Travel and Friends

TravelCircles: Traveling with a Group of Women

I love travel. And I love women. So several years ago I decide to combine those two things into TravelCircles!  And it's been magical!  :) Each year, I pick 1-2 countries to visit (this year we have Peru in June 2018 and New Zealand in January 2019! And I'm already starting to think about where to go in the fall of 2019! Yahoo!) and I open it up for anywhere between 6-12 women to join me. 

For someone who LOVES bringing people together and helping facilitate connection, conversation, and laughter-- these trips-- whether to Cuba, Greece, Nicaragua, or Rwanda--have been such a delight. Every time. It's truly amazing that a group of strangers can come together and have such a memorable time!  But instead of taking my word for it... 

 We're celebrating in RWANDA that we all met each other on a trip to GREECE several years ago and have made amazing memories together in various countries since then!  From left to right: Miriam, Courtney, Shasta, and Angie.

We're celebrating in RWANDA that we all met each other on a trip to GREECE several years ago and have made amazing memories together in various countries since then!  From left to right: Miriam, Courtney, Shasta, and Angie.

As a group of us were traveling through Rwanda together this last summer, we realized three of the women had each been on three TravelCircles-- Miriam (age 60) from California, Courtney (age 33) from Maryland, and Angie (age 47) from Iowa! So, of course we had to take a photo!  And I had lots of questions for them!

THREE trips already!?!?!  And you're all signed up for a 4th trip this year! What inspires you to keep signing up for TravelCircles?

Miriam: I keep signing up for them because the trips are so well planned, involve much more than sightseeing and I feel safe traveling with a group that takes my wants and needs seriously. 
I have a passion for learning about people from around the world. Learning about religions, cultures, history, food and beautiful places. And this is all covered in these trips. The itinerary is active, busy, well balanced, fun and beautiful exposures to the places I have never seen before.
Finally, connecting with the women from my own country, getting to know them and share in such wonderful adventures is priceless. 

Courtney: I keep signing up because I've wanted to travel internationally but have lacked travel buddies and the know-how to plan all the details and get the most out of these locations. Also it's been an excellent way for me to expand my comfort zone and safely travel to places I never expected to go. These groups are special because of the unique experiences I never could've done on my own, like Making halva in the middle of the street in Ithaca with two Greek women that didn't speak English, or learning an African dance outside an art gallery with Rwandan kids laughing at us! These are fun experiences I'll never forget and likely very few people will get to have.

Angie: I'm thrilled that I found TravelCircles, I do believe that what really makes these trips so special and unique is the travel partner that TravelCircles uses to plan these adventures.  AltruVistas focuses on locally owned hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing partners.  They also make sure we meet local people and agencies. Depending on the country we are visiting we've met with people to discuss local farming practices, cooking lessons, immigration policies and women's rights.  Ive learned a lot and met people that I never would have met had I traveled on my own.

When you first signed up-- you didn't know anyone else who was coming. What advice do you have for our first-timers?

Miriam: That’s part of the adventure! We are all a little nervous at first but we end up friends. An experience like travel forms a very special bond. If you take responsibility for expressing your needs and keep an open mind and a spirit of tolerance and compassion, you have nothing to fear. And having a person in charge, moderating our interactions is also a strength about these trips. Shasta is on top of things all the time, so I don’t have to ...(lol)

Courtney:  I'm introverted and before I did my first TravelCircle to Greece, I was extremely nervous about not fitting in and not getting enough alone time. Much to my surprise, for the most part I really enjoyed hanging out with the other women, and if I needed a break, it was usually easy to opt-out for an evening or whatever I needed. I'm also not adventurous when it comes to food, but I was always able to make it work. Try a few bites of something, then order what makes you feel more comfortable. 

Angie: Even though you may bond easier with one person than another, we don't let that prevent us from getting to know the others. We all make an effort to spend time with each traveler, sitting with different people in the van or at restaurants etc. and really feel like one group rather than separate little cliques traveling together.  We all have always tried to help each other out, whether it's borrowing something or all of us trying to find a particular item someone needs.

Courtney: To that point, ask for what you need. Always. I freaked out a couple weeks before going to Rwanda and sent a panicked email to Shasta and Malia and they both responded with care and love and compassion. If you don't feel well, if you're uncomfortable with something, if you need a break from the group, if you really need to see something specific in-country, just tell someone. No one can help you if you keep your needs to yourself. And everyone will want to help and support you any way they can. 

So what country will I see each of you in next? :)

Courtney: Peru!  I'm most excited about Machu Picchu and the paragliding option. Oh, and the weekend in the Amazon.

Angie: Peru for me, too! In fact, it's funny because Courtney and I have become good friends through these trips but we've never even see each other in our own country. And I'm probably old enough to be her mom (ha!) but I absolutely love her and am so glad we met in Greece!

Miriam: New Zealand for me.  I've always wanted go there!  I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of these trips. I would never be able to have these experiences on my own. My world has become much bigger and yet I feel much closer to women across the ocean and in other countries because I have seen how much we have in common and how interesting our differences can be. I’ve learned so much and I hope to continue to be able to participate in many more adventures. 

Well I can say it has been such a joy to travel with all of you.  And we've together made some amazing memories and met such inspiring women along the way! See you abroad! xoxo

And if you want to join us: you can always see our upcoming trips here or leave your name to be notified when new trips are added!

Two Best Friends Return to Paris to Fulfill a Promise

It's story-time! This week I am telling you a story with hopes that it inspires you to say yes to something big in the name of friendship.... despite the excuses we all make so easily.

Once Upon a Time....

Our story begins with an idealistic freshman collegiate girl who saw a poster promoting the opportunity to study abroad in Paris for 3 months.  While she knew not a word of French, it didn't stop her from trying to talk everyone she knew into going with her on this glamorous-sounding adventure. Everyone eyed her like she was crazy except for one friend, Valerie, who within moments said, "I'm in."

Wanting their passport photos would look as chic and grown-up as they felt, they made the horrible mistake of both chopping off their long hair right before the adventure. Therefore, our young heroines--one sporting a haircut that was basically a mullet, and the other with bangs that started at the back of her head-- set off for Paris with little more preparation than learning how to say Bonjour on the airplane over the Atlantic.

To anyone who knows Shasta or Valerie, it will come as no surprise that their favorite activity while living abroad was eating the local food (and they each came home with an extra 20 lbs to prove that point!).  So much so that it made sense to them, at the time, that paying the 17 Francs to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower wasn't as compelling as buying a week's worth of pastries and bread. They figured they had seen great views from the top of Notre Dame and that pastries were much more important than "tourist traps."  But needing to bolster that decision, they idealistically announced that they'd "save it" for romance and come back someday together with the "men of their dreams." They patted themselves on the back that they could assuage any guilt for not ponying up the money and assured themselves that these imaginary men would one day thank them for the privilege of having Eiffel-Tower virgins to accompany them to the top.

The Paris Promise was made: they'd return.

Twenty Years Later...

It wasn't an easy promise to keep.  There were many times when both doubted whether it would ever happen as it just never seemed realistic or likely. Neither of them ever had thousands of dollars sitting around looking to be spent, (especially knowing that if they ever did return they'd need more budget than last time)! ha! And it seemed one or the other was always in graduate school, pregnant, going through a divorce, or had some other big reason why an international trip wasn't possible any given year.

But a couple of years ago, they started saying, "We simply have to do it."

And finally--this month--they did.

In January they booked discounted airline tickets on a sale, split the cost on a two-bedroom AirBnB, and saved up all their extra money to eat their way through France once again (this time hoping that 20 lbs couldn't be added in a mere 2 weeks, right?!?) Plus, as fantasized, this time they arrived with the men they love by their side.

These two best friends retraced steps and recalled memories.  They laughed at who they had been twenty years prior.  They grimaced over photos from the first trip; and then decided they might as well just be grateful that they had set the bar so low back then that now it was fairly easy to believe they had indeed improved with age! They toasted that they were still friends after all these years; and celebrated how much they'd created the lives that were mere fantasies when they were 18.  They bonded as friends, and as couples. . And they smiled.  And hugged. And laughed. A lot.

Here are a few photos:

A fun photo re-enactment at Les Invalides in Paris, twenty years later. (And please tell me we look better now!)

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The Moral of the Story...

It's really easy to make up excuses for why we can't do something.  And by excuses, I don't mean that they aren't real reasons. In fact our reasons are usually pretty good as most of us feel limited by the constraints of time or money, or both.

For us to pull this trip off-- Valerie and her husband had to find childcare for their three kids, my husband and I had to put some of it on our credit cards, and all of us had to say no to other things in order to say yes to this.

But I can attest that after having had the privilege of traveling with friends, as couples, that it was worth every decision that got us there. It was incredibly special and bonding.

Your story doesn't need to be a return trip to Paris with a friend from 20 years ago... it can be a camping trip this summer with a group of new friends, or an invitation to a friend to meet you in Mexico for a 3-night deal, or the decision to go on a day-trip with another couple.

All you need is a willingness to plan ahead to do something bigger with someone than meeting for dinner, the courage to extend invitations to others to join you on a memory-making adventure, and the commitment to devote some time and money to that time together.  Traveling with friends--whether driving an hour out-of-town for a day-trip or jumping on a plane for a weekend away-- logs more hours together and guarantees more bonding than meeting for a gazillion lunches ever could!  Shared memories bond us to each other in accelerated ways.

This summer:  what adventure do you want to do and are you willing to put that idea into action?

Amazing Moms Make Time for Friends

What memories do you have of your mom doing things with her friends?

Years ago, in a specific friendship workshop I used to lead, I would ask adult women to write down everything they could remember about their moms and the topic of friendship:

  • Who did she hang out with, that you remember? Did she have her own friends or was it more about getting together with other families?
  • Do you remember her going away for weekends with friends? If so, what did she say to you about those weekends away? Do you remember seeing photos?
  • Do you remember her going out for girls nights often? What would they go do? Who went with her?
  • Can you remember any advice or comments she ever made about friendships?  Hers? Or yours? Or just in general?

I was somewhat shocked the first couple of times when I gave that exercise as more women in the room, than not, would shake their heads, wrinkle their foreheads, and murmur something along the lines of, "I don't really remember my mom doing stuff with her friends," or "I'm sure she had friends, but I couldn't name any of them," or "She would talk to her sister a lot but that was about it."

At first I was alarmed that so many moms didn't have good friends, but the more I talked about it with other women, we started wondering if, in fact, the bigger issue was simply that the mothers tried to do friendships when their kids wouldn't notice.  In other words, were the moms more likely to hang out with their friends when the kids were in school or soccer practice, thinking it was best to spend time with their friends when it wouldn't "take away" time from their kids?

This week I sat in a cafe and wrote love notes for Mothers Day to a handful of my girlfriends who are mothers... I never want them to doubt how much I admire them as they raise incredible human beings!

It makes sense on some levels, doesn't it?  Whether it's guilt from not spending enough quality time with your kids, frustration from the spouse at having to parent on their own while you're off "playing," or crying from the kids who insist you're the only one who can put them to bed-- it can be hard to schedule time with friends in the evenings and weekends.

And yet... it's imperative that we do.  Our daughters, and sons, need to see how much friendships are valued. For their health and happiness, they need to see us put into action the values of being connected to others.  They need to be able to one day answer the question "What kind of friendships did your mom have?" with a list of memories and details.

Inspiring Ways Some Moms Still Prioritize Friendship

I want to shout-out to some of the amazing moms who I am lucky enough to call my friends, with hopes that perhaps one of the ideas inspires your own path to prioritizing friends:

  • For over 10 years, Sherilyn and I have talked on the phone every single Wednesday for almost an hour.  She has three kids who are frequently told, "You'll have to wait... I'm on the phone with Shasta" and she often has to say to me, "Will you hang on just a second?  Sorry."  She juggles all of us, no matter the ages of her kids over the years.  They will one day be able to say "My mom had a best friend she talked to all the time."
  • My friend Daneen, who at one point was the only mom in a weekly small group of us who got together every Tuesday evening, had two babies and both times showed back up for weekly girls night as soon as she could get them to take a bottle of her breast milk.  Was it stressful on her husband? Oh yes! But Tuesdays became Daddy and Daughter night and they figured it out.  Her daughters will definitely remember that mommy went out with friends often.
  • A few of my dearest far-flung friends-- Karen, J'Leen, Valerie, and Krista-- have had 6 kids (and added 2 step-kids) over the years and not a one of them has ever missed our annual girls weekend. Never once. That means they've missed a soccer game here-and-there, left Dad with sick kids, and had to pump up a storm before boarding the plane.  Their kids will long remember that their moms come back smiling and happy and excited for the next girls weekend.
  • One of my friends Kat is busy cooking her oldest son's favorite dishes every Sunday and planning awesome family vacations this year as she prepares for him to go off to college in the fall.  She knows her time with him is precious and she wants to soak up every second she can as a family.  And yet, not only does she drive over an hour to come into the city for a monthly women's group at my house, she also is going to turn it into a slumber party so she doesn't have to drive home so late. She won't be there for dinner or breakfast, but in her absence she's teaching them just how important friendship is.

I could go on and on.  My friends are kick-ass women who feel like there are never enough hours in the day to be the rock stars that they are in their careers, spend as much time with their husbands as they would ideally want, and be the kind of mom that their inner critic tells them they need to be.... but they don't let those become reasons to not keep up their friendships.

If you're reading those examples and thinking they're crazy-- then you haven't yet heard or absorbed just how important friendships are to your health.  All healthy relationships--including the ones with our parents, our spouses/romantic partners, and children-- add value to our lives. But it's primarily with our friends can we get the benefits of love without as much arguing about money, negotiating chores, scheduling their doctors appointments, or feeling like there is a never-ending to-do list attached with them.

But hopefully you're reading those and thinking "okay how can I start saying to my kids something like 'Just as you played with your friends at school today, now Mommy is going to go play with her friends because we all need good friends!'" Your kids will benefit, you will benefit, and your friends will benefit!

To all the mama's out there-- we love you and consider ourselves lucky to call you our friends! xoxo

 

Do you have a friend whose a mom that you want to give a shout-out or thank you to? Go for it!  We'll love her up with you!  What do you appreciate about her?  Or, if you're a mom-- share with us something you've done to prioritize friendships and let us give you virtual high fives!

The Gift of Flexibility in Relationships

I returned home this week to the United States; back to a country where we can flush our toilet paper down the toilet, drink water out of the tap, and choose to sleep past the sound of roosters.  Ha! But oh there is already so much to miss about Nicaragua: sighting monkeys in forests, eating amazing food, sampling fruits I've never seen before, practicing my Spanglish with the locals, hiking to waterfalls, watching the "run with the bulls" in Granada, making tortillas on a wood oven, learning how to make tamales from a local family, walking through charming towns, and just learning about an amazing population of our brothers and sisters in another part of this world. It was all so very special.

If you're familiar with our TravelCircles then you'll know that all our trips are designed for women to come alone and get to know each other.  We start the trip as strangers; depart as friends. It's one of the most magical parts of the trips.

Here we all are on top of our van waiting to watch the annual "Running with the Bulls" in Granada!

Leaning Like the Bamboo

One story that emerged on our trip is so appropriate to friendship that I wanted to pop into your inbox this weekend with this little inspiration for you, trusting that there is a relationship in your life where this truth can serve as an invitation to, as well.

The chances of any two people wanting to do the exact same activities, with the same exact needs and energy levels, enjoying it in the same way, at the exact same time is the stuff of fairy tales.

In fact, in some ways it's easier to travel with strangers than it is with friends or family-- we're all on our best behavior, more willing to try new things, and excited to get to know each other; but no matter who we travel beside on vacation or through life, the art of compromise is ever-present.

The lesson the bamboo is inspirational to all of us in our relationships.

At one of our hotels, one "wall" of our eating area was bamboo.  And it was so loud-- creaking and groaning and singing with the wind. For a city girl like me, to be sipping my morning Nicaraguan coffee and be serenaded by the bamboo was such a delight.

Bamboo is one of those trees that teaches lesson after lesson, but on that morning the one that popped into my head was:

Flexibility: Bamboo bends with the wind, never fighting against it. But it doesn't blow away with the wind, it stays rooted. Its ability to bend without breaking or being uprooted is so beautiful.  It's the perfect metaphor for flexibility-- being able to go-with-the-flow without ever losing our center or our roots.

The Gift of Flexibility

Being flexible isn't weak, rather it's one of the strongest choices ever: leaving one standing straight even after the winds tire out.

We often think of being flexible as someone who compromises and rarely gets what they

While not everyone on our trip was as excited about wild monkeys as I was, they said that my enthusiasm was contagious. Ha! We were all pretty excited to see this guy down on the ground!

really want.  But as our group shared our favorite moments of the trip on our last night together-- I can attest that we all very much got what we wanted: Jennifer got in her nightlife, Erika her chocolate, Miriam her rain forest, Pamela her market photos, and me my monkeys.

Flexibility didn't mean we didn't get what we wanted, but rather that we helped each other get what was most important to each other!

And in so doing, we each received so much more than we were looking for!

There were activities on the itinerary that I would surely have skipped if I were traveling alone or with my husband.

 

What I might have missed:

  • I definitely would have skipped driving up to the rural village on dirt roads, but because we all had to go together, I went along. Fortunately! Because we ducked into a little home up there to learn how to make our own tortillas from grinding the corn to flipping it over on the wood-fire. And let me just say that there is hardly anything tastier than salt on a hot homemade tortilla!
  • I probably would have talked myself out of riding a horse in the rain, but because

    Riding Estelle through the most gorgeous rain forest ever was a magical experience!

    others were excited about it, I went along.  And it may have been my favorite day of the trip-- we saw monkeys, took photos at gorgeous vistas, and laughed a lot!

  • I would have listened to my exhaustion and relaxed at the hotel, but because Jennifer was so excited to go to Salsa dance lessons, I decided to join her.  Good thing, otherwise I would have missed out on a lot of laughter! Ha!

It was so impressive to watch us practice hearing each others needs and doing what we could do make the trip amazing for everyone.  And it surprised me again how in so doing that for others-- I was exposed to things I wouldn't have chosen myself.

In other words: my trip was BETTER because I was flexible. I lost little to nothing, but gained so much more.

In your relationships, I invite you to consider: What would it look like for you to let the wind blow you a little in a new direction? What might you do with someone or how might you respond differently if you knew you could bend and not break? What could you be open to even if it's not what you would personally choose?  How might you and a friend do a better job of leaning into what makes each other happy?

With Lake Nicaragua behind us, we pose for a quick moment before the rain soaked us!  :)

p.s.  Want to travel with us?  All women over the age of 21 are invited to come on any of our trips! Our next two trips with availability are to Cuba this November or Turkey next May! See info here.

 

Guilt & Pride: How They Often Show Up Together

Why do things that are good for me often come with feelings of guilt?
Why do things that are good for me often come with feelings of guilt?

This morning as I was sipping my Chai tea, talking with one friend after another on the phone, and coloring in my adult coloring book (a trend I'm happily jumping into!)--two all-too-familiar feelings emerged, again, together: Pride and Guilt.

Pride, or a sense of gratification, because I was taking a slow morning since I wasn't feeling super energetic, because I was coloring which has to be good for my creativity on some level, and because I was catching up with people I love. All good things, all meaningful to me, and all restorative.

But with it, like a Siamese Twin, was the feeling of Guilt. Guilt because I took a relaxing day yesterday and should be more productive today, because I really needed to shower, because it's almost noon and what respected and accomplished women just color in the middle of the day?!

Where Pride & Guilt Lurk

I've observed recently how these two feelings seem to act like best friends in my life lately-- always wanting to hang out near each other. Whether it's the rescheduling of an early morning phone call even when I know my sleep is more important or the guilt I feel leaving my husband at home to go on another TravelCircle even when I know that traveling in this way is invigorating to me in an important way.  It seems weird to me that the very things I am proud of myself for doing are the areas where I feel the most guilt.

I hear it in my friends, too:

  • They feel proud of themselves for making the time to go out with friends while feeling guilty for leaving their kids in the evening.
  • They feel feel proud of themselves for practicing their independence and meeting their desire for adventure by traveling or going on a girls weekend while they struggle with guilt for spending money.
  • They feel proud of themselves for having great friends even while they feel guilty leaving their husbands/partners without them for the night.
  • They feel proud of themselves for saying no to attending another meaningless event even while they feel guilty for letting someone down.
  • They feel proud of themselves for saying yes and going outside their comfort zone even while they feel guilty for how that yes might impact others.
  • They feel proud of their amazing promotion, accomplishment, fulfilling marriage, or amazing kids while they feel guilty for how that might make others feel who don't have that same pride.

Why does guilt come on the heels of pride so very often? Is that the way it has to be? Do we just shrug our shoulders and say, "Such is life?" Is one feeling more real than the other? Are they both equally valid? Am I supposed to ignore one of them?

What My Pride & Guilt are Telling Me

If the definition of being an Emotionally Intelligent (High EQ) person is contingent on my being able to accurately identify what I am feeling and know how to move myself back to a place of peace, then it is crucial that I listen to my feelings. But what does a girl do when her feelings seem to conflict with each other?

  1. Examine each feeling, starting with pride. Starting with pride, I close my eyes and ask, "Does this feel nourishing to me? Good for me? In alignment with my values?" My head nods.  "Do I believe deep down that this is what I need? That I'm in fact proud of  myself for listening to my inner wisdom?" I know I do.
  2. Next, examine guilt. I then turn to examine guilt. Guilt is the healthy response to wrong behavior, it's our indicator that we've acted outside of our values so the last thing I want to do is just shoo it away without checking in.  So I close my eyes and ask, "Have I done something wrong? Am I acting outside of my values or code of ethics? Am I hurting someone willfully? Do I owe anyone an apology?"  While I might feel bad that someone feels disappointed or inconvenienced, I know to my core that I have done nothing wrong.
  3. Explore the origins of my guilt. Rather than just tell Guilt that it doesn't belong here, I wish to understand why it's here in the first place.  And the answer comes to me almost instantly: I think I'm supposed to feel guilty! For me, the sense of gratification for doing something good for me is a natural byproduct of my choice for self-care, for nourishment, for connection. But the guilt is a learned feeling-- a feeling that emerges when I sense that others might or could judge me.  It's not guilt from messing up, but fear that I'm not doing something "perfectly." In the exploring, I realize that one feeling (pride) is what I am really feeling and the other (guilt) is what I have generated based on my comparisons to my ideal or that of others.
  4. Moving back to peace.  Just running through this process this morning while I was coloring gave me so much more freedom. I wasn't doing anything wrong, just something unconventional.  But the coloring and talking to friends was actually more in alignment with my values and who I want to be than feeling pressure to "work" because it's the middle of a certain weekday. I felt a peace come over me as I released the need to hold the guilt and instead embraced the gratification I felt that I was doing exactly what was best for me today.

If we don't articulate our feelings and manage them to return us to peace then we risk living with these unprocessed conflicting and disorienting feelings all the time.

And if we name them but don't choose which one we want to give precedence, then we're at risk of simply saying no to that which is good for us because we give in to our unexamined or fake guilt.  But how sad would it be if we didn't go out with friends, travel to amazing places, say yes to big things, say no to meaningless things, or spend time coloring in the morning all because we didn't realize that the guilt wasn't really ours? It's not authentic guilt. How tragic would it be to live our lives more in alignment with this crazy picture of what others (or ourselves) think we should be instead of what our hearts and inner wisdom tell us we need?

Next time you feel guilt... I hope you'll ask yourself "Is this authentic guilt or is this fake guilt?" And follow in the direction of the choice that makes you most proud of yourself; you know, that feeling of maturity, gratification, and real connection to yourself. We need a lot more women doing that which is good for them instead of complying with their fake guilt.

To all of us celebrating the choices we make that support our lives,

Shasta

No Excuse! Commit to a Girlfriend Weekend!

If you've been following me for a while then you know that every year, around this time, I meet up with 4 of my friends for our Annual Girls Weekend.  This year marked our 10th year of weekend get-aways. 10 years.  I almost can't believe it.  It's not hard to believe that we've been friends for that long... in fact we became friends before that... with 1-2 of the friendships going back nearly 20 years.  But that five women have committed to taking the time and paying the money to go on a girls trip for 10 years in a row feels huge to me. That is commitment that moves me.

This year we met in San Antonio, where my friend J'Leen lives so we could watch her perform Improv on Saturday night since she credits our group friendship with her taking her first Improv class last year! What fun!!!

So Many Excuses to Not Get-Away!

That means that 5 incredibly busy women have prioritized time away with each other and made it happen. No matter what.

  • No matter that during that time we've had 3 divorces... everyone has come, every year.  We've celebrated 2 weddings... and we have one more coming up this December!
  • No matter that 1 girl is on a strict budget and 2 have often used credit cards to come... everyone has come, every year. Even when they got hit with HUGE tax bills, bought new houses, had cars die, gave up per diem hours to attend, and had to scrimp in other areas to make it work.
  • No matter that my girlfriends have birthed 5 babies during that time.  We have, in fact, had someone pregnant more years than not, including last year when one of them was 8 months pregnant. Everyone has come, every year. Even the year when one of the girls had a late miscarriage the day before the trip... she came.
  • No matter that our work schedules are insane-- conference attendance, speaking schedules, book launches, private practices to run, and a dozen reasons to say "I'm too busy!" Everyone has come, every year. Including this year when one woman had to return from a business conference, barely kiss her kids and husband, and then get back on a plane to head off to see us.
  • No matter that it inconveniences our husbands/boyfriends because they have to sacrifice the money, watch the kids, and do life alone for a few days. Everyone has come, every year. Even the years when some of the girls didn't have a spouse, they had family watch their kids and they still came. Even the spouse who isn't available 7-8 months out of the year steps up joyfully if we can plan around his schedule!
  • And speaking of kids... between my 4 girlfriends, they mother 8 children, ranging this year from 10 months old to 15 years old.  But they come every year... I shake my head in awe...

Kids and Girlfriend Get-Aways

I don't want to downplay the commitment I make to be at Girls Weekend every year, because no matter whether we have kids or not, all of us have full and busy lives; but I absolutely am in awe of my friends who are moms who don't use that as an excuse to not show up for their friendships.  When I hear about the Little League games my friends are missing by being gone, the extra stress it puts on their spouses those weekends, or the times when their kids are sick and they aren't home to nurse them... I stand in deep gratitude for these women.

Here are some tips I've picked up from them that might help make it easier for other mom's to make the very difficult choice of justifying a get-away weekend:

  • Daddy Time: Several of them said, "It's actually kind of awesome to watch our kids have these special weekends with Dad... yes it's stressful in some ways, but this way they get to plan pizza night, feel like they have Dad's undivided attention, and create memories."
  • Modeling to the Kids: With statements like "I can only hope that my girls are watching me do this and looking forward to the days they are grown up and get to do girls weekends!" and "I just tell my kids-- just like you get to go a have a slumber party sometimes, this is Mommy's slumber party," my friends are teaching their kids that friendship is worth scheduling.
  • Expectation Management: They all agreed, "Actually, the more we all do it, the easier it gets.  Now it's not a surprise or a hardship to go away as much as it was in the early days, the families just know it's going to happen and they're practiced."
  • Personal Self-Care: Now when I ask them why they come, most of them just say, "I wouldn't NOT come!" or "This is the best weekend of my whole year!" We all recognize it as the time when our own cup gets filled up with love.  We process life, share what's making us happy, talk about our fears, and become better people for having been away. I think, undoubtedly, that we all show up back home with more love to give.

I do think, like anything, that the more one does it, the more meaningful and easy it becomes.  One girlfriend weekend may, or may not, change anyone's life or feel worth the stress... but you add up the years and how much value we add to each other's life, and I really do believe that we are adding years to our lives. And each year we can go deeper, share more vulnerably, cheer for each other more loudly, and laugh so much more.  We've made our weekends meaningful and life-saving.

Today I just wanted to pop into your inbox to say that no matter what excuse feels so true for your life... I am one loud vote on the side of you saying yes to some friendship time that extends beyond a lunch or dinner.  Something about staying up late laughing and snorting, waking up and whispering about life, and spending a long full day together is truly as magical as life can possibly get.  Keep it cheap, keep it easy, and keep it meaningful-- but whatever you do, get the invitations emailed and get that date on the calendar!

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  Huge love to Valerie, J'Leen, Karen, and Krista for juggling friendship as one of the priorities of your very busy and full lives.  I am blessed by your commitment. xoxo

p.s.s.  Other posts about Girls Weekends:

5 Tips for Planning a Girls Weekend!

Weekend Get-Togethers: The Benefits of Long-Distance Friendships

The Power of Women in Circle: Ideas for Women's Groups:

Time to Plan an Adult Sleep-Over with Friends!

The power of sleep-overs is something we don't think much about as adults, or do all that frequently.  But we should.  There are still few experiences that can accelerate our intimacy and deepen our hearts as having un-rushed time together that includes talking until ready for bed and waking up in the same place together. Visiting Friends

Traveling to New York City-- a trip I seem to make at least twice a year-- has become so much more fun since one of my girlfriends from San Francisco moved there a couple of years back.  I see her far less frequently now that we're not getting together once a month for dinner on the west coast, but the time we spend together living in the same place for a few days in NYC is bonding us in ways that few of my friendships get to experience.

When I was back there two weeks ago I couldn't help but observe just how much intimacy these sleep-overs have added to our relationship: making coffee together in our pajamas in the mornings, debriefing our days with each other in the evening, making plans for dinner with her hubby and her cousin on Saturday night, being at home with her when her new dining room table arrived, and getting a feel for their rhythm and schedule.

A few days together did for our relationship what would have taken years of dinners and phone calls to get to.  There's something so magical about staying up late talking, spending time in someone else's life and home, and having a few days together to get past all the updates and still have time to just talk about other things.

Planning Friendship Get-Aways

I experience this same magic every spring during my annual girlfriend weekend with four of my friends who are committed to us meeting up somewhere every year.

This is my dream-- not having to shower to meet up but simply waking up together and all walking to a coffee shop to start our day together.

Although in this case we're not typically staying in each others homes, which means we miss out on seeing each other in normal day-to-day life a bit more, the upside is that we're all stepping out of our lives and making the weekend together entirely about talking and connecting which deepens our relationships in ways that a hundred phone calls couldn't compete with.  It's a bit more like a slumber party in all the best ways.  (And since all these women are mothers of young children, it's even more amazing to me that they all commit to step away for a weekend every single year!)

We don't necessarily do each others hair like we might do if we were teenagers and we don't make movies and boys the focus of our time together anymore, but we still laugh, get silly, tell secrets, and fill each other up with love.

Local Slumber Parties

For many, I find that slumber parties and sleep-overs seem to happen primarily with only one circle of friendships:  the confirmed circle, the friends we used to be close to but no longer live nearby.  Like my two previous examples it's either because she lives where I'm visiting or because we've all planned to meet up somewhere together, but these aren't friends who live in San Francisco.

But one thing I've really been enjoying lately is thinking more about sleep-overs with people who live nearby.

When we were kids it was exactly those people-- our closest friends, even if they just lived next door to us-- that we'd beg to have stay the night with us. It was rarely because they needed to spend the night, but more because we wanted extra time with each other.

One of the coolest nights happened earlier this year when one of my husbands best friends invited us to come spend the night at their home only 30 minutes away.

We typically just drive home after dinner, but they begged us to bring our pajamas and spend the night, and even though we had to leave in the morning right after breakfast, I assure you that the time together was several times more bonding than had we left the night before.

I also experience this magic every time my step-daughter asks us if she can spend the night with us when her husband occasionally leaves town.  We're lucky that they're local and we get to see them regularly, but it's an extra treat when she comes and stays the night with us-- the slower conversations, the watching of TV together, the embracing of her into our daily routine is fun in a way that just having them over for dinner cannot replicate.

Whether it's spending the night in normal life or leaving normal life to spend the night with each other-- they are both bonding in ways that can't easily be duplicated by regular get-togethers.  All the 2-4 hour scheduled dinners in the world can't replicate the experience of unrushed time and casual lounging around that sleep-overs afford.

(A few adult slumber party resources for you from other bloggers if you're up for planning a really intentional one:  5 reasons to host a slumber party, ideas for hosting, and fun ideas on pinterest)

Your Invitation

I challenge you to think of someone in your life who you might consider initiating a sleep-over!

  • Maybe it's someone who lives far away and you just want to call and say "Hey, either I should come to you or you should come to me-- but let's get a weekend on the calendar!"
  • Or maybe, it's two to three local friends who have all been getting to know each other better and you're ready to help deepen the bond by saying, "Hey maybe we should all try to find a weekend where we can have a sleepover together, like when we were kids!"
  • Or maybe, it's just skipping the hotel on one of your trips to see if a friend is up for hosting you, or calling a friend you know who travels near you and saying, "Hey next time you're in town, you are so welcome to my place! I know it's not as comfy as a hotel, but it might be more fun!"

We talked about vulnerability in a recent blog and this is an example of the "practicing new ways of spending time together" option.  It will feel a little awkward and it will require a little initiation... but trust me, when it comes to making you feel closer to someone, there are few experiences that can deepen your friendship than the gift of a night under the same roof!

LEAVE COMMENTS: Do you have friends spend the night? Share with us your ideas, how it helps your friendships, etc.! Never done a slumber party?  What's holding you back? Did this inspire you?  Will you accept my invitation/challenge?  :)

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  Come to an already planned slumber party!  :) We are guaranteeing spots to everyone who registers by Nov. 1 for the New Years Retreat that I'm hosting in Northern California this January 2-4, 2015.  This weekend away might be a perfect excuse to call a friend and see if she wants to join you for a slumber party!  You can read all about the retreat by requesting the invitation here.  We already have women in their 20's and 60's signed up to be there-- so all ages are welcome!  It's going to be a super special weekend of celebrating/honoring the past year while preparing for the upcoming year with excitement and anticipation!

Reveal 2015

Comfy lodging, healthy and nourishing food, walks in beautiful nature, jacuzzi under the stars, retreat activities led by me, new friends, tons of laughter, and lots of time to hear your own heart whisper-- if that's your cup of tea, I so hope you do whatever you can to be with us!

NOTE: The retreat was initially designed for two friends to come together, but due to several requests, we're also opening it up for women to come alone and we'll match you up with other women who are coming alone so that you can all meet, share, and have someone witness your journey when appropriate!  So come as a pair of friends, or come and meet new friends-- but if you value reflection, listening to your own heart, connecting with other women, and rejuvenating your spirit-- then know that you are welcome at our slumber party!  RSVP by Nov. 1!

 

 

 

Hands & Hearts: Women in Nicaragua

I'm actually in Greece with 10 women this week on a TravelCircle trip.  But before I left, I scheduled this post from the group of women that just returned a few weeks ago from Nicaragua.  Pulled together by Michelle Scott, one of our TravelCircles ambassadors for GirlFriendCircles trips around the world (she's also leading the one to Chile & Argentina this November!) she asked her fellow travelers to also contribute to the story. This group of 4 women was significantly smaller than most of our trips (which typically average between 8-12 women), but they proved that all it takes to have a good time are amazing women, an amazing country, and an amazing itinerary!  :)  Welcome home, GirlFriends!

Hands and Heart – Manos y Corazón

Four ladies chose to travel through Nicaragua on a GirlfriendCircles’ eco-adventure. None could have predicted how they would bond, how much they'd enjoy traveling together, or how inspired they would by the beauty of the country and people.

Chance, Wren, Erin, and Michelle travel Nicaragua together, coming home as friends.
Chance, Wren, Erin, and Michelle travel Nicaragua together, coming home as friends.

Chance: I met Wren through Girlfriend Circles a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to travel with her to Nicaragua. Though I have traveled extensively, no trip has changed and inspired me like this trip. As we flew into Nicaragua, the clouds parted to reveal a vast lake (Managua Lake) and its many volcanoes; it was breathtaking and a perfect welcome to this enchanting country.

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2014-Nicaragua-403

Soon, we were lunching with a famous Nicaraguan feminist leader and learning about the women’s rights’ movement and its interplay with the revolution - over fresh tortillas and gallopinto (red beans and rice).

Some of my favorite experiences were visiting an active volcano, a powerful waterfall, and touring two farms. We cooked nacatamales and tortillas over a wood stove in Doña Elsa’s open kitchen, toured the coffee, bean and rice farm, and received a hands-on botanical medicine tour.

The people of Nicaragua were the highlight. Our local guide, Nohelia, told us that Nicaragua is built (and rebuilt) with “manos y corazón” – hands and heart – and I witnessed this.

The four women who bonded through travel-- hearts and hands!
The four women who bonded through travel-- hearts and hands!

People work toward betterment for their communities and country, with pride, humility, and a focus of purpose that is tender and passionate. Nohelia is one of the best examples of this. As a young woman driven to improve her community, she saw the illiteracy in her neighborhood, designed and launched a radio show to teach literacy – a program that continues to graduate a class every three months and has made her a sort of local celebrity.

So, how was I changed through this trip? I took an open heart to Nicaragua, and throughout our journey, it was filled with love, inspiration and care. I hope I left love and respect there, and a deep caring for the people and places I saw, along with some deep friendships – with both my fellow travelers and citizens of this amazing country.

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2014-Nicaragua-459

Wren: I wear a black rubber bracelet, which states “No a la trata de personas” – No to trading people. I received the bracelet from Casa Alianza, an organization that provides food, shelter and essential services to homeless, trafficked and exploited youth. As a former teacher, children hold a special place in my heart. I wear this bracelet to remind me of where I’ve been and the people I’ve met. Nicaragua’s people and landscape hold such beauty, simplicity and friendliness that one cannot help but fall in love and promise to return.

Michelle: There are few places and people that sneak into your heart and forever change you. I went to Nicaragua to be re-charged and inspired and received that and so much more. Chance, Wren, Nohelia and Erin will be my lifetime friends. We are bonded through our experiences, our love for each other and the people of Nicaragua, and a fundraising project with Grupo MOES, an organization committed to respectful empowerment of women, affected by poverty, violence and exploitation.

Erin: Prior to this trip, I was asked, "Why go to Nicaragua?" My photos partially answer this question - trotting horses through a Nicaraguan jungle, while monkeys swung overhead, standing next to a smoking volcanic crater, and hiking behind a waterfall.

2014-Nicaragua-326
2014-Nicaragua-326

A few of the amazing moments included careening through a mountain town with my new girlfriends and a Bolivian man, who owns a waterfall and cemetery (neither of which I knew were things one could own), leaning over the edge of a boat and dipping my fingers into the world’s only freshwater lake with bull sharks, and hiking steep uphill climbs to meet an 85-year old artist, known as the hermit stone carver, who guided us through the jungle to his carvings, reciting poetry and picking mangos for us along the way.

2014-Nicaragua-481
2014-Nicaragua-481

But the true answer to “Why [I needed] Nicaragua?” has more to do the spirit of the people we encountered than the adventures and excursions. I went to Nicaragua to learn that inspiring and world-changing people see a problem and work towards a solution. They teach literacy over the radio. They build a home and school for young survivors of abuse. They begin a sewing cooperative with women constructing the building from the ground up, where each worker is a co-owner. They realize that handpicking coffee beans allows them to organically remove bugs and guarantee high quality.

I went to Nicaragua because I needed to be reminded that you don't have to live in a tropical paradise to live a beautiful, fulfilling life. All you have to do is work with your hands and heart towards resolving a problem that matters to you.

All women over the age of 21 are invited to join any of our TravelCircle groups where women travel together to connect with one another and to go experience together the life and voice of women in their destination country.  Every trip has so many special elements in it including a local female guide, visits to NGO's to learn about the issues facing women in that country, cooking/dance/art classes, and a GFC ambassador to help foster connection among your group. 

Trips by women, for women, about women.  :) 

More info: www.WomensTravelCircles.com

What does traveling to Afghanistan have to do with friendships?

travel quotes
travel quotes

 "Why are you planning all these travel trips?" I'm often asked by people who seem perplexed what a friendship author and speaker is doing planning trips. :)

My short answer:  Anyone who cares about friendship has to care about personal growth and the moments in life that can bring us together. Travel does both: it bonds us and grows us.  There are few things more bonding and growing than leaving our comfort zones together.

I also think it's downright magical to be going on trips together where we are intentionally learning about our sisters in other countries.  There are few things in this world more beautiful than having moments of resonance with women who don't even speak the same language as we do.  Everywhere we go we're doing it with eyes that look with our hearts to better understand the life and voice of women in that place.

Then, the next question is usually, "But why Afghanistan?"

For that, I asked Kathy, the trip ambassador who will be leading a small group of women (ideally 6 women-- we have room for 2 more!) into this country to share with us why she's so passionate.  Just reading her response makes me want to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip!

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By Kathy:"I have been asked many times, “Why do you want to go to Afghanistan?” always followed immediately by, “Aren’t you afraid?” The answers to both those questions are complex.

I had never before been interested in going to the Middle East in my life, and I believe a part of my draw is that it is a country that has been living just under my radar for more than a decade. A country who’s name I have heard a million times. I want to experience the people and culture of this land where so many men and woman have fought and died for. I know from talking to people whom have been there that the people of Afghanistan are warm and kind and that it is a beautiful country. One soldier told me he wished he could go back as a tourist because of its beauty. Another told me he feels frustrated with how many Americans view the Afghani people because they are not just everything the news reports on. The problems in Afghanistan are complex, but they do not define the people or tell the whole story of the country!    

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My experience in Iran last year was so amazing that it fanned the flame of my desire to experience Afghanistan. The rich history and the culture of the area is far from anything most Americans can begin to understand. And this is what makes it a fascinating place for me to want to experience. It was fun and interesting to dress as was required of us, with head coverings and in modest clothes. It was exciting learning words in a completely foreign language, one you don’t get to learn in school. I was honored to be a part of bridging the gap between two cultures who have a tenuous history, and humbled to meet people as fellow human beings with no prejudice and rather a sense of curiosity, wonder, and awe. I loved the people as much as anything else. I am expecting similar feelings and experiences in Afghanistan.

travel quote: THe world is a book and those who not travel read only one page.
travel quote: THe world is a book and those who not travel read only one page.

Am I scared? Cautious is a better word. I closely follow the news from Afghanistan and after the April 5th elections felt tremendous hope. The Afghan elections were a major victory with almost seven million voters - 36 percent of them women - coming out to say a loud "no" to the terror of the Taliban, and a clear "yes" to the ballot box. I know from my experience in Iran that our guide and driver were very protective of us and would have done anything to keep us safe. I know the same will be true in Afghanistan. Safety will come before anything else.  (Our travel agency has been sending trips there all year...and is always making decisions with safety as the highest priority!)

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I listened to a webinar today by Naomi Simson who talked about “The 2% mindset” where only 2% of the population lives outside their comfort zone by acting in spite of fear, exploring new things, embracing the unknown, going for their dreams, and living without limits. I want to be part of the 2%.

I don't think it's a coincidence that a woman who is willing to go outside her comfort zone in traveling is also the woman who is ready to cheer lead all of us into new friendships and adventures, even in our own cities.  Kathy also happens to be the Ambassador Director for GirlFriendCircles.com, a job she does on the side of her nursing career because she knows that we also have to go outside our comfort zone to build the friendships that enrich our lives.

So in answer to the question, "What does traveling to Afghanistan have to do with friendships?" The answer is multi-faceted!  Going on this trip will give you the opportunity to make friends yourself, to meet your sisters from another country, and because it will expand you and give you more courage in your own friend-making process back home!  I'm in favor of all of that!  :)

Whether Kathy has piqued your interest in joining her in Afghanistan, or whether we've just whet your appetite for travel, in general-- we hope you know that if you're a woman who is open to some adventure and ready to do it in the circle of other women-- you're welcome on any of our trips!

And even if you don't travel with us, I'd love to hear how travel has enriched your life!  Where have you gone and how did it change you? Have you traveled with friends before? Have you traveled with strangers and felt bonded by the adventures? How have you seen your worldview grow? Tell me!

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Sign up here to be on the VIP TravelCircles list to be notified of new trips as they're added.

Other Planned Travel Trips for Women Only:

  • Nicaragua-- is one of our most affordable trips and it's the next one on the docket!  This trip is eco-tourism at it's best; filled with hikes, volcanoes, waterfalls, small towns, good food, and lots of things to help your body exhale from stress.  Come be invigorated with amazing women around you! (optional surfing lessons!)
  • Greece-- I'm leading this trip, you're welcome to join us through all the magical places of this beautiful country.
  • Afghanistan-- you read about it above.  If you have questions, let us know!
  • Chile & Argentina-- 2 countries and lots of culture, food, and wine!
  • Cuba-- Our 3rd and last planned trip to this country-- join us now if you're interested because it's a super special place to visit right now.

All trips, dates, itineraries, and prices are available here: www.WomensTravelCircles.com

Womens Travel Groups: An Interview with Our Travel GirlFriend

Malia Everett, CEO of Altruvistas, oversees all of our women's travel groups going out each year to places like Kenya, Cuba, and Nicaragua!
Malia Everett, CEO of Altruvistas, oversees all of our women's travel groups going out each year to places like Kenya, Cuba, and Nicaragua!

This week's blog post is an interview with Malia Everett, who has over two decades of experience pioneering cultural and educational exchanges, and has graciously jumped in (with little immediate pay-off!) to oversee all of our GirlFriendCircles TravelCircles trips to such places as Cuba, Kenya, and Nicaragua!

Malia believes in the power of travel as a transformational tool for education and social change and facilitates tours to over 80 countries around the world focusing on international relations, human rights, political economy, sustainable development, women’s issues and the resilience of indigenous cultures.

As the founder and CEO of Altruvistas she is personally putting together the most thoughtful itineraries and experiences for all our trips geared around the woman's life and voice to each country!

At the bottom of the interview, we highlight some of our upcoming trips!

Shasta:  Malia, people talk all the time about how important it is to havepassion for their jobs, but there's passion and then there's the kindpassion you have!  It's deep and amazing-- can you share with us wherethat comes from?

Malia: I love what I do and I know my passion is contagious. Working in the world of socially responsible travel that is educational and truly philanthropic is a vocation for me. I consider myself deeply blessed to have found my calling and to share that with others. What keeps me excited about the work every day, is the same truth that has fed my soul for the past 20 years: I get to experience the transformational power of travel firsthand.

For example, when a GirlFriend comes back and calls me with excitement and enthusiasm sharing how the journey changed her life, that she learned things she'd never even thought about before; I know the work is worthwhile. The journeys create well-being, not only for the traveler but also for the host communities. This is being in service to me.

Shasta: When most of us hear of ethical travel, I'm not sure we even knowwhat's involved with that term!  What is important to you in the planningof trips to other countries?

Malia: In order for travel to be truly ethical, it needs to incorporate the best practices of both ecological and social responsibility. Some travel companies focus on one or the other. Altruvistas philosophy is holistic in its approach; we focus on both eco-consciousness  AND social responsibility because we believe that travelers should benefit the people and places they visit.

Sustainable Tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities and conserve the world¹s natural and cultural heritage. At Altruvistas we know that responsible tourism is a powerful tool in poverty reduction. Our staff is experienced travel professionals with a shared commitment to sustainability and a passion to ensure the benefits of responsible tourism globally.  In order to maximize the benefits and full potential of tourism we must acknowledge that conventional tourism has negative impact. A few issues of concern to us are: capital flight in our globalized economy; the commodification of cultures and people (including sex tourism and human trafficking); and the environmental impacts of flying that contributes to greenhouse gases. In fact, climate change poses a severe threat to those things that responsible travelers hold sacred: ­ local communities, biodiversity, and environments around the world. Altruvistas tackles the lack of equity in the conventional tourism economy and encourages best practices for ourselves, for our travelers, and for those we partner with globally.

Shasta: You've been a huge advocate for our TravelCircles.... What, in youropinion, makes our trips special?

Malia: I LOVE the GirlFriendCircles brand and have personally and professional learned a lot from traveling with you, Shasta. During our first professional delegation of women to Cuba I saw firsthand how you facilitated

Malia and me in Cuba last summer, at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Havana!
Malia and me in Cuba last summer, at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Havana!

friendship circles and truly helped women quickly make friendships. Right away the group dynamic was smooth and connective. Since then I have seen how your ambassadors are deeply committed to the girlfriends well-being as they consistently encourage the travelers to meet and share with others.

I think TravelCircles are special as they combine the BEST of GFC and Altruvistas. Together we are creating unique experience. These are journeys BY and FOR women, to experience great sites in a sustainable way that honors the women you are traveling with and exchanging with. Yes all the trips see the major world heritage sites and important cultural monuments, yet we also get off the beaten path and into the businesses, schools, artists studios, organizations and homes of women.

Shasta: Some women have wondered about the safety of some of the countries we've chosen, including our trip to Afghanistan this fall, can you tellus why you think it's important to visit these countries?

Malia: Traveling to places, where the US or the West has strained political or economic relationships, is important. I believe that when we break bread together, learn about each others struggles, share hopes for the future and hear others aspirations for the future we create understanding and that fosters peace building. Traveling to Afghanistan, Iran and other countries  like Cuba are important examples of how GFC courageously embraces a women's citizen diplomacy. Women return informed and engaged with first hand stories that are much more complex and candid than dominant media coverage.

Shasta: One of the special elements on all our trips is visiting a few NGO'sin each country that are supporting the causes of women-- how do youthink that adds to the experience of a trip and why is it so important?

Malia: Meetings with women's organizations is a grounding element of the TravelCircles. This is one vital way for us to learn what our shared struggles and successes are as women. While the whole trip is not focused on a gender rights struggle or issue, we make intentional time to explore important issues impacting women's lives where we go. Our women are curious and engaged.  Thus adding a few meetings that examine themes like political representation, cultural and religious norms and gender rights, poverty and socioeconomic equity provide a lot of opportunities to exchange and share with our hosts and in our group. Additionally we have visited with NGO's serving elders and children, tackling domestic violence and human trafficking. These are important issues to not gloss over.  At TravelCircles we include these visits to bridge differences, to build solidarity between ourselves and our hosts, and hopefully to inspire Girlfriends to give back when back home.

Shasta: We make a donation every quarter and we'd love for you to pick one of your favorite causes and organizations-- tell us about the one you pick!

Malia: I am SO honored! I am really excited to share the work of MISSSEY with GFC. I love working locally and internationally and one of the issues very close to my heart is modern-day slavery. Altruvistas is a signatory of the ECPAT's Code  an industry-driven responsible tourism initiative with a mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry in order to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. The work MISSSEY does is vital for educating and advocating for vulnerable Bay Area youth in the face of poverty, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. I've supported their work for years.

Shasta: On behalf of GirlFriendCircles.com, we will be making a donation to MISSSEY because of you!  And finally, each trip for us is connected to building friendships--tell us what role friendships play in your life right now.  In what waysis your life better because of your female friends?

I can not imagine my life without my friends! I am not just saying that either. After I become a mother in 2000 I had so little time to be me, just Malia. I was a mother of, lover of, worker of, activist of...I was always on!  After reading a book called the Red Tent, a friend and I decided to create a Full Moon circle, our own GirlFriendsCircle if you will. We needed a ritual to connect in our overwhelming lives. We are now celebrating 13 years in friendships. We have celebrated births and new loves together. We have toasted new jobs and beginnings. We have mourned the loss of parents and friends. We have held each other through divorce and break ups. We have giggled, danced, cried and eaten hours a way in fellowship. I count my wealth in the love I have of community, family and friends.

Thank you Malia!  Thank you not just for what you're giving to us GirlFriends as we travel the world, but to what you're giving and doing for the world overall! xoxo

Our TravelCircles are open to ALL women over the age of 21.  To be on our list that announces new trips, sign up here.

womens travel groups
womens travel groups

Plus, we currently have room for a couple more women to join us this fall to:

  • Nicaragua*
  • Greece
  • Cuba
  • Afghanistan
  •  Kenya*
  • Chile & Argentina

For all trips and details, go to www.WomensTravelGroups.com

*We also have two upcoming live Q & A calls where you can learn more about the trips to Nicaragua (Saturday May 17th at 9 am PST) and Kenya (Saturday, May 24th at 10 am PST) trips.  Email Malia@altruvistas.com for more information!

5 Tips for Planning a Girls Weekend!

When we were little we knew them as slumber parties.  We'd eagerly look forward to getting to stay up late, giggle, and act silly. Those long nights were bonding in ways that time at recess, afternoon play-dates, and long phone calls couldn't replicate. Our grown up version has come to be known as "Girls Weekends" and they are just as bonding and just as fabulous.

We Need Adult Slumber Parties!

I actually think we need these overnight parties more as adults than we did as kids.  We so rarely give that gift of extended time to our friendships anymore. If you're anything like me, I feel pretty impressed when a friend and I actually carve out time for lunch twice in a month, touch base on the phone a couple of times, or see each other for a long dinner in my living room-- but you add up all those hours and they, literally, still fall short of what a slumber party can offer.

And far beyond the gift of actual hours together is what the build-up of those hours all taking place at once can make happen.  You spread those hours out over a month and at least half your time together is updating about what has happened since you've seen each other last.  But you push all those hours into one gathering and once the "updating" of recent events is done, all the rest of the time is for the stuff that really matters. It builds on itself so that you're sharing stories, secrets, laughter, and tears.

I'm still riding high from my annual girls weekend nearly two weeks ago.  My heart is full.  So ab-so-lute-ly full.

picture of my girls weekend

There are simply no phone conversations, meals, or evenings long enough to provide the level of sharing that we relished in. The vulnerability, the un-rushed time, the radical presence we gave each other, the tears, the laughter, the goofiness, the honesty, and the personal growth all added up to feeling so seen and loved by each other.  Add in the food, the wine, the sleeping in, and the long walks-- and these are restorative weekends in every way!

But more important to telling you all the benefits to these adult slumber parties is to actually help you see how to plan one in your own life.  Even if you don't yet have this perfect group of friends... you can get started.

How to Plan a Girls Weekend:

  1. Decide Who You Want To Invite.  In my opinion, the who informs everything else like location, price, and activities; based on where everyone lives, whether they all consider each other friends, or how bonded everyone is already. When you think about bonding and connecting-- who comes to mind? A group of friends you've lost touch with from long ago? Random friends from here-and-there who don't know each other? A local group of women you are close to? Or, some local women you'd like to get to know better?
  2. Be Clear on Why Everyone Would Want to Get Together. If the women all know each other and consider everyone else a friend (as opposed to them all being your friend from different places who don't know your other friends), then the why is often a little easier because "just getting together" is reason enough so then the location and activity take a backseat to why the women would come.  If the women don't know each other well, then we usually need a bit more of an "excuse" such as for celebrating your birthday or other milestone; and the focus on an activity is more helpful whether it's for a concert, destination, or experience.
    1. If they don't know each other well and are all local then start with one night and keep it local.  I'd suggest finding something fun, such as a concert or restaurant you've been wanting to try, and send out an email to see who wants to join you and then either a) come back to your house for a slumber party and brunch the next day or b) share a hotel room downtown as part of the fun.
    2. If you're a group of friends who know each other decently well and are all local then I'd either start with the above step or throw out the idea to the group to gauge interest in doing a get-away weekend sometime.  The goal of this one is to keep it driving distance and priced low: you want to make it easy to say yes. Try to make it at least 2-full days, with 1-night of housing that is in everyone's budget (lots of homes to rent on places like AirBnB!). Invite your group to it as a chance for us to all get-away and play!
    3. If they don't know each other well and are not local then realize that it's a bigger ask (airfare and travel time, and time with women they don't really know) so the motivation will be for you and/or the focus of the trip. It really needs an excuse like "this year for my 42nd birthday I really want my closest friends with me!" or an event like "I want to run the Nike Half Marathon this year" or "I've always wanted to do a girls trip to Vegas!"-- with a "Who's In?" and being okay with whatever group of 3-5 women say yes. (The benefit of this is that once they all hang out for a weekend together, chances are high that someone will say "We should do this again!" and you might have the birth of an annual ritual on your hands that will be easier now that they know each other!)
    4. If they know each other well and are not local then the bigger issue is usually someone just needs to be a catalyst who says, "I miss all of you! I'm jealous every time I hear about others have girls weekends-- what do you all say we do one and catch up?" Again, keep the price as low as possible (does anyone in the group know anyone with a vacation home that can be borrowed? where is it cheapest to all fly into for everyone?) as that will be the objection for many women who feel guilty taking family money to do something for themselves.
  3. Plan the Easiest Time Away Possible. The biggest mistake is made when the price tag starts climbing and the stress of planning outweighs the intended benefits.  Keep it as simple as possible.  The goal is to get you together overnight with some of your friends.  That's it.  You can always dream bigger in following years once everyone is SOLD on that time together.  But at first, just err on the side of keeping it affordable and relaxing.  The truth is we can all go sight-seeing with our families and romantic partners so that's not what we need; what we need is uninterrupted girl time so make sure your trip factors that focus in! Way better to have more unscheduled time with everyone just hanging out than to be on any schedule packed full of activities.  The highest priority is quality time together.
  4. Get the Dates on the Calendar ASAP.  The rest of it can come together later.... what is highest priority is that a weekend is actually selected and committed to-- dates and location need to be set.  Then everyone can keep a look out for airfare deals or groupons to local restaurants and start to make the arrangements necessary with their obligations.
  5. Be at Peace If Not "Everyone" Can Come.  Not everyone can/will prioritize this in their calendar and finances.  That's okay.  Keep planning for those who can.  If even 3-4 of you can go, you'll still get the benefits, and chances are high that next year others will try to come.  Just get it going....  :)

    girls weekends someday

This time next year, you can have a photo album filled with memories of a get-away with women you grew to love even more.

And, if you're lucky, some of the group get-aways you start might even turn into annual traditions will bless your life far into the future!

 

 

I'd love to hear other tips you'd give for planning Girls Weekends-- feel free to add them in the comments.  Or, if you have questions or reservations, I'm happy to brainstorm, give suggestions, or offer up any other tips you might want.

 

 

 

 

Why Travel with GirlFriendCircles?

Michelle Scott-- the beautiful GFC TravelCircle host and author of this guest post.
Michelle Scott-- the beautiful GFC TravelCircle host and author of this guest post.

Welcome home to the 15 women who just returned from our 2nd TravelCircle to Cuba!  And a huge thanks to Michelle Scott for not only being the GFC ambassador on this trip, but also for writing this guest blog that gives us a glimpse into the amazing experience you all had!

Also, Michelle is leading TWO of the 9 scheduled TravelCircles in 2014-- GirlFriends Eco-Adventuring in Nicaragua in August and the Women Dancing & Sipping through Argentina & Chile in November. Check them out--you'd be lucky to be in her care!  (All trips are highlighted at the end of the blog and can be found at www.WomensTravelCircles.com)

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by Michelle Scott

Planning an adventure is an interesting thing. You can spend months preparing an itinerary, but you never know when those magical moments will occur, or how, and with whom connections will develop. Such was our experience in Cuba.

Our first morning in Cuba, we sat in a circle, looking at 15 unfamiliar faces. Who were these women, who had made group travel to Cuba a priority?

One of many amazing meals we shared, talking and laughing, with the yummy Cuban drinks!
One of many amazing meals we shared, talking and laughing, with the yummy Cuban drinks!

Each of us had chosen to invest and engage in this particular adventure at this specific time. Most came to learn, some came to be inspired or to find direction, and at least one came to honor the memory of a loved one, who valued travel and culture. All were united in our value of friendship and adventure.

GirlFriendCircles (GFC) began TravelCircles this year. While each trip is unique, all focus on two main components. 1) We travel together with the intention of connecting with each other in a meaningful and honoring way. 2) We learn about the lives of women living in that particular country/region.

Our Travel Through Cuba

Because GFC teams with Altruvistas, we are able to experience Cuba or any country we travel to in a deeper, more connected and invested manner. In other words, we’re not there as passive tourists. We show up, ready to engage and build relationships with the people we meet.

A dance class where we got a chance to watch the best perform and then learn to do some of the steps ourselves!
A dance class where we got a chance to watch the best perform and then learn to do some of the steps ourselves!

On this particular trip, we learned from Cubans with firsthand knowledge of history, architecture, politics, healthcare, literacy and education, music, art, community development, and social services. At times, our role was more like new students, soaking up information. Other times, we were colleagues, processing what we were learning and integrating it with previous knowledge. Because there was mutual respect and interactive conversations, it was an engaging way of learning.

We learned about The Cuban 5 and how Cubans view the U.S. embargo/blockade. We learned about diversity and prejudice. We gained new appreciation for murals and the value of art within a community. We learned how to make our own perfume. We learned to dance, laugh and fan our way through Cutumba. While much of our itinerary was full (because learning hours are required for our visas), there were times, when we practiced slowing down enough to listen, engage and experience. And we loved those moments that unified us with little to no effort on our part other than being present in the moment and accepting its gifts.

“Why are you glad you went on this trip?”

But don't just take it from me, I asked some of the other women on the trip to answer the question: “Why are you glad you went on this trip?”

  • Kate S. from Chicago shared, “I have never been on a trip where I connected with so many different people. This trip provided the ability to have personal interactions with Cubans in a way that would not have been possible had I traveled independently. The stories we heard, the culture we experienced, and conversations we had will stay with me forever. The group of girls from GirlFriendCircles were the best people to share this experience with; I truly believe some of the friendships we made will last a lifetime.”
  • Our group!  We love each other.  What fun!
  • Amy from North Carolina responded, “I'm glad I saw Cuba just before what I anticipate to be a period of great change. It's amazing to be surrounded by such history and so little of our ubiquitous consumerist culture.”
  • Jennifer from Wisconsin replied, “I loved the feeling of truly being lost in another time. Some of my favorite moments were in Old Havana, with the bustling streets, amazing cars, music playing in the air, and the colorful patchwork textures and buildings all around. It was a treat for my senses. Cuba has a kind of raw energy that you don't see much elsewhere.”
  • Kirsten from British Columbia shared, “Cuba deserves so much credit for surviving as it has for so long against such overwhelming odds. I was grateful to be exposed to a different truth than the one many of us have learned. In the end I think there is truth on all sides. I was impressed by a different value system, one that places the emphasis on taking care of each other, rather than on individual achievement.”
  • Kimberly from Florida responded, “Mostly glad to meet such an amazing group of American women, but so glad to have seen the resiliency of the Cuban women and people. The countryside and architecture were beautiful!!”

Are you considering travel with GirlFriendCircles? Now is the time to express your interest. Many trips are planned for 2014. (See the list of all 9 trips below!) These adventures are full of great activities and opportunities to meet wonderful people, who also value friendship. What could be better than experiencing a new culture while building connection and friendship?

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travelCircle
travelCircle

Ready to Travel, GirlFriend? 

Scheduled TravelCircles that Still Have Availability in 2014:

GirlFriends Eco-Adventuring in Nicaragua August 2-11, 2014

For adventurous and active women this trip is filled with hikes, learning, and beauty! (Also, optional 2-day surfing lessons)

Women and Goddesses in Greece Aug 29-Sept. 9, 2014

Ready to explore the Parthenon, Acropolis, and the Temple of Zeus? This is trip with spirituality, myths, beauty, art, and the divine feminine.

Women of Compassion on Safari in Kenya September 27-October 6

Combine the best wildlife of a Safari with amazing opportunities to learn about social causes and regional issues affecting women in Africa.

Women & Current Affairs in Afghanistan October 4-13, 2014

Ready to understand a country in a more real way than just what we see on TV?  Watch history unfold in an intimate and local way.

Women Dancing & Sipping through Argentina & Chile Nov 1-11

Get ready to dance, cook, sip wine and inhale all the beauty, culture, and history of two amazing countries: Argentina and Chile!

www.WomensTravelCircles.com

brought to you by:

GirlFriendCircles_logo
GirlFriendCircles_logo

From Strangers to Friends: Our Travel Circle to Cuba

After we had all checked in at the Miami airport on June 16 for our charter flight to Cuba, I remember thinking, "Oh wow, I hope this works." And by this I meant, 15 women who had never met each other deciding to travel for 10 days together in a foreign country. It could go one of three ways: 15 women traveling beside each other but not really connecting as a group, 15 women getting sick of each other and whining and judging the whole time, or 15 women ending up feeling the bond of friendship.

In this photo we don't yet even know each others names... but the trip ahead of us is going to be amazing!
In this photo we don't yet even know each others names... but the trip ahead of us is going to be amazing!

I looked around at our group of strangers spread apart in age from 22 to 67, with one trying to figure out if she had time to get a manicure at the airport and others looking like they had never had a manicure in their lives, and observed how seemingly different we all were from each other.  While trying to remember each others names you could tell we each had our questions about how this experience would yet play out...

My Top 5 Take-Away's

  1. We don't have to be like each other to like each other.  No doubt we were all so very different: some women looked like they had stepped out of fashion magazines every day of the trip while others seemed to be wearing the same outfit in every photo; some women undoubtedly came with unlimited budgets while others were rationing out their CUC's with worried eyes; some looked like they were ready to dance anytime a tune was heard while others needed to put their feet up and rest in the van; some never turned down an opportunity to drink the island rum or local beer while others seemed much happier with water the whole time. We were an eclectic group to be sure. I say all that only to help highlight the beautiful truth that we all really, really, really liked each other. From day one all the way to day ten.
  2. One of my favorite aspects of the trip turned out to be the age span of the group.  It was SO enriching to build relationships with women you might not hang out with back home. What wisdom!
  3. Friendships are meaningful no matter how different they might look.  For some, this trip will simply be the starting point of their friendships: some women stayed up late into the night whispering with their roommates, others rented the classic old cars together for adventures where they spent the whole afternoon laughing and sharing. For all of us though, even if we didn't come home with new best amigas, we know we have new friends. Without being asked, we simply sat in different seats in the van and switched who we joined for meals-- making sure we all got to know each other in ways that mattered. We're all writing each other this week mentioning the withdrawals we're all feeling from not being together, sharing our photos, and planning a reunion dinner next month for those who can make it!  I expect to feel close to these women for quite some time.
  4. Toasting new friendships with one of many mojitos!
  5. Group travel encouraged stimulating conversations and sharing. We all too often go on a trip and get lost in our own thoughts; but in a group, we were able to hear different view points, externally process our own thoughts, ask questions, and honor our shared curiosity.  As we all tried to make sense of the impact of the U.S. embargo, how grateful Cubans were for Fidel Castro when most of us Americans had heard only negative things about him, and what socialism looked like in reality-- I was ever grateful to have a group of wise women each processing the same. Several of us walked through the Museum of the Revolution together trying to make sense of the history, my roommate shared with me some background to the political system, our local guide kept revealing how Cubans see their own experience, and all of us kept processing what we were learning in ways that served each other.  At lunches we'd often talk at tables about what we had learned in the mornings and dinners were filled with us sharing our highlight moments.
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  7. Learning makes my travel mean so much more! I've traveled to Mexico to lay on a beach without giving any thought to how their government is structured, gone to Italy to eat pizza without caring about their women's movement, or ridden a camel in Morocco without grasping what causes they are currently struggling with. In order to travel to Cuba legally, though, we had to apply for educational/professional/people-to-people visas which means we had to put in 40 hours of learning. That translated to sitting down with a university professor of gender and African studies to better understand the cultural shifts they've experienced and are still undergoing.  It meant visiting a neighborhood community center and dancing and singing with the locals.  It meant meeting an artist and having him share with us what his work means to him.  It meant meeting with the Federation of Cuban Women and hearing the history of the women's movement in that country.  It meant walking away with a greater appreciation not just for the country as a tourist experience but really understanding and admiring who that country has been and is today. Not every GirlFriendCircles.com Travel Circle itinerary will be as full of learning as Cuba needed to be... but I'm convinced I want to do a little more of it than simply sight-seeing and relaxing!
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  9. Women rock!!! Did you know that Cuba is ranked #3 globally in women's political participation with 48.9% women holding seats in their Parliament? (U.S. is ranked #79 this year!)  Not just are we committed to traveling as groups of women, but we want to learn about the women in the country we're visiting, too! So in Cuba that meant eating dinner in the home of the Three Anna's (a mom and her two daughters who rent out rooms to travelers) in Cuba de Santiago and asking them what it's like to be female entrepreneurs.  It meant dance classes and perfume making!  It meant looking at how free education and free healthcare leveled the playing field in that country for women and minority groups.  It meant that when we were guided through the fine arts museum that the female guide focused on women artists, the women who inspired the male artists, and how women were objectified or seen at different times.  Fascinating!  I loved being reminded of our connection with our sisters in another country.

Cuba was thought-provoking and fascinating.... the embargo means no Coca-Cola, McDonalds, or Starbucks. Where else have you been where you've seen that reality?

Easily the most famous face in Cuba... Che is one of about five revolutionary heroes.
Easily the most famous face in Cuba... Che is one of about five revolutionary heroes.

The whole country is like a land caught in a time warp where it may be decaying, but you can see the grandeur of their history since it hasn't yet been bull-dozed for condos or replaced with corporate skyscrapers. The people have dance and music running through their veins, along with big doses of idealism, love, and generosity.  While we uphold movie stars and singers, they revere their revolutionaries.  It was a city of dichotomy where the vision of who they want to be is so spectacular and yet how it plays out can sometimes leave you feeling pangs of sadness... (which is true of the U.S. too.) What a trip!

A huge thanks to the fourteen other women who made my trip so meaningful and memorable.  You each added such a special essence to our group chemistry.  I wouldn't have wanted it without a single one of you.

One of my favorite photos almost captures the whole group as we head out for an evening in Old Havana!
One of my favorite photos almost captures the whole group as we head out for an evening in Old Havana!

And to those who feel the tug to travel... We invite you on one of our upcoming trips this fall!  We have Egypt from Sept. 26-October 6, Iran from Sept 26-October 6, Peru from Sept. 29- October 11, and Cuba from Nov. 3-12.  So whether you want to cruise down the Nile in Egypt, behold Machu Picchu in Peru, see the Persepolis in Iran, or salsa in Cuba-- we will take good care of you and introduce you to new girlfriends who are drawn to travel! All our trips are for women, by women, about women.  You are so welcome to join the magic!