by Jenny Tucker, The Telegraph, October 9, 2017
It started after a cruel couple of years. One of my dearest friends found out she had breast cancer. She fought, suffered the most hideous side effects of chemotherapy I’d ever witnessed, 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, a light: Ibiza, where her favourite uncle lived and she’d holidayed as a child. It felt crucial to return somewhere that oozed good memories, so six friends and I plotted a girls’ 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 feeds our souls and 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 arrive, gaga with sleep deprivation, laden with Pampers and chardonnay, ready to 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 big house in the country. Another has written 12 novels.
We work, we look after elderly parents, we manage complicated lives. We’ve had our fair share of difficulties. Though it sounds obvious, 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-swank villa (between us, it was pretty affordable).
Another year we chartered a speedboat to Formentera, a tiny Caribbean-esque island off Ibiza, and catapulted off the side into the glittering water, screaming like teenagers. We spend days, not just hours, talking about everything from being in love after 25 years of marriage to getting a Maria Tash midlife piercing to the joys of raspberry clafoutis.
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 mates move away or have an intense work schedule, an email every now and again doesn’t quite cut it.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair agrees: ‘The older we get, the more important relationships with our close friends become. We look to these women for inspiration and support. Taking a trip together allows you to leave everyday life behind – a break from judging eyes, like, perhaps, your colleagues, your partner, even your children. Taking on a different persona and experiencing new things is liberating and energising.’
Research also shows there has been a 230 per cent rise in women-only travel companies over the past six years. Katie Dobson, founder of skigoddess.co.uk, says she has seen a dramatic increase in bookings during that time, with many of her clients saying they feel ‘a real sense of empowerment from being with like-minded women and realising their capabilities’.
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 mother of three and a novelist, I am 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.’
And, of course, there is always a stream of ridiculous incidents that live with us long after the event: ‘What about the time I had to report my missing bank card?’ she hoots. ‘When the man on the security phone line asked me when and where I’d lost it, I told him, “Er, in a bar… in Ibiza Town… at 6am.”’
Cut to the rest of us cackling with glee in the background. 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 completely 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. Will it be dinner? Dancing? Bar? Beach bar? Bar with a pool? Nightclub? All of the above?
Who is thinking about what to get the kids for tea? No one, that’s who! We become eight carefree women, fugitives of the life back home. 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, on the south of the island, and it is my Happy Place. Last time I was there, our tribe gathered on the sand outside a bar where the DJ was playing Frankie Knuckles’ Tears at a million decibels. 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, right then, 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.