Try it on your next trip.

This Is the Best Sport to Explore a New City (and It’s Free)

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A female trail running near Santa Barbara.

As a lifelong athlete and avid traveler, staying active while on the road isn’t just a matter of fitness for me, it’s a matter of sanity. And while I wish there were an Olympic pool or ocean I could dive into at every destination, the one constant I can control is packing a pair of trainers. (Truly, it’s the first thing I throw into my suitcase, every single time.) Running isn’t just great for combatting jet lag and counterbalancing all the eating I love to do on a trip; it’s the ultimate way to immerse myself in the heartbeat of a new destination. There’s nothing like lacing up and exploring bustling streets and unknown terrain. Every stride reveals a new facet of a city’s personality. And it doesn’t have to cost a thing.

Traveling for a race can add another layer of exploration, of course. And after running my first half marathon in San Diego, I now see how runners plan PTO around marathons. (I conveniently plotted my stay at the new Lafayette Hotel, which made for the ultimate afterparty.) Since many race routes traverse historic bridges, monuments, and waterfront promenades, it allows you to take in the sights, sounds, and scents of a destination in a a way that calls on the collective energy of shared experience. And it’s even better when done with a group of friends.

Woman Running in Hidden Valley in Moab

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Whether it’s exchanging smiles with early morning joggers or soaking up the race-day energy of thousands of participants ranging from elite athletes to complete beginners, running fosters a sense of camaraderie and community. Lately, I’ve been popping in on local run clubs to explore new neighborhoods in my own city, treating myself to a much-deserved meal at new restaurants I want to try afterwards. And did I mention you get to carbo load the night before a race? I took that as an excuse to book in at Siamo Napoli in North Park for the most outrageous pappardelle ragu.

Unlike structured tours or crowded attractions, running allows me to set my own pace, take detours, and discover unexpected treasures along the way. For me, it isn’t just about covering miles—it’s about embracing the spirit of exploration and discovering the soul of a city at my own speed. But consider yourself warned. After completing my first San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll, I was immediately Googling my next race. (Spoiler alert: it’s the Santa Cruz Triathlon.)

And who knows? It may even lead to your next love match; some are saying Strava is the new Hinge, after all. (I have yet to experience that side of the app, for what it’s worth.) The best part is, you don’t need a whole lot to get started. If you want some recs on the basics, here’s what I used to go from struggling through a two-mile trot to completing my first half. None of it is required, of course. All you really need is a sense of adventure, an able body, and a decent pair of shoes.

Courtesy of Amazon

Garmin Venu 3

I’ve never been a smart-watch girlie, but I love how this helped track mileage and give great biofeedback like heart rate, which helped with Zone 2 training.

Garmin Venu 3, $437

Courtesy of Hoka

Hoka Bondi 8

The first thing I throw into my carry-on is always, always a pair of trainers. For my first half marathon, this pair got me and my wonky knees through training and race day. I brought them on my recent trips to Lanai and Punta Mita, and the vibrant colorway always gets compliments.

Hoka Bondi 8, $165
Shokz OpenRun Headphones

Courtesy of Amazon

Shokz Open Run Headphones

The bone conduction technology makes it so that you can hear cars and other activity around you, making for a safer run. They’re sweat and waterproof, produce excellent audio quality, and won’t fall out of your ears like many ear buds do.

Shokz Open Run, $130

Courtesy of Gorewear

Gorewear Contest 2.0 Long Sleeve

I really like these wicking, lightweight long sleeves because they keep you cool and dry in most conditions, and also provide visibility if you’re running early morning or late at night.

Gorewear Contest 2.0 Long Sleeve, $90
Honeystinger Energy Chews

Courtesy of Amazon

Honey Stinger

I learned quickly in my running journey that if you’re running longer than an hour, you absolutely have to be fueling. While the goos are great for race day, I am obsessed with Honey Stinger’s caffeine gummies and stroopwafels. You can also snack on dates or even sour candies if you don’t want to spend on Stingers. Their recovery bars are also really tasty.

Honey Stinger Energy Chews, 12-Pack, $25

Courtesy of Amazon

Body Glide

Chafing is real, and this stuff really works. Swipe this balm on before long runs, or even for long days of walking and exploring. You’ll thank me later.

Body Glide for Her, $9

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