Summer 2012. I was single, in my thirties, completely tired of my job and desperate for a holiday. You know that feeling when you just need to escape and you need to escape NOW…? That was me.
I’d always wanted to go to Cambodia so decided it was finally time to tick it off the bucket list and excitedly set about trying to recruit a partner in crime. I racked my brain and my Facebook account but the reality slowly sunk in, I had no one to travel with.
All my friends were busy booking holidays to Devon and Maldives with their children or new husbands. What should I do? I could either go with, and act as an unpaid babysitter, or go away on my own, which I was tired of doing. Who likes the idea of a dinner table for one on a beautiful beach?
While ranting about my dilemma to a friend she suggested I look into a group tour. Group tour?! Me? The intrepid traveller? It seemed as though I had few other options. I found a couple of big companies offering loads of different group tours. The slightly more dynamic itineraries were catering to the 18-30s market, which seems like a weird age bracket (what does a 30 year old have in common with an 18 year old?).
There was another option to travel with a much more mature group of travellers aged 60-70s. I finally settled on the 18-30s tour on the basis that I do like a drink and a boogie in the evenings and there would probably be someone of similar age and life experience to me, right?
Day one and all 15 of us sat round a table in a slightly grotty hotel in Bangkok. As an “ice-breaker”, the tour guide asked us all to introduce ourselves one by one. A sprightly young Italian girl started “Hi I’m Fabiana from Italy and I’m 19.” and so it continued around the table. Oh god, the shame! I felt like I was at an AA meeting but instead of declaring an addiction, I had to declare that I was 32 and past it. Queue the raised eyebrows and funny looks. It was the first time in my life I felt old and totally out of place.
The 10 days were pleasant enough, the group were all friendly, fresh faced travel virgins. We were ferried from air-conditioned bus to air-conditioned hotel and ate our watery noodles in specified tourist restaurants to avoid any possibility of an upset stomach.
When I got back home my dad excitedly asked me lots of questions about Cambodian culture, people and everyday life. I couldn’t answer a single question! My dad looked at me like I was some kind of idiot but I’d had zero contact with any Cambodians.
I had no funny stories of lost-in-translation moments with locals, no amazing street food recommendations or any idea of what life is like for an ordinary Cambodian. The whole trip was a canned experience, spent ticking off the usual tourist destinations and snapping Facebook profile pictures. It was bland, just like our noodles and I was left feeling totally unsatisfied.
On my return I started researching the group tour industry and realised that it was set up predominantly for young gap year students and senior luxury travellers. The needs of 30 and 40 something solo travellers, who are busy professionals and aren’t looking for a singles holiday were being ignored. This got me thinking about a new business idea, and I started to get really, really excited.
My focus groups revealed there are loads of people out there who want to continue indulging their passion for travel but worry that group tours are outdated. Loads of people missing out on amazing holidays because of the security issue with travelling alone, and an increasing number of women wanting to take career breaks but daunted by the prospect of going it alone.
Et voila, nine month later The Flash Pack was born with a mission to shake up the outdated group tour industry and cater to passionate solo travellers – just like me.
I’m obsessed with really ‘getting under the skin’ of the country I’m visiting. Living abroad in Spain and Chile in my twenties gave me the opportunity to understand the psyche of a nation and what makes it tick. Now time is much more limited but the obsession remains and every itinerary we create is carefully crafted around this principle.
If done right, travel has the ability to be a transformative experience. I’m not talking about the clichéd “go find yourself” nonsense. I’m just talking about the fact that no one should come back from a holiday without feeling alive and in love with life. It’s about breaking the mundane routine of work for two weeks, experiencing something totally different and giving your brain the chance to shift gear.
Since, setting up in 2013 we’ve taken thousands of 30 & 40 something single travellers all over the world and have created raving fans (check out some of the reviews on our Feefo page!). Our group tours are dynamic and we include loads of activities and flashpacker experiences. No hidden fees or tourist traps and not an inebriated 18 year-old in sight. Are you in? flashpack.com