Exploring New Horizons with Pack Up + Go CEO Lillian Rafson

Learning as You Go

Pack Up + Go is a surprise travel agency that plans vacations for adventure seekers. Imagine this: hotel accommodations, flight reservations, and itinerary all planned out for your next vacation! No planning. All you have to do is show up. I know, you’re probably thinking, “This is too good to be true,” but it’s not, and you can thank founder and CEO, Lillian Rafson, for taking all of your pre-vacation planning stress away.

Lillian founded Pack Up + Go in 2016 after she decided to leave her job in New York to do some traveling for self-discovery. She had an epiphany during her pilgrimage in Riga, Latvia where she met two women who were on a surprise vacation that was set up through a Dutch travel agency. Lillian was so inspired and intrigued by the idea that she packed up her things and went back to her home town of Pittsburgh to figure out how she could create her own travel company in the U.S. Ms. Rafson stated, “I had never worked in the travel industry before, had never started a business before, and really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the concept would do well in the United States. A few friends let me plan practice trips for them, and I applied to an all-female pitch competition in Pittsburgh. It was my first time ever pitching the business, and I won first place! That gave me the confidence I needed to continue moving forward.”

Open Road, Open Mind

Being an avid traveler herself, Lillian new firsthand how stressful planning trips could be, but she also understood the benefits of traveling to new places as well. She explained, “It’s hard to describe the benefits of travel, but you can feel them. Travel rejuvenates, invigorates, and inspires. There’s no better sensation than coming home from a getaway with a newfound sense of wonder and appreciation for a place you’ve just visited. Traveling forces you out of your comfort zone, encourages you to talk to new people, try new foods, and keep an open mind.” She went on to further say, “Especially in today’s world where people tend to be more isolated from their neighbors, I think travel is critically important. Traveling creates community and reminds us to be human, and that’s the most valuable lesson we can learn.” Ms. Rafson mentioned that her next dream vacation is a road trip through small towns along the coast of Maine, Vermont, or the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Taking the Road Less Traveled

Traveling not only teaches you a lot about different cultures and communities, but it teaches you a lot about yourself as well. Putting yourself in an unfamiliar environment or a situation you’ve never encountered before is how you grow and learn. Traveling isn’t the only instance when someone is placed outside of her comfort zone. Starting a new job, moving to a new town, or going off to college are all examples of experiences that create encounters with unfamiliarity in a person’s life. Taking that leap of faith into the unknown can be scary, but sometimes taking those leaps is exactly what you need to do. Two phrases that always help Lillian get through difficult situations are: “If not now, when?” and “Yalla!”

“If not now, when?”- When you are constantly waiting for that perfect moment to take that leap of faith, you’ll end up never jumping. You’ll simply always be waiting. When an opportunity presents itself to you, take it and own it. Don’t be afraid to embark on new and exciting journeys.

“Yalla!”- Yalla is an Arabic word that translates to, “come on,” and “hurry up!” Ms. Rafson explained the significance of this word to her: “After a trip to Israel, I flew to Spain to do a cross-country bike trip with my brother. I hadn’t trained nearly enough, and the first day of the trip was entirely uphill. I was exhausted. Every few minutes, I thought about getting off my bike and walking up the rest of the mountain, but I knew that if I got off my bike, it would be even harder to get back on, so every single pedal, I said, “yalla!” out loud to myself. Sure enough, I (eventually) made it to the top of the mountain, and going down the other side is one of the most rewarding memories I have.”

Exploring New Horizons

The future can be intimidating, but by keeping these phrases in mind, the future appears to be much more manageable. When asked about the future of Pack Up + Go, Ms. Rafson responded, “I’d love to introduce a multi-city trip option and longer trip options. There are so many great destinations within the country, and I really love supporting the local economies with domestic tourism.” She also loves the happiness and joy that the trips she plans bring those who use Pack Up + Go. Lillian states, “I’m filled with so much pride every time we receive photos of travelers with huge smiles on their faces. There are so many factors in the travel industry that can cause a lot stress, from the weather to random flight cancellations, but hearing from a happy traveler makes all of the madness worth it!” Ms. Rafson reminds us all to embrace our inner traveler. Life is so dynamic, and by avoiding the unknown, we are missing out on so many chances to explore different parts of ourselves. The next time you’re apprehensive about a new experience or opportunity, simply remember that sometimes the best thing to do is simply pack up and go.

Contributor: Ally Massimi

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