“Your flight time will be approximately 6 hours, 3 minutes” relayed the United Flight Captain of the B-737 that took me from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, California. SFO was my layover. I am headed to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA for a three week winter training camp.
Six hours followed by another 90-minute flight south along the west coast to my final destination, San Diego, CA. As the overhead intercom clicks off, my head fills with panicked questions of: Did I bring enough to eat? How am I going to hydrate so that I don’t spend my first few days feeling wiped out and dehydrated from a full day of travel? The southern California desert climate provides enough of a challenge. So does this head cold that came on full attack the day before I had to fly. Not to mention just taking the most painful 6K I’ve ever experienced in my young rowing career. So yeah, it should be a great first week of camp.
I’ve always enjoyed traveling. I use that term to include the actual process of being en route to your destination. It’s part of the excitement. I grew up being thrown into the family van (not literally, of course—unless it was a shove into the lower priority backseat from one of my brothers) and taking off on cross-country “vacations.” These adventures included things like driving and camping through National Parks or a week-long fishing trip on a remote island on Lake Ontario in the upper Canadian wilderness. While I was in college I used to choose to come home for the holidays by making the 16-18 hour drive home from Charlottesville, Virginia to Baton Rouge, Louisiana because I was always up for a good road-trip. Some of the most memorable parts of any trip are what happen along the way.
While I don’t necessarily share the same affection for a 10-hour travel day from my home in Princeton to my new temporary home in Chula Vista, those years of experience have ingrained in me the importance of having a plan…and just how critical your choice in travel snacks can be. For the athlete, traveling can really leave a lasting impact on your performance and overall experience; whether it’s a training trip, a quick family visit, or a competition.
Packing for training or competition trips can be a bit of a trial and error process. It’s important not to pack too much (which I’m susceptible to; I don’t call it over-packing, rather it’s “over-preparing”). There is such a thing. I call it the “just in case” syndrome. Fight the urge. Chances are you won’t need that one special outfit that you planned just in case you were invited to meet the President while he happens to be in town. The residences at the Chula Vista Training Center are suite-style with two rooms and two bathrooms joined by a small common area, four athletes sharing the entire suite. The twin beds are actually fairly comfortable and just like in your average college dorm, closet and drawer space is limited. This will only be my second time to the Training Center, but I’ve tried to remember all those important lessons I learned from my experience last year.
I am actually quite proud of my travel preparation and packing for this trip. So, I have compiled a short 10 Things to Remember for the Experienced Traveling Athlete (listed in no specific order):
1. “Now that’s what I call high quality H2O.” – Bobby Boucher, The Waterboy
Hydration is essential when traveling, especially if you’re flying. The hydration process starts BEFORE you actually fly. If you know you have a big trip coming up, start pounding the fluids a few days in advance. While H2O is important, it is also essential to be taking in electrolytes as well. I’ve heard suggested intake of fluids is anywhere from 8 ounces (1 cup) to a full Liter (about 4 cups) per hour of flying. For the traveling athlete, I would argue that 1 cup/hour is not enough. During this cross country trek, I went for the 1 liter/hour rate. I may have gotten up to go the bathroom on the hour every hour during my 6-hour flight EWR-SFO, but I was hydrated. Don’t rely on the in-cabin service as your complete source of hydration; be sure to bring your own big bottle to fill up before boarding the plane, and maybe buy a Gatorade or coconut water (packed with all major electrolytes) once you’re through security.
2. You Are What You Eat.
Let’s be honest. Airport food is expensive and it’s often difficult to find the right kind of fuel you should be putting into your body. I usually always try to pack plenty of high-energy power snacks that are easy to eat on an airplane (and won’t offend your neighbor): nuts or trail-mix (Trader Joe’s Trek Mix is a favorite), fruit, yogurt (don’t forget a plastic spoon!), protein bar, carrots/celery and hummus, pretzels, home-made sandwiches. Try to choose foods with less fat as fat has trouble digesting in the air and can cause stomach issues. You may have to plan ahead and pack a Tupperware of your favorite snack food, but it’s worth it. Going hungry is not a fun thing when traveling and the flight food available for purchase is usually filled with high levels of fat and preservatives. The gentleman next to me must’ve thought I was starving. What rower isn’t? My snacking consisted of: an orange, banana, yogurt parfait, (2) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a Clif Bar, and trail mix.
3. License and/or Passport.
You’re not getting far without these two essential documents. This is always the first thing I check off my packing list and double, triple-check for before heading to the airport.
4. The “oh crap, my bag didn’t make it” carry-on necessities.
If it hasn’t happened to you, consider yourself lucky but your time will come. It’s important to always have at least one or two training/race outfits with you in case that dreaded moment comes as you’re standing at baggage claim and realize your bags didn’t make it. Included with the training/race clothes, I always make sure to have a pair of running shoes and some overnight essentials (contact case, toothbrush).
5. “Are we THERE yet!?”
Athletes are high energy and while time to rest is always welcome, being sedentary and confined to sitting for long periods of time is nearly torturous. Don’t forget to bring some entertainment: iPod, book, computer, etc. If you can’t sleep or the in-flight movie is one you’ve already seen 12 times before, take advantage of the time to exercise your mind with a good book or catch up on some work.
6. Jump Around. Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down.
Need I say more? Make sure to get up at least a few times during your flight (when the seat-belt sign has been turned off). Shake the legs out, stretch. Luckily, you’re super-duper hydration efforts may mandate walks to the lavatory. Sitting for long periods of time is actually pretty tough on the body and can be terrible for the back and ribs…two trouble areas especially for rowers. Hint: Aisle seats are crucial = more room to stretch the legs out and easy access to a casual stroll up and down the aisle.
7. Jet-Setter Fashion.
Dress for the occasion. I’m not a fan of looking like you just rolled out of bed and found yourself at Terminal C – Gate 80, but being comfortable when you travel, especially for long distances is important. Note: comfortable and sloppy are two very different things. You can still look professional and put together. You are probably representing more than just yourself, rather an entire team—high school, college, or TEAM USA—remember this when putting together your “travel outfit.” Additionally there are a few other essential things to remember:
- Compression socks/pants: It’s no secret that flying will cause your ankles and legs to swell. I flew for the first time with them on this trip and they did wonders. Hint: if you don’t feel like spending a lot of money, you can get a pair for about $7 at CVS or Walgreen’s.
- Layers: I get cold, I get hot, I get cold again. And you never know when the plane’s air conditioning or temperature control may not be working quite right. If you’re flying from New Jersey where there is four inches of snow on the ground to San Diego where flip-flops are required, you’ll want to be able to strip down to something less than the parka and snow boots you may have needed six hours ago.
- Shoes: A full day of travel may mean limited time to get a workout(s) in. A long layover is a perfect place to get a long, brisk walk in to loosen up the muscles and move the blood around a bit. For the overachiever: strap on your heart-rate monitor if you feel so inclined. Over the past winter holidays, I found a long, steep set of stairs at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and did sets of stadiums to get a workout in during a long layover. I got some funny looks but felt a hell of a lot better the next day. Hint: Sandals may be more convenient at the security line, but they’re not worth the blisters from your 45-60’ XT workout around whatever airport you’re hanging out in for a few hours.
8. Become friends with the flight attendants.
You know that cart they push up and down once, maybe twice during the flight? They hold the keys to it, and perhaps your hydration efforts. On my last flight, I befriended “Mike” who hooked me up. He noticed that I was an athlete and we struck up conversation. He was thrilled to hear that I was a member of the U.S. Women’s Rowing Team and training for 2016; apparently he had flown with a couple of the men from the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team last year. Throughout the duration of the six-hour flight Mike made sure I had all the water I needed and even offered to provide me with extra food. It’s amazing how far a smile can take you.
9. Germs are the enemy and unfortunately, they outnumber you.
One of the women on the team suggests angling the overhead fan to blow in front of your face, in effect blowing any floating germs living in the recycled (but filtered) air away from your nose and mouth. While most people worry about air quality in planes, it’s actually the shared surfaces touched by the other (current and prior) passengers that often transmit germs. Bring a travel size hand sanitizer and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hint: if you’re really dedicated, wipe down your seat and tray table with a disinfectant wipe.
10. First Class: Fake it until you make it.
It’s no secret that elite rowing is not exactly a lucrative profession. Since most of us probably can’t splurge on the comfort of First Class, we can at least create our own luxury seating. While I never bring one because I don’t own one and I’m too lazy to buy one, I’m always jealous of the guy with the comfy looking neck pillow. It’s amazing the positions I can fall asleep in, but I always regret this skill when waking up with a terrible neck cramp. You’ll more than likely have carried on two bags to avoid checking more than one bag. I always travel with two carry-ons. If you’re lucky, you can find space for both bags in the overhead compartments. If it’s a full flight, you’ll have to stow one of the bags under the chair in front of you; make sure it’s small enough to allow for your long rower legs to stretch out.