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The Short Version: Lillian Rafson was backpacking around Europe when she learned about a European travel company that planned surprise vacations. She couldn’t think of anything similar that existed in the United States, so Lillian founded Pack Up + Go, a company that plans three-day trips complete with hotel rooms and activities while keeping the destination a secret. Couples looking to spice up their travels can set preferences and describe their interests, and Pack Up + Go takes care of the details and sends them on an unexpected journey.
Most couples don’t get married in the airport right before they embark on a vacation. However, one couple ready to begin a Pack Up + Go surprise trip transformed their vacation into a minimoon by eloping just before their flight.
“We had two women on a couples trip get married in the airport in their hometown right before departing for the trip,” said Lillian Rafson, CEO and Founder of Pack Up + Go.
Much like that wedding, Pack Up + Go is all about delivering the unexpected. The company plans trips for singles, couples, and families with one significant twist: Travelers don’t choose their destination. Each trip is three-days long, so clients more easily cede control of their travel-planning.
Travel is a proven way to keep romance alive, and couples may find these adventures even more exciting because they rarely get to be surprised together. While one person may throw a surprise party or purchase a spur-of-the-moment gift for a special someone, most occasions don’t involve that same level of excitement for both.
“We’ve had a number of travelers say the most fun part is the element of surprise,” Lillian said.
However, Pack Up + Go isn’t going to send a couple who primarily enjoy museums and fine dining to an outdoorsy city full of hiking activities. Couples give the company’s planners plenty of information, including travel dates, preferences, and interests, so they’re sure to embark on an enjoyable excursion.
“Our team comes from backgrounds in event planning, travel, the service industry, and event coordination and logistics,” Lillian said. “So much of this is about interacting with travelers, and a real person is planning the trip.”
In 2015, Lillian quit her job to backpack around the Baltic Coast of Europe. At a hostel there, she met two women who’d been sent on the excursion by a surprise European travel company.
“I’d never heard of the concept before,” she told us.
The idea got Lillian thinking. She’d visited so many cities overseas, but she’d never seen much of the United States. “I made it all the way to Europe without visiting Denver or Charleston, all these cities in my own backyard,” she said.
From that realization, Pack Up + Go was born.
Once a client signs up, the company’s planners get to work finding American cities that fit their interests. For example, if a couple likes craft beer and the outdoors, they might be headed to Denver. If they like museums and history, they might board a flight destined for Boston.
“Some romantic cities are Savannah or Charleston, but we love to send travelers to San Francisco or Philadelphia,” Lillian said. “Philly is a hidden gem, and couples are taken aback by how much they love the City of Brotherly Love.”
Travelers also have a choice of whether they want to drive or fly to their destination, which helps Pack Up + Go land on their surprise destination.
Lillian offers one thing to keep in mind about the company’s destinations.
“We focus on urban getaways. If you’re looking for a secluded getaway in the cabin in the woods, we’re not the company for you,” she said.
When Lillian was picturing Pack Up + Go’s target audience, she thought the most likely demographic would be free-spirited millennials with some disposable income and vacation days. While that demographic makes up some of the company’s clientele, 90% of its business comes from couples traveling together.
“They’re looking for a new element to heighten their travel experience,” Lillian said.
The average age of a Pack Up + Go client is 35, with most travelers in their early 30s. Though the company’s client base may skew to the younger side, couples of all ages have been taking advantage of the spontaneity it provides.
“Our first five-time client is a couple from Ohio in their 70s,” Lillian said. “And they love the element of surprise.”
A week before the trip, travelers receive an email with some general details. These include a weather forecast for the destination, recommended items to pack, luggage restrictions, and instructions on the time and transportation hub where the travelers will go to begin the trip.
Then, a few days before their departure, an envelope with the destination and a recommended itinerary will arrive. Couples are not supposed to open this envelope yet, not until they arrive at the assigned start destination.
“We plan these trips all day, every day, so we have insights that a couple that doesn’t travel wouldn’t choose,” Lillian said.
In addition to specifying the kinds of activities they enjoy, couples choose how much they’re willing to spend on the trip per person. Depending on budget, Pack Up + Go can plan different types of activities, and add amenities, including upgraded hotel rooms or fine dining reservations. The typical client aims to spend $750 to $850 per person.
“A nice dinner reservation or a couples massage can help make a trip a little more memorable,” Lillian said.
Couples can note if they’re celebrating a special occasion, a frequent occurrence for many travelers. Some are empty-nesters looking to reconnect after their children have moved out of the house. Others have received the trip as an engagement or wedding gift from family or friends. Still, others are preparing for anniversaries, babymoon trips, or parent getaways.
“It’s half matchmaking and half logic puzzle,” Lillian said with a laugh. “Are there hotels available? Are there flights there? That’s when the logistics get a little bit tricky.”
The main benefit for couples booking a trip through Pack Up + Go is that they don’t have to plan anything. Instead, they can look forward to connecting with each other as three days of transportation, activities, restaurants, and hotels are booked for them.
“Couples who plan vacations often stress over choosing the hotel or planning the itinerary,” Lillian said. “We keep the romance alive by helping them focus on enjoying the trip.”
Pack Up + Go helps infuse a spirit of adventure into a relationship. After all, sharing unique experiences is a great way for couples to keep the romance alive. “Finding the joy in the surprise together is exciting, and adults don’t get a lot of surprises,” Lillian told us.
Pack Up + Go is coming up with new ways to create packages for travelers. The company is considering ways to offer extended trip options, different formats, and multi-city trips.
“It feels really special to know how travelers look back on these trips, and it’s amazing to see that we’ve impacted their lives like that,” Lillian said.