Lillian Rafson Pack Up + Go

Just Pack Up + Go!

Lillian Rafson is absolutely a Woman to Watch! I met this go-getter at Wanderfest earlier this year, and was so impressed by her brilliant business planning surprise vacations for groups, families, and individuals within the United States. Check out this blog for more of her amazing story of bootstrapping her way to a very successful (and super intriguing) business that shares the love of exploring off the beaten path in our diverse and beautiful country.

Learn more at www.packupgo.com, and on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.


First things first – what would your walk-on-stage music be?

September by Earth Wind & Fire! I love to dance, and it’s impossible to listen to that song and not want to move.

Tell us about your business and what makes you unique in your field.

Pack Up + Go is a travel brand that specializes in Surprise Vacations. We plan curated getaways around the United States, but the catch is that our travelers don’t discover their destination until the day they depart! It’s a really fun, exciting, and easy way to travel around the country. We’re the first surprise travel agency in the U.S., and are still the only agency that focuses solely on domestic vacations. 

We offer four types of trips: you can travel by Plane/Train, take a Road Trip to a city destination, take an Outdoors Road Trip, or treat yourself to a Staycation. Our travelers select their mode of transportation, travel dates, budget, and complete a Pre-Trip Survey to tell us recent + upcoming trips, hobbies + interests, dietary restrictions, any special celebrations, and anything else we need to know to plan the perfect vacation! Our team of Travel Planners takes it from there. We book your travel + accommodation, and curate recommendations for things to do in your destination that we think you’ll love based on your Pre-Trip Survey. One week before departure, we email you the weather forecast, packing tips, and where to go and when for your departure. A few days before your departure, our travelers receive a Surprise Envelope in the mail – keep it sealed! The morning of the trip, you open your Envelope to discover your destination, and you’re off! 

When did you start your business, and why did you create it?

I launched Pack Up + Go in 2016 when I was 23 years old. I had no experience as an entrepreneur or in the travel industry, but once I heard about the concept of Surprise Travel, I knew it was what I wanted to do. The concept was first introduced to me when traveling around Europe, where Surprise Travel had already taken root. It wasn’t yet in the United States, and I started to think about how I had personally traveled all around the world, but had never seen the vast majority of the United States. I realized that as Americans, we don’t always think of places in our backyard as a vacation destination, even though U.S. cities have so much to offer! I was eager to create a way to help spread the economic benefits of tourism to cities around the United States that are often overlooked by leisure travelers, while encouraging open mindedness and spontaneity among American tourists.

What do you feel makes your audience special?

Our travelers are incredible. They embark on Pack Up + Go Surprise Vacations because they want to be introduced to a new place that they wouldn’t think to visit on their own. They embody our spirit of spontaneity and adventure while keeping an open mind. We love to share real pictures of our real travelers on their vacations with our audience. As a bootstrapped business, it’s important to me that the experiences we showcase are authentic to our travelers. We also have a private online community for our past travelers to help us stay in touch with our audience and to allow our travelers to connect with each other!

Has anything surprised you about starting a business?

While Pack Up + Go is in the business of curating surprises, so much about starting a business has surprised me! It’s been an incredible journey, and I’ve learned so much. I’ve been surprised by how personal starting a business feels. The successes of the business and hearing incredible feedback from our travelers always feel like my own personal successes, and on the flip side, the challenges of the business also feel incredibly personal. Hiring employees amplifies that feeling, but I’m incredibly grateful for the community that my team and our travelers have built. I never imagined starting a business would lead to such an incredible feeling of support, so I guess that was also a big surprise for me!

Did you create your own website or hire it out? Do you use WordPress?

When I first launched the company, I built it on Squarespace. For years, all of our trips were booked and planned through Squarespace, which worked incredibly well. As our business processes became more complicated, we migrated to a custom-built platform. Modern entrepreneurs are incredibly lucky to have platforms like Squarespace, Shopify, WordPress, and Wix to help get their businesses off the ground with minimal investment in technology!

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?

Go for it! It’s an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience that I would not change for the world. As you get started, be careful to not let your planning turn into procrastination. There are always going to be things that you can’t plan for, so stay agile and get started!

Is this your only job? Did you launch your business while working another job?

Yes, Pack Up + Go is my only job. I had just quit my full-time job when I decided to start the company, but I worked at a bar for two years as the business was growing. I would plan trips all day, go to the bar afterwards, and run down to the basement to check travelers in for flights or take traveler calls in the back alley. It was exhausting, but it meant that I was able to save money to hire employees earlier since I wasn’t paying myself from the business at first. 

How do you promote your site?

As a bootstrapped business, we’ve always been creative with our marketing! When I was launching the business, we couldn’t invest in paid ads. Instead, we made our travelers our influencers and shared their photos and videos from their Surprise Vacations with our audience. They would share on their profiles, as well, which helped grow our audience organically.

I also strongly believe in the power of collaboration and partnerships, and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to partner with incredible brands like Ford, Mailchimp, Thrillist, and more! It’s been a great way to promote both partners while sharing the joy of Surprise Travel.

What is an influential book that you’ve read lately?

My favorite book for those thinking about launching a business is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I think it’s important to remember that your business doesn’t have to be perfect right when you’re getting started. What’s most important is that you keep an open mind and are actively looking to improve as you grow! Starting with your MVP and growing from there is the best thing you can do for your business.

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