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El Niño may have made this a mild winter, but I still need to take a break for some sunshine. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just some downtime with my girls. I’m not talking about college roommates reimagining spring break—I’m talking about my yearly trip with my three sisters. “Siz Weekend 2016” could not come soon enough.

Why and how do we go on a sisters’ trip every year? Before I start, let me dispel the myths that we’re all rolling in dough to afford luxurious vacations or that we all have nannies watching our kids. This is not our reality. We work with tight budgets, finagle complicated child-watching arrangements, and carve out valuable time from our jam-packed schedules to make it fit. But for the past eleven years, we’ve made it work. At the risk of sounding cliché while quoting Shakespeare, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

And there must be a way because I don’t know what I’d do without a yearly sisters’ weekend. Whether it’s quality time with your own siblings or with friends who are like family to you, I’ve found that putting forth the effort to reconnect by getting out of town together is really great for relationships. Here are just a few of the things my annual sisters’ trips have taught me.

01. Quality time together matters most.

There are four of us girls, and until recently we were all scattered across the country. We often don’t get to see each other besides holidays. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to make time to hang out when you’re helping orchestrate Thanksgiving dinner for nearly forty people and then flying out of town back to your job and kids’ school commitments immediately afterward. It all started years ago when two of us were married with children, and two weren’t. The two single ladies decided to take a long weekend and go somewhere. One of the married sister’s husband heard about it, recognized that his wife was a little overextended, and suggested all the sisters go. Genius! So began a wonderful tradition of sisters’ vacations. 

We carve out a couple days a year to go somewhere together. We have gone on cheap cruises to the Bahamas or Mexico. We have gone camping in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in January. We have done at least two years where we just convened at my sisters’ apartments in New York City or Washington, D.C., kicked everyone out who lived there, and made a mini vacay out of it. While every vacation is different, we always try to save a little extra money for something luxurious like massages or pedicures.

In truth, the location doesn’t matter at all. It’s the experience of being able to really sit back and enjoy the company of siblings without all the hubbub and chaos of our daily lives. We live in a world where it’s always go, go, go. We say to ourselves in hindsight that we should have spent more time with our grandparents or that we should have made an effort to call our parents more often. All these feelings usually come after the fact because in the present, we are under the impression that we have all the time in the world to someday spend more time with the people who matter to us. These vacations allow us to put aside the excuses and spend quality time now—time that we will never get back.

02. Relationships evolve as you get older.

What was life like before sisters’ weekends? I got married and moved away from my sisters when I was 19. While I did see them for holidays, things were always a rush to get into town, set up for this big family gathering, clean it all up, and hurry back out of town. I spent almost no quality time with them at all. So our trips gave me the opportunity to really get to know my sisters as adults

I was not always the easiest person to get along with growing up. I could have been a far better sister, and I did a lot of damage with my teen-angsty behavior before leaving for college. Sisters’ vacation has given my sisters the chance to really get to know the adult me, who is far shorter on drama (and vice versa). Having dedicated time to be with each other sans the distractions of daily life has been a great thing for us. Going on sisters’ vacation has afforded us the opportunity to become close in a way I don’t think we would have otherwise.

03. Shared adventures bring both laughs and life lessons.

In addition to priceless quality time, I’ve learned a lot on these mini retreats. One year we went “camping” in the middle of freezing January at the bottom of the mountains in southern Ohio. We rented a log cabin and spent our days in nature hiking to beautiful waterfalls. There was only one instruction given to us by park rangers: “Don’t be on the trails when it gets dark.”

Apparently, if you find yourselves still in the woods after dark, you won’t find your way out until the sun comes back up, after spending the night in subzero temperatures with wild animals as your companions. Well, let’s just say I was not in shape at all, so when we sorely miscalculated the distance from our car to some spectacular waterfall on our last day, I was in for a rude awakening that pushed both my body’s ability not to violently turn on me and my mental ability not to violently turn on my sisters. 

About thirty minutes into the trek back, I got shin splints. I was barely able to breathe because this level of exercise was far exceeding what my body was on board for. One of my sisters in particular proceeded to take a drill sergeant approach to getting me to complete the trip back. She was actually rightly trying to save us from a date with coyotes, but my sheer desperation made it impossible for me to see that. Instead I cursed her both mentally and out loud as I pushed myself to trek faster. 

When we got back to the car in the nick of time, I was a complete mess. I have never been in such physical pain (and I have given birth without medication). I just wanted to get back to the cabin and call my husband. Instead we were going out to dinner, which turned out to be a new kind of nightmare. Between the narrow winding cliffside and the flimsy wooden barrier keeping us from plunging to our deaths, the empty parking lot, few lights inside, pitch-black forest surroundings, and the giant German shepherd ominously standing guard in the middle of the only walkway leading into the place—it was hard to say which more followed the horror-movie narrative, staying in the woods or taking this route to dinner.

As my feet regained their sensation, though, there was a serious shift inside of me. After freshening up, I walked out of the bathroom a changed sister. Suddenly the restaurant was the perfect atmosphere. We were the only people there and could fully enjoy each other’s company. The lighting was warm and inviting. The food was out of this world. Laughing and talking in the middle of nowhere with these fine ladies, I realized that I was in a utopia. Yes, I was still sore and wet, but I have never been so fully engaged in enjoying the moment. The experience was nothing short of magical.

04. There’s something unique about a familial bond.

My point in telling this long story is this: When else would I have had such a magical moment? When else would I have experienced a day so equally trying and rewarding? When else would I have encountered an unexpected challenge that pushed my body to the brink and had people encourage me along the way with the candor of a peer sibling? And among who else could I celebrate that feat with equal candor that only certain people who go way back can appreciate?

Even though we have been to many great destinations since then, that weekend remains my favorite of all. I had to dig deep down into myself to accomplish a feat that I didn’t think was possible at the time, and it was with the understanding of certain sisters and the tough love of others that I found my strength. We all need the balance of both in our lives in order to be our best selves. At the risk of sounding like a total cheeseball, it is safe to say that the lessons I learned that day are less about hiking and more about life. These ladies help me to be my best self in everything I do, and I am so glad that they are not just my sisters but also my friends.

So to all of you with siblings and close friends: May we all have them, may we all remember them, and may we all take them with us, wherever we go.

Photo Credit: Andrea Rose