As an adventure travel company, Flash Pack's content could safely stay within the remit of travel. But the brand has always been about more than just a holiday. Our trips aim to connect like-minded solo travellers in their 30s and 40s and our content acts as a community hub for all issues relating to people of this age group.
In the post-pandemic years, the brand set out on a mission to create one million new friendships through shared group travel – and we felt few groups needed these connections more than men in their 30s and 40s. After two years of separation, we felt that loneliness and isolation were the issues that mattered – especially to men.
These are not easy issues to deal with. But we wanted to debunk some of the myths and diffuse some of the stereotypes that still plague men today and keep them from closer connections. So, we decided to publish a new Man to Man series on SOLO, our online magazine, where we would ask leading voices to discuss issues relating to male friendship and modern masculinity.
Our aim was to create a dialogue for men to converse and connect directly, one on one – hence the title Man to Man. But beyond our own desire to form friendships and build closer connections, we wanted to signpost a whole suite of solutions for men of this age, working with leading authors, activists and adventurers.
Initially, it was difficult to find people who were willing or able to write for this column. The New York Times, we are not – and there weren't that many people already openly operating in this space. But after much research, we managed to gather a strong line up to go live in August 2022 with a month-long takeover on SOLO – publishing a new column from a different guest writer each week.
Among the roster of leading names was Max Dickins, author of Billy No Mates, who wrote about how proposing to his long-term girlfriend set about a series of events that made him realise he had few male friends. We also featured editor Martin Robinson in a column that explored why he founded The Book of Man to counter the toxic narrative of traditional men's magazines. And we published icicle-bearded adventurer Charlie Walker writing about his long, lonely solo journeys in Siberia and why so-called 'real' men shouldn't be afraid to talk about loneliness.
After the initial first five were published in August, we later rolled out Man to Man on a new monthly cadence and came back stronger with the likes of Muslim mountaineer and marathon runner Haroon Mota, discussing why community and friendship were key to him finding greater inclusivity through the outdoors. We've since also collaborated with the likes of Ben Akers, founder of the Talk Club, who was motivated into mental-health action after losing a close childhood friend to suicide.
With every new column, with every open word, we discovered that men like Ben, like Haroon, like Charlie, were not alone. Documentarian Alex Bescoby, the man behind Channel 4's The Last Overland series, was yet another person to have been moved by the power of male friendship – here an unlikely one, with octogenarian adventurer, some 60 years his senior – which supported him through difficult times and sparked "the mother of all road trips", carrying him some 19,000 miles in a Land Rover from London to Singapore.
Of course, we're not trying to inspire every man who reads these Man to Man columns to travel 19,000 miles. Indeed, if there's one common thread that's emerged from the last six months, it's that a giant voyage of discovery often starts with one small step. A willingness to simply talk. A desire to seek out closer connections through shared adventure and the outdoors.
We've had thousands of people read these articles on SOLO and many more engage with them on social, so the simple act of one man sharing it with another is seen as a success for us – especially on issues like these that still hold stigma.
A key hallmark of the success and shareability of the series has been the artwork – custom-created by Flash Pack's own in-house designer Kate Straughan – changing each month, with each different columnist, to really grab people's attention. But it has also been the calibre of people who've now willingly and openly agreed to write for us, despite the initial difficulty of trying to get people on board, sharing their most personal stories – unafraid to say they've struggled, too.
Where once it was difficult to get traction with different columnists, we're now finding that, with eight or so columns under our creative belts, it's far easier to get people to commit. This could be because of the way the series has been received and how it looks. Or it could be because more people are understanding that these are the key talking points of today – ones not to be shied away from.
In the pipeline, we've got Sri Lankan author and BBC Radio 5 Live host, Nihal Arthanayake, due to debate why men need to master the art of conversation to combat loneliness. And we've got ex-Army, apparent 'tough guy', Simon Jefferies putting pen to paper on how a Special Forces mindset can help men build real confidence.
At the time of writing this, Flash Pack has made approximately 16,500 new friendships since relaunching the business a year ago after going under during the pandemic in November 2021. With the Man to Man series, we hope we're one step closer to our mission of making one million new friendships.