We travel to relax and get away from the mundanity of everyday life, so fitness regimes often fall by the wayside when on the road. It can be hard to find time to roll out your yoga mat between sightseeing; because – let’s face it – fitness isn’t one of our top priorities when eating or drinking our way through any new locale.
Contiki trip manager and avid traveller, Hillary Johnstone, spends more than 30 weeks of the year guiding groups in Europe, yet still manages to wake up at the crack of dawn to go for long runs and practice yoga in cramped hotel rooms.
How does she do it? Canadian Traveller chatted with Hillary about everything, including what motivates her, favourite tools, and how to be responsible in her work-out decisions:
What’s your favourite way to stay in shape on the road?
Running – without a doubt! Getting up early before my group of travellers and hitting the pavement in some of Europe’s best cities definitely beats going to the gym. I’ve made the streets and pathways of London, Lauterbrunnen, Munich, Amsterdam – among many others – my own personal gym!
Is there an ideal time of the day to workout when travelling?
If you go first thing in the morning, then life is less likely to get in the way. In my role, my days are long and often unpredictable. Some days, I’m up with the group at 7 a.m. and won’t be home until the wee hours of the next morning. Those first few hours of the day are pretty much the only time that I can fit in a workout. It’s a whole different story when I’m travelling on my own. I much prefer to run in the evenings; most cities feel the most alive then. Running along the Seine River in Paris at dusk is one of my favourite routes. I’m also a sucker for a good sunset – so that’s my favourite time to run.
What motivates you to discipline yourself even when you're away from home and your regular routine?
That’s easy – the incredible cities and landscapes in Europe! Whether it’s watching the sun rise over the Swiss Alps in Lucerne, an early morning run along the beachfront in Barcelona, or making my way down the East Side Gallery in Berlin – I don’t think there’s any better motivator than knowing my morning run will be full of “pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here – #NoRegrets” kind of moments.
Why is sticking to fitness goals important to you, even when travelling?
It’s cliché, but I feel so much better when I make an effort to get up and run a few times each week. In my role, I’m with as many as 53 travellers for the vast majority of the day. My morning runs are my chance to take some time for myself, and think about what I hope to accomplish that day. I also find I sleep much better at night if I go for a run. Fifty-three people depend on me each day to be healthy and full of energy, so taking care of myself is pretty important.
What would you consider the number one reason so many people fall off the fitness wagon when on the road?
I think too many people view working out as a chore, or another thing on your “to do” list each day. If you view exercise that way, then I believe you’re setting yourself up for failure. I absolutely love to run; that’s my thing. But that might not be your thing. Find something that you enjoy doing, and you’ll be much more likely to do it. I also find it much easier to stick to my running routine since I always make sure to take routes that have some pretty cool sights along the way. For example, I’d never been to La Grande Arche de la Defense in Paris’s business district, but I’d always wanted to go. I realized on a recent trip that it was only about a 20-minute run away from my hotel, so I ventured over there while the group had free time. When I make the destination of my runs something I haven’t seen before, then it keeps workouts interesting.
What advice would you offer to solo travellers who want to go for runs in destinations that are known to be less safe than others?
I’ll often go to the hotel or hostel staff and ask them where they would go for an early morning run around the area. Since they’re locals, they’ll normally have a pretty good idea about how safe the area is. I always take my cell phone with me, and I always have a €20 note stashed in my phone case so that if I’m ever injured or if something happens, I can easily call a taxi. I once sprained my ankle really badly on a run back home in Canada, and had no way of calling for help. That definitely taught me a lesson. And always trust your gut; if you feel apprehensive then don’t go.
What apps or other tools do you use to stay fit abroad and what do you recommend?
I discovered Asana Rebel one day in the app store – it’s fantastic. It’s a yoga app that has workouts that last anywhere from five to 30 minutes. Some are more intense, while others are about relaxation and breathing. Last year, I travelled through Europe in the wintertime with Contiki. When it’s -10°C in Krakow, it can be hard to find the motivation to get up at 6 a.m. and go for a run. Instead, some mornings I’ll open the app and do 20 minutes of yoga in my hotel room. It’s also a great way to keep in shape when you do find yourself in places where you don’t feel as comfortable going for a solo morning run. I also use Asana Rebel’s yoga flows for relaxation. I have the best job in the world, but like any job, it also comes with its stresses. I’m a big believer in taking a few minutes to sit quietly and collect your thoughts if you’re having a particularly stressful day. Apps like Asana Rebel and Headspace have some great breathing/guided meditation exercises that I use whenever I’m feeling stressed.