Pack Up and Go
My husband has recently, to my utter delight, become enthralled with the idea of weekend getaways. You know, now that we've been married six years and have preschoolers. (I've always loved to travel; he hasn't. But I'm happy our first six years were spent buying a house and paying down debt.)
He turns 30 in April and I would love to get us a weekend away for his birthday. I've been looking at Pack Up and Go, a surprise travel agency (you give them money, they tell you what kind of weather to pack for, and you find out upon arrival at the airport/train station/whatever where you're going). But their prices start at $650 per person if you don't drive and only cover transport and hotel. I'm in the Portland area, so I feel a road trip option wouldn't make a lot of sense (there's almost nowhere within a half-day's drive except Seattle, which we're planning to do for my 30th birthday and our seven-year anniversary, both in September; and the coast, which neither of us would be keen to visit in April).
1) Is this a reasonable amount to pay for a weekend trip?
2) Anyone used Pack Up and Go?
3) Any suggestions for less expensive ways to celebrate? Would it be cheaper if I planned my own vacation?
4) Anyone from the PNW have ideas for travel that I might not have thought of? We definitely wouldn't want to be gone more than 3 or maaaybe 4 days, so I feel even a train trip to San Francisco (which we would both enjoy) is a bit out of reach.
A few months ago, I took my daughter away for four midweek nights in Sept. to the beach for her 30th (we live in TX). It cost me about $1200. The largest expense was a condo I rented. It was midweek and off season and cost less than $700 for 4 nights. I usually budget $100/day for meals and drinks for both of us.
If I were you, I would plan my own vacation. I am probably too much of a control freak to book blindly. I would check out some discount sites like travelzoo, maybe Costco, etc.
So, PU&G, from what I can tell, specialises in 3-day (2 night, assumption) excursions. $650 per person for a multi-person, three-day, bus-train-plane excursion sounds like a LOT, and it could be if all you got was bus fare to Dubuque for a Hampton Inn "adventure"... but it's really not that much more than if you were to book fares/stays yourself, IMO. I do tend to try and get "Deals" on my travel accommodations. I shop around for fares. I look for the least expensive gas prices within a certain radius, and I pack my own meals.
Yes, you could pay less, if you rolled your own.
But what you are really paying for here is having someone else do all the work, including the planning. You are paying for the surprise. Could it be a bad surprise? Yes, sure. But it also sounds like it could be just the ticket 😜, ahem, for folks who are always planning, doing, organizing, budgeting... you're paying NOT to budget. And yes, you can budget for that.
I'm so glad to have learned about this service. I personally have some go-to places that I tend to haunt in off-season (Provincetown, Mass. in Winter is eerily beautiful... to ME... but I'd be less happy with a winter skiing adventure...) it sounds like from the questionnaire you have to fill out, it's less likely that you'll get something/somewhere you WILL hate... but there's a chance you might be disappointed, unless you can both see it as an adventure, a lark, an experiment. If you think your husband or you wouldn't be comfortable with this level of risk, then I'd plan my own...
Might I suggest looking into a B&B stay on the cost or in the mountains? For a 1/2 day drive, Whistler/Blackcombe is within reach, as is the Shasta area of California. You could also go to Seattle, turn left and take a ferry to the peninsula or the San Juan islands, or maybe take the Victoria, BC cruise boat.
While we live in Colorado, we are both from Seattle. We've done dozen of overnight/weekend trips in the PNW area, including Canon Beach and other sleepy town areas on the coast. Most importantly, vacation is about the journey, not the destination. 😀
I'm not a fan of the beach (and I go to Cannon Beach and Seaside all the time anyway), and my husband isn't too fond of water activities, which rules out Shasta.
When I told him he was getting a vacation for his birthday, the convo went like this: "I've been saving for a vacation. Basically, the money is yours, though. You can spend it on something, we can do our own planning, go to Disneyland [our usual vacation spot], or we can try the surprise vacation. Your birthday, your choice."
Knowing we wouldn't get as much bang for each buck, he chose the surprise. His birthday is tomorrow and our trip is booked for the end of the month. I'll definitely check back in with a verdict of if it was worth it.
We ended up going to Denver. Here's some quick narration:
A week before we left, we got our weather report via email. Thanks to highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s, we were already pretty sure that Denver (or maybe Salt Lake City) was our destination, but managed not to peek at the envelope that came in the mail a day later. The email with the weather report told us what time to be at the airport and what time we would arrive home on Tuesday. It also told us to pack walking shoes, an empty stomach, and a camera because we were visiting a city with a lot to see, a lot of good food to eat, and natural beauty, respectively.
The night before we left, we were checked into our flight, but the email with our boarding passes had DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOU'VE OPENED YOUR ENVELOPE in the title, so we were good and didn't. Once at the airport we sat down and opened our envelope to make sure we got to the right gate for boarding.
Denver it was!
Once through security and to our gate with some breakfast (we had an early flight), we looked through the packet. From what I could tell, they likely send the same sort of packet to everyone. There was a sheet with a bullet-point list of fun facts about the city, then a couple pages with a suggested itinerary. They had booked dinner and a comedy show for us that night, and gave us a $75 gift card to cover dinner, plus a confirmation email for the show.
We also had a $50 Uber gift card, which they recommended using to get to the Red Rocks Amphitheater and trails and back.
The hotel we stayed at was as they told us: right in the middle of things, with plenty of places to walk to. Thanks to a mishap at the hotel with communication between maintenance and the front desk, we ended up getting upgraded to a suite, which was kind, unnecessary, and entirely unrelated to Pack Up & Go. But we weren't about to complain.
That afternoon we explored a bit and took a bus to the Denver Zoo.
Dinner was excellent and way fancier than we would have picked for ourselves. $75 covered two entrees and an appetizer for us fairly easily, but we left gratuity separately. The comedy show was a lot of fun, but they had a two-item-per-person minimum and we didn't have a gift card or anything to cover that.
While their recommendation was to get to Red Rocks to see the sunrise (and it probably would've been beautiful), we decided one 4am wake-up call was plenty. We ate at an amazing restaurant for breakfast that was only a block or so from our hotel. Then we took an Uber up to Red Rocks. Gorgeous, and we hiked a 1.5-mile trail that was beautiful, if difficult, especially on my dumb bum knee, but worth it. We ate lunch at their restaurant there, then went into town to watch a movie. (a rare treat for us, with two preschoolers at home.)
That evening was full of mishaps that make the best stories later, including ending up walking through a downpour without jackets to reach a local concert we'd decided to see and accidentally eating at the wrong restaurant. It was... interesting. And I wasn't even in a bad mood. I laughed the whole walk through the rain, and my husband I think thought I was doing the "laughing instead of crying" thing, but really I thought it was hilarious.
Our flight left at 3 on Tuesday, so our day started with breakfast at a diner, then a trip to the local bookshop, then straight onto the train to get back to the airport. As I got off the train to get to the terminal, I caught a couple snowflakes on my tongue. The next time I was outside it was 78 degrees and mostly sunny. Which was a weird feeling but a good trip.
Accidentally went a little over budget because I forgot to account for paying for airport parking upon our return when looking at how much money we had left to spend. Oops. I guess this is why I usually use a separate "vacation" budget within YNAB, so I can break things down by expenses. Oh well.
tl;dr: Had a great experience. Definitely could have done it cheaper ourselves but the excitement of finding out where we were going and not having to do any of our own planning. Plus we got to try some things we never would have before (like eating at a fancy-ish restaurant). I'd recommend as an indulgence rather than a budget trip.