Hitting your 30s is great, but it also heralds in an unnerving time of change. Friendship groups splinter and reform under the guise of weddings, mortgages and babies. If you’re not at the stage of house-hunting or NCT classes, it can feel horribly like you’re being left behind. This, despite the fact that you’ve probably got bags more freedom and autonomy than your mate who’s just downgraded to a Ford C-Max (the family-friendly choice).
This is exactly the situation Flash Pack co-founder Radha Vyas found herself in, when she cast around for someone to join her on a trip to Cambodia a few years ago.
“I was single, in my thirties, completely tired of my job and desperate for a holiday,” she recalls. “I racked my brain and my Facebook account but the reality slowly sunk in, I had no one to travel with. All my friends were busy booking holidays to Devon and Maldives with their children or new husbands.”
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Radha eventually joined a group tour, but everyone was much younger than her. Her single status stood out for all the wrong reasons. An ice-breaker session where everyone introduced themselves was a particular sticking point. “I felt like I was at an AA meeting but instead of declaring an addiction, I had to declare that I was 32 and past it,” she says.
The single stigma
A massive 75% of women and 65% of men in Britain haven’t even looked for a relationship in the past year, and the majority of these people say they’re happy being single.
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Yet still, we stick to a culturally conditioned script that “settling down” (whatever that means) is somehow better for you. People who are alone, we imagine, don’t actually *want* to be that way. They’re languishing in some sort of no-man’s land, and can only be rescued by a Disney-esque finale of the couple waltzing off into the sunset.
Never mind that the divorce rate is climbing all over the world, with one separation taking place every 13 seconds in the US, the home-place of Hollywood happy endings. We stick stubbornly to the dogma that Marriage Is Good and Babies Better Still.
The tonal relevance of Bridget Jones may have waned, but don’t be fooled. We live in a society where Facebook posts about rings and babies continue to hold far and away the strongest currency. Your beautifully filtered snap of the Ayeyarwady river at sunset doesn’t stand a chance.
What we see on Facebook is a microcosm of our attitudes at large. As a demographic, single people are overlooked, or regarded as a little lost or lacking in life purpose.
It’s rubbish, of course. Single people may or may not have purpose, but either way, it’s not a reflection of their relationship status. If anything, being alone gives you greater outlet for self-growth and reflection than your shacked-up pals.
Radha and her co-founder Lee Thompson (pictured below) set up Flash Pack because they wanted to cater for people like themselves, who had – going into their 30s – felt marooned by a cultural dialogue around singledom.
Saying that, being single isn’t the defining characteristic of Flash Pack travellers. This isn’t a dating service, or the wanderlust answer to match.com.
Instead, Flash Pack creates a space for people who recognise the value of independence. We acknowledge that there is more to life than the social construct of get married, have kids. We understand that, while a thirst for adventure might get more upscale as you get older (hence our boutique edge), it certainly doesn’t drop off a cliff just because those around you have become more constrained in their holiday habits.
An empowering step
Group travel has such negative connotations. And yet, it is the one element that people on our trips rave about, above all else. “I was worried about awkward small talk but they were such a lovely bunch of people, and I made lifelong friends,” is the gist of many a Flash Pack review (helped, no doubt, by our kindness policy).
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Like being single itself, it seems the concept of travelling with strangers is coated in myth. We imagine it to be claustrophobic or slightly sad, when the reality is, it’s empowering.
Travellers come away on a high, having met and bonded with other professional 30-40 somethings in the same life stage as them. They’re happy not only to have re-tapped the delight of meeting new people (something that is often bypassed in our day-to-day lives), but also to have done so with strangers who share their values.
When you’re surrounded by the same colleagues, friends or family every day, it can be easy to be influenced by their understanding of what’s “normal”. And this might well follow the tired old narrative that being single is not ideal.
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Travelling with like-minded strangers is a wake-up call. You’ll see straight off the bat that the the poor singles cliché is palpably untrue.
The freedom of strangers
Being single is not some Utopian state. It’s not any better than coupledom. But, crucially, it’s not any worse either.
As Alain de Botton notes in The Art of Travel, “Our responses to the world are moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others.”
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When you set sail with a group of strangers, you’re not totally on your own. You have the security and moral support of your crew. Yet you’re free from the expectations that normally frame you. You’re at liberty to do and be who you like.
Get out there, see the world and connect with people. Being single gives you wings.
Plot your next adventure
Photos: Shutterstock and Flash Pack