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How 15 Friends Planned the Ultimate 71st Birthday Celebration

What’s so special about a 71st birthday? Ordinarily, not a lot. But for 15 friends scattered around the country, it’s become an exceptional excuse to keep in touch, deepen life-long friendships, and even plan the trip of a lifetime.

The women, all alumni of the same high school—Emma Willard School class of ’68—first came up with the idea to travel together at their 50th reunion. Heidi Webster recalls the idea starting as an idle daydream. “We should walk and celebrate our 70th birthdays!” she remembers saying during the festivities at the all-girl private prep school. The retired librarian and elementary school principal was amazed by how quickly it became a solid plan. Getting people to say “yes” to the trip was easy, she remembers, “The hardest part was finding a place no one had been.”

Looking back, Heidi wonders if the ease of getting everyone to sign up was due in part to how long they had all known each other. After their time in school, the classmates spread out across the country. But they kept in touch here and there since, albeit infrequently. Perhaps many saw the length of their shared history—and the opportunity to add another chapter—as an added incentive to travel.

Whatever the reason, Heidi says, they eventually zeroed in on a destination. “Portugal became a quick favorite with everyone. I spent time there after my school days with my roommate, but I’m sure it has changed a lot!”

Making the Hard Part Easy

While saying “let’s go on a trip together” and imagining where to go is easy, putting a plan together can be hard. Often, when shared travel plans fall apart, they do so when friends try to navigate the endless logistics of flight options, hotels, rental cars, and restaurants. Fortunately, Heidi knew exactly where to turn for help. By reaching out to the Country Walkers Group Travel Program, she was able to offload the overwhelming majority of the logistics to seasoned pros.

Soon, there were 15 former schoolmates—and three of their spouses—signed up for a 70th birthday adventure. Their planned departure date: autumn 2020.

The World Throws a Curveball

As the global pandemic unfolded, it didn’t take long for Heidi and her friends to figure out that travel was not in the cards for 2020. Even then, Heidi was able to keep the dream alive—and avoid agonizing over the details—with help from Country Walkers. It was easy, she explains, “the only work for me was communicating with everyone what I heard from Country Walkers.” The group was seamlessly able to move their trip to October 2021. A 70th birthday celebration became a 71st.

An Expanded Support Structure During Trying Times

Of course, “work” is a relative term when it comes to staying in touch with longtime friends and reminiscing about old adventures. “We’ve connected more as the trip gets closer, whether by phone or email or even Facebook posts. The anticipation has brought us all closer.” Heidi has gotten especially close with one of her future fellow travelers, a friendship for which she is grateful.

As for the larger group, they’ve been able to provide emotional support to each other through some challenges such as surgeries and illnesses. They might not have even known about such life events if they all didn’t have their sights firmly set on their next reunion in Portugal, where the Emma Willard girls will seek out more adventures together.

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