At first, solo travel sounded like a dirty term to me.
Every time someone asked me where I was going on vacation, the second question was always, “who are you traveling with?” Inevitably, I’d find myself stammering through some lengthy excuse about “why” I was traveling alone.
But living in an urban jungle like New York City, I was instinctively craving an escape from the daily grind – some sort of getaway that would take me out of my comfort zone and allow me to re-center.
When I came across a weekend adventure trip in Finland through Flash Pack, I knew I’d found the perfect fit. And since the company was directly geared toward solo travelers in my age group, I didn’t need to worry about coming up with excuses.
Solo travel was the actual purpose!
My name is Rachel and I LOVE to travel. I’ve traveled alone before but never taken a Flash Pack trip.
This article is like a trip diary, I guess, of what my first Flash Pack trip was like and how it happened. And, if you’re unsure about whether to try solo travel for the first time, hopefully this will help to give you a clearer picture of what to expect. Let’s go!
Hi, my name is…
Weeks before our Finland adventure began, a WhatsApp group was created so that we could get to know each other. After our initial introductions, we dove into trip preparation, already group texting like any friends getting ready for a trip would.
When we actually met in person on the first day, in the lobby of a former prison turned Hotel Katajanokka, it was almost like a reunion.
Our group was a nice size with two British guys, an Aussie guy, a Romanian girl living in Germany, and two other American girls. We were chattering away as we walked through Helsinki to Sori Brewing, where we raised a glass (actually, five glasses since we each got a flight of beers!) to the adventurous weekend ahead.
This was the first time I had been on a trip where every single person in the group was a solo traveler.
With so many outdoor activities on the list, I assumed everyone would be the athletic type and I’d be the “wimp” of the group.
Stand-up paddle boarding intimidated me the most since I literally have no balance. But, when our guide Marko asked how many people had done it before and only one in our group had, I was shocked and relieved. They just wanted to try something new too!
Throughout the meal, I continued to be impressed with the like-mindedness of my fellow solo travelers.
One had never been on a solo trip and wanted this to be the first of many and another wanted to push her own limits so everything on the agenda was new.
These were my kind of people!
Seven strangers floating on water
Although the meal was the only item on the schedule, we weren’t ready to call it a night, so we took a slow stroll back, stopping in at a couple of bars along the way.
At one point, one girl said, “I feel like we’re on The Real World,” referring to us walking down the street just like they did during the old opening with the voiceover, “This is the true story of seven strangers…”
It was exactly that feeling…minus the crazies.
The next morning, as we were hopping on our private van to Nuuksio National Park, the strangers had already started to feel like friends. During the hour-long ride, we were joking around and laughing.
Once we settled in, we got ready for paddle boarding. My anxiety grew as I saw how easily everyone got on their boards and started gliding across the water gracefully. I ducked toward the back of the line since I was sure I’d be making a splash right into the water.
When it was my turn, I started apologizing right away and warning everyone they could get wet. Marko was so patient with his careful instructions that before I knew it, I was already a few feet away from the pier.
After gaining confidence, I looked up and saw that every single person in our group was standing up on their boards! I couldn’t believe how proud I was of all of us, accomplishing a new skill in a place none of us had been before.
Empowered from our newfound ability to glide on water, we decompressed with an afternoon alternating between our private sauna (felt like such VIPs being the only ones with access in this national park!) and chilling lakeside with local beer.
So many cooks in the kitchen
In the late afternoon, we hiked to our campsite for the night, a cozy corner of the forest with suspended Stingray tents set up for us and a personal chef already prepping ingredients for our homemade meal.
The chef guided us through all the tricks of outdoor cooking as we split up duties, whipping up hamburgers as an appetizer and a gourmet entree of local salmon, slow-cooked over the campfire, topped with fresh-made pesto and a Chanterelle mushroom side dish.
At one point, I stepped aside to take in the scene.
Here I was, so far away from the hustle of my daily city life and, finally, I felt like I could exhale.
I could slow down and enjoy life while breathing in fresh mountain air and feeling completely at ease with these friends. Friends who were mere strangers just 24 hours ago!
The conversation was so natural and easy throughout the night. As the darkness enveloped us, I laughed harder than I had in months as “would you rather” questions got pulled out by the campfire.
We talked about everything from pop culture to cultural differences (I was taken when the Brits asked, “Why do you Americans tip?” — didn’t even think of that as an option growing up in the ‘States. Never thought I’d have to defend tipping!).
Friends for life
Waking up hanging (literally) in the forest, I was completely content.
A whole night of forest air was exactly what I needed. But more importantly, I needed the evening of free-flowing conversation without any worries or preconceived assumptions about solo travel – or anything, in fact.
I continued soaking in every breath as we headed back to base camp, where we split off into two groups. Craving more calm, I opted for the canoes while the other group went for the flat bikes.
Paddling a canoe with my new Romanian friend, we quickly figured out how to work together to manoeuvre our oars – even when we ended up in a patch of bushy water grass.
The inherent teamwork was complemented by thought-provoking conversations about life, career, and more.
Before we knew it, we were back on the van back to Helsinki, exhausted and content – and already making plans for our next trip together.
And as immediate proof of how much we enjoyed each other’s company: After our final official activity at the Allas Sea Pool, we stuck together for a boat tour around the surrounding islands and through the canals.
Although I set off on the journey traveling alone, there wasn’t a single moment where I felt lonely, bored, or judged.
There’s something about the people that self-select a solo trip like this who are open and accepting. And now having shared a solo adventure like this together, we’re bonded in an indescribable way.
Since I’ve been home, we’ve continued sharing photos, sending jokes, and making plans for our next getaway over WhatsApp.
So, I know I haven’t just come back with six new Facebook friends, but with six new friends that I can always depend on, who just happen to be located all over the globe.
Ready to jump into a solo adventure yourself? Try these trips:
Hike the Everest trail in Nepal
This is your chance to hike to the roof of the world, savouring blissful serenity and stunning views en route. You’ll hike to 5,000m at Farak Ri, offering views of the world’s biggest mountains, and enjoy an al fresco champagne breakfast in the shadow of Everest. You’ll stay in stylish mountain lodges and unwind in a maze of foothills and fluttering prayer flags, in between yoga sessions and doses of age-old Sherpa culture. This is an adventure with some serious wow-factor.
Escape to mind-blowing Bali
Sunrise volcano treks, shipwreck snorkelling and the most stunning paradise of tropical beach havens you can imagine. This is an adventure that mixes total chill and those moments that take your breath away. You’ll also trek Ubud’s lush valleys amid mist-clad jungle hills and take a Balinese picnic to a mesmerising waterfall. All with beautiful boutique hotels at the end of every day.
A sensory journey to Japan
Take on sushi making after exploring the world’s largest fish market, escape tourist crowds on a hidden neighbourhood cycling tour of East Tokyo and visit stunning Kyoto and the Great Torii on Miyajima island. You’ll also have lunch with a sumo wrestler and learnt he ancient art of ninja warfare, as well as taking in the colourful chaos of Japan’s neon cities.
Pictures: Rachel Chang/Shutterstock