We love to see The New York Times asking: “Instead of choosing your next vacation destination, what if it was a surprise?”

Fill out our questionnaire to tell us about what you want (and don’t want!) in a vacation, and then let the guessing begin while our travel experts design your custom vacation.  You’ll receive a packing list and weather report a week before you leave, and then be mailed a mystery packet revealing your mystery destination and all key details that you can open at the airport.

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We were thrilled to see Magical Mystery Tours featured as one of the recommendations for ways to be surprised this summer.  Here’s what O, The Oprah Magazine had to say about Magical Mystery Tours:

“Hit up Magical Mystery Tours for a surprise vacation: After inquiring about your budgets, dates, and preference, an agent will craft a custom trip, giving you the itinerary within a week of your departure.  Sure, you can scope the schedule in advance, but the company recommends waiting until you’re at the airport or train station.  Bon voyage!  (magicalmystery.wpengine.com) – KATIE ARNOLD-RATLIFF”

For Ulisa’s first solo vacation, she decided to make the whole adventure a surprise and was both nervous and excited. When she showed up to the Raleigh airport in late May, she opened her packet to discover she was off to…Curaçao! [Editor’s note: I was delighted to get an email from Ulisa when she was at the airport titled “OMG!” and saying how she couldn’t stop smiling and talking to people around her about the experience. We love hearing from our travelers!]

IMG_0344MMT: What inspired you to try mystery travel?
Ulisa: In March, I decided that I wanted to do a solo vacay…for me, this was a super big deal, as this would be a first-time experience. Now, once the decision was made, the ominous question was “Where?” So, like most overwhelming life decisions, I looked to Facebook for the answer! I posted my solo vacay intention, and literally in minutes I started receiving all kinds of solo vacay suggestions. However, it was the Magical Mystery Tour suggestion that caught my eye. I searched the name, went to the site, chatted with my assigned travel consultant, Katie, and the rest, they say, is history!

Solo travel is on the rise! How was the solo travel experience for you?
The overall experience, from beginning to end, was simply amazing. It felt so incredibly awesome to be committed to doing something so adventurous. While traveling, it was very liberating to just simply do what I wanted to do…with the only consideration being that I wanted to make sure that I maximized every single moment of my time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am an extrovert, so I love the energy, vibe, and company of others, but this mystery trip was an adventure that I needed to do for myself and by myself!

What were your destination guesses? Was it difficult to wait to know where you were going?
Funny, I tried not to guess, AND I told my family, friends, and coworkers that I did not want to hear their guesses either. I absolutely did not want them to ruin any part of my surprise. Now, with that being said, I secretly thought that I was probably going to Cancun. (Shhh, I would never admit that!) Needless to say, I was absolutely overwhelmed when I opened my envelope. As for the waiting…I sooo wanted to experience ALL that the mystery vacation entailed, so waiting until I got to the airport to open my packet was a no-brainer. Furthermore, I love surprises way too much to have spoiled it for myself!

Were you completely surprised when you opened your packet? What was going through your mind as you started toward your plane?
Surprised? That just does not adequately describe how I felt. I was completely and utterly blown away, to say the least. My mother was on the phone with me—she insisted that I call her when I got to the airport so that we could open the envelope “together”…mind you, it was about 4:30 a.m., but I digress—and she, too, was blown away. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe that I am going to the Dutch Caribbean! OMG, I’m sooo excited!” Needless to say, my excitement was palpable, and as I sat and waited to board, everyone around got an earful about my solo mystery vacay! By the way, taking a mystery vacation is a GREAT conversation starter!

Tell me about your trip! What did you do, see, eat?
My trip! The island of Curaçao was gorgeous! First, my lodging was amazing. LOVED IT! I stayed at a Marriott property (which was perfect—I’m a platinum member!) and was literally located within walking distance to shops, foods, and culture. I stayed five days and 4 nights, and in that time, my solo vacay was filled with activities, including visiting a Sea Aquarium (and letting a dolphin kiss my cheek—I have the pictures to prove it!), touring an ostrich farm, experiencing a glass-bottom boat for the first time, dinner at sunset by the pool, and a tour that took me all across the island.IMG_0307

What surprised or excited you most about the mystery travel experience?
What surprised me most was the feeling of empowerment and confidence that I felt while I was away. The fact that I traveled outside of the U.S. by myself STILL amazes me! And honestly, that’s why those feelings still resonate with me today. And most importantly, why I am already thinking about doing this again next year.

Do you have any advice for other travelers considering a mystery trip?

  • Be open to something different! This was the motivating factor as to why I chose a mystery trip.
  • If you are still a little hesitant, schedule a chat with your travel consultant. I did this, and I loved being able to speak directly to Katie. She answered all of my questions, and I left our conversation convinced that she would create the best personalized experience just for me!
  • If you want to travel outside of the country, make sure that your passport is up-to-date.
  • Although the mystery vacation IS a mystery, be very clear about where you DON’T want to go. You can definitely note this on the questionnaire.
  • Once you get the mystery vacay bill via PayPal, don’t delay in paying it. Although I only waited less than 24 hours, my flight price still increased.
  • When you get there, maximize your trip to the fullest! Whether it’s reading a book on the beach, hiking, or taking a local tour, create memories for yourself, just like I did!

Interested in a mystery trip? Just fill out our mystery travel survey to get the process started!

ocherMMT: What inspired you to try a mystery trip?
Felix and Sarah: I first read about Magical Mystery Tours in Oprah magazine several years ago. Since then I’ve wanted to try one; however, we do a lot of traveling to visit family (in Germany and Wisconsin), so it wasn’t feasible at the time. When we were thinking about ways to celebrate my 40th birthday, we thought that this would finally be the perfect occasion to try a mystery trip, and we decided to go for it. Even though I am usually a planner and enjoy the research and anticipation leading up to a trip, there was something appealing about having someone else do all of the work and just showing up and enjoying a vacation at a completely unknown location! We filled out the questionnaire about our travel preferences and worked with Alicia. We sent her a follow-up email describing more in depth the kinds of things that we like to do on vacation and our travel style, and based on the questions she asked us, we knew that she completely understood what we were looking for. We certainly weren’t disappointed in the end!

Did you or your friends/family have any guesses about where you were going? If so, did anyone guess right or was it a complete surprise?costabrava
We first started planning the mystery vacation in January (for July travel) and knew some details about it by mid-February, so this was a constant topic of conversation everywhere we went for months! We found it very funny to watch people’s reactions when we told them about the mystery trip concept. People either loved or hated the idea—there was nothing in between! Family, friends, friends of friends, coworkers, and even the office staff at the dentist’s office were all very interested to hear more and make a guess.

SFspainhikeWe already knew that we would be part of a small, all-inclusive, well-equipped group tour with beautiful and unique landscapes and interesting activities, and we knew it would be an active vacation with a lot of hiking and walking. Guesses included Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, the Azores/ Portugal, Mallorca, Corsica, Croatia, and a few more places. We really had no idea where we were going, but were really excited!

When we got our weather forecast and packing list the week before we left, the weather was predicted to be sunny and very hot, so a lot of the potential places were eliminated right away. It was pretty likely that we were going to the Mediterranean based on the weather, but that still left a lot of possibilities! One of the items on the packing list was a retention strap for our sunglasses, so we started wondering if part of our vacation was sailing or kayaking, etc. We thought it could be a tour of the Greek Islands or Corsica. But no one hit the nail on the head and guessed mainland France or Spain.

What was going through your mind when you opened your packet?mtslavender
We were a little nervous and very excited when opening the envelope—even though we had had great interactions with Alicia, it still is a little nerve-racking to pay a lot of money and not know if it is something you will like or not! We figured that even if it wasn’t a destination we would pick for ourselves, it would be an interesting experience regardless and we could enjoy one week in any place. But when we opened the envelope and saw that we were going on a tour through France and Spain, we were both relieved and overjoyed!

Did you have a hard time waiting to find out where you were going or packing without knowing your destination?
I definitely had moments where I really wanted to search for well-equipped tours online, but I resisted. I usually like to start thinking about my packing list and what things I will need a few weeks before a big trip, so the days before we got the weather forecast and packing list were a little difficult. Once we got that information, at least it was easier to pack because we knew we would go somewhere sunny and hot and would be hiking a lot. The packing list was pretty comprehensive. By opening the envelope the morning that we left, I still had time to make some last-minute changes to my suitcase before heading to the airport.

villageTell me about your trip! What were the highlights?
The trip was absolutely fantastic—it was one of our best vacations ever! Part of the trip was on a Backroads tour through Provence, France and the Costa Brava in Spain, and the nights flanking the group tour were on our own. We flew out of Boston in the evening, arrived in Paris the next morning, and were booked on the train to Avignon. Everything was very easy to figure out and we had no trouble making our connection and getting there. When we arrived in Avignon, it was extremely hot—it felt like a furnace with the hot wind blowing. Both of us wondered how we would be able to do any hiking in that heat! Alicia had booked a nice hotel in the old part of Avignon, and it was perfect for our first night in France. It was afternoon by the time we got settled in our hotel and we were getting tired, but we forced ourselves to enjoy the sites and highlights of Avignon. We visited the Papal Palace and gardens, and we wandered around the old town through the narrow, twisting streets. We ate dinner at a wonderful restaurant just around the corner from our hotel before calling it a night.

The next day we met up with our Backroads tour group at the Avignon train station. We had been told to arrive in our hiking clothes, and we took a short bus ride to the starting point of our walk, in a small village called Lacoste. We walked for five minutes before arriving at our lunch spot. The food and atmosphere of meals was definitely a highlight throughout the trip—our lunch was a beautiful spread of quiches, salads, bread, cheeses, meats, and desserts under a pergola covered in grapevines, overlooking the Luberon Mountains and valleys. It was an amazing way to kick off the tour! After lunch, we hiked through small medieval perch villages, passing small family vineyards, lavender fields, and gorgeous chateaus along the way. We are normally very independent travelers and had never considered a group tour before, but we really enjoyed getting to know the other travelers and leaders. One of the most impressive things that we got used to was that during the hikes, the van met us every two miles or so and we could have snacks, Perrier, and other cold drinks, as well as refill our water bottles. That was a very extravagant bonus that we never knew we needed until experiencing it!SFday1

The dinners in France lasted two to three hours with several courses, but the portions were reasonable and the conversation flowed easily (as did the wine), so the time just flew by. The first night we gathered for a wine tasting before dinner at our hotel and then ate al fresco as evening turned into nightfall. The second day consisted of another beautiful hike with a walking tour of one of the older towns in the area, time for a swim in the beautiful hotel pool, and a lesson in pastis (a delicious anise-flavored apertif) and Pétanque (a French game like boules or bocce) before dinner at a unique local restaurant that used to be a silk farm. We loved the exposure throughout the trip to cultural things like the game and local drink that we likely wouldn’t have found if traveling independently.

The next day we hiked through the Provence countryside to Roussillon, which is famous for its ocher deposits. We toured the ocher canyon, which has 17 shades of ocher in red, orange, yellow, and brown. It was beautiful! Other stops along the way included sampling the local wine at a small family winery and hiking up to the top of another hilltop town. From there we were shuttled to our next hotel in St. Remy, a bigger town in Provence famous for its market. Since it was Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, there was a lot of festive energy. It was fun to listen to the concerts going on for the celebration during our dinner.

marketThe next morning we visited the famous St. Remy market that meanders throughout the town. The quality and variety of produce, berries, cheese, sausage, olives, etc. was amazing! After a hike and another delicious lunch, we headed to our last destination via a six-hour bus ride to the Costa Brava of Spain.

In Spain, our hotel was directly on the Mediterranean, and our balcony overlooked the sea. We had a local guide-led walking tour through our little village, learning about the history of the Catalan people and the historical significance of the region. We also had a wonderful hike along the Mediterranean through hidden coves and beaches, forests, and along cliffs overlooking the sea—the crystal clear blue-green water never got old.medsea Our hike was topped off by ice cream and a swim at the beach. We loved that there were mostly Spanish tourists there, as it felt very authentic and unspoiled. After two days exploring our village of Calella and the surrounding regions, we took a bus ride to Barcelona, where our tour officially ended. We had one last night in Barcelona on our own, where we took in some of the sights of the city and ate at a fantastic tapas place recommended in our mystery packet. The whole experience of the mystery trip was fantastic, and we were so happy to be exposed to the Backroads company.

What surprised or excited you the most about your mystery trip experience?
The biggest surprise was that we really enjoyed being part of a group tour. We are not the most extroverted people, and we are very self-sufficient and always enjoy figuring things out by ourselves in a foreign place. But the Backroads tours are very thoroughly researched so that only the most beautiful hikes, unique and delicious restaurants, and interesting cultural experiences are included to permit the best and most authentic travel experience possible. It was so nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the vacation without stressing over anything. Even though our trip was only one week long, we can’t believe we did and saw so many different things during that time! We are still in contact with several of the other travelers from our tour, and we really enjoyed the whole experience and would certainly consider taking another Backroads tour in the future.

What are your top tips for other potential mystery travelers?
Our advice is to take the plunge and just go for it! This experience opened our eyes to a different mode of travel and led to one of the best and most carefree vacations we’ve ever had! The months leading up to the trip were as much fun as the actual destination and vacation itself. It was fun to speculate about the destination, and we identified several places we want to visit on future vacations because of this. We highly recommend trying the mystery travel experience at least once, and we may even do it again someday (after visiting all of the new, exciting destinations we thought we might travel to on this mystery vacation, of course!).

Interested in a mystery trip? Just fill out our mystery travel survey to get the process started!

Jaclyn and Dave decided to take a mystery honeymoon after spending several months researching options and struggling to pick a destination.

“The moment we decided to go for it, we were sitting eating lunch at a restaurant on a very rainy day,” they said. “We had been talking about our honeymoon for a long time, and both of us looked at each other and realized that even if we spent our entire honeymoon inside a restaurant while it rained outside, it didn’t matter—we would be together. So we decided what the heck! We’ll go on a mystery honeymoon. We had so much on our plate trying to plan our wedding that we decided to delegate the most important part to the experts.”

Dave and Jaclyn with Mystery Packet

So, in late June 2014, they headed to the Boston airport, ripped open their mystery packet, and discovered they were going to…the Azores in Portugal!

MMT: What were your top hopes about your destination and what your trip would include?
D&J: Mostly we wanted a lot of relaxing coupled with a lot of activities. We aren’t the easiest couple to please—we can’t sit still, except when we want to, so I think we just filled our questionnaire with everything we could possibly think of. We definitely wanted a multi-destination trip (read above: can’t sit still), beach time (but not the whole time), and an active vacation. We wanted to go outside of the continental U.S. and were hoping to go to a different country altogether. We are very resourceful, so we didn’t need a lot of direction, just a few benchmarks throughout the trip to ensure we were taking as much advantage as possible.

Did you have a hard time waiting in anticipation to find out where you were going?
With planning our wedding coinciding with our honeymoon, we really didn’t have a hard time. We had a lot of fun with it—a guessing game at our wedding, and all our friends and family got in on guessing for months beforehand. We honestly didn’t have that much time to think about the trip because we were so immersed in wedding planning. Toward the end, we definitely got anxious to know and started thinking much more about it in the last two weeks, but we were determined not to open it until the last possible minute. We even asked Alicia to put our initial trip (Philly to Boston) in a separate envelope so we could wait until we had to check in for our honeymoon flight at the check-in desk. I think our families were more anxious than us, and they definitely threatened to bribe MMT and to find our envelope with our itinerary and open it before us. 🙂

I heard something cool about a map at your wedding reception. How did you incorporate your mystery honeymoon into your wedding festivities?
This was Dave’s idea. We are very traditional and had a pretty traditional wedding, while trying also to make it “our own.” One thing that was so unique about our wedding was our mystery honeymoon. So, we figured that we should memorialize it. We found a map online that was big enough for our 150 wedding guests to write on. Then we mounted it and made

some quick instructions asking our guests to guess where we were going on our honeymoon on the actual map. We put it next to the guest book so people could easily leave their guess. We looked at the map the day after our wedding, before leaving on our honeymoon. We’re going to frame it and hang it in our house just to remember all the great guesses!

What were some of the guesses?
We thought southern Spain/southern France or Greece; once we saw the packing list/weather outlook, we thought maybe Croatia. Our guests’ guesses were pretty concentrated in Europe and South America—and we had someone guess the Azores! Some folks knew more than others about what we had put on our questionnaire, so we didn’t get a large concentration in the Caribbean because we specifically asked to not have an all-inclusive resort or to be on the beach the whole time.

Pico Island HouseTell me about your trip! What was your favorite part?
The trip was amazing—everything we asked for and so much more. There was no best part! We had the best time, the greatest 10 days of our life. We landed in Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel at 7 a.m. super sleepy and somehow made our way through Customs and onto another plane to another island (Pico) within about 45 minutes. We were taking everything in and so excited. On Pico, we stayed in a three-bedroom house all by ourselves—we got to cook and relax. WeHarbor in Sao Miguel climbed Pico Mountain and tasted the wine of the island. We did a lot of sightseeing, and the people who ran the company who rented our house were so helpful! They basically gave us a three-day itinerary, complete with all the best restaurants on the island to try. We made it to the next island, Faial, in the middle of our trip, and we had so much fun there, too! It was totally different—a swanky hotel and basically a mini city. We got to go to the beach, bike down a volcano, and enjoy the local culture. Horta, the city we stayed in, is a sailing village, so we got to really experience that culture while there. We loved being in Horta because we could come and go to and from our hotel as we pleased. On the other islands, we really got to explore because we had a car, but it was a lot of daylong outings. In Horta, we were much more spontaneous for a few days! The last third of our trip was spent back in Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel. We stayed in a bed and breakfast, which was really quaint and beautiful. We went to the hot springs full of iron and had the most wonderful local cuisine of food cooked in the ground near the hot springs. We did a lot of relaxing at the pool here toward the end of the Cete Sidades - Two lagoons Sao Migueltrip and genuinely enjoyed the “big city” of the Azores.

What’s the best thing about mystery travel?
It’s so exciting! You have to figure it out on your own and don’t have the ability to preplan at all. You have to be really spontaneous and be willing to roll with the punches. It is such an amazing experience to share with your new spouse and something we will really cherish for our lifetime. It’s also a great learning experience because of all the above mentioned aspects. You learn to trust each other and to trust the people who make your vacation spot their home and you look to them for guidance on your activities/food choices, etc.

What would you say to another engaged couple considering a mystery honeymoon, and why?
Absolutely go for it! A lot of people will tell you that you are crazy and they could never doPico Island - Seaside_Wine Country such a thing. But when it comes down to it, ask yourself the question: Why would I not have the experts plan my trip? It’s the ultimate form of delegation. You are going to have the florist create bouquets and centerpieces, you are going to have a tailor make your dress/tux/suit perfect, you are going to have a chef cook your wedding meal…why would you not have a travel company plan your honeymoon?! As long as you enjoy spending time together, you really can’t go wrong. If you honestly fill out the questionnaire (and you have to be honest!), you will get exactly what you wanted and so much more. It is so exciting to wake up the morning after your wedding and be super excited to find out where you are going on your honeymoon! It just keeps the excitement going. Plus, if your honeymoon wasn’t on the list of places you most want to visit, you can still have MMT plan your next trip to your destination of choice, and you might just get to explore someplace new.

Interested in a mystery trip? Just fill out our mystery travel survey to get the process started!