I just finished up month long South European judo tour in hopes of capturing critical Olympic points for Rio 2016. On this trip I was fortunate enough to check off some major goals of mine such as training with the best in the world at an Olympic Training camp in Turkey and in Georgia as well. These are some of the best countries for judo. I also had the chance to represent Canada at two World cups in Romania and in Belarus. Besides the judo lessons I learned, I’ve also gained a bit of experience on traveling abroad for competitions and training camps.
One of the downfalls of travelling this much is basically living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time. With the amount that I’ve travelled, my clothes have spent more time in a suitcase than inside my cupboard at home. The good thing is that I am becoming more efficient at packing with every trip.
I understand that every trip and every sport varies in their packing requirements, so I will try to stay away from the judo-specific tips. But as athletes, we’re not packing for a vacation, we’re packing in order to perform our best. In this post I’ll outline some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past in hopes that you won’t have to repeat them.
Below are the mistakes I made and lessons I learnt packing for competitions, camps and trips abroad: remember these are my mistakes, so make sure you avoid doing them:
Starting packing too late
This is a mistake I made recently prior to leaving to Turkey. I’ve procrastinated until the last minute with the packing and ended up paying big time! I’ve left many things right up until the last day and I was not able to finish it all in time. I was not able to get my Visa to my trip to Minsk, Belarus in time before leaving so instead of paying 50 euro at the Canadian Embassy, I ended up paying 180 euro for the visa once I get to Minsk.
Also, I ended up waiting until the last days to get my judo gi’s. Because of this I ended up with judo gi’s slightly too big. Have I started earlier, I would have been able to do something about it.
Another issue with packing so late is that the last day was extremely stressful. It was incredible how many things I had to buy and get done on the same day as my flight. Traveling itself is stressful enough you do not need to wait until the last minute with your packing to make it even more stressful for you.
So, lesson learnt, starting to pack early will give me enough time to buy any additional things I need and get all my paperwork together without additional stress.
Not checking the weather
In my last blog on athlete nutrition, I mentioned how I travelled from Tunis to Paris and then to Belgium in January-February. Well, in that trip, I’ve made the big mistake of not looking up the weather in Belgium. Because that tour started with the warm climate of Tunis, I didn’t realize how cold, snowy and muddy it would be in Belgium. As a result, I forgot to pack my winter boots. For an entire week in Belgium I was stuck in my running shoes walking around a snowy and muddy trail.
Okay, lesson learnt. In combination with the first lesson, I’m starting to pack early and I am researching the weather of all the places I will be traveling to.
Packing too much stuff!
This is a huge lesson that I’d recommend you to try. Try packing light for a trip, you’ll see how much easier it would be on you. I used to pack all my nice jeans and nice clothes into my suitcase, making my luggage and carry-on extremely heavy. Going through the airports and hotels was alway a headache. So this trip to South Europe, I decided to really pack light and it is incredible how much easier my travels became.
To help you pack light, here are couple of ideas to think about:
Pack for performance and comfort rather than style - When you are packing for performance choose the opposite of what the fashion industry suggest. Choose comfort over style every day. Which means that even when you can squeeze more clothes into your luggage choose not to. The reason is that you are going to have to carry that luggage across the country and sometimes across the world - you don’t want to carry something that is ridiculously heavy. Traveling itself is stressful whether you realize it or not. Pack light to make traveling as comfortable as possible! I didn’t realize how physically exhausting it is to carry heavy luggage until I started packing light.
Use the hotel’s laundry - Every single hotel has a laundry services - use it. You can usually wash your essentials for a small amount of money. Not only will you feel more comfortable, you will have less luggage and cleaner clothes!
Having two pieces of carry-ons
This is a mistake I will never repeat again. Having 2 pieces of carry-on will not only make you more physically tired but it might actually cost you MORE to travel with an extra carry-on. I learnt this lesson going from Turkey to Georgia with the airline Pegasus Airlines where they decided to allow only one carry-on and only one piece of luggage. As a result, I had to pay for the second bag to check it a total of 8 euro per KG! I nearly went crazy when I heard this. But, I had no choice: my carry on was 10 kg so I paid 80 Euros to send my carry-on through check in.
From that moment, I vowed to have only one carry-on. Not only will this save me, physical, mental energy but money as well.
Not having my ear plugs, eye mask OR a travel pillow
I believe that ear plugs, eye masks and neck pillows are absolute crucials for a traveling athlete. Ben Greenfield mentions in his book, Beyond training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life, that tennis players see a 42% increase in accuracy with proper sleep. At home, you have the ability to control your sleeping environment - the noise, light and comfort. But when you are in travel, you are at the mercy of the hotel you are in so the only form of control that you have is ear plugs, eye masks and travel pillows.
Travel Pillow - I bought a great memory foam travel pillow before going to Tunis earlier in the year and it was incredible how much it helped me sleep. I was able to sleep EVERYWHERE - on the bus, train, lobby and airport terminal. I didn’t realize how much it helped until I forgot my traveling pillow at home for this South Europe trip. Making this mistake, I vow to never forget my traveling pillow for future trips. I highly recommend this memory foam one. You can probably pick it up inside the airport in one of those tourist convenient shops. It’s a bit more expensive but definitely worth the investment especially if you are traveling a lot and value your sleep as much as I do.
Ear plugs - In my trip to Turkey, my ear plugs probably saved my life. We were staying at a resort and our room was facing their outdoor night club. They were blasting music until 3 am every single day! My teammate and I were in bed by 10 pm and with an early wake up for practice. Luckily I had my earplugs that helped me tune out 80% of the sound and sleep relatively comfortably. For a long time, I’ve struggled finding the right earplugs but since I tried the yellow/pink ones in the picture below, I can’t sleep without them. These ones worked for me, but you might have to try couple of different types and styles of ear plugs to find the ones that work best for you. It might also take time to get used to but don’t give up, they might save your life like they did for me.
Sleep Mask - I knew eye masks were crucial however, I failed to find one that was comfortable. Actually, I’ll admit that I never tried to find one. A while back I tried on the free sleep mask they give in the plane and made up my mind that sleep masks are completely horrible. Well after trying on my roommate’s Sandman Eyeshade sleep mask I realized that the airplane free sleep masks are indeed horrible. This sleep mask was very comfortable actually and did a great job at blocking the light PLUS it’s only 15$. You can never trust hotel curtains so I’d highly recommend to find a sleep masks that works for you. Not only you could go to sleep earlier, you can sleep in and even have a great nap!
Not having any multivitamins, probiotics, imodium or cold medicine
I screwed up couple of times by not having multivitamins, probiotics, imodium or cold medicine. When you put your body through the stress of travel, competition and a completely new environment, food and water, something is bound to go wrong. For me, things went wrong three separate times in during my travels this year. The first in Paris when I got a cold, second time was food poisoning on the airplane coming home from Bulgaria - yeah, it was painful. And the third time was another case of food poisoning in Romania - probably from tap water.
So multivitamins, as I mention in my last blog on athlete nutrition, are in order to prevent the colds and the food poisoning. However, they are not bulletproof so its important to have back up in the form of medicine. I’ve picked up the only medicine that was available to me which was: Imodium and Gaviscon. Of course there are tons of different products that you can find that would do the same job. These are the ones that worked for me. I’m not going to get into detail here regarding the products but what is important is that you have these with you on hand and you take them at first signs of getting sick - they might help prevent or shorter the duration of your sickness. Also you don’t want to end up in the situation I was in, running around a foreign country with an upset stomach or a cold trying to find some medicine.
Not having a self massaging Travel Roller
I’ve always wanted to bring my foam roller with me on my trips. Foam rolling is the best way to warm up and also cool down. But my foam roller was simply too big and bulky so I never actually brought it with me. In Turkey, I noticed my teammate Kelita had a ‘Travel Roller’ which I had to borrow couple of times to roll on. The reason that a Travel Roller is great is because it is hollow in the middle which allows you to put clothes inside (mostly socks). After this trip, I’m definitely going to get one.
However, I did bring my lacrosse ball which is small enough to fit in my luggage. A lacrosse is great for trigger point therapy. I love massaging out tight calves and traps with it. Another great tool for self -massage and is travel-friendly is the massage roller which you could use to roll out tight muscles and use as a trigger therapy as well.
These are the tools that I would highly recommend to bring with you on your athletic travels. There is a whole lot of science confirming that rolling out muscles is much better than stretching them out. With this in mind, you can find these products online very cheaply and if you don’t want to spend your money, check out how you can get a corporate sponsorship for your athletics or you can raise funds with MAKEACHAMP's crowdfunding for athletes.
Anyway, these are the lessons I learnt during my travels about what to pack, or what NOT to pack. Packing smart is a good way to start a good trip. Remember to pack for performance and not for style. Try to minimize as much stress as possible so you can focus on competing and recovering.
If you have any other tips that you’d like to share with your fellow traveling athletes, make sure to mention them in the comments below.