As a National Team athlete, I have to travel all the time, and with the holidays coming up I am sure many of you do too. Whether you are simply driving a few hours to a race or are flying halfway around the world, traveling right can make a huge difference. After much trial and error, and the support of nutritionists, sports scientists, and sports psychologist, my teammates and I have learned the tricks to getting to where we are going and being able to perform when we get there.
No matter how far you are traveling, travel needs to be considered a training session. Whether you get to sleep or not, the stress of travel will not allow you to recover. The longer the travel, the harder the training session it can be considered. Now you are not going to get any fitter by traveling, but it will have an impact on your recovery which will then have an impact on your performance. A common mistake on travel days is to have a hard session on the water or the erg in the morning and then travel in the afternoon (or overnight) with the expectation that you will recover during the journey. You will not recover. A better move would be to have a hard session the day before you travel and then maybe something light that morning just to get loose and get the blood flowing for the journey.
Now that you know what to do and what not to do before the journey we can focus on the actual traveling. The number one travel essential, a water bottle. Flying or driving you will get dehydrated and there is no bigger killer to performance than dehydration. If you are flying you may consider putting a uni in you backpack, but try to keep you backpack light, you will be carrying it through an airport all day, and you don’t want your back and shoulders tight because you had to lug it around all day. Roller bags are a must if you travel a lot.
If you are more serious about your travel having the least amount of impact on you performance, you are probably going to want to consider compression clothing. Now these things can get pretty expensive pretty fast; if there is only one item that your budget can handle go with compression socks. These knee length socks will keep your ankles from swelling and the blood moving through your legs while you sit still for 8 hours at 33,000 feet. If you are willing to spend a little more, you might also try compression/recovery tights. People have mixed feelings on these, most seem to think the socks work the best. I prefer the combination of socks and tights. Your legs might be a little hot during the journey, but they will feel pretty good when you arrive at your destination.
Sitting for any length of time is not great for you so the more you can break it up with brief walks or a stretch the better. If you are driving and you are in a vehicle (bus) that allows for some movement try and stretch out so that your feet are above your heart. I like to sit across to seats with my legs up against the window pointed to the sky. This position will have the same effect as compression tights. In a plane going to the back and stretching for a little will keep you from stiffening up. If you have a pillow or even a sweatshirt that you can put behind your lower back to hold you spine in a little stronger passion (not slumping) you will be less stiff and less prone to injury.
Arrival. What you do upon arriving at your destination can have as much or more impact on the cost of travel on your performance than the journey itself. Even if you just want to crawl into bed and sleep until morning, you will thank yourself if you don’t. Once you get to your destination take the time to get settled in and then try to get a little sweat going. A light jog or a swim followed by some stretching will not only release some endorphins making you feel better, but will also start losing up any tightness that may have accumulated along the way.
Lastly, sleep is key. If you are traveling to a different time zone, you may consider starting to shift you bedtime and wake up time a few days before you leave to more closely reflect the time zone of your destination (I find this practice to be one of the hardest ones). If you can sleep in a car or bus or on a plane, do so. For those of you that can’t, try. Even a little bit will be better than none. When you get to your destination, start trying to go to bed and wake up at normal times for your new time zone. If you travel to Europe and get in at 9 am in the morning, and all you want to do is go to bed, don’t. You will get over jet lag much faster if you stay awake until your normal bedtime. If you use any sleep aids to help with the transition that is fine, but try to ween yourself off of them as quickly as possible so that you are not waking up groggy before your race.
To travel smart, stay hydrated, rest up, and stay loose. If you do these things, you will give yourself the best possible chance of having a great race.
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