Destination Unknown: Travel Editor Kate Wills Roadtests the Surprise Holiday
I’ve never been good at surprises. When a boyfriend organised a surprise birthday party for me, I burst into tears (and not the happy kind). I’ve even been known to open and reseal my Christmas presents before the big day (just to double check I like them) and I always flick to the last page of a book. Ruining the ending is worth it so that I don’t end up reeling from a surprise death I wasn’t ready for. (Spoiler alert: One Day has a lot to answer for.)
And when it comes to my holidays, I like to be similarly prepared. Before I get on the plane, I’ll have researched the best restaurants, perused the menus and maybe even chosen what I’ll order, and I will almost certainly know what I’m wearing because I’ll have packed it especially. So the idea of trusting someone else to pick my holiday – someone who doesn’t even know me – filled me with equal parts excitement and trepidation.
BeRightBack (BRB) is a new subscription-travel service which, like a Netflix of holidays, allows you to pay a membership fee every month and get sent to three surprise European destinations each year, with flights and hotel included in the subscription. Whilst your flights, accommodation and destination are a surprise until one month before travel, you remain in control as you can veto certain cities (I untick Berlin and Paris, as I’ve been to these cities recently), select your preferred break type, and pick your preferred airport and flight times. Their travel experts then use your travel preferences to match you to the best possible experience.
BRB is just one of many travel companies now capitalising on the element of surprise. From high-end luxury travel agent Black Tomato’s ‘Get Lost’ trips, to srprs.me’s more budget offerings, visiting a destination unknown is a growing trend. In fact, Pinterest reports that searches for surprise trips went up 192% last year. BRB works like this: you fill in your details and tick the type of holiday you’re looking for, whether it’s romantic, adventurous, quirky or you’re ‘doing it for the ‘gram’. Then you pick the dates you want to go away, and...that’s it. You sit back and let BRB do the rest. Then one month before your departure date, BRB send you a red envelope with a postcard revealing your destination.
A few weeks later, the moment of truth arrives. Tearing open my envelope, I finally understand the appeal of surprise travel. This is a thrill you just don’t get from trawling Expedia and Skyscanner to choose your minibreak.
My postcard told me I was going to…drumroll, please... Seville. A city I’d never been to, and knew embarrassingly little about. Luckily, BRB provide a guide to the best spots, and because I only had a week to go before my trip, I didn’t feel obliged to do all of my usual research on the must-see attractions.
Instead, I hopped on the plane, landed in Seville and wandered about like I was the kind of free and easy traveller who can just shove a spare pair of knickers in a rucksack and have a great weekend. Luckily, Seville is a great city for just following your nose because it normally ends up in a sherry or a plate of delicious jamon. The crowds spilling out onto the pavement outside El Rinconcillo were a clear sign to step inside, and it turned out to be one of the oldest tapas bars in town, where they write your tab on the table in chalk and huge legs of pork dangle from the ceiling. I had one of the best meals of my life here, involving chunks of buttery, fatty Iberian ham.
With its warm weather, low prices and walkability, Seville is undoubtedly a city that’s well suited to a seat-of-the-pants minibreak. It’s pretty hard to miss the gothic cathedral (it’s the world’s largest, after all) and the Alcazar palace is worth queueing up for, not only for its beautiful gardens, but because it’s the setting for Dorne in Game of Thrones. On my last day, taking in the panorama of the Plaza de Espana, it occurs to me that if BRB hadn’t sent me here, I might never have gotten around to ever visiting Seville. And I never would have tasted that ham. So maybe surprises aren’t so bad after all...
5 pieces to pack for a surprise trip
Whether it’s a short-notice minibreak or a ‘just bring your passport’ romantic weekend, here’s how to laugh in the face of last-minute luggage...
1. The Cross-Body Bag
The ultimate throw-on-and-go bag for exploring, hiking, dancing... Don’t leave home without it. Or your passport.
2. The T-Shirt Dress
Easy for the beach, cool enough for the bar, covered-up enough for sightseeing; the t-shirt dress is the surprise holiday-maker’s secret weapon.
3. The Lightweight Knit
An essential for any trip, it will take you from chilly air-conned planes to less-than-balmy nights.
4. The Comfiest Shoes
When you don’t know what your adventure holds – whether it’s trekking up volcanoes or pounding pavements – you need shoes that go the distance.
5. The Loose-Waist Trousers
Slouchy trousers that are comfy enough for travelling, but can be styled up with accessories for night-time, are a travel editor’s must-have.
Follow Kate Wills on Instagram @katewillswrites
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