When I was a kid, I loved surprises. I guess you could say this is true of most children. But while my best friends would call me in the early morning hours on Christmas day to hear what Id gotten from Santa (no doubt so they could compare it with their own loot), what really got me excited had little to do with presents.
No, the surprise that could put me in an instant state of euphoric anticipation always started with a simple question posed by my dad: Want to go on a trip?
Twenty-some-odd years later, just the idea of exploring a new patch of our planet still does it to me every time.
For me, travel is the ultimate surprise in life because no matter how much you plan and strategize and agonize over the details, you can pretty much expect the unexpected. And I love every second of it.
I wouldnt trade those magical, spur-of-the-moment travel experiences for anything, which is how I recently found myself taking the ultimate travel risk: I agreed to a seven-day vacation without actually knowing where I was going.
To be fair, I knew the dates that Id be traveling, but thats it. Im fully aware that a bunch of you über-Type As out there reading this are already registering a sudden spike in your blood pressure.
Truth is, the only reason that I even entertained such a slightly scary notion had everything to do with the company whod be organizing my trip: American Express Travel.
The name of this curious venture: Nextpedition. The premise: Help people like myself, suffering from an incurable bout of wanderlust, have a once-in-a-lifetime mystery travel experience tailor-matched to the individuals Travel Sign.
If it all sounds a little cosmic, thats the point. Kind of like travel.
The process starts with an online quiz (pictured above), which culls your top two Travel Signs from a list of 20 personality types. To avoid spoiling the, well, surprise should you decide to take the quiz, Ill only divulge a few of my answers: Cheetah. Meteor. Wine. Zipline. (Ideally not all experienced in that order.)
Your signs sussed out, step #2 is a thorough consult with a Nextpedition Specialist, who covers everything from the places youve been that youre still lusting over (South Africa!) to the not-so-high-on-my-sweet-spot list (London. I know, I know!). And I mean thorough: We even discussed key fears, with my biggest one being snakes on the ground, sinisterly hiding in a tree or on a plane.
The Specialist then crafts a seven-day trip, based on your budget, which includes hotel, round-trip airfare, and two top secret activities that speak to your Travel Sign. There are three categories of Nextpeditions: Three Stars, Four Stars, and Five Stars, with destinations offered in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and certain islands in the Caribbean.
Once youve signed the contract, you receive a pack list a few weeks prior to your trip and a Secret Agent-type device, known as a travel console (pictured at right), 72 hours before you depart. (Its basically a smartphone, which also allows you to post photos, videos, and trip dispatches directly to your Facebook page in real time.)
Along with your console comes a card that finally divulges the first of your two destinations. But the surprises dont end here: Each morning of your trip, you learn about your itinerary for that day and only that day, which could be anything from a sea kayak trek in Vancouver to a day spent at gladiator school in Rome.
This, of course, leads me back to those Travel Signs, which sound exotic in their own right. Was I a Blisstorian or a Tasteblazer? A Trengineer or a Detourist? I most certainly wasnt a Cyber Survivor, which had the following very unappealing description: Its time to pack up, plug in, and get going! You drool at the latest gadgets . . . Doesnt that defeat the whole point of travel?
After a careful tabulation, my Travel Signs were spot on: Adrenalista and Farbarian. The latter, symbolized by a Viking vessel, read you wander far, and getting lost in nature is how you find yourself. But how will we find you?
But its the Adrenalista description that really had me at you are a diamond in the buff, streaking through mountain passes and river gorges, on an epic search for the ultimate rush. The symbol? A hand clenching a lightning bolt, naturally. (Its worth noting that my new boss was worried, very worried, by both of these signs.)
As I type this, my suitcase is out and I plan to shortly check off the last item on my pack list: A sense of adventure (youre a Farbarian, after all).
That is, as soon as I know where Im going!
Stay tuned for part two . . .
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