I’m celebrating my 40th by reuniting with Flash Pack friends I’ve made along the way

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I’ve always loved to travel and have been to every continent except Antarctica. I’m not a person who shies away from adventure, but I do shy away from doing it all alone. 

There’s a little more security in group travel, especially if you don’t speak the language or fully understand the culture. In fact, one of my last big trips, before I discovered Flash Pack, was to Japan. Two weeks felt like a long time to spend on my own when I didn’t know a word of Japanese, so I managed to convince my parents to go with me.

I only tried out group travel for the first time in 2019 when I joined a Flash Pack trip to China. I was desperate to visit, but didn’t want to go on my own.

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I ended up doing four Flash Pack trips that year

My work schedule is different to most people’s because, as an emergency medicine physician in San Francisco, I mainly work nights. It’s a 32-hour working week, instead of the traditional 40, so I have more time off than most. 

Even so, I don’t get to travel with my local friends because they have kids and are less able to make time beyond their family holidays. Having a chat with one of them, she convinced me to be a little bit more adventurous. So, after seeing an advert for the trip, I booked it. I was in my 30s and the age demographic – exclusively for people in their 30s and 40s – appealed.

I definitely became a little bit of an addict and ended up doing four Flash Pack trips that year. I went to China in June, Croatia in August, Morocco in November and Argentina over the new year.

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I’ve made 10 or more really good friends on Flash Pack trips

There was obviously a break during Covid, but when Flash Pack returned I was so pleased. This year I’ve been to Finland, Tanzania, Colombia and Bali. And I’m also due to go to Thailand next month. 

Beyond the adventures I’ve had, I’ve also made 10 or 11 really good friends on these trips. And I’ve built a wider global community of people I’d see if I happened to be visiting their hometowns. I know people in America, Australia, Germany and the UK. 

One of my best friends I made was on the Morocco trip. She just so happens to be from California, like me. We text each other almost every day. If you can leave a trip with one good friend, that’s a success. But I’m lucky to have made many.

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I met my best friend now on the Morocco adventure

On Flash Pack’s Finland adventure, even though it was a shorter break, I hit it off instantly with one of the guys. By the end of the welcome dinner, people thought we already knew each other and had come on the trip together. We just became such fast friends. 

To celebrate all these connections, I’m now organising my 40th birthday trip to Brazil with some of the friends I’ve made along the way. I floated a couple of ideas around, but this is the one we all settled on. There are eight of us going and five are people I’ve met on Flash Pack trips – one from the Tanzania adventure, two from Colombia, two from Morocco, and then my sister and her husband are also coming. 

We’re planning to be in Rio for the carnival and then head to Iguazú Falls for a couple of nights, where we will visit both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. In true Flash Pack style, we’ve set up our own WhatsApp group. For my actual birthday, I’m hoping we’ll take the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf mountain and soak up the view of the city.

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Whenever there’s a chance to see them, I take it

As we’re mostly Flashpackers, it’s actually worked out that everyone on the trip knows at least one other person other than me. It’s probably taken me a good 60 hours just trying to work out all the logistics, finding accommodation and getting everyone on the same flight from Rio to  Iguazú. I’ve definitely missed the hassle-free Flash Pack element of it being done for me – but luckily, they’ve just launched two new Brazil trips, so there’s always next time. 

Different people are leaving at different times. One of the girls is coming all the way from Australia so, along with another girl, we’re going to make a longer trip out of it, heading back to Rio after Iguazú. 

Sadly, there are a few people that can’t make it. My friend from Finland couldn’t because, ironically, he’s on a Flash Pack trip. My best friend can’t make it for work reasons. But whenever there’s an opportunity to see any of them, I always try to take it. She arranges a ski trip every year and, for the last three, I’ve gone along with her and her friends.

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It’s also wonderful to have formed such strong bonds 

My friend from the Finland trip lives in Portland, so I’ve been up to see him and he’s been down to see me. A friend from the Argentina trip, who also lives in Australia, couldn’t make it to Rio but texted to say she was going to New York for a conference. I wasn’t working so I flew there, stayed with another friend I’d made through Flash Pack, and met up with her, too. And, before Flash Pack reopened, the friend from Germany and I went to Lisbon and the Azores together. 

It’s also wonderful to have formed such strong bonds during the trips. On the Argentina adventure, we all hiked to Laguna de los Tres. I wasn’t the fastest hiker, but the friend from Australia offered to stay back with me. We took our time and, as we were at the lake, a lady asked if we’d seen the other blue lake nearby. We walked to it and sat and had lunch. It was just so beautiful. As we were getting ready to leave, it started snowing.

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At the end of the trip, you feel like everyone is a friend

Back at dinner, everyone was chatting. We were telling someone about the other lake when the group turned to us and said “There was another lake?” We joked with them that slow and steady wins the race. 

Now, one of the first things my sister asks me when I come back from a trip, is ‘Have I made any new friends?’. It sounds weird because, at the end of the trip, you feel like everyone is a friend. But, to stay in touch with someone who lives on another continent, you’ve got to be really good ones. I’ve definitely achieved that.

Serial Flashpacker, Elizabeth Howse, lives in California and has travelled on eight trips with Flash Pack, including her most recent adventure to Bali

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: Elizabeth Howse

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