How Girls’ Travels Have Strengthened Me Over the Years

From hikes in a natural wonder of the world, to a “bath ritual” in a luxurious hotel spa, to countless charming restaurants tasting numerous bottles of chardonnay, girls’ trips have become a wonderful tradition for a group of friends and I as we navigate the ups and downs of life.

For the past fifteen years, three friends and I have been making regular trips to destinations near and far. For me, travel has provided not only fun sightseeing outings, but also opportunities to talk about everything from career accomplishments and challenges to our children’s adventures and growing families.

It started in our empty nesting years when a group of local mothers began meeting monthly to discuss the sometimes harrowing transition from active parents attending football games and track meets to empty nests depositing our children on college campuses across the state. from Arizona.

Anniversary dinner – Phoenix AZ (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

Over the years the number of bands dwindled, but four of us hung on. We started celebrating our birthdays every year – sometimes with a fancy dinner, and sometimes with a road trip or plane ride to somewhere on our collective “must have” lists.

While I also enjoy traveling with family or solo, I’ve found girls’ trips to be both pure pleasure and a source of strength. Here are some ways that travel has strengthened me.

1. Coming out of empty nest years

The transition from the empty nest hit me hard, and our group of same-age women could relate to things like the loneliness of the empty house or the worries about college students going out on their own for the first time.

Some of our first trips together were to Tucson, where several of our children attended the University of Arizona, and to Flagstaff to visit those attending Northern Arizona University. Both are cool towns, and we ended up doing desert hikes and bike rides in Tucson and hopping between the craft breweries of historic downtown Flagstaff.

Cottonwood Birthday Hike (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

2. Dealing with grief

Although I usually plan a fun trip for my birthday, I was in no condition to even think about it this year. My mother passed away in January 2022 while in hospice care, and as my birthday approached in February, I was in a fog of grief.

My friends took care of the planning for me and organized a day hike and pizza in nearby Cottonwood. During the ride, they listened to stories about my mother and we talked about their aging parents, some of whom had also recently passed away. And while hiking near Cottonwood’s Dead Horse Ranch State Park, I found great solace in the rugged terrain and vast blue skies of Arizona’s high desert.

North Kaibab to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
North Kaibab at Grand Canyon North Rim (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

3. Provide strength on tough hikes

When I say “strengthen” I’m mostly referring to emotional strength, but there have been instances where physical strength has also come into play.

One of the iconic trips we’ve taken over the years has been the Rim-to-Rim hike through Arizona’s natural wonder of the world, the Grand Canyon. The hiking route we took in a single day totals 21 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim. It is known as an incredible but extremely strenuous hike, involving over a mile of elevation change, large temperature changes, and strenuous ascents and descents.

Even though we always train fiercely for Rim-to-Rim beforehand, the combination of heat, rocky trails and steep climbs can sometimes get the better of me. One such instance occurred on a hot October afternoon on the North Rim’s North Kaibab Trail. With over 17 miles already behind me, I began to experience severe leg cramps. My friend Sally, a registered nurse and veteran Grand Canyon volunteer, was quickly on hand to provide salt tablets and a packet of energy gel to replenish my electrolytes. With that boost, an encouraging conversation, and a glass of cool water, I was good to go and completed the rest of the hike. Reinforcing indeed!

Author celebrates son and daughter-in-law's wedding - Guerneville, CA
Author at Son’s Wedding in Guerneville, CA (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

4. Celebrate Life’s Landmarks

Celebrating the good times is just as important as compassion for the sad times. The anniversary trips were epic, but we also got together to celebrate other happy events such as good trips before big trips. My friends sent me their best wishes on my solo trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong, and we also met before my friend Jane’s family trip to Paris.

On another momentous occasion, I met Jane and Tusanne and their families at my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding in the town of Guerneville, Sonoma County, California, and a massive celebration s is followed. We also toasted many births of grandchildren, job promotions and retirement.

The author and her friends dress in Holly Golightly.
The author and her friends dress up at Holly Golightly (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

5. So many favorite experiences

It wasn’t exactly a trip, as it took place in our hometown of Prescott, but one of the girls’ all-time favorite outings was on Halloween night a few years ago. As a big fan of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Jane suggested we venture as the crew of Holly Golightlys, Audrey Hepburn’s iconic character. I have to say, we caused a stir walking down Prescott’s historic Whiskey Row in our matching tiaras, long gloves, updos and little black dresses.

The Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

Another favorite happened on an epic trip to San Francisco. Jane, Sally, and I celebrated my birthday with a rainy walk over the Golden Gate Bridge, a fun night out at Maggie McGarry’s bar in North Beach, and a few days exploring the city of Sonoma. There, we cycled the wine route and stayed at the beautiful Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa where we “took on the water” in the spa’s luxurious and relaxing bathing ritual.

Unexpected happy times with friends, posing for a group photo at dessert.
Cindy barks

6. Good surprises

From time to time, our conversations touch on topics that can only arise between women of the same age, at the same time in their lives. For example, I was fascinated on our recent hike in Cottonwood when Tusanne turned the discussion to our various sleeping habits. When do you get to sleep at night? How long do you sleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night? We’ve discovered that we all have completely different habits, but still share common goals and challenges when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

My friends and I also talked a lot about issues with our aging parents, work challenges, and retirement plans. It turns out having someone going through the exact same things at the exact same times is extremely heartwarming.

Tips for planning girls’ trips

For my group, having special occasions to plan trips was helpful. Although we’ve focused on birthdays, you can also use holidays or personal accomplishments to incentivize a trip; say an annual Christmas shopping trip or a trip to celebrate promotions or retirements.

The key is to find destinations and activities that interest everyone in the group, but stay flexible. While hiking has been a common theme on our travels, we have also branched out into individual interests, stopping at bookstores or tourist attractions because they appeal to one or the other of us.

Pro Tip: Finding dates that work for everyone is one of the biggest challenges, so I recommend planning ahead, and if a weekend seems like it’s open to everyone, write it down!

About Derrick Hill

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