If you’ve ever tried to fit in a run before hitting the beach during your Hawaiian vacation or included long bike rides as part of your travels, then you’ve probably had others look at you bewildered and incredulously ask: “You’re going to work out on vacation?!”
But you’re not alone. “Wellness tourism” is now a $563 billion industry, according to the Global Wellness Institute. That includes traditional “wellness” activities like spa trips, but increasingly it also includes a growing market for training vacations, fitness-oriented trips, bike tours, yoga retreats or even Zumba cruises.
“People are looking for experiences over things,” says Stacy Schwartz, founder of Ketanga Fitness Retreats. When she started her company three years ago, the main option for a fitness-focused vacation was a yoga retreat. Now, though, there are dozens of fitness travel companies, with everything from bootcamps in Costa Rica to horseback riding trips across the U.S. And there are even more destination-based training camps offered by gyms, coaches or, in plenty of cases, popular athletes.
Schwartz says her trips usually involve one or two workouts each day, a daily recreational fun activity, local meals and down time. “You’re not going to be training all day. It’s also your vacation,” she says, which is a common balance found among fitness travel companies. But there are also harder-core training camps available, which have been popular among endurance athletes (especially triathletes) for years. These often occur in the spring (Think: spring training camp) for people who want to get ready for a summer race but are tired of trying to put in snowy, cold miles.
THE MANY BENEFITS
There are plenty of benefits to a “train-cation” or a fitness vacation: It can jump-start your training and motivation, you get to take a vacation somewhere new and exciting and you’re doing an activity you enjoy anyway. Certainly, however, it’s important to make sure you don’t get in over your head, get hurt or get lost.
An organized travel company or retreat can eliminate some of the logistical challenges and ensure you don’t end up on the wrong trails or run out of fuel on your adventure run. Plus, most train-cations thrown by gyms or coaches come with professional expertise and coaching.
CHOOSING YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
The downside to these trips is they tend to be expensive. Hosting your own mini-training camp is always an option, too, especially if you’re more experienced in your sport. Email your best training buddies to nail down a date then rent a house somewhere with great weather. Then you’ll research routes and logistics, load up on necessities like food and sports drinks and consider hiring a local expert to “sag” (i.e., follow along with extra gear, in case anything breaks). A company like SAG Monkey can provide catering, bring in masseuses or yoga instructors, help with route guides and mechanics and offer general support for your DIY fitness vacation.
Here are some tips from Schwartz for planning your next fitness-focused trip:
1. FIGURE OUT YOUR NEEDS
Train-cations or fitness vacations range from hard-core training camps, where the focus is on the workouts, to casual trips in exotic locations with some rejuvenating yoga thrown in. First, figure out where you fall on that spectrum and what you want to do, and then you can probably find a way to make it happen.
2. DO THE MATH
“Look at what’s included and what’s not,” says Schwartz. Plenty of training camps or organized trips include some things in the cost, but not all things. Most don’t include airfare, but many don’t even include accommodations in their fee.
3. DON’T GIVE IN TO PEER PRESSURE
If you sign on to an organized trip, make sure it’s not “one size fits all,” says Schwartz. The instructors and coaches need to know if you have any injuries or any nutritional issues. If you’re not prepared for it, don’t get sucked into biking up the steepest, hardest hill just because your friends are. Make sure the trip you have planned takes into account your individual fitness level and needs.
RECOMMENDED GROUP TRIPS
If you’re looking to plan a fitness-focused vacation this year, here are a few popular organized trips.
Trek Travel has long been the standard in cycling trips. It is perhaps best known for routes that follow popular bike races, like in France or Spain, but has added trips all over the U.S. and across South America and even in the Galapagos Islands. It organizes trips by style: mountain bike, family-friendly, bike camp and luxury. All logistics and food are provided, and your gear is taken care of. All you have to do is bike, bike, bike. The classic cycling trip through the French Alps costs $3,599 for six days.
You might not be a professional athlete, but running camps generally offer a chance to act like you are for a weekend or even a week. Daily workouts, nutritional guidance, speeches from inspirational athletes or coaches — it’s just what you need to get ready for your spring or summer marathon. ZAP Fitness offers adult camps primarily out of its bases on the East Coast and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s $1,050 for a week-long camp and $750 for a long weekend. Many athletes also offer camps, like Kara Goucher’s women-only retreat or Rob Krar’s ultra-running camp. If you’d rather explore somewhere new on a running vacation, then Run Wild’s running retreats in Iceland ($4,900 for seven days), the Moab desert ($1,950 for four days) or Ireland ($4,300 for seven days) could be your speed.
Following in the footsteps of running trips and cycling treks, swimming vacations aim to see new places through exercise. Swim Trek launched in 2000, but has grown extensively in the last few years, with trips along the Greek islands and the Croatian coast. In 2018, there’ll even be a new trip to Komodo National Park in Indonesia. No, you don’t have to spend all day in the water. Itineraries generally have swimmers traveling from island to island or exploring hidden coves, with plenty of food, rest and other activities in between. Trips are organized by type: day trips, iconic swims (like from Alcatraz island) or classic adventures. The seven-day Crete island swim tour costs $1,200–$1,500, depending on time of year.
BOXING OR MARTIAL ARTS
If you’re looking to train hard and focus on learning muay thai or boxing techniques, then a mixed martial arts camps might be for you. Muay thai has a long history of dedicated training camps throughout Thailand, like the Lamai Muay Thai Camp or the 22-day muay thai and yoga retreat from Sumalee Boxing Gym for just $1,175. These authentic camps tend to be sparse on the frills, but cost-effective and intense. If that’s too extreme, many of the fitness travel agencies also offer boxing retreats and trips, like Ketanga’s boxing camp in Costa Rica for $1,725 for five days.
Fitness trips and destination bootcamps are the most popular of the “train-cation” categories. Individual resorts often offer fitness camps, like the Omni La Costa Resort‘s PFC fitness camp in Carlsbad, California, or the Miraval Health Resort‘s numerous themed weeks in Arizona. If you’d rather explore internationally or have a trip planned for you, there are a myriad of options from fitness travel agencies, like Health and Fitness Travel’s women’s bootcamp in Spain for $4,795 for eight days.