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Take the Trip: Strengthening Bonds Through Travel

Growing up, I was incredibly fortunate to have a large group of friends in my neighborhood, ones who remain in my life to this day. Many of us met in Kindergarten and continued our friendships through graduation from high school, with more friends coming along as the grades progressed. My closest childhood friend, Sarah, and I met at the DuBois YMCA while being on their swim team at six and seven years old. Despite us being a grade apart and at different schools, we very quickly became inseparable. Once we both finished college, I moved to Pittsburgh for graduate school and she moved, as well, exploring different locations throughout the U.S. When she settled in Three Rivers, California, over ten years ago, we often discussed vague plans for a visit, though the timing never seemed ideal. After reflecting on how suddenly life can change and the value in prioritizing friendships, I decided to make the trip in June of 2022, with my then six-year-old daughter, Sloane, in tow.

One thing that had always been a barrier to making this trip was the somewhat complicated travel to her location. Three Rivers is a beautiful resort town at the base of Sequoia National Park, about two hours from the nearest (and somewhat smaller) airport. Most of us know how difficult it can be to find any measure of direct flights from our airport, which meant the most efficient route was through Los Angeles. Sloane and I landed around 11 p.m. and then drove about half of the three-hour distance before stopping at a hotel. By the time we reached Sarah’s house the next morning, we were beyond ready to begin the “vacation” part of the trip. Sarah greeted us with her two daughters, ages five and eight, and it truly felt like no time had passed since we last saw one another. There’s something so wonderful about picking up right where you left off with the friends who know you best. The security in these types of friendships does wonders for our emotional health and well-being.

During this trip, we toured Sequoia National Park, which was absolutely incredible. The enormity of the trees, the way the temperature went down with each loop upwards in the drive, and the hiking and mountain views were just amazing. We talked and watched the kids climb different rock formations, with me noticing how similar Sloane and Sarah’s eldest daughter looked like the two of us as kids. We spent our time doing touristy things but also much of it was spent talking and laughing about old memories, watching the kids play, and participating in many of their day-to-day activities. On our last evening, we attended both girls’ swim meet, which was such a full-circle moment in our friendship.

The morning we left was bittersweet, as it was difficult to gauge when we will see Sarah or her family again. However, I left feeling a renewed sense of closeness within the friendship and was so grateful I made the choice to “take the trip.” I had booked the redeye back to Pittsburgh so Sloane and I could have a beach day. We spent the day at El Matador Beach in Malibu, exploring different shops and driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. Looking back, I’m often surprised I did all of this alone with a six-year-old. While there were definitely some stressful moments (such as recovering from the red eye and driving in LA traffic), the extra day we took was also a wonderful bonding experience for us.

The last three years have been incredibly difficult and altered life in ways we could not imagine. Most of us experienced either the loss of a loved one(s) or a significant decline in the frequency we could see those closest to us. If it’s feasible for you to take the trip you’ve been putting off, consider making it happen. It’s understandable that we allow friendships to take a backseat during the different seasons of life. When it comes to juggling our own familial, work, and personal needs, this can seem like a daunting task. Many clients, particularly the mothers I see, report at least one friendship they wish to prioritize more frequently. This isn’t always easy; however, prioritizing our friendships and nurturing them pays us back in immeasurable ways

By: Maura L. Johnson, LCSW, PMH-C

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