It is day five of my five-day trip to Cartagena, Colombia with 21 women friends. I am on our Delta flight headed home, and this is the first time I have opened my computer in 5 days. I have not even read a book or a magazine in these 5 days, other than glancing through a couple of magazines on the flight from Atlanta to Cartagena five days ago. I have used my iPhone, but for very little. My break from technology and even reading has surprised me. I cannot remember a time, including vacations, I have been totally connected to the people and places around me, not needing or even wanting to lose myself in technology or even reading. I must understand what has been going on, so I understand its lessons and replicate it.
I mentioned I was traveling with “21 women friends.” “Friends” is an important designation, and not to be used lightly. Actually, I knew only eight of these twenty-one other women before this trip, and those eight are social friends who I have traveled with previously, not friends who I keep in contact with between trips. The only exception to this is that a couple of my Solo Sisters (an organization of women without siblings) were on the trip, and I see them at our monthly gatherings. I make this “friends” distinction to clarify several important points that I will make about the importance of this group of women.
This trip to Cartagena was planned and organized by Nancy Andrews, the best person I know at connecting people. Kathy Brown, a Solo Sister, was also an organizer of this trip. Nancy and Kathy partnered with Connoisseurs Travels, and Josh Hamlet of Connoisseurs Travel was with us throughout, making sure that all of the details were superbly handled.
There were several local people in Cartagena who served as our guides, although “guides” is not a big enough word to describe the role they played in our experience. Many of us talked about how we do not want to ever travel again without this kind of support. They were all amazing.
The photos show the beauty of Cartagena. Cartagena is a vibrant as well as beautiful city, and the city is a visual delight. (Thank you to Lynn, who coined the term, “visual delight.”) What the photos cannot show is the experience that these 22 women, many of whom only knew a few of the other women before the trip, had together.
I traveled the first time with Nancy Andrews on a trip in 2006. (You can read about that trip in my book, A Year in the Life of a Recovering Spendaholic, which is available on Amazon.) Since that first trip, I have traveled with Nancy and different groups of women on trips six other times. Each of the trips has been enjoyable, but none more so than this. The enjoyment of the first trip was similar to this one. That trip was to the Tuscany area of Italy in October of 2006, and there were only 13 of us. I only knew Nancy and my roommate, who I had invited. On that trip, I became good friends with two of the other women, and although we do not see each other often, I value them. In various ways, all 13 of us on that trip bonded. We even had a “reunion” not long after the trip!
I was concerned about a large number of travelers on this Cartagena trip, having experienced larger groups like this that were not very cohesive. On a couple of those trips, a few cliques detracted from the overall enjoyment of the experience. I realized from this Cartagena experience that the number of women is not the issue, it is the women themselves. And this observation and issue have nothing to do with Nancy Andrews or Kathy Brown, for they did everything possible to make everyone feel and be included.
The women on this trip ranged in age from 30’s to probably, (although I am not sure) late 60’s, with most of them being in their late 40’s to early 60’s. While it was a trip that required a certain amount of disposable income to be able to participate, there was no “flaunting” of socioeconomic status. What each woman seemed to possess more than money was a genuine desire to travel, interest in the destination, and enjoyment of the company of other women, including new “friends.”
Lessons learned from this experience. (1) Traveling with other women, especially women who are inclusive and engaging, can be a wonderful experience. While my husband and I enjoy traveling together and do so quite often, traveling with women friends is a different experience. Shopping, enjoying meals that are more than “pub grub,” and interesting and important conversation characterized our experience. (No disrespect is intended to the men in our lives!) (2) When traveling with others, it is important to get outside of one’s comfort zone, to reach out and meet other interesting people, and to avoid only spending all of the time being with those you already know. (3) When with others at a table or in a group, include all, especially those on both sides. It is quite uncomfortable to be with others and have a couple of people be totally engaged with each other, leaving the person on their other side with no one to talk with for a long time. Miss Manners, our etiquette classes, and our sorority experiences have taught us better than this! This includes talking about subjects that can or obviously do leave others out. You can fill in the blanks here.
Life is a relationship business. We never know when we are talking with someone who could be a major influence in our lives. We should do everything we can to avoid missing out on this. And even if that does not happen, why would we want to spend all of our time connecting with those we already know, and risk missing out on getting to know other very interesting people?
Long after the trip is over, and the credit card bills for our purchases have been paid, we will be anticipating another gathering with others. The gathering may be a family occasion, a community event, or even another trip. Regardless of the nature of the gathering with others, remember a few things that will make other people feel important.
Include others. Include them in your conversation. Invite them into your circle. Be genuinely interested in them. You know how that feels when it happens to you. Pass it on.
Be positive, not negative. There is always something that can be improved. Do not focus on that, unless you are asked to do an evaluation, and if so, be positive in how you provide that information. Believe that others have done their best, and commend them for what they did to make your experience positive, meaningful, and memorable. It feels so much better when we do so!
Share these thoughts with your children, especially your teenagers and adult children. These points are not gendered specific. In this day of social media, we may need to do a refresher with younger people (and ourselves!) on human interaction skills.
And finally, if and when you can, travel to wonderful places with interesting women. You will be so glad that you did!