Pack Up + Go surprises its clients with their vacation destination, delivering an envelope right before departure that contains their itinerary.
Pack Up + Go surprises its clients with their vacation destination, delivering an envelope right before departure that contains their itinerary.

Most travel agents pride themselves on working closely with clients to carefully help them plan the vacation of their dreams. But one company, Pack Up + Go, is taking a different approach: It sends clients to surprise destinations.

The final travel objective is only revealed at the last minute, when clients are ready to go.

Pack Up + Go has been sending clients on surprise trips since the beginning of the year, and the concept is proving popular, said Eric Johnson, director of business development.

“The response has been incredibly positive,” Johnson said. “People love the suspense and not knowing, and so often they’re saying, ‘I never would have thought to explore this city on my own.’”

Pack Up + Go specializes in three-day, two-night vacations. Interested travelers visit its website and pick the type of trip they want, with options for a solo or multi-person party as well as whether they want to travel by plane, train or bus (this is one option) or take a road trip.

Travelers tell Pack Up + Go the types of vacations and activities they like, where they’ve been recently and any planned trips as well as travel dates, and the two-person team of Johnson and founder Lillian Rafson takes care of the rest. Pack Up + Go’s host agency is OutsideAgents.com.

A week before travel, Johnson said, clients get a heads-up about the weather forecast at their destination and must-pack items (such as a bathing suit or hiking boots). They receive an envelope to be opened when they arrive at the predetermined airport, train or bus station or when they’re about to leave on their road trip.

According to Johnson, travel times will never be more than three to four hours regardless of the mode of transportation. Currently, Pack Up + Go is focused only on domestic locations.

“We’re such a young company, and we’d love to be able to expand sometime down the road,” he said. “But for now, we’re still trying to make sure that everything’s running smoothly here back home before we broaden our horizons.”

Many clients are couples, and they span all ages, but Johnson said solo travelers make up about one-fifth of the company’s clients. Friends groups are also in the mix.

Two recent clients, Johnson said, were a couple in their 50s from just outside Cleveland. They filled out Pack Up + Go’s survey with a number of destinations they had recently been to as well as their planned trips, and “all of those were immediately off the table, because we don’t want to send them places they’ve already been or are planning on going to,” Johnson said.

The couple said they enjoy hole-in-the-wall restaurants, live music, food markets, easy hikes and the outdoors.

With their budget and interests in mind, Pack Up + Go sent them to Minneapolis for the Minnesota State Fair — full of food and live music — and the surrounding lakes for outdoor activities.

Lillian Rafson
Lillian Rafson

The idea for Pack Up + Go was born when Rafson was traveling in Eastern Europe and met fellow travelers on a surprise trip. She came back to the U.S. and got working on a similar concept, with a focus on American cities as the destinations.

“We do have so many great destinations right here, and I come from a family of small-business owners,” she said. “So I was really excited when building this about highlighting all the small businesses and the local economies that really benefit from tourism that are normally overlooked.”

In the future, Johnson said Pack Up + Go might add a few more agents to its team if the demand dictates. But for now, the company prides itself on its “mom-and-pop-shop feel” and giving trips a personal touch.

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