Teacher Charlotte McGhee launches “Surprise Travel” concept starting at $1,500 aimed at the adventurous

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Ever had the urge to show up at our Charlotte airport, open an envelope and go wherever it tells you to go? Well, now you can.

Katie Caison and her fiancé Rob McCormick are admitted workaholics and diligent planners. They’re Type-A people, fretting over the details. They’re also moving into a new home, starting new businesses, and getting married this September, so there’s a lot to plan.

When it came to the honeymoon though, they decided all that planning was ruining the fun.

“We thought, what if we could just not do any of it,” Caison said of their travel arrangements.

As it turned out, a friend had the perfect suggestion: Surprise travel.

In Europe, the trend is becoming relatively popular. You tell a travel agent what you like, and the travel agent does the rest. In the U.S., it’s a business in its infancy, but Charlotte McGhee – yes, she has the same name as the city where she lives, and yes, she still finds it strange — sees a big future.

McGhee launched a side hustle business earlier this year called Whisked Away, aimed at taking the minutiae of travel planning out of the hands of travelers, and turning a vacation into an adventure.

“It’s about people who want that sense of surprise and hate planning,” McGhee said.

That’s not exactly the case for Caison and McCormick, but once they made the decision to turn over responsibility for their honeymoon to McGhee, the concept quickly felt right.

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How does Whisked Away make money? The company charges a small portion of your total budget to research & book your surprise travel adventure, but the majority of your budget goes to your trip.

The process is pretty straightforward.

McGhee  asks a few simple questions about travel dates and budget, then has clients fill out a brief survey about their interests. Then, a week before their departure date, the clients receive a full dossier with flight information, hotels and recommendations for activities and dining.

The cost can range anywhere from about $1,500 for a weeklong solo trip in North America, with a higher cost for longer trips to more exotic locales, but McGhee said there’s a trip to be planned for almost any budget.

“If you’re into walking tours and craft beers, that’s what you’ll get,” McGhee said. “If you eat only organic food, that’s what you’ll get. But the recommendations are just that. They’re still free to do whatever they want.”

Caison and McCormick were so taken with the idea that they’re planning to avoid opening their packet until they get to the airport.

“Just let us know the weather and what to pack,” Caison said.

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Here are a few pricing examples. The 1 Week Multi-Traveler North American package ranges from $1,000 to $4,000 per person. The 1 Week Solo Traveler European package ranges from $2,500 to $5,000.

McGhee, who is a teacher by trade, admits most people need a little more convincing.

It’s a new idea, and it requires trust. But once she explains the concept and recites her rolodex of contacts throughout North America, Latin America and Europe, a large majority are intrigued.

“It takes a certain type of person,” McGhee said, admitting she’d have a tough time handing over her vacation plans to someone else, “but most people are pretty psyched about it.”

McGhee began traveling when she was 17, visiting Costa Rica as an exchange student. Since then, she’s visited more than 20 countries and plans to add more this summer. The planning, she said, is part of the fun for her, but she understands why most people don’t want to come home from work, then sit at a computer searching flights and hotel deals for hours on end.

Still, business has spread largely by word of mouth, and McGhee has had to remind herself that it takes a while to grow a business — especially one that even she admits is hard to refine to a concise elevator pitch. But once people come to terms with letting go of the control and just enjoying the ride, it all makes sense.

“The idea has captivated people,” McGhee said. “It takes a little while for people to digest that.”
“It’s that feeling you had as a kid for Christmas or your birthday, but it’s for travel.”

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