Active Travel: Rethink Your Vacation

Travel is wonderful! It stimulates your mind and can unleash that adventurous side of you. But, I often hear women say, “I hope I can keep my weight gain under 10 pounds on my vacation.” If you are one of those gals, time to rethink your vacation.

When you are browsing the guide books, choose trips where you will be active. On all trips you can certainly walk every day. If your day is sightseeing, walk at a brisk pace, take the steps up to the ruins. Ignore the elevator or escalator! Do you really need the cab to the restaurant? Be sure you have comfortable shoes so you CAN get there by foot.

My favorite trip is a biking vacation. You can go hard-core and bike every day with a bike group, maybe even from hotel to hotel. You can take more of a “wine and cheese” bike tour, where the pace is a bit easier, the distances shorter and you have the option of either riding the entire day or riding some of the day and hitching a ride with the “sag” wagon the rest of the way. We just returned from a month in Italy where we spent 3 weeks in an apartment in Bologna and only used bikes, feet or trains for transportation.

We (my husband and I) had to pack lightly for this trip, as we were on and off trains with our bike boxes and our bags. Our bikes have “couplers” built into the frames which allow us to take them apart and then they fit into a bike “suitcase” that is legal on the airlines, requiring no extra fee. So I had my bike box and my small suitcase and my back pack for 4 weeks.

Mary's Packing ListMARY’S PACKING LIST. Never have I appreciated the Athleta clothing more. All of it can be folded or rolled very tightly to fit in a small space and then be shaken out and ready to wear. No ironing needed. I had the Athleta Girona and Yellowman bike jerseys. I had the Hitch Capri Skirt, the Utility Stretch Bermuda Shorts and and the Vista Pant. Roll up a few shirts (I have the Del Toro Tee and the Destination Top) and toss in the most perfect Athleta jacket or coat. You are about ready to go! Don’t forget a light weight shoe for after the bike ride.

If you have never biked in Italy, it is very different from traveling the roads in the US. To the Europeans, the bicycle is a mode of transportation, a way of life, so the drivers expect to see bikers on the highways, city streets, one-lane country roads and alleys. I have ridden my bike in lots of places, and despite the traffic in Bologna, I never felt nervous or unsafe. We rode in rush hour with the motorbikes, buses and cars.

We were not the only bikers. The nonne (grandmas) were going to the grocery store on their bikes. The students were riding to class. Lovers rode with girlfriends sitting backwards on the handlebars, as they kissed. Bike messengers darted in and out of the cars like small fish. Women in their Prada suits, spike heels with matching bags and perfect hair pedaled to the office. And because biking is a way of life and a mode of transportation, the resentment that we often feel from American drivers is simply not there. I think that Americans consider bikers to be “playing.” Europeans embrace the bikers.

So a typical day for us would be to choose a spot we wanted to visit, map our route and head out on the bikes. We tried to take smaller country roads to avoid traffic and enjoy the countryside. We would arrive, explore our destination on the bikes and on foot, sample some local cuisine and then either bike back or sometimes hop the train home. (The bikes have to have a ticket, just like the rider!) Trips to the grocery store or the local café for a coffee were taken on the bici (bikes.)

When traveling, I try to fit in and be one of the locals. I study Italian and the Italians generally appreciated my attempts at their beautiful language. When you speak to them in their language, it immediately brings a smile and breaks down any barriers. You may think the most important phrase is “Where is the bathroom?” To me, the most important phrase is “Please speak slower” and always “Grazie.”

It is truly a gift to spend time in a foreign country. There is so much to learn and experience from other people and their history. Traveling by bike or by foot is the perfect way to slow down and truly experience the culture. And it is by staying active and strong you insure that there are many more exciting adventures ahead of you!

For active vacation options, check out some of the resources listed in the EVENT CALENDAR on the Chi blog sidebar. Buon Viaggio and safe travels!

Jade Gianakopoulos

July 28, 2010 at 10:01 am

This is a great article. All families should do more vacations this way. Now that my daughters are older, we can do more epic riding vacations and you gave me some amazing tips. This could also make the vacation much more cost effective. Thank you. 🙂


July 29, 2010 at 10:13 am

Well, speaking for myself, my vacations are pretty active. Usually pretty wet too!


July 29, 2010 at 10:27 am

Thank you so much for your insights. Perfect timing for me. I have been working with Colleen Cannon at Womensquest, one of Athleta’s partners, to arrange a coed cycling trip to Italy with many of my friends and family this Fall. Cant wait to forward your article to my peeps. I went on one of Colleen’s cycling quests several years ago, enjoyed geat food and wine in Italy, and managed to come home stronger, fitter and leaner in body mind and spirit. Now thats a great vacation.

Valerie Cannon

July 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm

all you say is so true…I have 20K of touring in Europe and N. Africa. Don’t forget about camping…it’s extra fun to go from campground to campground, esp. in France. No chance of gaining weight when you’re putting in 30-80 miles on the bike. here in CA, we have the Pacific Coast bike Route, from Vancouver to Tijuana…but you can break it up and do smaller pieces. Inspirational, thanks for sharing!


August 20, 2010 at 8:55 pm


Right on! I love active vacations too. But I also love food vacations. I just put the final touches on an article for the November issue of SHAPE about “Tasty Trips” that offer the perfect combo of food and fitness. Some of the places I included: Rancho La Puerta (hiking), Lecce, Italy (biking), Calistoga, Calif., (biking and kayaking) and Kennebunkport, Maine (yoga, tai chi). In total, I included six places, but my absolute favorite didn’t make the cut. Marrakech, Morocco. The food is out of this world (and really healthy) and the High Atlas Mountains are a mere 60-90 minutes away. Anyway, I’m rambling. Thanks for your article.

Jade Gianakopoulos

August 23, 2010 at 6:35 am

Dina, I love your idea of combining an active vacation with a food vacation.


September 08, 2010 at 9:56 pm

This has given my great motivation – wonderful article, and love the details, and the clothing you took also is a huge help. Thanks so much!

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