So you’ve finally pulled the trigger and signed up for that destination race. Bravo! Traveling for a race is one of the most exciting and rewarding gifts that this wonderful sport has to offer. As a sports journalist and athlete, I have traveled to dozens of races across six different continents (you’re on my bucket list, Antarctica!), as well as countless others on American soil—and along the way I’ve learned more than a few hard lessons about triathlon travel. From what to pack to the easiest formula for beating jetlag, here are some do’s and don’ts for race travel that will help ensure you cross the finish line—and that mile-long security line—relatively unscathed.
Prepping For Your Trip
Once, during a reporting trip down to South America, my plane encountered some rather severe mechanical issues during takeoff, leaving all 200 passengers stranded in a shady airport hotel in Mexico City. This started an agonizing domino effect of missed flights and airport delays as I bunny-hopped my way down to Chile, finally arriving at the race hotel a mere seven hours before the start of the race. The moral of the story: If you’re traveling a significant distance for your race, give yourself what I refer to as an “Oh s&#t! buffer” because, well, s&#t happens.
Do know the minimum amount of time you need to be gone. For a shorter race (anything less than a half-Ironman distance), you’re safe arriving a day or two before, and flying out the same day of the race is doable. For a half-Ironman, I recommend at least two days before, as well as a full night’s rest before taking off. For a full iron-distance race, arriving a minimum of three days before is ideal, as well as at least a full day post-race to show off your finisher’s medal and re-learn how to walk up or down stairs. Tack on an extra day on either end to this anytime you’re heading overseas. Start storing up your sick days now, folks.
Don’t let the ticket agent pick your seat. Take the time to look at a map of the plane you’ll be flying in, and check out Seatguru.com to get an idea of what you’ll be working with. A bad seat can be the difference between a relaxing flight and several hours of hell at 35,000 feet. If you have a connection, try to be as far up front as possible, and if you can snag an exit row, it’s absolutely worth a few extra bucks on an international flight. I suggest an aisle seat so you don’t think twice before filling up that water bottle once (or twice) during the flight.
Do take the time to learn about the culture and the country you’ll be visiting. Is it a safe city to run in alone? Is your host city known for its sudden summer thunderstorms? Know before you go. Go to Usa.gov to keep track of any travel alerts for countries or regions you plan to visit.
Don’t wait until the last minute to get any travel visas you may need. Some countries require lengthy waiting periods or additional online forms you need to take care of before you enter the country.
Do check ahead for any bike bag fees. If you’re flying an airline you don’t have any status with (hint, hint), these fees can add up quickly, ranging from $50 to $100 (or more) each way. It’s been my experience that these fees vary widely depending on who you happen to get at the ticket counter, so if all else fails, being nice to that frazzled airline rep can sometimes help.