After more than a year spent in near-solitude, Jocelyn Padgett, a publicist who lives in New York, spent this Fourth of July weekend in Miami with seven of her friends, the largest social gathering she's attended since the Before Times. While she was excited to see her long-distance friends again, Padgett did have some apprehensions, since she’s been “super-careful” during the pandemic. When planning the trip, she considered each of her friends’ COVID-cautiousness before inviting them, “because no offense, if you weren’t careful during the pandemic, you’re definitely not going to be careful in Miami,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that I feel comfortable, and I know they're as safe as I am — if not more.”
Now that almost half the country is fully vaccinated and international travel is becoming viable once again for Americans, long-distance friends are making plans to reunite IRL. Over the past year and change, phone and Zoom calls offered the welcome opportunity to hear friends’ voices without the risk of swapping germs, but they lacked the intimacy of seeing people in person. And yet, sharing air again with loved ones is exhilarating (a real milestone!), but also nerve-wracking for those who have become attached to their quarantine habits. Still, a great many are taking the plunge. Whether it’s a bid to reawaken our social muscles or make up for lost time, a cascade of women are planning elaborate girls trips that check two boxes of things they’ve dearly missed: friends and travel. Just as we covet the return of arena concerts and house parties, there is something singularly enticing about not just a trip, but a big! fun! group trip!
Before the pandemic, we often needed a reason to organize these “girls’ trips,” but now, simply seeing our friends after too long in isolation is occasion enough. Farah Miller, an editor, says she and her college friends will be spending two nights at a spa in the Poconos later this summer. “We’ve been trying to do this trip for a decade at this point,” she explains. “After the year we just had, we wanted to make it happen no matter what.” In a March 2021 survey conducted by American Express Travel, 71% of respondents said they planned to travel to visit loved ones they hadn’t been able to see during the pandemic. Vanessa Bowling Ajavon, the founder and CEO of Washington D.C.-based women’s travel company Girls Vacation Club, says her firm has seen an uptick in bookings over the past few months, with clients setting up “girls trips” to reconnect with their long-lost friends. The refrain among customers? “Next year may not be here,” the entrepreneur explains. While some travelers are opting to visit evergreen destinations for U.S. travelers, like Mexico or the Caribbean, Bowling Ajavon has also noticed an interest in the same type of off-piste locations, chosen for convenience and COVID-related concerns, people visited at the height of the pandemic. Now, with COVID seemingly under control in the U.S., rather than traveling abroad where the virus might be spiking, clients are opting to visit National Parks and trails, often visiting by car.
“We’re really encouraging people to see the country,” Bowling Ajavon says. “Go on a road trip and really be able to spend that time with your friends, that’s what I would promote.” And that’s exactly what people seem to be prioritizing — quality time with friends over the type of amenities usually associated with high-end hotels. Despite the countless luxury resorts or properties in far-flung destinations, many women are simply opting to hole up in a house — but this time, an unfamiliar house with people they haven’t seen in well over a year.
Allison Fleece, co-founder of women-geared adventure travel company WHOA Travel, confirms that priority number one for the post-vaxx friendcation is togetherness. During the pandemic, her company started planning “Wild Card” road trips where travelers don’t discover their destination until the morning they depart. Many clients are booking these mystery jaunts “as a celebratory trip of coming out of this on the other side,” Fleece says. One group in Ohio booked last-minute, and Fleece found them a “really cool cabin in farm country Ohio,” she says. “It was totally not what you would think of as an adventure destination,” but that didn’t matter to the clients. Though Ohio farm country isn’t typically seen as a destination, the group wanted so desperately to spend time together. “It’s more about your attitude, because adventure can be had anywhere.”
Podcast producer Alana Herlands agrees. She and her college friends decided against visiting their alma mater, Ithaca College, in favor of an upcoming get-together at an Allentown, Pennsylvania farmhouse. “What matters is seeing each other — not the place that we’re in, but physically being together — so we decided to meet somewhere in the middle,” she says. “One of my friends’ families lives in Pennsylvania; there isn’t much to do there, but we all just want to see each other and that’s the most important thing.” The group plans to spend four days hiking in order to “create new memories,” Herlands says.
As for the social-awkwardness factor? Yes, 24-7 exposure to a friend or five might be a big leap after a year-plus of relative solitude, but the greatest concern to come up in the reporting of this story had less to do with the intricacies of social interaction than worries over self-presentation — something that has become an obsession over the last year and change living on Zoom. My friend Lizzy, for example, cops to apprehension about being judged for the “weird habits” she picked up in quarantine, such as cleaning off boxes of Triscuits with Clorox wipes. Though Miller agrees that everyone has developed new anxieties, she feels no apprehension whatsoever about showing off her quarantine habits: She won’t judge her friends, and knows they won’t judge her. “I think with other people, sure, but with each other less so,” she says, “which is why it’s exciting to have this plan.”
Rachel Fershleiser, who works in book publishing in New York, recently embarked on a trip to a "dumb expensive spa" in Pennsylvania to reunite with one of her oldest friends. They caught up while luxuriating in steam rooms and hot tubs. She and her friend had drifted apart during the pandemic, and she was looking forward to having protracted face-to-face conversations with someone who had known her before she’d had a partner and children. It was “pretty sad how out of touch” they had become, Fershleiser says. She walked away from their vacation feeling a newfound sense of connection. But the uninterrupted hours with her pal came at a cost she hadn’t accounted for. They’d been surrounded by countless other friend groups and she reports, "I came home with a cold.”