Running: the perfect mix of exercise and discovery
The first thing I pack before any trip is a pair of running shoes. Apart from a passport, notebook and camera, they are the most important tool in the way I like to see the world. While running is an old hobby and passion important to my personal fitness, it’s also my preferred mode of transport when discovering a new city or even parts of my hometown.
- Soundtrack of the report
- Running on empty
- Jackson Browne
While many people see running as a form of self-torture – done begrudgingly to stay ‘in shape’ – for me, the way to get the most out of running is to think of is as never just for exercise. As many marathon runners will tell you, running is mostly in your head. Not only does running allow a mental escape daily grind, but it’s also a simple form of exercise – requiring little more than a good pair of shoes – that gets you out in the fresh air. So – physical exertion aside – running in my mind is one of the best forms of travel there is.
Most of us travel addicts enjoy a good walk as a way to let a foreign city wrap embrace us, something also important after long hours sitting while in transit or after sampling all the local food and drink. So running is just a way to up the tempo while allowing us to become familiar with our destination without wasting time in a gym. After all, relaxing your mind and alerting all your senses is the only way to really learn about a place.
Trust that in travel running, your discoveries are sure to be endless and senses sure to be alive: from pleasant new smells and strange foods found at a market you’ve just passed, to finding a new restaurant you might like to try for dinner or finding a historical site or majestic park offering the perfect postcard viewpoint you may never have passed on a bus.
And while many cities are encouraging bicycle riding – many have designated bicycle lanes and sharing programs – running is free. And of course, travelling by foot, where possible, is always a better way to see a place than being stuck on the bus or subway.
Of course, public transportation is often essential to get from A to B, especially in a big city. And while I would never argue that riding public transport takes away from your experience in a place – as every experience yields learning and cultural discovery – I will also argue that taking transportation all the time does not help you with orientation. How would you actually know how big London is or how small the island of Cozumel is? Running brings perspective in a hundred ways.
After a few experiences with ‘travel running,’ you may even find running quickly becomes an addictive essential when visiting a foreign city or town. Take for example my partner, who always brings her running shoes in her carry-on luggage, so even if her luggage was to be lost, there is always a chance to get out for that run.
Also, I find running is a perfect way to feel at home in a city, where most tourists aren’t out jogging, so you immediately feel like a local. As a traveler, we always want to feel comfortable and in tune with the locals in a new place.
I’ve gone for a jog in more than 20 countries to date, and can say many of my best travel memories are from those jogs. I found the Grand Bazaar and the food stalls along the banks of the Bosporus in Istanbul, found the postcard-perfect Chateau de Vincennes in Paris on a warm summer day, and even watched the sun come up over the Highlands while crossing the bridge from the Isle of Skye.
Further, running is an interesting way to discover parts of your own town you may have never seen. Often when I have an errand to run – pardon the pun – I’ll strap on my shoes and weave my way to wherever I’m going – like to the market to stock up for dinner, or to meet a friend for coffee. Showing up out of breath post-run always makes a great entrance and yields interesting stories.
On your next trip, lace up your shoes and run as you are.
Tips for the travel runner
- In a foreign place, or when planning a run a little further from your home base, bring some money or a credit card, so you can at least get on the bus or take a taxi if you get lost.
- Keep the contact information of the address or hotel where you’re staying. Just in case.
- Be aware of local customs, including appropriate running attire and pedestrian regulation. We wouldn’t want you to get in trouble!
- Be safe. Be careful at night or in a dangerous neighbourhood.
- Bring identification. Things happen and if there is a medical emergency, or you do get caught for trespassing, this will really help you out. You can also invest in small I.D. tags that fit on the laces of your shoes.
- Reward yourself at the end of a run. Share a drink (or a protein shake) with friends to recount all the great things you seen, heard, smelled and discovered.
- Leave your mp3 player at home. It’s rude to have headphones on when you’re running with a friend and you miss so much when you’re not listening to the sounds of the city! Not to mention, in a strange place, you should always be alert. Music is motivational in running, yes, but discovering is best done when all your senses are alert.
- And forget maps and audio guidebooks on your headphones. Discover the city yourself!
- Find a way to bring your smartphone (which most of us have these days). This way, you can log voice memos, snap some photographs (when you’ve stopped to stretch) and also have all the above listed above in case of emergency.
- Drink lots of water!