Why travel with strangers when you could hire a villa with mates and hit St Tropez for the week? Or holiday with your sister in Brazil?
Group travel has a notoriously bad rap. No surprise that many travellers are put off by the idea of joining a giant, anonymous huddle traipsing after someone with an inflatable finger. It epitomises everything that’s anti-travel about travel.
“Group tours never even came on my radar,” says Flash Pack co-founder Lee Thompson, who has travelled the world in his career as a photojournalist. “I just imagined people in kind of matching caps and a guide with a ‘follow me’ sign. It’s my worst nightmare.”
In launching Flash Pack, Lee and co-founder Radha Vyas decided to throw out the rule book on group travel, creating a radical new approach to the format.
Here are five great reasons why you should sign up to their vision:
It’s a fresh way of travelling
When you hit your thirties, your mates-based holidays tend to splinter off amid a cloud of coupledom and babies. Demanding jobs don’t make the situation any easier.
“I’m so used to going on my own. All of my friends have kids,” says Emily, who jumped aboard for our Vespa road trip in Spain.
It’s a dilemma that the people behind Flash Pack are more than familiar with.
“I was single in my thirties, and desperate for a break,” says Lee. “I tried my best to persuade all my married friends to come on holiday with me. And unsurprisingly, none of them were free to come away.”
With Flash Pack, Lee and Radha have reinvented the code on travel with strangers. They combine travellers of a similar age and outlook with high-octane adventures around the world (throwing in boutique hotels along the way). In doing so, they’ve crafted the roots of an entirely new way of travel.
No longer must people scout around for loved ones to travel with, or else face the prospect of an inane group trip. Flash Pack presents an enticing third way of seeing the world, and it’s one that our travellers love.
You meet 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. 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 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.”
You take more risks
It’s easy to stay within your comfort zone when you’re on holiday with loved ones – but travel with strangers? Not so much.
“It pushes you to do things that you normally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing,” says Flash Pack’s Radha. “I was in South Africa with a bunch of our customers in April, 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.”
As Victoria notes, one of the first things she and her fellow Flashpackers did in Jordan was to limbo right out of their safe, predictable worlds.
“We went canyoning in the morning, which was kind of quite dangerous and we were all helping each other,” she says. “And it was our first day, so we were all thrown into this environment where we were hauling each other up rocks and stuff like that.”
It’s like solo travel, but with added 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 us 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 our Peru trip.
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, and pack in a far more diverse range of activities than if you’re flying entirely solo. At the same time, you don’t have to roll your sleeves up on the planning element, as you would do in a group of mates or family. And you can afford to stay in high-end hotels, too (a key part of Flash Pack trips).
“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.”
“Once you’ve been on one Flash Pack trip, it changes your mentality of holidaying.”