When my kids were small, I poured over Backroads catalogs while they slept. I dreamed of exotic vacations where I’d bike through amazing scenery and eat better food than the boxed macaroni and cheese my children liked. But those were just pleasant daydreams.
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 at Backroads 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.
I raised my children in a blur. I was in my early twenties when they were born and divorced before they started school. I completed college, launched a career and elbowed my way up the career ladder--rung by rung--as a single mother. Needless to say, transferring values was the last thing on my mind, followed closely by teachable moments. Survival was the order of the day.
The one thing that has always attracted me to New Zealand--and what I continue to search for while I'm leading Backroads Trips here--is the feeling of living in the moment. In New Zealand there are so many ways to escape and be present with the people that you're traveling with. I recently had the opportunity to tour the country with my family, and while everything was truly incredible, there were three unique experiences that stood out above the rest.
As Backroads leaders, my coworkers and I often get asked how we got into the sport of cycling. For me, it started with my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad’s been a cyclist. He and his biking buddies have been going out on Saturday morning rides at 7:30 a.m. since I was a little kid, when I patiently waited for him to get home and make blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
As I pedaled along the riverside bike path on a clear and sunny day, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that something about this riding just felt different. I was leading our Rhine River Cruise biking trip last summer and the thought kept dancing in the corner of my mind, ever-present as the smile that wouldn’t leave my face. Finally, it dawned on me.
Not a single complaint. Not even a sibling spat. Not while we're biking in sweltering 100-degree weather. And not while we're biking in a downpour. "I've never seen 30 people volunteer to bike in the rain, and smile about it," said my daughter, Reggie Foldes. Anyone who has traveled with kids knows it's rare--very rare--for such amiability on a family vacation. "We're usually arguing about everything, even where to eat," said Jenna Bronfman, 18. That's one reason why her parents and the other families had signed on for this Backroads trip for families with "Older Teens and 20-Somethings" in Europe. "Backroads takes all that stress away," explained Jenna's dad, Matt Bronfman, noting this is his family's fourth Backroads trip.
Over the holidays, I lead Backroads family trips in Costa Rica. Since schools are on break during this time, it makes for a great chance to take a family vacation. And a trip together is the perfect occasion to strengthen family bonds, make memories that last a lifetime and even create new traditions.
Over the decades, we’ve learned a thing or two from our guests, our own excursions and our intrepid leaders. While I could write a book on our evolution, I’ll narrow it down to a brief(ish) list of my favorite improvements in recent years.
How do you narrow down days of hiking with your favorite people--amid some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable--into a "top 3" list? It's not easy. But I always appreciate tips from other travelers to help me make my travel decisions, so here we go...