When I heard about the mystery trips trend, my first thought was: Surely this is the exact opposite of a bucket list?
Aside from systematically ticking off places they’ve dreamed of going – the traditional way many of us have always chosen our vacations – some travelers are now tossing caution to the wind and paying to go everywhere.
This quirky travel trend has people signing up for a vacation, usually specifying how long, active, expensive or far away they want it to be – but then letting the tour operator have total control over everything else, from destination to number of Stops and daily activities.
Last week, Norwegian specialist Up Norway announced that it is now selling mystery trips to the country. Although – surprise! – All trips are to Norway and customers choose how long they stay there, they only find out which regions, hotels and attractions they see when they arrive.
It’s riding a wave that first peaked four years ago, when bespoke tour operators looked for ways to seduce customers with unique “surprise and delight” tactics.
Wix Squared launched Mystery Places vacation packages in 2018, while Make My Day launched Mystery City Tours in 2019.
Qantas launched last spring Mystery flights to Australian destinations within a two hour radius; Start-ups such as the honeymoon specialist Blind Experiences, “Trip Matchmakers” Journee and the US company Pack Up & Go have presented similar concepts.
Srprs.me – which offers mystery city breaks from Dublin Airport and six UK airports – has seen steadily rising demand, with surprise travel spend up 14 per cent in March 2022 compared to March 2019.
However, it turns out that Up Norway’s interest in the Mystery Tour is more rooted in its homeland than meets the eye.
“In Norway we have had a concept for a long time, that is blue, means “into the blue”. It’s often a trip organized by a friend or family member and most people don’t know where they’re going or what they’re going to do,” says founder Torunn Tronsvang.
Companies routinely send their employees to a blåtur Excursion to connect without either of them having any idea where they are going.
Keeping this tradition in mind, before launching completely unexpected itineraries, Up Norway had tried shorter mystery days and excursions within its trips, such as: B. Foodie Days.
Then the last two years happened. In recent months, Tronsvang says she’s noticed a new wave of customers throwing up their hands and saying, “Surprise me.”
“People are tired of planning and failing and planning again,” she suggests. “The role of travel agent seems to be back in vogue. People want a trusted person who can give them the best recommendations and advice. Now, more than ever, they are ready to relinquish power.”
The founder of surprise travel pioneer Wix Squared, Alex Wix, agrees. Far from being a deterrent, the “everywhere” factor is suddenly a real draw.
“People just want to leave somewhere – they’re tired of not being able to fly,” she says. “People used to say, ‘I want to vacation here’ – now more and more people say, ‘Where can I go so easily?'”
Before starting her company’s mystery tours to exotic locations such as Morocco and Sri Lanka, she had experience as a destination expert with several travel companies.
“I’ve always liked to add a little surprise to itineraries. If a customer enjoys bird watching, we might put a small pair of binoculars in the room or throw in a birding excursion. So why not take it a step further?” she says.
She has perfected the art of understanding someone’s tastes before they book their itinerary.
“I’ve had some customers who didn’t want to know where they were going at all. I’d ask some kind of rapid-fire questions – coffee or tea, cats or dogs? – to get a sense of what they want.”
In extreme cases, holidaymakers only find out where their plane is flying to at the airport. The surprise factor can be increased or reduced depending on the customer’s needs.
“Sometimes it’s day by day – or really hour by hour,” explains Alex. “You might find a picnic basket outside your hotel room that says ‘take this with you’ – and then a driver will pick you up and take you somewhere, not knowing where you’re going later that afternoon.”
Of course, she says, people can request as much downtime as they like — there’s nothing stopping mystery travelers from spending a day by the pool here and there.
There is also an increased excitement element in a Mystery Journey. The start-up Blind Experiences, founded by Chiara Mascarucci, Andrea Lazzarini Viti and Fabio Prestijacopo, speaks of an “excitement curve” before his trips.
Her theory is that just before halfway through a vacation, we start thinking about the prospect of going back home and the excitement curve starts to go down. But if there are still surprises to be discovered during the journey, the curve continues upwards.
Influenced in part by a psychology book called surprise: Embrace the unpredictable and construct the unexpected by Tania Luna, the company is keeping the curve up by giving travelers a range of envelopes that can be opened well into the trip on certain dates.
“Travel has always had a certain level of mystery, no matter how well planned a trip – often it’s the unknown that adds to the excitement,” says Anneke Nijenhuis, who holds the distinguished title of Chief Surprise Officer at Srprs.me.
“For some, it’s not just the evening meal they want to leave to chance – it takes a lot of mystery to really shake off the stresses of everyday life and explore a new destination – and for others, a small dose of spontaneity is best.”
For mystery trips to work, both Tronsvang and Wix say location is key.
Norway fits a mystery tour, says Tronsvang, because it’s perceived as incredibly safe but also inherently mysterious.
Meanwhile, Wix says Morocco and Sri Lanka are suitable for this purpose because they require few domestic flights — an aspect of a tour that, surprisingly, is far more difficult and awkward to plan. In these countries you can have a driver to take your customers to their mysterious next stop.
It’s important, she adds, that you have the right people on site – be they tour guides, drivers or hotel staff – to advance the mysterious journey and release every piece of information at the right time.
At the mega-luxury end of things, tour operator Black Tomato is also getting into the mystery trip game – with a little twist. Its extreme “Get Lost” concept gives intrepid hardcore dudes a chance to test their skills by being dropped off at a mysterious location abroad.
They set off without knowing where they’re going and find themselves in a remote landscape with only a guide, compass, and essentials to find their way out.
Inspired by the saying “sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself”, trips cost from £10,000 (€12,000) or even £15,000 (€18,000).
It’s more of a mental challenge than anything: The operator says Get Lost can “help people switch off, engage in the moment, and push themselves to achieve a truly rewarding sense of satisfaction.”
Overall, this movement feels like a fairly natural progression for a time-poor, well-funded travel audience that wants to trust an expert with maximum depth of knowledge – and flip our concept of a holiday on its head after months of burnout or obstacles to international travel.
As Alex Wix puts it, “You come to a tour operator so they can take some of the travel planning pressure off of you, so why not do it all?”
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/travel-talk/mystery-trips-why-the-jet-set-are-now-paying-to-go-anywhere-41569124.html Mystery Trips: Why the jet set is now paying to go “anywhere”.