29 May, 2018

Charlie Cotton is an adventure architect for Flash Pack. He spends his days hunting down fresh ideas for off-radar experiences and travelling abroad for research (yes, really). Here, he gives a peek behind the scenes of his dreamy-sounding job

Ever since I can remember, I’ve relished going on an adventure.

If it’s something a bit different to the usual 9-5 working routine, I want to be involved.

I actually went into a finance job straight out of uni. But 18 months was easily enough time for me to realise that I couldn’t look at excel spreadsheets and invoices for the rest of my life. It was so boring.

So, I packed my bags went on a trip around South America, which helped me to realise that my main passions lie in travel and sport.

Sadly, I am crap at football, so a career in travel it was.

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After I returned from my adventure, I worked for a few different travel companies before meeting Lee Thompson – the co-founder of Flash Pack – at a trade show.

Soon after, I landed the job of adventure architect. I’ve always wanted to make trips for an intrepid clientele, so it was the perfect role for me.

In search of adventure

In my daily job, I divide my time between managing our existing adventures and curating new ones.

It’s my responsibility to make sure everyone is happy on our current trips, from our Flashpackers to guides, hotel representatives and drivers.

We manage trips all over the world, especially in Asia and South America, so I tend to get lots of early morning and late evening emails, along with Skype calls to our teams in global destinations.

I also look after new launches. The trick here is to translate the dream trip I have in my head into a reality, and bring each element together to make sure it gets great reviews.

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There’s no exact science to curating a brilliant adventure. I look everywhere for inspiration, from magazines to TV programmes, friends, Instagram and trade shows.

Luckily everyone in the Flash Pack office loves travelling, so there’s no shortage of ideas within the team as well.

The hit list for travel

I have a checklist that I use when I create a new trip – it’s not foolproof but it helps:

  • Is this something I would want to do?
  • Will it push you a little outside your comfort zone?
  • Will there be some amazing food experiences?
  • Do we go anywhere off the beaten track?
  • Will the guide be able to show best hidden parts of his or her country?
  • Will there be some hotels along the way that are worthy of boasting about on social media to everyone back home?
  • Do we have any activities that will get your adrenaline pumping?
  • Are there going to be any fun nights out with your fellow Flashpackers?
  • If it’s a similar trip to other companies, how can we do it better than the rest?

Ultimately it comes down to: does a particular trip look epic? And then working out if it will actually be as awesome as it seems.

Finding the unique

The best parts of my role is finding out about awesome off-the-beaten-track places that you know 99% of people have never heard of.

I’m on an endless quest to hunt down unique hidden experiences – like glamping on a secret island beach or self-hiking in the Omani desert – that no-one else is doing. It’s a brilliant duty to be tasked with.

Like any job, there are challenges too.

Some countries are easier to work with than others.

So many guides and destination management companies around the world are used to the idea of the classic group tour, and they assume we want to do exactly the same thing (when actually, we pride ourselves on being different).

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So many people say they can offer unique and local authentic experiences but in reality, they are just talking about a standard village walkabout that you could find on any trip.

Often you have to read between the lines to make sure that what is being offered will be as good as it sounds.

A start-up culture

Flash Pack is a start-up company, and I love the energy and speed of working here. It’s a work-hard, play-hard mentality and a far cry from your average 9-5.

Everything happens so quickly; it’s about constantly improving what you do and how you do things. It is really nice to see the hard work you do paying off, too.

This year we’ve seen 300% growth and I hope a little bit of that is due to the trips I’ve put together.

We have a great team here and we all help each other out, so it’s actually nice to come to work (which, sadly, is not as common as it should be).

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When you tell people that you work in the travel industry, many imagine some anonymous travel agent – but we couldn’t be further from that.

We are a young, hard-working team with lots of great ideas and an overriding desire to change the old-school image of group tours.

Wanderlust perks

The main perk of my job is that I get to go on amazing research trips around the world.

Last year, I travelled with Flash Pack to the Philippines and Jordan. I absolutely loved it; both places are stunning and filled with amazing experiences.

Flash Pack’s South Africa trip is next on my bucket list; it has so many incredible adventures in the itinerary and everyone comes home raving about it.

In my opinion, being an adventure architect is one of the best jobs in travel.

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You are at front in terms of finding the latest cool adventures all around the world.

Plus, being paid to globe-trot; it doesn’t come much better than that!

A life-changing trip

In order to be an adventure architect, you have to be good at numbers and good at communicating with people all over the world.

And obviously, you need to be passionate about travel as that’s what you talk about, all day every day.

You have to aim for the top; you want the trip to be a transformative moment for the Flashpackers involved.

A lot of people are quite nervous before travelling with a bunch of strangers, so you hope that by the end of the adventure, their mindset has completely changed – we see this happen all the time.

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I know it sounds cheesy but it’s so rewarding to get good reviews on the adventures that I put together.

For some people, these trips can be life-changing, and that feels great to be part of.

Do you live and breathe travel? Are you interested in working with Flash Pack? We are growing fast and have lots of brilliant roles up for grabs; check out our careers page right here.

Images: Flash Pack and Charlie Cotton

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