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5 Things to Consider When Running Abroad

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Because it's often quite a bit different than running at home.

silhouette of a runner along the water in Reykjavik
Evening run in Reykjavik

Happy Global Running Day! Running is one of my greatest passions, so oftentimes when I travel, I make a point to get some runs in. It is my favorite way to see a city, explore the neighborhoods, and get my bearings. My morning run is how I scope out what I want to do later on, find great places to eat, and see the city before it wakes up. Nothing else makes me feel like a local- or most importantly, makes me feel like myself, quite like running. I also love it because it’s way more efficient than just walking around, and it’s important to me to squeeze in fitness when I’m on the road. That being said, there are some significant things to consider when you’re running abroad- it’s not always as simple as lacing up and heading out the door, like at home. I’ve gone for a run on 5 continents so far, so I’ve compiled a list of a few things to consider in order to have an amazing run on your next trip!

Hazardous terrain

It would be amazing if every place had beautifully paved roads or well groomed dirt trails on which to run- but more likely you will encounter uneven sidewalks, potholes, crazy traffic, and cobblestone streets. You may have to constantly pay attention to each step! Running in Antigua, Guatemala was absolutely beautiful- but the streets were made of slippery, rounded cobblestones and I just had to pray that my ankles didn’t roll. Even many European cities have these kinds of hazards- which you’ve probably also noticed when wheeling a suitcase down the street.

running in Antigua Guatemala with volcano and cobblestones
Check out those cobblestones in Antigua!

Stray dogs

This is actually a serious concern when running abroad! I was always wary when running in India, because the streets are filled with stray dogs, none of which are vaccinated, and live very rogue lives. Puppies are wandering, with Mom and Dad just around the corner and ready to pounce on anyone who comes too close- which could easily be you running down the road, minding your own business. The scariest encounter I had was on a run in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, along a dirt road. Two dogs came running at me out of the bushes, chasing me and barking aggressively until I finally had to run up the steps at a nearby home. Turns out that these dogs were the pets of the homeowner, and they were “just having fun.” Certainly didn’t seem that way to me! I recommend that when running near stray dogs, don’t make eye contact with them (can be seen as a sign of aggression), and if they seem like they want to follow you, slow to a walk. Dogs often find your running to be an invitation to chase. I’ve also heard that it’s a good idea to carry a stick, or some object that you could defend yourself with, but I haven’t done that one myself- yet.

stray puppies on the street
Stray puppies in India (this is just before getting growled at by their dad)

Environmental concerns

The big ones that come to mind to me here are smog, bugs, sun and altitude. Air quality isn’t always up to snuff in many countries, particularly poorer countries around the world. When I was in India, the morning and evening rush hour times smelled like sulfurous smoke and had a heavy smog hanging in the air- my hair would smell like smoke after just walking through it. So, I did my runs at lunchtime instead- the heat and sun were worse then, but at least I could breathe! And speaking of breathing, some places are at a higher altitude than you’re used to- which means that your runs will feel harder, you’ll find it harder to catch your breath, and you’ll be more prone to sunburn. My highest run was in Cusco, Peru at 11,000 feet- let’s just say that any slight incline in the sidewalk (cobblestone, of course) felt like a mountain, and running for 30 minutes felt like a huge victory. Your chosen vacation spot may likely be sunnier than home, at a higher altitude, and very potentially be host to nasty, disease spreading insects. So wear sunscreen or a hat, bug spray, or just kill two birds with one stone and wear lightweight long sleeve clothing for your run. If your destination is cold (a rarity for me) well… layer up and watch for ice on the streets.

Cultural concerns

I’ve run in some pretty random places around the world, yet many I’ve chosen to abstain as well. There are some destinations in which I would personally not feel comfortable or safe, as a woman, running- especially alone. I chose to not run in Morocco, as well as most places in the Middle East, because it is not a common activity to see women doing in the streets on their own in these cultures. Not to say that it can’t be done, but think carefully about it first.  I did make a habit of running in India, in a city neighboring New Delhi that did not have tourists. While I made sure to wear conservative workout gear- loose fitting capri pants, and a loose fitting shirt, I still got LOTS of stares, and a few shouts in the street, particularly from other women. I’m not sure if they were angry or confused, but it was definitely out of the norm in that town to see a white girl jogging down the street wearing hot pink in the middle of the afternoon.

Along those lines with safety in mind, try to vary your route often, so that you do not become a predictable target if anyone has malice in mind, and use common sense to guide you. Don’t run alone at night or down creepy alleys, and turn around or get to a familiar area if anything feels off. If you must get your run in, and you have some reservations about safety or cultural appropriateness, find a treadmill or local track. I used to run at a track in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, because I knew that it was free from traffic and potholes, well-lit, and always had other athletes around. So many problems solved there! I did a lot of running in Bangladesh, and the cultural issues were a big deal there.

running xela track volcano
Despite being a distance runner, I grew to love this track over time.

Finding a route to run:

This can be both fun and frustrating. In a new place, I often take a quick look at Google Maps for some reference of which direction to run, before I take off. I frequently like to weave in a city’s hot spots on my run, because you can see them before the tourists swarm in! Pro Tip: You can still use Google Maps offline, even if you haven’t downloaded the map. The little blue dot will still move in whatever direction you are going. So, drop a pin or save the location you’re starting from, and anytime you get lost, open Google Maps and use it to direct yourself home.

MapMyRun is also an amazing reference, as you can find local routes that others have run, including distances (desktop/tablet version is best for this). You can also map out where you were thinking of going in advance, so that you know your distance and elevation gain/loss ahead of time- super important if you’re training for a race or not traveling with your flashy Garmin. I’ve also gotten great running route suggestions from other blogs. And the most fun idea of all- join a local club’s group run or do a local race!

Hopefully this helps you out on your next run abroad! I’ve run in 17 countries and counting, but a life goal of mine is to run a marathon on every continent- must start saving for the Antarctica trip…

Where are your favorite destinations for running abroad? Let me know in the comments!

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