A Traveler's Dilemma: Books Or Running Shoes?
Why I bring my running gear when I travel, and why you should, too.
I always have this dilemma when I travel...
Getting off the plane, suffering from jetlag, and not being able to run right away. Being on a plane and sitting for over eight hours is detrimental to the body and the mind—especially for me.
I like to stay active, even when I’m supposed to be “on vacation”. Running has always been something that I’ve needed in order to feel accomplished and just good. I enjoy the soreness and stiffness that comes after a run. It makes me feel like I did something. Even though when I’m traveling I get a lot of exercise (we like to walk a lot), I still feel like I could be doing more. This probably comes from many years working online and sitting in front of a screen all day. I don’t know. Either way, finding the time to run while traveling is always a struggle.
But, traveling can get in the way of my running. Every time I feel like I’m getting to a good pace and next thing I know I’m on a plane and by the time I adjust and actually get back in the swing of things, I’m so slow.
On top of all that, if I’m traveling and I’ve been walking all day, I get too tired to run. But, I suppose walking is a good workout as well.
Anyway, let’s backtrack a bit.
Even before leaving for the airport, deciding whether or not I should pack my running shoes or a book (I tend to read tomes, a.k.a big-ass books) when I have limited space remaining in my bag, is a struggle in itself. I’m a minimalist traveler, so I only like to bring the bare minimum.
Depending on how long I’ll be away, the book can sometimes win over a pair of running shoes. I feel like Andy in Toy Story when his mom says he can only bring one toy to Pizza Planet. Woody or Buzz? Adidas or Chomsky?
In the end, I somehow manage to bring both. Usually, I end up having to shove one in Hana’s bag, hiding my anxiety because I know that I’ll probably buy yet another book while away (or, maybe another pair of shoes like I did on my last trip to Korea—$40 for a pair of Nikes, should have bought more—damn).
In the end, I’m always really glad that I brought my running shoes because while running can be hard to schedule while traveling, doing it has enriched my travel experiences in such a profound way.
Of course, not only does traveling get in the way of running, running can sometimes get in the way of traveling. Typically, Hana and I will have a plan to do something in the morning (we like to explore in the mornings), and I’ll announce at the last-minute that I want to go for a run. She usually meets this with an eye-roll but knows that she can use the time to do what she likes.
The thing is, running while I’m in a new destination is not getting in the way of travel at all. In fact, it’s just another way of traveling and getting to know where I’m staying. If I can manage to do both when I’m away, it’s a win-win situation.
Not only have I seen things that I normally wouldn’t see while running abroad—like people (a bike-shop owner working on a row of bikes), places (a dead-end street with character), and things (a random vending machine on a corner), I see how all these things connect in their environment which helps me understand my surroundings, the culture I’m in, and how I internalize it all.
Running while abroad has given me some of my best travel experiences. I can’t remember them all, but there are a few memories that really stick out to me. Japan was one of them.
Running through Tokyo during cherry blossom season was cool and tranquil. I wish I could think of better descriptors, but that’s what it was. The air was chilly and the streets were wet as it rained most of the time we were there, and it was just nice.
(Unfortunately, this video is not from Tokyo, but you get the idea.)
I saw people following their routines. Running is a form of people watching and seeing what isn’t really seen by other travelers.
I would see vendors in what was likely their usual spots, and working professionals walking towards the subway stops heading to work. I would build up stories in my head about these people. Who were they? Where were they going? What did they do for a living? Who was waiting for them at home, or were they alone in this world?
You get a certain type of benefit while running and observing other people’s habits. And, the Japanese, as we know, are very routine people.
For example, while running through Japan, I saw a lot of people there that also were running. Young and old, runners of all different levels. It was encouraging to see how many of the older population would maintain themselves with light aerobics with the outdoor gyms. I didn’t see this often when I ran in other countries. Oftentimes, I was the only person running, but maybe that was my own perception. Maybe people have other things better to do than run.
But, the runners I did see here in Japan, I wondered: Did they run when they traveled, too?
On this particular run, I listened to this playlist that had a certain vibe to it (Trappin in Japan 3). You’ll notice that the song was not very “cool” or “tranquil”. you watch the video, you’ll see the visuals for the songs showed the streets of Japan, constantly in motion, never stopping. That felt like me.
Running while abroad has impacted the way I travel, and it’s honestly one of the few ways I enjoy traveling itself. I get to see a lot more than just the usual when walking. I get to explore and find undiscovered places I would have not been aware of before. I always loved coming back from a run and telling Hana about a cool bar, or book/cafe spot we should check out. Had I not run by it, we would have never gone there.
That’s why I run when I travel, even if it “gets in the way”, and even it means I'll have to buy a book when I get there.
Books are cheaper than shoes, anyway.