The Rise of the ‘Surprise Travel’ Agency

by Daine Taylor
The Rise of the ‘Surprise Travel’ Agency

Surprise travel agencies are removing the stress associated with planning a trip and providing a sense of wonder, spontaneity, and exploration. Photo: 

All across America, people are gearing up for summer and planning their vacations.  According to a recent AAA Travel survey, nearly 100 million Americans – 4 in 10 U.S. adults – are planning to take a family vacation in 2019, slightly more than last year. But increasingly, people are looking to not just travel to different destinations, but to go on adventures. That is where companies like Pack Up + Go come into the picture.

Pack Up + Go was started in February of 2016, to provide an alternative to more traditional travel arrangements by incorporating the element of surprise into a  vacation —  simultaneously removing the stress associated with planning a trip and providing a sense of wonder, spontaneity, and exploration.

“I definitely think that the trend we’re seeing right now is that people are interested in having more memorable experiences,” said Corinne Hogge, director of marketing for Pack Up + Go. “We’ve seen a ton of interest in more experiential activities on trips. [They’re] not just going to a restaurant; they want to take on a cooking class, you know, really getting their hands dirty.

“Part of the reason Lillian Rafson, the founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go, wanted to start this was sort of the fact that, as an adult, you don’t really get to be surprised all that often. It kind of makes you feel like a kid again.”

Here’s how it works
Vacation-goers decide how they’d like to travel (road trip, by plane, etc.). Then they decide how many people are going on the trip (solo, couple, family, etc.). Next, they decide on their budget for the trip, and then the website takes them to a pre-trip survey.

“That’s where we really get to know all of the information about you,” said Hogge.

The survey poses a variety of questions, from their previous travel history, to their personal interests. The more information they provide on the pre-trip survey, the better agents can cater this trip to match their expectations. “We need customers and travelers to let us know what they want to do and see,” said Hogge.

Most of the communication between the company and their clients is done remotely. But rest assured, if you’ve booked surprise travel arrangements, you’re not on your own. There are customer service representatives available anytime, day or night, to help assist travelers in any way they can. 

“In addition to our normal 9-5 customer service, we have someone available to talk to customers 24/7,” said Hogge. “We really want to be a resource for our travelers, so they know they’re not in this alone. And while we may never get the chance to meet them, we want them to think of us as a resource, someone that they can reach out to.”

The most important factors to arranging a surprise trip are the budget, travel dates, and personal interests. “Those three things will help us narrow down and get an initial idea of what places we think would be best suited for your interests, and then from there, it becomes more of a logistical puzzle,” said Hogge.

In each trip destination, Pack Up + Go designs an itinerary that is based on the traveler’s interests. “There’s usually between 40-50 recommendations on those itineraries, because we do want this to be like a pick-your-own adventure. We don’t want to lock you into things. We just want to send you off on some great recommendations. So, sometimes the feedback is, ‘We went to this specific recommendation and it was so amazing. You should tell everyone to go there.’ We just love hearing that.”

In addition to your departure date, they also ask about the last couple of trips clients have been on, as well as any upcoming trips, and if there are any cities that they frequently visit.

Every aspect of the itinerary is designed from scratch for each traveler, providing a unique and customized travel schedule that promises to be as enjoyable as it was unexpected.

“If somebody said that they really don’t like live music or wild night life, we know right off the bat that New Orleans really isn’t going to be the right destination for them … Also, we do want to send people to new places they’ve never been to before, which is why we ask for their travel history and any other trips they already have planned, so we can take those destinations off the table.”

The company also handles client accommodations. “If you are flying or taking a train, then we’ll purchase those tickets for you, as well. And after we purchase those guaranteed items, if there’s money left over in the budget, we will purchase what we call ‘add-ons’ for the trip.”

Add-ons can include gift cards, ride shares, tickets to events, dinner arrangements, museum admissions, and more. “The survey, and specifically the ‘anything else we need to know’ section are really valuable for determining what we think will be the best add-ons to purchase for somebody. We love to do it whenever the budget allows,” said Hogge.

Looking to the future
While the “surprise travel” format might not be to everyone’s liking, it is steadily gaining in popularity, allowing clients to take a more hands-off approach to their travel arrangements.

“A lot of people make the assumption that only Millennials are going on surprise trips. And while we do have a lot of Millennial travelers, we’ve been really thrilled to see pretty wide diversity among our travelers,” said Hogge. 

“Resoundingly, the majority of our feedback is positive. People are often pleasantly surprised by the destinations we send them to. We really want to get people to try a place they may not have thought about visiting. A lot of our feedback is, ‘Oh wow! I never would’ve thought to go there.’”

As more and more people get to feel the enjoyment that comes from being surprised by a travel experience or a destination, more “surprise travel” companies may spring up.

“I think, across the industry, we’ll see that trend continue, and I think that surprise travel will continue to grow in popularity because people are busy nowadays, and it’s really nice sometimes to book a trip and not have to think about it again until you get that envelope a week before your trip,” said Hogge.

“We’ve removed that stress from the equation. All you have to do is pack up and go.”

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