Arriving at the airport with no idea where to go, you look uncertainly at the departures board. Other than the essentials, your passport is the only item you were sure to pack. Any of the destinations on the screen above could be the one concealed in the envelope you hold in your hands. You break the seal….
Welcome to the world of surprise travel, where people leave their holiday plans to strangers in exchange for the thrill of the unknown. This small but fast-growing market has something for everyone, depending on how daring you feel. The app Lucky Trip offers random inspiration and bookings at the touch of a button, while services like Pack Up + Go will plan every detail of a weekend getaway, only revealing the destination at the last possible moment.
Studies show that the anticipation of a trip is one of the most enjoyable parts of travel. In 2010, Dutch researchers concluded that vacationers were most happy before their trip, while social scientists have been saying for years that we get an extra happiness boost if we consciously delay any type of pleasure. Since there’s no idea what to expect, it’s the ultimate form of travel masochism.
According to trend forecasters The Future Laboratory, the rise of surprise travel is a reaction to a lack of serendipity creeping into society. ‘Travel used to be a one of those things that surprise was inherently built into,’ explains The Future Laboratory’s insight editor Daniela Walker. ‘But with the rise of the internet, some of the surprise has been sucked out because you’ve already seen what Halong Bay looks like on Pinterest, or know exactly which hole-in-the-wall restaurants to visit in Lisbon thanks to a food blogger on YouTube.’
Pack Up+Go founder Lillian Rafson says convincing people to put their trust in total strangers isn’t as hard as you think. ‘The biggest success we’ve seen so far has been sharing photos from real travellers from past trips on our website and social media’, she explains. ‘Knowing that real people have used the service and have had a great time is huge! Knowing that our trips are sent [sic] to cities like Seattle, Philadelphia and New Orleans calms peoples’ nerves that they won’t be sent to Paducah, Kentucky, for example!’
But what about knowing what to pack for the weather? Culture Trip hears you ask. Customers are given as much information as possible about what to bring, including activities, without spoiling the surprise.
Building repeat custom is about getting it right on the first go, which can prove challenging for booking apps like Lucky Trip. To get around this, the app uses powerful filters to pick destinations people will love, based on very little information, sometimes simply the amount a person wants to spend. Tapping the ‘lucky’ button always throws up a host of surprising, yet carefully curated options.
‘Most people using the app are young travellers of all budgets, looking to be inspired by something unique, something they haven’t seen before’, explains Lucky Trip founder and CEO Tiff Burns. ‘Everyday our team hand picks experiences you won’t find anywhere else. So we would never show someone a trip to Paris, staying in a chain hotel and going up the Eiffel Tower… we’d much rather show a trip to Bucharest, staying in a gypsy wagon and visiting a haunted forest’.
It seems the future is bright for this small but growing market. ‘I think that the surprise trend will only become more extreme,’ says Rafson. ‘I can see other companies that offer trips à la The Amazing Race for real thrill-seekers emerge. More airlines and companies in the industry have started in the last year or so, and we’re excited to see the surprise travel concept grow!’