As the only man travelling with a group of women, I felt instantly at ease

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My decision to travel with Flash Pack to Sri Lanka was really impulsive – I booked just two weeks before the trip departed, running over Christmas and New Year. I’d recently broken up with my boyfriend of four years, and I knew that I didn’t want to be at home over the holidays. 

I found the adventure on Google and it appealed to me because it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reset and spend some time alone while also being surrounded by people. My family had two reactions to me going away. They either said, “That’s the best decision you can make.” Or they were in the mindset of, “You’ve just been through a breakup, stay with us.” They all supported me, however. 

When I arrived in Colombo in late December, I was nervous about meeting everyone. I felt a bit out of kilter by the fact that I was not at home for Christmas. As we settled into this beautiful hotel overlooking the sea, however, I was instantly at ease. 

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Our Pack Leader, Ramli, was so warm and inviting. Everyone in the group introduced themselves and, as we went around the table chatting, I realised that everyone had their own stories. We were all there, travelling over Christmas, for a reason. And that united us. I knew straight away that these were people I was going to be able to chat and connect with. 

I was aware before I arrived that I would be the only man in the group and I was fine with that. No-one was there to meet their future partner, it was just about good people and friendship. But I think my straight male friends would have been equally at home in the group, too. 

No-one was there to meet their future partner, it was just about good people and friendship

I didn’t feel like I stood out as the only man because, in a way, our dynamic was genderless. It was more to do with an attitude of like-mindedness. It felt like we were all articulate, empathetic, considered individuals. We’d all made a deliberate choice to travel at Christmas. And it was that mentality that brought us together, rather than gender.

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From the outset, our Sri Lankan group also felt like a very safe, calm environment to share in. I decided to be really honest with everyone about why I was there, and I think people appreciated that. As we became more comfortable with one another, everyone started to follow suit in opening up. It meant our conversations became deeper and more human. We talked about life and relationships and books; rather than the standard small talk of what you do for a living.

It helped that there were loads of opportunities to chat, too. You spend a lot of time travelling together from A to B in Sri Lanka and at dinner, you sit next to different people all the time so the conversation changes.

There were so many cool, spontaneous moments of adventure that we shared along the way. One evening in Kandy, we ended up being serenaded by this random cover band that was playing songs like Take Me Home, Country Roads, or hits by the Vengaboys, on little guitars. Everyone was gathered by a Gypsy caravan in the middle of a forest, with fireflies all around, singing, dancing and eating together. Another time, a group of us took shelter from a downpour in this amazing little bar overlooking a canyon. We sat inside for two hours, dancing to weird 90s pop music in the middle of the rain. 

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By New Year’s Eve, our group was based in the UNESCO port city of Galle. By that point, we’d been travelling together for 10 days so we’d all become great friends. We went out in the evening for a gala dinner at a hotel that happened to be running a “Queen of the Banquet” contest. One of the women in our group was a burlesque dancer, so we urged her to enter – and of course, she won! She got a medallion and flowers and everything. We ended up dancing til one in the morning, with midnight fireworks. The next day, we had a chilled walk along the beach by the Indian Ocean. It was lovely. 

The whole experience was more than a holiday. It was like an awakening to myself

Early on in the trip, we hiked to the top of Pidurangala – an ancient rock formation in Sri Lanka’s Matale District. It wasn’t a challenging trek, but it was amazing to be at the summit, looking out at this breathtaking view as the sun set over the neighbouring Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The iconic four-hour train ride through Tea Country to Ella was beautiful, too. We were on a rickety old train and we chatted all the way. Over Christmas itself, we shared a magical outdoor lunch at a farmer’s house near Polonnaruwa. It was authentic moments like these that, along with the people, made the trip. 

I made a purposeful decision to stay present throughout the holiday, too. For example, I chose not to drink. It wasn’t a boozy escape anyway – there was no wild drinking – so it didn’t feel like I was missing out. And I deleted all the apps from my phone, because I wanted to get rid of those distractions we all have in day-to-day life. 

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I spent a few evenings on my own, too, having massages, walking around town or going on a boat ride. It can be quite confronting to strip back the noise of life like that, and be alone with your thoughts. But I loved it. It made me realise that there’s real value in disconnection; you start to think about bigger things, like what you want to do with your life.

Overall, my impromptu escape to Sri Lanka felt like the ideal way to start 2024. I wasn’t in a great space when I arrived but I returned feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. People have remarked that I seemed more like myself when I returned.

From the lack of distractions to the great company and the opportunity to reset – the whole experience was more than a holiday. It was like an awakening to myself; it had a lasting impact. I made real friendships, too; three of the Londoners I travelled with are coming to my birthday dinner at the end of this month. I’d totally do it again. 

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John “JJ” Jones is a London-based freelance advertising consultant who travelled with Flash Pack to Sri Lanka

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.


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