The other day, my sister and I had debate about whether or not she'd enjoy going on a Backroads trip. Her self-described dream vacation involves a drink with an umbrella in it, a sunny beach, and no agenda other than to refill her drink and rotate in the sun...so she kind of balked at Backroads' concept of "active travel."
This got me thinking: what, exactly, does "active travel" mean? And why, even if she herself is not convinced she'd enjoy it, do I think my sister would really love the sort of active traveling that Backroads does?
I believe it starts with the idea that active travel--the sort that Backroads embodies--is really a distinct way of experiencing the world. It's not just about cranking out miles on a bike or gaining elevation by foot. On a Backroads trip, I consider the word "active" as being synonymous with "adventure." Is the adventure you seek simply the challenge of riding further or hiking higher than you ever have before? Or is the adventure about trying exotic foods and engaging with a foreign culture? Maybe your adventure includes staying off the bike or trail entirely on certain days in order to take advantage of the shopping or spas or photography opportunities.
The truth is, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to what excites you the most about being in a new place on your vacation.
Active travel is immersive. It's tangible. It awakens every one of your senses. You're not on a tour bus with a window between you and what's around you. As Backroads founder Tom Hale puts it, "On foot or on a bike, you can really get a visceral sense of place. Without any filters, you're free to truly be where you are." In my experience, it doesn't matter if where you are is sitting at a roadside café sipping a perfect Italian espresso or hopping in the Backroads shuttle so you can freshen up before taking a tour of an Oregon brewery. The beauty of the Backroads approach to active travel is that you'll always have the freedom and flexibility to create your perfect adventure, with all the details and logistics planned to perfection by Backroads so that you can stay focused on what matters--the memories you're creating.
I imagine that part of why my sister's dream vacation looks like it does is that, for too many of us, being "active" means being grindingly busy. We rush from work or school to appointments or commitments while our 24-hour news cycle bombards us with constant reminders of the tragedies and travesties of our time. When we return home at the end of a day, we often can't turn our brains off so that we can sleep! Sometimes we criticize ourselves at the end of our busy day for not going to the gym to work off some of our frantic energy. Being active is so often akin to being obligated that it can leave us feeling drained rather than energized.
This couldn't be further from the definition of "active" on a Backroads trip. The goal isn't to stay busy or constantly engaged in feats of physical endurance while traveling, but to actively seek out experiences that are stimulating and inspiring, experiences that pique your curiosity and challenge your intellect, as well as those which restore and rejuvenate you. Backroads creates opportunities on trips where you can be on the ground, shoulder-to-shoulder with locals who are genuinely going about their daily lives, far from the tourist traps and cookie-cutter point-and-shoot stops. On a Backroads trip you are able to feel the spirit of a place, whether wearing laced up hiking boots to take on snowy New Zealand peaks or lathered up in sunscreen while diving off a boat in the Adriatic Sea.
In the end, the best thing about Backroads is this: even if I opt for the extra miles every day or to summit that final peak or to ask the local naturalist just one more question on a guided hike, my sister can still choose to take the short walk to the beautiful swimming hole, drink a glass of wine at the vineyard lunch, or play with mush dog puppies after a sled ride. In your case, maybe this is the first week you and your family have had off together this year, so active travel means letting the kids sleep in while you and your partner go for a hike, followed by a post-lunch group surf lesson. Maybe you're an advanced rider who has been dreaming of tackling the hills of Tuscany and you're ready to ride every mile and see as much as possible.
It doesn't matter who you are or what your travel priorities are. As the Backroads website explains: "Great life experiences are never about just one thing--the best memories are made when the ingredients are well-balanced and perfectly blended." Whether it's me and my sister taking a trip together, or you and your spouse or siblings or children or friends...traveling with Backroads makes it possible for everyone to actively create their own best memories.
And I'd toast an umbrella-garnished drink to that.