Destination Unknown

The Guardian

By admin In Travel

I’m standing on a bridge, taking in the panorama of the Plaza de España in Seville. I’m in this spot because a month ago I received a cryptic postcard from a stranger instructing me to travel to the Spanish city. I’m not a kooky assassin who receives her assignments via postcard like Villanelle in Killing Eve, it’s just that I’ve signed up to new subscription travel service BRB, which every four months sends its customers on a city break to a surprise destination.

Hoping to appeal to a generation that listens to music via Spotify, watches films and TV on Netflix and probably has at least one gym membership they’ve forgotten about, subscribers to BRB pay a monthly fee (£49.99 for a solo traveller and £89 for two people) to unlock a three-day, two-night city break every four months.

So for those travelling solo it works out as £199.96 a trip, which includes a minimum of three-star accommodation, Atol-protection and the ability to select your preferred travel dates and departure airport. It is also possible to exclude destinations from your “bucket list”, so I when I sign up, I veto Berlin and Amsterdam, as I’ve visited both recently. It’s exciting scrolling through the 48 remaining options and wondering where I’ll end up. I can’t help crossing my fingers that I get one of the warmer destinations – Athens or Positano, as opposed to Ljubljana or Tallinn – but not knowing is part of the fun.

“The way we travel has changed massively in the last five years but the way we book that travel is still fairly long-winded and time consuming,” says Greg Geny, co-founder and CEO of BRB, which launched last August. “We want to cut the time of trawling through Skyscanner, Booking.com or Airbnb and also help people discover new places.”

Kate Wills at Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain

If you’re a control freak, the stress of not having a say in where you’re holidaying might require a holiday to get over it, but clearly enough travellers are looking for the element of surprise. Pinterest reports that searches for surprise trips went up 192% from 2017 to 2018.

From high-end luxury travel company Black Tomato’s Get Lost trips, to sprs.me’s more budget offerings, visiting a destination unknown is a trend. And if the Russian roulette of whether you’ll get your hand luggage on to your budget airline isn’t enough excitement, the easyJet app incorporates a Lucky Trip widget that generates a random destination and corresponding flights at the tap of a button.

As you’d expect of a company that takes its name from textspeak (BRB means Be Right Back), the process is full of cringe-inducing wording – I can indicate whether I’d prefer a trip that’s “4TheGram” or “QuirkyAF” (Quirky As Fuck). But cynicism aside, when I receive my postcard in a bright red envelope I feel a genuine flutter of excitement, and I’m chuffed to discover I’ve ‘“won” Seville, as it’s a city I’ve never been to. Not to mention the fact the weather forecast is for 22C.

BRB (Be Right Back) subscription holiday service website screengrab.

A couple of days later I log in to my BRB account to discover my flight times, which is when I see the downside to this way of holidaying. I’d opted for a morning flight but if I’d been booking it myself I probably wouldn’t have chosen an eye-watering 06.25 departure from Gatwick. I then Google where I’ll be staying: The H10 Corregidor Boutique Hotel. It has an amazing location right in the centre of the city, and has breakfast included, but as part of the Spanish chain hotel looks slightly uninspiring.

Once the trip has been revealed, BRB emails over a PDF city guide to the destination. It’s a letdown that this “cheat sheet” hasn’t been better researched. One of its restaurant suggestions has permanently closed when I look it up online. According to the guide, Uber is not available in Seville, but when I land at the airport it’s working just fine. One of Seville’s most popular sites, Real Alcázar, doesn’t even get a mention and suggesting an open-top-bus sightseeing tour seems downright bizarre, given how demanding today’s travellers are for under-the-radar, “like a local” experiences.

Courtyard at H10 Corregidor Boutique Hotel, Seville, Spain.

Presumably once BRB takes off, it will be using its “community” of travellers to create this content. And whoever included the words “OMG your ‘gram is so baroque now” should face the Spanish Inquisition. Tough in fairness, at 33 I am edging towards the top end of BRB’s target audience.

Luckily, Seville is a rewarding city to wander around aimlessly, supplemented with looking up a few online guides. The sherry-sipping crowds oozing out of the brightly lit El Rinconcillo bar are enough to entice me in, and, with the meat hanging from the ceiling and the intricately tiled walls, I’m not surprised to find out it’s one of the oldest tapas bars in Seville. I order a beer and a plate of jamon and queso and my tab is chalked up on the wooden bar in front of me.

Restaurant conTenedor regularly tops lists of the city’s best, and with a blackboard menu of slow, seasonal food starting at €9, it’s also good value. Although it’s fortunate I’m dining solas – and at the unconscionably early hour (for-Sevillians) of 8pm – which means I can squeeze in at the bar, as it’s fully booked.

El Rinconcillo tapas bar, Seville, Spain.
Visiting the cathedral and the Real Alcázar (recognisable to Game of Thrones fans as the water gardens of Dorne) is well worth the time I spend queueing for tickets. So is strolling through the squares of Santa Cruz, formerly the medieval Jewish quarter, taking in the orange trees and cobbled streets, and feeling smug that I’m wearing shorts in December. I buy a ticket to a flamenco show at Museo de Baile Flamenco – and see things I never thought possible with a castanet – but I get more of a sense of the duende of the dance from a busker I see performing under the arches the next day at the Plaza de España.

I can see the appeal of saving up for your holidays by subscribing to a service such as BRB, and the novelty factor is enough to make up for the slight annoyances. Plus, knowing you have at least one city break to look forward to every few months is a great way of making sure you do actually get around to going away. You can even bank the trips and take all three in one month if you want. I do wonder if people might try to game the system: £200 seems like an amazing deal for flights and accommodation in Paris or Venice, less so for Kraków or Riga, as in theory you could exclude all 49 other destinations except the one you wanted to go to.

As a concept I think a subscription model of travel is only going to become more popular, as the “if you like this, you’ll love this” algorithms control more and more of our lives. But for now, BRB equals RMV – that’s Results May Vary, you know.

Read the full article on The Guardian.

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