Would You Dare To Go On A Surprise-Destination Vacation?

Imagine packing your suitcase and turning up at the airport not knowing where you're going to spend the next few days. For some of you, this probably sounds like an amazing adventure. For others, especially the planners out there, the idea of giving up control over your precious vacation time may sound like a nightmare. So, is a surprise vacation a dream trip or a holiday from hell?

Let's back up a little. How does a surprise vacation work? You tell a surprise vacation company your budget, some preferences, who's traveling, and how you want to travel, and that company will plan your trip. They'll book your transport and accommodations, and give you a list of recommended things to do where you're going.

But, what if you pack only bathing suits and then end up in Montana in January? That's not going to happen. You're not left totally in the dark during the planning process. Every company is different, but Pack Up + Go, one of the best-known ones in the U.S., gives you some information in advance. You'll know what kind of weather to expect, receive a suggested packing list, and be informed of where you need to go and when (not the destination, just for example, LAX at 8:00 a.m. on Monday). Pack Up + Go and Whym, another company that sells these types of vacations, currently offer trips within the U.S. only, so you won't end up overseas, but Montana in January is a possibility if that's what you're into.

The good

There are lots of pros to booking a surprise destination vacation. Firstly, you get to go somewhere you haven't been before (if you fill out the survey fully) and somewhere you might never have thought of going either. The joy of travel is often in the wonder of being in a completely new place and discovering the unknown. Secondly, it's just plain exciting; if you're the kind of person who loves a spontaneous adventure, then opening an envelope telling you where you're going on the day you leave is thrilling.

Thirdly, you don't have to do any of the planning. There's no trawling through booking sites trying to weigh up the pros and cons of this or that hotel, no wrangling with the airlines, and no arguments between you and your travel companions about where to go. It's a stress-free way to travel. There are tons of positive reviews of the companies that organize these trips all over the internet backing up these points, with phrases like "amazing experience," "loved it," and "had a great time."

The bad, and the ugly

However, there are quite a few points to consider before you take the plunge. Firstly, if you hate ceding control, these services probably aren't for you. Next, many people on Reddit and Tripadvisor have issues with the prices, saying that a similar trip would be quite a bit cheaper if booked independently. Part of what you pay is for someone to organize the trip, so you need to weigh up if that's worth it for you.

Other Redditors had issues with the accommodations, mentioning that they weren't in an area that they'd have chosen or that they were far too large, and that too much of the budget was allocated there. There are also complaints about the activities that were paid for in advance: for some travelers, these activities weren't what they would have chosen to spend their money on.

Travelers have also pointed out that leaving the destination as a complete surprise might result in a lot of frantic, last-minute web searching at the airport to find reservations for things you want to do, and then being disappointed by the lack of availability. Basically, you should have booked in advance, which you couldn't do. To fully enjoy this kind of trip, you might need to spoil the surprise a little: this means opening the envelope with your destination in it earlier than you're supposed to, and spending a few days before you leave researching. The best way to do a surprise vacation could be to slightly eliminate the element of surprise.