Lillian Rafson was just 23 years old when she quit her office job to travel up the Baltic Coast from Poland through Estonia and around Eastern Europe. She’d grown up traveling with her family, had studied abroad and, therefore, didn’t have too many apprehensions about just packing up and going.
“I’ve always felt that I become the best version of myself when I’m traveling; I’m more open-minded, curious, adventurous,” she said. “Traveling is somewhat addicting to me, which is why I never really thought twice about leaving my job to do so. Sure, I was maybe a little stressed about not having a set plan for my return, but I knew that I would be able to make it work one way or another.”
Unbeknownst to her at the time, she’d figure it out by launching her own venture. Rafson, who’d just returned from a hospital visit for food poisoning in Riga, Latvia, was catching up on her emails back at the hostel. Amidst her inbox, she was given the choice to renew her New York City apartment lease, but had just hours left to decide. Opting to sleep on it, she began chatting with two sisters from Amsterdam in the hostel’s lobby. When she asked them what brought them to Riga, they told her that they’d come on a surprise trip planned by the Dutch company srprs.me. It was in that moment that Rafson’s mind was made: She’d give up her New York City life to pursue a life of travel and her own stateside flash travel company, Pack Up + Go.
The premise: Rafson’s clients first choose whether they want to road trip on their own or travel by plane, train or bus—all destinations are within three to four hours away. They then send in their budgets ($400/person for road-trippers and $650/person for those taking public transportation) and travel dates and answer a series of questions regarding their travel preferences, restrictions, interests and detail about their last few trips in an effort to avoid ending up some place they’ve just been. A week before their departure, they receive an email with the weather forecast for their secret destination, a recommended packing list, any luggage size restrictions and instructions on where and when to go to catch their transportation. A few days prior, they’ll also be mailed directions to their accommodations and a city guide with a curated list of recommendations—not to be opened until they leave. All Rafson’s clients have to do is pack up and go, just as she did at 23.
“At the end of the day, we want to promote open-mindedness and a willingness to explore a place you may not choose for yourself,” she said.
I caught up with Rafson to learn more about the company, her own experiences and her advice for other women with wanderlust to kick off our very own collaboration! Head on over to Pack Up + Go’s blog every other week (and more, of course!) for travel inspiration from Rafson, her clients and me!
Aside from the fact that the trips are a complete surprise, what makes an experience with Pack Up + Go inimitable?
Perhaps my favorite aspects of Pack Up + Go are the itineraries and city guides we put together for our travelers. Yes, your destination is the primary surprise, but I think that the recommendations we send our travelers offer a secondary surprise throughout their trips. We work with locals in our destinations to compile vetted recommendations. I know that when people visit my hometown, Pittsburgh, I want to make sure they have the best possible time. I can’t wait to give recommendations for restaurants, bars, cafes and museums. I want people to love my city as much as I do. Tapping into this hometown pride is what sets our itineraries apart from random searches for restaurants on Trip Advisor and Yelp.
Why did you decide to focus solely on domestic travel—at least for now?
The decision to focus on domestic travel was multifaceted. For one, it’s a matter of comfort and safety for our travelers—even though you don’t know where you’ll travel, you know that you will still be able to use your phone, speak the language, use the same currency and, generally, know how to navigate. Even though you’re in a new city, there is still a level of familiarity with the culture. I think the domestic parameter puts a nice boundary and comfort on the element of surprise.
The decision was also fueled by my own failure to see the United States as a travel destination. Having spent a considerable amount of time traveling overseas, I’m guilty of opting to explore another country before exploring another state. A few days after my first encounter with surprise travel in Latvia, I met a group of Australians who had just spent a year traveling the States. As we exchanged travel stories, they asked about my favorite destinations in the U.S. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had traveled around Estonia, but had never been to South Carolina… or Colorado, or the majority of states, for that matter. This raised a larger question for me–what is it about our home that makes it too familiar? I’ve never considered myself a particularly patriotic person, but suddenly I was inspired to explore more of the U.S. and to encourage others to do so, as well. I come from a family of small business-owners and know firsthand that tourism has an incredible impact on local economies. The thought of spreading the economic benefits of tourism around lesser-known domestic destinations really excited me, as well.
Do you have any ideas as to why more than half of the travelers booking through Pack Up + Go are women?
While I don’t have any hard evidence to back me up, I do have some ideas. It seems to me there’s more of a culture around girls’ weekends. We receive a decent number of orders for groups of women who have an annual tradition of taking a trip together. Also, despite the media hype around the dangers of women traveling alone, there seems to be a lot of support for female travelers. On Facebook, for example, there’s a group called “Girls Love Travel”—it’s an active community of 250,000 members who act as a support system for women who, you guessed it, love to travel.
As a woman with experience globetrotting, what are some reasons you’d encourage other women to choose your company’s solo package?
Whether it’s with Pack Up + Go or not, I would encourage everyone to take at least one trip by themselves. It’s a great way to challenge yourself—eating at a restaurant alone can be daunting, asking a stranger to take a picture of you can be humbling and learning to navigate a new place on your own can be challenging. On the other hand, sightseeing at your own pace is relaxing, making new friends is rejuvenating and spending time by yourself is refreshing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about traveling as a woman?
Don’t let fear hold you back. Always make sure a friend or family member knows the general logistics of when you’re traveling and where you’re staying. In the case of Pack Up + Go, you can rest assured that our team will be on call just in case anything happens while you’re away.
Are there any stigmas surrounding solo travel you’d like to see disappear?
I wish that so much media attention wasn’t spent on fear.
Any other surprises (aside from trips) that we can look forward to in terms of Pack Up + Go’s plans for the future?
To stay tuned for more (and more from me!), head on over to Pack Up + Go’s blog! Want to book a trip? Make sure you let them know you heard about it on Her Report!