I know, you’re thinking – Jim, I want to sip pina coladas on my vacation, not suffer through shin splints. But I have a very good reason for jogging on vacation. And if you’re not a runner, go for a brisk walk at least. Here’s why:
Exploring Where to Go: It is a great way to survey your new neighborhood. Go for a run shortly after landing, or on the next morning after you arrive and run in concentric circles in the neighborhoods around your hotel/Airbnb. While you’re watching for traffic and obstacles, also look out for restaurants, bars and tourist sights. I can’t count the number of times I came back from a run and was able to suggest a spot for dinner, a neighborhood to investigate, or even just a coffee shop that might have a much-coveted bagel during our trip.
Exploring Where Not to Go: If you’re going to accidentally travel into a dangerous neighborhood, wouldn’t it be better if you were running instead of walking through it? Go for a run and if you make a wrong turn, you can quickly change direction, and since you’re moving fast, it will be easier to dodge stray bullets. And nothing helps you improve your chances of beating your personal record than running from armed hoodlums.
Beat Jetlag: Exercise is a great way to cure jet lag. If you’re traveling eastward and expect to have difficulty falling asleep, go for a run to help exhaust yourself into hitting the hay earlier than usual. If you’re heading west, drag yourself out of bed the next morning to get your body and mind used to activity at an earlier hour.
Beat a Hangover: If you like to spend your first night on vacation imbibing too much to help you forget about those jerks from accounting, a next-day run is a great way to clear out the cobwebs and push out the poison from the night before.
How to Make Sure You Have a Good Run on your Vacation
The hardest part of going on a run is taking the first step out the door, and that’s especially true on vacation, when you’re counting the precious seconds before you have to go back to that desk and deal with those aforementioned jerks from accounting. So help make your task easier before you go, by setting up the opportunity to make your exercise easier based on your location. When you select your hotel or Airbnb, think about these factors:
Green space: If there’s a park nearby, you’re likely to be able to run uninterrupted in a bucolic setting.
A river: Many major cities are situated near a river, which makes for a relaxing and flat run along the water and over bridges, uninterrupted by traffic stops.
The Beach: Same as a river, and if you want an extra workout you can run on the sand instead of the sidewalk.
Tourist Spots: Some travelers want to be close to tourist spots for convenience, others want to be in local neighborhoods. Regardless, the touristy spots are a double-edged sword for a runner: they make for wonderfully memorable runs (running along the Berlin Wall was an experience I won’t forget), but you can frequently find yourself dodging lumbering tourists or even stuck in pedestrian traffic (My jog in Hong Kong was like trying to run through the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.). If you’re near tourist spots, take an early morning run to avoid the crowds so you’re still able to enjoy the sights. My home city of Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite examples of a city that provides a great sightseeing run.
My Memorable and Forgettable Runs Around the World
Some cities and locations are better for runners, some are worse. Here are some of my experiences:
Along the Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai, India: The row of streetlights along the beach and promenade off the western coast of Mumbai is called the Queen’s Necklace, a throwback to India’s colonial past. Run along this street not just for the ocean views but also the people-watching, as locals come here to sit along the promenade to mingle, to eat from Tupperware and to watch the sunset along with the tourists.
With the Danes in Copenhagen: We found a running group ahead of our trip to Copenhagen and joined their weekly 5k run through a central park area of the city. You can find these groups around the world using Parkrun. Our group of Danes was friendly, lively and like most Danes, in really good shape. Old ladies were passing me with smiles on their faces, barely breaking a sweat.
Dodging scooters in Saigon:As I've noted before, running in southeast Asia can be hazardous to your health. You have to dodge massive potholes big enough to fit Jimmy Hoffa. And the streets are filled with every manner of car, scooter, tuk-tuk, semi, angry stray dog, playing children, and an occasional barnyard animal.
The Frankfurt, Germany graveyard: I ran through a large cemetery near our hotel in Frankfurt. At first I wondered, “Is this socially acceptable?” The gates were open, and no funerals were taking place, so I decided to give it a go. I have German ancestry, so I was checking gravestones as I passed for my family name. (Wow, I just realized it would have been really eerie to have found my full name on a gravestone – Ebenezer Scrooge-style. Yikes!) Nothing clears the mind to realize the value of every second you have on earth like running through a graveyard. Mourn the dead, and at the same time be more thankful you’re alive.
Along Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia: It will make for a fun but humbling story when you’re back home explaining your injuries. You fell down an open manhole because you were checking out the scantily clad or topless sunbathers at Bondi Beach. Or maybe it was the beautiful sunrise over the surfers riding the waves. Yeah, that’s it, the sunrise ...
Along the coast in Cape Town, South Africa: If you’re lucky on vacation you’ll be able to run along a beach, which provides a spectacular view of the sun glistening off the water and the sound of crashing ocean waves. Or you might be lucky enough to run along a mountain vista and watch as clouds roll over the peak and spill into the valley below. If you’re in Cape Town, you can do both at once. On my left was the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, on my right was picturesque Tabletop Mountain and Signal Hill. This city is gorgeous at any speed, including a jogger’s pace.
In Bed in Ireland: We spent three weeks in the cities and small towns of Ireland, but I have no idea what it’s like to run in the Emerald Isle – I was too hungover. I have some great bar stories, though.
Watching My Step in Buenos Aires: The Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires was great for people watching while running in the three weeks we spent there. But the many stray dogs roaming the streets of this city created a minefield of dog poop that had me sidestepping along the sidewalks.
Alert in Bali, Indonesia: There’s lots to watch for as I ran through the streets of Bali. Shopkeepers put out Canang Sari on the sidewalk, small offerings to the gods consisting of lit incense and a bit of rice on a weaved bamboo bowl. Then there are the scooters, the roving monkeys, and the monkeys driving scooters (ok I made up that last one), all competing for space on the streets and sidewalks.
Enjoy your vacation, but make time for a run when you’re traveling. When you’re running through a new city, it’s not just exercise, it’s a cultural experience.