Travel Guide for Triathletes

By Joan Scrivanich | May 12, 2016, 11:15 a.m. (ET)

airplaneTraveling to a race can be exciting. You’ll be swimming, biking and running in a new place and exploring beautiful sites. What better way to see a new city than by running through it?

But traveling can also be stressful. On top of the stress of the upcoming race, there’s the stress of packing, making sure you didn’t forget anything, lack of sleep from staying up preparing for the trip and getting up early for a flight. But planning and knowing what to expect can go a long way in keeping you calm and stress-free during your travels. By following these tips, you can reduce your stress and have a great race and trip.

One of the first things you should do when preparing for a trip is to remind yourself to have fun. If you keep telling yourself how much you dread traveling and packing, you’ll have a terrible experience. So remind yourself that you’re preparing the best you can, you’ve trained for your race and that you’ll soon be exploring a different area and participating in a fun race.

Once you have the right mindset, you’re ready to prepare for your trip. First, check the guidelines of your airline to make sure you have the correct size carry-on and check-in bags. Also check the guidelines for checking in your bike.

Next, check TSA guidelines for liquids and carry-ons so you’re prepared to get through the security checkpoint smoothly. If you’re lucky enough to have TSA Precheck, this will be a breeze since you won’t have to take anything out and you can just walk through the metal detector. If you’re going through the standard screening with the advanced-imaging technology, or if you’re opting-out of the advanced-imaging technology and going through a pat-down screening, then you’ll need to put any jacket, shoes, liquids and laptops in a bin separate from your carry-on to go through the x-ray. To help the line go quickly, wear shoes that take less than 5 seconds to slip on or off (like your running shoes with speed laces) and pack your liquids and laptop so that they’re easy to take out. Once you finish with your screening, collect your belongings and step to the side to get organized so that you don’t cause congestion at the other end of security.

Give yourself time to pack. Even if you have an idea about what you want to bring, it takes time to organize and fold everything. I’ve learned from experience that leaving your packing until the night before a trip will keep you up until two in the morning trying to figure out what you want to wear based on the expected weather and how to organize it so it all fits nicely.  You will have to buy CO2 cartridges at the race location since they’re not allowed in either your check-in or carry-on bag.

When packing your carry-on, save your back and shoulders by keeping it as light as possible and using a carry-on with wheels. Also keep your race day essentials with you in your carry-on. You do not want these in your check-in if it gets lost. When flying to a race, I keep my bike shoes, helmet and race kit in my carry-on, and I wear my running shoes.

Once you’ve got everything you need in your check-in, using a luggage scale will help you keep within the limits while you’re packing. While you can just hold your suitcase and step on a bathroom scale to get the weight of your suitcase, I’ve found a luggage scale worth getting for the convenience and ease of use. Plus, if you tend to buy souvenirs on your trips, you’ll want a scale with you to make sure you don’t over pack your check-in for your return trip. You don’t want to be surprised at the check-in counter with an overweight bag that will cost extra. When you’re done packing, don’t forget to throw that luggage scale into your check-in before locking it up.

A few other things to keep in mind when preparing for your trip:

  • Prepare for a variety of weather. You’re better off packing a few extra pieces of clothing than having to scramble to buy a new jacket or arm warmers.
  • Map out the location of your hotel, the start and finish of your race, as well as restaurants and stores you’ll need while there.

The day you’re traveling, wear stretchy stylish clothing (you want to look good and be comfortable, right?). Also wear compression socks to prevent swelling in your legs and to assure better leg circulation. Better circulation will prevent deep vein thrombosis, or clots, that could happen from long bouts of sitting and inactivity. If you're not wearing compression, you should take some short walk breaks or move and tighten the muscles of your legs periodically.

Flying can be dehydrating, so remember to drink water in the airport and during your flight. You won’t be able to take a bottle of water with you through security, so either buy water after you get through or bring an empty water bottle or travel mug with you to fill up there. I always bring a travel mug and tea bags with me so I have a choice of either using the water fountain for cold water or asking for hot water at one of the eateries. While on the plane, don’t rely on the flight attendants to keep you hydrated. They’ll only go through once or twice to fill the small cup they give you, so bring a beverage with you on the plane.

The lists below include a race day checklist, as well as what you should carry with you onto the plane. While you may not end up using everything in the carry-on list, these are the things that you’ll wish you had with you when you do need them, whether it’s for comfort because of the temperature in the plane, needing to freshen up before or after a delayed flight or if you get hungry.

Travel Checklists

Carry-on:

  • ID, money & keys
  • Neck pillow, ear plugs and sleep mask
  • Pashmina/shawl or light jacket/sweater
  • Reading material
  • Plug and portable power for phone
  • Healthy snacks and bars
  • Water bottle/travel mug
  • Disposable mini toothbrush or tooth wipes

Race Day Checklist

General:

  • USAT Membership Card
  • Registration info, bib number and timing chip
  • Race belt and timing chip strap
  • Watch, HR monitor and strap, GPS
  • Race nutrition
  • Towel or transition mat
  • Transition bag/backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • Anti-chafing cream
  • Bike pump
  • Arm and leg warmers
  • Plastic bags (in case of rain)
  • Small first aid kit

Swim:

  • Bathing suit or tri suit
  • Goggles
  • Cap
  • Wetsuit or skin suit

Bike:

  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Wheels
  • Bike shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Saddle bag with tools, spare tubes and CO2 cartridges
  • Water bottles
  • Bike clothes (shorts, jersey, socks)

Run:

  • Running shoes
  • Hat/visor
  • Sunglasses
  • Run clothes (shorts, shirt, socks)

Joan Scrivanich, MA, CSCS is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach, USA Track & Field Certified Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and a travel enthusiast. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Columbia University and has been an endurance athlete for over 25 years, which has included competing at a Division I college in both cross country and track. Find out more about Scrivanich and her coaching at Rise Endurance LLC at www.RiseEndurance.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.