Tips for Running while Traveling

I just came home from a rejuvenating week in sunny and dry La Quinta, California. In my BR (before-running) years, a vacation meant relaxing, sightseeing, and indulging. There was a lot of food and drink and absolutely no exercise.
Indulgences collageWhy, hello, vacation yummies! Don’t mind if I do… and keep doing!

Since I started running more seriously (i.e., signing up for half-marathons and marathons, and training for same), I have incorporated running into my trips.  Usually it’s pretty easy to keep training or maintain a semblance of my normal running habits when I’m on vacation, but it requires more intention than running at home.  I keep the following in mind when preparing for a trip:

Watch the Weather

Obviously, if you live in Alaska and you’re traveling to Hawaii for vacation, you shouldn’t pack the same things you would wear running outside at home in Anchorage to wear in Honolulu. That being said, however, one should never assume anything about the weather.

It’s a good idea to think ahead and consider worst case scenarios.  That means not only checking NOAA and the Weather Channel (my two go-tos), but packing for worse or just different weather conditions than one expects.

Sunny but chill-ay!

Sunny but chill-ay!

When I packed for running in the desert, I planned to wear tank tops and shorts, expecting the temps to be in the low 70s to low 80s on my morning runs. When I arrived, however, the weather was colder than I had assumed it would be.  On two of the mornings I ran, the temps were in the low to mid 50s, and I was a little cool in my tank top.  And by “cool,” I don’t mean like Fonzie.

I didn’t pack smart.  Next time I go to the desert, I’ll bring a couple running tees to wear just in case.

Pack All Your Running Necessities

This is super obvious, but how many times have you packed for a trip only to find yourself sitting on your flight, well on your way to your destination, when you suddenly remember that you forgot something essential at home? Argh!

One way to prevent this is to make a packing list. When it comes to vacations, I am a list-maker. I usually make lists of things I want for everyday use (you know, outfits and things like that), and a separate list for running gear.

On my running packing list: my Garmin, its charger, earbuds to listen to my iPhone while running, bras, socks, shorts, shoes, etc. I also include on the list less-obvious-but-still-important items like hair ties, headbands, Nuun (Cherry Limeade-holla!), and a water bottle. That way there’s a very slim chance I’ll forget essential running items when I’m packing for my trip.

Even better than your standard list: blogger rockstar Monica of Run Eat Repeat recently posted a clever and practical idea about packing for destination races, and I am totally going to use it for packing for my trips from now on.
race-day-must-haves-travel-bag-marathon-half-marathon-trainingShe writes down her race-day must-haves on a gallon-size plastic bag, then packs the items on her list in the bag.  Read more about Monica’s genius packing tip here.

Check Your Luggage or Rent a Condo

I tend to travel like Diana Ross (sorry for another late 70s reference, kiddos), meaning I overpack like a diva. I bring outfits I would probably wear just in case. Like bringing a taffeta prom dress–just in case I get invited to an 80s-themed-prom party.

This is actually a gross exaggeration. But I do tend to bring several separates that I can mix and match for different outfits, and I always end up bringing at least 3 pairs of footwear (even for weekend trips).

With running–and all of its necessary apparel and gear–being part of this equation, I could end up packing a steamer trunk. Running shoes are bulky and take up a lot of space in a suitcase. And if I plan to run 4 times on the trip, that’s 4 different running outfits (sorry–I don’t wear my running clothes more than once without laundering). This makes it tough to get by with just a carry-on.

In those situations where I do rely on carry-on luggage, such as last week’s trip to La Quinta, it’s because I’m staying in a condo or some other lodging situation that has laundry facilities.  If  I stay somewhere without laundry facilities (that is, most hotels), I usually just go big and plan on checking my luggage.

Not only is having your own washer and dryer convenient and practical, condo-living has another perk for runners: a full kitchen to properly fuel pre-run.  I can’t tell you how irritating it is to stay in a hotel at a destination marathon and not have a fridge and microwave in the room, making it impossible to prep my usual pre-race breakfast.
IMG_0424When out of town, I love having a kitchen to prepare my early morning oatmeal.

So, in short, condos are great for runners. Even if you don’t pack light.  I find my rental condos on vrbo and airbnb.

Research Your Runs

In addition to checking the weather forecast, I go online to find out information about the area around my hotel or condo. Is it safe? Are there nice running trails, or at least sidewalks? Is there a must-do running route nearby?

Last year I went to Disneyland. Before our trip, I did (what I thought was my) due diligence and researched established running routes on Map My Run. I wasn’t entirely sure about the safety of the area around the park, and when I got there I ended up following a version of several MMR routes, which basically consisted of running loops around the whole Disneyland/California Adventure complex.


Cars, cars, everywhere! And I’m not talking about the Disney movie.

Not only was it boring, but I ran next to six-lane-wide streets the entire time, sucking in car exhaust like there was no tomorrow.

The mistake I made was not doing a quick drive around the area–after arriving–to scope out potential routes. If I had taken the time to take a pre-run spin in my rental car, I could have found safe and attractive neighborhoods nearby that would have provided more interesting and less carbon-monoxide-filled running experiences. Live and learn.

If I go online and find a dearth of running information about my destination (for example, Cabo San Lucas) and my pre-run tour of the area shows me the area’s not particularly runner friendly (eg., any airport area), I run on the treadmills in the hotel gym. This is also the case if I am visiting an area with questionable safety issues (again, Cabo). I won’t run on highways, solo on wooded trails, or in areas where there are State Department warnings. It’s just not worth the risk to me.

Expect the Unexpected

Vacations are rad, y’all! Until they’re not. Bad things happen on vacation, too.

Non-Running Example: My daughter developed a terrible toothache when we were in California last week. Had I brought our new health insurance cards? Of course I hadn’t. And I ended up paying full price of her prescription meds.

Running Example: Last October, I was in Chicago for a work trip and decided to go for a run on the Lake Shore Path one sunny, perfect morning.
chicagoI was having an amazing time, enjoying the warm day and the stellar views of Lake Michigan and Chicago’s famous skyline… until I tripped on an uneven sidewalk panel and fell onto my wrist and shoulder, injuring myself. I staggered, bloodied and in severe pain, to a complete stranger to ask her for help. She helped my hail a cab to get me back to my hotel. And of course I had no money to pay the cab.

Nobody wants to think about bad things happening on vacation, but you still have to prepare for the worst. That means bringing a phone to call for help or to find your way back to your lodging, and keeping $5-10 in your pocket to pay for a cab or a mid-run bottle of water. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
dryerAs you can see, I like to lead a very safe and cautious lifestyle.  (No children were harmed in the course of taking this photo.)

Be a Tourist: Bring and Use Your Camera

I don’t always run with my iPhone at home. Sometimes I want to go tune-less, or I just don’t want to contend with holding on to it.  But when I travel, I always keep my iPhone with me. It’s a good idea for safety (see above), but it’s also a great way to document your trip.  You never know what sights you’ll see on your run through unfamiliar territory.
golf cart lane
the rock
Taking photos on a run makes the run more interesting and a little less serious. And isn’t that what being on vacation is all about?

Do you run on vacation? Any tips to share?

9 thoughts on “Tips for Running while Traveling

  1. Great tips! I am trying to downsize my luggage so I only have a carryon but it is simply not possible without getting rid of my running stuff, and that is obviously not an option!

    • Thanks!

      To save space, I roll (instead of fold) workout clothes, tee shirts, denim, and other clothing items that aren’t that dressy or prone to excessive wrinkling. I find that the rolling method and staying in a place with a washer and dryer helps me pack it all in a carry-on.

  2. * On the Desert: A lot of people don’t realize that there is low desert and high desert. High desert is very cold and windy in the winter. Even low desert drops down into the 40’s at night because there is no humidity to hold the temperature up. The head radiates straight up into space.
    * On Packing: For short trips you might want to consider running flats instead of your regular running shoes. These are lighter and pack better.
    * Smart phone apps: You can create your own packing list using the “Packing” smart phone app. Use and reuse. I also have weather apps on my phone. My favorite is WeatherBug. It cots more but has 10 day look aheads, detailed hour by hour look ahead (storm predicted at 3pm) and alerts. You may also want to take a weather app like Weather or the Red Cross Tornado app. These have audible push notifications for severe thunderstorms and tornados. Really nice if you don’t understand the weather patterns of the local area.
    * Running clothes are an easy sink wash because they are designed to wick sweat. Purchase inflatable clothes hangers for the top, and a flexible clothes line for the bottoms. Wash on coming back from your run and you’ll be guaranteed dry clothes the next day.
    * Running routes: Where possible, use Google street view to get a feel for potential running routes.

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