The Group Beach Tradition
The Travelers Chana Rosenthal, Lila Rossi, Caroline Pettinger, Fara Alvarez, and Jennifer Trant
Chana's Lost Job Fashion designer
Destinations Thailand, Greece, Croatia
It may be an outdated notion these days, that an annual vacation is a God-given right: Work obligations increasingly consume more and more time, and scheduling a two-week excursion has become the exception, not the rule. But lately, in the ultimate lemons-to-lemonade response to a changing economy, many people are finding that the best time to seize the moment and take their dream vacations is just after they've been laid off.
Back in February 2006, when Chana Rosenthal's employer closed its New York office after a corporate merger, the young clothing designer suddenly found herself with endless free time on her hands, a decent severance package to tide her over for a few months, and a ready-made group of traveling companions in the four colleagues she had been working alongside for two and a half years. Seeing the unique opportunity—how often do you have the same time off as a handful of your closest friends?—they hatched a plan to take an 18-day trip around Thailand.
In the first few touchy weeks of unemployment, the five women threw themselves into researching hotels online, which softened the sting of being downsized. Instead of sketch-review meetings, they had a new agenda: hunting down the perfect bikini. And once they set off on their two-and-a-half-week journey through Bangkok, Phuket, and more, feeding and bathing baby elephants at a rescue camp in Chiang Mai proved to be a particularly potent distraction. (The fruity drinks they downed in the bars of Phi Phi Island didn't hurt, either.) "Going away was pure escapism," Chana says. "It definitely made us forget about losing our jobs."
Early on, the women developed strategies to help the trek go smoothly, pairing up for activities rather than making an itinerary that forced them to spend every minute together. "And we each took a turn staying in for a night when we needed a break from partying," Chana adds.
The success of that trip gave Chana newfound confidence as a traveler and inspired her to set off on a six-week, five-country solo tour of Europe, starting in France and ending in Greece. Looking for one last hurrah before their severance packages ran out, the rest of the gang decided to meet up with her in Mykonos. They kept one rule that they'd established on their first outing: No significant others allowed. (An exception was made for Lila Rossi's dog, a miniature dachshund that accompanied the girls to beaches and bars alike.)
While their original vacation together was planned post-pink slip, the fact that they all have jobs now hasn't kept them from continuing the group-travel tradition. Each year, they set off on a new adventure—always the same people, always the same rules, and always with a beach in sight. In 2007, they spent nine days in Croatia, and the following year they returned to Greece; Brazil is next on the list. "We've found something that works for us, and none of us wants to change it," Chana says.