Why travel with strangers when you could hire a villa with mates and hit St Tropez for the week? Or set sail to Brazil with your sister in tow?
When founders Radha Vyas and Lee Thompson created Flash Pack in 2014, they did so with the vision of radically reworking what group travel looks and feels like.
No longer would it be the domain of stifled small talk or generic, over-processed sightseeing.
The Flash Pack formula would draw together small groups of like-minded travellers around the world – independent people in their 30s and 40s who shared a passion for authentic travel and brilliant, unique experiences.
The result is a growing community of solo travellers who love nothing more than to wander the globe together, with all the rich moments of adventure that doing so brings.
So, without further ado, here’s 10 great reasons why you should take the plunge and travel with strangers on your next trip abroad:
You get to travel in your own way
Travelling with loved ones is a fun thing to do, but it almost always involves some level of compromise. You have to time it exactly right, for a start. Whatever you plan needs to tee with everyone’s annual leave, along with a long list of other commitments. Then there’s deciding where to go, and what to do when you’re there. By the time you’re done, your dream holiday may well have migrated into something quite different.
When you travel with strangers, on the other hand, you get to hand-pick your perfect trip right off the rack. Your destination, your dates, your activities: you can tailor things exactly how you want them. And because you’re joined by other people who’ve been drawn to the same holiday as you – whether that’s outdoor adventure in Oman or rum and salsa dancing in Colombia – you already have something in common.
You don’t have to wait for friends
Travelling with strangers means you don’t have to dip and dive around the complicated lives of your friends. By the time you hit your 30s and 40s – Flash Pack’s target age range – everyone is juggling demands. They have partners, babies, mortgages: planning a holiday just isn’t a priority.
But if you still want to put adventure front and centre in your life, you can do so by travelling with strangers. Suddenly, the number of people you can go travelling with – people who, just like you, life and breathe for a change of scene, and a taste of a different culture – expands. There’s this huge group of travellers out there who share your passion for wanderlust: you just need to connect with them. And that’s exactly what we at Flash Pack do.
You expand horizons with new people
One of the most obvious benefits of travel with strangers is that you get to meet new people – a skill that steadily erodes as we become older and more settled in our ways. It’s hard to put into words quite how great this feels. It’s the kind of thing that you just don’t realise is missing in your life, until you get a taste of it once again.
“Going with a new group of people just opens up a whole world of experience, I guess,” says Craig, who travelled with Flash Pack to Peru. “Meeting people that you wouldn’t necessarily come across in normal life. Making new friends, meeting people from different countries.
“For me, it adds to the experience. It’s really, really good.”
“The most important part of going on a Flash Pack trip is starting with an open mind,” says Sam, who joined Flash Pack in Norway. “Get to know your group and push yourself to try new things. The people on your trip will make it extra special as long as you are open to it. Learn from them and laugh with them. They can become lifetime friends.”
These connections are fuelled by the extra time that travel gives you, too. Instead of being hidden away behind a screen, you carve the space – whether on a long train trip through Laos or a leisurely dinner out in Lima – to have meaningful conversations in the way that everyday life doesn’t allow for.
You gain fresh perspective on life
Travelling with people you know is like a comfort blanket. Sure, it feels good but you don’t really learn anything new, or grow in any way. Indeed, you may be so focused on each other or your group that you fail to take full advantage of being in a new place: the sights, the smells, the culture, and the sheer excitement of it all.
When you’re travelling with strangers, on the other hand, you’re already primed to look outwards at the world. You’re opening yourself up to people you don’t know, and at the same time, exploring your destination together with a shared sense of curiosity. No-one knows that much about each other, everything is new: and that brings the whole experience into sharper focus; like suddenly you’re travelling in technicolour.
“I felt like a completely different person when travelling than when I was home, in my one-bedroom apartment,” says Teha, who has joined Flash Pack on more than a dozen worldwide adventures.
“Why was that? When I was travelling, I was living my life outwardly, surrounded by new friends and new experiences and was fully engaged in every moment. I bounced out of bed every morning, excited for whatever the day might bring and looking outwardly for those things.”
You take more risks
It’s easy to stay within your comfort zone when you’re on holiday with loved ones – but travelling with strangers? Not so much.
“It pushes you to do things that you normally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing,” explains Flash Pack co-founder Radha Vyas. “I was in South Africa with a bunch of our customers a few years ago, and we had to abseil down one of the highest commercial abseils in the world at Table Mountain. And I was scared to death.
“I’m sure if I’d been with my mates, I would have chickened out. But because I was with a group of people I didn’t really know, I didn’t want to be seen as a wuss. I did it, and I’m so glad I did.”
On day two or three of a Flash Pack trip, we’ll typically arrange an activity that is quite challenging, so that you can stretch your boundaries together (often becoming closer as a result). This was the case for traveller Victoria and her fellow Flashpackers in Jordan, who limboed right out of their safe, predictable worlds a few hours into the adventure.
“We went canyoning in the morning, which was quite dangerous and we were all helping each other,” she recalls. “It was our first day, so we were all thrown into this environment where we were hauling each other up rocks.”
You hang out on your own terms
One of the nice things about Flash Pack trips is that we’re flexible. Yes, you have a strong group structure to explore and share moments of adventure with. But you don’t have to hang out together the whole time.
During each trip, we factor in at least two or three days of free time for you to use as you wish (along with a handful of free evenings, too). So, if you’re the kind of person who needs your own time on occasion, you absolutely can have that. You can take yourself off for a day or the evening, and no-one will think any the less of you for it.
“Sometimes, a couple of hours just doing your own thing and having a meal on your own is all you need to recharge,” says Debs, who travelled with Flash Pack to Jordan and Myanmar.
“The beauty of Flash Pack is that this was totally fine. There were evenings when one or more of our group did not go to the group dinner, choosing to have some alone time back at the hotel. No-one thought it was strange or anti-social.”
It’s like solo travel, but with support
Group travel strikes that perfect balance between solo travel and the support of other people. It takes no small amount of courage to travel with people you don’t know, so you’re flexing your own parameters. But yet, you still have the morale of the group behind you.
Flashpackers tend to be independent-minded, too: there’s no hand-holding here. You are simply a group of solo travellers, drawn together by your shared sense of curiosity and adventure.
“Everyone just got on,” says Oliver, who joined Flash Pack in Myanmar. “And everyone was on holiday on their own, not on holiday with someone. It was just people on holiday together.”
“It just feels like it’s people that just fancy doing something together, and who are always up for a new adventure,” adds Agnes, a traveller on Flash Pack’s Peru trip.
You can be whoever you want to be
When you’re travelling with strangers, you’re not constrained by the expectations or beliefs of people who know you. And there’s a lot of freedom to that.
“Being with a new group of people gives the opportunity to practise new ways of being,” says London-based psychotherapist Karin Peeters, founder of Vitalis Coaching and Inner Pilgrim. “Behave as if the opposite of your belief is true. Test new behaviours. Be how you would be if you’d be confident and carefree.
“I don’t mean being fake,” she adds. “I mean being more yourself than you’d ever dare being with those who know you, and have already formed their opinion of you. Feel the new-ness of the situation, and the fresh energy it brings.”
Instead of self-censoring, you’re free to accept one another, and embrace the diversity of backgrounds that comes from being strangers on the road together. “You can just be yourself at whatever confidence level you find yourself on at the time of travel,” says Bella, who joined Flash Pack in Sri Lanka and Northern India. “All of us Flashpackers had different personalities, expectations and life experiences, but we all brought our own individuality to the tour and, in turn, created a group memory.”
Everything is arranged for you
We’re not going to abseil down Table Mountain for you. And we won’t carry your backpack around. But what we WILL do is arrange all those small and annoying details that would be a hassle to do yourself.
Travelling in a group means you can get to place to place smoothly, and pack in a far more diverse range of activities than if you’re flying entirely solo. Things like cycling the wine hills of Casablanca, Chile, one moment, and drinking sundowners in the Atacama Desert the next. Or taking a backstreet food safari through Bangkok before white-water rafting in the jungle valleys of Chiang Mai.
At the same time, you don’t have to roll your sleeves up on the planning element, as you would do if you were travelling in a group of mates or with family.
And by travelling as a group, it’s easier to stay in high-end hotels such as the Shinta Mani Angkor or the Amorita Resort in the Philippines, too (boutique hotels are one of the signatures of Flash Pack trips). In addition, your guide can help you really get under the skin of a destination, accessing parts of it that tourists don’t usually see.
“You know, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have had the inside knowledge of the country to take myself to various different villages or go on different hikes, and that kind of thing,” says Oliver, of his Myanmar escape. “But because it was organised for us, that was all included. And I don’t think that’s something you could do on your own.”
“I think men always like to be macho and think, ‘I can plan this myself,’” says Andy, who Flashpacked to Myanmar, Jordan and Sri Lanka. “I’ve done it before and it’s not that easy.
“Once you’ve been on one Flash Pack trip, it changes your mentality of holidaying.”
You’ll have sofas to crash on for life
There’s no pressure to be best buddies on a Flash Pack trip: you come on your own terms, and some people will naturally click where others don’t. That said, the fact that you’ve shared these big, life-changing moments of adventure together means many people really do go on to be friends for life. Friends who speak six different languages, and live in any number of cities worldwide.
That means a huge number of sofas to crash on around the globe, any time you may need them: not to mention the many reunions and repeat trips that close-knit groups of Flashpackers tend to embark on after their first adventure together.
As Flash Pack co-founder Lee Thompson says: “When I used to think of group travel, I just imagined people in kind of matching caps and a guide with a ‘follow me’ sign. It was my worst nightmare. But our trips are nothing like that. When you travel with a group of people who are just like you, it’s really good fun. It’s about sharing something incredible that might change your whole perception of life.”
Images: Flash Pack