Telling it like it is
My annual girls’ trip is better than therapy
‘it reminds us life can be happy’
It started after a cruel couple of years. one of my dearest friends got breast cancer. She fought, suffered hideous side effects, and recovered. Then she got cancer again. She went through the hell of more treatment – and recovered again. when she reached the end of that dark tunnel, there was a light: Ibiza, where her favourite uncle lived and she’d holidayed as a child. It felt crucial to return somewhere with good memories, so six friends and I plotted a trip to help her (and us) feel carefree again.
That was five years ago, and that unique adventure has evolved into an annual week-long ritual that reminds us life can be happy. It might not be as wild as the recent $100m-grossing Girls Trip movie, or as hip as Cara Delevingne’s all-female 25th birthday extravaganza to Mexico this year, but there is laughter – so much laughter – and we do get up to some shenanigans, which I won’t share here.
It’s usually the same eight women, all in our 40s and 50s, who unite at Stansted every September clutching passports and tickets to Aeropuerto de Ibiza, delirious with anticipation and chattering like manic sparrows. We’ve known each other for decades, having met working on various magazines. Although jobs, family and life mean we don’t catch up as regularly as we’d like, this week – stamped in our diaries and booked a year in advance – pulls us together into one amorphous heap of excitement.
Back in our early 20s, we enjoyed other sorts of shared female holidays. There were singleton trips to Cuba, where Ron Collins cocktails never left our hands and we salsa-danced with boys beautiful enough to be Bruce Weber models. Later, there were mother-and-baby trips to Yorkshire, where we’d cosy up in a cottage and nod off to Strictly. But our Ibiza breaks are a different story. Most of us now have grown-up children, some of us are married. One has just moved to a house in the country. We work, we look after elderly parents, we manage complicated lives. We’ve had our fair share of difficulties.
This annual week away is a chance to give our usual existence the heave-ho. We are opportunists for seven days, utterly free to do what we want. One year we stayed in an ultra-swanky villa (between us, it was pretty affordable). Another, we chartered a speedboat and catapulted off the side into the glittering water, screaming like teenagers.
For my friend Susan, the woman who started it all, the benefits are precious. ‘The first trip was about being surrounded by my closest girlfriends,’ she says. ‘Then, when I became ill the second time, I vowed to squeeze as much fun out of life as I possibly could and our holidays are a big part of that.’
There are benefits for our friendships, too: a deep sense of feeling proverbially
snuggled together under a security blanket during those precious days away. In my experience, as you get older, the bonds of friendship are often difficult to maintain – the odd night out for dinner isn’t always long enough to delve into the nuances of life’s dilemmas, and when friends move away or have an intense work schedule, an email every now and again doesn’t quite cut it.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to temporarily cast off the shackles of routine. Fiona, my best friend since 1985 and part of our Ibiza girl tribe, tells me, ‘As a motherof-three and a novelist, I’m entrenched in family and a busy working life. When I first decided to come on this trip, I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just be with my friends. Us together, laughing, talking non-stop, then laughing even more.’
Of course, I love my family getaways too (if you’re reading this, husband, truly I do), though they come with many compromises. I have two teenage boys, and holidays to them include a seaworthy inflatable doughnut and an excuse to swig lager for brunch. When I embark on these all-women trips, our priorities change and it becomes all about, well, what we want. We almost combust with excitement while trying to decide how to spend the approaching night hours. Who is thinking about what to get the kids for tea? No one, that’s who!
But, then, when I do return to my everyday life – and don’t get me wrong, I love going back, seeing my boys and getting back to normality – I sometimes catch myself smiling. You see, there is somewhere called Las Salinas beach and it is my Happy Place. Last time I was there, our tribe gathered on the sand outside a bar, and the DJ was playing Frankie Knuckles’ Tears. The swelling crowd singing along looked like a golden mass of toasted flesh in the sunset. And there I was, bang in the middle, barefoot, sangria in hand, dancing next to a topless woman who had obviously had a generous boob job. Call me shallow, but, in that exceptional moment, I experienced something rare and glorious: sheer happiness.
As another member of my girls’ trip tribe recently announced, ‘Us going away together every year... it’s better than therapy.’ Now that is the truth.
‘There i was dancing barefoot’
Susan, Lisa, Wendy, Jenny, Kath and Laura on Las Salinas Cheers: Fiona and Kath grab a cheeky cocktail Enjoying the ocean’s waves on a boat trip
There has been a 230% rise in women-only travel companies over the past six years.