How many vacations start with the best of intentions and end up with a week’s worth of regret? You start out hopeful: I’ll finally have the time to work out like I’ve always wanted to; I can actually focus on eating well. But one poolside margarita turns into a no-shower happy hour, and the next thing you know, you've spent the whole week lounging around, indulging a little too much, and abandoning your best-laid plans for a healthier getaway.
These days, there's no reason your vacation can't serve as both an escape from the 9-to-5 and an opportunity to jumpstart some healthier habits. Sure, there are plenty of pre-planned fitness and wellness retreats out there to choose from, but if you're on your own, there are also a bunch of easy and affordable ways to hack it yourself. We asked top experts for their travel fitness tips, so you can make the most out of your vacation and return home feeling better (not more bloated) than before you left.
1. Consider Your Company
An active vacation calls for like-minded people. Are your college friends more into gin than the gym? Skip them this time. Is your S.O. more into fast runs than fast food? Bring them along. Does your mom love a Wild-style hike? Make it a bonding trip. "Planning an active trip with a gang of travelers who are equally keen to both exercise and explore is a great way to get moving," says Maria Eilersen, spokesperson for Topdeck, a travel company that designs epic trips for 18- to 30-somethings. "You'll feed off their energy and keep each other motivated. With a bit of creativity, it won’t feel like a chore: Opt to walk around instead of taking public transport—that’s when you stumble across a city’s hidden gems—or make it your mission to climb every staircase in an urban neighborhood to find out which one has the best view."
Can't coordinate a crew? Go alone. Seriously. You will be so pleasantly surprised at how enlightening and empowering solo travel can be. Taking a trip in which you invest in your body, health, and mind will leave you feeling renewed, refreshed, and ready to take on whatever real life has to throw at you when you return.
2. Set Yourself Up for Success
With more and more people foregoing the typical week-away for a runcation, fitness retreat, or post-marathon moon, hotels, resorts, and even airlines are all catering to healthy-minded travelers. So if you want to make fitting fitness into your trip easy, consider the amenities of your accommodations.
Westin, a pioneer in healthy travel, offers concierges for a variety of activities, including running, tennis, golf, yoga, Zumba, cycling, and hiking at select locations. The chain has also partnered with New Balance to lend guests workout gear for a small fee (so you won't return home with a suitcase full of smelly clothes) and Peloton to offer guests access to indoor cycling bikes. "If you’re not looking for a retreat, and you’re just looking to travel, we want to help you not lose the routine you have at home," says Chris Heuisler, a RunWESTIN concierge.
Similarly, Hilton hotels have partnered with Wattbike indoor cycling bikes to up their fitness offerings this year. Want to bust out of the hotel? Select Kimpton hotels offer PUBLIC bikes for guests to cruise around on, and Priority bikes supplies fleets to a variety of hotels and resorts. New and improved offerings like this allow you to shake things up. "Repeating the same workout every day can become mundane and methodical," says Jodi Sullivan, Hilton Worldwide's senior director of global fitness. Making sure you have what you need to prioritize exercise is key. "Or if exercising outdoors motivates you, take a long walk and explore your travel destination," Sullivan says.
3. Get Up Early
You know how vacation goes: The days can get away from you. And while there are plenty of ways to incorporate activity on a trip (walking around all day, playing on the beach, etc.), if exercise is important to you, get it done first thing. "If you look at the time frame between 4:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., that is the exact time when someone feels like they have the most control over their day," Heuisler says. Making sure you fit in some exercise—even if it's just a morning walk or some yoga—is your chance to start the day off on the right foot.
Not a morning person? Why not take this time to test it out and get up an hour earlier? "If you know you’re setting your alarm for 5 a.m., you're probably going to pass up that nightcap," Heuisler says. "And after that workout, I guarantee you won’t regret waking up early. Whatever it is, you won’t regret it." Besides, if you really can't roll out of bed, you can always hit snooze. There's no office to run to while you're on vacation, but at least you gave it the old college try.
4. Find a Healthyish Balance
Checking exercise off the list early means you have the rest of the day to do whatever you want, whether that's exploring a new city or hanging poolside with a good book. A proper vacation is a time to give your body what it needs most—including that glass of wine. "Incorporating an active element into your vacation is not about weight loss but more about well-being—as well as way to not feel guilty about all the local food you’ll want to try!" Eilersen says.
It's important to find balance in all areas of your trip, even the schedule. "Don’t kick yourself if you're not a big fan of planning," Eilersen says. "There's no shame in outsourcing it! Let someone else deal with the headache of organizing the best accommodation, but remember to leave some time for spontaneity. Whether you’re getting tips from locals or other travelers you meet on the road, you’ll want to keep an open mind and some flexibility in your itinerary to allow for those impromptu decisions that lead to lifelong memories."
5. Don't Forget the Retreat Part
Let's be real: A "fitness retreat" is just a fancy way to describe a trip or vacation that incorporates activity and some R&R. The retreat part can be as indulgent or as reasonable as you like. Thinking big? Spoil yourself with a spa treatment or an excursion like visiting natural hot springs. On a budget? It can be as simple as trying a few minutes of meditation each morning or packing a suitcase masseuse (a.k.a. a foam roller) like Heuisler does. "It’s like dental floss for your muscles," he says. The whole point is to unwind and de-stress.
Heuisler also has a rule to never raise his heart rate while he travels. "Late taxi to the airport, plane is delayed, bag doesn’t show up, whatever it is, it will get there," he says. "It offers me my own sense of peace and mindfulness. If you’re going on a trip, take a deep breath when you leave the door—most things are out of your control now anyway," he says.