PHOTO: Pack Up + Go sends clients on three-day getaways to mystery destinations, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (photo via Flickr/Ron Reiring)
As a career travel writer, Jane Lasky is always the one to take care of all the travel details. Every once in awhile, she would like to be whisked away with no worries.
“It would be nirvana,” she said. “I don't even want to know the where/what/how etc. until we arrive at the secret destination!”
It’s been Meg Charendoff’s same travel fantasy. “I want to show up at the airport with my passport and credit cards and just fly off somewhere without a plan,” she said.
European companies that plan mystery vacations have been around for a while, but there’s a new player in the states that just might make Meg and Jane happy when it’s time for their next vacation. Pack Up + Go, a Pennsylvania-based company, plans three-day surprise weekend trips around the United States for their clients.
“The idea for Pack Up + Go initially came when Lillian Rafson, the founder and CEO, was traveling around Eastern Europe and met someone who was on a surprise trip of their own,” said Eric Johnson, the Director of Business Development for Pack Up + Go.
“The idea of surprise travel had already taken root in Europe, and Lillian wanted to bring that idea back to the United States,” said Johnson. “She realized that not enough Americans think of cities in the United States as vacation destinations. We’re so quick to travel overseas and we often don’t realize that there are so many great places to visit right here in our own backyard.”
Diane Selkirk would love to do something like this on a future trip. “It really appeals to the spontaneous storyteller in me while still challenging the person who can't get to Christmas morning without peeking at her gifts,” she said.
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The company uses a variety of factors to determine where to send their travelers, including a survey that the customer fills out when they place an order.
“On this survey, they tell us what they like to do when they travel, places they’ve already visited or are planning to visit soon, and any other details about their trip preferences that they’d like us to know,” said Johnson. “The other huge factors would be their budget and their departure location.”
Regardless of the mode of transportation, Pack Up + Go tries not to send travelers any more than 3 to 4 hours away.
“We don’t want them spending half of their 3-day trip getting to and from their destination,” said Johnson. “So somebody from the east coast probably won’t be traveling all the way to the west coast, and vice versa. And with their budget, if somebody chooses a lower budget and they’re from a small city, the destination options might be limited. A higher budget opens to door to more possibilities.”
Claire Zulkey likes the idea of boundaries. “I wouldn't want to do an adventure trip, for instance,” she said.
Author Candy Harrington would love it as long as they told her what to pack. “Nothing worse than showing up at a nudist colony with a suitcase full of formal wear,” she laughs.
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The company understands that this kind of spontaneity isn’t for everyone, and even the adventurous have some concerns.
“There are things I know I wouldn't like,” said Selkirk. “No jet skis or obnoxious bars. They'd need a good checklist of likes and dislikes to customize.”
Jenna Mccarthy said the idea of someone else planning her vacation makes her itchy. “Way too much for a control freak to handle,” she said.
“What if it was close to someone I loved and I didn't reach out? I need to research! Read Yelp reviews! Pick just the right flights, including avoiding those with ominous sounding flight numbers! Obsessively obsess over every last detail. Watch the weather around the clock to make sure I packed properly. I can’t even, but I am sure it is really fun for a spontaneous people.”
Johnson understands that there are many people, like Mccarthy, who need to be in charge of the details of their trip and who really enjoy the trip planning process.
“We know that we’re not necessarily the perfect company for them,” he said. “But there are also plenty of people who hate the stress of planning vacations and would love to let somebody else take the reins—people who are open-minded and spontaneous and just want an adventure. That’s who we’re after.”