The Power of Running Shoes
During my travels across the globe, I've jogged through Parisian parks, pounded the pavement in Slovenia, and slipped on my tennis shoes to revisit old haunts in Budapest. Through it all, I've been reminded of a salient truth: Running is an ideal way to discover the sights and essence of a destination.
An hour to kill before departure? Lace up and squeeze in a few miles. Another night in the hotel too expensive? Pound the pavement to the most scenic spots, and catch the 10 a.m. train out of there. No public transport to Altausseer? No problem.
Here, I share the experiences that turned me into an advocate for running while traveling — then offer tips on the best ways to incorporate runs into your own adventures.
My Jaunt to an Austrian Lake
In Bad Aussee, there were buses running every two hours or so to the lake, but not at the exact time I needed. Plus, navigating the complex bus system and buying tickets in a foreign language, and then anxiously waiting for the correct bus stop, didn't exactly sound appealing. Instead, in my quest to heed my Airbnb's host's advice, I made it to Altausseer Lake by going out for a run.
Google told me my proposed route was a 5-mile round trip, and it wasn’t long after I’d left the small city behind that I realized this would be a tricky but truly incredible jaunt. Soon I was puffing up a hill, along silent, isolated country roads, and between dew-covered fields slowly transforming in the morning sunlight.
A few miles in I stopped to take in the sight of two deer picking through a field, and realized my heavy breathing had been disturbing the rare sound of sheer silence. The two deer looked up in my direction, then back at each other, before bounding off into the safety of the forest.
Eventually I found a small dirt track that led down through dense trees, and when that ended I reached a parting that revealed the breathtakingly serene Altausseer See. There I sat for several minutes watching the water lap gently along the banks, before I turned and traced the canalized river all the way back to town.
As I arrived back at my room in the Airbnb house, with just 30 minutes to spare before my train departed, I bumped into the owner setting up breakfast in the living room. She looked me up and down — muddy, sweaty and beaming — and seemed to know exactly where I’d been. “The lake is amazing,” I said, still catching my breath. “Thanks for the recommendation.”
My experience in Bad Aussee showed me the value of forgoing public transit and getting to places using human power.
It might seem quicker and easier to hop aboard a bus heading in the right direction, but there’s really no more rewarding way to tick an item off your sightseeing list than by plotting a challenging route, and getting there and back like few tourists before you have.
My Early Jog in Lucerne
On a different trip in Lucerne, Switzerland, I had just one day to explore the city — and it hardly seemed like enough.
To extend my stay, I wandered down to reception sometime before midnight to enquire about booking another night in the mediocre three-star hotel I was staying at.
“Tomorrow is Friday,” the receptionist said, reaching for her keyboard. She tapped loudly on the keys and without looking up muttered: “That will be €150. Including breakfast.”
I declined the offer and retreated to my dark, internal-facing room. Then I checked the train schedule, and found one heading east the next morning.
Eager to pack in as much sightseeing as I could before I had to depart a day earlier than I’d wanted to, I awoke at 6 a.m. and pulled on my sneakers. Moments later, I was threading my way through the cobbled streets of Old Town Lucerne. I ducked between stall owners setting up for the day in the open-air market, and then found myself alone at the start of the city’s famous covered bridges, just as the first rays of sunlight filtered over the mountains and stretched out across the city.
I skirted Lake Lucerne, dodged early morning commuters bustling through to the station, and paused to take in the sight of a flock of swans pushing out into the glassy water.
An hour later I was back at the station ready for the train, and thoroughly satisfied with the €150 I’d saved.
Running, I learned, can be a particularly effective way to sightsee early in the morning.
Regardless of how far or fast you choose to run, there’s something remarkable about getting to iconic sights on your own steam, and not having to pay a cent for the privilege. It also doesn’t keep opening hours — perfect if you’re looking for the least interference from traffic and other pedestrians, or to squeeze in an activity before that morning train.
My Nostalgic Journey in Budapest
Two years after spending two weeks at the tail end of a fleeting relationship in Hungary’s capital, I decided to make a return trip. While going for a run, I found myself standing in the park opposite the vintage apartment where I’d once stayed with my ex-partner, unsure whether to remember or forget.
I looked up, breathless, at the window of the nondescript apartment, hoping to recall its beautiful wooden floors, and the meals I’d cooked in its small kitchen. I wanted to remember the view from those windows, of the park where I now stood, and Buda Castle rising up behind it.
I didn’t find the correct window, and instead the nostalgia grew inside me. By then I’d caught my breath, and so I dipped my head and continued running.
To my right, a familiar long, straight tunnel ran beneath the castle — a tunnel we’d walked half a dozen times before. I turned my back on the apartment and continued my run, into the din of late-afternoon traffic.
As I left, I felt a sense of relief. On the other side I emerged into the warm sunlight, to the sight of the Chain Bridge and sparkling Danube, smiled broadly, and increased my pace.
Running, I realized then, is ideal not only for discovery, but for re-connecting with special places years later.
It turns out travel — particularly long-term travel — is not always sunshine and happiness. There are moments when you’ll feel down, or frustrated, or simply nostalgic. And though it’s tempting to restrict yourself to a dimly-lit hotel room at such a juncture, it's actually often the best time to force yourself outside.
My Faux Paus in Paris
The default for light exercise in Paris might be to hop aboard a Vélib, the popular Parisian bike-sharing scheme, and to cycle those hefty machines along the chaotic streets.
But it was on a cloudy autumn day when I attempted a shortcut through a pristine Parisian park that I realized the bike’s shortcomings — that you aren’t, in fact, allowed to cycle them through pristine Parisian parks. This was an on-foot only destination, and a man with a whistle ran after me barking stern French instructions between shrill blows, as I hastily cycled toward the exit on the other side to escape his wrath.
Eager to return to the scene of my crime the next morning, but not to reoffend, I laced up my running shoes, plugged in the earphones and paced it down from my 17th Arrondissement apartment down to the delightful Parc Monceau. This time, apparently, on the right side of the law.
I entered the regal gates without fear, and ran rings on the smooth dirt track amongst the trees, alongside the lake, and past the 18th-century colonnade with dozens of other runners who had the same idea. It didn’t signal the end to my Vélib adventures, but rather the start of my love for pacing it through tranquil Parisian parks.
From this I learned that the best way to find an amazing running route, and to stay out of trouble, is to follow the local example.
Ask friends, hosts or hotel receptionists about dos and don’ts, or simply keep your eyes peeled throughout your stay for signs of activity.
My Meandering Trek in Innsbruck
There’s an aerial view in the Austrian city of Innsbruck from the Stadtturm — a 15th century watch tower. It offers an incredible vantage point from which to gaze over the uniform rooftops and towering alps all around.
But it also provides a great way to see parts of the city you might otherwise overlook — a nearby park, a snaking river and a selection of intriguing bridges.
While staying in the city for a single day, I used this aerial perspective to chart out my own route.
Without the aid of modern technology, I traced the river, crossed the bridges, and made my way to the 15th century Innsbrucker Hofgarten, a scenic protected park.
Apps and maps can help you plot a route, but I learned that sometimes it’s best just to go with your gut.
Find an aerial perspective, trace out a route using obvious landmarks and then head out. With the correct mindset — and some time on your hands for when you get lost — you may just find that a confused meander through a new city is far more rewarding than a carefully curated one.
My New Perspective in Ljubljana
The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is a city of contrasts, if you take into account the differences between the autonomous social center of Metelkova and the quiet pedestrianized streets of the city center. The city is small enough that you can cover both parts with a comfortable jog, ideally by traversing a beautiful riverside route to run around the base of the Ljubljana Castle.
During a return visit to Ljubljana, I set off early one morning with my reasonable familiarity of the city, but attempting a brand-new route. With blind confidence, I thought that if I followed the river, and kept the castle to my left, I’d make it back in time for the included breakfast back at my hotel.
The run along the misty river, with constantly shifting views and barely another person in sight, was perhaps the most rewarding and insightful way to see a new side to this beautiful city I thought I knew.
Familiar cities can be tricky on return visits — you may be tempted to check out beloved museums, or to return to favorite spots in order to relive past experiences.
But by running them, you’ll find new sights, from a different perspective, and will return to your accommodation far more invigorated than if you’d stuck to the same old thing.