It’s that time of year again. You’re staring at your inbox, waiting for a juicy discount code to appear, when pops up *that* group email: ‘Lads on Tour 2019!’ It’s an email that used to excite you, but now, be honest, does a lads holiday make you slightly anxious?
When you were young, you and your friends were more homogenous, more converged. No-one had wives or kids, none of you earned any money – at least not much more than the rest of you – and you didn’t care where you went, what you slept in, who you slept with, or how many pairs of pants you packed.
All you cared about was being somewhere together. And drinking. The lads holiday was wonderful.
But then, over time, things change.
Children arrive, opinions become embedded, incomes vary to a greater degree, as do tastes and demands. Some characters become more dominant, some are keener on the ‘ritual’ than others, and you feel the group dynamic change. You feel the group weakening.
You don’t want that, so you reply to the email: ‘Well up for it!’
Time to leave the pack?
But should you be saying yes?
Should you be spending your hard-earned cash on a Groundhog Day of a trip with all the same highs, and all the same – perhaps even increasing – lows? Is it time for you to leave the pack and travel alone?
“After time, your range of experiences will have narrowed to a sweet spot somewhere in the middle,” says Dr Geoffrey Greif, author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. “There’ll be no huge highs or lows and you’ll probably hear the same jokes and stories. Unless you’re with a particular type of friend, you’re not necessarily going to push yourself.
“If you travel with strangers, it can be more extreme. It could be lousy or it could be lovely.
“You might go on a bike trip and think, ‘We all like cycling, so we’ll get on.’ But if you voted Clinton and the rest voted Trump, you might not have a good time. In general, though, it’s important to try new things, whether they succeed or fail. What you definitely get is the chance to be who you want. Nobody knows your history. It’s a new way to experience things.”
Following the herd on a lads’ holiday
One of the biggest problems with the ‘lads’ holiday’ is that the things you wanted to do when you were ‘lads’ aren’t necessarily the things you want to do when you’re a man. And the the things you want to do aren’t necessarily the things your friends want to do.
And when there are one or two members of the group who are naturally more forceful (not always a bad thing, especially if you want to avoid inertia or spending three hours every evening on TripAdvisor trying to decide where to eat), others can feel cajoled into following the herd.
“It’s not uncommon for men who travel with a group of friends to feel somewhat under pressure to behave in a certain way or take part in activities that they’d actually prefer not to,” says psychologist Honey Langcaster-James. “Because they value their friendships, they may feel they have to fit in and show similar interests to the rest of the group or fear the risk of exclusion.
“They may also feel they have to behave a certain way in order to keep a certain persona or role within the group, perhaps behaving as the did when they were younger or taking more risks.
“As we get older we often change our interests and, for men in particular, it can be hard to say, ‘Actually, I don’t want to do that anymore’.
“This can sometimes be because they don’t want to show what they might perceive as weakness or seem to sensible or reserved for fear of being thought older and less fun.”
Avoiding the stag
This level of peer pressure is cranked up to 11 on a stag weekend.
There are expectations, heightened emotions, heightened feelings of fraternity, heightened levels of alcohol. There are risks to your own well-being.
“There’s pressure for sure,” says Greif. “If you’re out with a bunch of guys who are drinking a lot, there’s a natural one-upmanship. Who’ll approach the pretty girl at the bar? You’ll try to push the single guys, but if they won’t go, one of the married guys goes. You also tend to get more people, which means a greater range of behaviour and more expansive views, which means more chance of arguments.”
Surely, though, going away with a group of strangers would be even more restrictive in terms of behaviour…
If you’re the one Brexiteer in a room of Remainers, or if you tend towards having a potty mouth when you drink, or if you *absolutely hate* people ordering ‘a load of dishes for everyone to share’, you’re going to be restrained.
Or are you?
“When men travel alone,” says Langford-James, “or with strangers, they may experience a greater sense of freedom to be who they are now and to engage in activities that suit their current interests. For some men this can be really liberating as it allows them to go to places and do what they truly want, rather than be concerned with what others may or may not think about them.”
Returning to the nest
There is one thing to remember here: friends are really bloody important.
And, because of that, spending time with them is really bloody important.
And because of that, it’s really bloody important that you try to make that ‘lads holiday’ work, which means making it enjoyable for everyone, especially you.
According to Greif, there’s a very good way of achieving this: indulge in your fair share of solo travel.
“When you come back from travelling alone, it’s a new you,” he says. “So when you travel with friends again, you may not feel that you have to spend all your time with the group and do what they do. If they’re all going to the brewery, you might say, ‘Okay, I’m going to the vineyard. It’s quite far away, so I’m going to stay the night. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Once you’re comfortable alone, you won’t feel beholden to the whims of the pack.”
So, what can we learn from all of this? First, that trips with your mates aren’t the be all and end all of group holidays. You don’t need to have your annual leave and bank balance depleted by something you no longer enjoy. There are other options out there.
Secondly, and most importantly, that by travelling alone, we can improve our friendships – and holidays with our friends, if we decide not to knock them on the head completely.
Solo travel is on the rise and it is good for us. It gives us confidence and control: things we might have lacked when one or two of our friends are dictating play on a long weekend in the Algarve.
Spend some life-changing time with complete strangers in South-East Asia and you’ll come back ready to let your friends know how *you* want to spend your time, and not be afraid to do your own thing when you travel with them, even if it means occasionally drifting from the pack.
So, is this the year you trade in the ‘lads holiday’ for solo adventure? After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Ready for some fun without your friends? Try these:
Powdery-white beaches, vibrant coral reef, private speedboats and rainforest treks; this is the solo adventure with everything in it. Knock back rum in Cartagena, tube down remote, tropical waterways on the Palomina River, party in one of Bogotás top nightspots and hand-pick coffee beans on a Colombian farm, meeting the family behind some of the world’s best coffee. Seriously – need more convincing?
Thailand is a popular destination for lads holidays but for a man’s getaway, try this 11-day trip from Thailand to incredible Laos. Discover Bangkok’s foodie secrets, tackle churning rapids with white-water rafting, wallow in azure pools at Kuang Si waterfall and take a two day boat trip down the stunning Mekong river to Laos.
Featuring many stag capitals of the world, central Europe has more to offer than just a cheap pint of lager. On this adventure, you’ll explore the striking grandeur of Vienna, sample the best brews in beer-loving Bratislava and bathe in hot springs in Slovakia. Of course, that’s not forgetting Poland’s incredible culture too, including a communist-style lunch in a nuclear bunker, washed down with Polish vodka. Natch.
Pics: Flash Pack/Shutterstock