Many of us baby boomers are finally at the stage where we have the time, money and flexibility to travel, but we’re not all in the best shape for it.

Take my trip to China and Hong Kong, for example. My wife and I and two other couples saw the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and more amazing sites together. But those in the best shape had the best experience. Let’s face it: A visit to the parking lot won't be nearly as rewarding as the view from the top of the Great Wall, if your legs and lungs can’t take you up there.

My number-one travel tip: Get fit first

Sure, you can have the time of your life without being in the best shape of your life. But wherever you go, you need to be able to handle the physical challenges you’ll face:

  • Lifting your luggage. Most airlines set a 50-pound limit on checked-in luggage and most travellers push that limit. Be honest: When was the last time you lifted 50 pounds? My wife and I invested in nice, wheeled luggage. I don’t need to carry it far, but I still need to lift it onto and off the bed (too often!), over curbs and potholes, and off the airport luggage carousel.
  • Climbing stairs. Tour guides tell me that far too many travellers, on hearing about great sites they’re about to visit, ask two questions: How many steps are there, and how far do we have to walk?
    On our China trip, a fellow-traveller asked those questions so often, I started to cringe. The world isn’t flat, and having bad knees or hips won’t change its shape. If your “hinges” are okay, but you’ve become a bit apple- or pear-shaped over the years, maybe it’s not the shape of the world you need to worry about.
  • Being on your feet too long. When travelling, you’ll often be on your feet for more hours a day than you’re used to.
  • Needing to hurry. Sometimes, you’ll need to rush to cross a busy street, to catch a bus or to get to the washroom before that busload of tourists.

Training to travel

Even without a gym membership, there’s a lot you can do to get in shape so you can achieve these goals. (Always check with your doctor before taking on a new physical activity.):

  • Be ready for long walks. Work your way (if you need to) up to a 60-minute walk, three to five times a week. Walk as briskly as you can without getting out of breath.
  • Be able to run safely for at least one minute. Wearing comfortable shoes, try a short jog or vigorous walk. (If your doctor says it’s a bad idea, skip this one.)
  • Train to lift 50 pounds. Using a suitcase as a container, add shoes, clothes, even canned goods to create a weight that challenges you, but that you can handle. Lift it onto your bed, then down to the floor, 10 times. Later in the day, repeat. After a week of doing this daily, add more weight, eventually reaching 50 pounds. (For safe lifting tips, see Lifting safety: tips to help prevent back injuries.)
  • Train to lift carry-on luggage above your head. Lift a small bag filled with shoes, onto the top shelf of your closet. Repeat 10 times, twice a day. Every week, add a bit more weight.
  • Train for stairs. Whenever you can, take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.