In my Sikh family, solo travel isn’t a thing. But I wanted my own adventure

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I’m a super active person. I love holidays with variety and adventure in the mix. I’m also at a stage in my life in my 30s when a lot of my friends are married or trying for children. If they’re doing trips, they’ll generally go with their families. Or they’ll want to do a weekend break in Europe, versus the bigger chunk of time you need for a more out-there escape. 

I work in the London-based offices of Goldman Sachs and lots of my colleagues go on safari. I’ve had so many people tell me how amazing it is. So, when the Flash Pack adventure to South Africa popped up in my Instagram feed, it was a no brainer. I’d wanted to go for so long and I liked how varied the itinerary looked.

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I come from a Sikh Punjabi family, where solo travel isn’t the norm

The bucket-list safari experience was in there, of course, but you could also try everything from hiking in Cape Town to wine tasting in Stellenbosch. The fast-paced nature of it really appealed to me.

The one person who wasn’t overly pleased with my decision to travel was my mum. I come from a Sikh Punjabi background where people just aren’t used to doing solo trips. I grew up in the Midlands area of the UK, so even moving to London to live alone was a big deal. 

Our culture is very family-orientated. I didn’t go on holiday with friends until I was 20, let alone go away on my own. There’s a sense that, instead of travelling the world, I should be focusing on getting married and having kids. My mum used to tell me, “Wait until you find a guy, you can go to South Africa with him.”

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My mum was worried about me going so far away

However, the fact that I’m based in London, which is so diverse, has opened my eyes to a huge range of different people and ways of living. It’s taught me that it’s perfectly possible to balance my cultural and religious background with what I, as an individual, want to do.

My mum was worried about my safety with me going so far away. But she asked for the itinerary and Flash Pack’s details which gave her some comfort. I was a bit nervous. Despite travelling with groups before, I’ve always gone with a friend or my sister. This was the first time where I didn’t know anyone. 

The good thing is that our South Africa group all connected on WhatsApp beforehand. I found everyone super friendly and realised that they were joining the trip for similar reasons. I chose to arrive early in Cape Town. One of the other Flashpackers happened to on the same flight which really helped.

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It was good to share a room with someone I could relate to

We had a mixture of professionals on the trip, from doctors and midwives to people working in marketing, TV and banking. Everyone was from a completely different background – and different parts of the world – but that didn’t stop us connecting. In fact, we’re still in contact now. 

I live by myself in London, so I’m quite picky about having my own space. However, I did enjoy sharing a room with Brittany, my roommate from Nashville, Tennessee. 

Soon into the adventure, my sister had her baby – the first grandchild in our family and my very first nephew. Brittany has five sisters and loads of nieces and nephews, so she completely understood what a big moment that was and how you can feel a bit alone if your family is together and you’re not there. It was good to share a room with someone who could relate to my situation.

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I’m scared of heights – but I still abseiled down a mountain

As for the experiences, we started out with an abseil down a mountain in Cape Town. I’m scared of heights and never imagined I’d be able to do it. But everyone in our group was so supportive of one another. I went for it. It was a feeling like no other and the view was beautiful. That’s one thing I’m always going to remember.

Snorkelling in the Great African Sea Forest was amazing, too. As the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher shows, there’s a whole world beneath the surface of the kelp forest. The freedivers who guided us found starfish and sea urchins for us to hold. They were so passionate about what they do.

Meanwhile, the safari stay in Kruger National Park was as incredible as I had hoped. There were hundreds of elephants just wandering past our truck and we managed to see a lion, too. We stayed at a five-star, community-run lodge which really outdid itself. We had luxury safari tents with delicious food and such a nice, friendly team with ties to the local Mdluli people. There was even an infinity pool where giraffes wandered past as you swam.

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After climbing Lion’s Head, we watched the sunset with a wine

Another standout moment for me was the hike to Lion’s Head in Cape Town. A couple of people struggled to reach the summit because it’s very steep, so I found it a real accomplishment to conquer it. We were all sweating. Then we got to watch the sunset with a glass or two of wine. It was a perfect moment. 

Banking is the type of industry where people don’t really take career breaks. So, if you’re having two weeks off work, you want to make it worthwhile. 

The way Flash Pack maxes out on experiences fits the bill. It’s great that you don’t have to think about any of the logistics, either. Organising a trip can be stressful – especially if you’re used to working 12-hour days – so it’s refreshing to just turn up and have guides, drivers, meals and activities all sorted for you (Jamie, our Pack Leader, was so laid back and caring).

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I now know you can travel and remain true to who you are

As for my mum, she really liked seeing photos from my South African adventure. She would never do that kind of trip herself, so I think it’s nice for her to see me enjoying it. For me, I now know you can go from a protected childhood to being out in the wild and still remain true to who you are.  

Harpeet Atwal works for Goldman Sachs and travelled with Flash Pack to South Africa

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

Images: Flash Pack

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