March 25, 2023

"I Went on a Package Trip for Millennials Who Travel Alone... visiting Morocco with a group-travel company that promised to build 'meaningful friendships' among its youngish clientele."

Another NYT article about businesses that offer to sell you relationships. Go 2 posts down for the one about expensive gyms that select members who are beautiful/cool and see "the value of mingling with like-minded people."

But this one, about packaged travel that promises to connect you to new friends, is a much better article. It doesn't read like a promo for the industry. It's written by someone — Caity Weaver — who went on one trip and tells us a lot of details. And she has a distinct comic voice and, importantly, distance from the mindset of the tour business... distance and — something I like — sensitivity to language:
What makes Flash Pack unusual is its “mission” — “to create one million meaningful friendships” — and a method of execution that it telegraphs with evangelistic zeal: “We obsess over the group dynamics,” its website explains on one page. “We absolutely obsess over the group dynamic,” it states on another. “We’re completely obsessed with it” (“it” being the group dynamic), Flash Pack’s 42-year-old chief executive, Radha Vyas, is quoted as saying on an F.A.Q. page intended to calm nervous vacationers. Another page, titled “How It Works,” opens with the promise that the company “obsesses over the group dynamic, doing everything in our power to ensure you’re comfortable and building friendships within the first 24 hours.”

Weaver asks good questions, like "Who, I wondered as I scrolled through the inviting images on the company’s home page, are the millennial adults drawn to a pricey international vacation for the purpose of befriending strangers?"

She tells us about the chat group the tour business signed them all onto 2 weeks before the trip and how the prospective travelers jumped right into the friend-making enterprise. By the way, do you think the group of 13 skewed toward women? Yes, they were all women. In other places in the NYT, writers/editors will pose as if we can never really know whether the person we're looking at is a woman or a man, but Weaver is allowed to come right out and say the travelers were all women.

We're told: "Each day was crammed with activities, but we were shepherded through them in a state of such perpetual mollycoddling that, increasingly, our travels around Morocco felt like trekking through a gentle dream world."

Actually, it ends up sounding pretty good, so this is actually a more effective promo for the business than that dreadful luxury gyms piece. And this one has a comments section. The most-liked comment is: "Best, most entertaining thing I’ve read in the NYT in weeks/As an introvert, this article was horrifying, yet I couldn’t look away!!"

The second-most-liked comment is something I completely identify with: "I love how all the male commenters are asking why she didn’t just take off to a foreign country by herself, to just see what happens! What it must be like to be male!"

By the way, Flash Pack can unfriend you (or that person you might yourself choose to unfriend):

The company’s terms and conditions grant it “the right to decline any booking at our absolute discretion.” In separate interviews, the founders described a postbooking process whereby a customer-service representative can internally “red flag” an individual who they suspect could pose a risk to the cohesion of the group.... 


wild chicken said...

"As an introvert, this article..."

Can no one write anymore?

Narr said...

Pay money to be judged by profit-seeking strangers?

Hard pass.

(A guy would say.)

Joe Smith said...

I know of 2 older couples who travel a lot, and they have favorite agencies/guides they have used over the years.

Every time they make very good friends and keep up with people after the trips are over.

Maybe it's just them.

But I do think it's something that happens more with older folks.

When I was in Morocco in 1981 (on $5/day) I was lucky to get out alive and without getting dysentery : )

Dave Begley said...

Conservatives need not apply.

cassandra lite said...

"We have carefully scrutinized your social media accounts and are therefore 86ing you from the experience. The dynamic we aspire to is homogeneity, and your heterodox views on a variety of subjects, particularly politics, suggest that the other members of our preselect membership would find your presence offensive. Good look on the National Review annual cruise."

Lurker21 said...

By the way, do you think the group of 13 skewed toward women? Yes, they were all women.

Until I read that, I assumed "meaningful friendships" was just another way of saying "sex."

I suppose, though, that sex still wasn't definitely off the menu.

Political Junkie said...

Young people travelling alone to Morocco. That must skew 80/20 L over C.

Fred Drinkwater said...

We have done many liveaboard scuba dive trips. This generally means you are trapped on a 90 foot boat with a dozen divers and ten crew. For a week, with essentially no shore breaks. Nothing to do but dive, eat, nap, and chat. With a single exception (a group of a half dozen obnoxious, dangerous friends) these have been very convivial groups, with wonderful stories.

No pre-vetting involved, except that which comes with the skillset. 10/10

Sebastian said...

"why she didn’t just take off to a foreign country by herself, to just see what happens! What it must be like to be male!"

Huh? I remember watching bits of an entire series of trips by a woman traveling alone. Camera crew in tow, of course.

Anyway, I detect a distinct whiff of xenophobia in this comment. Are we saying now that there are s&*%hole countries after all that are not safe for women to visit by themselves? Which might those be, and why? Is the Other actually lesser?

Sebastian said...

The real danger on these trips is that there will be writers who may want to write about them. Proceed at your own risk.

Tina Trent said...

You pay to get infantalized and bullied by a couple of shady male operators who don't even let you order your own dessert in a country where women are actually oppressed, sexually endangered, and largely excluded from public life. Sounds great for a certain type of self-loathing liberal woman.

I wonder if the company excludes men in advance for its Morocco trips or if men just don't jump at the chance to hang out with women who have so little self-respect that they would spend their money in a country that abuses its women. While the article was grimly funny, the reporter carefully avoids such uncomfortable questions.

It sounds like those guys got the idea from a NXIVM documentary. Still, it was better than that other travel article today about how tourism in South Africa is now perfectly safe.

Amexpat said...

I've worked with group travel here in Scandinavia for over 30 years, mostly with mature Americans. Most people in the group instantly start to socialize with other group members without any sort of assistance. Quite a few name being with other group members as one of the highlights of the tour.

I've travelled a lot overseas by myself and never found it hard to meet and socialize people while travelling. It's actually easier to meet people while traveling than where I live, especially when travelling in third world countries. There's a low threshold to strike up a conversation or share a meal.

Jamie said...

I was struck by the phrase "befriending strangers."

Whom else can you befriend? I mean, I guess maybe enemies, but if you're not going to accept that challenge, strangers are by default the people you befriend, aren't they?

Again, I guess maybe you could be casual acquaintances with someone and then befriend them, but how often does that happen?

n.n said...

Gender differences: boob lust and penis envy, respectively.

Ann Althouse said...

It seems awful to have to commit to friend-making. That can be work and distracting. What if the people bore you? What if they're too nosy? What if they insist on talking about politics or start telling you all about their legal problems as if you'll be interested because you're a "lawyer." At home, I'd say "I need my quiet time." there I will have given up my right to be left alone.

Michael K said...

I took a couple of medical history tours a few years ago. Most of the members of the tour group were retired UK doctors. About half were female. Nice groups and good tours. One was on a cruise ship and members of the group each gave a talk on a topic they knew well. That's where I learned the origin of the name of Australia's airline, QUANTAS.

Caroline said...

Take note of the tribute paid to “group cohesion” and “like mindedness.” I agree these are vital to forming human connections! And this is quite the opposite of DIVERSITY.

Narr said...

My wife and I took a very enjoyable Elbe River cruise in '19, and met some very nice and friendly people from different places, but we didn't befriend anyone. My wife used to get update FB posts from a younger couple we liked a lot (she was hot) but that has slacked off.

I was in the position of knowing a lot of the history better than the guides, and was vocal at times.

Now Viking is trying the Mississippi cruise market, and I've thought of applying to be a guide. A friend's wife has been hired as a tour coordinator w/o guide duties, so I might have an in.

Michael said...

Great article. Thanks Althouse. She is a terrific writer.

wildswan said...

There's Road Scholar which specializes in educational tours for older adults. That sounds pretty bad but actually it meant travelling with informed people who were interested in history. I did Vicksburg in the Civil War which included a side trip to Eudora Welty's house. Everyone on the trip knew about the the Battle of Pea Ridge and these are the only people I've met who did know. Half had been there. I held my own with information about Glorietta Canyon If you like walking, there is walking.

walter said...

Packages gonna package.
What's a woman?

lonejustice said...

My wife and I are currently planning a trip to Morocco later this fall. We make all of our own flight and hotel reservations via all the Internet sites. We like to meet other travelers at our various destinations, be it hotels, restaurants, bars, museums, historical cites, etc, and interact with them if we are in the mood, but we mostly cherish our times alone together. That's the way we are. But thanks for posting this. It had some good information.