shot of all of us during jeep tourCindy and Kevin were looking for a quick domestic getaway with new friends they met on a nonmystery trip that Stephanie, MMT cofounder, had arranged for them. They were hoping for beautiful scenery, delicious food and wine, and some fun adventure.

When they headed to the airport in September 2016, they found out they were headed to…Colorado Springs! Their trip included a Jeep tour through the mountains, a sunset helicopter tour, and a fabulous dinner at the legendary luxury resort, The Broadmoor.

MMT: So you are a repeat customer for MMT—thank you for choosing us! What was your first experience with mystery travel like?
Cindy and Kevin: We were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, and I thought the whole concept behind Magical Mystery Tours was perfect for this type of celebration. The romance and mystery of the concept seemed perfect in celebrating both the romance and mystery in a great marriage. We went to Newport, Rhode Island, and we both had a wonderful time.

Have you been completely surprised both times with your mystery trip destinations?
We have been surprised both times, but this last trip, my friend and I thought we were going to Napa.

Your most recent trip was a couples trip. Can you share the story of how you met the couple you traveled with and how you all decided to take a mystery trip?
We met the couple we traveled with on an Oceania cruise in January 2016 that Stephanie arranged for us. It wasn’t a mystery tour, but she did a wonderful job with the arrangements. On the cruise, I told my friend—who also likes to travel—about Magical Mystery Tours, and she thought it sounded like a fun idea. Since we all live in separate areas, we were trying to arrange another trip together, and we decided to try MMT for the trip.

What have you liked best about mystery travel with MMT?
The things I like best are the surprise, the fact that Stephanie often sends us places that I enjoy but would not necessarily have chosen, that Stephanie comes up with some great resorts/hotels, and that Stephanie listens to feedback and tries to incorporate it in the next trip. For instance, the only negative of the Rhode Island trip involved complex travel for only five days of vacation, so on our next trip, she made the travel shorter and less involved, which gave us more vacation time.

What would you say to someone who isn’t sure if mystery travel is for them?

royal gorge bridgeI would advise them to try a trip, perhaps a long weekend trip, and see how they feel. I would also say this is the perfect trip for non-planners. Stephanie takes care of everything, plus the surprise and anticipation are so much fun.

What’s your best tip for new mystery travelers?
I would say be very detailed in the initial survey about likes/dislikes. If you like making reservations early, you might want to look at the destination a few days ahead of time so that you can set up the most important dining spots or plan other events. (For the less obsessive people, this won’t be a problem.) Also, see it as the adventure it is: Perhaps you won’t love everything, but you are on vacation with people you like or love, you don’t have to go to work or cook/clean/look after kids, so I think wherever I am sent will be pretty fantastic (and it is)!!

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

We thought we were the founders of mystery trips, but thanks to a fun article in Atlas Obscura, we now know that it was a trend long before we were around!

Check out the whole article, but multiple countries from England to the US to New Zealand all had mystery day trips that were quite the rage in the 1930’s. We think our controlled trips geared toward each traveler’s preferences sound like more fun, though we love seeing how others played up the element of surprise!



Denise and Jo 1-1v

MMT cofounders Denise and Stephanie on Denise’s wedding day!

This is a particularly special Q&A in our traveler series because the travelers in question are Denise, one of our founders, and her husband, Joe! Denise and Joe are well-traveled and experienced with the ins and outs of mystery trips, but had never actually taken one themselves and decided their honeymoon was the perfect opportunity. And fellow travel consultant Alicia knew just the place to send them…the French Riviera!@ JFK

Why did you decide to take a mystery honeymoon instead of planning it yourself?
A mystery honeymoon was one of the quickest and easiest wedding decisions we made! How could I recommend mystery honeymoons to other travelers if we didn’t do one?! And Joe hates planning, so he was more than happy to go along with something that didn’t involve more planning on his part.

What would you say to people who think a honeymoon is too big of a life event to risk with a mystery trip?
Anyone who’s been through planning a wedding knows how completely overwhelming it can be! We tried to keep our

beach in Cannes

wedding planning under control, but it was still stressful. I actually would have loved digging into planning a big trip, but it was the absolute perfect time in our lives to take something off of our plates. We left for our honeymoon two days after getting married, and the emotions of getting married, having people from so many parts of your life all together in one place, and then packing up to fly to a mystery destination is the most wonderful and crazy set of emotions!

Where did you end up going? Was it a good choice for you?Monte Carlo in Monaco
We ended up in the French Riviera, and split our time between Nice and Cannes. Our criteria that we filled out in our mystery questionnaire was that we didn’t want to fly more than about eight hours, that we wanted to experience a new place, but we wanted to be able to relax some. (I knew we wouldn’t be up for doing a huge new city or whirlwind tour of a new country right after a wedding!) We made it all the way through security at JFK before we finally opened our envelope. We were beyond excited, but then actually had to take a minute to read the description to find out that we had options like a day trip to Monaco and could easily visit St. Tropez. Both cities were great for strolling, finding little cafes, checking out the beach, and experience a part of France that we knew nothing about. It was the perfect relaxing pace where we didn’t feel pressured to check out tons of new museums or do anything too overwhelming.

IMG_3735What was it like, as an MMT founder, experiencing a mystery trip yourself?
I was absolutely beside myself with excitement! In the five years we’ve been planning mystery trips, I can’t think of one trip that I wouldn’t have been thrilled to go on, so I knew I’d love it. Though once we had everything booked, the suspense of guessing where we might be going was even more fun than I had imagined. It’s so much fun to know that a good surprise is coming! We did have to change up a few procedures to make sure I didn’t find out, and we actually had a staff call where Alicia started talking about a trip she was planning to Portugal, and I freaked out thinking she had accidentally mentioned my trip, though obviously she’s an expert secret-keeper and it was a non-issue.on the way to Monaco

Did you have any guesses about where you were going? If so, where?
Everyone had ideas—it was one of the hot topics at our wedding. I have an aunt and uncle who lived in Paris for a few years and know Europe well who did guess the French Riviera. I had a cousin who did a mystery trip to the Azores, so that was a top guess, too.

IMG_3856What’s your favorite thing about mystery travel?
It’s the best kind of surprise! Once you’re past the kid-on-Christmas-morning stage, there’s not that many controlled surprises where you know something good is coming! There’s no bad surprise with a mystery trip when you love to travel and are open to new experiences, and for those of us who travel a lot, you tend to try to recreate the same experiences. Mystery travel tends to pair people up with locations that might be just off their radar, but that’s much more fun and exciting because you’re learning about somewhere new and beyond what you might have expected.

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

view in Cannes

Where to go? A variety of choices for a variety of budgets!

Where to go? A variety of choices for a variety of budgets!

I don’t know about you, but when planning a trip, I don’t necessarily have a total budget in mind at the outset. I might be debating a few different destinations and end up picking one based on whether it’s the best time to visit one location or flight/hotel options are better in one case over another. So it’s understandable if, when you’re filling out our mystery trip questionnaire, you don’t know exactly how to arrive at the right budget number for your trip. So we’ve created a guide to help you calculate a suitable budget for a great trip.

What to include?

First things first: what your budget should cover. When you designate your travel budget on the MMT questionnaire, it will include:

  • A $300 research and planning deposit/fee
  • Transportation to and from your destination (typically airfare)
  • Lodging for the duration of your stay
  • Associated airfare and lodging taxes/fees

All other costs—such as meals, activities, souvenir shopping—are on your own once you get to your destination, so you can be as thrifty or lavish as you’d like!

Here’s how it works: Let’s say you decide your budget is $2,000 for two people. You will pay the $300 deposit upfront so that we can begin working on your trip. We then research and plan a trip for you using the remainder of your budget ($1,700) as the spending cap for your airfare, lodging, and associated taxes/fees.

We always aim to plan a trip that fits your specifications for the lowest cost possible. However, we have found that a weekend trip (Friday to Sunday) for two people is unlikely to cost less than $1,200. After the $300 deposit is paid, there is $900 left for two roundtrip flights and two nights at a hotel.


Dreaming of an all-inclusive beach vacation? For a weeklong trip for two, aim for a $3,000 budget.

Dreaming of an all-inclusive beach vacation? For a weeklong trip for two, aim for a $3,000 budget.

Don’t budget based on incredible deals.

We’ve probably all received a travel deal email or two advertising a too-good-to-be-true special for a 4-day all-inclusive beach vacation, including airfare, for something like $500. Sounds great! However, these deals often come with fine print that dampens the excitement: terrible flight itineraries, very limited date availability, and mediocre hotels.

We work hard to put together a customized mystery trip for you, and we want you to have a great experience. Therefore, it’s unlikely that deals like this are workable options, so you’ll want to budget based on typical, average prices for flights and hotels.

In terms of budgeting for your hotel, prices can change with all sorts of variables, but you should generally expect to pay at least $150 per night. We don’t typically book anything less than three-star hotels, so this price should get you a nice, clean hotel in a convenient location, but it’s not likely to have a lot of lavish amenities. If you’re looking for your hotel to be more of an experience or more luxurious, you’ll need to budget at least $300 per night or more.

A weekend visit to Honest Abe in Washington, D.C. could work for about $1,500.

A weekend visit to Honest Abe in Washington, D.C. could work for about $1,500.

Consider location.

Although your location is ultimately a surprise until you arrive at the airport, you do have some input. For instance, on the questionnaire, you will designate whether you’re open to both international and domestic destinations or just one or the other. Generally, the farther you travel, the more your flight will cost. If you definitely want to travel outside the country and you’re hoping that your mystery trip might take you somewhere in Europe or Asia, you’ll need to make sure your budget includes adequate money for that option. For point of reference, a good roundtrip flight from Chicago to Paris in mid-October (Saturday to Thursday) is tracking at about $1,000 per person (more for nonstop) right now.

The location you’re flying from will also impact your costs. Flights out of larger, international airports are going to offer better rates than ones out of smaller regional airports. For instance, using the same October dates, a roundtrip flight to Paris from Manchester-Boston regional (instead of Chicago O’Hare) is tracking at more than $2,500 per person.

Be realistic about the experience you want.

Everyone has different travel preferences, and we aim to plan a trip for you that fits yours. So, it’s important that your budget correspond with the type of trip you hope and expect to have.

Hoping for Hong Kong? You'll likely want to budget about $1,000 per person for flights.

Hoping for Hong Kong? You’ll likely want to budget about $1,000 per person for flights.

For instance, say you indicate that an urban destination is your top choice and that you don’t need or want a rental car because you’ll rely on public transportation. However, you also say that the hotel is not important to you and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on it. While it’s possible to find hotel rooms for $100 or less per night, these options are more likely to be located outside the city center, on the freeway, or near the airport. Choosing one of these hotels would mean that your home base for the trip would be in a non-ideal location, and more of your trip time would be spent in transit, rather than exploring. This situation could also trigger the need for a rental car because public transportation would not be nearby or practical.

We hope this helps you estimate a budget for your mystery trip, but if you have questions, you can always talk with one of our travel consultants. And if you’re ready to go for it, fill out our questionnaire to get the process started!

Did you know Magical Mystery Tours plans non-mystery getaways, too? If you’re considering a trip to Chicago—or another already-decided-upon destination—and want us to handle the details, contact us today!


It’s the most wonderful time of the year: summer in Chicago.

Last June, I had the pleasure of planning a mystery trip for a couple of travelers to my home city: Chicago. I may be biased, but I think there are few better places to spend the summer than the Windy City. Everyone has come out of hibernation, patios and rooftops are open for business, Lake Michigan is sparkling and inviting, there’s a ton to do, and the whole city has a vibrancy that you can feel. With that in mind, here are a few tips for how to spend a weekend in Chicago during its best season.

Be outside as much as possible.
Look, Chicago has some world-class museums, but if you want my advice, save these for rainy or colder days and take advantage of the beautiful weather. There is no shortage of things to do, but here are my favorites:

  • Take long walks to explore the city. Each neighborhood offers something different, so slip on some comfortable sandals and head out on an adventure. While downtown, try strolling the Riverwalk, which runs along the south bank of the Chicago River between Franklin Street and Lake Shore Drive, and stop for a drink or a snack at one of the many little cafés along the way. You might also try taking a pay-what-you-want walking tour with Free Tours by Foot.
  • Take a boat cruise with the Chicago Architectural Foundation. Chicago’s architecture is known worldwide, and this 90-minute river tour gives you a chance to learn about more than 50 buildings and the history of how Chicago grew from a small outpost into one of the world’s largest cities in less than 100 years.
  • DeniseKatie - Cubs gameGo to a Cubs game. If they’re playing out of town, you can still take a tour of the historic ballpark. (I’m a North Sider, so I root for the Cubs, but you can also head south to U.S. Cellular Field to catch a White Sox game.)
  • Get out on beautiful Lake Michigan. You can rent a boat, take a sunset sail, go kayaking, bike along the 18-mile lakefront path, or simply spend some time at one of the beaches.
  • 20140807_205625Catch a free concert in Millennium Park. Grab some picnic food (bottles of wine and other adult beverages are A-OK) from one of the many restaurants near Michigan Avenue and head to Pritzker Pavilion for one of their 6:30 p.m. free symphony concerts.
  • Spend some time on a bar or restaurant patio. A few favorites are Big Star (tacos and margaritas), Parson’s Chicken and Fish (order a Negroni slushy), and Pub Royale (draft beers and ciders, cocktails, and Indian pub fare).

Then head indoors for this can’t-miss, quintessential Chicago activity.
When you’re in Chicago, you must take in a show at The Second City, the city’s legendary improv comedy club, where many greats got their start: Chris Farley, Dan Akroyd, Jim Belushi, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and many more. You can take your pick between the shows at the Mainstage or the E.T.C. stage, but book ahead because many shows sell out.

Prepare to eat and drink well.
Chicago’s food scene is so much more than hot dogs and pizza, so make sure you carve out some time for great meals. Here’s what Bon Appétit has to say:

“The Windy City has always been one of our favorite eating destinations. With its mix of confident cooking, brazen portions, diverse inspirations, and great local ingredients (not to mention the fact that everyone is so friendly—and so into food), it’s where you go for a big, fat weekend, or tack on an extra day to your business trip to squeeze in a few more reservations. (Did we mention the drink’s top-notch, too?) Definitely our kind of town.”

There isn’t possibly time to list all the great restaurants you could visit, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Lou Malnati’s—This is the gold standard in Chicago deep-dish, with the recipe passed down for decades from essentially the Godfather of Chicago Pizza.
  • Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf—Chicago has a lot of great steakhouses, but this newer French-style one, with its 1920s-style ambience, is the one I always want to come back to. You don’t even have to order steak; all the food is delicious, the cocktails are excellent, and please order the chocolate cream pie for dessert.20150902_225132
  • Au Cheval—This trendy, upscale diner serves quite possibly the best burger you’ll ever have. It doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared for a wait, but luckily it’s located on Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row, so you can wander the neighborhood and grab a snack or a drink at one of the many other hotspots while you’re waiting for your table.
  • Little Goat Diner—If you’re a Top Chef fan, you may remember Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard; this is one of her restaurants. Her empire also includes Girl & the Goat (innovative small plates) and Duck Duck Goat (creative Chinese cuisine), both of which require reservations far in advance. Little Goat is a fun, no-reservations spot where you can try her delicious food (think imagine American favorites).
  • Frontera Grill—In addition to pizza and street food like hot dogs and Italian beef, Chicago has a reputation for fantastic regional Mexican cuisine, thanks to the large segment of the city’s population with Mexican heritage. This spot, which serves creative, yet authentic Mexican dishes, is helmed by noted chef Rick Bayless, who has spent lots of time traveling, learning, and cooking in Mexico. A limited number of reservations are taken, but most tables are for walk-ins. If you aren’t seated right away, just try one of the fantastic margaritas while you wait!

Travelers, this just scratches the surface of all there is to do (and eat) in this great city. I could go on forever. But instead, come visit and see for yourself—or have Magical Mystery Tours plan a trip for you!

Donna, a previous Magical Mystery Tours customer, was in search of a perfect graduation gift for her nephew Ryan, and he knew just what he wanted: a mystery trip! The family headed to the airport, opened their envelope, and found out they were flying off to…Turks & Caicos!

When we heard from them upon their return, she said the trip would go down in the record books for the most fun ever had in five days. In fact, they had so much fun that they lost their camera along the way, so there aren’t any photos to share, but the memories won’t be forgotten!

MMT: Why was mystery travel attractive to you?
Debbie: My sister [Donna] had experienced a mystery trip with Magical Mystery Tours. She had an amazing experience and loved the idea of the mystery. When she asked my son what he wanted for his graduation gift, he replied “a mystery trip.” He was so excited and couldn’t wait to open his envelope at the airport. He was thoroughly surprised and frankly, I couldn’t believe he was so lucky to experience such an eventful trip—very economical and well-planned!

What were you looking for out of this trip?
A heck of a good time! As a mom, I loved watching my son with the element of the surprise and experiencing a wonderful dream beach vacation in Turks and Caicos. My son was so excited and anxious to open the envelope. The questionnaire nailed his dream surprise vacation perfectly. It was so beautiful and memorable, and my sister’s graduation gift will never be forgotten.

Any guesses about where you were headed? Were you surprised when you opened your reveal packet?
Yes, we all picked five destinations and had a bet about which one it would be. As a seasoned mystery traveler, my sister selected Turks and Caicos as one of the options. We were surprised and elated—never thought our budget would include such a beautiful island! The white beaches were stupendous and the food outstanding.

What was the highlight of your trip?
Alicia made our trip very special and handled our anxiety with great care, skill, and patience. Her choice of destinations couldn’t be more perfect—thanks, Alicia, you are the best! It’s hard to pick what was the main highlight, as the mystery of the destination was so much fun—and then to arrive at such a gorgeous beach was just perfect. The booze cruise didn’t hurt, either!

What are your top tips for new mystery travelers?
Answer the questionnaire honestly, and the agents will take it from there. My sister hasn’t been disappointed yet! Make sure your passport is up-to-date within six months of travel. Don’t worry about packing; the agents are great at giving you clues. DON’T cave to the pressure of wanting to know where you are going; open the envelope at the airport—it makes the experience that much more incredible! If you find you are traveling internationally, call your credit card companies at the airport to let them know you are traveling out of the country because it makes it easier to charge!

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


The vast majority of Magical Mystery Tours’ vacation requests are for standard, lovely vacations.  Our travelers want to relax, to check out local cuisine, do some touring.  The adventure lies in not knowing your destination until the last minute.  Occasionally we do get the odd request for swimming with sharks, eating bugs, and other extreme adventure…though seriously people, do you think we can do that and still get insurance??

Though one thing we have gotten used to is comparisons to CBS’s The Amazing Race!  And we’ll take it.  Check out a recent article on iExplore with the comparison!

And while we absolutely guarantee we’ll never send anyone bungee jumping unless they explicitly tell us that’s what they want, we will show you this amazing picture of Magical Mystery Tours’s very own Alicia Barrett bungee jumping in New Zealand!

Bungy Jump


Magical Mystery Tours has has the pleasure of working with some fantastic Canadian travelers ever since we were featured on Canadian radio shortly after our founding.  Though this month we’re thrilled to find ourselves in MoneySense magazine!

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 3.17.30 PM

Unfortunately, the content is only available through MoneySense’s app, though MoneySense interviewed Stephen and Alicia Ellington from Quebec, who had MMT plan their honeymoon last year.

Like many couples in the midst of wedding planning, Stephen and Alicia, were bogged down with other details, but still knew that they wanted a special honeymoon.  After months of anticipation, they found themselves on the way to in Italy and visited Naples, Capri, and Rome.

As MoneySense put it, “The honeymoon, recalls Ellington, was breathtaking. ‘Our itinerary was full of surprises: We dined with locals, swam at beaches that weren’t full of tourists and even had shoes made by a local shoemaker.”


MMT loves working with honeymooners and taking some of the wedding planning stress off of their shoulders.  We also absolutely love hearing reviews like this one from Alicia:

“We’ll never forget our honeymoon.  Opening the package just before boarding and discovering we were going to Italy was one of the highlights of my life…A mystery trip was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made and we’ll definitely be doing it again.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 3.06.25 PM



The ladies of Magical Mystery Tours put our minds together and came up with some gifts that we love to give (and that we’d love to receive!)  Without further adieu, here they are!

Stocking Stuffers

Nail Polish Remover Pads









Does anyone else go into a trip thinking about how awful your perfect nails are going to look one week in?  Problem solved in a TSA-friendly way!

Carry-On Cocktail Kit





In flight beverages are rarely all that tasty?  Why not be prepared to do better (and how cute are these??)

Travel Adapter

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.41.43 PM








We particularly like ones like this that have UBS ports, too!

Portable Battery

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.43.58 PM







Every traveler needs a portable battery!  These are so affordable and so worth it to make sure your phone doesn’t die during a crazy day of travels.  We’ve had good luck with the Anker brand ones.

Gifts for Your Travels

Jewelry Roll

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.09.14 PM








This jewelry roll is perfectly classy and compact, meaning you have no excuse not to be well dressed and accessorized when traveling. This lovely one from Pottery Barn comes in four different colors and can be monogrammed, which only adds to the luxe feel.

Luggage Scale

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.20.30 PM








We picked up a simple one of these from Target before trying out Spirit Airlines (NEVER AGAIN), and it’s an easy, light thing to throw in the top/front pocket of your suitcase if you’re an indecisive overpacker or like to come home with lots of souvenirs.

Longchamp Large Le Pilage Tote

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.31.47 PM








This has been my go-to carry-on for about five years.  It holds everything, is super light-weight, and always looks nice.

Reading Materials!





You can never go wrong with an Amazon or B&N gift card.  And we can’t wait to try out the Penguin hotline to help pick out the perfect books for our traveling buddies!

TrekReady Packing Cubes







We love a well-organized suitcase. We were gifted these last year, and they have made both packing and living out of a suitcase while traveling so much easier.

Vinyasa Scarf

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 9.28.35 AM








This lululemon scarf couldn’t be more perfect for travel.  It’s super soft, versatile (see video on their website for all the ways you can wear it), and is basically like having your own personal blanket to snuggle with on the plane.

To Help Plan Future Travels

Cork Globe









This cork globe is a conversation piece that serves as the perfect way to humble-brag about your travels. It comes with a set of push-pins to show where you’ve gone, but I would get a second color to show places you want to go and then swap the colors once you check destinations off your list.

Little Passports

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.14.12 PM








We look forward to the day that our kids are old enough to benefit from these kits, which introduce them to the beautiful world we live in. Children learn about geography, music, currency, cultures, and different people groups. It’s a great way to show children that the world does not revolve around them and that it’s a fun place to explore. The kits can be bought per month or have 6 and 12 month subscriptions. There are different kids for different ages, going from 3-12 years old.

Nespresso Espresso Maker









Ok…maybe this is a stretch, but hey, we first discovered Nespresso this year the Park Hyatt in Abu Dhabi, and all good travel planning sessions are caffeine-felled, right?  The most delicious coffee-pods we’ve had by far.

And last but not least…







We already know that some lucky folks will be finding mystery trips under the tree!  We’re also happy to do gift cards for those who need a little extra time to settle on the details of their mystery trip.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 7.50.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 7.50.58 PM