You’re Going to Denver: Surprise Travel Agency Review Part 2

At long last, it’s time to find out where Pack Up + Go sent us on our surprise vacation last month…

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We arrived at Baltimore-Washington International on Friday, October 19 at 6:25 a.m. as instructed and opened our envelope to find out where Pack Up + Go was sending us on our long-awaited mystery anniversary trip. As many people in our lives had predicted, they were sending us to… Denver!

IMG-5730During breakfast (with a mimosa for me and a beer for Mike, naturally) at The Greene Turtle in BWI, we dug into our packet of information a little more, eager to learn about our destination!

We were super impressed with all the information that the Pack Up + Go team compiled for us, as well as the small personal touches. There was a Denver postcard and a handwritten anniversary card included, plus a Denver guidebook. The travel agency included all the information on our hotel, flights, how to get around Denver, and their top 5 gluten-free restaurant recommendations. The travel team also put together a proposed itinerary that we could follow, if we felt compelled to, and a list of a bunch of facts about Denver, including some things I probably never would have known otherwise (e.g.: “In 1902, the police at Denver Union Station started a ‘no kissing’ rule on platforms because it slowed down trains.”).

We checked out all this information during the first half of our flight as well, and talked about tentative plans. Red Rocks was a must, and we knew that any of the dozens of breweries in the city would be a good stop for Mike––lucky for me, they also recommend wineries and cideries! When we landed in Denver, the instructions they gave us for transportation from the airport to the hotel were spot on. Denver is an incredibly accessible city. We hopped on a train to Union Station, hopped off, and then caught the free 16th Street Mall bus to the stop closest to our hotel. Easy peasy! But if we hadn’t wanted to take public transportation, we easily could have caught an Uber with the Uber ride credit they included in our trip. You see, Pack Up + Go guarantees that with your budget, they will cover your airfare and your lodging. If there is money left over, they’ll provide other accommodations. For us, that was a $100 Uber credit (which didn’t expire if we didn’t use it all––spoiler alert, we did) and a $100 gift card to the restaurant they were sending us to for our anniversary on Saturday night. Talk about having nothing to worry about!

We checked into our hotel, which was very nice and very centrally located, and then wandered off in search of lunch. The awesome thing here is that all of our itinerary information and an extra map with more recommendations was available in the palms of our hands thanks to an online version and a customized Google map that we saved on our phones.

We had a great time exploring the city a bit Friday afternoon and evening, and then we decided that on Saturday morning we would head to Red Rocks for the sunrise view and hike that the Pack Up + Go team had recommended. (Note: We’ll write some more in another post about the places we went and things we did on our trip, but I want to focus this post on the recommendations from Pack Up + Go specifically.)

So we woke up around 5 a.m. on Saturday and called an Uber to head out to Red Rocks in time for sunrise. And it was 100% worth it. It was clear as can be, a bit breezy, and definitely cold, but the view was incredible. There were probably another 20 or so folks there to catch the sunrise––some brought breakfast and hot drinks with them, some were filming or doing time-lapses for their social media, and some were just enjoying being in the moment. I probably took more photos than Mike would prefer, but that’s what I do.

After the sun was up, we decided to take a hike on the 1.5-mile trail, and while it was somewhat challenging for me with my pain issues, it was a wonderful experience. It was quiet, peaceful, leisurely but challenging, and a good workout (especially since I’m not used to that altitude!). A few times, I wasn’t sure I could keep going, but as always, Mike encouraged me to keep going––fitting for our relationship and for celebrating surviving our first year of marriage. Eventually, we made it back to the amphitheater and I was amazed by the people running up and down the steps there for a workout without even breaking a sweat.

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By the time we finished our hike, we were starving. So I pulled out my favorite travel app, Find Me Gluten Free, and looked for convenient gluten-free places we could eat on the way back to Denver. Enter Allergy Free Baking Company and the best cinnamon bun I’ve had in my life––with or without gluten. We definitely earned that treat (and the lemon loaf and blueberry muffins…) after our hike and being up before the sun!

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After making our way back to the city, we explored a little bit more. We hit up Snooze, which was recommended as one of the restaurants with great gluten-free options, and were treated to some fascinating entertainment from people who had been there since brunch started and were feeling the effects of some breakfast beverages. Then we wandered the city a bit more to check out some parks, skate parks, restaurants, breweries, etc. before we needed to be ready for our anniversary dinner reservation.

We had a reservation for dinner at 7 p.m. at Rioja. Honestly, the restaurant was a bit fancier than Mike and I would ever choose for ourselves. The environment was a bit stuffy for our liking and while I’m sure the white-tablecloth establishment and its servers were supposed to be nothing but top notch, we weren’t super impressed. The service was spotty at best––either filling up our water every 3 minutes or taking 20 minutes to come back and check after our entrees arrived and the table next to us got their meals before us even though we ordered first. I will say they were wonderful about helping me figure out which menu items they could modify to be gluten-free for me, and the food was good… but I’m not sure it was worth the price (we had a $100 gift card but still spent an additional $50 out of pocket). They offered us a complimentary dessert for our anniversary, but by that time (we’d been there for 2 hours), we were itching to leave and be a bit more comfortable in our surroundings. So we politely declined the dessert and then made our way out to go have drinks somewhere a bit more our style. This was probably the most disappointing part of our trip, but we can’t fault Pack Up + Go for that––we did ask for a nicer restaurant for our anniversary. Unfortunately because we were so uncomfortable there, I don’t even have any photos of us all dressed up for our first anniversary. Oh well. We have plenty of other memories from the weekend.

Sunday was our last day and we slept in a lot later than we’d planned to, but we were wiped out from being up so early the day before and all we packed into that day. We went to grab brunch and then hit up a few more breweries before we headed to the airport to go home that afternoon/evening.

All in all, we loved our trip. We wish we’d had a bit more time there and that we’d been able to go outside of the city a bit more, but we do feel like we got a feel for Denver’s culture and people. We’d love to travel back to Colorado, stay a little longer in a place maybe a bit outside the city or even go check out Boulder instead.

The Pack Up + Go team was wonderful to work with from beginning to end, and we loved the element of surprise for our first anniversary trip. We would highly recommend that anyone looking for an adventurous approach to traveling for a long weekend give it a try. We definitely plan to book another surprise trip with Pack Up + Go (maybe for our second anniversary!) and can’t wait to see where we get sent next!

So what do you think…

Would you take the risk of a surprise vacation with Pack Up + Go?!

If you do decide to try out Pack Up + Go, be sure to tell them that you heard about it from Lindsay and Michael Sherman. We have not been compensated for providing these reviews, but we will get a discount on our next trip if you book one and use our name. Thanks in advance 😉

 

Surprise Travel Agency Review Part 1: Logistics with Pack Up + Go

 

If there is one thing that Mike has taught me in our nearly 4 years together, it’s the value of spontaneity, adventure, and letting go.

For a Type A, super organized, borderline control freak like me, deciding to let strangers plan our travel for our wedding anniversary with very little input and no updates until the day we left was going to be a bit difficult. But I am so glad that we went the route of using Pack Up + Go, “a surprise travel agency.”

How does a trip planned by a surprise travel agency work?

You set your travel budget. You set your travel dates (a minimum of 4 weeks away). You let the travel agency know of any time restrictions on your travel dates (although it’s best if you don’t have any of those so they can maximize your time, often by getting you on the first flight out and the last flight home––it’s only 3 days, after all!).

You tell them places you’ve traveled to recently and any other trips you already have planned (so they don’t repeat destinations). Note: The travel agency only plans trips to locations within the U.S. (at least for now), so no need to tell them about your upcoming trip to Cancun or your recent honeymoon in Europe.

And then you tell them a little about yourself in the form of a travel survey. Some of the questions they ask include:

  • “When you travel, you prefer…” with options of Action, Relaxation, and Culture (we selected all three!)
  • “What are some of your hobbies/interests?” with 20+ options to select from. What did we tell them our hobbies and interests are when we travel? Hole-in-the-wall Restaurants, Food Markets, Craft Beer/Breweries, Vineyards/Wine Bars, Parks/Nature, and Spas.
  • “Do you have any dietary restrictions?” Music to this gluten-free girl’s ears! It doesn’t matter how beautiful a destination is if you can’t find anything that’s OK for you to eat on vacation!
  • Airports you are willing to travel from. We only selected Baltimore-Washington International––we’re fortunate to live close to a major airline hub, but if you’re in a smaller town with just regional airports nearby, it’s beneficial to be willing to travel to a larger airport since they’ll serve more destinations. We were not willing to drive to the Washington, D.C. area airports because it’s such a headache.
  • “Is there anything else we need to know?” This is a free-response field, so we took advantage, but we didn’t want to pigeonhole them too much while they were planning our surprise anniversary trip. But we did want them to know how difficult things can sometimes be to please both of us on vacation. Examples: Mike loves beer, but I’m gluten-free. We love nature and to be active, but my fibromyalgia requires me to take lots of breaks so I don’t go into a flare-up. We also told them that we have lived our whole lives on the East Coast and we prefer to explore the rest of what the country has to offer.

How did the travel agency communicate with you?

Pack Up + Go’s communication is absolutely stellar. Here’s a list of the communications the travel agency has sent us since we booked the trip on July 30:

  • July 30: Welcome to Pack Up + Go and account information.
  • July 30: Order confirmation including a copy of our answers to the survey questions and a receipt for the purchase.
  • July 31: A travel insurance quote, which can be added on after the initial purchase.
  • July 31: An email confirming an update we made to our survey. We’d forgotten to include that we had a trip planned to Dallas already, so I emailed them about it and got a response in less than an hour that they would update our profile so they didn’t send us to Dallas.
  • October 3: “Your trip is around the corner!” Basically just an email letting us know they would be in touch one week before the trip with some hints and travel details. This had another copy of our survey in it to remind us what we had requested.
  • October 12: “One week until departure!” This email gave us all the info we needed to prepare for our trip: weather forecast for our surprise destination, hints about what to pack for specific activities, how to pack (airline limitations on baggage, etc.), where to go and when, info on how they would get us the rest of our information.
  • October 15: We received our surprise travel itinerary in the mail! We wouldn’t open this until we arrived at BWI on Friday morning to see where we were going.
  • October 18: Updated forecast the day before our departure
  • October 19: “Open your envelope!” This email included our flight info, link to our boarding passes, link to online versions of our itineraries, link to a Google Map with tons more recommendations of places to go, hotel information, info on a dinner reservation they made for us, etc.
  • October 21: Apparently they were monitoring our flight for us, because while we were sitting at the airport, we received an email alerting us that our flight home had been delayed (we had just heard the announcement literally 3 minutes prior to receiving this email) and that they were monitoring the situation but that this still appeared to be our best option for getting home that night. It also included the gate change information and a sincere apology (as if they were in control of the maintenance on the plane!)
  • October 22: An email asking us to fill out a satisfaction survey and share photos and testimonials with them.

I was incredibly impressed with how communicative and friendly this customer service experience was. Travel can always be stressful, and when you know nothing about what you’re doing or where you’re going, I’m sure our anxiety levels could have been much higher. But Pack Up + Go made sure we felt good about every step of the way.

Thanks, Pack Up + Go team! We’ll get to the reveal and more info about the trip in the next post to break things up a bit. 🙂 Stay tuned!

Spoiler alert: 10/10, would buy again… 😉

Disclaimer: We were NOT compensated in any way by Pack Up + Go to write this review. However, if you use our names (Lindsay & Mike Sherman) when booking your own surprise vacation, we will get a discount on our next trip with them (which we’ll definitely be doing!). 🙂 

Ready, Set, Go!

So, what are you guys doing for your first anniversary?
We’re going on a long weekend trip!
Where?
We don’t know!
…huh?!

Yeah, that’s basically how the conversations have gone with anyone in our lives for the last few months.

Back in July, when thinking about our upcoming wedding anniversary, we knew we wanted to take a trip, because it’s what we do. But with everything that has happened in this first year, the last thing I wanted to do was go into my usual hyper-planner mode. And we didn’t have the first idea of where we wanted to go!

Enter Pack Up + Go!

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Our travel packet, alongside Lindsay’s anniversary present for Mike… a perfect quote for our anniversary trip!

What is Pack Up + Go?

It’s a surprise travel agency. Essentially, you give them your budget, your dates, and your likes and dislikes, and you trust complete strangers to make your travel arrangements, keeping the destination a surprise until the day you leave. Talk about an extreme exercise in letting go of control for a Type A person (ahem, Lindsay…).

So here we are: Two days before our anniversary, one day before we’re supposed to be at the airport at 6:25 a.m., and we have no idea where we’re going. There is a packet (pictured above) already tucked away in my backpack, which we’ll open when we arrive at BWI.

The hints we’ve received from our planner, Zach, about what to pack:

  • Walking shoes (hint: there’s so much to see and do in this destination, so you’ll be covering a lot of ground)
  • An empty stomach (hint: this city has some seriously good food – and great gluten-free options!)
  • A camera (hint: this city is known for its amazing scenery)
  • An outfit for a night out! (we’ll make sure you celebrate your anniversary in style!)

Well, here goes nothing! We’ve each planned surprise portions of trips before, but this is the first time that neither of us has any idea what we’re doing or where we’re going.

Be sure to check back to hear how the trip went!

The Travel Factor

Long before Mike and I took our first weekend trip together, travel was a major factor in our relationship.

We met on New Year’s Eve 2014, and just a few weeks later, I had to travel to Orlando for a work trip. Most of our first year together would actually be punctuated by travel, both solo and as a couple.

A New Tradition

During my first 4-day trip in our young relationship, I think we FaceTimed every night. We hadn’t even called each other boyfriend and girlfriend yet, but I still have numerous selfies I took  in various work attire and sent on to this cute boy I was seeing with notes like, “Do I look enough like a cruise ship director in this?”

As I sat in MCO while waiting for my flight home, I decided to stop in the gift shop to buy him a treat. We were just a few weeks into dating, but we had covered the ever-important topic of favorite candy, and I knew that he loved Mounds and Almond Joy. He was appalled that I do not like coconut in any form outside of oil or milk for cooking… actually, he’s still appalled that he married such “a hater.” So when I saw Coconut Patties in the gift shop, I knew I had to buy them for him to show how supportive this “hater” was of his likes. My co-workers still joke that they knew right then I was going to marry him! I’ve traveled to Florida at least 4 more times since then, and each time, I’ve brought home a box (or two) of Coconut Patties for my man.

“I Think I Love You”

In April, Mike was taking a trip with his buddy to the Dominican Republic. They’d been planning it for a while and I had a bit of anxiety about it. By this point, we were deep in this relationship, and I was sad that I wouldn’t get to see or talk to him for more than a week. The night before Mike was flying out to DR, we actually got in a fight. Not our first (nor our biggest), but it was significant. I don’t remember now what it was about, but it hurt pretty bad at the time. After we talked through whatever it was, there was a little bit of quiet and when I looked at Mike, I saw his eyes were glistening a bit. I gave him a questioning look and then he grabbed my hand and said, “I think I love you.” I breathed this huge sigh of relief as my heart swelled. I knew I loved him, and now, knowing he felt the same, I didn’t feel as upset about him leaving for a week.

The Travel Factor

Then there was my big trip to the Middle East the month after that, which will get its own post (or two). But the point is, over the years we’ve each traveled without the other, to places like Florida, Utah, Texas, Illinois, Vermont, Abu Dhabi, and the Dominican Republic. And the places we’ve traveled together are just as varied. But this one factor, The Travel Factor, has always been worked into our relationship.

We both know there is so much more to this world than our little corner of it in Baltimore, and we can’t wait to see what else is out there. So whether we’re exploring the lakes of Western Maryland or Europe, the beaches of North Carolina or Jamaica, the mountains of Virginia or Switzerland, we’re eager to see more, do more, and go farther.

Meet the Shermans

She’s just a small town girl, living in a lonely world… Wait, no. That’s a Journey song, and it was the top song on the “Do Not Play” list for our wedding. So let’s start this over again…

We’re two Baltimore natives who grew up just a couple miles apart and had a couple near-misses on attending the same schools, yet our paths didn’t cross until our late 20s at a bar on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure we’ll get to our meeting story at some point, but for now, let’s go over the basics here.

Let’s Meet the Shermans…

Him: Mike. Almost 32. Grocery store general manager. Beer lover (especially Belgians and Germans) and pizza fiend. Never lived outside of Baltimore. Tough on the outside (tattoos and a motorcycle), total softie on the inside.

Her: Lindsay. Not-quite-as-almost 32. Editor and writer. Cider convert (fibromyalgia requires me to eat a gluten-free diet) and cheese addict. Went to North Carolina for college and spent a semester in Australia. Soft on the outside, even softer on the inside… but learning how to fight and get stronger every day, both inside and out!

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Conquering Lindsay’s fear of heights at the top of Mt. Titlis in Switzerland on our honeymoon – Oct. 31, 2017

Five years ago, it’s unlikely that either of us would have predicted this partnership in adventure. Yet here we are: Two 30-somethings with two very different experiences growing up, seeing the world, and forging our paths. Since those paths converged, we’ve learned a lot about and from each other.

This blog will be our attempt at documenting our lessons in navigating marriage, life, and the world. We hope you’ll join us for the journey!

Until next time,

Lindsay & Mike
(but mostly Lindsay…I am the writer, after all)