Tom’s Favorite Trip Improvements

Tom Hale Running circa 1974I started Backroads in 1979. In that year, the Sony Walkman was a top selling gift, the Bee Gees released three chart-topping hits and Atari launched "Asteroids." Fast-forward nearly 40 years and here at Backroads we're still fundamentally doing the same thing we did while wearing puka shells on runs. (Yes, that is me on the right!) We're as committed to guest satisfaction and trip quality as ever.

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.

Why blog about this topic? Because your vacations matter. They should create lifelong memories of unique experiences. And they should let you focus solely on what you want to get out of your Backroads trip--closer relationships with your kids, adventure, inspiration... you name it.

If it's been a while since you've traveled with Backroads, or if you think Backroads is just about bike trips, we've got some big surprises in store for you!

More walking and hiking trips Waaay back when, Backroads was all about bike tours. We started walking trips 25 years ago. In recent years, we've had insatiable demand for walking and hiking tours, which we now offer all around the world--from Japan to Peru to Scotland and beyond. Some people prefer to travel on foot, at a slower pace, and feel even more immersed in the local culture and landscape that way. Of course, we've adapted our support strategy to offer the same level of flexibility and freedom found on our biking trips because the world is best explored at your own pace. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Backroads-Walking-and-Hiking-Trips

Backroads Leader playing with Kid GuestMore family trips I've blogged about biking with kids and traveling with extended family, so this is obviously a hot topic for me. Kids on Backroads trips range from age 4 to over 18, and we all know that their definitions of "fun" are vastly different! We give families trip options that specialize by age group so the little ones are playing, teenagers are exploring, parents are basking, and everyone's having fun at exactly their own level.

GPS on bike trips How did we ever manage with paper? I remember some pretty soggy maps on rainy days. Now, I love zipping through 10 turns in a kilometer with nary a worry about getting lost. I won't go into much detail here since I've blogged about the freedom our GPS delivers, but being able to go at exactly my Type-A personality pace and knowing where I am at all times is easily one of my favorite improvements.

Multi-adventure trips Our world is a stunning place and sometimes the best way to experience it is from a variety of perspectives. Our multi-adventure trips were born from the idea that sometimes, to truly experience a place, you need to do more than just bike or hike. Now, we're also riding camels in India, doing jeep safaris in South Africa, kayaking in the Galápagos, and so much more. Dogsledding, rock climbing, river rafting, even pasta making--the list is endless. While all of our trips have a cultural element to them, these multi-adventure trips go even deeper and are a whole new type of active travel experience. And yes, these are the very same trips that we used to call Multisport. Why the change in name? Because they've always been about so much more than just being active.

Backroads Guests Riding Camels in Morocco

Increased individual flexibility (aka "Shifting Gears") When I travel, I like to mix things up day by day, and I expect that many of you do too. You should be able to customize your experience as much as possible. I've personally evangelized the importance of this from Day 1. It's in our DNA. We're so passionate about flexibility that we've coined the term "Shifting Gears." It's easy to say you're flexible, but it's another to deliver on it.

The genesis of Shifting Gears was a trip in Iceland, where we'd seen many amazing waterfalls amid absolutely spectacular countryside. Yet when it was time to go visit yet another amazing waterfall, I waylaid a Backroads van because I wanted to go have a drink in the bar instead. Lo and behold, 10 guests got in with me. Lightbulb moment! We've always encouraged and empowered our guests to make the most of each moment of their trip. And there is nothing like biking or hiking to naturally enhance this most important feature. With Shifting Gears, we've empowered our guests and leaders alike to make their entire trip all it can be. We don't make leaders or guests follow a prescribed "script" for how the day must unfold, minute by minute. Instead, we enable them to be flexible so that every guest's experience is unique and completely tailored.

River cruises These offerings really resonate with people who want a more relaxed trip. You're not packing and unpacking. You can be as active as you want to be. Our ship-based and land-based crew has bikes and maps and adventures ready at every port for our guests, enabling them to explore the roads less traveled. We're not following the same old beaten track and are definitely venturing far away from the "cruise bubble." Occasionally, Backroads even takes over an entire ship, like the Danube cruise I'm taking in September.

Backroads Duoro River Cruise Tour

New performance road bikes Henry Ford once said, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." Back when we started, we used to just have bikes. Just as you can now get a car in any color imaginable, we now offer a multitude of bike options for a variety of rider types.

Tom Hale riding a vintage Backroads BicycleMy favorite, recent bike improvement is the addition of a new, custom titanium bike for our more serious riders who don't want to upgrade to our amazing Specialized S-Works (which retail for $10,000) option. These new bikes are built from aircraft-grade titanium, are 5 pounds lighter, and offer lightweight carbon alloy wheels, electronic Di2 shifting, and other cool features targeted at experienced cyclists. At no extra cost. (No, they look nothing like the bike I'm on in this picture, circa 1979, but this topic was making me nostalgic.)

eBikes Over 10% of our cycling guests absolutely adore our eBikes (electric-assist bikes). Other than the bit of pushback we got from a few purists when we introduced these bikes, wow, what a hit eBikes have been. Read my blog for those early anecdotes. eBikes continue to gain popularity as they level the playing field and let people of all ages and abilities experience our trips together. They're pure magic that way.

Straight Talk I'm a straight shooter. I want to hear guests' honest opinions of our trips and believe we owe prospective guests the same courtesy. So we alert prospective guests to aspects of a trip that might impact their experience. For example, some parts of trails can be pretty rough on our Patagonia multi-adventure tour; the historic lodge on our Crater Lake hiking trip is simpler than our typical standard; and we're biking in very remote areas in Myanmar. These points may not matter to most guests, but may make all the difference to others, so we arm you with as much knowledge as possible to maximize your fun factor. Our trips are amazing because of our amazing guests--made more so when everyone chose their trip for the right reasons.

I applaud you if you're still with me... I could write forever about quality and perpetual improvements. Let me know if I've missed one of your favorites. Because you're the reason we are constantly improving.

After nearly 40 years, we're more committed than ever to knowing what we can do to make your active vacations even better, and then making that happen. Maybe that's why some of my colleagues have accused me of running Backroads like a start-up - they say it's like perpetually being in the last mile of a marathon. I just tell them, "You're welcome."

23 Responses

  1. Alden Y. Warner III

    We LOVE Backroads but, with all due respect, the eBikes are a terrible development. It’s one thing if they enable serious bikers to continue biking well into their golden years, which is something I “get.” But when they enable unfit, non-bikers to join trips on which they simply don’t belong, they’re a nightmare. Our Sicily trip was ruined by non-bikers who were able to keep up thanks to eBikes but who didn’t enjoy biking to start with. After four previous trips, all glorious, it put us off and has made us very wary of another trip.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Alden,
      Thanks for sharing this with me. It’s hard to imagine people who don’t like biking on a biking trip–with or without eBikes! We have gotten rave reviews about these bikes leveling the playing field for all guests — and not impacting the more active people on the trip. Guests such as those you describe are very rare on Backroads trips, which are fundamentally active. We take so much pride in delivering “glorious” trips and hope you’ll chalk those folks up to an anomaly and come back out for another vacation with us.

    • Jill Houle

      Oh, please , what did your ego find most offensive? Was it being passed by a fit, lithe, women who left you in the dust ,gasping and sweating while she passed you on the hill? Raspberry! get over yourself! Thanks for making my day ?

  2. Kristie

    Hi Tom, I love backroads too and will be soon going on my third adventure. My first trip was an amazing solo group trip in Czech/Austria. The bonding on that trip four years ago still continues today. I then went on a classic adult group. Being a single person made me feel real left out as everyone was a couple and mostly stayed that way when socializing. I really miss your offering of solo groups. They are so much better for us dingle people.
    Kristie

    • Kristie

      I think I meant to say single people, lol.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Kristie,

      It sounds like you had a wonderful solo experience, and I’m grateful for that. Indeed, our solo trips were very well received by our guests, but unfortunately, too few travelers took advantage of them. We ran many, many trips with very few guests, which was exactly the opposite of what solo travelers were looking for. As a result, our choice of solo dates fell from about 8% of our trips to about 3%, and dropping.

      Since solo travelers just weren’t filling the trips, we are working to provide more visibility for guests to be able to see single status on prospective trips. We are also incorporating more messaging directed at solo travelers. And we are focusing on achieving a better mix of solo and couple travel on all our trips. We are committed to providing an amazing experience for all of our guests, and will continue to do our best to make sure we do this for solo travelers as well.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  3. Renee

    Just finished our 5th trip with Backroads to Croatia . They have all been hiking. We could not be happier!! Good friends of ours went who weren’t big into hiking but extremely happy with different options each day. We live on the East Coast in Upstate New York and every week seem to be telling someone about Backroads. We look forward to many more trips with them.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Renee,
      That’s what is so great about Backroads trips–they really do let people of all levels determine how active they want to be each day. Thanks for being evangelists!

  4. Backroads rock the adventure trips and never ever disappoints you!!!!! They are the real deal.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Jackie, Love this commentary! We strive to conduct truly authentic trips and I’m so glad you experienced that.

  5. Kellie

    I have to agree with Kristie above. Why did you do away with the Singles and Solos trips? As a solo traveler, that was really what drew me to Backroads to begin with. I too did the Solo Czech/Austria trip 5 years ago and remain in touch with many of those folks today. I’m hesitant to do another Backroads trip now that you’ve done away with the Solo options 🙁

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hello Kellie,

      Yes, as I commented to Kristie above, our solo trips were very well received by our guests, but unfortunately, too few travelers took advantage of them. We ran many, many trips with very few guests, which was exactly the opposite of what solo travelers were looking for. As a result, our choice of solo dates fell from about 8% of our trips to about 3%, and dropping.

      Since solo travelers just weren’t filling the trips, we are working to provide more visibility for guests to be able to see single status on prospective trips. We are also incorporating more messaging directed at solo travelers. And we are focusing on achieving a better mix of solo and couple travel on all our trips. We are committed to providing an amazing experience for all of our guests, and will continue to do our best to make sure we do this for solo travelers as well.

      Thank you.

  6. Amy

    I agree with Kristie and Kellie as well. The solo trips are very different from the classic one. Although the classic trips are fabulous, there is a very different flow with the solo ones. No pressure on who to eat with or join up with.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Amy,

      Yes, I’ll echo that the Classic trips are definitely fabulous. As I commented above, our solo trips were very well received by our guests, but unfortunately, too few travelers took advantage of them. We ran many, many trips with very few guests, which was exactly the opposite of what solo travelers were looking for. As a result, our choice of solo dates fell from about 8% of our trips to about 3%, and dropping.

      Since solo travelers just weren’t filling the trips, we are working to provide more visibility for guests to be able to see single status on prospective trips. We are also incorporating more messaging directed at solo travelers. And we are focusing on achieving a better mix of solo and couple travel on all our trips. We are committed to providing an amazing experience for all of our guests, and will continue to do our best to make sure we do this for solo travelers as well.

      Thanks for weighing in!

      • Susan

        I looked at the Solo trips each year, but the dates were never the best, at least for the trips I was interested in – they were often last of the season or some less desirable date. I did do a Solo in 2016 and found it was one of the last Solo trips. It was heavily female – i do Classic trips no problem, have done several with Backroads (and more with another comoany!), though I do ask if there is anyone else solo, just makes it nicer not to be the only solo. Of the other femalee solos on that trip in 2016, I actually doubt many would go alone on a couples trip.

        • Tom Hale Tom Hale

          Hi Susan,

          We provide potential guests the visibility into other types of travelers so you can know whether solos are on board. We’re committed to providing an amazing experience for all of our guests, and will continue to do this for solo travelers as well. Look forward to seeing you out on the road.

          Tom

  7. Tom Myers

    Hi Tom — the addition of e-bikes is a wonderful improvement which levels the playing field for those who are novice bikers or simply not serious bikers. My wife and two sons thoroughly enjoyed our recent trip through the San Juan Islands (which has a lot of elevation changes) and they would have been miserable on a traditional bike. As you surely know, the beauty of an e-bike is that one can receive as much or as little assist at they desire (including no assist).

    You will likely need to expand your fleet of e-bikes as there were 6 who rode on them on our trip out of 25. Most folks don’t know what an e-bike is or have never ridden one. I can tell you that there were quite a few non-serious bikers who were extremely jealous and will be requesting an e-bike on their next trip.

    The family is looking forward to our next Backroads adventure!

    Tom Myers

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Tom–Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad the eBikes made the trip more enjoyable for all of you. They’re not for everybody, but they really make a difference for those who want them.

  8. Susan

    Hey Tom! Keep on doing what you’re doing with Backroads! We have been on 7 and just signed up for our 8th. We will be signing up for our 9th in a few weeks. We have met wonderful, well-traveled like minded folks …. some of whom have become dear friends …. and find these trips are a great way to get to the “heart” of a region of a country. We taste the food, meet the people, and experience the local sights. We do the walking/hiking trips and love being outside and getting exercise while learning. And we have always felt the leaders are truly well trained, upbeat folks who do great jobs! Thank you! Susan

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Susan, Wow, you sound like you could write our marketing brochures for us. You really “get” the fundamental differences of our trips. Enjoy # 8 and 9!

  9. Lisa

    I am so disappointed that Backroads got rid of solo trips. I am a huge fan of your company and have gone on 6 or 7 Backroads trips over the years. I was thinking of doing another one and called to inquire about a few I had my eye on, only to find out you discontinued solo trips. As someone travelling alone, I would not consider a classics trip, where 90% of the clientele are couples. I’m sorry to say you lost a customer 🙁
    I hope you reconsider and bring them back sometime soon.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Lisa,

      I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your Backroads trips, and am sorry you don’t plan on more. We just did not have enough solo travelers on those trips.

      As mentioned, we are working to provide more visibility for guests to be able to see single status on prospective trips. We are also incorporating more messaging directed at solo travelers. And we are focusing on achieving a better mix of solo and couple travel on all our trips. We are committed to providing an amazing experience for all of our guests, and will continue to do our best to make sure we do this for solo travelers as well.

      Good travels!

    • Susan

      Lisa, as a fellow solo, give it a try! While I admit to being pretty independent, I’ve met some lovely couple friends from these trips. You do your own thing, or/and mix with others. In many ways I prefer having some couples on the trip rather than all singles. In the same way that I’ve taken a couple of all-female trips, and prefer a mixed trip with males as well as females.

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