In a world full of tourists, staying away from the crowds on your own private island for two days is the kind of experience that’s hard to top. So, I knew that Flash Pack’s escape to the Philippines – accented with island-hopping, snorkeling and time spent on sandy beaches – would be my chance to break away from the rat race and make the most of my precious time off.
Approaching Ginto Island, our castaway destination in the archipelago of Palawan, was a unique moment. I’ve never been to a beach that was made up of pure coral before. In a word, it was beautiful.
We felt completely free of the stresses of daily life
We fell into the rhythm of island life pretty quickly. Phone reception was sporadic, so we felt properly off-grid. It was great to be completely free of the stresses of daily life – out of reach from the world at large.
At night we stayed in individual mesh tents, where each small detail had been carefully thought out: tents filled with flickering faux-candles; mini towels laid out by the entrance, so you could wipe the sand from your feet.
I slept amazingly. Our group joked that we were drifting off to the kind of soothing natural soundscape that people would normally pay to hear on a podcast. There was a quiet melody of lapping waves and gentle raindrops overhead.
At night we stayed in individual mesh tents
I’m an early riser, so every morning on Ginto Island I would wander down to the beach for the world’s most peaceful wake up. It’s small moments like these that you don’t think about much at the time, but they really have a big impact on the overall experience.
The food was amazing, too. We had a private chef and a local team on the island, who made everyone feel really at home and well-catered for.
Our chef took pride in announcing the menu for each meal and every dish was cooked from scratch that day. It was always different, but always extremely fresh and seasonal.
A private chef cooked meals, served at beachside tables
When you’re island-hopping, a lot of the food is cooked on the boat, so we had meals like ceviche, fish with noodles or rice, and loads of local fruit and veg. I have a newfound love of mango now, after two weeks spent in the Philippines.
I also liked the way we ate on the island. Each meal was laid out on a low table on the beach, complete with atmospheric lighting and cushions. We all sat cross-legged in a format that encouraged us to mix and break down barriers in those first few days of getting to know one another. It was very inclusive.
Free from distractions, our group talked into the early hours
Later on during the island stay, we had a bonfire and marshmallows on the beach, which was another opportunity for us all to bond. I think a lot of us built our connections on that night, with deep conversations that lasted into the early hours. I don’t drink but for those who did, there was a well-stocked bar with beers and cocktails on tap.
During the days, we were free to explore – playing soccer on the beach or island-hopping on our private boat. We had two private masseurs on Ginto with us and they were extremely popular: some people were getting two treatments a day, morning and night. It felt like a huge treat.
I was struck by the quality of the coral and sea life
Snorkeling was a particular highlight for me. The last time I tried it I was a child, so I didn’t have much expectation – but I was blown away by the amazing sea life.
Whenever our boat pulled into some remote spot, all the fish would gather around the propeller. I spent hours admiring them feeding off the coral, in an ecosystem full of color and vibrancy.
I was particularly struck by the quality of coral, which is something you don’t normally see outside of a fish tank or a documentary. In real life it was awesome: so bright, in all these shades of crimson and terracotta red.
All of a sudden, I understood why people scuba dive. There were a few divers in our group and they got to see sharks, turtles, sea stars and more. They said it was some of the best diving they’d ever done.
It was cathartic being around people of a similar age
I didn’t necessarily think I would make genuine friendships on the trip – and I also wasn’t prepared for how gutting it would feel to say goodbye at the end.
When you travel with a circle of people around you of a similar age – all in their 30s and 40s – it becomes quite a cathartic experience. There was a sense of solidarity between us. We all had struggles and had been through similar rides in life, from professional challenges to more personal ones.
The experience wouldn’t have been the same without our guide Rupert
I emerged with a newfound sense of confidence that surprised me. I felt stronger about certain parts of myself, having been surrounded by a group of people who had gone through similar life journeys. Washed away on a farflung island, I felt comfortable sharing them in these moments of connection. Plus, because we were all the same age, everyone liked my playlists.
Our guide, Rupert, was an angel. He went above and beyond to make the group happy and was so easy to get on with. I felt lucky to have him as our Pack Leader. It wouldn’t have been the same vibe with someone different.
On this trip, I could let my guard down among new friends
In an exquisite trip, one scene really stands out. We were on the beach on Ginto island, all eating lunch in front of this spectacular ocean view. I didn’t care who I was sitting next to: the food was awesome, I’d had a few days to settle in and everyone was great.
That was the moment I knew I wasn’t going to have to make an effort with people. I could just let my guard down because it was clear we were all going to get on. The sun came out, and from nowhere, it just felt like I was on a vacation with friends.
This year, Flash Pack’s “Don’t be a Tourist. Be a Flashpacker” campaign aims to encourage travelers in their 30s and 40s to stray away from the expected path – seeking out the road less traveled.
Images for this story were shot on location in Philippines by Flash Pack photographer Connor McCracken.