In 2018, I was going through a divorce with my partner of 15 years. We had traveled together during that time but it was mostly local, within the United States. I wanted to travel more than him and I had been saving money throughout our relationship in the hope that we would do more of it. When we split up, researching a trip was one of the first things I did – even before my ex had moved out. My mindset was, “I am absolutely doing this.”
I also wanted to book a trip that left over Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. I love gathering people together and cooking for them: so the thought of missing a whole family all of a sudden, because of my divorce, was a prospect I was dreading. Even with my own family, I knew everyone would be there in couples. I thought: if I’m going to do something for myself, that’s the day to do it.
I started researching travel companies online and a lot of reviews were about people partying until 3am, or the trip was so basic I didn’t understand why I needed to pay someone to organize it. I hadn’t worked for 15 years, saving my money, so I could party randomly with people – or overpay for something I could do myself, cheaper. My digging eventually led me to Flash Pack, which sounded perfect in terms of the type of local adventure travel I was interested in.
I was also searching for the best places to go for solo female travellers and Southeast Asia kept coming up. So, I booked a three-week holiday there, starting with a solo week in Vietnam, followed by Bangkok, where I would join up with Flash Pack’s Thailand and Laos trip.
As I embarked on my solo adventure, I remember taking a lift from my apartment to the airport at 4am and discovering my Lyft driver had been in the Vietnam War. It felt like a sign: I was nervous, but hearing his stories of Vietnam set me on the right path.
It was great to meet other people at a time when my own small world had unraveled
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh was definitely a culture shock and I spent the first few days just trying to get my bearings: working out things like how to cross roads – which is an event in Vietnam – or get money out. By the end of the first week, I was ready to join the group and allow someone else to help me with all the logistics.
As soon as I met the Flash Pack group on our first night, in a rooftop bar in Bangkok, I was reassured. We were all there for the same purpose, with similar expectations: it felt like we were on the same page and ready to take on our adventure together. I knew traveling with these people would be doable and easy.
There was a lot of hiking on our trip, which I love. There was one day where we hiked, biked and white water rafted all on the same day, so that was like a mini triathlon. The food was amazing, too. On the second night in Bangkok we ate at a restaurant that provided an amazing variety of food for us to try. There was a fish dish that was deep fried in some delicious way. To this date, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
I remember how much we all enjoyed the Mekong cruise in Laos, towards the end of the trip. Laos was so beautiful, calm and relaxed. There was nothing to do but sit and appreciate the scenery and enjoy each other’s company; along with simple food that we helped prepare on the boat. We played cards and took naps. It sounds almost silly to say that that’s a standout memory, because we weren’t doing much. But it really allowed me to sit back and appreciate the moment – and reflect on the entire trip to date.
Looking back, that adventure was perfect timing for the confidence boost I needed to set off on my own, in all aspects of life. I’d been wanting to travel for so long and felt reaffirmed that adventure is something I should be making space for in my life.
Also, it was great to meet so many other people at a time when my own little world had unraveled. I could remind myself that my experience was tiny compared to the huge world out there: that there are so many ways to connect with people – and so many other relationships to value – beyond being married.
The trip also reaffirmed what I wanted from life more broadly. I had left for Vietnam in November 2018 and by May the next year, I had quit my job in community health to travel full time. I told my friends and family, “Tell me where to meet you and I’ll be there.” In that way, I ended up traveling for seven months across Iceland, Bosnia, the Canary Islands, India and more – sometimes with others, and sometimes on my own. I met up with some other Flashpackers when I was in the UK and we spent the weekend together scrambling and hiking in Snowdonia National Park.
Traveling, firstly with Flash Pack and then more generally, made me realize how resilient and adaptable I am. When I was abroad, I faced new situations every day and I always figured things out. When I returned to Wisconsin because of the pandemic, I decided to re-enter my career, but at a much lower level. I no longer wanted to work 50 hours a week or feel guilty about taking a long weekend. Instead, I now prioritize things like travel, volunteering and exploring new interests, that are more in line with my values.
No one else gets to decide how you live your life
No one else gets to decide how you live your life. Other people can be part of your happiness, or the way in which you contribute to the world, but they don’t get to choose for you. When I list travel on my dating profiles now, some men tell me, “I don’t want to hold you back.” But I say, “Oh, trust me. No one’s going to do that.” It doesn’t mean I don’t have space to come together with someone: but I’ll make no promises to be in one place forever.
It’s hard to change your life and do something new if you’ve lived one way for so long. It can feel like you’re standing on the edge of a precipice: you don’t know what’s on the other side and it can be scary. But it’s also the perfect opportunity to try and just see what it’s like.
There is a theory that the Life Spiral has five stages that repeat over and over throughout our life. In the plateaus things are steady, consistent and predictable. Inevitably a triggering event, positive or negative, knocks us off the plateau and we find ourselves in limbo, unable to decipher up from down. While this can be the most challenging spots in life, it is the opportunity to really take stock and take charge. It is the opportunity to leap into the unknown, do the thing you’ve always wanted to do, try something you never thought you would and maybe settle on the next plateau with an even more magnificent view.
Becky Turpin is a 41-year-old community health worker from Wisconsin and a keen Flashpacker. Find out more about Flash Pack adventures right here.
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