Revealed: How Your Mystery Destination Is Chosen

If you've watched any of the fun reveal videos we've shared, you may be wondering "why would they go THERE!?" It's a great question and the answer varies as much as the people traveling and their destinations. Every trip comes with a lot of forethought and consideration about the individual(s) traveling.


To be really honest, choosing the destination for a Mystery Trip is a little bit stressful...and a TON of fun! There is a lot of pressure to pick the absolute perfect destination and those voices that say "what if they don't like it?" are very real, friends. We want the destination to be SO perfect for each traveler.


That's why we have a very detailed initial conversation, usually followed by a handful of follow up questions during the planning process. The entire time you're talking about your travel dreams, we're flipping through a mental catalog of all sorts of possible destinations and shifting direction as we get more information, in order to land on a place that you love that works with your budget and when you want to go!


It is a blend of art and science that results in the perfect Mystery Destination and we're ready to tell you how we do it!


Here's how this is gonna go down: I'm going to lay out the major factors we consider, in somewhat of an order of their weight factor, then give you real life examples of the decision-making that went into two of this year's trips!

1) When do you want to go and for how long?


Adventure Alchemy traveler Chris Cummings snapped this gorgeous shot at The Great Salt Lake at the start of their Mystery Trip.

Usually, the very first questions we ask are: "When do you want to travel?" and "What length of trip are you considering?" If you have 3 or 4 days and live on the West Coast, it's important that you don't spend the bulk of your time travelling to the East Coast, using precious time en route AND losing even more time zone currency!


Not only that, but the second item we will discuss, Budget, is deeply affected by timing, which is why we want to know this before anything else.


The time of year is important as well - it affects not only the budget and the climate; but the cost of travel fluctuates throughout the year.


Pro Tip: January is the most affordable month of the year to travel within the U.S. This leads us to the next factor...


2) What is your Budget?

Once timing is established, the next thing we take into account is your budget- and this is a really important conversation. The perfect destination, with all the right bells and whistles is completely irrelevant if it's way outside your budget! Budget is impacted by not only the time of year and the cost of things at the destination itself; but, by the kinds of activities there are to do, as well as how easily accessible the place is. If you are on a small budget, we will try for a place that has a major airport, is very walkable and definitely must have lots of free/public things to enjoy.


Your personal interests affect the budget tremendously as we weigh out what you would like to do at your destination with how much those things cost! For example, if you have a small budget and love being outdoors, it is perfect to create a trip that has you hoofing it through nature since there is no expense involved. It's a balancing act, for sure, and requires some fun, yet advanced, travel math to get the numbers to work!


3) Where are you coming from?

Where you are coming from has a bigger impact than you may realize. Certain parts of the country and even specific airports are known for being pricey, while others are consistently more affordable. Where you live also determines if you can get a direct flight or need to drive a long way to get to a major airport. This is a factor we have no control over; but, must be considered.


4) What is the extent of your Travel Experience?

I always love to hear where you've been, what travel experiences you've had, where you may be going next, or if you've traveled anywhere at all. And, we've heard it all. Some clients are taking their first vacation ever and others have been to all 50 states and others have more international travel experience but haven't seen much of the U.S. There is always a world of things to explore and listening to your travel experience and what has been memorable for you influences our planning greatly.


5) What do you like doing?

Most people have at-home hobbies as well as things they only do on vacation. We like to know about all of them so we can craft something that you might never have thought of. We look for themes and then, when given license, like to get creative with new things you will enjoy that share commonalities with things you've already done.


Are you a foodie? Do you have a particular interest in coffee shops, donuts, burgers, bakeries, antiques, animals? Each of these is a clue to solving the puzzle, figuring out a little bit of who you are, and sending you to the perfect place!


6) What's your Vision for this trip?

As we go deeper into the rabbit hole with each client, we learn WHY you want to take this trip! Do you want to go go go, or do you want to kick back and relax? Do you want to be pushed out of your comfort zone or not? Do you want to go somewhere urban, medium sized, small-town America? Maybe you just want to go take in some of the incredible natural sites the be experienced all over the country.


There is a distinctive vibe to any city, town, region and we work hard to make sure it lines up with your vision for your trip! If you want slow and quiet; but airfare is super low to New York from where you live, we need to keep brainstorming because the big apple is teeming with energy. But, if you want to drive to your destination, you want to go somewhere you've never been, and you've visited most of the notable places around you - we have to get REALLY creative or revisit what's important.


7) How selective are you?

Mystery Trips are not for everyone. We make sure to ask if there is anywhere you would NOT want to go and why? Have you spent a ton of time in the Northeast and want to get to some other places? Have you been to Florida and don't care to go back?


(these are actual things we've heard, by the way)


If you come into a Mystery Trip hoping for a particular destination, or have a shortlist of places you're hoping for - you may want to reconsider the Mystery part of your trip. You absolutely must approach the experience without expectations and with openness to anywhere!


REAL LIFE TRIPS AND HOW WE DECIDED

Now that all of that is out of the way, let's show you how it works in real life. I think of it kind of like a rubics cube - you keep moving the pieces around until they all fit. If even one cube is off, it's not the right destination. Most of the time, the destinations are places that I have experienced first hand, or have connections to in one way or another. I don't like to take chances on what a place MIGHT be like - I want to know before you go! So, without further adieu, I'm excited to show you how this works in action... here we go!


Serendipity - in a Tea Cup!

Lea wanted to surprise her husband with a Mystery Trip for his birthday. The criteria?

  • Three-day weekend

  • Within a few hours' drive from Nashville

  • They wanted to just take it slow

  • They like taking walks and spending time together

One thing that I remember very distinctly about my initial conversation with Lea, and I paraphrase: "it wouldn't hurt my feelings if we didn't see a single person the entire time."


Their destination: Draper, Virginia. A cozy little village that is situated along the New River, it has the nicest folks and most beautiful setting you could imagine.

They had this cabin all to themselves for the weekend.

We quickly reserved a lovely cabin, overlooking the river, that included a screened-in porch and nearby access to walking trails. The Draper Mercantile is the lovely centerpiece to this area and allowed them to have cozy meals and even a tea service at the Draper Blooms Tea Garden.


Little did we know - this couple is a huge fan of high tea and even had a tea service for their wedding reception. Serendipity! That little detail was entirely unknown to us; but was a lovely little touch that made the entire trip perfect.


Believe it or not, these little winks from the universe happen with almost every trip!

Solo Trip with Fun Twists

We heard from "T" who wanted to take a solo trip, in October, to somewhere she'd never been. The clues we used:

  • Wanted to fly somewhere, departing from the Chicago area

  • Hadn't been West or Northwest much

  • Don't care for things that are super touristy

  • Loves coffee, books, and "weird/creepy things"

  • Not particular about the climate

This destination came to me confidently well before the conversation ended. Nothing could have been more perfect for T than Portland, Oregon. With a strong coffee culture, plenty of weird to see and enjoy, and the famous Powell's City of Books, there wasn't even a second choice. She was open to some creative experiences and when we followed up to see what she thought about staying in a "haunted hotel." She said "yes" without hesitation! We booked her at the Shilo Inn and crossed our fingers for a ghost sighting!


Probably the best part of this trip though, was when T asked if there were any tattoo shops in the area and would it possible to include time into her trip for a souvenir tattoo. What T didn't know when she asked that (and you may not know), is that I am an avid souvenir tattoo collector (I feel a future blog coming on). She was speaking my love language and I may or may not have threatened to surprise her by showing up in Portland with her! I researched deeply for tattoo shops in the Portland that a) I would be personally comfortable with; and b) accepted walk-ins. T was offered 4 possibilities, with Freaks & Geeks at the top of the list and that is where she went! Shout out to this amazing shop for taking great care of her (go give them a follow on insta).

We could keep going; but, it may be fun to share more stories of trips with you in more detail in future blogs, so we will wrap up here. I have intentionally left out the budgets for these clients; but, know that each of these trips took budget into consideration along with all of the other factors. Every trip has its own challenges and there is usually a centerpiece that drives the final decision, such as: somewhere warm, a small town, something quiet, great food, exciting nightlife, full of history, a national park, big city...the possibilities are endless.


If you were sharing your vision of a trip, what would it look like? We would love to hear from you and have the chance to solve your Mystery Trip puzzle with the perfect destination!


Reach out, let us know and if you think of it, mention us to your friends - we love referrals and we thank you for them!

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