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How Strangers Became Friends on Our Charleston Getaway

The itinerary was packed with cultural outings—but what women on our Charleston trip will remember most are the quick bonds that developed.

Editor’s Note: As we prepare for our second girlfriend getaway in Charleston (March 18th-21st), we want to share the story of our incredibly rich first trip. We have one room left for our upcoming visit. Who wants to join in the fun?


What happens when 14 women are trying to scrunch into an 11-seater van to get to a rooftop bar for Happy Hour?

There’s laughing, hooting, and comparisons to a clown car. Then someone shouts: “It’s like a bachelorette weekend.” That prompts the driver to turn up the music and then the seat dancing begins.

This was how NextTribe’s trip to Charleston, South Carolina, started. Thankfully we were only driving a few blocks—from The King Charles Inn, where we were staying, to the bar with the best view in the city, atop the Market Pavilion Hotel. And I can truthfully say that moment of goofy togetherness set the tone for the whole trip.

Girlfriend Getaway

I had arranged the trip to Charleston for NextTribe even before I read in an issue of Travel + Leisure that it was rated as one of the top destinations for a girlfriend getaway. I already knew that because Charleston is regularly where I gather with my college friends (I went to the nearby University of South Carolina). I’ve always adored the look and feel of the city, the mix of urban sophistication and beachy fun, the sense of history (even though a lot of it was the painful kind).

That moment of goofy togetherness set the tone for the whole trip.

I loved Charleston before it was cool to love Charleston, which now everybody does. It’s regularly the number one rated domestic destination in polls of travelers, and the restaurant scene is insanely good, drawing foodies from all over the world.  

Whenever I put together a NextTribe trip, I make a point of including activities that the regular traveler can’t do on their own. Someone said I was a travel curator, but that sounds too fancy for me. I also like to bring in women our own age as guides or experts. And I especially like to take guests into someone’s home so we can see how the locals live.

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The Stars

In Charleston, our walking tour guide, Therese Smythe, was a hilarious retired attorney who knew every nook and cranny of the historic section because her family had lived there for generations. At Boone Hall Plantation we heard Jackie Odom-Mickel give the most moving presentation about Gullah culture, as the community descended from enslaved Africans is called. She sang, she prayed, she gave us goose bumps.

One of my dear friends opened up her house on Sullivan’s Island for lunch. There couldn’t have been a better setting—with views over the marshes and the Intracoastal Waterway from my friend’s living room—to hear Cassandra King, an accomplished novelist, talk about her marriage to the literary lion of the Low Country, Pat Conroy.

That return to our girlish selves was the true gift of the trip.

We also had a cookout on the beach of an uninhabited island and spent hours with a local celebrity chef—Nathalie Dupree, who is a NextTriber through and through, starting with her wisdom and sass. Who else but a woman who has really experienced life can turn making biscuits into a metaphor for how to live a good life?

The last big event was a shopping tour led by our own Kimberly Cihlar, a native of Charleston. We were met in store after store by champagne, snacks and lovely discounts.

These are stops on an itinerary, but what these facts can’t convey are the emotions and connections that developed over our four days together. We were ever so briefly strangers, but quickly felt that familiarity and giddiness of, yes, a bachelorette weekend. That kind of release from daily life, that return to our girlish selves was the true gift of the trip. To give you an idea of the magic created when NextTribers gather for adventure, I’ve asked some of the women who took part in the trip to try to put into words those ineffable feelings of new friendships and aligned aspirations.

Inside Voices

Cheryl Mutschler, Austin, TX

Charleston getaway

The entire experience delivered beyond what I envisioned, starting with the first lovely dinner when I was met with stories from other women who shared life experiences in a way that made it feel like I was catching up with someone I had known for years.

My time in Charleston left me with a reminder to meet life head on and keep learning and sharing.

The range of activities was so diverse and plentiful—from a powerful presentation at the plantation tour to meeting and hearing the tales of an accomplished author at a beautiful waterfront home to tasting an oyster pulled from a barrier island inlet during our ecotour to listening to the wisdom of an acclaimed chef. My time in Charleston left me with a reminder to meet life head on and keep learning and sharing.

Cindy McCollum, Morristown, NJ

Most memorable for me was the action-packed day of first visiting the Boone Hall Plantation, with its canopy of towering moss-laden oak trees, to learn new facts about the slaves’ culture, language, food, and crafts that have survived for generations, followed by the engaging stories of author, Cassandra King in a gorgeous private home overlooking Sullivan’s Island marshland. The grand finale of the day was taking a booze-cruise to Capers Island to walk among the old skeleton trees the color of bones, with their roots laid exposed from years of being washed over by the salty sea. Of course, no beach bonfire would be complete without toasting marshmallows to make s’mores.

Brenda Riggs, Austin, TX

charleston getaway

Two women on this trip just showed up without knowing anyone else. That was impressive. And complete strangers bonded quickly enough to trust one another with their innermost thoughts and feelings. That was extra impressive.

Eve Glasberg, New York, NY

One experience that has really stayed with me was our first outing: the historical tour with irrepressible seventh-generation Charlestonian Therese Smythe, bursting with information—facts, stories, anecdotes tumbling forth—as she led us through the streets and alleys of her hometown. Her love for its gorgeous gardens, colorful houses, and cobblestones was abundantly clear. One of the highlights of the tour, of course, was when we were standing across the street from a beautiful two-story white house with blue-shuttered windows and the owners suddenly materialized and invited us inside.

Betsy Rosenberg, Tiburon, CA

My favorite activity was our boat outing. I guess it’s the nature girl in me, I so loved getting out on the water—on a gorgeous day—to sip wine while everyone’s favorite dog/human/spirit guide, Moses, stood watch for dolphins. He was so excited to be out for the first time this season—Moses charmed us all with his enthusiasm and vigilance for his “job.” When he barked, sure enough, there were dolphins splashing in the water just off the boat, chasing fish, we were told, by our equally charming eco-tourism guide. Stopping to sample the freshest oysters imaginable, and then pulling up on the shore of an uninhabited island, walking along the beach, topped off with a shrimp boil—southern style—was the perfect ending to an exquisite day.

Nanci Boice, Austin, TX

Spring was blossoming in Charleston. The snap dragons, roses, and daffodils were in bloom and, mixed with the sweet smell of the marsh grasses and the sea, we felt renewed every morning; coffee was almost optional, but not quite. Body, soul, heart, and mind renewal were all necessary because we conquered Charleston in four days. The boat ride and cook-out on Capers Island was an opportunity to meet new friends , watch dolphins play, learn more about the local environment and conservation, eat delicious shrimp, corn, and potatoes, drink a few beverages, play with Moses the tour dog, and watch the sun set in a clear night sky. We bonded over tales about the night sky and our lives and adventures. The next morning, we began again.

Nancy Goedeke, Austin, TX

What resonated with me was the easy camaraderie that allowed for authentic connection, unhurried enjoyment, and just good ole’ fun times. To a woman, each of my fellow travelers was welcoming, kindhearted, and a hoot!

Kimberly Cihlar, New York, NY

Charleston getaway

Highlights of our Charleston trip certainly were:

  • The gracious and delicious vegan accommodations from the chef at High Cotton; I think that had to be the best vegan meal I’ve ever had.
  • Hearing author Cassandra King regale us with tales from her past amid the serene Sullivan’s Island setting, recounting her initial meeting with legendary southern writer Pat Conroy, who would later become her husband: “Why, you’re a writer!” he said. “Here I am thinking you were the caterer!”
  • The eco boat ride to the wild and wonderful Capers Island, replete with dolphin sightings, oysters foraged straight from the mud for immediate consumption, Frogmore Stew boiled right on the beach and dancing on the boat back to the marina after it all.
  • The warm southern embrace from Spartina 449 during our King Street shopping tour; not only was there a sign welcoming Kim and NextTribers, there were multiple discounts to boot!

Jeanene Smith, Austin, TX

Charleston getaway

The outings that were offered are ones I would never get the opportunity to do, at least not all on the same trip. There was also great food, exploring a beautiful city, and laughter.  So much laughter.

Liz Buckley, San Antonio, TX

Charleston getaway

What I remember most:

  • Celebrating
  • High emotion at High Cotton restaurant
  • Relationships
  • Learning about the Gullah region
  • The pastel antebellum homes
  • Speakers and authors—WOW

Diane Siler, Austin, TX

charleston getaway

What stands out the most for me—more than the four-star meals and the smell of blooming azaleas—is the women I got to share this experience with. Their humor, compassion, zest for life, shared experiences, and openness were the true gifts of the long weekend. Coming home, my soul felt filled to the brim.

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By Jeannie Ralston


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