By Susan Farewell
“I’ll never forget Chuck’s face,” explains Jackie Pash of Long Island, New York.
Her husband Chuck’s schedule is like clockwork, coming home from work at 5:40 pm every day and settling in for the evening.
But one February day five years ago, as he opened the front door to an unusually dark house, the Beatles song, “They Say it’s Your Birthday” was blasting away. There in front of him was a pile of suitcases with “Happy Birthday” helium balloons attached. And standing nearby, his delighted wife and practically-jumping-out-of-his-skin then-five-year-old son, Mark.
Within minutes, gobsmacked Chuck, one determined Jackie and little Mark (along with his Thomas the Tank bag), were in a car being whisked to the airport. Their destination: the Swiss Alps.
“Chuck had been working like a dog,” explains Jackie, “so while we normally give each other dinner or maybe tickets to a show, I wanted to do something really special so he could have a real break.”
Organizing the whole thing was not an easy task, mainly because Jackie had to work it out with Chuck’s boss to get the time off. One minor snag, she didn’t have a clue what the boss’s last name was and had to speak directly with him. A bit of detective work and she got over that hurdle.
She also had to prepare her son for the trip, but didn’t want him to give it away. So she waited until the last possible minute to tell him and then gave him the ‘important’ task of controlling the remote for the music when dad was coming through the door. “He loved being in on it,” she beams.
Surprisingly, Chuck did not resist. “Work had just been so crazy,” says Jackie, adding, “He called his boss from the car and was very happy.”
“Skiing in the Swiss Alps was on our list of places we wanted to go as a family,” she continues. “So I knew he’d be thrilled. We also saw it as Mark’s chance to get out on skis for the first time.”
Aside from the whole trip being a birthday gift extraordinaire, Jackie had arranged to have dinner at Restaurant Tshugga, which friends had told her about. “It was an experience we’ll never forget. We hiked up a mountain to the restaurant which was in a farmhouse and had great fondue with fresh-baked bread. Afterwards, we sledged down the mountain into the valley, laughing so hard the whole way.” She adds, “To this day, we still talk about it. "
Surprising The Whole Family
A few years ago, Renee Bowie and her two daughters of Cousins Island, Maine, found a really special gift under the Christmas tree: a printed itinerary that included hotel and restaurant details as well as soccer tickets to two matches in England.
“We’re kind of a soccer family,” she explains, and her husband Scott had managed to arrange for them to see two English Premier League games, one in North London, the other in Chelsea. They went over for a long weekend, while both girls were on school breaks. (Pictured here is Renee on the left with her daughter, Callie at the Stamford Bridge Stadium, Chelsea's home stadium).
“It was amazing that he was able to pull it all off and we didn’t have a clue,” she explains. “And the trip wound up being really special for our family. We had great weather and when we weren’t at the games, we spent the time enjoying London including some great restaurants.”
Where Are We Going?
For a big birthday celebration, Julie Walsh of Westport, Connecticut, had no idea where she was going until she and her husband arrived at a Bed and Breakfast in Marrakech. Prior to the trip, her husband Christian had dropped a whole string of clues, but they were all designed to confuse her. “I thought we might be going to the Galapagos Islands,” she explains, “ but then he said something about Canada. ”
The night before the trip, he put clothes on the bed and told her to pack. She continues, “A hired car picked us up at 5:30 in the morning in the pitch dark. I knew when we went towards JFK , not LaGuardia Airport, that it was probably International. I had butterflies the whole time.”
At the airport, Chris managed to let the counter and security people in on it. He speaks fluent French and rapidly let them know about his plan so even when it was clear they were boarding a Royal Air Maroc flight, Julie didn’t know she was going to Morocco.
“ By then, I was sure we were going to Cameroon because I have a friend there,” she says. “Chris played along, saying, ‘yeah…we’re going to Cameroon’. The security people even said, ‘Have a great time in Cameroon.” The couple arrived in Casablanca and then continued on to Marrakech where it was finally revealed that that was the surprise destination.
Impressed? It’s old hat for Chris. This was not the first time he went to great lengths to surprise his wife. “ For our 25th anniversary, we traveled to six Asian countries in three weeks and wound up on a beach in Bali—Kuta Beach—where we originally met. He had it completely orchestrated down to the last detail. The entire trip was a surprise!” she says.
Not Everyone Likes Surprises
“Jim is the ultimate romantic,” explains Mercedes Velgot. “He’s forever surprising me with flowers, date nights, short trips.” But I’m someone who doesn’t like surprises. I end up badgering him for details—basically because I want to know what to pack.”
One year, he planned a trip to Paris for a week for her and their young son. While she managed to get it out of him before they went, he did plant surprises along the way including a treatment and a massage at a spa and a special dinner at Restaurant Lasserre in the 8th arrondisement.
Another year, he surprised them both with a trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas (pictured left). “I got him to reveal the destination about a week before the trip,” she says.
And then just recently, he surprised her with a spur-of-the-moment weekend visit to Manhattan, which is just over an hour from their Weston, Connecticut home. “He made reservations at Café Luxembourg where had had one of our first dates,” she says, “and he also got tickets to a Steely Dan concert.” So maybe she doesn’t like surprises, but looks like she didn’t return any of the gifts.
A Dream Come True
While not a surprise trip, Pat Ahern, of Fairfield, Connecticut put together a dream-come-true vacation for her husband, Dan. “He was retiring and I wanted to give him something really special so I asked him 'What would you like to do in your life that you have not done already?'" He answered, “I would have liked to have been a Formula 1 driver.”
Pat sprang into action and put together a trip that included a cruise on a 3-masted French luxury yacht, which stopped in Monaco for the Grand Prix (among other ports) and a day at the Formula 1 Driving School in Le Luc en Provence, France. Wouldn't you know, that one day, it rained and the school closed. They couldn’t get a refund, but they were told they could come back another time. While that would probably have been the end of the story for most and a dashed dream for Dan, for a determined Pat, it worked out. “I actually had to come back to France five weeks later for business and we were able to make it happen,” she explains. So back they went, this time combining it with a visit to Paris where they then took the train to Nice and rented a car for the short distance to the driving school.
So was it everything Dan had imagined? “It was one of the top three highlights of my life,” says Dan (who is pictured here). “When I die, I want them to put the certificate I earned in a box and bury it with me.” He adds, “That night, after I had spent the day at the school, I felt 8 feet tall. As I walked around town, I wanted to tell everyone on the streets that I had driven a Formula 1 that day.”
Could You Do It?
So what about you? Would you ever consider surprising someone with a trip? Or how would you feel if someone surprised you? Judging from the planners and the recipients we talked to, such trips are bound to be memorable. And that’s no surpise.
Not sure what sort of travel gift to give? Contact us and we can discuss the possibilities as well as make it all happen for you--just in time for the holidays or any special occasion you might be celebrating. E-mail us here.
Artwork Credits: Illustration by Chris Murphy. To learn more about his work, visit here.
Photo of Morocco by Richard Wiese, host of Born to Explore. Other photos contributed.