How many times have you returned from a fabulous vacation only to find that your clothes have mysteriously shrunk? Maybe it’s time to give your vacation a makeover. Instead of spending a week stuffing your face at the resort’s all-inclusive buffet, then sleeping it off by the pool (not that there’s anything wrong with that), why not plan a “playcation”? One of the hottest travel trends is getting fit while getting away, and more and more people are trading in their gut-busting debauch for an active escape.
In the past, it was typically young singles and thrill-seekers looking for extreme (and extremely dangerous) experiences who sought out active vacations. But now middle-aged folks are the fastest-growing segment of active travelers. Aging baby boomers have become more health conscious and are no longer content to be just weekend warriors when it comes to fitness.
These days, they are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle—even on vacation. Recreational athletes are also embracing adventure travel and using it as a way to up the ante, to push themselves physically while experimenting with new sports and activities. And some people are completely rethinking their idea of holiday and are taking a vacation specifically for the purpose of getting into shape.
Tour planners are taking advantage of this trend. Today you can choose trips geared toward every interest, activity and fitness level, from sport-specific immersion trips to mind/body programs to gender-based retreats. To help find your best match, most companies have a system that rates the level of difficulty of each tour; it’s up to you to decide how energetic you want your trip to be and the proper ratio of rest and relaxation to ripping and running.
Fit trips combine the fun of travel with fitness-oriented activities. Here are few of the most popular choices:
Cruises: That’s right, no longer a floating food orgy for the mature and sedentary, cruise lines are chasing the young, sexy and active travel dollar. Cruise lines have added itineraries that feature onshore adventures from scuba diving to dog sledding, and they’ve spent millions of dollars upgrading ships. Now on days at sea, you can stay busy by taking advantage of the latest fitness programs and facilities, including rock-climbing walls and wave machines for onboard surfing. Cruises are also loaded with kid-friendly activities and make great family vacations and multigenerational reunions because you can do your own thing without having to plan for the whole group.
Hiking: It’s a way to slow down and connect with nature up close and personal and at your own pace—and it makes for another great family trip. Hiking can be a good intro trip and gentle way for sedentary types to get moving, but if you want something more challenging there are also extremely rigorous trips that take on steep summits in high altitude. And if your main goal is to shed some pounds, there’s an outfit called "Fatpacking”—no kidding—that combines a weight loss program with backpacking.
Cycling: These trips are one of the best ways to explore an area because the pace is slow enough to take in the sights but you can still cover a decent amount of ground. Depending on the trip, the riding can be quite leisurely. Typically there’s a support van that transports your stuff—and you and your bike, too, if you want to take a break getting to the daily destination. Some of the most popular trips are food and wine tours, but be aware that on these gastronomic getaways, riding takes a back seat to eating your fill of local delicacies. And while it’s not like competing in the Tour de France, before taking off on cycling trip, you should put in some training miles to get accustomed to time in the saddle.
Yoga: Yoga retreats are one of the best ways to reap the benefits of exercise that has a mind/body connection. Both the budding yogi and the more experienced practitioner can use these retreats to go deeper into their practice, breaking through barriers and improving poses. And although the experience can be intense, with daily and sometimes twice daily classes, it can be both a great escape and a way to open new doors of awareness. But the path to enlightenment doesn’t have to be austere. Your yoga experience can be as indulgent as you want; there are yoga resorts that have ongoing yoga instruction all over the world. Log on to Yoga Movement for a directory of yoga vacations and retreats.
If you’re stumped for active vacation ideas, the Sierra Club and GORP are good places to start to research hiking and multi-sport trips. They’re both well known and well respected, but, frankly, their trips run toward the pedestrian—pun intended. If you’re not keen on camping and your idea of roughing it is a hotel without turndown service, try Backroads or Freewheeling Adventures. They’re more expensive but also more civilized, and their trips include lots of luxuries along the way. Another good company is iexplore. Its comprehensive site guides you through the process of planning a trip by matching the region where you want to travel (U.S. and international) with an activity. Or you can get suggestions from iexplore categories like exotic honeymoons, ecotourism, horse riding, and health and wellness.
So spin the globe and break out of your vacation routine. Don’t let your fingers be the only things doing the walking.
Alicia Villarosa is a regular contributor to The Root.