Deb Ashby, 39, lives in London and works as a trainer and subject matter expert for Microsoft Products. In 2017, she travelled with Flash Pack to Myanmar (and since writing this, she’s also joined us in Jordan)
When I booked my trip to Myanmar, I was the only one of my friendship circle who wasn’t married with young children and I was struggling to find friends able (or willing) to go on the kind of adventurous trips that I craved. As much as I loved travelling on my own, I felt like a change. I also wanted to meet new people and see how I coped being surrounded by strangers.
At the time, group travel conjured up images of guides with flags, speedily leading bumbag-wearing hordes through European cities. Very structured, very rushed, very not me. So, I was more than a little anxious.
Also, I’m an introvert and an only child. My batteries drain fast when forced to be around people I don’t know for long periods of time. All kinds of fears ran threw my head. Will everyone be nice? Will it be cliquey? I’m too old for this! What if I need some alone time?
I needn’t have worried. I was the last person to arrive at the hotel in Yangon and as soon as I sat down, everyone was super-friendly and welcoming. Our group of 11 consisted of eight Brits, one Australian, one Canadian and one German and the dynamic was fantastic. It really helped that I had spoken to a few of them before the trip through the Flash Pack Facebook group, too.
As the sun set on our first evening in Myanmar, I honestly felt so relaxed and comfortable. Everyone was ME. Our lifestyles were similar, and our experiences were comparable. We could swap stories of the places we had been because everyone was cut from a similar cloth; open-minded, friendly, enthusiastic, interesting, travel junkies! It was lovely to feel like I’d found my tribe after years of travelling alone.
And the room sharing was a doddle. My roomie was an awesome girl and I was really happy I decided to share and not pay the single supplement. It was great to be able to talk about the amazing experiences of the day with someone before bed.
I was concerned that having everything planned for me on the trip would frustrate me but I actually enjoyed the lack of responsibility. Not having to plan a single thing was heavenly. It left my brain clear to focus on just enjoying the experience. I wasn’t having to worry about how I was going to get from A to B, or where I was going to eat for dinner. That in itself was incredibly freeing.
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In Yangon we walked the streets exploring, eating street food and drinking in tea houses. Bagan was stunning, and I loved zooming around the temples on electric bikes, something I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing if I were on my own. The Elephant Sanctuary was a highlight. As an animal lover, I was very pleased to see the great work being done to care for retired and orphaned elephants at the Greenhill Elephant Sanctuary. It was a very special experience to get to bathe them in the river.
Because we were away from the crowds, it was much easier to have meaningful interactions with local people, too. At one point we stopped in another village that was famous locally for its whiskey production. Nothing like a shot before 10am to wake you up! I got talking to a monk who was looking at us curiously. He was very interested to know where we were from and if we were enjoying ourselves in his country; to my surprise he asked for a selfie.
It helped that Koko, our guide, was so knowledgeable, as well. You could tell he that loved his country and his personal stories and enthusiasm really expanded our understanding of Myanmar culture. Plus, he didn’t have a flag! I was thrilled.
The hotels were outstanding and my favourite was Bagan Lodge, with its huge, marquee-like rooms, and amazing pools and grounds. It felt like you were on safari! I also really liked The Pristine Lotus Spa and Resort in Inle Lake. Each room was shaped like a boat and encircled the lake. It was the perfect opportunity to channel Leo and Kate in Titanic.
If you’re thinking of travelling with Flash Pack, just do it! Trust me, I am someone who hates stereotypical group travel but this is a totally different experience and has made me rethink my own ideas.
It’s amazing how quickly you bond with people when you are spending so much time with them and my jaw ached at the end of each day from laughing. As the trip went on, we started to learn more about each other and our lives back home and it was crazy how similar many of our stories were. I think by the time you get to your mid-thirties, you’ve lived life and know yourself pretty well. You’re just free to be you with people who are on your wavelength.
The beauty of Flash Pack is also that it was totally fine to be alone on occasions. There were evenings when one or more of our group did not go to the group dinner and no-one thought it was strange, or that you were being anti-social. Sometimes a couple of hours just doing your own thing and having a meal on your own is all you need to recharge.
I was really sad on the last day as people started to leave. We set up a WhatsApp group and a week or so after returning from Myanmar, eight of us decided to travel together again next year. We’re now booked to travel to Jordan with Flash Pack in October and have already talked about the Philippines for 2019. I am very thankful that a simple decision to travel with Flash Pack has given me new friends for life.
Fancy travelling to Myanmar? Join us in a land of gilded pagodas for hiking, jungle picnics, longboat sailing and more