Anyone who has visited the Canadian Rockies - or has a friend who has and can't stop talking about it -already knows that it's a world-class travel destination. This dramatic range of snowcapped peaks that spans the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta harbors a rugged and exceptionally rare natural beauty. And among some of the most jaw-dropping vistas you'll ever see are a plethora of exciting outdoor activities and festivals plus luxurious accommodations to retire to at day's end.
Strangely, like many of the world's travel hotspots, this little stretch of western Canada sees dramatically fewer visitors during the winter season than in the summer. When the winter snow has buried the mountain tops ... and slopes ... and valley floors ... those who do venture to this special place are rewarded with a plethora of winter sport activities, festivals that showcase skills unique to an area blanketed in snow and the chance to explore what is seemingly a brand new location every year - even if you've been here before! (This is why Backroads chose to create our Canadian Rockies Snow Adventure Tour)
I've lived in the mountains of Canada for over two years. As an avid hiker and snowshoer, I've had the remarkable experience of exploring the same trail during both the summer and winter seasons. Like many, I continue to be blown away when I happen to hike a winter trail that I thought I had already fully appreciated. It's an entirely new and magical experience. Snow dramatically alters the landscape : mountain features look completely different, lakes are frozen over and the background noise is muffled, creating a serene wilderness experience. If you're able to get out on the trail after a recent snowfall, you get the real "fresh tracks" experience. There's nothing quite like breaking a trail through fluffy new snow, knowing that although you're probably not the first person to ever hike there, at least you're the first to blaze the trail that day.
If your interests extend beyond winter hiking, there are plenty of other seasonal adventures to be had in the Canadian Rockies. The Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta, having hosted the 1988 Olympic Nordic events, is considered by locals as THE PLACE for cross-country skiing. There are also fat-tire biking, dog-sledding and heli-skiing nearby. And of course, if downhill skiing is your sport of choice, there are three resorts in Banff National Park plus several more in the surrounding area.
When you need a short winter's break from your exhilarating outdoor pursuits, you can visit one of the annual festivals in the Canadian Rockies. My personal favorite is the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival, that takes place each January for 12 days. Artists from around the world converge on the hamlet of Lake Louise to create magical ice sculptures. You can watch these artists at work in a variety of competitions or wait until the end of the festival to view the completed masterpieces. Evenings are particularly quiet time during the festival, when you can view the sculptures in the glow of the gentle lights of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Renting ice skates from the hotel or at the local Wilson's Sports Shop quickly outfit you for a game of hockey or figure skating on the iconic frozen lake. Other festivals include Banff's Snow Days and January and Jasper where you can partake in events like "Learn 2 Curl" and avalanche awareness education. There are also exciting events like a fat bike race series and street party punctuated by fireworks.
Personally, I think the best part about winter in the Canadian Rockies is the chance to truly get off the beaten path...because in most areas of the park in winter, there simply isn't a beaten path. Even the most popular locations like Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise are relatively quiet on all but a few of the busiest days of the winter season. Nearby, several lesser known parks offer even more opportunities to get out on your own and explore areas that are on par with the beauty of their more famous national park counterparts.
Whether you're looking for a new place to try out your favorite winter sport or you're simply looking for a quiet getaway, join us on Backroads Canadian Rockies Snow Adventure Tour. Winter here is a special time for any visitor.
Asia is an enormous swath of the world, its influence extending to every corner of the globe and permeating nearly every conceivable human endeavor. How do you begin to plan a trip to this magical part of the world? How do you decide where to go, what to do or where to stay? Backroads has spent years researching and traveling through the nooks and crannies of Asian and we've managed to discover some very special places. Here are some of our very favorites. These hotels accentuate local traditions, exude world charm or simply cannot be matched anywhere else. Have you discovered any magical spots in Asia that you recommend? We'd love to hear about it!
River Retreat Garaku (Toyama, Japan)
Honshū, Japan's main island, is bisected by a series of 3 Mountain Ranges--the Hida, Kiso and Akaishi Mountains, known collectively as the Japanese Alps. From within the lush foothills of Hida, the Northern Alps, flows the Jinzu River on its northward course to the Sea of Japan. There is a luxurious and peaceful hotel nestled idyllically along the banks of the Jinzu near the coastal town of Toyama. River Retreat Garaku presents visitors with a masterful blend of sleek design, modern comfort and timeless tranquility. The hotel has 25 exquisitely unique rooms and houses over 300 pieces of contemporary Japanese art that accentuate an already flawlessly manicured design. Two phenomenal on-site restaurants offer the choice of traditional Japanese dining or the ideal pairing of the dual UNESCO designated cuisines, French and Japanese. A fully equipped spa, both indoor and out, fulfills all the necessary in-house comforts needed after you've spent a day trekking in the hills. Just remember, the hot stone room requires reservations! Stay here on our Japan Walking & Hiking Touror our NEW Japan Biking Tour.
RAAS Devigarh (Rajasthan, India)
High on a hilltop in a lush village near Udaipur in India's northern state of Rajasthan, sits a decadent and enchanting 18th-century fortress once known as Delwara Fort Palace. Constructed of granite and local marble, the imposing structure has stood guard for centuries over the main routes through the Aravalli Ranges into the Udaipur Valley. Renovated by a team of over 750 workers, the property has been transformed into a spectacular luxury hotel. Intimate courtyards and gardens offer solace from the bustle of India's cities and views of the surrounding countryside abound. Blending minimalist interior design with majestic architectural details, this 5-star hotel maintains its original purpose of preserving the inhabitants but with the additions of otherworldly meals, masterful suites, and a lovely spa to loosen up before your daily yoga routine. Stay here on ourIndia Multi-Adventure Tour.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai (Thailand)
Four Seasons properties are synonymous with grace and elegance. While your every need is seemingly satisfied before you can blink, part of the joy comes from crafting your own unique experience. From Muay Thai instruction, to lessons in rice planting, to Thai cooking lessons, there is no shortage of unforgettable activities you can partake in to better understand the local culture in the northern part of Thailand. Still it's no surprise that some guests prefer to simply melt into the surroundings of terraced rice paddies, verdant rolling hills and tropical gardens abundant on the 32-acre property. Located just a short ride outside the humming, colorful city of Chiang Mai,you can easily blend culture with comfort. Be sure to savor a refreshingly crafted cocktail while catching magnificent sunsets or half submerged in the refreshing pool. Stay here on ourThailand Biking Tour.
Zhiwa Ling Heritage (Paro, Bhutan)
An architectural gem set on ten acres in the mountainous and remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Zhiwa Ling Heritage is a hotel that blends the timeless feel of ancient Buddhist influence with modern 21st-century amenities. Utilizing 450-year-old wood timbers in its construction and intricately embellished with one-of-a-kind wood carvings by local artisans over five years, it's no wonder National Geographic highlighted this as one of their "Unique Lodges of the World." Here, the gross domestic happiness of Bhutan is incorporated into the overall business plan and is on full display with an exceptionally cheery and attentive staff. Its serene setting amidst jade hills, the town of Paro is not far away and famous temples like the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastary are an ideal backdrop during yoga lessons. After removing those hiking boots seek out your inner harmony in the meditation hall for reflection on an amazing personal journey. All this is available in a place that puts balance with the environment at a premium. The Zhiwa Ling has managed to recycle 98% of on-site waste. Stay here on our Bhutan Walking & Hiking Tour.
Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai (Hoi An, Vietnam)
With careful attention to phong thuy (Vietnamese feng shui), the tranquil design of the paradisical Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai pays homage to authentic Central Vietnamese garden homes. Situated on the site of a former fishing village, the grounds of The Nam Hai include a nearly mile-long stretch of pristine coastline and vast tropical gardens. It's a setting that is impossible to forget. Visit the exquisite spa, delicately perched atop a lotus pond; he location alone is enough to trigger tranquility. Whether your plan is to head inland, take to the sea, or melt away into blissful oblivion, his is the perfect location to do it all. Stay here on ourVietnam & Cambodia Walking & Hiking Tour or our Vietnam & Cambodia Bike Tour.
Maya Ubud Resort & Spa (Bali, Indonesia)
Built on nearly 25 acres of landscaped and natural terrain, Maya Ubud Resort & Spa is a luxury retreat designed to recreate the feel of a traditional Balinese village. With 108 luxury guestrooms and private thatched pool villas the property is cradled by the lush Petanu River valley to the east and vast rice fields to the west. And its spa overlooks a waterfall. It's the perfect respite from the bustle of rapidly modernizing Bali but close enough to town so you don't miss the cultural attractions Ubud is known for. An easy 25-minute walk takes you to the vibrant town of Ubud, home to museums, boutiques, market and the famous Peliatan Palace. Stay here on our Bali Bike Tour.
"Wow, these tomatoes actually taste like something." The vibrant produce grown in gardens mere steps from where we dine during our Backroads trips through Croatia often garners this reaction. Leaders often jokingly respond, "Because it's grown with love," but, in all seriousness, that's the simple truth. After leading Backroads trips here for the past two years, I've been lucky enough to dine on some of the most delicious, fresh and original meals in all of Croatia, in some of the most undiscovered places. More than just great meals in the homes of our local hosts, these are experiences that offer a window to the genuine culture, passions and real day-to-day world of the people who call this place home.
If you walk down a dimly lit unmarked road just beyond the twinkling lights of the famous seaside town of Hvar, you'll find Mate and Michaela Tudor's restaurant, Konoba Lambik. It's a secret oasis in the night--a house and restaurant built of stone with wooden tables on the patio and soft orange lights nestled in the branches of olive trees. The family serendipitously agreed to cook for Backroads groups when a lost Trip Leader stumbled upon their beautiful abode over a decade ago.
Since then, their home has gradually transformed into a reservation-based restaurant, cooking for a very limited number of patrons who are lucky enough to catch wind of the magic they create. On the table, there's an impressive spread to behold: platters of seafood caught by Mate, vegetables and herbs from their garden a few steps away, olive oil made from the olives in the branches above our heads, fresh bread to ensure no olive oil is left on a plate, and carafes of homemade wine. Our hosts proudly explain the story of their home, their family history and the love they have for their life in this small slice of paradise. More than just a meal, this is one of those truly special experiences that travelers so often seek yet rarely find. Dinner at Mate and Michaela's feels like you're simply enjoying dinner in an old friend's home.
Further down the coast--and a day later on our Backroads trip--a favorite reprieve from the summer heat is found at Panorama, the family-run restaurant of Marija Jurkovic on the Pelješac Peninsula. Her peaceful home overlooks Korčula Island and the Dalmatian Coast, offering hikers a scenic spot to sip homemade lemonade and take in tantalizing scents from the kitchen. Marija cooks dishes that elude the average tourist in Croatia, like her delicious beef stew, which she marinates for days.
Madison with Marija at Panorama Restaurant
Perhaps the most intoxicating smell wafting up from the table is Marija's black truffle pasta. Marija is famous in the region for her ability to dig up truffles using her intuition and a spade she keeps handy in her pocket. During the season, she gathers several pounds of black truffles and, although she could sell her findings for thousands of dollars, she instead shares them with love on the pasta she serves to her guests and friends. Marija and her family not only treat us to an unforgettable meal, they also make us Backroads leaders and guests feel like family.
Yet another of my favorite places to dine, just a bit further down the coast, is the historic home of Tony and Nika, Mato and Juliana, and the rest of the three generations of the Brautović family living in Močići. Here, everything is--surprise, surprise--homemade, as well as award-winning! Strolling through the expansive backyard garden, it's not uncommon to see wine being made or figs drying in the Mediterranean sun. And the cherry on top is the lavender cake for dessert!
The Brautović's house, along with the rest of the village, was burned down twice--once in 1806 and again during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991. As Backroads guests wander through the house and see pictures from the war, they gain a deeper understanding for the trials and history of this family, this community, and the people of Croatia. Recognizing the family's resilience adds an incredible element of depth to the meals served on the Brautović's table and an appreciation for the people sitting around it.
I feel so fortunate to have spent these past years leading trips in Croatia and witnessing the relationships that bond the people here, the pride they take in the meals they prepare and the friendships they form with the people who they welcome into their homes. It's clear that, here in Croatia, it's not just what's on the table that offers insight into a culture, it's who's around the table with you that reveals the true magic of a place.
I've been a Backroads Trip Leader for seven years and one of the most frequent questions I'm asked by my guests is, "What's the life of a Backroads Trip Leader like?" It's a simple question, but not an easy one to answer. When I applied for a leader position at Backroads, I had no idea of the complexity of this job and how much it goes beyond any regular work environment.
A Day in the Life of a Backroads Trip Leader
As I had imagined, we're up early! We're staging bikes, filling water bottles, putting out a snack table, doing food preparation for picnics, pumping tires, hitching our trailer, and sneaking in a quick breakfast where we talk through our logistics and support plan for the day. Then we're greeting our guests, answering questions and giving a "route rap" - our daily briefing about the cultural highlights of the day as well as route options, safety tips, points of interests and our favorite places to stop along the way.
As a leader team, we take turns each day - one of us driving the van and one of us biking with the guests (or on a hiking trip, likely two of us on the trail and our support leader driving). On the road or trail, we're offering guests route support, doing bike adjustments and, answering the question "what's that?", sharing local insights and offering support stops along the way. One of us may also be preparing a gourmet picnic full of our local treats then shuttling guests to the next luxury hotel, where their luggage awaits because we've already transported it there.
Once all of our guests have safely finished the day's activity and are at the hotel, we're hurrying to get ourselves and all the equipment cleaned-up and organized. We're putting on evening attire for a camp cookout, a meal at a local restaurant or a seven-course Michelin-starred dinner. During dinner, leaders are making sure our guests are happy, translating menus and daily specials, and giving information for the next day. Then we're off to retire to bed - but only after conferring with our co-leaders to ensure everything is organized, thoroughly planned and ready for tomorrow.
Phew! There are so many hats that we wear as a Backroads Trip Leader in any single day - cyclist, hiker, cultural interpreter, bike mechanic, chef, public speaker, motivator, professional driver, snack-master, chalk-board artist, translator, problem-solver, teacher, cheerleader, nature guide... and the list could go on.
So, while our days might start with pumping tires under olive trees in the Tuscan countryside, it's filled with solving problems, being flexible and resourceful, and doing everything we can to make our guests happy. The most important part of our job is making sure that all our guests are having a great experience, even if that means different things to different guests. While Trip Leaders are certainly active travel guides, we're also very much customer service providers that just happen to work outside in beautiful and amazing places.
A huge perk of the Backroads Trip Leader lifestyle is travel - whether it's getting intimately familiar with our National Parks or traveling abroad, we get to work in everyone's bucket list locations all over the world! As leaders, we're outside every day, and it's one of the few jobs where you regularly think to yourself, "Am I really getting paid right now?!"
While travel comes with some challenges (more on that below), it's also one of the most rewarding parts of the job. In my time at Backroads, I've had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year in Cambodia while watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, cycling the lavender-laden island of Hvar in Croatia, and spending many beautiful days under the Tuscan sun watching the seasons change: from green wheat fields dappled with red poppies in the spring to sunflower-filled valleys in the summer to hay bales and yellow rolling hills in the fall. What a gift!
Our Days Off
With so many on-the-job perks and the gift of traveling to the most beautiful locations in the world, what do we do on our days off? Guests always want to know where we live and what we do once a trip is over.
When we've said farewell to our guests, we head back to our regional leader house. The leader house is our little hub - a place to do our laundry, cook a meal, connect with our friends and re-boot before the next trip. In some smaller Backroads regions, this might be an apartment with 4 or 5 leaders living together, and in some bigger regions it might be 25 of us living communally.
On days off we're usually playing just as hard as we work. A normal day off might include big group hike or bike ride, exploring a part of the region we don't see on a trip or making a big group dinner. This is our time for personal adventures, but also our time to jump on Skype and reconnect with our friends and family back home, put our feet up and recover.
While leader house living is a blast, it can also be one of the biggest challenges of the leader lifestyle - it takes a lot of energy to be "on" all week and come back to such a social living situation during your downtime. There's finesse in learning how to make it work. Going for a run, doing yoga or escaping to a local café with a book are all ways to take a solo break after being around so many social, outgoing, interesting, creative and fun people.
The job of a Backroads leader is a lot of fun and a lot of work, all mixed together. It's not for everyone - it takes a lot of self-awareness, grit (and being okay with constantly having bike grease under your fingernails), and the ability to take care of both other people and yourself for a whole season on the road. When we're leading trips, we're not on a personal adventure - we are doing a customer service job and taking care of each of our guests so that they have the best trip possible. If it sounds intense, it is!
From about May to October, most of us live out of one or two carefully curated bags so that we're able to move around easily, be prepared for different climates and weather, lead different types of trips, and don the perfect mix of outdoor apparel and fine-dining attire.
During our time off, while surrounded by all the new friends we make in the season, we also must prioritize ways to stay connected to our friends and family back home, which also takes work!
The Backroads Community
The biggest highlight of this job is being part of the Backroads community. Most of us will tell you that our best friends are other Trip Leaders we met working for Backroads.
In addition to the incredible life-long friendships we make with each other as leaders, another deeply satisfying part of the job is connecting with our guests and learning their diverse backgrounds and inspiring stories. Recently, I had an 81-year-old guest on a challenging Tuscany biking trip (her 85-year-old husband rode an e-bike, but not her!), who was one of the most inspiring and interesting guests I've ever had. In addition to appearing in a bike commercial as "Grandma Joan," she's done voice-overs for NPR, run for political office, narrated walking tours and raised a family. When I asked her what she was most proud of, she answered "All the marathons I ran in under three hours." Wow! It's incredible to get the chance to meet so many interesting people with so many stories to share. And in this case, the real gift for me is that we don't live far from each other, so "Grandma Joan" and I already have a biking date set up for when I'm back home this winter.
Honestly, I can't think of any other job that compares to being a Backroads Trip Leader - it's a job, a lifestyle, and a huge opportunity to challenge yourself and grow in ways that make you more capable, kind and aware. On top of that, year after year, you continue to meet incredible guests and incredible co-leaders. It's not for everyone - you have to be grounded, flexible and resourceful; you have to like working hard making people happy.
As a leader, I've pumped many a bike tire and poured countless bags of peanut M&M's before 7:00 in the morning, but working hard, playing hard and making meaningful connections on Backroads trips continues to be an immensely satisfying experience.
February is the time of year when most people are relaxing, recovering from the holidays and getting back into the swing of their daily routine. But if you can't wait to get back out there, February is the perfect month for a unique adventure. From hiking in far-off New Zealand to cycling in Cuba to enjoying a winter wonderland closer to home, adventurous travelers can find something to satisfy their wanderlust, even in the off-season.
Here are our top destinations for travel in February:
Travelers to Cuba in February can expect the perfect cocktail of hiking and cycling, culture and great weather--alongside a few cuba libres, the country's national mixed drink! The rainy season in Cuba starts around April, so February is the ideal time to enjoy clear blue skies and moderate temperatures in the mid-to-high seventies. In Cuba, you'll have the opportunity to cycle or stroll through perfectly-preserved colonial towns, ride in classic cars from the 50's and 60's, and engage with friendly locals eager to share their stories. It's often said that traveling in Cuba is like being in another world: one of blue skies, friendly people and a relaxed rhythm of life. For an unforgettable and unique February adventure, Cuba is the place to be.
Yellowstone & Grand TetonsMiles and miles of untouched snow, streams burbling under ice, herds of bison ambling in the distance, and no one to have to share it with but the wildlife--this pristine winter wonderland is found in Wyoming's Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks. Enjoy the feeling of true solitude as you snowshoe or dogsled through the parks, visiting frozen waterfalls, geothermal pools and famous geysers. Go ahead and brush that beach vacation aside, get off the beaten path and experience true serenity in this winter oasis.
The Yucatán Peninsula is the gem of Mexico, replete with hidden white-sand beaches, sparkling blue water, nostalgia-evoking colonial towns and the magnificent history of Mayan civilization. In February, you'll enjoy tropical weather by day and cool, peaceful nights as you explore the jungle, discover hidden swimming holes and experience the tremendous hospitality that's made the region famous. The Yucatán is not only an amazing playground for hiking and biking, but a spectacular place to learn about the history of the Maya empire and the culture of its descendants today. A trip to the Yucatán is the perfect sunny February escape.
While the Northern Hemisphere is trying to shake off the winter cold in February, down in New Zealand it's the tail end of summer, meaning you can expect blue skies and clear, hot sunshine. The two islands of New Zealand are famous for their stunning cliffs and rolling green hills, a fantasy landscape for a hiking or cycling adventure. You'll see glaciers, geysers, hot springs and more! The scenery is truly out-of-this world, and the islands' sparse population means you can enjoy it in relative solitude. You'll have to see it to believe it.
February is the perfect time to visit Hawaii for a tropical vacation: you'll dodge the summer and holiday crowds as well as the worst of the winter rains, enjoying 70-degree weather ideal for hiking in the jungle or lounging on the beach. It's an exciting month in Hawaii: from the Cherry Blossom Festival in Honolulu (a celebration of Hawaii's Japanese culture), to the Maui Whale Festival (the highest concentration of humpback whales in the world is found in Maui's waters in the winter!), every traveler can find something to enjoy. You can bike through lava fields, hike up volcanoes, snack on exotic fruits and maybe even try surfing--it's truly an experience for travelers of all stripes.
In 1921, British explorer and politician Charles Howard-Bury spotted massive footprints while on an expedition to Mount Everest. His Sherpa guide informed him that they must be those of the "metoh-kangmi," the rough English translation being, "man-bear snowman." From this, the world first heard of the abominable snowman, or yeti, one of the most persistent and widely known legends of our time. But where did this folklore originate before being introduced to the West? And why does it persist today among the people who call the mighty Himalayas home?
The towering mountain peaks, glacier-carved canyons, river gorges and broad valleys of Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan combine to form what is, without a doubt, one of the most majestic landscapes on Earth. The vastness of the Himalayas can be overwhelming, with many remote valleys and hidden corners remaining untraveled by man. It's here in the rugged far reaches of the world's greatest mountain range where the yeti is believed by many to live in concealment, eluding discovery by the modern world.
Western curiosity about the legend of the yeti is rooted in centuries of whispered rumors and traveler's tall tales. Even Alexander the Great, who conquered the Indus Valley in 326 BC, demanded upon his conquest to be shown a yeti, a creature whose legend had preceded his arrival. To Alexander's disappointment, the locals claimed it wasn't possible because the beast couldn't survive below a certain altitude. Thus, even one of history's greatest conquerors suffered the same disappointment that those today have experienced (so far) in pursuit of the yeti.
Said to be protectors of the mountains, many of the Himalayan folktales identifying the yeti are tales of warning. They depict dastardly deeds inflicted by these feared creatures upon those who stray too far from home or those caught in the expansive frozen landscapes after dark. They're sometimes said to protect the gods who exist deep in the Himalayas from intrusive, pestering humans. Promulgating the legend of the yeti, much like the boogeyman of Western folklore, was a way of encouraging loved ones to be wary of wandering too far from safety or being caught away from home when the sun went down.
In addition to a physical creature, the yeti in Eastern lore is often spoken of as a ghostly spirit. One Sherpa truism holds that "there is a yeti in the back of everyone's mind; but the blessed are not haunted by it." Approached from this perspective, it would seem that the yeti is the doubt or worry inside all of us that, when faced, reveals itself to be nothing at all. However, to this day the power of the creature, whatever its true origin, holds enormous sway over those from the Himalayas. Bhutan's Skateng Wildlife Sanctuary was founded in large part to protect the migoi, or yeti-like creature whose existence has never been scientifically proven but is still widely believed by the locals to dwell in this region.
So why does the yeti hold so much power in the minds of the world today? In large part it's due to a 20th-century mania perpetuated by "sightings," second-hand encounters and discoveries of unexplainable enormous tracks and body parts. This craze was first introduced as either a poor translation or brilliant marketing ploy coined by reporter Henry Newman, eager to sell newspapers. Inevitably, like all good stories it was soon monetized as well. As tourism increased, yeti hunting licenses were sold at significant sums. Local villages suddenly all had a yeti expert--an individual that could lead the curious traveler in the direction of the most recent spotting.
Like all mysteries, genuine scientific research has gone into answering once and for all the unknown origin of this lonesome mountain monster. With the discovery of a supposed yeti scalp in 1954, validation appeared imminent. However, true believers were hit hard when the hairs were identified as coming from the shoulder of a hoofed animal native to the mountains. Many have theorized that a reason for the numerous yeti "sightings" in the upper reaches of the Himalaya over the past century is simply due to high-altitude delirium of mountain travelers mistaking other large mammals sighted in the distance, like the Asiatic black bear and wolves.
Regardless of the continued absence of any concrete proof, locals and travelers alike persist in their beliefs in the existence of the yeti. When an ancient human culture and a magnificent natural landscape combine, as they do in this overwhelmingly beautiful corner of the world, folkloric explanations arise to explain the undefinable. Experiencing the yeti legend by walking in the footsteps of researchers, believers, mountaineers and devotees is one of the highlights of a modern trip to the Himalayas. Whether on Backroad's Nepal Trekking & Safari Tour or our Bhutan Walking & Hiking Tour, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the beautiful, rich and historic cultures that exist in the greatest mountain range on earth, the realm of the ever-elusive abominable snowman, the yeti of the mountains.
January: the perfect month to curl up at home with a book and a cup of hot chocolate, right? Maybe for some people, but for the rest of us, it's the perfect time to get off the beaten path. At Backroads we believe that the traveling season is year-round, and January is the perfect example. From snowy adventures in the northern hemisphere to jungle or desert treks down south, every traveler can find something to surprise, stimulate and challenge them in January.
Here are our top picks for traveling at the top of the year.
The four national parks of the Canadian Rockies make a surreal and spectacular winter destination. From frozen waterfalls to towering ice pillars, dog sleds to outdoor hot-tubs, the Rockies will surprise you at every turn. Alongside the stunning scenery, you'll find luxurious remote hotels and the finest farm-to-table Canadian cuisine, proving finally that there's no need to sacrifice comfort--or endure the Rockies' summer crowds--to have the perfect family adventure. For the more adventurous, the Rockies in January offer thrilling ice-climbing, glacier hiking and skiing. It feels a lot like the Rockies back home, only with higher mountains and more moose!
Check out Backroads' Canadian Rockies winter trips here.
If you're looking for stimulation, India is the place to go. The sights, sounds, colors, smells and flavors are vibrant and reverberate with energy. India has a reputation for being overwhelming, but the country is also a place of deep peace--it's no surprise that this is where yoga comes from. Every traveler can find something to enjoy in the great tapestry of Indian culture, like learning about the history of British rule and Indian resistance, sipping masala chai at serene mountaintop retreats, and biking and hiking through rolling hills and desert landscapes. Add to that the chance to stay in luxurious converted palaces and enjoy some of the world's best (and spiciest!) foods, and you can understand the appeal of India. It's the perfect getaway to shake off those mid-winter blues.
Hiking in January doesn't get much better than this--the height of summer in the massive Patagonian expanses brings sunny days, crisp nights and stunning views of snow-capped mountains. You can pair an adventure in the wilderness with a visit to cosmopolitan Buenos Aires to enjoy a dose of theater and wine in one of the most bookish city in the world before taking off to ride horses with the gauchos, or simply enjoy a Patagonian vacation of hiking, cycling and fly-fishing. Don't forget to visit an asado--an Argentinean barbeque--for a true taste of summer in the southern hemisphere.
January in Vietnam is a truly unique experience--avoiding the sweltering heat and torrential rains of the summer months, as well as the crowds that flood the country in autumn and springtime, visitors can discover hidden corners of the country and engage with the locals in a way that's usually difficult, if not impossible. Explore ancient temples, kayak to deserted waterways and hidden caves, cycle through seething jungles and enjoy some of the world's freshest cuisine. Another reason to visit in January is to celebrate Tet, or the Vietnamese New Year. More likely than not, you'll find yourself raising a glass of rice wine to the changing seasons with a group of locals at a feast or family gathering. For travelers looking for something different, January in Vietnam is the place to find it.
Take a trip to Guatemala and Belize to enjoy a special kind of Central American paradise. For biking in January, snorkeling with colorful fishes and relaxing on white-sand beaches, it doesn't get much better than this. Beyond the typical tropical vacation, Guatemala and Belize offer much more, including an insight into the culture of the Mayas, who at one time were the proud owners of the most powerful empire in the Americas. You'll come away from this vacation with more than just a tan--you're likely to find yourself invited into people's homes to share stories and perspectives, and to get a taste (in more ways than one) of the rich culture of this corner of the world.
Check out Backroads' Guatemala & Belize trips here.
It might seem ironic to highlight the benefits of disconnecting from technology via an online blog, but I'm not here to say technology is bad. On the contrary, smart devices help us connect with others, allow for new learning, and can provide deeper insights into topics as diverse as politics and science. But when do the scales tip in the other direction? At what point does constant connectivity begin to do more harm than good?
I once spent time working in the Amazon rainforest and was literally forced to be disconnected from technology and the outside world, often for days on end, while conducting research in the jungle. During those campouts I would have moments, fleeting yet profound, where I felt a kind of inner peace and stillness. I felt that the lack of distractions - and absence of ever-present notifications and updates about events that had little bearing on my real day-to-day life - were driving these moments of peace and contentment.
Today I lead Backroads hiking and biking trips in the beautiful landscapes of Spain, France and Norway. I've noticed the impact disconnecting has had on the guests who have joined me in spending our days actively engaged in the natural world around us, rather than on our phones and digital devices. It's always interesting - and rewarding - to hear them comment on how powerful and refreshing these breaks from technology feel during an extended bike ride or hike.
Apart from my personal experiences, there's growing scientific evidence to support this important truth: regularly unplugging from technology can improve your life in measurable, often significant ways.
What is unplugging from technology?
'Unplugging' or 'disconnecting' involves making a conscious effort to decrease screen time and reduce the constant distractions of smartphones and other technology. This can be done by removing yourself from connectivity, such as heading out into the woods for a few days, or by simply reducing your time spent on smart devices in your everyday environment.
What are the benefits of reducing screen time?
Various studies have suggested the benefits from unplugging are manifestly real and range from the straightforward - such as helping you mentally and emotionally recharge - to the profound - like improving your interpersonal connections and helping you get over past romantic relationships.
What do studies say about unplugging?
Several studies have concentrated on this emerging behavior. Researchers at Kansas State University looked at the impact of unplugging after work on health, happiness and overall quality of life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants reported feeling much fresher and more recharged after disconnecting.
In another study from the University of Maryland, researchers discovered that students who unplugged after class reported an improved quality of life, which was quantified by metrics such as spending more time with friends and family, more frequent exercise and eating healthier foods. According to the study, less time spent on devices freed up 'space' for these improvements to be made.
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey showed that 44 percent of people sleep within arm's reach of their phone. This not only has the potential to interrupt sleep via notifications (if they're turned on), it also affects sleep patterns to view a screen's blue light before bed. Blue light can cause eyestrain, increased stress and decreased melatonin (which, in turn, increases the likelihood of weight gain). Keeping the smartphone, tablet or laptop away from the bedroom helps mitigate these problems.
On top of all that, both spending time in nature and engaging in physical activity have been repeatedly shown to deliver similar benefits. When you unplug, you have more 'free time' to take advantage of getting outside and improving your health.
What are some ways to unplug?
Try one or more of these routes to realizing the benefits of disconnecting:
1. "Do Not Disturb." Simply put your phone in "Do Not Disturb" mode and leave it that way. You're still connected, but free from the constant intrusions of audible notifications. The notifications will still be there, but only seen when you decide to review them. The idea is that a "ping-free, vibrate-free, light-up screen-free world" is a viable long-term way to balance using technology without being trapped by it.
2. Disable Push Notifications. Disabling all push notifications means you would never see any notifications. Messages, emails and other updates remain unseen until you decide to manually visit each individual app. As a less extreme option, new features on both Android and Apple phones allow for notification grouping and set timing, which can all be customized - an indication of the growing awareness of the myriad negative social, mental and physical consequences of an overly-plugged in life.
3. Intermittent Silencing. This is a great option if you're either unable to leave your phone in "Do Not Disturb" mode indefinitely or if you can't trust yourself to stop looking for notifications. Turn your phone on airplane mode for an evening, an hour, or any other preset length of time each day - and stick to it. Disconnect as much as you can afford without jeopardizing your livelihood or trustworthiness with those who depend on your reachability (such as your kids).
4. Get Outside -And Leave your Smartphone Behind. This could be as simple as taking a hike, a bike ride or traveling actively. Backroads trips are a great opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded people who often share in the desire to unplug while in nature. For those several hours each day spent immersed in mountains, local villages and country roads, they're engaging with the real, vibrant and beautiful world around them. A short delay in responding to whatever texts or emails might be waiting for us is a small price to pay for the reward of being truly present in our own lives, particularly when traveling in such magnificent places around the world.
I love seeing the benefits that guests (and often myself) experience after only a few days of getting out and getting away from the constant pull of connectivity - it brings me closer to that feeling I once stumbled upon in the jungle and will forever treasure.