The return of tourism

Athletes are booking organized hikes, running tours, and more.

Balancing a demanding career with demanding workouts can leave little time for planning a thoughtful vacation. That’s why fit travelers are returning to book tours again. “Traveling without a guide to fill in the blanks is like watching a movie on mute,” says Claire Saylor, a senior marketing manager at Audley Travel, a bespoke tour company that designs custom itineraries for clients. “You’ll miss out on gaining a full understanding of your surroundings.”

Filling your itinerary with a thoughtful selection of tours that match your interests, on the other hand, means you’re promised a local ambassador who is on hand from the time you arrive to immerse you in the culture of the destination, she explains. “You come home with more meaningful stories to share and a greater knowledge of the people, ecosystems, and wildlife that you just experienced.”

But this isn’t the Big Red Bus-type tour. There are companies that will take you to summit Mount Kinabalu at sunrise in Indonesia, hike the Inca or Salkantay trails to Machu Picchu, or run theGolden Gate. “First and foremost, an athlete is looking to continue their daily exercise routine,” says Michael Gazaleh, president and CEO of City Running Tours. “With active tours, clients get to satisfy the athlete and tourist within.”

There are countless companies and options our there to choose from but the best tours have these traits in common.

Access and add-ons.Tours that include meals and round-trip transportation take the headache out of planning, notes Saylor. Look for a tour operator that offers exclusive access to popular sites, too. If it’s National Parks you’re interested in, groups like National Parks Revealed have access to roads and areas not open to the public. Staying away from the tourist crowds offers a deeper experience.

Opportunities to learn new skills. Surfing in Costa Rica, artisan fishing in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, or ninja training in Japan are not only attractive additions to an athlete’s trip, says Saylor, but they expand your fitness repertoire.

Exercises for your mind. Along with seeking physical challenges, seek opportunities for spiritual well-being, like touring sacred Buddhist sites in Bhutan, practicing yoga in Bali, and learning about tea ceremonies with a geisha, suggests Saylor.

A new mode of transportation.“I often think about the bikes and walking poles on hiking trips as vehicles for delivering a different perspective of a place and a rewarding way to see, feel, and experience it,” says Scott McEwen, manager of traveller experience at active travel company Butterfield & Robinson. He favors biking. “Not only will you cover more ground, but when you stop for picnics or pictures, talk to locals or take in the culture, it’s rewarding to reflect on the work and sights you’ve seen along the way.” Try: Butterfield & Robinson’s biking tours, that take place everywhere from China and Greece to the Cape Town wine lands.

A good guide.“The quality of a guide can make or break any experience,” says Saylor. Seek a degree of expertise depending on the activity—a naturalist guide if you’re exploring nature, a historian if it’s a tour of a famous landmark, a former cyclist if it’s a bike tour—and hard-to-fake passion.

A social element.Choosing a group tour over a private one also has its perks. Gazaleh notes that athletes tend to share a social side, something that research links over and over again with a stronger, healthier mind. “That is why we offer a schedule of group tours that brings runners of all abilities together,” he says. “You’re still breaking a sweat but it also includes the sightseeing.”

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