Adventures in Working Out—Around the World

A runner on Easter Island; Photograph by Sarah Seiff, My Shot

While much of my travel involves adventure and plenty of activity, even the most adventurous of us find ourselves traveling for other reasons. Like business. The modern traveler faces a situation that did not plague the traveler of the far past—we aren’t carrying hundreds of pounds of stuff, nor fixing wagon wheels, wrestling stubborn camels, or fighting bandits in our gallivanting across the globe. No, we’re sitting for sometimes 16 hours straight eating and drinking with no more motion than to readjust ear buds and perhaps, if we’re not completely dehydrated, walking a whole 20 meters to the airplane toilet from our seats … AND BACK!

So we have a challenge in order to stay in shape for that upcoming climb or paddle—we have to work out on the road. I’ve found that trying to stay fit while staying in hotels falls into a couple of categories:

• Modern hotels that have a great gym. (Maybe 10 percent of the time)
• Modern hotels that have a microscopic gym jammed into a closet apparently next to the boiler room. (Approximately 30 percent)
• Hotels that have scoured the globe for the worst designed, bizarre equipment that hasn’t been fixed or oiled in decades. (Feels like 90 percent, but is probably 20 percent)

And then the majority of hotels I stay at have nothing for the fattening traveler which leaves other options:

• Room Workouts
There are sit-ups and pushups which are pretty gross when considering hotel carpets. There are curls, bench presses, etc. with a fully packed suitcase. Dips between bed and chair, and I suppose if you have the blacksmith grip of a climber, you could do finger pull-ups on a doorway. However, somehow working out in your own hotel room is just—the worst. It’s non-motivating, slightly depressing, a bit weird and just basically unpleasant. Then there’s the moment when you’re listening to music on your mobile device and don’t hear the knock of room service. When they open the door and cause “workout-us interruptus,” a horrified look and a quickly shut door ensue.

• Running in Strange Places
Or, rather, looking strange while running. In my experience traveling internationally there are a whole scale of reactions received, which I like to put on a scale, called the Local Reaction Scale or LRS. On one end is zero reaction—where running is accepted, normal, and many of the locals run. On the other end of the scale is ten. Ten is where people stop in place, stare, run away, look concerned or dumbfounded to see someone running (what the fritz is that psycho-tourist doing? Is he escaping a crime scene?). Here are a few of the places I’ve run and where they land on the LRS:

New York – 0
Denver – 0
Rural China – 6
Greenland – N/A (no one to see you run)
Norway – 2
Bhutan – 9 (what IS that guy up to?)
Brazil, urban – 0
Brazil, rural – 4
San Francisco – 0 (doesn’t EVERYONE run?)
Kurdistan, Iraq – 10 “You are CIA. Yes, I know you are. No, there’s no way you’re a tourist. You’re CIA.”
China – Gobi Desert- N/A (Are you insane? No one runs here)
Monroe, Washington, where I live – 7. It should be a zero, but we occasionally get heckled by toothless rifle-rackers in jacked up trucks adorned with No Fear stickers. Heckled. For running.

The solution that works nearly everywhere is “The Long Walk.” This is the best “workout” that can be done everywhere. I do long walks wherever I can and whenever. Barring dangerous locations (walking at night in certain urban areas obviously not the greatest, although it can then turn into running!), the long walk is a great remedy for overfeeding and for the mind. Note: Lake Naivasha, Kenya—do not walk at night as you’re basically guaranteed a hippo attack.

Some of my favorite road workouts include: Running on the beach in Mexico; running on  a treadmill at night on a hotel rooftop in Sao Paulo; mountain biking through a Jordanian desert that included seeing ancient Nabatean pipeworks and pottery in the sand and also stopping for tea and a smoke (lung clearing) at a Bedouin tent; hiking on the Great Wall of China where there were almost no tourists, night walks in full sunlight in summery Norway. Most recently I walked with a colleague in Bhutan for an hour at night and it was almost impossible to see anything as there was no light pollution whatsoever. No car noise, no machinery, no planes, nothing but wind, quiet, occasional dogs and night sounds.

And isn’t this what travel is about? Slowing down, connecting with oneself and fellow travelers, really feeling the destination and coming away more enriched, humbled and thankful? I am thankful for the opportunity to travel and to keep healthier by seeing a place by feet.

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
― W.H. Davies


  1. Nic Freeman
    October 11, 2012, 4:43 pm

    Wonderful article! I’ve been loving my morning runs while travelling Europe for the last nine months. Feels good to see a place before it wakes, while the streets are empty and easy to explore. Really loved running in Venice, Italy, Mali Losinj Island in Croatia and through the cool streets of Berlin’s Kreuzberg. Nic

  2. mario
    October 14, 2012, 7:24 pm

    I love working out and running is my favorite, I love the Idea of doing this is such a great places you mention…

  3. Partha Mandal
    October 15, 2012, 8:21 am

    Europe is awesome place to go out and the strategies above are all fabulous thanks for this wonderful post .

  4. […] Adventures in Working Out — Around the World (National Geographic) […]

  5. Heidi Siefkas
    Fort Lauderdale, Fl
    October 17, 2012, 9:39 pm

    I find that for business travel I see the world better by running. If I don’t I see the best French, German, Mexican, and American convention centers, taxi cabs, and hotel rooms. And, let’s face it they all look the same. It’s the people, the food, the music, the smells (good and bad), and sights that make a place unique. Go run! I’ll be the one doing it to raising the rating scale.

  6. Gabriela
    Chihuahua, México
    October 17, 2012, 10:59 pm

    Wonderful article!!!
    Hope one day is on your running list Copper Canyon in Chihuahua; surely the scale should be 0, since Tarahumaras are famous runners. I´d love to take a pic of that!!

  7. Joslin Fritz
    October 18, 2012, 1:06 am

    Love long walks- though I have been known to bring jump ropes on my trips and cause the people below me to wonder what I was doing…

  8. Laura Mandelkorn
    North Bend, WA
    October 18, 2012, 8:15 am

    You have a wonderful, casual tone to your story telling that is very relatable. I run or hike not only to stay in shape, but also to shake the %#@ out of my brain when there’s a lot going on. Lacing up the sneaks is good for the soul… Nothing like the serenity of being outdoors alone with uncluttered thoughts. It’s peaceful, pretty and promising. When the blood is flowing, so are the possibilities in life. I’ve hatched more ideas and solved more problems on my little fun runs than in any other setting… except for maybe that shower afterwards.

    Great inaugural blog Shannon! Thanks for sharing and I hope to wave at you on a dash through Namibia.

  9. Muhammad Zaki Al-Aziz
    October 21, 2012, 7:56 am

    Running in a ancient culture legacy will make us ask how they could do that? 😀

  10. Lon Dee
    Northern Utah, Near the Lake
    November 1, 2012, 8:34 am

    Throw a couple resistance bands into your luggage. They’re light weight and can be used in a hotel room. (Maybe you can first put a towel on the floor to cover the grime.)

  11. Ali
    November 1, 2012, 10:06 am

    Love the “Long Walk” – you don’t get the weird stares from locals (well, okay, sometimes you still do) and you get to see a great perspective on the area you’re in. Also just walking everywhere rather than paying for cabs… I like to travel light, so my pack’s around 10-15lbs, so this is doable even for longer walks.

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  13. ashkan
    November 7, 2012, 10:59 pm


  14. Rodrigo González
    November 11, 2012, 4:42 pm

    Very good article, although I personally prefer the trekking.
    Very nice photo of the corridor in our Easter Island, Chile.
    Precución be taken as the ahu or platforms where the statues are located can not be stepped on, they are protected.
    Many people take pictures provided transgress rules or care places.
    Tienena to come to Easter Island at least once in your life.

    Greetings from Chile
    Rodrigo Gonzalez

  15. Sue Palminteri
    December 18, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Great article! It made me laugh, as I have run in many countries. I enjoyed the LRS. Fort Portal, Uganda definitely got a 9 or 10 (children fleeing behind their mothers, and mothers trying not to stare too intently!).

    In rural Sri Lanka, locals came to the street to smile and wave us on, which could either be a middle Local Reaction or perhaps a -1 (positive encouragement?)!