hush Meets... Radha Vyas
Radha Vyas has both travel and entrepreneurship running through her veins – so much so it was almost inevitable that she’d end up founding the Flash Pack, an adventure travel company that connects like-minded solo travellers.
A lacklustre group holiday of her own was Radha’s inspiration. She was single, in her early 30s and wanted to experience the authentic Cambodia. So she booked a group tour. It was there she realised the 30s-40s niche was “there for the taking” – and the Flash Pack was born.
Have you always been a traveller?
I was given a really privileged childhood. My parents were real adventurers: when I was just two and half and my sister was five, they took us backpacking in India for three months. And then when I was seven, we were sent to Kenya for two and a half months to stay with relatives we’d never met before! We even went on the plane by ourselves. I don’t remember missing my parents – I had the time of my life.
What does travel mean to you?
Travel for me is about two things: immersing yourself in the country and connecting with other people.
When I was 18, I lived in Paris and the roommate I had is still one of my best friends. Even though we don’t see each other very often, when we do catch up, it’s as though as no time has passed at all. Traveling with people is a shortcut to forging real friendship.
Lee [Radha’s husband and co-founder of the Flash Pack] and I have experienced very different types of travel. He was a photojournalist, so he’s been on the ground in hostile environments. I’ve lived in three countries (France, Spain and Chile) and speak four languages. For me, travel isn’t about ticking off destinations; it’s about getting to know the psyche and idiosyncrasies of a country.
How does that translate into what the Flash Pack does?
Your experience is more authentic. For example, if you went on a trip to India with us, in Delhi you’re invited to a secret supper club, where you meet local women in their 30s and 40s – you have dinner with your peers and hear what life is like for them. Our guides are like your local friends – they’ll even introduce you to their families.
How did the idea for the Flash Pack come about? Was it a lightbulb moment or a gradual realisation that there was this gap in the market?
I’d always wanted to set up a business and had been trying to find the right idea. In a way I was our customer: I was 32, single, freelancing, and wanted to go on holiday. But it’s harder to find someone to travel with when you’re single and in your thirties – and a friend suggested a group tour. I was rather offended. (“Me? I’m an intrepid traveller!”) but I saw her point and tried it. It was pretty lacklustre. I suddenly saw this gap between the bargain backpacking tours for young people and the luxe trips for senior retirees. The 30s-40s niche was ours for the taking. There was still this out-dated, Bridget Jones style image of the single female traveller. We knew we could do something better.
And what’s the grand plan?
We’ve already gone global, and the next market we have our eye on is the older demographic: 50-60, who don’t identify with the current group travel offerings on the market.
Ultimately, the Flash Pack is about lifestyle. We want to make it the brand for 30s and 40s – and become more than just a travel company. Because travel is about so many things: food, people, education – they all connect people, and connecting people drives our growth.
When you did you think 'we've made it'?
Lots of people said it wouldn’t work – and for the first six months it really didn’t, which was depressing, but my gut instinct told me it was a great idea. I had this innate feeling that it would work, without any evidence whatsoever. But even now – with growth of 300% in the last year, it’s still really scary: I wake up with the fear of failure every single day. As you get bigger, people start copying you – which is, I suppose, flattering, but no less annoying. I never think we’re coasting. I would never rest on our laurels.
Do you still travel as much as you’d like – or is there more being on the ground, running the business?
Initially, not at all! But now I am - I’ve been to Iceland and Japan this year and I’m off to Stockholm tomorrow to test rooftop hiking as a potential activity for our trips. It’s supposed to offer a bird’s eye view of the city, but I’m a little terrified…
Best advice you've ever been given?
When I first started the business, I went to recce Egypt, and I met this woman on the plane. We got talking and I told her my idea. She was an entrepreneur, too, and she said, “You know what Radha? Business isn’t that hard and you’ve got what it takes.” That has stayed with me. The first year was hideous and remembering what she’d said really gave me energy in moments of darkness.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Don’t worry about what people think of you, and if you do care, pretend you don’t. Or – perhaps even better than that – gently distance yourself from slightly toxic people and your life will flourish.
Three words that describe you.
Adventurous (a cliché but true), straight-talking and energetic.
When are you happiest?
When I’m with my nephew and niece. I’m also really happy when eating a really good meal – or chocolate cake!
Who or what is the love of your life?
My husband Lee, who is also my business partner. We met on match.com and I told him my business idea on our first date. Nine months after we met, we launched the business, so it really is our baby!
Hush are all about the value of female friendships - what quality do all your friends share?
They’re all super kind, and we we all love a really good, deep and meaningful conversation over a glass of red wine. You know, those conversations where you put the world to rights.
You can invite six women (living or dead) for supper. Who and where do you go?
Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé, Dame Judi Dench, JK Rowling and Amal Clooney. I’d take them to a private island called Thanda which is just 30km from Tanzania mainland. I’d fly over Elena Arzak, one of my favourite Michelin-starred chefs to whip up a fresh seafood feast with lobster, red snapper ceviche, prawns and tuna.
Last time you laughed out loud?
At something my younger sister said – she’s the funniest person I know. I went to Paris with her and she made me laugh so much I had to sit on the floor of the Louvre.
Book you wish you'd written?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
The one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m scared of aeroplanes… I’m kidding, I love them.
What - if anything - keeps you awake at night?
I haven’t slept properly in years. But if I know a member of staff is unhappy, that really does keep me awake.
Over or under dressed?
I want to say over but it’s not true!
One thing you can't live without?
My iPhone or salted chocolate.
Owl or lark?
Spring or winter?
Word you over-use?
Dream holiday destination?
Desert island luxury?
Spotify and some speakers.
Just believe that you can, even if you don’t feel it.
Radha's Travel Tips
Where are you favourite places for…
A long weekend…
You can’t beat a city break. The thing about a beach holiday is that, when you’re really stressed, lying on a beach doing nothing gives you too much time with your thoughts, so you get consumed by them. City breaks keep you active and give you a mental break. I love Berlin and Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities. Or try Aarhus, which is like a mini-Copenhagen, it’s a really beautiful, vibrant student city, with great restaurants and bars.
Relaxing beach break…
The Phillippines are hard to beat, or the Andaman Islands off the coast of Thailand are the most perfect beach paradise off the beaten track.
I’d say Chile every time. Santiago is the most amazing city; then you can hike up to the lakes and go white water rafting; and travel down to Patagonia which is incredible, like God’s own country.
Follow Radha on Twitter @flashpackradha and on Instagram @flashpack!