Mystery trips – where you pay an agency to organize your vacation and don’t find out the destination until the last minute – have been a niche section of the travel industry for a number of years. With travel gradually returning to some countries, they’re betting on people wanting to shake up their routine and embrace spontaneity after many months of staying at home.
Lonely Planet reader Markus Wittich from Germany is a very frequent traveler, racking up 18 trips in 2019 alone. After more than a year of staying at home, the idea of holiday where he doesn’t know the destination is extra-appealing to him right now.
“That Groundhog Day feeling is real! We’ve been stuck at home for over a year and it feels like every day has been kind of the same. Since there haven’t been many – or any – pleasant surprises throughout the pandemic, a surprise trip could be a fun idea to visit places that haven’t been on your radar before.”
For river cruise company Uniworld, that bet is already paying off. A 10-day Mystery River Cruise in June quickly sold out and a September voyage is on the horizon. CEO Ellen Bettridge confirmed to Lonely Planet the original idea actually came from their customers.
“Our guests communicated that they’re willing to travel anywhere to get back out there and explore the world again as vaccines began rolling out and the light at the end of the tunnel finally neared. We created the Mystery Cruise with that sentiment in mind, to spoil our guests and provide them with a surprise trip of a lifetime with all details and decisions taken care of.”
But after so long being careful, are travelers ready to hand over the reins to someone else, especially when safety is still such a top priority? A quick poll of Lonely Planet readers revealed a mixed bag; 21% said they would be more likely to take a mystery trip now but 27% of people said they would be less likely, expressing concerns of safety or the possibility of being exposed to COVID variants despite being vaccinated. But others were tempted by the novelty. Rachel Van Raan-Welch, a reader from New York City is torn.
“I LOVE the idea of a mystery trip, and especially after being more or less on lockdown for the past year, I’m totally up for traveling anywhere right now. But that’s in a hypothetical world in which COVID suddenly totally disappeared. In reality, it’s hard to know when ‘after the pandemic’ may be. I wouldn’t be comfortable taking a trip without knowing where I’m going or what I’m doing, and I think I’ll probably feel that way for a long time.”
Safety and reassurance are priorities of any travel company right now and established surprise travel agencies have been quietly changing up their offerings. Netherlands-based Srprs.me expanded their themed vacation packages to include self-guided road trips in 2020. As travel slowly returns to Europe, spokesperson Anneke told Lonely Planet that road trips remain the top choice for their customers.
“We only send our travelers to safe destinations, so there’s no need to stay updated on the travel advice to decide where to go; we do that for them. I think that people definitely still have an appetite for the mystery [and] spontaneous element, but under the current circumstances they prefer the more ‘safer mysteries’, such as our road trips closer to home.”
Of course, there’s another big reason why many seasoned travelers want to try out a mystery trip and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. “I sometimes plan out my trips too much by researching all the restaurants, museums and sights that I absolutely want to visit,” Markus says. “This can sometimes eliminate the opportunity to being spontaneous. Not knowing the destination before you arrive at the airport forces you to keep an open mind and to go with the flow.”
“Please sign me up!” he adds.
5 mystery trips you can book right now
A surprise travel agency specializing in domestic US vacation packages. After a personalized survey, they’ll send you to a mid-size US city with a list of curated recommendations. Since COVID, they also have a Staycation option to explore closer to home.
Embracing the hyper-local, this Canadian company specializes in creating itineraries around Ontario. They are all self-guided which means it’s a great budget option when you really want someone else to do all the planning for you. They are expanding their offerings to trips starting from Vancouver soon.
A 10-day river cruising experience, the first voyage in June this year has already sold out and a second date added in September due to popular demand. Everything is included in the price and you’ll be sent a detailed recommended packing list beforehand, One thing you’ll need for definite is your passport.
With departure airports in Europe, this company specializes in city breaks and has a few different themes that you can choose from or you can specifically request them to send you somewhere new. Self-guided road trip itineraries are also available from the UK, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Departing from the UK, Spain, Germany and more, this is a straightforward surprise platform where they will set you up with a flight and a hotel. There is no option to customise with your interests though you can veto a few places during your booking process.