11 April, 2019

Travelling with strangers for the first time can be daunting. But for Flashpacker Neil Mills, who joined a group adventure in Vietnam and Cambodia, it was a real revelation – and not at all what he expected

I recently returned from one of the best experiences of my life.

Forget your bog standard holiday, I’m talking about an action-packed two-week adventure in Vietnam & Cambodia.

With the risk of sounding like a cliché traveller, packing up my stuff in search of new horizons is not a foreign concept to me.

Straight after university (way back in 2001) I took myself off to South America and spent four months with the charity Raleigh International. Since then I have been to Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, various parts of Europe and North America. Yet asides from the charity work, these trips were all with friends, family or even work – so a group tour with complete strangers? Not my style.

Yet now as I approach the end of my thirties, I started to reflect on where I have been and what’s next. The Vietnam guide book had been staring at me from my shelf since an aborted plan to visit in my year out in 2001. Now was the time to tick this off the list.

I looked at various options before finally finding Flash Pack which sounded exactly what I was looking for – adventures with like-minded people, with some comfort and luxury thrown in. So for the first time since 2001, I headed off to meet a group of complete strangers in a foreign land.

Read more: Why every man should take a sabbatical once in his life

As a project manager, I am familiar with group dynamics. Forming teams is what I do, yet I couldn’t seem to shake off this nagging feeling.

I knew we would have common ground in our desire to explore and travel, but two weeks is a relatively short time and I can be slow to open up. Was this going to be an excruciatingly awkward two weeks of polite small talk? Could I really fly half way across the world to share my bucket list moments with total strangers?

Fast forward to the end of our adventure and how wrong I was.

From hysteric laughter on crazy Hanoi cycle tours to overnight trains with wine and conversation flowing into the early hours, it was such a heartening testament to the common human spirit to see people from different countries, backgrounds and life experience pull together. We supported each other through two intense weeks in close quarters with high energy, great humour and love.

To have our local guides be a true part of that family and not standing on the side was a real bonus. From the first day it did not feel like a solos tour group, it felt like a group of friends who had flown out to explore another friend’s home turf.

Everyone was up for everything, but there were great opportunities to split and do different activities. This allowed smaller groups to get to know each other better, and to come back in the evening with different stories to tell over dinner and drinks.

There was so much crammed in. Two weeks felt like a month because we just filled every waking minute with amazing experiences.

Read more: Solo travel fuels this major happiness habit

I came home exhausted but happy, my thirst for adventure well and truly renewed. I am already scanning the website trying to pick which Flash Pack adventure will be next.

As for my new friends, well the Sticky Rice Family Whatsapp group was still going strong after four weeks back home, and a large number of us met up in London soon after for a birthday celebration, I cannot wait to see them again.

Neil Mills is in his late 30s and has a keen interest in photography, music and travel. Find him on Instagram @milz_photos and EyeEm Photos 

Ready to discover new horizons and stretch your limits with a group like-minded strangers? Come join us in Vietnam & Cambodia


Travel big in South-East Asia

Hop on-board for the trip of a lifetime with these three tantalising escapes

Get off-grid in Laos and Thailand

Unwind to a slower pace of life with a leisurely two-day sail down the Mekong River – the lifeblood of Laos. Soak in the scenery in the Land of a Million Elephants before arriving in the gilded town of Luang Prabang, for riverside barbecues and wild swimming in the nearby Kuang Si waterfalls. Plus, hiking and white-water rafting in the jungle hills of Northern Thailand, and a lip-smacking food safari around the streets of Bangkok.

Hurrah for Laos and Thailand

Discover the secrets of Vietnam and Cambodia

Get set for a whirlwind trip as we dive right into the street food and beer stalls of Hanoi, before hopping on a sleeper train to the hillside town of Sapa. After hiking in sensational scenery, we’ll jump aboard an overnight boat trip around the ancient limestone karsts of Halong Bay – complete with dawn yoga and kayaking. From a five-course cooking class in Hoi An, we’ll then take in a history lesson around Ho Chi Minh. Finally, we’ll zip over the border to Cambodia, and dawn and dusk visits to the ancient temple kingdom of Angkor Wat.

Vietnam and Cambodia, here we come

Savour the sweet life in the Philippines

A dreamy two-week adventure awaits in this palm-fringed tropical paradise. Kick back for a private boat trip around the caves and coves of the beautiful Bacuit Archipelago, complete with two nights’ glamping on a secret beach (with a private chef, naturally). Take advantage of some of the world’s most stunning islands and boutique hotels, as we hop our way from one idyllic patch of sand to the next. Don’t forget to make room for a thrill or two, as we quad-bike the Chocolate Hills and paddle-board down Loboc River.

All aboard for the Philippines

Photos: Flash Pack, Shutterstock, Instagram @milz_photos and EyeEm Photos 

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