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.
Our friends, Mike and Kathi, broached the subject once again. “You guys really should think about coming with us on this Tuscany biking trip.” As I lowered my head and peered at them over my sunglasses, I remember musing: “Are you insane?” “We’ll think about it,” is what came out of my lips.
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.
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.
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.
Over the course of history humans have embarked on adventures and expeditions to discover new territories, gain wisdom and question the known. In the 1200s Marco Polo was the first explorer to set out on a ground-breaking journey to Asia and China. The Portuguese Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India. Sir Francis Drake was the first to circumnavigate the world in 1580. But it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that adventurers began to push the limits of mountain climbing and river rafting, ascending famous peaks and mountain passes, inspiring people to attempt their own expeditions and experience the unknown.
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.
Expanding Backroads internationally is a tale of necessity, entrepreneurialism, and of course, adventure! My bet is that many of you will relate, as you might be growing your own companies, trying to connect with someone from a very different culture, or fondly remembering your own international adventures.
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?
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.
Everybody loves a great hotel. And we all love that moment of discovery: walking into an elegant lobby or stepping into our luxurious room with a view out the window that reminds us we’re somewhere special–whether it’s a sweeping seascape or a snowcapped mountain peak. I’ve been fortunate to stay at some truly amazing hotels while leading trips for Backroads, and here are seven that stand out.
My husband and I love to travel. Years ago, we were on a trip to Paris and we took a day excursion to the Loire Valley. As we traveled by bus through the countryside, I was stunned by the beauty yet dismayed to be seeing it from a bus. We are active people and I was sure there had to be a better way!