how-girls’-trips-have-strengthened-me-through-the-years

How Girls’ Trips Have Strengthened Me Through The Years

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

For the past 15 years or so, three friends and I have taken regular trips to destinations near and far. For me, the trips have offered not just fun sightseeing outings, but also opportunities to talk about everything from career achievements and challenges to our children’s adventures and growing families.

It started in our empty-nester years when a group of local moms began meeting up every month to discuss the sometimes-distressing transition from being active parents attending soccer games and track meets to empty-nesters dropping off our kids on college campuses around the state of Arizona.

Birthday dinner – Phoenix AZ (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

Over the years, the group numbers dwindled, but four of us hung in there. We began celebrating our birthdays each year — sometimes with a fancy dinner, and sometimes with a road trip or plane trip to a place on our collective “must” lists.

While I also love traveling with family members or solo, I’ve found girls’ trips to be both a pure pleasure and a source of strength. Here are a few ways the trips have strengthened me.

1. Riding Out The Empty-Nest Years

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

Some of our first trips together were to Tucson, where several of our kids were attending the University of Arizona, and to Flagstaff to visit those attending Northern Arizona University. They’re both cool cities, and we ended up doing desert hikes and bike rides in Tucson and hopping between craft breweries in 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 that this year. My mother died in January 2022 while in hospice care, and as my birthday approached in February, I was in a grief-stricken haze.

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

North Kaibab at the Grand Canyon North Rim (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

3. Lending Strength On Tough Hikes

When I say “strengthen,” I’m mostly referring to emotional strength, but there have been instances where physical strength entered into it as well.

One of the signature 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 have taken in a single day totals 21 miles, from the South Rim to the North Rim. It is known as an amazing but extremely strenuous hike, involving more than a mile of elevation change, big temperature changes, and punishing ascents and descents. 

Even though we always train ferociously for Rim-to-Rim beforehand, the combination of heat, rocky trails, and steep climbs can still get the better of me at times. 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 sharp leg cramps. My friend Sally, an RN 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 talk, and a cool drink of water, I was good to go and finished the rest of the hike. Strengthening indeed!

Author at Son’s Wedding in Guerneville, CA (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

4. Celebrating Life’s Benchmarks

Equally important as commiserating about the sad times is the celebration of the good times. The birthday trips have been epic, but we have also met up to celebrate other happy events such as bon voyages before big trips. My friends sent me off with good wishes on my solo trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong, and we also met up before my friend Jane’s family trip to Paris.

On another memorable occasion, I met up with Jane and Tusanne and their families at my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding in California’s Sonoma County town of Guerneville, and a massive celebration ensued. We have also toasted numerous births of grandkids, job promotions, and a retirement.

Author and Friends Dress at Holly Golightly (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

5. So Many Favorite Experiences

It wasn’t exactly a trip, because it happened in our hometown of Prescott, but one of the all-time favorite girls’ outings took place on Halloween night a few years back. As a big fan of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Jane suggested we venture out as a crew of Holly Golightlys, the iconic Audrey Hepburn character. I must say that we made quite a splash walking down Prescott’s historic Whiskey Row in our matching tiaras, long gloves, up-dos, and little black dresses.

Golden Gate Bridge (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

Another favorite occurred on an epic trip to San Francisco. Jane, Sally, and I celebrated my birthday with a rainy walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, a fun evening at the North Beach bar Maggie McGarry’s, and a couple of days exploring the town of Sonoma. There we rode bikes on the wine trail and stayed at the gorgeous Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa where we “took to the water” in the spa’s luxurious and relaxing bathing ritual.

Cindy Barks

6. Happy Surprises

Every now and then, our conversations touch on topics that could only occur between women of the same age, at the same point in their lives. For instance, 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 much sleep do you get? Do you wake up in the middle of the night? We found out that we all have completely different habits, but still share some common goals and challenges when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

My friends and I have also talked extensively about issues with our aging parents, job challenges, and retirement plans. It turns out that having someone who is going through the exact same things at exactly the same times is extremely comforting.

Tips For Planning Girls’ Trips

For my group, having special occasions to plan trips around has been helpful. Although we have focused on birthdays, you could also use holidays or personal achievements to prompt a trip; say an annual Christmas-shopping trip or a trip to celebrate job promotions or retirements.

The main thing is to find destinations and activities that interest all of the members of the group, but to remain flexible. While hiking has been a common theme for our trips, we have also branched out into individual interests, stopping at bookstores or tourist attractions because they interest 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 one weekend appears to be open for everyone, pencil it in!

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