In January last year, my world turned upside down when my 13-year relationship ended. I moved away from my marital home and started over in the UK city of Bristol. For a while, everything was chaos as I tried to navigate a new life on my own.
As I began to emerge the other side of this major life change, I realised I hadn’t had a holiday in ages. I’m a chartered surveyor working in commercial property and I really enjoy my job. In a way, it acted as a helpful distraction from everything that I was going through. At the same time, I hadn’t taken any time off during that entire period of upheaval. I knew if I continued ploughing on like that, I was at risk of burnout. People were saying to me, “You need to get away.”
The problem was, I wasn’t confident about travelling alone. I’d been in a long-term relationship since I was 23. And then suddenly I found myself single, in my late 30s. All my friends are married and have kids, so I didn’t want to tag along on holiday with them. And the idea of partying with 20-somethings, or going on a cruise with older people, didn’t appeal either. I tried a last-minute deal travelling alone to Mallorca, just to get away. And it was fine, but I didn’t really meet anyone. I was just sitting on a beach, reading books. I felt like I needed something more.
Then a friend suggested Flash Pack: an ideal solution that would allow me to travel in a group of like-minded travellers of a similar age and life stage. I thought, “Why not? Let’s give it a go.” I signed up to the Bali adventure because I’m quite an active person and the mix of experiences on the itinerary appealed to me. It covered everything from cooking classes to surf lessons and a sunrise trek up Mount Batur, an active volcano.
Suddenly I found myself single, in my late 30s
The spiritual side of Bali intrigued me, too. We learnt about local culture with activities such as meditation on a beach in the Gili Isles, or taking part in a Balinese blessing with a local family. The grandfather of that family gave everyone wristbands he’d made, and I still wear mine now – it’s a nice memory. Seeing the sunrise at the summit of Mount Batur was an incredible moment, too.
I’m not a religious person and I’ve never been very spiritual, either. But because of what I’d been through, I just fancied giving it a go. I was open-minded to everything Bali had to offer and it really did help me escape my problems.
This was partly down to the people I travelled with, too. This was my first experience of group travel and we started out as complete strangers. But the more we did together – the more experiences we shared – the better we connected. I was one of only two men on the trip. I don’t know why there weren’t more; maybe male travellers have more of a macho thing going on where they think, “I’m a bloke, I can do this on my own.” But the group format worked really well for me, and I made some good friendships out of it. I’m still in touch with some people now.
It was refreshing to meet people who were pursuing different paths in life
It was also refreshing to meet people who were pursuing different paths in life. Up until recently, I’d always followed a traditional narrative – the one that society expected of me. I went to uni, bought a house and got married. It wasn’t part of my plan to be single in my late 30s, I felt like I’d been left behind. I thought, “Where am I going in life?” For the first six months of being on my own, I really struggled with that question.
The issue of not having kids grated on me, too. People always think it’s something women worry about more. But as a man, I also struggled with the idea that I was not the father or family man I always thought I would be. You start thinking, “Am I failing here? Am I doing something wrong?”
In Bali, however, I realised lots of people were in a similar situation of being in their 30s or 40s without partners or kids. Yet, they’re still following a life that makes them happy. It’s not easy, but gradually, I was able to recognise that – in my new life – I also have freedoms and opportunities that other people (e.g. parents) do not. Slowly, my way of thinking changed.
Another thing that I noticed in my group is that quite a few of my fellow travellers were on a career break. At least three of us were in the process of transitioning from comfortable or high-flying jobs in pursuit of something different. They didn’t have any pressure to get back home.
The trip gave me the courage to pursue a four-month sabbatical
It got me thinking. For me, even a fortnight away was a long time for a holiday – but what if I could extend it further? There was nothing holding me back, after all. Within two weeks of returning to Bristol from Bali, I put in a request for a sabbatical. My company has a policy of allowing career breaks after five years of service, and my boss was very supportive of the idea. He knew what I’d been through in my personal life so his attitude was, “Go for it.”
That’s how my sabbatical happened. From March this year, I’m taking four months off to go travelling. I’ve already booked two more Flash Pack trips during that time, to Argentina and the Galapagos. I may well book more, too. I’ve never done anything like this before – I didn’t have a gap year or go travelling after uni. So it all feels quite daunting. But at the same time, travel has always felt like something that I wanted to explore.
For the first six months of last year, everything was all doom and gloom. But my trip to Bali helped turn things around. It spurred me to start reframing my situation as a single, 30-something man, and look at it in a more positive light. Ultimately, it gave me the courage to pursue a whole new kind of adventure.
Andrew Flower is a chartered surveyor living in the UK city of Bristol. He travelled with Flash Pack to Bali.
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