The first time I ever flew on a plane, I was about 2-3 years old. One of the great perks of growing up as an expat kid means that you're not only instilled with a love for travel from a young age, but also that you do tend to grow up with a certain level of savvy for it. By the age of 10, I had a list of my favourite airports in the world already picked out. Obviously, as a kid, the winner at the time was Singapore's Changi airport - it boasted the best gaming area you could dream of, and the rainbow steps that lit up with music as I stepped on each one will be forever cemented in my childhood memory. Of course, as an adult what I seek in an airport is quite different (though I have to say Changi is still pretty epic as far as airports go - I mean, it's got a frikkin cinema, swimming pool, and several gardens including a cactus, orchid and sunflower garden), but this post isn't about airports. It's about active travel, and what to pack for it. So why on earth did I start off with the spiel about airports? Well, my point was that I've been lucky enough to have travelled extensively since my childhood, hitting about 45 countries and counting so far, on countless holidays and business trips that encompassed everything from sunny beach destinations, deserted island getaways, and sleepy Mediterranean towns, to snowy wintery villages, bustling cities in Europe and Asia, and the glorious plains of Africa, yet somehow it's only in the past five or so years that I've discovered the joy of the fitness holiday - and I am hooked.
I'm not alone - in 2015, a study by Travelex found that one in three people in the UK want to tone up on holiday, while nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they'd like to lose weight on vacation. Another 17% in the study said they were drawn to the idea of booking a health-focused getaway to concentratae on their wellbeing, with the ability to eat healthy meals and better their mental health. Once the go-to for hippies and fitness obsessives, in the modern day, the fitness holiday has become more mainstream, and the numbers prove it: A 2013 study conducted by George Washington University in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) found that the industry had grown by 65% year over year from 2009-2012, and was worth $263 billion by that year. By 2015, the adventure tourism market boasted a revenue of $7.88 trillion, and reports say that it's expected to grow at a CAGR rate of more than 46% year-on-year through to 2020.
It's not surprising, when you think about the fact that a side-effect of many of our modern lifestyles has led us to leading an existence that's definitely more time-poor, whether you're cash-rich or not. With more and more people claiming to be perpetually burnt out and suffering from chronic stress, and increasing numbers of people all over the world caring more about looking after their health, long gone are the days of a holiday solely being defined by the idea of going overseas just to sightsee, shop, eat, or drink Mai-Tais on a beach. Sure, you can still do all of that fun stuff - but a growing number of people are looking to either combine that with some sort of planned healthy activity, or swap it in favor of a fitness-focused getaway altogether. Personally, I'm in the "combine them" camp, but that's easier for me to say because my idea of fun often is to go and do something active, before grabbing a couple of beers out somewhere with a beautiful view in the evening. But the older I get and the harder I work in my daily life, the more the idea of using a holiday to hit a reset button, so to speak, and come back feeling refreshed, renewed and improved, rather than sluggish, exhausted, and needing a holiday to recover from my holiday, appeals to me. That's not to say I don't enjoy a more slovenly getaway on occasion, but there's a time and a place for each, and when I've got some time off, where I go and what I do usually depends on what I'm craving: A chance to go and party with my friends, the opportunity and time to go and refresh myself in some way, or ideally some combination of both. Perhaps the increase in the number and quality of low-cost airlines has something to do with it too, with more remote and less commercial destinations becoming more accessible to greater numbers of people, and those being the type of destinations that usually come hand-in-hand with more physically demanding sorts of adventure to be explored.
I should probably now point out that a fitness getaway is so much more than just a yoga retreat - while these are still an awesome way to get away and focus on your health (and clearly ever-growing in demand, since yoga's popularity more than doubled around the world from 2008-2016), for the more adventurous among us, we don't always want zen. Nope, sometimes you want to get away, sweat your guts out, and you're not seeking a weight-loss bootcamp either. If you love to surf, that's an awesome activity-focused getaway - but a surf trip is a whole different animal that deserves its own post. I'm talking about things like Muay Thai and MMA camps, hiking retreats, or companies like Active Retreats or Trekkup, that bring together like-minded folks seeking adventure overseas and plan itineraries filled with a combination of activities and downtime that are designed to get you sweaty, seeing the sights, trying the local foods, and plenty more in between. They're also a great way to meet interesting people from around the world.
So if you're not going to pack your usual holiday finery, it begs the question: What the heck do you actually pack for a fitness holiday? On my phone, I have several different travel packing lists saved in my awesome "Packing Pro" app (what can I say, I love lists and they make life easier: This one is simple and allows you to create and save lists for different categories, in my case separated into beach, city, or fitness holiday, and business trip, for instance) - and the fitness getaway is perhaps one my most-used in recent years. Showing up prepared for these kinds of things can be a huge factor in whether you not only enjoy your trip or not, but also whether you can take advantage of everything that's out there: For instance, if you've gone to Borneo but only packed your flip-flops while having forgotten your trainers on the dining table back at home, hiking through the rainforest is going to be pretty darn uncomfortable if you decide you're going to suck it up and do it anyway because there's nowhere nearby to buy replacement trainers (yes, I speak from experience). And nobody likes packing a load of extra things they don't need, either. I'm sure I've got plenty of improvements to pick up when it comes to packing smarter for future fitness-focused trips, but my current list serves me pretty well, so here's a few tricks I've learned along the way.
Always think: Double-duty
Back in the day, you'd never dream of wearing fitness gear outside of the gym. Fortunately, the rise of athleisure clothing has not only made it more socially acceptable to wear your workout clothing out on the town, but some of it is so cute that many of us (*ahem*) actually separate their leggings into "training only" and "going out" piles in their closet (what, sometimes jeans feel like a prison for your legs, and sleek black leggings are often more flattering than regular trousers, ok!). Which means it's now super-easy to find things that you'll not only be able to wear during a workout, but you'll also be able to wear out-out as well. The thing is, if you're going to be working out loads, your clothes are also going to get pretty sweaty, right? That's the beauty of taking fitness gear on holiday - when you're trying to pack light, you'll want to pack things that you can wash easily and reuse throughout your trip, and workout gear will typically dry faster than regular clothing since it's designed to do just that, in all of its sweat-wicking, dri-fit glory. It's easier to find solid double-duty pieces when you stick to monochrome colour schemes and solids rather than prints, but it's all a matter of personal taste I suppose. Some great brands for functional-yet-so-hot-you-can-wear-it-"out out" type of clothing include Michi, Alala, Body Language, Nuxe, Lululemon, DharmaBums (the prints are crazy but sometimes it just works!), The Upside, P.E. Nation, Lilybod, Nimble Activewear, Running Bare, Jaggad, Onzie, Puma's Select line and collaborations, Ivy Park, Adidas by Stella McCartney, Bodyism, Nike, Koral Activewear, Lucas Hugh, the list goes on - some of these do come with a heftier price tag (some are very expensive!), but they do usually offer great end of season and holiday sales so you can stock up then (or on sites like TheOutnet), and the quality is usually pretty good so they do act as investment pieces that will last a while, especially if you're wearing them everywhere from the gym to beyond.
The same applies for footwear: Gone are the days of trainers being ugly, puffy things that make your feet look like stumps and, when worn with normal clothing, make you look like Melanie Griffiths' character in Working Girl (the ferry commute scenes, obvs). Nowadays it's easy to find trainers that are as functional as they are cute, and much like the clothing, many people buy them just for the look rather than to actually work out with (which is a real pity when they're functionally great too and being somewhat wasted!). For trainers, Nike are the gold standard in shoes that look good while still being functional, although in recent years Reebok's design teams have done a bang-up job with plenty of options that look just as good on the streets as they do working hard in the gym, while Puma also does a pretty good job at toeing the line (pun intended) between stylish and functional footwear. Just don't forget to pack socks, loads of them - they take forever to dry, and can ruin your workout if your feet feel gross and sweaty. Bear in mind your activity though: If you're going to do Muay Thai, surfing, SUP, or yoga, for instance, you probably won't need as many pairs since you'll be barefoot, unlike running/hiking/trekking. As for non-trainer footwear, Ipanemas have long been a holiday lifesaver for me: Their sandals are cute enough to masquerade as a regular pair, when they're actually made of a flip-flop base so are just as comfy, durable, and waterproof as one without having to sacrifice on style. Sunglasses are another great example of functional pieces becoming more stylish: Sport sunglasses don't have to make you look like a giant fly or the terminator anymore, and there's loads of options out there that look just as good as they perform. Some of my favorites include the Oakley Latch, Catalyst or Frogskins, Ray Ban Active, or Wildwood sunnies (which float in the water).
Swim Is In
Swimwear is another must, and again, smart double-duty buys will serve you well here. A lot of one-piece swimsuits are now so stylish that they can double as a top tucked into a skirt or shorts, worn as a bodysuit, while the more stylish rashguards can double as a top. Bonus: If you wear these out to a sweaty environment like a club or an outdoor bar in a humid tropic climate, these will keep you drier for longer, since they're designed to do just that. When it comes to bikinis, I have a selection of pieces that are designed to be great for surfing (read: actually stays on during active water sports!), while also still being skimpy enough to look good and allow you some decent, non-awkward tan lines. Some to note include: Aerie by American Eagle Outfitters (their swimwear section is not only super-affordable for surprisingly high quality swimwear, it's also really cute), Onzie, Mi Ola, Seakiss (a Dubai-born brand with awesome quality), Patagonia, Roxy (their design team has really upped its game in recent years), Seea, Lisa King Swimwear, Sensi Graves, Flagpole, Salt Gypsy, the list goes on.
Don't forget the accessories
You're probably going to want to take pics of your trip, or videos, or both - we do live in the Instagram generation, after all. Packing a Joby Gorillapod with a Manfrotto clip, or a GoPro Hero 5 Black, or both, will serve you well here. If you're going to wear a watch, I'd suggest an Apple Watch Series 2, so you can access all of the things you need to without worrying that you'll damage it in the water - even salt water. It's also a great way to keep track of time whether you're surfing or hiking, and tracking your activity if that matters to you. If you're looking for other water- and activity-proof tech, check out this list here. For a day bag I'd also suggest carrying a backpack that can double as a waterproof bag in a a simple colour and plain non-print design. If you can't find one like that that has the pockets you need, consider putting your gear into pouches that go into that bag instead, to keep it organized. I usually also pack a cap that I'm not afraid to crush a little bit, but that can save me from the blaring sun (or a bad hair day) when necessary. Then obviously there's the specifics: If you're going mainly to surf, consider taking your own board instead of renting one for your whole trip. If you're going boxing and can't be bothered/don't have space to take your own gloves, take your own wraps - you can rent the gloves, but you'll need your hand wraps. Finally, I actually do always pack a massage ball of some sort - currently my favourite is a spiky plastic number. I use it anywhere from my feet to my shoulders, and if I can fit in my travel-sized foam roller and know I'll be training hard enough to need it I'll take that too, otherwise plenty of yin-yoga deep stretches and my massage ball should have me covered in terms of muscle tension and myofascial release, so I can keep training hard and recover faster without terrible DOMS or related pain.
Be smart about cosmetics
Sunblock is a must, and after-sun lotion, along with insect repellent, will probably be much appreciated - especially if you're in a tropical climate and hating yourself during an activity because you didn't sleep well due to too many itchy mozzie bites or a really bad sunburn that you didn't have anything to soothe. Otherwise, I always like to pack a good travel shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizing body wash - don't underestimate the importance of this, it can go a long way especially when you're showering multiple times a day. I really like the travel-sized hair products from Hask, and the travel-sized body stuff from Soap & Glory - both are available at Boots and they're a great size for a 4-7 day getaway. Getting a perfume atomizer helps rather than lugging around a full-size bottle, or consider a solid perfume instead. Pack a tinted moisturizer, a tinted lip balm or super-moiturising bright lip colour, a waterproof mascara, and an eyebrow powder that can double as an eyeshadow (I actually just use a dark brown eyeshadow from MAC for both!), and you should be good to go. Don't bother packing the fussy extensive makeup - you won't use or need most of it anyway. And get good at braiding your hair - it's a lifesaver in humid climates or when you're showering often, saving you from frizz or hours wasted fixing your hair only to have it mess up again shortly after. Embrace the ocean waves (perhaps with one product like a travel-sized Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray), and if you must use a hairdryer, take a travel-friendly sized yet powerful (read: fast) one like the Dyson Supersonic or Parlux Super Compact.
Don't forget the snacks!
You might not always be in a place where healthy food is available, or if you're in a really remote location, any food at all. I always pack snacks just in case, with some of my go-tos including vegetable crisps, N-Bars, Tosi Bars, and Kind Bars. Gu Drops are a great energy-booster that can easily be slipped into your bag to boost a long hike or surf session. Protein powder also makes for a quick snack easily mixed with water when you have little other choice, and I also try to measure out any supplements that I can't leave at home untaken into ziplock bags for my trip.
The Other Stuff
Funnily enough, all of the cute things that would normally take priority when packing for a regular vacation come last here. I usually pack shorts, a series of plain monochrome tank tops, and light kimono-style cover-ups, along with a couple of light, easy, breezy dresses that will look just as good at a beachside bar as they would at dinner, and one nice thing that will still look decent with flats, in case a fancy dinner crops up. Yes, it's the Betty Boop approach of wearing basically the same outfit formula each day, but honestly hardly anyone will notice, these kinds of trips aren't the type for a fashion show, and they'll work from day to night in most places, and can be dressed up with great hair/makeup/accessories and a winning smile.