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4 min read

How to use Runkeeper for vacation planning

Runkeeper saved my family vacation—here's how.

By Jessica Sillers · August 18, 2022
Hero image with the Runkeeper logo on a green background

Travel has been an important part of my relationship and family life from the beginning, and when we had kids, my husband and I knew we didn't want our travel adventures to come to an end. Of course, traveling with kids is a whole new world. Forget the travel-light days of newlywed backpacking—going to the supermarket is a backpacking trip on its own.

To anyone who's told us, "I don't know how you travel with little kids," here's our secret: practice. Traveling with young children is a marathon, not a sprint, so for our recent trip to Paris, we trained like athletes using my favorite fitness app, Runkeeper.

Neighborhood sightseeing practice runs

Paris has an excellent subway system, but it's far from stroller-friendly. We wanted to limit the time we spent hoisting our stroller over turnstiles and up spiral staircases, which meant we needed to be ready to walk at least five miles a day to do our sightseeing. 

Building stamina was the most important part of pre-trip training, for both the kids and the adults. I mapped out distances I wanted to cover in Paris:

  • Our hotel to the Louvre: 1 mile

  • Louvre to Eiffel Tower: 2.2 miles

  • Hotel to Montmartre: 1 mile, some steep uphill

  • Hotel to Le Marais: 1.5 miles

  • Le Marais to Palais Garnier (Opera House): 1.6 miles

The next step was to practice those distances in our own neighborhood, using Runkeeper to log our family activity. 

Despite the app's name, you can select all sorts of activities in Runkeeper. We often chose "walking," but if I'd picked out a hilly route (to practice stairs or mimic a day in the steep Montmartre arrondissement), "hiking" was a better fit. We did practice walks for a few weeks, starting with one destination at a time. Then we linked distances to test a possible day's itinerary.

Various options for activity types in Runkeeper

Taking family walks doubled as an opportunity to talk about plans and get the kids excited about what we'd see on the trip. A dry run also helped me see which of my plans were realistic. The distance to visit the Le Marais neighborhood and tour the Opera House was doable. Walking to Le Marais (1.5 miles) and then on to the Eiffel Tower (3.4 miles) was too far on foot.

As a bonus, we got some strength training in as parents. And we needed it. The plan was: our oldest would walk, one parent would push our toddler in a stroller, and the other parent would wear the baby in her carrier. But practice walks with the weight paid off when our oldest needed a turn in the stroller, and our toddler got a double-carry piggyback ride.

Jessica's husband carrying their toddler and their baby

Timing a relaxing vacation

When you look up walking directions with Google Maps, they give you a time estimate based on a walking speed of roughly three miles per hour. You can't currently customize walking speed, and the feature won't account for factors like walking on a bumpy path or navigating crowds with a stroller. If you know your individual walking speed, you can probably add or subtract a few minutes from Google's estimate, but the math gets more complicated with a family of five.

When you plan a day trip with young children, the estimated trip time starts before you leave the house. Here's what we did:

  • Start the activity tracker.

  • Get coats and shoes on, grab the diaper bag, unfold the stroller, and buckle the baby in.

  • Take an extra flight of stairs to mimic the third-floor Airbnb, and head out the door.

  • Just kidding—forgot a sippy cup. Go back in and grab that.

  • Finally, walk the estimated distance.

Runkeeper sorts distances into categories like 0-2 or 2-4 miles and shows you how your speed stacks up against similar sessions in your history. My family found this gave us a much more accurate sense of how much time to budget to catch a train or get to a museum right when it opened.

Tracking a family walk in Runkeeper

Happy kids, happy vacation

One of the great things about pushing through a tough workout is how I feel when it's over. I can drag my feet getting out the door and grumble my way through an entire run, and a few hours later, I'm still feeling a happy, post-workout glow.

That kind of workout amnesia is great for solo runs—but it's definitely not ideal for trip planning. I didn't want to paint a rosy picture after the fact and end up slogging through a day trip with three kids teetering on the edge of a meltdown.

After you finish a run, Runkeeper prompts you to rate it on a smiley face spectrum and add a note. (You still get notes on activities like walking, but the smiley faces are for runs only. There aren't speed requirements for Runkeeper activities, so a neighborhood stroll could still be a "run" if we were going for mood-rating purposes.)

The mood rating option in Runkeeper

My kids liked having a turn to share their input by choosing which face fit their mood. I used the notes line to jot down tips for my future self (e.g., bring snacks, take the route that passes the playground for a built-in stop) and record family-specific milestones (baby napped in the carrier!).

Jessica's kids looking at pastries
The real secret to keeping kids happy for long walks in Paris.

How the trip went

The trip was amazing. I feel so lucky to have been able to experience it, and we wouldn't have been able to do it without the prep we did with Runkeeper.

I noticed major improvements in my oldest daughter's stamina. In our at-home neighborhood walks, she complained after a couple miles that she was tired or her feet were sore. In Paris, she could handle five miles or more and barely break a sweat. It helped that Paris is full of tiny playgrounds near almost any major attraction—there's one tucked behind the Eiffel Tower, next to the Love Wall, and along the Seine, and a huge playground with a zipline in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Of course, there are moments on any trip that don't go as planned. The baby was in a cranky mood at the Musée d'Orsay, so I spent more time bouncing her in the hallways than serenely wandering the Impressionist exhibit. But part of traveling with kids is understanding that you plan what you can and roll with the unexpected. 

Our Runkeeper prep even helped us catch the train to my much-anticipated Champagne day trip, stop by a playground near the station when we arrived, and have plenty of time left to walk to the house we'd tour. And all the baby asked for was a bottle of her own.

Jessica and her husband with champagne

Traveling with kids requires a different approach—and a lot more preparation. But all the work was worth it to enjoy our time together and see new places through our kids' eyes.

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