When I was younger, flying was magic. Unfortunately, I've now come to associate flying with staccato wet sneezes in the row behind me and praying that my immune system is up to the task. There are few circumstances that make me feel so claustrophobic, and so determined to breathe fresh air as soon as possible.
Upon arrival, it can be difficult in an unfamiliar place to figure out ways to be outdoors beyond dragging luggage from the terminal to the train. This is especially true for business trips, when my itinerary isn't up to me.
Like many Alaskans, I travel regularly, with each flight requiring at least three hours of plane time.
Over time, I've figured out some ways to get outside along the way.
Renting a bike
In many cities, magical corridors called "bike lanes" provide a designated place for cyclists like me. Over time, the aggregate effect of cyclists using those lanes is a shift in the culture. Drivers are typically aware and considerate of cyclists, and hopefully vice versa. (But always pack or rent a helmet).
Many hotels now offer free or rental bikes. In many cities, bike rental shops are plentiful — often with high-quality bikes that make the terrain in a place like, say, hilly Seattle, a tad easier. A quick Google search will bring up the latest local bike route maps, which are not usually totally necessary but at least give some indication of where the better routes are (and help me avoid getting lost).
One of my favorite memories of being in Washington, D.C., is renting a Citi Bike and riding around the National Mall after a long day of meetings. I was still wearing my suit jacket, which I stashed in the basket, and I had to use a hair tie to affix a quarter between my two layers of skirt to create temporary shorts.
I felt like I was getting away with something as I cruised through the dusky pink sunset watching the Lincoln Memorial get closer and closer.
Citi Bikes are heavy and clunky, but great for cities with few hills like D.C. It's so easy to happen upon a fleet of bikes, or use my smartphone to locate the nearest station, then swipe my credit card to "rent" a bike. I can leave the bike at any other port in the city.
Finding good routes
I'm all for exploring places, but I like to make an educated guess when I'm somewhere new.
First, I don't typically have much time — especially if I'm traveling for work. Whatever fresh air time I have must be maximized. Second, safety is a consideration. I'd prefer not to ride my bike on a dangerous road if I can avoid it, and running after dark in a sparsely populated and unfamiliar neighborhood just isn't smart.
Sometimes word of mouth helps. If there is a local bike or running shop that's easy to swing by, employees will always have ideas about where to go and where to avoid. However, during odd hours, such as if I'm trying to sneak something in before or after work, the internet is my best friend.
Apps such as MapMyRun or Strava include user-populated routes. I can typically look at a few biking or running routes and start getting an idea of what's popular on the roads, or see if there is a trail system nearby.
Even Yelp will include local attractions, including parks and trails. Often the comments and ratings will give me a sense of must-sees or red flags. It can be fun to have a destination in mind — even just running to see a sculpture or quirky local attraction. Of course, if I'm running in the morning I will often bait myself by promising a quick visit to a well-reviewed bakery if there's one close by.
Calling a friend
Then there is the fail-proof strategy of getting in touch with locals. I confess that sometimes when I travel, I'm either too busy to see people I know, or I decide not to. When I'm traveling and there's a lot to juggle, sometimes the added layer of trying to coordinate a visit is just too much. I always hope people understand.
That said, when the timing is right and it works out, visiting with friends and family is awesome, especially when traveling for business.
I've gone hiking just outside of Portland, I've eaten a delicious meal on a sailboat in Puget Sound, and I learned about swimming holes in Austin, Texas — all in the name of catching up with friends and family. That feeling of being whisked away from the anonymity of big brand hotels and nametags into a lesser-known corner of a city is exciting enough; add in an outdoor component and I'm there.
Travel is still exciting for me, but it can also cut down on the precious time I carve out every day to be outside. Being outdoors is how I stay happy and sane, which is a good thing for me, my marriage and my job. So I do my best to creatively find time to get outdoors even when I'm on the road.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer, works in Anchorage and plays throughout Alaska.