“Being entirely honest with oneself,” said Sigmund Freud, “is a good exercise.” And to be entirely honest, the only time I thoroughly enjoy exercise is when it doesn’t feel like exercise at all. Tell me I’m on a weight-loss program that requires 10,000 steps a day and I immediately want to stretch out on the sofa with a book. But invite me to stroll through an unfamiliar city and I can walk for hours without a care in the world or a thought about how many calories I’m burning.
You don’t have to work hard to build physical activity into a typical road trip. Often your day will include plenty of aimless wandering, hotel stairs, and sightseeing. I was staggered to learn how many miles it takes to explore a major museum. In “The Museum Diet — How to lose weight on holiday” a blogger calling herself Tour Guide Tammy calculated walking distances for (among others) the Louvre in Paris (8 miles), the Victoria and Albert in London (7.5 miles), the Smithsonian in Washington, DC (9 miles), and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (14 miles). Since each mile equals roughly 2000 steps, you can rest assured your visit to the Smithsonian will rack up somewhere around 18,000 steps; the Hermitage will come in around 28,000. That far exceeds most people’s daily goals — and just think of all the great art you get to see along the way. Talk about a win-win!
Tammy wasn’t convinced this was the best workout plan. “To be honest, there’s a fine line between burning off those carbs and enjoying yourself on holiday,” she wrote. “Despite losing pounds on my last cultural adventure, I’m starting to think that the Museum Diet isn’t really the solution after all. First, there’s the strong possibility of ‘museum overload’ and fatigue as you traipse around miles and miles of corridors. Just look at this photo of my partner Tony after a full day spent at the Met and Guggenheim Museums in New York.” [Click here to see poor Tony in a dazed and exhausted condition.] “He looks like a zombie! There’s also the potential damage to your feet and joints. Not to mention, family relationships and your sanity. Perhaps it’s better to embark on a proper adventure holiday like a walking trip in Nepal or trekking across Colorado?”
Having trekked through Nepal, I can tell you that at the end of every day, Rich and I appeared a lot more zombie-like than Tony did. In fact, there have been many, many moments on the road when we looked and felt like the living dead.
But Tammy does have a point. If you’re not a fan of fine art, then a six-hour hike through marble halls lined with Old Masters will leave you footsore and glassy-eyed. I love museums, but frankly, even I blanched a bit at the idea of touring both the Met and the Guggenheim in one day. But if you’re in a place you enjoy — whether you’re hiking along a mountain path, strolling through an ancient palace, or seeking the next congenial café — walking for pleasure, rather than out of obligation to a fitness regimen, is a great way to go.
The other major form of exercise Rich and I enjoy when traveling is yoga. When you need to get out the kinks from long hours on a train or plane, try a few of the asanas (postures) that yogis have been refining for thousands of years. If you’re new to yoga, or in the mood to turn off your brain and follow along in zen-like (or zombie-like) tranquility, try one of the countless YouTube videos. Lately several friends have recommended Yoga with Adriene, and her Travel Yoga — Revitalizing Flow, shot on a lagoon in Sayulita, Mexico, is a good way to ease into practicing.
Rich loves to swim and was delighted to discover that SwimmersGuide.com has lists of public pools in countries around the world. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit he has rarely actually visited one of these pools, as walking and yoga are his preferred forms of exercise when away from home. But it’s a great resource and he wanted me to mention it here.
Strange Gyms vs. Your Own Workout
Trying to find a gym on the road is a dodgy business. By the time you’ve learned that your hotel’s gym closed two years ago, and you’ve checked out the nearby facility with glitzy lights and pounding music, the one with a half-inch of grime on every surface, the pick-up parlor, and a few other nonstarters, it’s time to pack up and hit the road again. You're wise to design your own regimen, at least to serve as a backup when no decent gym is available. One good resource for doing this is Lise Cartwright’s No Gym Needed: Quick and Simple Workouts for Gals on the Go. (Guys, don’t worry, these exercises are fine for you, too.) No doubt there are good YouTube videos as well, but so far all the ones I’ve seen feature terrifyingly musclebound hosts who seem convinced they're auditioning for a job running a boot camp. If you know of a good video, I'd like to hear about it!
The most important thing to remember about travel and exercise is that they’re both meant to be fun. If walking, stretching, and swimming feel good and help you get in shape for the next adventure, wonderful! But try not to burden yourself with an exaggerated sense of obligation – or worse, guilt — if the stars don’t align and you just can’t manage your usual workout. As Freud (rather surprisingly) put it, “If you can’t do it, give up.”
This Halloween, Rich caused a sensation dressing in a Cardinal’s outfit (the religious official, not the bird or Arizona’s football team). He looked splendid in his red satin robe, and as we walked through Seville, people roared with laughter, dashed out of bars to kneel and pretend to kiss his ring, and asked to have photos taken with him. Sure, we got a few hard looks from old timers who weren’t quite sure whether this was actual blasphemy, but everyone else thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. Rich is now asking that we refer to him as “Your Eminence” but for heaven’s sake, don't indulge him.
While Rich’s attire was perfect for October 31, the other 364 days of the year require a somewhat different sartorial style. Here in Seville, streetwear has become more casual lately, but this is still a sophisticated European city; you don’t walk around in gym clothes (except going to and from the gym) or in safari gear unless you want to give the locals a good laugh. I’ve already written many posts about packing, but the other day, when I was telling a friend about my best-ever buys for long and varied trips, she asked why I’d never written specifically about travel clothing. So now I am.
And before I get started, let me say that unlike some of my more practical blogger friends, I never accept sponsorships or product placement. Various brands and garments are mentioned here because Rich or I have tried them, and I want to pass on tips about what to consider — and what to watch out for — when you’re assembling your own travel wardrobe.
To me, the most essential criteria are comfort, style, durability, and easy care. I avoid anything that requires ironing (including most linens and pure cottons) or takes days to dry (such as conventional Levis). Good travel clothes can be expensive, so watch for sales. All that being said, let’s get down to details.
Some of my all-time favorite shirts have come from TravelSmith. This mail-order-only company offers incredibly resilient fabrics, the kind that can be wadded up in a suitcase for days, shaken out, and worn without a single wrinkle. The white Perfect Pintuck Poet Shirt, for instance, has been a staple of my wardrobe for years. But choose carefully. Not all TravelSmith clothing is easy-care and wrinkle-free. And frankly, the cut of some garments is downright dowdy. Sizes may run large, so I often order two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit, adding to postage and handling costs. Annoyingly, their mail orders are the slowest on the planet unless you pay the extra rush fees.
My other best resource for shirts is J. Jill’s Wearever Collection. They’re more stylish, the knits have a nicer feel, and they have the same wrinkle-free resilience. There are J. Jill stores all over the USA, so I can try things on when I’m there. I rarely pack dresses or skirts any more, but when I do, they’re usually from J. Jill or TravelSmith.
Unfortunately, the J. Jill Wearever trousers do not hold up well; by the end of a long flight or train ride, the knees and seat are sagging. I don’t have room in my tiny suitcase for such wimpy garments. TravelSmith trousers come in great fabrics, but it’s hard to find a cut that’s flattering. My current favorites are Chico’s Travelers collection crepe pants, which are tough enough for days on the road. The silky pants from that collection are equally practical but a bit too pajama-like for me. TrueSlim Jeans are comfortable, hold up through days of wear, and when washed will usually dry overnight, although it’s best to allow two days in cool, damp weather. They come in various fun colors, none of which have the resilience of the denim, so don’t be tempted to take the colorful ones on the road.
Sweaters, Vests & Jackets
I love cashmere for travel, as it’s lightweight, compact, and warm. It’s can be pricey, however, so wait for a sale at a local department store. I carry a black pullover and a longer black cardigan that I can wear together under a light jacket. For long trips, especially involving cities with a plethora of pickpockets, I stuff the pockets of my Scottevest instead of carrying a purse. The vests tend to run snug, so you may want to order up a size to leave plenty of room.
Rich’s Recommendations for Guys
Rich has pared down his travel wardrobe to three essentials, all of which are stain-resistant, wrinkle-free, and appropriate for casual or dressier occasions. He loves his jacket, the all-weather Koyono Black Coat Classic, which has 14 pockets (they call them “compartments”) and a zip-out liner. As of this writing the coat is deeply discounted, possibly because a new version is imminent. Rich is also a fan of Bluffworks travel pants, which have six pockets, three of which zip for extra security. Tragically, his beloved Jack Wolfskin Canyon Shirt has been discontinued, but Rich manages to find odd lots floating around the Internet; it’s still the only kind of shirt he packs on our trips.
Of course, Rich’s true preference is to avoid packing altogether and travel completely luggage-free, as we did two years ago in France. (How'd that go? See the video below.) I generally prefer to travel with a few more creature comforts and spare clothes, but I have to admit, leaving all baggage behind does make going on the road simpler — and a lot less expensive.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I have never obtained any free or discounted gear, clothing, or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel.
Have any tips about great or terrible travel clothes? I'd love to hear from you!
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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