A Broad Running Abroad: Long-Term Travel Tips for Runners

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Running while on a trip or vacation is one of the best ways to get to know a new locale and so many of us make running a priority during our short-term travel plans. We throw in a pair of shoes and a couple of outfits that accommodate the weather and off we go. But if you plan to travel for more than a month, that tactic just isn’t enough. I should know… I am currently living abroad in Spain, thousands of miles away from Columbus, Ohio, where I called home before leaving on this adventure.

When you’re a runner planning to travel for several months to a year or more there are all kinds of questions to consider. What is the climate like? Will you experiences multiple seasons? What do you do when you need new running shoes? How do you build a normal running routine in another country? Is the running culture where you’re visiting drastically different than back here at home?

Now that I have been here a while, I have learned a lot from running daily in a foreign country, plus I’ve gained some hindsight on the packing and preparations for what I would do differently next time! Based on experience, here are some tips and advice for runners who want to continue their running regimens while traveling!

Packing

Packing can be stressful, so I started out by researching the climate and weather for the six months I’d be spending in Malaga, Spain. My new city’s average temperature is 65 degrees in winter and 85 degrees in summer. There is not a huge variation between seasons and the sun is always intense. If you’re going to a place with greater variation or extreme temperatures obviously you need to adjust what you bring accordingly.

Here is a great list to start from:

First international race! These are all items brought from home. I wear them at least twice a week!
First international race! These are all items brought from home. I wear them at least twice a week!

Basic packing list:

GPS watch
4 sportsbras
4 pairs technical socks
3 pairs marathon shorts/bottoms*
1 pair spandex shorts
1 pair running tights
4 technical/ugly race t-shirts that I plan on throwing away*
1 technical longsleeve tee*
1 pair shoes**
1 headband
1 vest that can double for regular “fashion” use
1 technical hat
1 water bottle
1 pair cheap gloves for cold days

*dependent on climate/temperature variations
**1 extra pair of shoes: If you are traveling long term and have the packing space, I suggest packing a second pair
foam roller: If I were here more than a year I would purchase one here and likely leave it behind at the end of my trip

If you are traveling short term, I think you can cut the list of clothes in half and get away with 2 of each items… 2 bras, 2 shirts, 2 shorts, etc.

Pro Tip #1: I finally found the perfect use for those ugly unisex race tees! I brought several with me to Spain to run in here. When it’s time to go home, I’ll trash the tees to save space in my luggage. Apply this throw-away/leave behind rule to as many other pieces of gear you can by bringing older running clothes that you might be thinking about discarding soon anyhow.

Pro Tip #2: Even if the climate is hot, bring a pair of running tights. I repeat, bring a pair of running tights. I have so many plain black running tights at home in the U.S. and I didn’t bring a single pair with me because I assumed the sub-tropical Spanish climate would eliminate the need. I was wrong. Some mornings are very brisk here and, despite the tropical afternoons, tights are perfect for chilly mornings. Plus running leggings can be used in regular life too and would be perfect for travel days.

Getting There 

To save space in your luggage wear your running shoes and those running tights I told you to pack while traveling. I can promise that your running shoes are the bulkiest ones you own and do not fit well in luggage, unlike boots, which can be folded or rolled, or flats that you can smash. Additionally, running shoes are extremely comfortable and when I’m going to be on a plane for more than eight hours at a time, comfort is what I’m going for. Cinnamon recommends a pair of stretchy speed laces for easy on/off through security.

I knew that my hot pink Brooks would make me stick out like the American I am in chic Euro airports, but I was comfortable and saved space by wearing them. In hindsight, having arrived in Madrid with swollen ankles after 12 hours of flying, compression socks would have been a great flying companion as well.

Routine

running terrain
My new neighborhood.

Know your neighborhood. When you arrive, find a quick loop you can rely on for easy runs when you don’t feel like exploring. Sometimes you’re going to just want a quick run that doesn’t involve being lost and reading foreign street signs. Ask locals about trails. If you’re a road runner, pay attention to the drivers and notice whether or not they are cautious. If running isn’t popular in your country/city/neighborhood, then drivers won’t be on the lookout for you!

I live in a residential neighborhood, and I have access to roads, trails and beaches for running. It took me awhile to settle into a routine, as my neighborhood is located on a ferocious mountainside that adds an extra 30 minutes to my workout. I have to hike 15 minutes to get to flat land, and then hike back up afterward! Sometimes I run the hills. When I don’t, I have to make time for the hike, just like I would at my own home.

Prepare to change your schedule or mix up your running hours. It’s almost impossible to maintain a regular running schedule while traveling, so be flexible. In my whole running history until now, I’ve done my long runs on the weekends. Here in Spain, I travel almost every weekend, making long runs impossible, so I do them on Thursdays! At first I felt like it shook up my whole schedule, but now on Sunday I dole out my weekly mileage, knowing Thursday will be my long day. No surprises. And my weekend travels are always quite active! I always end up walking at least ten miles per day. It works out surprisingly well.

Running Culture

Running is so diverse in every nation. Here in Spain, I see nine male runners for every one female runner I pass. I’ve also noticed the women who do run do not have fancy gear. They run in cotton sweat shirts and yoga pants. When I visited Cilantro’s headquarters in Budapest, Hungary, I noticed that running was just as popular there as it was back home! Cilantro also seemed to have great luck finding nice local shops to purchase technical gear. Although I’ve had no problems in Spain, remember that not every country has a running culture; gear can be hard to find, running groups or races might not exist. Simply being a woman running through the streets for fun may seem odd or even be completely unreasonable in certain cultures. In Spain, people find it unbelievable when I tell them I can run 42km, which of course, makes me feel like an Olympian!

Got another good tip, or a trip coming up soon? Where is the most interesting place you have trained?

I'm a student of law and life. A Jill of all trades, master of none. But I'm hoping to master something, sometime. ;) Preferably a sub-23 5k and a sub-4 marathon!

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7 comments

  1. I will be in Berlin for three weeks in August, staying near Grunewald Forest/Park so hope to find lots of running trails there. Fortunately there should be lots of local and foreign runners as people get ready for the Berlin Marathon in September. I have to work around taking care of grandson so the times of day to run may vary and weather likely quite warm so your suggestions are very helpful.

  2. I lived in Spain and France (10 years ago…sad!) and traveled throughout Europe running almost everywhere! The tip about throwaway clothes is spot on! Looking for rivers in unfamiliar cities will usually result in a decent running route and you’re unlikely to get lost. I also remember being vastly outnumbered by men. I ran the Valencia marathon and only 3% of finishers were women!!?!

    1. Oh and in France (maybe other countries?) I had to have a medical certificate to be allowed to participate in races. I was living in France so I saw a French doc. Not sure how it would work with a foreign certificate. (I have a funny story about that doc visit for another occasion.)

  3. We are traveling to Italy for a trail run and plan to bring our folding running poles. Any tips on travelling with these? We do not check bags, think we will be OK with them folded in our carry on bag?