Planning an Active Vacation
Oct 30, 2020
What is an active vacation, how do I plan one...and will I still return refreshed?
Editor's note: Traveling and vacationing looks different right now due to COVID-19. Everyone should continue to follow evolving CDC guidelines surrounding the pandemic. The following info is shared with the acknowledgement that some vacations are currently being postponed or modified.. However, planning, prepping and having something to look forward to is a great mental health exercise and mood booster. While you continue to do your part to stay healthy, don’t hesitate to have fun planning for a time when more options are once again realistic.
Most of us dream of or typically plan vacations which involve turning off our phones and disconnecting while lying on a beach and drinking mai tais. These types of vacations are valuable mental and physical breaks that we all need. However, there are many advantages to finding ways to be active while still taking time away from home and work. An active vacation is amazing with friends, family, or even as a solo adventurer.
What is an active vacation? First of all, an active vacation can mean different things to different people. There is a wide range in the intensity and level of activity that is attractive to people while on vacation. Some might embark on a multi-day hiking and backpacking trip while others might think of an active vacation as simply taking daily, long, leisurely walks on the beach. No matter the level of activity or gear required, an active vacation is essentially intentionally mixing in something to keep you physically active with your needed downtime and relaxation.
Here are some options for planning an active vacation.
Option 1: Choose your destination - and then explore activities nearby. The nice thing about an open mind and a human body is that you can pretty much be active anywhere in the world. If you and/or your vacation partners have a specific destination in mind, perfect! Start there and find activities in the area that appeal to you.
Explore nearby golf courses or join a local tennis clinic. Consider trying something new like surf lessons or going on a snorkeling tour. Check for guided adventures such as kayaking or paddleboarding. Many vacation destinations offer beautiful hiking trails - look for guided hikes or if you are comfortable venturing on your own then use the AllTrails app to find nearby trails. At a resort, check the schedule for sunset yoga, group walks, or pool workouts.
Running (or walking) is one of the easiest activities to do from any location. Explore urban areas with a well-planned run. Use “Map My Route” on the USATF website to find popular running routes near you. Many hotel front desks or concierge desks will also have a map of nearby walking and running routes. Many cities offer guided walks and bike tours which can be a fun way to see sights and learn the history of an area. You can learn the route by taking one of these tours and then repeating the route on your own - stopping at the sights. Always take your phone and a $10 bill in case you get off course or have so much fun that you end up much further away than planned (speaking from experience here)! Also, safety first. Use good judgment and the opinions of those familiar with the area if heading out solo. Local running stores usually have organized group runs and typically have a wide variety of paces, skills, and distances available.
Option 2: Choose an activity - and then pick your place. If you aren’t yet committed to a destination, consider an activity you’d like to incorporate into your time off and let that drive the location. Maybe you’ve never been scuba diving and want to get certified and go? Work with a scuba certification school in your area and then plan a vacation around an amazing scuba diving spot. If you love running or yoga - look for a yoga retreat or running camp to plan your vacation around.
There are outfitters who will help plan all the details for a wide variety of trips focused around a specific activity. Google is your friend - as are local resources, have fun with your research. There are options for most vacation budgets ranging from elaborate international treks - to organizations that will recommend a great primitive camping area within driving distance where you can spend time hiking each day with your family.
Option 3: Choose an event - and plan a vacation around it. This option is easy for those interested in running. Simply plan a vacation or a long weekend around a specific race. If you google destination races you will get a long list of fabulous places that host running events. Maybe it’s 1/2 marathon in Napa or a 5k at Disney? This is such fun when planning a girls’ weekend or for the whole family to go and support you in your first (or twentieth) race!
If you’re not a runner, there are definitely events other than running races that can be worked into a great trip. Does your local yoga group do an annual retreat? Commit by planning your vacation around that. Think outside the box about annual events that you’ve heard of but never considered attending. For example, Bridge Day in West Virginia. You don’t have to take up base jumping but it would be a cool experience to see, you get to walk across the New River Gorge Bridge and there are tons of beautiful hiking spots in the area. Even events that don’t typically invoke thoughts of exercise/activity can also be turned into an active vacation. Walking all around NYC while shopping and experiencing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will put plenty of steps in your Fitbit!
Regardless of which vacation option you choose - start the vacation off on the right foot with a short workout and healthy snack/meal before you leave. Whether you have an early morning flight or a full day of driving ahead of you - it’s a great reason to get up and get your blood pumping! Try 20 minutes of cardio, some flow yoga, or just stretching. Travel days often involve some stress or anxiety, eating and sleep schedule disruption and risk of dehydration. Doing a short workout clears your mind, and sets your mood for the day - it’s an often overlooked component to a successful day of travel! Couple the morning activity with a nutrient-packed snack or breakfast and some fluids to head into your vacation already feeling good.
What are the benefits of experimenting with an active vacation?
Ultimately the answer is that physical activity does amazing things for your mood and brain health (which is really what a vacation is all about). Furthermore, you may learn a new skill that helps you find a new way to be active that you really enjoy. Physical activity lowers the risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and dementia. Experiencing nature and the world around you also has health benefits; its a proven anecdote for stress, it lowers BP, improves general well-being, enhances the immune system, and improves mood.
When planning some time away for a vacation, spend time considering what is going to contribute to your overall health and wellness. Drinking mai tais on the beach sounds amazing...but a week of inactivity and only drinking mai tais on the beach will likely leave you feeling bloated and tired. Find the balance that you need to ensure you return from your trip rested but also motivated and ready to continue on your journey to being the healthiest version of yourself!
By: Madeline Hardacre, MD and Melany Tenore