Your friends just never have the time to match your holiday dates. What they do have is an excuse, or four. We get it. This is all too familiar with professionals today. You spent almost all of your adult life in the office, achingly working your way up the corporate ladder, when suddenly it hits you. You’re approaching 40 and you’ve missed the boat of adventure your pals were on before they settled down. Or perhaps you married early, and now, at the ripe young age of 35, you’re ready to reclaim lost youth out in that scary wildness called the world.
You could bunk up with college graduates keen to experience the nighlife scene in Bangkok, or hang out with hippie lads sporting man-buns. But surely there’s a more inviting alternative out there? Professionals in their 30s or 40s are a growing demographic of solo travellers, especially in Doha.
They’re successful with a decent enough disposable income, looking to embrace fun and adventure, but on their terms. In other words, they want to explore the wonders of earth comfortably. With Qatar’s strategic geographical location and ease of access to so many countries around the world, this might be the perfect solution to your solo travel needs.
Single, in her 30s and thriving, Radha Vyas was desperate for a foreign escape. While searching for a travel companion, the business consultant from London, found that her peers were tied down with family commitments. “They were all busy booking holidays to Devon and the Maldives with their children or husbands, and that’s when reality slowly but surely sunk in that I had no one to travel with.” Vyas ended up joining a group tour in Cambodia, where she was surrounded by gap year students. “I sat at the table for the group ice-breaker and the first traveller excitedly introduced herself. ‘Hi, I’m Fabiana from Italy and I’m 19.’ That continued around the circle and when it came to me, oh the shame when I had to declare that I was 32. Queue the raised eyebrows and funny looks. It was the first time in my life I felt old and out of place,” she says.
“Researching the group tour industry, I 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, were being ignored, and this got me thinking about a new business idea.” Joining forces with fellow adventurer, photojournalist Lee Thompson, she set up Flash Pack in 2014, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A Flash Packer is someone whose desire goes beyond that of cheap hostels, but who is definitely not ready for the touristy coach tours of retirement. After a day of off-the-beaten-path adventure, they want to come back to a stylish, boutique hotel. Think of it as a more grown-up way of backpacking, in a similar vein to what glamping did for camping, and you’re on the right track.
Current Flash Pack demographics show that this is people in their 30s and 40s, of whom 90 percent are solo travellers, 60 percent are women and 80 percent are single.
Vyas, Thompson and the team basically inject some style into the travel itineraries. They pull together the best hotels, beverages and cuisines into an innovative and immersive journey. “We avoid chain hotels and touristy restaurants, but stay in boutique properties and have authentic foodie experiences – from lakeside glamping beneath the Northern Lights in Finland to tracking down the best street food in Delhi. It’s about escaping the crowds and tourist hotspots, and taking our Flash Packers off the beaten path and out of their comfort zones”, explains Thompson, who has organised experiences including conquering the summit of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain and abseiling down Cape Town’s Table Mountain.
The Flash Pack Leaders are semi-Flash Packers themselves, within or around the same demographics, but actually from the destination you’re travelling to. Their role isn’t to just to point out key landmarks and history, but to make you feel like they’re in your gang of friends and show off local tips and hangouts. “Our pack leader Hoang in Vietnam loves taking Flash Packers out to the streets in search of the best spring rolls in Hanoi,” Thompson says.
It’s not all glitz and glam, though, and just like with backpacking, you’ll have to share a room. Don’t worry, it’s not a ten-person dorm with smelly socks drying from the top bunk, but with a fellow culture vulture probably down for having a spa treatment or glass of grape in the lobby upon return from the day’s activities. “We do this partly to avoid the annoying single supplement that solo travellers are faced with, but also, we find it’s a great way to make genuine friendships,” says Vyas. “Flash Packers are usually more than happy to share a room, and they can opt out if they want to, as long as they don’t mind paying a single supplement.”
Yes, your best pal from college will always be there, but if he or she has swapped those “I can’t believe we did that” moments with “I can’t believe my kid did that” moments, then it might be time to recruit new travel buddies. Travelling with other Flash Packers means a whole new group of qualified candidates ready and up for the challenge.
In terms of room shares, Flash Pack will pair people up based on their age and also mix up different nationalities as guests come from all over the globe. “We do all the online stalking we can legally do to make sure you’re matched up with someone like-minded,” Vyas says.
“And in return, you get to have incredible new experiences with fun, new people.” Before each trip, a WhatsApp group is also set up where people can introduce themselves. There’s a welcome drink event at the start and then bonds are formed naturally later on through exciting activities. “Whether this is kayaking down a waterfall in Croatia or hiking a live volcano in Bali, it means travellers will pass the small talk pretty quickly.”
While new friendships are formed and last throughout the trip, Vyas says that many grow and flourish beyond departure. “We’ve had Flash Packers move in together after sharing an adventure and also our first Flash Pack wedding is coming up this year.”
The trend for Flash Packing is picking up in a way that backpacking did back in the late ’90s for gap year students at the turn of the digital boom. Professionals today realise that dreams aren’t just for teens, and that it’s not too late to get up and do something that you really want to do, especially when you’re not tied down with family commitments.
While there are a host of companies now targeting a similar market to the Flash Pack, Thompson is confident that his team offer something tailored and unique. “Our adventures aren’t regular touristy holidays and are still luxurious. We also chat to every single Flash Packer when they book to make sure that the trip is right for them, but also so that we can vet them to ensure they’d make a good Flash Packer. We have a ‘Kind People Policy’ that people have to read before they go, so it’s good vibes all round from there.”
As the Flash Pack community grows bigger and stronger, trips of a lifetime are becoming more of a reality for solo travellers in their 30s and 40s worldwide. Things at Flash Pack HQ are about to get a whole lot busier.
For more information on Flash Pack holidays visit www.flashpack.com.
Five tips if you’re backpacking solo
Nothing takes the glam out of travelling faster than theft, so invest in a backpack with security features for peace of mind when on the road. Pacsafe bags (www.pacsafe.com) are full of hidden locks and compartments, meaning you can spend less time worrying and more time being fabulous. Remember to organise all your documents and keep everything backed up online in case you misplace them.
Being stylish doesn’t necessarily mean packing heavy, after all, it’s you who will be doing the lifting. Pack light and pack smart. Three pairs of footwear is usually sufficient, including a pair of flip-flops, which can be used in showers, a pair of comfortable trainers, which can be worn on hikes and a pair of plain dark shoes, which can be smart enough to wear to a nice restaurant. Keep bottoms to a minimum – ideally ones that can be paired with as many tops as possible, since it’s the tops that get noticed in photos at the end of the day.
Remember to stretch
While we burn plenty of calories and build muscle backpacking, Leo Lourdes of Yogasphere (www.yogasphere.eu) stresses the importance of incorporating yoga stretches into your journey. “During the day, do side-to-side neck rolls to release tension in the sternocleidomastoid muscle as it takes on the strain of heavy luggage, and in the evening, I advise the cobbler yoga pose to open up your hips. There are many workouts of varying length online, so add them to your watch list and do them whenever you have a few minutes.”
Save time with dry washing products
Being on the road means dust and grease clogging up your skin, so take face wipes and use them regularly. Cleansing facial wipes are perfect for removing oil and dirt, and are soft on the skin. Brands such as Lush (www.mena.lush.com) have dry shampoo bars in little round tins. Since they come in non-liquid format, you don’t have to dig them out and declare at security points, saving time when running in and out of airports.
Take time out to relax, too
Ever tried floatation therapy? It’s the art of lying in a dark pod filled with warm saltwater and drifting into a meditative state. “Floating lowers blood pressure, reducing anxiety, which in turn aids with sleeping. The practise is used to treat jet-lag, too, and there are floatation centres all over the world,” says Ed Hawley of Floatworks (www.floatworks.com).
Fve top trips from flash pack
Thompson recently went to Japan with Vyas and added in amazing new experiences to their trip there – including discovering a secret tourist-free neighbourhood in Tokyo, having lunch with a sumo wrestler and eating oysters on Miyajima Island.
From QR21,550 (13-day trip including accommodation, meals, activities and Bullet train tickets).
Go glamping on a secret beach in the Bacuit Archipelago, with a private chef for beach barbecues and a private boat to whisk you around the hidden coves and lagoons. Explore the legendary Chocolate Hills on quad bikes, paddleboard down the Loboc river and take a bamboo bike ride around the ancient quarter of Manila.
From QR14,365 (including accommodation, meals, activities and all internal transportation).
This is one of their most popular adventures where Flash Packers spot leopards in Yala National Park, release rescued turtles on the beach at sunset and drink tea up in the beautiful tea plantations of Ella Mountains.
From QR9,750 (11-day trip including accommodation, meals, activities and internal transportation).
Flash Packers can see the Serengeti in style at an epic safari camp, staying in luxury tents after spotting the Big Five on bucket list safaris. They will also explore Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater and enjoy an incredible game drive through its wildlife-packed landscape.
From QR15,900 (including accommodation, meals, activities and all internal transportation).
Vietnam & Cambodia
Another of their most popular adventures, this two-week trip goes off-the-beaten-path for treks through the emerald valleys of Sapa, a night on a traditional junk boat in Halong Bay and relaxing in a rooftop infinity pool overlooking Phnom Penh.
From QR13,100 (including accommodation, meals, activities, internal flights and transportation).