Great Girls Getaways

Men are hunters. Women are gatherers. This is who we are by nature (just ask Rob Becker in his Defending the Caveman comedy act). Women have long been highly social beings, capable of multi-tasking (something that mystifies men to this day) and nurturing. Doesn't it then seem natural that we'd also want to travel together? We can talk freely, giggle openly, be our silly girly (or rugged, not-so-girly) selves together. We accept each other for who we are, emotionally supportive and all.

Part of the fun for me in going on a girls getaway is the gossip. I don't mean the bad gossip. I mean the good gossip. The dish. The latest. How my friends are doing and how they feel about their jobs, relationships, life, hobbies, etc. And while I also enjoy vacationing with guys, girls (only) getaways have their merit. Girls can be 100% unabashed girls.

Here are some special types:

1. Dude Ranch - The men are gone, but the dudes aren't. What better way to reconnect with the girl friends than by riding horses just like you know you all did in your dreams. Make it even more fun with cowboy hats to match - they'll shade the sun, you'll look about as country chic as can be, and you can knock your man over with a nod of your cowboy hat head and a wink when you return.

2. Spa Haven - As cliché as "girls getaway to the spa" is becoming, I say turn that word into an acronym for each girl who fully deserves the pampering. CLICHE is Caress Lovingly: I Can Have Everything. Make this your motto. There are countless services and an increasing number of spas recognizing the girls getaway trend as a way to offer discounts, special accommodation, etc. Work it. Call or book well in advance and shop around until you find the atmosphere, cost, and spa services just right for your group.

3. Theater - There are three premier places to see sophisticated, highly elaborate shows. Take Manhattan by storm on a theater extravaganza and walk down Broadway cherry-picking your shows (better yet, plan well in advance to ensure you get a good seat to Spamelot or other shows). London is another world-famous theatre-going city. The theatre district is a bustling, gentrified area with restaurants, bars, and a bevy of classic plays as well as long-running popular shows such as Phantom of the Opera. Las Vegas seems to be Cirque du Soleil central with Mystere, O, Zumanity, as well as other shows and concerts.

4. Shopping Spree - Take the ladies to outlets that make wallets squeal with delight (or at least the girls clutching them). There are plenty of outlets in major metropolitan areas, usually just a quick road trip out of town. Or go glitzy on New York City's Fifth Avenue, Los Angeles' Rodeo Drive, at Chicago's Marshall Field's department store, along London's streets, inside Las Vegas resort casinos shoppies, and nearly anywhere else. Do a theme and take your friends antique shopping, or to flea markets in the Big Apple, Washington, DC, or Sunday markets in other cities such as Seattle or San Francisco.

5. Outdoor Adventure - Take a vote and decide on which outdoor sport suits your crew best. Whether toting firewood from car to campsite is recreation enough or white water rafting is desired, find the activities you love but have little time for, and plan a weekend escape from everything - work, men, bills, cars, cities. Live in the elements by biking, kayaking, canoeing, or parasailing. Rent a cottage or house by a lake or water body and spend all your free time swimming. Whatever the group energy level, a girl trip like this inevitably brings friends closer together, leaving great stories to tell for those who couldn't make it (ahem, or weren't invited). When the boys aren't around, there's less tension about looking good or not screwing up. Especially if bathing suits are involved.

I've adored traveling with my friends for get-togethers over the years. I raise my glass to any girl planning a getaway with friends. May traveling with girl friends bring you great joy, a wee bit of luck, no hangovers, and many reasons to continue staying in touch. What other types of girls getaways are out there?


Romance Via Traveling

I'm not sure if it's the thrill of traveling, alcohol shared among friends, a romantic new setting, or the free feeling of being away from home and responsibilities. My guess is it's a combination of all that can convert travelers to accidental romantics, leading to travel trysts and even some long-lasting relationships.

But be careful. Traveling can also raise toxic levels of flirtation. Enough to make any travel companion gag.

How can group trips increase your chances of meeting that Mr. or Ms. Right Now (or, better yet, that special someone for longer)?

  1. Meeting up for drinks or activities with other like-minded travelers is a great benefit of traveling when you're still single. When traveling solo (especially as a woman), it's not necessarily as easy to meet someone (or safe). However, when with a group of family or friends, you can meet other travelers, knowing you're in the safe comfort of traveling with those you trust.
  2. Destination weddings are naturally themed with romance. Attending a destination wedding as a singleton is a sure fire way to meet at least one eligible bachelor or bachelorette. Be proactive or non-chalant. Ask your friends to introduce you to anyone "special" they know who's attending. Or casually scan the ceremony for singles, and then find yourself next to them in the buffet line at the reception.

    True story: A bride groom and groomsman at a destination wedding of a friend of mine met at the wedding and struck up a long-distance relationship for over a year. They also toured around the destination immediately after the wedding day with other wedding guests. Last I'd heard, after taking a 6-month break, they are back together and may try to live in the same city.
  3. Vacationing with friends opens doors to meeting someone. Whether camping, skiing, road tripping, gambling in Las Vegas, or just doing a weekend getaway, friends of friends usually come well-recommended or at least well-researched.

    True story: A good friend met a woman who was equally as crazy about skiing as he was. Shortly after they met through friends, a big group of them planned a European ski trip in January, where they got closer and have been dating seriously ever since.
  4. Friends serve as "wing men." If you're single and traveling with a group of friends and you meet someone intriguing, chances are your friends will be encouraging. And they'll have your back in case things go awry. This makes it all the more fun to flirt and get to know someone at a bar in a different destination than when at home, you may be more likely to play it safe and stay in your comfort zone of just visiting with friends. If nothing else, you can come home and brag about the best kiss you've ever had while on the London Eye with a saucy Brit you and your friends met while on vacation.

    True story: Being as vague as I possibly can be to protect a friend of mine, let's just say I've heard the Italian Riviera is a great aphrodisiac. Limoncello helps.
  5. Travel where singles travel. Club Med caters to groups such as golf pals, sewing cirlce (many singles, too). Hedonism resorts in the Caribbean have singles activities and welcome groups. And we all know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Beaches around the world are also laden with possibilities. Plus, ski resorts and towns during the winter months are group gathering meccas and ideal for warming up with a cozy kiss.

In general, when traveling with friends or families, have fun, be yourself, and get into the groove of the trip. Play it safe. And be cool. In no time, the natural relaxation of the destination and comfortable group could lead to a romance of a lifetime.

Any other ways group trips can add a little romantic spice to a trip?


Chocolate Spas, Heaven on Earth

Don't get me started on the appeal of this massage treatment. It's as if my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasy of living amid treats and sweets grew up with me.

If you're in love with chocolate (enough to smother yourself in it), head to The Spa at The Hershey Hotel in Hershey, Pennsylvania for chocolate treatments sure to melt the soul. Perfect for a birthday party celebration or girls getaway (think bachelorette party). Men with chocolate fever can also enjoy spa treatments there as well.

Health benefits of chocolate are good news. Here is more information from Fine Dark Chocolate on wellness attributes such as possibly staving off heart disease, high blood pressure, and helping with anti-aging. Hmm... perhaps there's more to cocoa beans than meets the mouth?

Wine spas. Chocolate spas. What's next? Snickers spas with peanut wraps and nougat facials? Why doesn't the spa industry just splash us with Chardonnay and dip us in dark, dreamy, drippy chocolate syrup until we're so sick of our guilty pleasures that we seek wholesome, back-to-the-basics activities like dinner with the four food groups or jogging.


Wine and Spa Lovers Unite

A European trend is quickly spreading. Two heavenly pleasures - spas and wine - are now joined in a marriage of grape bliss. Vinotherpy is the new term for bathing in wine-infused baths, cocoon wraps of grapeseed oils, grape extract facials, massages with oils and grapes. Perfect for a group girls getaway.

Les Sources in Bordeaux, France, was the pioneer in vinotherapy. Kenwood Inn in California was the first United States spa to dedicate all spa services to the grape and its derivatives. Why drink the elixir of centuries when you can swim in it?  I say dive in. The water (bubbly, blush, red, or white) should be divine.


Girls Getaways Go Glossy

Ladies, this bud(get)'s for you. There's a lot of buzz lately about Budget Travel's new magazine for ladies only. That's right, men. Step aside. This doesn't mean women don't adore traveling with you - it just means quality girl friend time is like nothing else; so when women gather in giggly gaggles or small, serious groups, the travel industry takes notice and rewards women with a nice glossy periodical to peruse for travel ideas. (A higher end magazine for "savvy, sexy, and sophisticated" women "and the men who travel with them" is Travel Girl.)

Budget Travel's 40 Best Girlfriend Getaway Packages is an enticing start for their launch. Summer 2006 edition is on newstands now or available for online order after May 23 (I can hear the clip clop of heels and shuffling of hiking boots now). My guess is this magazine will attract working women, college chicas, and a range of ages alike.

Men: who knows? You just might find your girlfriend becoming more passionate about travel (and life) on her adventure away with the girls, which should spilleth over to your relationship. Concerned about couples traveling separately on vacation? Here are tips on how healthy it can be.


Secrets for Sharing Rooms and Personal Space

Nothing is worse than going on a group trip and discovering an incompatibility with your roomie. Traveling can become a bit of a petrie dish for issues, psychology, life - you never really know someone until you've traveled with them (or shared a room on a trip).

How do you survive an escorted group tour or trip with close traveling companions without throttling each other? For starters, it goes both ways. You may be a perfect travel companion in your own mind, but not in someone else's. Your passion for shopping might be bore or exhaust others. Their passion for fragrant perfume may give your gag reflexes a work-out. What to do?

  • Communication is key.
  • Honesty imperative.
  • Listening skills are a must.
  • Compromise when you can.

A quick way to ruin an otherwise fabulous trip is to find resentment building as you throw pillows, socks, apples at a roomie who snores, or roll your eyes each time your travel "buddy" wants to settle in late... showering and/or loudly fumbling through luggage and bags to find some long lost earring at 2 a.m. while you are jet-lagged as hell trying to nap.

Here are some helpful hints for common problems faced when sharing rooms and space. While Women's Travel Club wrote these for women travel, they also apply to any group travel scenario (co-ed and all). I've replaced most of the "she" pronouns to "they" and so forth.

Snoring

Solution: Ask if this is an issue. Caveat: if your friend lives alone he/she might not know or agree on what to do if either of you snores. Consider ear plugs, window ajar for street buzz, a scarf around your ears, or take a new room. Proper etiquette is for the person who wants to change to pay for their new room.

Scents

Solution: Strong cologne or perfumes can be intrusive to others; best left at home. Go through routine personal products to make sure you are both happy with the steam wafting from the shower or the acetone from the nails.

Smoking
Sharing with a smoker means a smoking room, a smoking floor and smoking tables at meals. Smokers will also be handicapped even isolated on tours as buses do not allow smoking.

Solution: Take separate rooms and talk about the consequences; there is no other way out.

Stamina

Solution: Compare walking, step climbing, ability to carry luggage, deal with lack of sleep or dietary changes. Compare how long you like to linger over meals, need to get organized each day etc. Toleration works to a point, but if you are a marathon walker and she is taxi-er, this trip will not end in friendship. Spend a long day together to see where you differ and work out compromises. Example: if only one of you is taxi dependent, she should pay that expense. Same with porterage, excess baggage on tour, etc.

Spending

Solution: Be honest about the budget. Do you use porters? Always tip? Expect to take taxis instead of public transportation? Order expensive drinks? Each choose 2 splurges that add up to the same money and time. And compromise on those. Put all your joint expense money in a zip lock bag and pay from the bag. When the bag is empty, refill it together. Do not keep a ledger and settle up later on complicated overseas trips, either both use frequent flyer tickets or neither use them; if a flight is changed, you will at least be in the same situation.

Seeing vs. shopping

Solution: Every one hopes for different things from a trip. What you expect should be agreed on before you book. "Walk" through the trip, decide how you will use the free time. You each get to choose two options. If shopping annoys either of you, make a specific time to reconnect and part ways for a bit. Do not ask your room share to help you with your additional cumbersome packages. You bought it, you carry it.

Scared or feared

Solution: Make a list of your fears and absolutely 'will not do's'. You really don't want to find out your friend will not use elevators when you arrive at a high rise hotel!

Shmucks
People who don't pay their fair share, who drink most of the wine, order the most and pay half.

Solution: Share expenses in a zip lock as above and speak up the very first time it happens.

 


Adventurous Women Tours

Are you a woman of adventure? Love traveling to remote areas, stepping off the beaten path, but prefer the comfort of a group for safety and comaraderie?

Women-owned tour operators such as Adventurous Wench might just be for you. This company offers escorted, small group tours tailored to women's adventure cravings. The company seems to have a solid mission of putting private tours together around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. Adventurous Wench, saucy name and all, arranges everything from lodging and meals to activities; plus, they customize trips for groups of 5 or more.

If you're looking for an escorted group tour or planning a group vacation and incorporating tours into the mix, you can use TripHub's planning tools to coordinate the trip, gather RSVPs, organize money matters, even book other components of the trip that escorted tour operators may not arrange such as airfare, airport transportation, extended stays, etc.


Spa Etiquette for Groups

When getting together on a spa trip with your friends for a bachelorette (or bachelor) party, birthday, or general getaway with friends, you'll want to make sure the group is aware of some basic spa etiquette.

Nothing is more certain when a group of good friends gets together (at least with my friends) than lively conversation and side-splitting laughter. But spas offer a place of tranquility, and sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that other guests are also paying for that peaceful away-from-reality setting.

Here are a few etiquette tips (so your group is welcome at the spa next year):

Group Appointments
Schedule spa stays (at resorts or destination resorts) and/or appointments for service several months in advance to ensure your group has enough room, can secure rooms next to each other, and can schedule appointments together (steam room, wellness classes, etc.). Scheduling massages and other treatments simultaneously or around the same time allows you to go into the pools, steam rooms and ante rooms ahead of time together.

By scheduling appointments in sync or timed closely together, you can plan other activities before and after the spa service time. That way the whole group can continue to enjoy the trip together. You can set each day's agenda for the group loosely based around spa appointments.

Quiet Times
When entering treatment areas and rooms, you'll get the most out of the experience (and so will others) if you stay quiet. Breathe deeply, absorb the relaxing air to its fullest, bring a good book for down times, and save the chit-chat with friends for meals (a time when others at the spa are likely to be more social), drinks out at a local restaurant or bars, on hikes or while doing activities outside of the spa, or create a happy hour haven for the gang in your room.

Tipping
If you're organizing a group for a spa vacation, don't assume everyone has the same tipping policy in mind. While individuals can pay for individual massage or other appointments (and tip accordingly), you may want to remind the group before the trip to tip therapists (or if you as a planner are collecting money, be sure to collect enough to cover a 15% tip). While individuals can vary their tipping amount depending on service quality, when in a group, it seems especially polite to tip at least 15%.

Nudity
Be sure to check with the spa for their general policy and ambience on nudity to prepare the group. Most likely there will be varying levels of comfort and familiarity about spa services within your group. Some destination spas or resorts offer services where you and others may be partially or fully nude, such as steam rooms, mud bath areas, etc. Phone the spa before scheduling appointments for the group so you can communicate clearly and set expectations, and the whole group can relax in their own comfort zone by choosing whichever spa services they prefer.

 


Helpful Hints for Group Spa Travel

Whether your group travel plans take you on a getaway weekend with friends to a luxurious destination spa, spa appointments while golfing with the guys, or a visit to a day spa for a bachelorette party, spa etiquette is paramount.

While there are no set "rules" for spa-going (other than to lie back and relax while getting the pampering you deserve!) here are some etiquette hints from Spafinder.com that apply to groups:

Mixing activities and spa-going
On the day of treatment, try to stay out of the sun and avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, don't schedule a physically demanding endeavor after a spa appointment. When in doubt, contact the spa to ask whether it is advisable to engage in a particular activity prior to your appointment.

Pets
Some animals are welcome at certain resorts (likely not at day spas) but should not be brought to the spa. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet quiet and following the spa rules.

Cell phones
Leave phones and pagers at home or in your room; or turn them off before entering the spa.

Perfume
Because the emphasis should be on relaxation and others may be allergic, it's best not to wear perfume to exercise classes offered at the resort or destination spa.

Smoking
For the most part, smoking is not allowed at any kind of spa. If it is, there are usually designated areas where you can smoke.

Therapists
If you prefer either a male or female therapist, but the spa fails to ask, don't hesitate to let your choice be known. Also, if you have enjoyed the services of a particular therapist on a prior visit, feel free to request that person.

Punctuality at day spas
Arrive on time or early. If you are late, your treatment time will need to be shortened since the treatment room (and therapist) is generally booked after your session. After a treatment, it's customary to vacate the room within five or ten minutes. However, you are free to spend additional time unwinding in the day spa's relaxation or waiting rooms.

Socializing at destination spas
Meals can often be arranged at shared tables, activities and evening programs foster interaction, and in general a sense of community is encouraged in a destination spa. Feel free to engage fellow spa goers in conversation, though try to stay away from stressful topics: Guests generally use spa visits as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If, on the other hand, you choose to maintain privacy, that can also be arranged. Though it is easy to form cliques in such surroundings, be considerate of engaging others as getting to know many of your fellow spa-goers is part of emotional wellness. Celebrity guests should be treated just like other guests and not disturbed by requests for autographs or other mementos.

Advance booking at resorts or destination spas
As resort and hotel spas often fill up quickly, book as far in advance as possible. Some resort/hotel spas can accommodate the group if you reserve treatments at check-in; others suggest booking prior to your arrival. Want to avoid the crowds? Try reserving a treatment during off-peak hours or during the week. If you do, you may also receive a discount. Favorite spa treatment times are usually in the late afternoon and mornings are the favorite times for more strenuous activities that many resort and destination spas offer.

Cancellation
Unexpected things do happen, and sometimes it's impossible to keep an appointment. If you must cancel, give the spa as much advance notice as possible. Be sure to ask if your money will be refunded; cancellation policies vary widely.

Group discounts
Many spas may offer group discounts, especially for special occasions (bridal showers or birthdays). Simply call and ask.

For more spa etiquette tips, visit spafinder.com.


Girls Getaway Spa Specials

Spas are my life. OK, not exactly. But if I could afford a massage daily, I'd schedule them. My favorite massage thus far was at Indian Springs Spa. The raw talent of the masseuse, the relaxed, unpretentious setting, outdoor pool, and fact that I was on a Napa Valley (read: wine country) vacation all helped bliss me out like never before. Closer to home (in Seattle), the Zen-like spa at Salish Lodge & Spa offers tranquility amid a mountain setting. And overseas, I sampled a famous eastern European-style spa in the Czech Republic (a little more clinical than I'd expected).

Nothing's better than experiencing a spa get-away with friends. Pedicures, facials, decadent settings, cucumber eyes, laughing and relaxing all at once. Ah, that's the life! The spa industry is finally catching on and offering deals and packages just for small to medium groups.

Spafinder.com recently partnered with a handful of luxury spas to offer deep discounts just for girls getaway weekends. Details:

Ready to plan a girls getaway at the spa of your choice?

Know of others spas that specifically cater to groups or offer special deals? Let me (and others) know by posting a comment below.