SOMETIMES it’s hard to let go on holiday. But this time I can pinpoint the exact moment it happens — both psychologically and literally — because I’m hanging off the side of a bridge.
Let’s be honest, most people would rather peel off their socks and stand in a bucket of vinegar than sign up for a group holiday. As my new friend Andrea says: ‘In my experience, group travel means people in their early twenties too drunk to talk properly or pensioners too old to walk properly. Where’s the middle ground?’
Enter the Flash Pack, a British company built firmly on that sweet spot. Put simply, ‘flashpacking’ is group adventure travel for those in their thirties and forties who’ve outgrown the grubby side of backpacking but not the intrepid, fun mentality behind it.
I’m joining the Flash Pack’s newest offering, a road trip across the Scottish Highlands in a fleet of Mini Countryman cars. My fellow ‘flashpackers’ — about a dozen of them — have flown in from as far afield as the US and Canada, and all are excited at the prospect of exploring a country recently crowned the world’s most beautiful by Rough Guides.
‘I’ve always wanted to see the Highlands, but it’s not much fun travelling alone,’ says Jennifer from Philadelphia. ‘Then I figured, why bother waiting for somebody to travel with? This way I get to see the highlights in style and make some new friends along the way.’
Our long weekend (the trip runs Thursday to Sunday) begins at Perth’s magnificent Scone Palace — a short transfer from Edinburgh Airport. Here, after acquainting ourselves with each other over lunch, we’re introduced to our rides — the shiny Countryman convoy lined up in the palace courtyard.
Our licences are checked and we’re briefed on everything from the Countryman’s built-in satnav to its fold-out picnic bench (there’s a complimentary hamper in each car). Shuffled into pairs and threes, we’re off, accelerating into the green hills and lush forests of Perthshire.
The beauty of this trip is that the driving is central to the fun rather than a mundane means to an end. Especially with Top Gear-style walkie-talkies in each glove compartment, ensuring the Minis are in constant contact with each other — and the Flash Pack’s co-founder Lee Thompson bringing up the rear.
Our first destination is the pretty Bridge of Orchy, spanning a picturesque gorge south of Loch Tulla. But we’re not here to admire the view from the bridge — we’re here to jump off it. ‘Bridge swinging’ is basically bungee jumping for beginners.
Fully harnessed, we crawl out over the side before letting go and swinging into the 30ft chasm between road and river. It’s a great deal of fun — and rather wet. It’s also an excellent bonding experience, as we cajole, applaud and photograph each other. Those few moments in the air completely reset my perspective from uptight Londoner amid a group of strangers to part of a road gang with its own embryonic in-jokes.
Activities like this are key to flashpacking’s central pillars: adventure, adrenaline and luxury. It’s a composite which continues that evening around a roaring campfire at the foot of Ben Nevis. Here, we’re served a delicious feast by a personal chef before retiring to a cluster of boutique yurts and luxury wooden cabins.
The rest of the weekend follows a similar pattern: physical challenges (sea kayaking and zip-lining), magnificent castles (Ardverikie and Fonab), incredible food (plus a whisky and chocolate tasting at Scotland’s highest distillery) and some phenomenal driving through magnificent Highland scenery.
My Mini mates include Andrea, 35, from Munich, and 33-year-old Julie from Hertfordshire. Predictably, everybody wants to drive but we grudgingly take it in turns. One of our best finds was that the Minis come programmed with ‘100 Road Trip Tracks’. Cue Bon Jovi at top volume with the windows down as we screech past a herd of startled Highland cattle.
By Sunday afternoon, we’re all a bit miffed to be handing back our car keys. ‘This is like the BorrowMyDoggy of road trips,’ jokes Andrea. ‘We run about with them all weekend, then get to hand the goods back all muddy and smelly at the end of it.’
In many ways, it’s not surprising this trip was so much fun: we’ve been driving scenic roads, tackling adventure sports and staying in extraordinary accommodation. What is surprising, though, is that it didn’t feel like a solo holiday. But the point of flashpacking is that holidaying by yourself doesn’t have to mean holidaying alone.
£899 for four days, including three nights’ accommodation, all activities and a Flash Pack guide, flashpack.com