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All You Need Is Love — And Good Friends To Celebrate a Milestone Birthday

Destinations With Doni - Celebrating a Milestone Birthday in Zanzibar

In this article, a group of close friends talk about their trip to Tanzania, Africa to celebrate a milestone birthday.

From Italy to Buenos Aires, Shanghai to Vancouver and beyond, this era’s “Women of a Certain Age” are garnering attention from varied spaces. That certain age is 50-plus years on the planet.

Hyped on social media for embracing gorgeous, grey locks and impressing the masses like the thirtysomethings of yesteryear in mind, body and spirit, people – especially women, are exuding fearlessness as they grow older.

THE CONFIDENCE OF FRIENDSHIP

Could some of that fearlessness come from the confidence of friendship?

In a 2015 United States-based TED Talk titled, “Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, A Hilarious Celebration of Lifelong Female Friendships,” interviewer Pat Mitchel opens by citing a quote: ”You can tell a lot about someone, in this case a woman, by the company she keeps.”

If that’s the case, then the group you’re about to meet has impeccable taste.

Destinations With Doni - Celebrating a Milestone Birthday in Zanzibar
Photo by Ashraki Mussa Machano

Prompted by native New Yorker Stephanie Clarke’s wish to have a non-schleppy beach birthday, this crew descended upon Arusha, the Serengeti and Zanzibar in Tanzania, Africa for an epic 50th birthday safari, no-holds-barred beach holiday.

“It started with, ‘I want to go somewhere fabulous for my birthday,'” says Clarke, who had enjoyed beach birthday celebrations close to home every year for the last decade. “Family and friends, we’d go to my local beach, and we’d just hang out. It was just a nice day.

“But to make it a nice day there’s a lot of schlepping. So there’s the umbrellas, and the bags, and the food, and the kids and going to the store…” her voice trails off, overtaken by a momentary look of breathlessness. “To make it a nice day, it’s a lot of schlepping — it’s always like a big deal and you’re exhausted when you get there.”

MORE THAN JUST A BEACH BIRTHDAY

She then birthed the idea of going to the beach, but with full pampering treatment.

“I think one day I said, ‘You know what — one day we are going to go away for my birthday. We’re going to be on the beach but we’re going to be treated. People are going to come to us. We’re not going to bring all this stuff to the beach, they will bring it to us.”

A friend suggested Tanzania had beautiful beaches, igniting Clarke’s globetrotting fire. After all, if she decided on a birthday beach bash on the other side of the world, why not enjoy all that location had to offer?

Friends Celebrating a Milestone Birthday in Tanzania
Photo by Ashraki Mussa Machano

“And I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to go all the way to Tanzania, I’m going on safari — I’m going to make it a whole thing. We’re going to make it a bucket list trip,'” she says.

After sharing the idea with Cherise Fisher, Clarke’s undergraduate roommate from Yale who also would be celebrating her 50th trip around the sun, the idea was solidified. “I go where Stephanie leads me,” Fisher says. “It didn’t take a lot of convincing.”

We’re going to make it a bucket list trip.

Fisher is the main connection to the final Tanzania safari/beach birthday group, as aptly noted by group member Vicky Levy during their appearance on Culturs’ “Destinations With Doni” podcast. With friendship spans of 20-plus years to as long as, well, their entire lives, this group and their extended friends and family get what it takes to thrive as life gets golden.

GETTING AN INVITE TO THE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

Fisher and Levy (who also was turning 50) have been friends since age 12. Upon hearing about the upcoming escapade over lunch, Levy quizzed, “Why am I not invited to this?”

“We were not going to invite partnered people because we just assumed married people wouldn’t want to leave their husbands,” says Fisher. But Levy’s husband Tucker was all in, encouraging his wife to go. He would happily hold down the fort and take care of their daughter.

Fisher and Levy wound up spending an epic 36 hours in Dubai hosted by another decades-long friend on their way to Tanzania.

We were not going to invite partnered people because we just assumed married people wouldn’t want to leave their husbands.

Along for the ride came Fisher’s cousin Nicole Kennedy and me, with my motto “you gotta show up for people.”

A FAMILY TRIP

Harder to convince was Clarke’s octogenarian mother, Sonja Brown Clarke.

The woman who’d taken her pre-teen daughter around the world to see sights they’d previously known only on screen in their favorite films, suddenly was willing to clip her own wings post-COVID.

Mother and daughter celebrating a milestone birthday in Tanzania
Photo by Ashraki Mussa Machano

Clarke shares, “The reason I’m a traveler is because of her, but she was nervous to go on the trip.”

In the end, the mother-daughter bond won. “It was the very best trip of my entire life,” says Brown-Clarke, who had been traveling since she was young because of her own mother’s profession as a dancer.

Even so, “I had to convince her this wouldn’t be a rough trip,” laughs Clarke. “This was going to be glamping.” Reminiscing on their previous trips, Brown-Clarke shares, “Stephanie was always ready to go. She was my travel partner.”

As much friend as daughter, perhaps?

THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP

Multiple studies, including a 308,000-participant Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging, found people with the most friends have a 22 percent better chance of outliving those with few friends. Moreover friendship has a bigger impact on those odds than close family, children or other relatives.

Friends Celebrating a Milestone Birthday in Tanzania
Photo by Ashraki Mussa Machano

In a 2017 Inc.com article on work-life balance, Jeff Haden called it the “one secret to living a longer, healthier life.”

Haden writes, “a clinical review of nearly 150 studies found that people with strong social ties had a 50 percent better chance of survival, regardless of age, sex, health status and cause of death than those with weaker ties.” Additionally, researchers put the health risk of having few friends in line with smoking 15 cigarettes a day, “and more dangerous than being obese or not exercising in terms of decreasing your lifespan.”

We’re talking real friends here – not social media friends, acquaintances or those with whom you are “friendly.”

A FINANCIAL BOOST

Not only can you possibly live a longer, healthier life, those friends can potentially increase financial wealth as well. During the interview, Levy noted that a strong theme throughout the group is that each is a product of strong mothers (like Brown-Clarke). In addition, however, a Harvard Business Review-published study found that women who have a strong circle of friends are more likely to earn executive positions with higher pay.

We’re talking real friends here – not social media friends, acquaintances or those with whom you are ‘friendly.’

In the HBR February 2019 article, “Men and Women Need Different Kinds of Networks to Succeed,” writer Brian Uzzi concludes: “Women who were in the top quartile of centrality and had a female-dominated inner circle of one to three women landed leadership positions that were 2.5 times higher in authority and pay than those of their female peers lacking this combination.”

So next time a friend asks you to take an off-the-cuff, potentially life-changing (no matter how fabulous your life has been), trip with the girls? Pause and think it through before you answer.

Check out the full Destinations With Doni podcast discussion here.

Friends Celebrating a Milestone Birthday in Tanzania
Photo by Ashraki Mussa Machano
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