In my past life I traveled often. On any given weekday morning I would wake up in Washington, DC, Muskegon, Wisconsin, Austin, Texas or San Diego to begin my day. The one thing that kept me grounded during that hectic time of my life, and my stress level within a tolerable level, was an hour run at the end of the workday.
Rather than bore you about the benefits of an hour run; things like breaking out of prison, re: hotel room, transcending the monotony of meetings, not to mention fresh air and exercise, I will share one intrinsic advantage that the casual observer may easily overlook. Running is a great way to get familiar with a town or city you had never visited. It places you physically in the space and you get a feel for the surroundings, the open areas, parks and the people. You are instantly present in your new environment.
David Byrne, founder of and vocalist for Talking Heads, wrote a book titled Bicycle Diaries that makes the same comparison about seeing a new city by bicycle. David isn’t an amateur or professional cyclist, rather he is a passionate bicycle enthusiast who advocates bike friendly urban design, laws that promote eco-friendly transit systems, and traveling by bicycle as a means to commute and commune. I read about his perspective of cycling through urban areas with interest because of the similarities I’d experienced running, many times through the same cities.
Byrne has traveled the world for decades. He describes visiting many US cities including San Francisco and New York and international cities such as Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Manila, Sydney and London from the perspective of navigating perched on a bicycle seat. He observes how highway systems in the US alienated people, promoted urban blight and undermined the friendly and commute across town.
From a visitor or business traveler perspective, David writes:
“Some people retreat into themselves or their hotel rooms if a place is unfamiliar, or lash out in an attempt to gain some control. I myself find that the physical sensation of self-powered transport coupled with the feeling of self-control endemic to this two-wheeled situation is nicely empowering and reassuring, even if temporary, and it is enough to center me for the rest of the day.
It sounds like some form of meditation, and in a way it is. Performing a familiar task, like driving a car or riding a bicycle, puts one in a zone that is not too deep or involving. Te activity is repetitive, mechanical, and it distracts and occupies the conscious mind, or at least part of it, in way that is just engaging enough but not too much—it doesn’t cause you to be caught off guard. It facilitates a state of mind that allows some but not too much of the unconscious to bubble up. As someone who believes that much of the source of his work and creativity is to be gleaned from those bubbles, it’s a reliable place to find that connection. In the same way that perplexing problems sometimes get resolved in one’s sleep, when the conscious mind is distracted the unconscious works things out.”
I was, admittedly, an anomaly for a business traveler. The number one priority for most business travelers is to find the best happy hour in town; mine was to plan the best location for an hour-long run. Not that I had an aversion to cold beer, but a vigorous workout released the stress and boredom from the day. While they bellied up to the bar, I’d be exploring new territories on foot, striding past runners, cyclists and rollerbladers from distant places from my own and getting a feel of my new environment’s architecture, flora and culture. It was the way I found destinations I knew I’d get back to on my leisure time. It was a blast.
When you travel, whether on business or pleasure, get out and walk, run or cycle. Do it for yourself—for the exercise, to preserve your sanity, the open your mind and get to know new places and its people.