On a recent trip to Europe, my itinerary left me with about 10 hours each in Frankfurt and Amsterdam – two cities I had never visited. Searching for ways to efficiently get in the main sights, I came across a type of tour I had never seem before: sightjogging, a sightseeing/running combo that I figured would help me get in some exercise to ward off both jet lag and the inevitable effects of a five-day riverboat cruise with a buffet and an open bar.
Multitasking on the road? Sign me up, I thought. So I booked private tours with Sightjogging Frankfurt and Tourist Run Amsterdam that brought me up close and personal with the cities while giving me the chance to ask questions, take photos and get an insider's view of my guides' hometown. And now that I'm looking, I am finding these fitness-oriented tours everywhere, with the travel industry jumping to provide vacationers with a workout while they explore.
"There's been a real increase in places that offer explicitly active travel," says writer Emily Matchar, who covered fit vacation destinations for Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2013. "People are less interested in passive beach sitting and more in getting out and being active."
While boot camps and retreats might have received much of the attention in the past, the trend now is for active offerings that help travellers get closer to the destination, rather than just farther from home.
"These vacations aren't only about the training," says Toronto writer Stephania Varalli, whose fitness-oriented vacation résumé includes mountain biking in Andalucia, Spain, and a muay thai boxing camp in Thailand. "They're a fantastic, unique way to see a country."
In Madagascar, for example, she says, "we trekked through remote villages that haven't had foreign visitors in over 50 years – and that's if you count the French Legion as visitors."
That's why "sightjogging" is popular; it's an efficient way for runners to clock kilometres and take in the rhythms of local life. "Discovering a country or city is intenser when it's done in an active way," explains Paul Bierman, co-owner of Tourist Run Amsterdam. "That enables you to really absorb the atmosphere."
On my 7.5-kilometre jogging tour past Amsterdam's museums, canals and red-light district, there was time to stop for explanations and to take photos.
Hotels have noticed the change and are moving beyond the basic gym and offering in-room fitness amenities as well as destination-specific programs. Some Fairmont locations offer regular guided runs with hotel staff, the hotels also offer a tai chi master in Beijing, kettlebell classes in Pittsburgh and yoga on stand-up paddleboards in Hawaii. And if you forget to bring workout gear, many hotels will lend you clothing and shoes. In St. Lucia, The Body Holiday resort devotes itself to rejuvenation through fitness and offers many wellness programs and dozens of classes.
In Vancouver, complimentary bikes are becoming de rigueur as a means for visitors to get around the city: The Opus, the Burrard and the Loden all have them on offer, and the latter has in-room yoga mats and a TV channel dedicated to yoga programming.
There is such a demand for active vacations that tour companies such as G Adventures, Butterfield & Robinson and My Adventure Store are revamping their catalogues with fitness-oriented trips for all levels. "A lot of people go walking or cycling as a hobby and because of that, they want to do it during their holiday time," says Alistair Butchers, innovation manager at G Adventures, who increased the company's active offerings by 30 per cent this year. "It's a different way to see a country."
Even operators that skew to an older demographic, such as river-cruise company Avalon Waterways, are seeing a shift. "The desire to exercise and maintain fitness seems to be on the increase," says managing director Patrick Clark, an avid runner who jogs along riverside pathways when he's on a cruise. Onshore sightseeing includes bike tours in cities such as Lyons.
For Butchers, whose favourite active holiday was a dogsledding, snowshoeing and ice-walking tour of Swedish Lapland, part of the appeal is trying new things , which is why G Adventures includes multisport trips on their roster, allowing travellers to experiment with kayaking, cycling, hiking and other self-propelled methods of getting around.
Next on his list? Climbing Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, a trip that requires not just pep, but prep. "The enjoyment of the training is part of it," Butchers says. "People don't always realize how difficult it can be."
Whether you're a gym rat or just enjoy fresh air, building some sweat time into your next getaway might make the whole trip that much more meaningful. "Our motto is 'slow down to see the world'," says Kathy Stewart of Butterfield & Robinson. "There is so much more to experience walking or biking through the countryside than seeing it from a car window or lying on a beach, and it is a great way to get some exercise to justify all the gourmet food you will eat."