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Published: Sunday, 6/22/2008

Female friends hit the road together for vacations

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
From left, Beth Morrin, Mary Pat Krumlauf, Barb Biggs, Sandy Garvin, Sandy Stover, and Carolyn Hemsoth, high school friends since the 1960s, are ready to leave in a limo for a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate their birthdays. From left, Beth Morrin, Mary Pat Krumlauf, Barb Biggs, Sandy Garvin, Sandy Stover, and Carolyn Hemsoth, high school friends since the 1960s, are ready to leave in a limo for a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate their birthdays.
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Six women gather on a recent Friday for a birthday celebration.

There is no cake, no candles, no wine. Just a couple of piles of assorted goodies and two goofy hats.

You call this a birthday party?

Oh, yeah. And call it a sterling example of a girlfriends getaway, a travel trend in which women are taking off on trips together and leaving their significant others men and/or kids behind.

It s sort of like a big slumber party, says Barb Biggs of Sylvania Township, at whose home the women are waiting for a limo to take them to Detroit Metro. From there they ll fly through Frankfurt, Germany, to Barcelona, then board a ship for a seven-day Mediterranean cruise one long party for the six who graduated from Start High School together in the 1960s and are each celebrating what they ll only call a milestone birthday in 2008.

There s a female connection that s just totally different from traveling with your family, says Sandy Garvin of Holland, who first suggested the trip. Mrs. Garvin is a veteran of such jaunts, including a quilting cruise five years ago in the Hawaiian islands with five other women. Two years ago, she and three of her friends from Alaska had a reunion in Las Vegas.

For Beth Morrin of Point Place, another of the Start High birthday celebrants, this will be her first girl trip a big step with a safety net. I feel like I m being really independent, but I have the support of the group, she observes.

Mary Lou Vargo, seated at left, with friends who vacation in New York each year. Mary Lou Vargo, seated at left, with friends who vacation in New York each year.
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The gleaming stretch limo arrives to take them to the airport. After a flurry of photos, they re off: Mrs. Biggs, Mrs. Garvin, Ms. Morrin, Carolyn Hemsoth of West Toledo, Sandy Stover of Maumee, and Mary Pat Krumlauf of Springfield, Ohio. Let the party begin.

A survey last year by AAA found that 24 percent of American women had taken such a trip in the previous three years, and that 39 percent planned to take one within the next three years. According to the survey, the most common destinations include a beach, spa, shopping trip, or cruise.

A Girlfriends Getaway Caribbean cruise offered in March by AAA Northwest Ohio attracted 61 women, says Sue McCloskey, vice president. We re doing it again [in 2009] because it was so successful. ... It overwhelmed us. We could have had two of those trips.

Another local measure of the trend is participation in Today s Traveling Women, a program in which AAA Northwest Ohio brings women together for presentations on travel topics ranging from specific AAA group trips to seminars on such issues as packing and safety. We now have 850 women in our database of Today s Traveling Women, Ms. McCloskey says.

Many of those women single, widowed, divorced, or married have met traveling companions through the group.

Mary Kampe of Maumee is one of them. Just back from a cruise on the Danube, she has signed up for a AAA Black Sea cruise in September, rooming with a woman she met through the program.

Patt Engstom of West Toledo, another member of Today s Traveling Women, says she has traveled frequently with female friends. With women, you have similar interests, similar destinations in mind, and similar ideas of what you want to do when you get there. I think there s a lot of pressure and stress [in life], so to get away with a girlfriend and be yourself and have fun, it s relaxing, just rejuvenating.

Seeing dollar signs in female buddy travel, agencies and tourism officials are responding with special offers and packages for women.

The Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau in upstate New York, for example, is promoting its Getaway Godmother service for planning custom packages for women that can be built around such interests as shopping, recreation, or history.

Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau in Michigan offered a girlfriends getaway deal for the first time in February, 2007. Based on the good response, it was offered again last fall along with a mancation package of activities such as fishing and canoeing.

Response to the men s vacation deal was OK, but nothing close to the girlfriends, says Jack Schripsema, vice president of sales and marketing. We generated so many calls we had trouble keeping up with it.

Offered again this past winter, girlfriends getaway sales grew significantly again, he says.

That would be no surprise to April Merenda, president, co-founder, and co-owner of Gutsy Women Travel. She created the company in 2001 to offer worldwide getaways specially designed for women, a market niche that she says wasn t being served.

The relaxation, the comfort of mind, body, and spirit of doing something for yourself is like a shot of adrenaline for your life, Ms. Merenda says by phone from New York.

More and more women are indulging in these getaways with other women to fulfill their dreams, she says, and she expects the trend to continue. I think they re going to use travel as a sense of empowerment, as a gift to themselves.

It doesn t have to be an elegant gift. It can be a little whacky, or girly, something that would make a man roll his eyes.

Something like ear candles. Light one, stick it in your ear, and if it lives up to its promises, the candle will draw wax and other debris out of your ear. Mary Lou Vargo of Point Place has lots of photos of her friends testing the concept at one of the girls weekends she has attended every October for about 12 years.

Another series of photos shows the women wearing old bridesmaids dresses and thrift-shop gowns at one of their Saturday night theme dinners at the old house on 100 acres in western New York.

Last year 17 women attended the getaway, Ms. Vargo says. The number varies each year, as do the activities things like campfires, hiking, shopping, hot-air ballooning, and touring area wineries.

And talking, naturally. Picture 17 women sitting around a long kitchen table, multiple conversations bouncing off one another.

It s like a roar, Ms. Vargo says. We talk about anything: kids, relationships, work, you name it.

She says her husband, Joel, looks forward to her girls weekend, too. Back home in Toledo, he can do what he wants in peace and quiet.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6126.



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