It used to be that when several men — for this story, the focus is heterosexual men — went away to spend time together for a weekend or longer, it was for fishing, skiing, days of golf, a hunting expedition or to bond in high-five style at a football game.
These and other outdoorsy-type outings were to do what most people call "guy stuff" — days and nights, for example, of friends quaffing numerous Buds and other brews, and enjoying a good time generally with males only.
Now, come "man"-cations, in which men also go on what are referred to usually as real vacations to Europe, the Caribbean and elsewhere, destinations reserved normally for men, women and families. No doubt beers with the boys and a sports-oriented break from home, work and kids are still part of the process, but it's where men are going to do that and more that's so dramatically different.
"Since about 2005, the fact that men have been widening their travel horizons has become noticeable. They're stepping out of the box, so to speak, by going to many new places to do a lot of the things they've done before — such as playing golf — but in Spain, Scotland and Ireland now; fishing in places like Argentina, Chile, Russia and Alaska, instead of staying strictly in the U.S.," said Julie Steinberg, office manager of Rosenbluth Vacations in Center City.
Then, she added, there's "hiking and biking, but in Central American countries, such as Costa Rica and Belize, and seeing South America as well.
"In addition, of course, they're soaking up the culture of these foreign countries, as groups of men look for more exciting, more eco-friendly kinds of soft adventure travel."
As they expand what they like and want to do, Steinberg continued, men are willing to pay for their mancation pleasures. "This has become a huge travel market, with the cost of a trip — which usually lasts from five to seven days — priced according to where men go and when, and dependent on the kind of things they want to do. The sky is the limit when it comes to the complexity and diversity of these trips for which men are more than willing to pay."
Among the factors that make mancations such an attractive travel alternative are that men can break the mold and break away for a time, so that "in a very real sense, the trips are hassle-free with no strings attached … men don't have to worry about what they wear or how they look," remarked Steinberg.
Beneath all of it though, she added, there must be an element of trust between men and women that will allow both to feel comfortable with the idea of a group of men going off on their own, and of their women being on their own for a time also.
At Temple University, Joseph Goldblatt, Ph.D., professor of tourism and hospitality management at the School of Tourism and Hospitality, talked about where the mancations' trend fits into the overall travel and tourism picture: "This is part of a much larger trend, and that is niche tourism, one of the fastest-growing travel areas. It's all about creating special-interest travel, which includes the pro-creation vacation, during which couples try to become pregnant, and the 'babymoon,' which has expectant couples taking a trip before their baby is born.
"I don't see the mancation phenomenon ending anytime soon," he said.
Mancations, he said, have their roots in the California of the 1960s and '70s, when men went to sweat lodges and engaged in Native American-style drumming, for example, as a way to release tension and daily stress, and create bonding relationships with other males. Sports and the military are traditional areas and sources of male bonding as well, he noted.
"Men, including baby-boomers, are looking to fill the niche that mancations to places such as the south of Spain, the Italian Riviera and Amsterdam offer. These and other destinations offer guys sun, sand and water — as well as drinking and more — and the chance for relaxation and bonding," he said. "Growing numbers of men are also going on mancation poker tournaments to Las Vegas."
Price can range from $1,000 per person for a few days to several thousand for longer trips, depending on destination and time of year, he said.
A mancation that Jewish men may want to take someday — perhaps soon — Goldblatt speculated, is one that involves a trip to Israel, and other places of Jewish heritage and learning to study Torah and Talmud: "Based on the religious and spiritual surge following 9/11, these kinds of trips could become popular with groups of Jewish men through synagogues and religious communities."
If Trust Is an Issue …
As for the issue of trust, it varies by couple, said the professor, with older couples looking over their shoulders much less, and feeling more relaxed than newlyweds and younger couples about the dynamics that may play out in a mancation. "Actually, women are encouraging men to take a mancation so they can have girlfriend getaways," he acknowledged.
An experienced "mancationer" is Jonathan Orenstein, DMD, a dentist who lives and works in Marlton, N.J., and who takes an annual ski trip to Vail, Colo., with a group of his male friends.
"We have done that for the past 12 years, and for the first time this year, it was the first week in January — seven of us went to Costa Rica to pursue a variety of interests, from enjoying good food, a great hotel and the beach to fishing and golf.
"Since I love motocross, I rode a motorcycle 200 miles through the mountains, through coffee fields across the Pacific Rim to the Pacific Ocean," he said, describing the entire time away from home as "a phenomenal experience, with a lot of noise, sound and excitement."
"What makes a mancation — which, yes, does take money in the bank — so different from vacations with wife and family is that while you're away, you don't have to provide or worry about a significant other. The psychology of pleasing the people you're with is totally different. If one of the guys doesn't want to go to dinner, for instance, it's no big deal.
"It's not that men don't care about home, it's just that for a time that obligation is removed, so that you come back ready to immerse yourself again fully in work and home."
While that first mancation may be an issue, he advised men to remember to always make time for their wives and kids, concluding that "when you make time for yourself, don't leave the people you love out. Plan vacations with them, too."