A year ago, Kim Haley-Coleman convinced her friends to gather in the lush rain forest of Costa Rica and climb to the top of the jungle canopy to go zip-lining. "There's a mom from playgroup whom I saw in a whole new light. She was flipped upside down, screaming. She was totally going for it!" says Haley-Coleman, a Dallas mom of two. "The trip was all about bonding. Everyone felt like they re-created themselves."
Now you may be thinking: I can't pick up and go like that. We're here to tell you that yes, you can--and you deserve to. "We have to fill our emotional tanks," says Lisa Kasanicky, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Girlfriend Getaways. "We feel like we have to watch what we say, with our husbands, with our kids, but with our friends, we're safe. We can vent and giggle and just relax." When you get home from a girls-only trip, you'll notice a lightness in yourself and a new appreciation of your life and the job you do as a mom. Sounds pretty good, right? Now, here are the four steps to making it happen.
Squash the Excuses
The first thing you have to do is confront the emotional aspect of going away. There's guilt for dumping all the work on your partner, sadness because your kids will miss you, anxiety over all the things you know won't get done. But for Haley-Coleman, traveling with friends is a lot like making time to go to the gym. "Are you going to feel bad that you are not with your kids the maximum time that you possibly can be? Or are you going to go and make yourself a stronger, happier mom when you are with them?"
Another important move: "Try not to 'catastrophize' the situation," says Howard E.A. Tinsley, Ph.D., a fellow at the Academy of Leisure Science. In other words, resist obsessing on the long list of things that could go wrong at home. Will your daughter wear the dress you were saving for her birthday to daycare? Maybe. Will your son be late to his soccer game because Dad refused to get directions from the coach? Yeah, probably. But no matter how much of a cleanup job you'll come home to, life will go on, and proving that the first time can help you let go the next.
"With my control-freak nature, just realizing they can survive without me was huge," says Linda Condrillo, a mom of two in Mountainside, NJ, who made her dream of a girlfriend trip to celebrate her birthday a reality.
If you're particularly anxious, create a detailed list for DH (or whoever's going to be in charge while you're gone). Many moms we spoke to said that once they put every last playdate, doctor's appointment, book report, and little reminder down on a piece of paper, they felt freed.
Start Out Small
If you're not ready for a full week, begin with baby steps. Kara Williams, a mom of two in Carbondale, CO, and a writer on Thevacationgals.com, first took "staycations" with her friends, heading to a hotel 30 minutes away. "Just 24 hours away from home did wonders--wonders!--for my sanity" she says. She finally worked her way up to a weeklong vacation at a spa resort in Mexico.
Plan It Out
Once you've stared down your demons, it's time to spring into action. First, corner your best bud, the woman you can't imagine going without. Set the date, and pick a couple of places that appeal to both of you. Then decide who else you're going to invite. Keep it to your A-list: "With more than six people, the group dynamic changes," says Williams. For one, it becomes impossible to get everyone out the door for dinner. And you won't be able to fit into one suite or condo, which means you won't be able to stay up late laughing in your pj's or wake up and have coffee together.
Once you've got a short list of potential companions, give them a deadline to commit. Finally, get the takers on the horn to talk through the destination options--and what part of the planning each can cover, from restaurant reservations to airport transfers. Set up a virtual happy hour: Everyone in the group makes a cocktail, then rings in on a conference call to discuss details. After that, hook up a private Facebook page to contribute links and ideas or look into a trip-planning tool, like Yahoo Trips, that everyone can access to do their part of the job. (If you do the actual booking through Expedia, each person can log on to pay for her own ticket.)
Splitting up the cost of incidentals can be sticky, so discuss it before you go. You may want to divide everything equally, get separate checks at every meal, or have everyone contribute to a kitty, from which things like groceries and tips will be paid.
And don't look back. Even better, look forward--to next year.
Food and Wine Trips
Best for: Ladies who lunch?and brunch?and snack?and sip
Sonoma Valley, CA
Marybeth Bond, author of National Geographic's Girlfriend Getaway Guides, raved to us about her latest trip to Sonoma, 45 miles north of San Francisco, as much for the food as for the wine. She recommends hitting the farm trail (get a map online to this gastronomic junket) and checking out the Saturday farmers market.
Lake Austin Spa Resort, TX
The Lake Austin Spa Resort is just outside the party town but a whole world away. The resort holds cooking classes with themes that we totally dig, like Hands-on Spring Rolls and Sushi and The Chocolate Mystique.
Finger Lakes, NY
Hop from one quaint family-owned winery to the next in this up-and-coming oenophile's paradise on the water. Check the website for a map of the cheese trail. It's the perfect accompaniment.
Best for: Groups with different types of travelers; urban meccas offer something for everyone
Seattle Get a guided tour of the Pike Place Market, complete with toothsome snacks along the way. (Savorseattletours.com). Get lost in the quirky, stroll-able neighborhoods and savor seriously fine coffee ocean-front. Visitseattle.org
Québec City, Canada
The cultured French city is as far away as you can feel in North America. Inside the old walled city, you'll find crepe vendors, fine art, and other delights for the senses on the narrow cobblestone streets. Quebecregion.com
New York City
Spend a day hot on the three-inch heels of the Sex and the City cast (Screentours.com) or hit a Spy School (Stilettospyschool.com), where you'll be trained in hand-to-hand combat, martini making, and--seduction! Gonyc.com
Best for: Playgroup pals looking for peace and pedicures
Intercontinental Montelucia's Joya Spa, Scottsdale, AZ
Modeled after the whitewashed villas of Spain, this sun-drenched resort stands out in this spa mecca because of its deals: If everyone in your group books a spa treatment, you get a suite practically free for two nights. (Check out "The Weekender" package online.) The deluxe spa includes a rooftop terrace that looks into Paradise Valley.
Mayflower Inn & Spa, Washington, CT
In the New England countryside sits a supersize country home with an award-winning spa. Over-the-top attention to detail (night-blooming flowers that scent the spa, MP3 players to use) makes this tranquil spot splurge-tastic.
The Golden Door, Naples, FL
This indoor-outdoor spa is set in manicured Japanese gardens. The location is stunning--right on the Gulf--and combines Eastern Zen with the Western ideal of luxury.