Lauran and I met on a school bus. She was wearing a propeller hat and fake glasses with tape on the bridge and rainbow suspenders to hold the outfit together. It was love at first sight. Ok, not really, but we did meet on the school bus during the Backroads California Staff Ride in 2010 and the theme was “Back to School.”
Since very early in the Backroads days, we have run annual staff rides that gather our employees in one place for a multi-day adventure. These trips get everyone in the same space after being spread out across the globe for much of the year to revel in our strong community and just plain have fun together. Last month, it took place in Vietnam–right in the middle of one of the biggest typhoons in decades.
As Backroads leaders, we wear many hats in a given day: concierge, mechanic, translator, chauffeur, navigator, motivator… the list is infinite. One of my favorites to don, however, has to be that of “chef,” because that’s when we get to perform the magic that results in the famous Backroads picnic lunch!
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.
When I first rode my bike across the border from Croatia into Montenegro, I had little idea of what to expect. The small country on the Adriatic Coast is just 18 miles south of the Backroads’ Trip Leader house in Močići, but as I descended towards the border city of Herceg Novi, something in the air changed.
Why do you take Backroads trips? This is a question that Trip Leaders often ask guests on the first night of the trip, along with why you chose that particular trip. Although highly valuable questions, as a Backroads leader, I’m more interested in asking a third question at the end of the trip: How has your week with us influenced your life? I, as well as my colleagues, wonder what our guests will take with them and incorporate into their lives back home.
Fall in Provence is a magical time. The weather is usually crisp and clear due to the mistral winds blowing hard from the northwest. The usually silver-green hills turn a vibrant reddish orange and the air smells of smoky olives as farmers burn the cuttings pruned from their crops.
We handpick the most scenic biking routes–from the Rocky Mountains to the Tuscan countryside. Our biking trip leaders know the least trafficked cycling routes and also the most terrific stops–the trattoria where you can lunch al fresco, the olive orchard perfect for a picnic, the best spot to pick wild blueberries. A Backroads bike tour is a dream vacation. Can you already feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face?
It isn’t just cool that we’re a group of chicks on bikes, it’s phenomenal that we’re a team of women riding vintage bicycles in a historically male-dominated Tuscan race. We’re five Backroads Trip Leaders who have each led trips in Tuscany, and we’ve been planning to partake in the famed L’Eroica vintage bicycling race together for almost a year. This is my second experience racing L’Eroica in Tuscany, and this time I feel like I belong.
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.
Backroads Trips aren’t cheap. We get it. As a Backroads leader, it’s not uncommon for me to hear (always from someone who hasn’t traveled with us yet) “I could go there and do it myself for half the price.” When I hear someone say something like that, I usually just smile and say, “Well, there are certainly a lot of ways to travel, but you’d be surprised at just how much you get from a Backroads trip.” And the reason for my smile is that, having seen firsthand what our guests experience in the course of their trip, the question of “Where is the value?” is hardly a question at all. I’ve lost count of how many guests have expressed to me how worthwhile their experience has been. So what is it? What makes a Backroads trip so well worth the price?
Pico Iyer, the author of Tropical Classical and other travel books, once said: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” Regardless of whether you’re young or old, wealthy or poor, an introvert or extrovert, travel is always a good idea. If done right, it enables people to completely “lose themselves” in their new surroundings and stretch the boundaries of their comfort zones.
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…