What’s the worst that can happen; if not now when? ‘ If I don’t do this now when I’m 23, have no children, and have no mortgage, there will never be another time in my life that I can take such a big risk. “

She also points out that technology has made it easier to start a business with resources such as

square space
, MailChimp, and QuickBooks. “It allows a person like me who doesn’t necessarily have any coding and web development, accounting or marketing background to do each of those things a little better,” she says.

And as a woman, she also discovered an incredible amount of support. “I discovered that there are a lot of events specifically aimed at women starting businesses so that they can meet and exchange ideas. I found this to be a gateway to opportunities, although it could also be industry specific – travel versus finance or real estate.

So far, Pack Up + Go has generated a lot of buzz: Shark aquarium has contacted Rafson, and a television production company wants to create a show around the idea. But for now, it’s kept small and practical so that she can focus on helping travelers have an amazing vacation.

Want more great travel ideas? To verify “The 33 cheapest places to travel in 2018. “

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