Our Team: Trip Designers
Our Regional Managers and Trip Development Coordinators devote their days to creating the best possible biking, multisport and walking trips around the globe—and will be working again tomorrow to make them even better. From seeking out the most scenic routes to uncovering the region's hidden hotel gems, their goal is constant: bringing you the immediate, highly personal satisfaction of discovering a new world on your own terms.
Our Trip Development Coordinator for France, Alex is Paris-born and Sorbonne-educated, and holds a degree in Geography and Business. He once spent his days wearing a suit and tie, "lobbying for big clients at the French Parliament and French Ministries in Paris." But in 2007 he found his way to Backroads. While he's traveled in such exotic locales as India and Brazil, Alex's heart belongs to his native France. "And I particularly love our Brittany & Normandy trip for the unique feeling regarding history. Many of our guests—and Trip Leaders too—find a connection to a common past at Omaha Beach." Asked what he likes best about working for Backroads, Alex says "The people. I love being part of a team that helps people have such a great time while exploring new cultures and places."
"No matter what I'm doing with Backroads, I've always felt like I have one of the best jobs in the world," says Alison, a 24-year Backroads veteran and our Regional Manager for Canada, San Juan Islands, Vermont, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark. With her passion for northern cultures and landscapes, she's thrilled to bring these regions to life for our guests. Alison is also in charge of our Family program: "As a mom, I strongly feel that when kids and their families are actively exploring together, they see, experience and learn so much more about the world and themselves." She and her husband (an avalanche forecaster and former Backroads Trip Leader) and their two adrenaline-seeking teenage boys live, play, and pursue their athletic dreams in Whistler, British Columbia.
Annie earned a degree in American Studies from Cornell University and spent a semester studying Italian language and history at the University of Bologna before coming to Backroads in 2002 to lead trips in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the United States. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she currently fuels her love for exploring new places, cultures, traditions and environments as our Regional Manager for France. "I truly enjoy finding the most interesting and unique experiences to share with others. And I love how biking and walking allows our guests to interact directly with the people they meet along the way. And the natural endorphins you get from being active all day make the excitement of travel and new experiences even more invigorating."
Carlos Martinez Abad
Our Trip Development Coordinator for Italy and Spain, Carlos has a love for travel and cultural immersion that's led him to many places, including Egypt, Morocco, India, Cuba—and to Costa Rica, where he crossed paths with a Backroads leader on the beach. "After talking to her for just 20 minutes about her job, I decided to apply!" he exclaims. "When I found out I was hired, I dropped everything to join Backroads." That was in 2008 and since then, Carlos—who hails from Valencia, Spain, and speaks five languages—has led trips throughout Europe, Latin America and India. "For me, being able to explore the world under my own power is the most beautiful experience. Backroads simply combines what I like to do the most: traveling and being active."
With an anthropology degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Christian has led trips in 20 countries (including South Africa, Botswana, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam) and designed trips in 16 countries (from India to Mexico). Now the Asia & Africa Regional Manager, Christian says, "I love my job because it gives me the opportunity to return seasonally to my favorite parts of the world and share them with others." To Christian, who was born in Germany and "raised all over," the most rewarding thing about traveling with Backroads is "the opportunity for interaction with the locals—people across the globe readily identify with someone riding a bike or walking down a path, so genuine conversations happen spontaneously...the veil is pulled back far more quickly."
As our Italy Regional Manager, Jeff draws on a passionate Italian heritage to create unforgettable experiences for our Italy guests: "My father was twice knighted by Italy's government for his efforts to promote Italian culture in the United States. And I can show up at the homes of my Italian cousins anytime." Since 1994, when Jeff first led our Tuscan trips, he knew he'd be coming back forever. "And thanks to the local friendships we've cultivated over the years, our trips have an authenticity that can't be matched."
A 27-year Backroads veteran, Linda Cassell is our Rockies & Southwest Regional Manager and travels the world pursuing her passion for hiking, biking, telemark and alpine skiing, and photography. But as a Californian who grew up exploring the mountains of her own backyard, she feels a special connection to the great western national parks: "I know exactly how people feel when they get their first glimpse of the Tetons," she says. "They've read the books and seen the photos, but nothing can prepare them for the sheer grandeur of these peaks. At the same time, they rediscover the beauty of minutiae—kneeling down to study a wildflower or feel the warmth of a hot spring. These are places where you feel more physically and emotionally alive—and I love sharing that experience with Backroads guests."
Growing up in Northern California gave Mark a love of the outdoors and a sense of adventure. Now our Regional Manager for Greater Europe, Mark received a double major in biology and geography, and spent several years hooting for owls and tagging bears with the US Forest Service. But he always felt compelled to see what lay over the next ridge, and it wasn't long until his curiosity drew him beyond mountains and across borders, ultimately leading him to Backroads. Since 2003, Mark has led trips worldwide, and has done extensive trip development research in Spain, the Czech Republic and Croatia. "My goal is to get our guests out into these incredible places and give them opportunities to actively engage with the culture. On foot or by bicycle, you can catch glimpses of local life that are otherwise not seen by the foreign visitor. And when you arrive, you are greeted with smiles."
Our Regional Manager for Latin America, Michelle has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Europe and Africa, but "Latin America is a region that I hold dear to my heart," she says enthusiastically. "Not only does it offer some of the most beautiful destinations on Earth, its people have a warmth and passion for life that I love." As a Trip Leader in Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Patagonia and Peru, Michelle had the joy of introducing Backroads guests to these rich cultures, "so deeply focused on music, dance and family." Now married to a Costa Rican and the mother of twins, Michelle is our Regional Manager for Latin America and strives to develop trips that offer the most authentic local experience possible while giving guests the trip of a lifetime.
With degrees in kinesiology, biology and education, Canadian Pam Fritz dreamed of becoming a teacher. But her love for traveling led her to Backroads in 1999 and she's never looked back. It was a half-year-long trek in the Andes and a volunteer stint in the Galápagos Islands that sparked her deep passion for the pura vida lifestyle in Latin America. In fact, she called Costa Rica home for more than 10 years while leading trips in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Now she's living in the Bay Area, and as our regional manager for Central America and Hawaii she loves "choosing the best activities and helping our guests create meaningful relationships with the locals so they feel like they're traveling with friends, rather than just being on a tour, checking things off the list."
Riley has explored some of the world's most incredible places. He's tracked gorillas in Uganda, climbed mountains in Borneo and worked in Denali National Park and the Ecuadorian Amazon as a naturalist guide. He clearly has traveling in his blood, and that's what led him to Backroads. "I wanted to keep traveling," he explains, "while simultaneously growing roots in a company that shares my values and attracts a clientele with a similar curiosity about the world." Since joining Backroads in 2011, Riley—who holds a degree in Biology and Ecology and speaks fluent Spanish—has led trips in Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. He's now staying closer to home in his role of North America Regional Manager. "I really appreciate the chance to get people excited about new things and places, right here in our own backyard."