It’s safe to say I always have some pre-trip jitters. And a couple weeks ago, walking into the hotel lobby to meet our guests and begin my first trip of the summer, those jitters felt stronger than normal. I wondered, “How is this trip going to go? Will people still have as much fun as usual?”
That feeling went away once my co-leader and I were greeted by six ladies in matching green hats, purchased specifically for their trip together. Even with face masks we could see the smiles in their eyes. Immediately, it felt like any old Backroads trip! Temperatures were checked, introductions were made and we were off and running. Everyone was respectful regarding our new safety protocols and simply happy to be on vacation with their favorite people.
That was one of two private trips I’ve led this summer in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Yes, private trips have turned out to be incredibly popular this summer. Traveling with your “quarantine crew” can help your peace of mind and eliminate the unknowns of group travel, as well as give you a chance to catch up with old friends!
Many friends, co-leaders and guests have asked me, “What’s it like to take a Backroads trip during these times?” It’s a good question, but it turns out that the simple answer is: “Not all that different from a normal trip!”
Of course, we’ve implemented many new safety measures. We wave instead of shake hands on the first day, and “nice mask!” has become a ubiquitous phrase. But despite all that, the essence of Backroads remains the same. The hikes are possibly even more beautiful with fewer people in the parks, our bike rides are still phenomenal and, at least here in Yellowstone, the wildlife seems to be more plentiful than ever! This summer I’ve seen more grizzlies (from the van!) in two trips than I’ve seen in five years working here.
When I first received the news that I would be leading one of the first Backroads trips after our Covid-19 hiatus, I had a million questions. After being in quarantine for months, it seemed like the opportunity to travel was a world away. But following many Zoom calls with Backroads office staff, updated training sessions, manager meetings, modifications to trip design and careful monitoring of state and local guidelines, Backroads felt confident enough to reopen some regions. But I still couldn’t imagine getting back out there, biking, hiking and socially distancing with masks on while actually leading a trip. But I was ready and willing to try! So, I pulled out the suitcase, sorted through my ever-growing stack of Backroads t-shirts, picked out a few bike jerseys and headed to Wyoming. The simple act of packing a suitcase for the first time in months turned out to be incredibly enjoyable.
Out in Wyoming, our guests’ concerns vanished as they focused on spending time with family and friends and enjoying their vacation. Our trips were a great success. I know the guests appreciated the opportunity to travel comfortably while limiting interaction with individuals outside of their party.
This summer, our guest count is smaller, and after months of quarantine the opportunity to connect feels more genuine and necessary than ever. I’ve noticed both guests and leaders alike expressing a greater sense of appreciation for the opportunity to get outside and get active. The Backroads philosophy is about getting off the beaten path, connecting our guests to cultures and landscapes they’ve never experienced and taking time to appreciate the outdoors—all things that today are more important than ever. During this time of uncertainty, I’m sure that spending time hiking and biking will put a smile on your face—even if it’s covered by a mask!