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Aug. 15, 2020

#143: Lillian Rafson, Founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go, a Travel Agency with Surprise Destinations, on Bootstrapping the Business, Planning 10,000+ Trips, and Running a Travel Company During the COVID Crisis

#143: Lillian Rafson, Founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go, a Travel Agency with Surprise Destinations, on Bootstrapping the Business, Planning 10,000+ Trips, and Running a Travel Company During the COVID Crisis

Lillian Rafson, founder and CEO of , launched the business in January 2016 at 23 years old. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, and a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School with a major in Consumer Culture, Lillian has always had a passion...


Lillian Rafson, founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go, launched the business in January 2016 at 23 years old. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, and a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School with a major in Consumer Culture, Lillian has always had a passion for travel and supporting small businesses. Without raising a dollar, Lillian has grown Pack Up + Go to a multi-million-dollar business with 10 full-time employees. She has been honored as a member of the inaugural Pittsburgh Business Times 30 Under 30 class, and as a Tory Burch Foundation Fellow. She is thrilled to share her love for exploration through Pack Up + Go’s mission of embracing the unknown and encouraging spontaneity in all of its travelers.

Pack Up + Go is a modern travel agency, planning 3-day weekend trips around the United States. The catch? Your destination is a surprise until the day you depart. Pack Up + Go revolutionizes domestic travel, using the element of surprise to heighten how American travelers perceive and experience their country. They take the pain out of planning by booking travel and accommodation, while providing curated city guides for three-day weekend excursions. Their customer seeks to explore the United States with an angle of spontaneity, ease, and adventure. They work to distribute the socioeconomic benefits of tourism among small and mid-sized cities, while encouraging travelers to experience places they may not seek out organically. Much of current American travel pivots on a few major metropolitan destinations, homogenizing the domestic travel experience.

Pack Up + Go challenges the status quo to make travel exciting and unique. Customers select their budget (for travel + accommodation), and complete a quick survey detailing travel history and preferences. Given their budget and survey responses, the Pack Up + Go team selects the perfect destination for the trip. They send customers on their way with a city guide toolkit in hand - since travelers don't have time to do research on their destination. Pack Up + Go provides a curated map of recommendations, tailored to travelers' interests and preferences, all while supporting local businesses. The goal is for travelers to feel as though their oldest friend is showing them around somewhere new. There’s somewhere to explore this weekend. They do the work - you pack up + go.

Connect with Lillian Rafson

Some of the Topics Covered by Lillian Rafson in this Episode

  • Quitting her job to travel
  • How Lillian started Pack Up + Go in 2016
  • Coming from a family of entrepreneurs
  • Lillian's informal process of customer discovery
  • Lillian's original model for Pack Up + Go
  • Winning a local pitch competition for women in business
  • Success as a mix of luck and hard work and struggling with impostor syndrome
  • Getting her first customers outside of her social circle
  • Navigating pricing
  • The influence the first few travelers had on marketing and other aspects of Pack Up + Go
  • How Lillian and her team decide on destinations
  • Managing customer feedback
  • Building out the Pack Up + Go team
  • Customer acquisition and media attention
  • Bootstrapping the business and the benefit of partnerships
  • The challenge of Lillian's evolving role as the business has grown
  • What travelers get with Pack Up + Go
  • Balancing building the company while working at a bar
  • The "good problems" that led to upgrading their technology
  • How COVID has affected the business
  • Overnight product development during COVID
  • Building community among fellow entrepreneurs and becoming a Tory Burch Fellow
  • Lillian's book recommendations
  • Lillian's advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

Links from the Episode