Tom Hale: My Year with Backroads

Tom Hale with Backroads in India

As the founder and owner of Backroads, people often expect me to have some special insight into how our trips run. It's true that I was a Trip Leader in the earliest days of Backroads, but nowadays I'm busy running the company from Berkeley and every chance I get to visit the field is precious. Ah, for the footloose days of being a leader. When I make it out of the office, it's usually as a guest, and my insights are also things that are apparent to most of our guests: the unflagging charisma of our Trip Leaders, the miraculous logistics that happen behind the scenes and the consistently flawless trip design, from routes to hotels. And the magic of active travel, how biking and hiking allow us to engage with the spirit of our destination in a way that we just can't otherwise. The unexpected encounters and special moments that stay with you even after you've settled back into your routine at home--those, for me, are the essence of the Backroads experience.

Backroads Staffride 2019 in Puglia, Italy
Backroads 2019 Staff Ride in Puglia, Italy
Weaving in Peru

This year I had the chance to go on seven different Backroads trips, from India to Israel, including our company Staff Ride in Puglia with 400+ Backroads leaders and office employees biking across the boot of Italy. Now that our kids are older, it's harder and harder to get the family together, so we were happy when our daughter Georgia found time to join me and Liz on our Peru Multi-Adventure Tour. As any Backroads leader will tell you, the "kids crew" is a real thing, and by the end of the first day Georgia was busy having fun with all her peers. This trip allowed me to see firsthand the dynamics of our family trips, and I was impressed, as always, with how well we manage to balance the kids and adults, with occasional separate dinners and activities to allow for just enough space for everyone to fully enjoy each other's company.

A particularly memorable highlight of our Peru trip was when our group visited Backroads' longtime local friends in the community of Huilloc, a small town perched in the Andes above 11,000 feet. The women here have preserved their centuries-old heritage of weaving exquisite tapestries and textiles, creating a range of fabrics that depict their mythology and the flora and fauna of the surrounding landscapes. Backroads has worked with this Quechua-speaking community for almost 20 years and we always bring along donations like school supplies, fruit and bread. We shared a touching moment as I thanked them for their hospitality and they thanked our Backroads community for our years of support.

Tom Hale in Peru
Tom Hale in Peru

Our other daughter, Avery, and her boyfriend joined us on our Scotland Walking & Hiking Tour and on our Champagne & Alsace Biking Tour in France. It was great to experience the hallmark flexibility of our trips in Scotland, where I split off from the hiking group to go on some great trail runs. Champagne & Alsace is one of our favorite itineraries because it's so varied. You go from the classic French vineyards and châteaux of Champagne to Alsace, which feels distinctly German with its steep, pitched-timber roofs and colorful houses.

Tom Hale with Backroads in Scotland

The weather was perfect, there were plenty of riding options and the Tour de France went right by our hotel, so we got to share the energy and enthusiasm of the locals. Again, I was struck by how smooth the logistics of our trips are, and how much that freed us up to enjoy each other's company stress-free.

BAckroads Danube River Full Ship Celebration

Liz and I were also able to join the Backroads Full Ship Celebration on the Danube River with 140 guests and 20 leaders. It was our first time on one of our active river cruise bike tours, and we were impressed by the same things that have made these trips some of our most popular with guests. Only unpacking once was convenient and traveling at night allowed us to cover a lot of ground without long shuttles during the day, leaving more time for biking and enjoying the food and good cheer of the quaint central European villages we passed through. And we enjoyed the incredible company, dining with different people every night and getting to know the guests and leaders that make the Backroads community so great.

Finally, we were able to visit two of Backroads' furthest-flung destinations on our India Multi-Adventure Tour and our Israel Biking Tour, both of which impressed me with the fact that Backroads' level of service and luxury doesn't change, no matter how exotic the destination.

Tom Hale with Backroads in Israel
Tom Hale with Backroads in Israel

India was fascinating and overwhelming, a burst of color and sound at every turn, but our leaders curated an experience that was manageable and even, at moments, peaceful. And once again, I was moved by the meaningful encounters I had with my fellow guests, guides and locals every step of the way.

Liz Hale with Backroads in India

As for our annual company event, Staff Ride in Puglia, just ask any Backroads leader to hear about that one--truly an event to remember. I experienced so many meaningful moments that have stuck with me during our travels last year that I could go on and on. Instead, I'll leave you with this: I make a point of going out into the field every year, but this year I was especially struck by the quality of our offerings, from our leaders' meticulous attention to detail, to our trip designers' carefully chosen routes, to the incredible hotels we partner with--and the way all these ingredients combine into a truly magical trip, something greater than the sum of its parts. Going into our 41st year, Backroads is bigger than ever, with more guests, more leaders and more destinations--but despite our phenomenal growth, we're always improving and looking critically at what we do from all angles. I'm proud of the company culture we've created, which values quality and guest experience above all else. And whether you're new to Backroads or you have four dozen trips under your belt, I hope you'll join us in 2020 to see how we keep getting better, year after year.

Backroads 2019 Staff Ride in Puglia, Italy
Backroads Staff Ride 2019, Puglia, Italy

2 Responses

  1. Very cool! I’m looking forward to my birthday trip in September with 23 girlfriends!

  2. Tom,

    It is a real pleasure working with your staff at Backroads – a cracking team, top-notch in all departments.

    Do come and visit Nepal and stay with us.

    Best regards,

    Marcus
    MD Tiger Mountain Nepal

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