“Going Home” Doesn’t Mean “Staying In” For The Holidays


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How to keep your outdoorsy ways during holiday travel season

When you dream about winter holidays, do you picture outdoor adventure as much as you do candlelight and big family meals? I didn’t grow up particularly outdoorsy, and I’ve worked hard to make a place for nature and adventure in my life. Still, when I go back to my parents’ house for a Midwest-style holiday visit, I often fall back into my role as “the kid,” and succumb to the overeating and under-exercising pattern of an indoor holiday.

Tea kettle on a stove

Photo Credit: Hilary Oliver

So lately, I’ve been trying to introduce some new traditions to my family—ways that we can spend more time in the outdoors and less time on the couch. Here are a few ideas for keeping your outdoorsy ways, even when you’re traveling for the holidays.

Explore nearby public lands. You don’t have to go to Yosemite or Yellowstone to get nature time. State parks, city green spaces and national monuments can provide the break you need when you’ve had more couch-sitting and TV-watching than you can handle. In the past couple of years, my family has made an effort to regularly visit the two small national monuments and the state recreation area within an hour’s drive of my parents’ house. The road trip provides a change of scenery, and bundling up for a cold-weather hike helps us feel like we earn a coffee and pastry on the way home.

Add in a stroll between dinner and dessert. Even if you’re just walking through a neighborhood, getting a little sun and fresh air can really turn your day around. Especially if you happen to be feeling, shall we say, full? If you can tear yourself away from the football and family movies on TV, you probably won’t regret it.

Try a Turkey Trot or Jingle Bell Run—or make up your own. There’s no shortage of holiday 5Ks all over the U.S., and they can be a festive way to enjoy a town or city this time of year. But if you don’t find any races in your destination, why not start your own informal Holiday Run? Send out a notice to family and friends ahead of time, stating a time and place—and enjoy a community jog on a specific course. Making it a tradition will give you something to look forward to each year.

Walk or ride bikes, instead of driving, to see holiday lights. Even if it’s dark out, getting outside can be a serious mood lift. Add holiday lights, and you’ve got magic. Some botanic gardens and zoos offer holiday light walks—and no matter where you live, someone has probably decked out their yard. Make it a point to lace up your boots and check it out.

Drinking coffee outside

Photo Credit: Hilary Oliver

Take your coffee outdoors. Adding a little nature to your day first thing in the morning can shift the direction of your entire day. And you don’t necessarily need to be camping out on a mountainside to enjoy it. I like to pour my coffee into an insulated travel mug, wrap myself in a blanket, and enjoy my joe outdoors, on the front stoop or the back porch. Just five minutes of sunlight—or even cloudy light—feels like a jolt of energy and positivity, caffeine aside.

Run your errands by bike. If you’re driving someplace for the holidays and can bring your bike along, it’s a great way to add some outdoor time to your day. Heading to the post office? Last-minute shopping? Use your phone’s mapping app to find a good bike route, bundle up and enjoy the exercise and the wind on your face.

Adjust your pace—or adjust expectations. No matter how fit you are or aren’t, your family might not be ready to go your pace in the outdoors. But going together can make special holiday memories. Be sure to be considerate of others’ fitness and speed if you’re out for a family adventure. But if you can’t drum up company—or just want a solo workout—make it a priority to go out alone. Even if your family doesn’t understand why you do it, they’ll probably be happy you did when you return rosy-cheeked and merry.

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