Giselle Lauren works out regularly with weights , practices yoga , and loves to bike, so she didn't hesitate when signing up for an "easy-to-moderate" active vacation package that included biking through California's wine country.

"I thought the biking would be a snap, but it wasn't," says Lauren, 39, of Glen Cove, New York. She biked approximately five hours a day during her seven-day trip, enjoying beautiful scenery from the seat of her bike. While she enjoyed her vacation, she also admits it was a challenge.

"It wasn't grueling, but it was exercise," she says.

One of a growing number of active travelers, Lauren was drawn to the popular concept that mixes outdoor exercise with amenities like deluxe accommodations and fine dining. But, as she learned, preparing physically for this kind of trip isn't always a day at the beach.

Smart Choices, Happy Trails

Gathering specific facts, both about tour providers and potential trips, can ease stress and promote a healthful, active travel experience.

Before embarking on a trip, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • How much "roughing it" and physical exertion will be included?
  • How long has the tour company been in business?
  • What qualifications and training do the guides have?
  • What is the typical guide-to-guest ratio? (1 to 5 is good for most trips)
  • In case of emergency, what is the evacuation plan?
  • Can special dietary and activity needs be provided for?
  • Are there ways to vary activity levels within each trip?
  • How many miles will be covered each day? Are there changes in altitude and, if so, is time allotted for travelers to adjust?
  • What is included or not included in the package cost? Food? Travel health insurance ?

Planning a Healthy Trip

"The key is to plan ahead," says Steven Lamm, MD, author of Younger At Last: The New World of Vitality Medicine , who says health concerns should always be considered. "Prior to your trip is a good time to get a medical evaluation because you may have special needs."

Depending on the destination, there may be vaccinations or preventive medicines that health care providers can recommend. Doctors may also prescribe medications and offer advice on how to handle prescription medical care while away from home.

Such medical input is particularly important for travelers who suffer from chronic conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes. These travelers must consider changes in altitude and daily exertion levels more carefully.

Phyllis Kozarsky, MD, president-elect of the International Society of Travel Medicine, agrees. "It's really important that people understand that certain itineraries are not appropriate for them," she explains. "It looks fun to trek in Nepal, but if they can't walk up a flight of stairs, that's going to be a problem." She adds that doctors can also give you tips about protecting yourself from all kinds of weather and avoiding dehydration.

Fit to Travel

As Lauren learned on her bicycle, being physically prepared for an active vacation may not be the top priority for travelers, but it does make a difference.

"Your enjoyment on these trips is dependent on how exhausted you are at night and sore you are in the morning," says Dave Wiggins, vice president of GORPtravel. While most active travelers exercise regularly, the level of activity on every trip varies, so it's important to start a pre-trip exercise program, with the approval of a health care professional.

Dr. Lamm suggests that active travelers begin working out over the course of several months before their planned departure dates.

"You can't get fit in a day," he says. Getting used to some type of aerobic activity—whether it's walking , swimming or a step class—can help prepare your muscles for daily workouts.

Get Packing

Think about the climate you're going to and what you'll be doing there, so you can pack the right clothes. Ask the tour company for specific packing lists if they are not already provided.

Most active travel vacation guides carry extensive first-aid and medical kits, but Dr. Lamm suggests you always be prepared with a basic travel medicine kit that includes the following:

  • All your regular prescription medications, including allergy and migraine medicines
  • Pain relievers
  • Insect repellent
  • Antibiotics
  • Antidiarrheal medicine
  • Topical antibacterial ointment and bandages
  • Emergency phone numbers

Once you've planned for the worst, you can relax and enjoy the spontaneity that makes active travel unique, says Wiggins.

"It's often times the unexpected that brings the magic of adventure travel," he says.