Any excuse to travel is great, but there are so many mind and body benefits to glean from travel with friends, specifically. That’s why my three best friends and I have ritualized our annual girls’ trips. The first getaway we took was to Panama City Beach, Florida, for spring break in 2007. A lot has changed since we were sophomores in college, living together, taking many of the same classes, going to the same school events, and attending the same parties. We’ve since moved to cities nationwide, gotten married, become moms, bought homes, and gotten big promotions. Still, a lot has remained the same and even grown stronger—namely how much we care about each other and how much time we wish we could spend together. That’s partially why our annual girls’ trip has remained a constant.
Over the years, it’s gotten harder to get my crew together for even a long weekend. The planning process often feels like the opening scene in Netflix’s Wine Country, when Amy Poehler’s character essentially begs her friends to get together for a long weekend in Napa. After all, there are mortgages to pay, babies and dogs to find sitters for, and bosses to consult before booking a flight. And as these obligations have steadily crept into our lives, it makes sense that we have trouble carving quality time for each other—but that doesn’t make prioritizing it any less important.
Social-personality psychologist William Chopik, PhD, studies friendship and attributes this planning difficulty to dyadic withdrawal—when someone’s friendship network begin to shrink due to marriage or children or demanding careers. But, he contends that making the effort to see each other IRL really is worth the effort for your health and well-being. “Friendships are really important for people’s happiness,” says Dr. Chopik. “In general, [they offer] improvements on metrics like depression and anxiety.” Friends serve as a source of support. You can share things with them that you may feel you can’t with partner or family member—particularly if you’re having trouble with said partner or family member, he adds. “These are relationships of choice. You choose to hang out together because you enjoy each other’s company.”
We have trouble carving quality time for each other partially because of dyadic withdrawal—when someone’s friendship network begin to shrink due to marriage or children or demanding careers.
Healthy friendships might even contribute to your happiness more so than other types of relationships, says Dr. Chopik. Think about it: Your relationship with a partner has a certain pressure to it, and family dynamics can be, um, complicated. Friendships, though, “are a way to derive all the benefits of being in a relationship with someone without the enormity of it,” he says.
In his research, published in Personal Relationships, Dr. Chopik found that while both family and friends contribute to health and happiness, it’s the relationships people have with their friends that have the biggest impact on those factors later in life. And while evidence certainly supports the benefits of friendship, I contend that the added component of getting away—from jobs, other obligations, and even other relationships—is soothing and provides for a positive regression to a simpler time in a way that catching up over the phone can’t duplicate. In other words travel with friends can help you access the way “getting away” should—but unfortunately doesn’t always—allow you to feel.
Furthermore, when you live far from your loved ones, getting in real face time (not FaceTime) offers serious relationship-boosting benefits, too. “You can sit down, look them in the eye, have a true back-and-forth, and read each other’s body language. They can see you and your facial expressions,” says Dr. Chopik. “You’re emotionally responding to things, and you can pick up on their emotions. You don’t always get that through a phone call.”
My friends and I certainly agree there’s value in being face-to-face; after that first trip to PCB, we returned twice (maybe thrice? I lost count.), and have also visited San Diego, Austin, Las Vegas, New York City, and several cities in Pennsylvania and Alaska. But, what really keeps us coming back together (at least) once a year? Dr. Chopik says it’s socio-emotional selective theory at play, meaning, “you spend time on things that make you happy because you realize time is finite. As you age, you realize life is short, and you should spend time doing things that make you happy.”
Next stop for me and my girls is yet to be determined, but I have a funny feeling Napa will be high on our must-visit list because—hey, time is finite. And dishing over wine with some of my favorite people sounds like it makes the happiness-boosting cut for socio-emotional selective theory. I can’t imagine wanting to spend my time any other way.
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