I'm not a fan of buzzwords, especially when it comes to travel. "Experiential," "curated," "transformational..." Labels like these often dictate what the traveler should be getting out of the experience, ironically building limits around what is and isn't possible on a trip. An experience that embraces the individual gets lost. In contrast, the most important outcome for me is that our guests have the freedom and support to seize unexpected opportunities, to go whatever pace feels right at any given moment, to craft their own adventure with no limits or boundaries and have a genuine, one-of-a-kind experience.
It's travel as individual as our guests
When I started taking people on bike trips almost 40 years ago, I had no grand plan for the universe to create a new travel category. My thoughts were simpler--this is really cool, I love traveling at my own pace, and boy, am I lucky to be able to do this. How can I make this same experience possible for others? How about I provide the best support in fantastic locations, allowing guests to open themselves up to experiencing the world in the most genuine way possible? That's exactly what we did--and still do today.
Welcoming genuine experiences
Over the years I've read many testimonials from our guests about how Backroads changed the way they look at the world. Their reasons run the full range, from simple and mundane to truly life-altering. That's possible because we're phenomenally deliberate about not being contrived, not prescribing outcomes. Instead, we set the stage for guests to create their own unique experiences.
My own most memorable travel moments are those that happened serendipitously--not because they were planned or were what I was expected to remember.
I recall a rainy ride through Burgundy, France, where a group of us sought shelter in a local restaurant, huddled around the coziest little fire and drooling from the smell of meat roasting on a spit over it. In Argentina, some of us ended up in a friendly and quite hilarious singing duel with a group of locals in a bar one night. The next morning as we biked out of town, we exchanged laughing greetings with one of the gauchos from our songfest, who was hopping on his horse to go his own way. Or in Alaska, a bush flight was a spectacular experience on its own, but getting to see where the bush pilots live--and checking out their moose-filled freezers dug into the permafrost--was certainly just as memorable.
The same thing goes for interactions with nature. Once, bicycling through Death Valley, I saw a coyote running diagonally to me and I realized, "that coyote is racing me!" It was so cool. It ran right in front of my bike and let me tell you--it knew exactly what it was doing! On a hike in the Tetons, I came across a mama moose, and if there's one thing I know, it's that you don't mess with a mama moose. I must have gone miles out of my way to avoid her and in the process took an entirely unplanned and beautiful less-traveled route. I still grin about that today.
There's no way I would have had any of these memorable experiences on a trip with a rigid schedule built to produce a certain "experiential" outcome.
Planning for the unplanned
No company works as hard as we do to create possibilities like those to happen--and in such a magical and consistent way. We put so much skill and thoughtfulness into removing any obstacles that may limit our guests' possibilities and in creating conditions that enable a tremendously wide range of opportunities.
We fundamentally respect the fact that every guest is an individual. We expect--and welcome--them to define what they want to take away from a trip.
They may be traveling with young children or teenagers (or both). They may prefer hiking to biking, or cruises to hotels. They might want to cook with locals or visit someone's home. Heck, they might want to take advantage of our van shuttles, enjoy drinks at the 5-star hotel early, and revel in others' tales from the day. Those rich, varied experiences are all possible because we embrace the individual.
We also hire leaders who are definitely not cookie-cutter type people, and who don't expect our guests to be either. They ultimately enable the full expression of what can result from our trips, and create the potential for things to happen. I attribute a lot of our success to our leaders' keen ability to connect with guests, locals and each other. Doors open wide for us as a result. In Vietnam for example, some of our guides befriended a local who invited them to tea. He happened to have the keys to a 500-year-old temple that was shuttered to everyone--even villagers. Yet, he enjoyed our leaders and their interest in his village so much that he invited our groups into the temple and let them experience something incredibly rare and unplanned.
Occurrences like that--whether small or grand--arise when we do not have rigid plans and timelines, when we have the freedom to enjoy the eclectic nature of what happens when we're out in the world.
Embracing a philosophy
When we're outside, being active, learning exactly what we want to learn, going at our own pace--with the comfort of knowing that we're completely supported--that's when we can truly leave our own world and enter another.
We don't need buzzwords for that. It's simply travel as individual as each of us. I wouldn't do it any other way.