10 Ways to Run or Bike in Foreign Locations

You want to be active in a foreign location but you’re not sure how or if it’s safe to do so? Maybe it’s on the other side of the planet or just an unfamiliar city or location within your country. Biking, running, or walking are a way of life, a means of exploring, a way to keep sane, stay healthy, or all the above. Better Preparedness will help you and share your recommendations in the Comments section below.

1. Identify and ask local runners and cyclists well ahead of time

Find the people who do your activity, not the naysayers who say you can’t. Keep asking around and you will find those people who can advise you where, when and how you should train. Find out when most people are active and where they train. If safety in numbers is good for that location, join them. In a north African location, I was told that mountain biking was not possible, but I kept asking around and found a friend of a friend and his amazing group who met up every Saturday morning in the proverbial middle-of-nowhere outside the city for some amazing and safe trails. On top of being a great group of people, I was able to learn where and when to ride.

2. Contact local clubs, teams or groups, or sign up for some races nearby

Google for local clubs or associations where you are headed. I find people are happy to help answer your questions and assist you in doing your activity. Maybe you could join them for a few sessions and you’ll get to meet local people who share your lifestyle, bonus!

3. Do online searches using activity trackers

Activity tracking and route websites such as MapMyRun.com and Strava.com can be a good research tool. You can explore routes in your proposed location. Where and when do people do that activity? Where do they not do that activity? Remember to ask your newfound running and cycling contacts about these potential routes.

4. Choose your accommodation so you can be active

If you have a say in where you will be staying or living, try to select a location that works with your preferred activities. During a trip with my family to Hanoi, Vietnam, I booked our accommodation so my wife and I could take turns going for a run around Hoan Kiem Lake, a mecca for local runners and great for seeing the old city! If you will be somewhere long term, maybe you are better outside the downtown core.

5. When venturing out on your own, do your research, plan a route ahead of time, and gradually explorer further and further if safe to do so

With the internet and online mapping sites like Google Maps, Street View or Google Earth, you can explore routes before you head out. If I won’t have internet access in a foreign location, I’ll download a map of the city for my phone using the Maps.Me app. If I get disorientated, lost or want to change my route on the go and need to consult the App map, I’ll pull into somewhere safe and see where I need to go. You could even have your Google Maps or Maps.Me (check your App store) giving you route instructions as you go but always review the proposed route ahead of time to ensure it works and is safe. If drawing attention to yourself or to the fact that you have a phone in your hidden running belt is not desirable, having your GPS yell out each turn may draw unwanted attention to you.

6. Tourist maps are great route planners!

When at an airport, hotel or tourism office, they might have free paper tourist maps. Ask for 2-3 of them. I will sometimes cut off the extra parts I don’t need and carry the small folded map or tuck it into my 2-pouch running belt.

7. If you will be in a riskier crime environment, take your precautions

If crime could be an issue, don’t attract attention. Leave your fancy GPS watch behind or put it in your shorts pocket and protect it from getting scratched. Put your phone in a waterproof running belt underneath the waistband of your running shorts or cycling jersey. Consider wearing non-flashy clothing so you don’t stand out or seem remotely appealing. Carry a whistle to draw attention in case you need to.  Consider leaving your music headphones at home to avoid standing out and missing important sounds like vehicles, people or even dogs.

8. Plan ahead for the potential weather

Do your research, forecast checks and ask the contacts you have about weather and potential weather hazards. If you are going to Ottawa or Ulaanbaatar in the winter time, you can still be active in -20C but you’ll need to be equipped for it. Same for if you are headed to The Gulf states in the summer time and perhaps you need to do your activity hyper early. If it’s going to be super sunny, don’t forget your suncream and sun protection!

9. In many cases, it’s safe to explore, so get out there!

I’ve had countless amazing experiences just exploring unfamiliar locations. Start with routes close by and then start expanding your network of routes as you feel comfortable. Maybe you’ll just do an out-and-back run which should make it hard to get lost or each time explore some new areas beyond what you already know.

10. Plan ahead for if your outing doesn’t go well

Think through how your outing could go wrong and how you could plan to resolve that situation. Will you have internet access to call an Uber or Lyft, or have some subway or bus tickets for the stops along your route? What telephone numbers should you have written down and safely in your running belt? As an extra precaution, consider keeping that sheet of paper separate from your wallet in case the wallet was to be removed from you… Should you bring a light raincoat around your waist, a hat or sunglasses?
As in anything, identify the risks or potential risks, be informed, improve your safety and decide

Hey, sometimes it’s just not possible, so find an alternative activity.

In particular if you are just somewhere temporarily, if it really is unsafe or you won’t be able to follow the recommended advice, well, better safe than sorry. Find a local gym, a hotel with a gym or design indoor workouts you can do. If you’ll be there longer term, keep asking around and hopefully you’ll find a way to do your favourite sports or find a new sport that is suitable for that location.

Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way! Try to find the way to do your activity, not the excuses to skip it.

Please share your experiences and comments below.

What’s worked for you? What could you recommend to others?

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