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Q& A With Valerie Rains, Editor of Budget Travel's Girlfriend Getaways

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Friendships need to be nurtured and travel -- even for a weekend -- allows friends to see new places, strengthen vital ties, and create shared memories. This month Budget Travel magazine released its debut spring/summer 2011 edition of Girlfriend Getaways as a special pullout section of the May issue.

I spoke to Editor, Valerie Rains about travel, friendship and girlfriend getaways:

Irene:

What are some options for girlfriend getaways for women on a budget?

Valerie:

One of our favorite recommendations for a budget-friendly getaway is renting a vacation home for a week (or a long weekend) -- say, in a beach town or someplace with great restaurants and shopping. You can save a lot of money compared with the cost of hotel rooms, and you get this really nice mix of privacy and community, with individual rooms for sleeping and common areas for hanging out. We always tell readers to look for properties with open-plan kitchen and dining areas or big patios where everyone can gather and cook, eat, and visit. Homeaway.com and vrbo.com both have a wide range of listings.

Another good choice is to plan a wine-tasting weekend in one of the country's lesser-known but still great wine regions. Everyone knows about Napa, but Sonoma provides a very similar (but less expensive) experience, and there are booming wine regions in every part of America. You've got Texas Hill Country, the Finger Lakes in New York, Walla Walla, Washington, and destinations in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio, to name just a few.

Irene:

Is there a particularly good time of year for girlfriend getaways?

Valerie:

Fall and spring seem to be logistically better times for lots of women to make these kinds of trips -- simply because they don't have to work around the big family vacations in the summer or their winter holiday travel. But really, any time that you and your friends can make room for it in your schedule is the right time.

Irene:

What are some of the options for a big splurge like a 40th or other special birthday?

Valerie:

Nothing beats Las Vegas for a no-holds-barred girlfriend getaway celebration. The spas, the shopping, the food, the shows -- even if you never dropped a cent in a casino, you'll be entertained all day long. Plus you can get phenomenal hotel deals. And with the new City Center development and the chichi Cosmopolitan Las Vegas hotel, there's never been a better time to go.

For a totally different experience, a yoga retreat or a more remote spa getaway can feel equally indulgent and leave lots of time for girl bonding. We like the Maya Tulum Wellness Retreat & Spa in Tulum, Mexico, for a beachy trip, or Red Mountain Resort & Spa in St. George, Utah for that rugged canyon beauty.

Irene:

Are girlfriend getaways for singles only?

Valerie:

Absolutely not. In fact, you could argue that it's the mothers and wives who benefit from this type of trip the most. It's so rare for women to take vacations that don't involve entertaining their kids, catering to their husband's tastes, and generally assuming the role of tour guide. On a girlfriend getaway, it's pure pleasure. And a 2008 study by the Travel Industry Association found that women who take more vacations are more satisfied with their marriages--no matter whom they're taking those trips with.

Still, if you are a single, and don't have a built-in travel partner, as many Boomer women don't, there is a strong and growing market of providers like Women Traveling With Women who craft tours specifically for these customers. Lots of women really take to this kind of environment and the attention that's paid to their specific needs and desires as travelers.

Irene:

What are the pros and cons of cruising with girlfriends?

Valerie:

I guess one con might be that cruise cabins, which are already pretty tight quarters, can feel even tighter when you're traveling with a friend rather than a spouse--but booking separate cabins can be expensive. That said, a cruise can be a good choice for women who feel uncomfortable, say, returning to their hotel after dinner in a strange city without a man along. There's a sense of security on a cruise that many women value. Plus: Instant spa partner!

Irene:

Why did Budget Travel commission this special issue?

Valerie:

For us, creating the Girlfriend Getaways brand was a very natural decision. Our readership is 64% women with a median age of 50. Recent studies have shown that women are making 80% of the travel decisions in America today, and boomers are driving the economy. It just adds up. But beyond the numbers, it's also a gut feeling. Girlfriend getaways resonate with women today in a special way, and traveling with friends delivers a reenergizing experience that's completely different from going on a family trip or a romantic vacation. Once you've tried it, you want to do it more and more.

Irene:

Are girlfriend getaways growing in popularity? What proportion of the travel market does this sector represent?

Valerie:

To answer this and the question above it, I haven't seen any new data since the 2007 AAA Girlfriend Travel Research Project, but at that time, women traveling together accounted for 4% of U.S. travel spending, and I expect that as the economy gradually improves, that's going to increase. There has definitely been an increase in travel providers and operators for this market, and it's more and more common to find hotels, spas, and resorts offering special packages tailored to girlfriend getaways.

Irene:

If you could plan a dream girlfriend getaway, what destination would you choose and whom would you choose to be with?

Valerie:

I have an annual tradition of going on a girls' trip with my sister, and I can't think of any other female I'd rather travel with. Sometimes just having the luxury of a completely unscripted day together is as valuable as the travel part itself. One of our best trips so far was to Paris, where we divided our time between vintage shopping, people-watching, wine consumption, and late-night sing-alongs in our hotel room. I can't think of much that would top that.