Profile: Lillian Rafson's Pack Up & Go has taken off fast
May 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Lillian Rafson, owner of Pack Up & Go in East Liberty.
By Patricia Sabatini / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lillian Rafson, owner of the quirky, East Liberty-based travel startup Pack Up & Go, has been losing sleep lately. Not because she’s worried about paying the bills.
Just the opposite.
The business has taken off so fast that she’s been working extra-long hours keeping up.
Launched on Jan. 1, the company arranges three-day weekend trips to surprise destinations in the U.S. Customers only know where they are going the day of departure, although they get some guidance on what to pack.
The 23-year-old Squirrel Hill native with a degree in consumer culture from New York University got the idea for her unusual travel firm during a three-month summer backpacking adventure along the west coast in Europe.
It was during a stop in Riga, the capital of Latvia, that she first heard about the surprise vacation concept taking root there. In September, she moved back to Squirrel Hill from New York to give entrepreneurship a try.
In the first 2 1/2 months, she had booked some 90 getaways for customers across the U.S.
“It’s pretty amazing to me that I’m planning trips for people in Shreveport, La.,” she said, attesting the power of the Internet.
Customers fill out a survey indicating their travel dates, types of trips they enjoy and budget, ranging from $450 to $2,000 per person. Then Pack Up & Go selects the mystery destination and makes the arrangements.
Ms. Rafson’s transformation from vagabond to business owner has been “crazy.”
“It’s really taken off a lot quicker than I had anticipated,” she said.
One of her biggest fears is growing so quickly that the product suffers.
“I don’t want customers to feel like they have a generic travel experience,” she said.
So far, one of the hardest things for Ms. Rafson to adjust to has been working alone and “not having a team to sound ideas off,” she said.
Located in The Beauty Shoppe, a shared office and meeting space in East Liberty, Pack Up & Go recently hired its first part-timer and has an intern lined up for the summer.
Ms. Rafson’s advice for others experiencing a transformation is to “embrace the fear of the unknown and trust that it will work out.”
For her, the journey so far has been sweet. “Travel is my favorite thing to do,” she said. “It’s nice being able to share that passion.”
Patricia Sabatini: PSabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.
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