My sister in law once said to me, “Vacation calories don’t count.” I always like to think of this whenever I am somewhere new and stuffing my face with the local delicacies. When you’re on holiday, travel fitness is the last thing on your mind!
Most travelers don’t really want to think about how to stay active on the road. Nor are they thinking about whether what they’re putting in their mouths are high in calories, or transfat, or gluten. But when you’re a traveling family, staying healthy is actually pretty important. And fortunately, there are some easy ways to make travel fitness possible, even when you’re traveling with your family.
This post was updated on April 14, 2020.
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Why staying healthy is important, even during travel
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that obesity affects over 93 million American adults. And for children and young people, the percentage of kids considered obese is 20%. As parents, we are the first line of defense against childhood obesity. And we do this by modeling positive and healthy behaviors in our kids.
Besides preventing obesity, keeping our bodies healthy and active allows us to enjoy our travels more. We can do more activities and we can engage in activities longer. And what’s more, staying healthy leads to a longer life, which means we have more years that we can travel! In essence, travel fitness helps us to travel more.
Making travel fitness work for your family
Enjoying your meals while you’re on the road undoubtedly means that you’ll be packing on a few extra pounds by the time you return. If you’re like me, you are most likely the garbage can for your kids when you travel. I’m always finishing their half-eaten meals because I can’t really take home any leftovers back to our hotel or Airbnb.
For our family, we’ve found that travel fitness involves doing physically active things. This helps balance out the weight we gain from eating. If you think this is impossible to do, here are eight practical tips and suggestions for doing travel fitness with your family.
#1: Go on a hike
I didn’t used to be a nature girl, but now that I have kids, I love spending time in the outdoors. During our travels, we’ll do hiking excursions at places like Arches National Park with kids. Or we’ll enjoy outdoor activities while visiting national parks like the Redwoods with kids.
Hikes are a great way to spend time outside AND be physically active. The best part about it is that you can do it anywhere: the mountain trails at Whistler, the jungles of Sumatra, and even the streets of New York City (urban hikes, anyone?). It doesn’t really matter where you go, just that you’re outside walking and enjoying the world.
#2: Play at the beach
Despite my confession of never being much of a nature person as a kid, there is one part of nature that I absolutely love: the beach. My kids love playing in the beach too, just as much as I do.
The best part about it is that you don’t really need much to enjoy the beach. Whether it’s a warm, tropical Southeast Asian beach, or a cold Washington state beach, we love running along the shores and chasing the waves. This is an easy way to incorporate travel fitness, and get a tan in the process! Just remember to wear some environmentally friendly sunscreen while you’re at it.
#3: Take your travel fitness activities to the park
We also love visiting local parks. They give the kids a chance to run around and let off some extra energy. And they also allow us to enjoy playing with other local families.
For parents, instead of sitting around watching the kids, why not play with them? Climb the monkey bars, play on the swings, run around and play tag. Not only will this give you an excuse to do stay active, it also gives you a chance to bond more with your kids.
#4: Rent a bike
My kids are now old enough to ride a bike without training wheels. But even if you have younger kids, consider renting a bike (or several) and getting to know the city that way. Many big cities have bike rental places, and even destinations overseas also have places where you can rent bikes for several hours or for a day.
While traveling in Mexico, we rented bikes in cities like La Paz and Guadalejara. We had so much fun biking in the parks!
#5: Walk all over the place
The easiest way to do travel fitness is simply by walking. Coincidentally, this is also the best way, in my opinion to get to know a city. If your kids are still too young to walk for an extended period of time, consider bringing along a back pack carrier or a lightweight umbrella stroller. We have found that many cities, such as New York City and Singapore are quite walkable.
#6: Go swimming
Swimming is a great way to get in some quality family bonding time. Our kids are now able to swim on their own. They’ve even started doing laps with me!
But even if it’s just a leisurely swim, there’s something fun about splashing around in water. It just makes you feel like a little kid. Particularly if you’re in a tropical destination, a cold dip in a pool is a nice way to end a hot day.
#7: Travel for a race or competition
Every year in May, we try to make a weekend trip to Spokane, WA where we participate in their annual 12k race, the Lilac Bloomsday Run. It’s a race that draws around 50,000 participants. In our opinion, it’s just an all-around fun family-friendly event.
Even our young kids get to do some running of their own. The kids have a race called the Marmot March, a 1 mile race around Spokane’s Riverfront Park. Doing a race with your kids is so much fun to do, and it encourages them to engage in travel fitness with you. Our kids got a ribbon at the end of the race, and they were so proud to show it off!
#8: Hike around temples and historic places
Another great way to engage in travel fitness is to visit temples or historic places. While in Indonesia, we visited some pretty amazing places like Tanah Lot in Bali, and Borobudur temple and Prambanan in Yogyakarta. In Mexico we hiked up ancient Mayan pyramids. And when we visited Paraguay back in 2013, we spent an evening walking around the UNESCO Paraguay Jesuit site in the town of Trinidad.
Many of these historic places are spread out, and require a great deal of physical activity to explore. For young kids, they’re practically a giant playground with all sorts of structures to climb on and cross over.
#9: Try a new activity!
During my travels, I’ve tried horseback riding in Mexico, swimming with whale sharks, and even beginner paddle board lessons. These were all things that were new to me, but still incorporated an aspect of physical activity. When you’re traveling, use a new activity as an excuse to stay active and fit.
#10: Make equipment-free workouts part of your travel fitness routine
Since we travel full-time, we can’t always hit the gym. Instead, we use apps on our phone to help us incorporate equipment-free workouts into our day. I like to use the Seven app for my daily workouts. I’ll do one or two of the body weight workouts in the morning to get my day started.
If you’re looking for ideas of exercises you can do anywhere, I like Dai Manuel’s book, Whole Life Fitness Manifesto. It’s full of 15 minute workouts that you can do anywhere, without equipment. The book is actually a whole fitness program, but if you just want to do the workouts, you can certainly do that.
Incorporating travel fitness into your vacation
No matter where you travel, it’s easy to incorporate physical activity into your family travel adventure. Whether it’s walking around a city, swimming at a beach, or exploring an old ruin, there are plenty of opportunities to get moving and get active.
By engaging your kids in physical activity, you not only help them develop healthy ways to travel, but you also cultivate valuable bonding experiences with them. And it allows you to stop worrying about all the food you’re enjoying on your travels! So go out there and explore the world with the kids!
What are some travel fitness activities you and your family do? Share your tips in the comments below.
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