Real tales of adventure, told by real Flashpackers. This piece is written by a member of our incredible Flash Pack community. To share your own Flash Pack story, drop us a DM on Instagram and we’ll be right there.
In October 2019 I was meant to be going to Japan with my sister and her husband, but sadly they had to cancel. As I was looking for what else I could do during my two-week October holiday, I found Flash Pack’s China tour. I was living on a south Korean Island at the time, and it was only a two-hour flight away. Plus I’d travelled with Flash Pack before and had such a wonderful experience making good friends who I’m still in touch with today. So I decided this was the trip for me!
On the 19 October, I flew to Beijing to begin the adventure. At the welcome chat I started chatting to a gentleman called Henry. We talked a lot: we had both grown up in the same area of the UK, had similar interests and had gone to the same university (though not at the same time).
As the trip developed, Henry and I often seemed to end up together – whether it was sitting next to each other on the bullet train, random bus trips, rooms next door to each other or exploring hidden bars. I found he was a good person to get street food with, as he was always someone who was up for trying anything and would happily share.
The power of travel and shared experiences
Henry and I shared many firsts on that trip: from riding motorbikes through Beijing to watching the sunrise on the Great Wall of China, holding baby pandas and doing Tai chi in the park. One of my favourite memories from that time is racing Henry down a very steep section of the Great Wall of China at sunset, with only our group around.
As the trip went on, we turned into firm friends. It was not only all the experiences that brought us together, but also the hours of talking during travel time (especially as, in China, you can’t play on Facebook or Instagram).
On the last night of the adventure, we went for rooftop cocktails in Shanghai. Henry and I spent all night watching the lights of Shanghai and talking about the places we want to travel to together. He talked about his life in the UK, I talked about my expat life. I mentioned how, after living on a rural island, the next place I wanted to live was a big international city.
You often have conversations like this at the end of a trip, though; and living over 9,000km apart from Henry, I did not truly imagine I’d see him again.
From Shanghai to Scotland – staying in touch
After sitting up most of the night talking, I had a 7am flight to catch from Shanghai to Jeju. It honestly must be one of the worst flights of my life (and not just due to the number of cocktails we drank the night before).
The terminal got changed at the last minute. The flight was delayed, and no-one spoke any English so I had no clue what was going on. Then, once we finally did set off, the flight hit very bad turbulence and almost had to do a crash landing. And all of this played out while I was trying to fill out a customs form in a language I couldn’t read.
Almost as soon as I got home I got a message from Henry saying he had just got up, and he hoped I had a safe trip. That was the start of us messaging each other every day.
In December 2019, I was back in the UK visiting my parents for Christmas, who happen to live only about an hour away from Henry. We agreed to meet up at the Edinburgh Christmas markets the day before Christmas Eve. We had a wonderful evening together.
We met up again between Christmas and New Year, heading up to the Scottish Highlands, mainly because I wanted to see snow – and Henry, being a good sport, was more than happy to indulge me.
We spent New Year together then went our separate ways – I had a friend’s wedding to attend. We had arranged to meet on 29 March 2020 in Tokyo and our flights were all booked. But sadly, a global pandemic meant we never made the trip.
Crossing continents: a “crazy girl” moment
The pandemic first hit South Korea on 20 January and by mid-February schools went online, people reduced socialising and movement in and out of the country became restricted. By March, Covid had spread to the UK, too and it went into lockdown.
Me and Henry had to cancel our Tokyo holiday, and many after that. However, we still messaged and called each other every day. He claims that hour-long chats kept him occupied and entertained in lockdown. But due to the +9 hour time difference between us, it did take commitment on both sides to stay in touch so closely.
The next time I saw Henry after New Year 2019 was in July 2021, when I was the crazy girl – doing the sort of thing I would advise a friend never to do. I quit my job, and moved over 9,000km around the world for a guy I had met four times.
The bonds you make with strangers travelling are so much stronger than with people you meet in a bar or through online dating. Those countless hours Henry and I had talking as we walked along rivers, explored forests and side streets, or sat next to each other on trains – as well as all the experiences we shared on the China trip – really cemented our friendship/ relationship.
As for us now, all the grand travel plans we made on that night in Shanghai have yet to become a reality. Instead, we are currently having a different adventure, one that was not planned. Perhaps it’s the best one of all.
This article was written by a member of the incredible Flash Pack community. Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.