Girlfriend Getaways

Tired of wiping bottoms? Of keeping track of everyone else’s schedule? Of never having an uninterrupted meal, or even conversation? Perhaps it’s time to get away. And while a trip with a spouse can be a great break from the reality of 24/7 parenting, nothing quite recharges like reconnecting with women friends – most of whom probably need a kid-free getaway as much as you do.

“On any other vacation, mothers feel responsible for everything, including the weather,” says Marin County’s Marybeth Bond, author of 50 Best Girlfriends Getaways in North America 2nd Edition (National Geographic Books, 2009). “Girlfriend getaways are different. You are responsible only for yourself.”

Bond’s book provides anecdotes, destinations and itineraries from rafting through the Grand Canyon to museum hopping in Manhattan to shopping ’til you drop in Santa Fe. Where to go and what to do depend, obviously, on your group of friends and what you most want to do, or maybe miss doing together. Ask yourselves, Bond says, is the trip primarily a time to catch up? Then a cabin or condo might be a good bet. How much activity do you want, including how much physical activity? What’s the budget?

Since becoming a mom six years ago, I’ve taken girls’ trips to locales as cosmopolitan as the Las Vegas Strip and as relaxing as an estate overlooking Santa Barbara.

But for my 40th birthday this year, I knew I wanted to spend time in one of my favorite places, with some of my favorite people, without having to travel too far. For me, that meant renting a big house in Sonoma County and convincing enough friends, many of whom also were conveniently celebrating the Big 4-0 this year, to join me so that we could afford it. Luckily, a dozen friends from around the country willingly jumped on board.

I chose a house over hotel rooms because I wanted to have lots of common areas where a big group could hang out, late into the night if desired, without worrying about disturbing our neighbors. I also thought renting a house – and stocking it with Costco food – would be more affordable than having to eat every meal out.

My short list of “must-haves” included plenty of bedrooms, a pool and a hot tub. I also wanted to be somewhere beautiful and relaxing that gave the feeling of getting “away from it all” – our six acres of vineyards were perfect – while also being close enough to a town so that people could eat out, shop or just stroll, if they chose to do so. For me, that was the key. While someone had to organize, I wanted my friends to be able to choose what they wanted to do once they arrived. As moms and busy women, we’re too often on someone else’s schedule and agenda.

Taking a page from my getaway weekend in Santa Barbara, I also found spa providers to come to the house to do massages and facials for whoever wanted them. (The uber-organizer of that much larger group in Santa Barbara also hired a bartender for the pool, a woman to help with food prep and clean-up, and a tarot-card reader for evening entertainment.)

We started our three-day birthday weekend with a champagne toast and tour at Gloria Ferrer Winery, had a beautiful lunch at Viansa Winery’s Tuscan Marketplace and hit a few more wineries before checking in to our lovely home. We prepared and grilled dinner together, which always makes cooking seem more like fun and less like drudgery.

And we chatted. For hours and hours. Kids, jobs, college reminiscences, other people’s divorces, our own health issues. (After all, we are 40.)

Bond suggests figuring out ground rules in advance for whether any topics are off the table. Limiting talk about kids and husbands after, say, the first three hours “makes you live in the moment and reduces the stress and anxiety that you have at home,” she says.

But my group was less organized. One friend, who has a young baby, came in with the plan of truly catching up with people, asking if they were settled in their jobs, houses and number of children. “I feel like I know what you did last Tuesday, but not where you are in your life,” she explained. It led to some revealing and refreshing conversations, none of them interrupted by little people.

Bond – who has taken a variety of girls’ trips and is currently cycling across the country with one of her daughters to raise awareness about osteoporosis – offers other practical tips for the best possible weekend (see sidebar), but one thing she says is vital: do something silly. For us, a hot tub and a well-stocked wine supply were as silly as we needed to be.

On Saturday, we lounged around the comfy living room and the pool and had our massages and facials. A few people chose to head to the Sonoma Square, while others caught up – on sleep, work, a good book or each other. We headed into town for a wonderful dinner in a decidedly not family-friendly restaurant, and then headed back to our house for s’mores in the fireplace, birthday cake and, yes, more hot tub.

Of course, there seems to be an unwritten rule that no moms’ weekend goes unpunished. (I may have invoked it by declaring earlier, in the words of my 3-year-old: “This is the best day ever!”) For us, it started when the handle to the spa tub faucet in the master bath broke off at 2 a.m. Sunday and spewed water everywhere until we reached the owner and figured out how to turn off the water main – which was across a field, behind a tractor shed, in pitch black darkness. But, as friends pointed out even in the midst of the geyser, we left with a good story.

I returned home to a child with walking pneumonia and a double ear infection. Another friend came back to three kids with fevers.

Were we more well rested and better prepared to handle the crises of everyday life after a blissful break from reality? It’s hard to say. But what I can say, unequivocally, is that we had a great time and can’t wait to do it again.


Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent and mother of two.



Tips for a Fun and Fabulous Girls Weekend Away

  • Designate an organizer. “You can’t have 12 women making decisions,” says travel writer Marybeth Bond.
  • Consider sleeping arrangements and roommate assignments. Who’s an early bird and who wants to sleep in? Bring ear plugs and sleep masks, just in case.
  • Pool your expenses into a “kitty,” so not everyone has to pull out their wallet at every stop.
  • Plan downtime every day, especially from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Energy levels vary, and you don’t have to be together all the time.
  • Do something silly or out-of-the-ordinary. Learn to belly dance or kayak or go thrift shopping and buy each other something silly to wear.
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