Traveling as a triathlete is no easy task
Yet, it is something mostly all triathletes have to do. It being January, I am currently getting ready to start doing quite a bit of traveling to get out of the cold, which inspired me to write this post. When I first started racing, the thought of flying with my bike sounded horrible. Especially since I didn't (and still) don't know much about bikes and how to take them apart and put them together. Not only do you have to fly with a bike, but you have all of your other gear as well and have to manage travel days, which tend to wreak havoc on the body and training. This post is going to cover some of the ways that I've found to be extremely helpful in making traveling as a triathlete more convenient, and cheaper.
First, don't forget your gear at home!
This is pretty basic, but there is nothing worse than opening your bag and not finding your bike shoes/wetsuit/race kit etc. In 2015, when I was racing Escape From Alcatraz, I opened my bag on the bus to the ferry to start the race and realized I had grabbed the wrong wetsuit from my house... It still worked, but definitely set me in a panic to start my race.
So how can you not forget anything?
1) Make a list! Sit down on your computer and make a list of everything you need for a race, and print that thing out. You can use the same list over and over but do it every time and don't check an item off the list until it is in the bag. This will ensure that you have everything.
2) Pack ahead of time! I am a notorious last minute packer, and that is pretty much the worst way to be. Have everything ready the day before your flight or drive so you aren't rushing your packing in any sense. Also, when you do this, it gives you a day for things to pop in your head that you forgot like a Garmin charger, nutrition, spare tubes, and all of those random things that I seem to always forget.
Ok, you followed the steps above and didn't forget anything, good job! But how do you go about flying with a bike and all of this gear?
First... which airlines are best for bike fees? There is a huge difference with bike fees in airlines. Here is a list of the best airlines for bike fees. Try and get a ticket with one of these if possible. Sometimes a slightly more expensive ticket or longer flight time can still be way worth the cost savings of the bike fee.
Best and worst airlines for bike fees
In general, it seems the budget style airlines are a lot better for bike fees. Also, this information seems to change all the time (unfortunately, usually getting more expensive) so if you are reading this from the future in your VR helmet, the prices may be different. International travel also changes everything so be sure to look into that before selecting an airline.
Important note: There are many a time that I have got away with checking my bike as a normal bag and just paying that fee. The reason is a lot of the airlines have weird confusing rules about weight and size in addition to the bike fee that seems to confuse even their employees. What I do every time it is available to me is check my bike at the self service kiosk and print out a bag tag there. Then I go to drop it off at the main desk and if they say anything I say, "Ya, it's under 50lbs. so I'm usually able to check it as a normal bag." Sometimes they say no and charge me the difference and sometimes I get by as checking it as a normal bag. Score!
Let me introduce...
The best bike bag ever!!!
I have used multiple bike bags/cases and ended up selling them or returning them until I found this one. The best part of this bag is that you barely have to do any work to your bike to travel with it. You literally just have to take the wheels off. I take my rear derailleur off as well but that is just preference. That means you can keep your seat post in, your aero bars on, and you don't have to loosen your bars or anything. Packing my bike used to take a couple hours and about 50 zip ties, foam tubing, towels, and greasy hands. Not only that, but I had to make sure I wasn't messing up my expensive bike fit by marking everything so I put the bike back together correctly. Doing this just a few times is enough to make anyone insane, so at the recommendation of some teammates and others, I got this bag and I'll probably never use anything else.
Note: Make sure you get the triathlon version above. I can actually fit my road bike in it as well, which I have done multiple times, but you can't fit a TT bike in the regular road version.
Also note: Use the bike bag to pack a lot of your other stuff inside. I pack most of my stuff around my bike inside the bag so I don't have to carry around a bunch of stuff with me. Just be sure not to go over 50lbs. as that usually incurs a price increase in most airlines!
While we are on the topic of flying, let me to tell you one of my biggest pieces of advice...
Use points for everything!
I obsessively find ways to maximize credit card points and always have my money work for me. Why would you pay for things on a debit card or cash and not earn anything when you can be getting points toward travel for every purchase? This is precisely how I was able to fly to Europe and back for free. Sites like MillionMileSecrets know a lot more than I do about this but I have at least been able to get some huge benefits out of working the system. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (one of the absolute best for travelers), if you spend 3k within the first 3 months of having the card you hit the minimum spend for the bonus and get 50,000 points (aka my flight to Europe). I've also racked up enough points on this card to go to Southeast Asia after this race season. I'm not going to go super in depth on this for this post but you can do this with lots of cards, but you have to do it smartly to avoid annual fees and not impact your credit score negatively, so do your research and contact me if you want more info.
Stay healthy on the road
This is a big one. Travel, especially long travel, is by no means healthy. You are generally trapped in a seated position for a long time leading to tightness and blood pooling, you aren't able to eat everything that you have back at home and stay on your usual diet, and it can be hard/impossible to find time to get your training in. Here are some tips I've found to be useful for my traveling to races, training camps, etc.
1) Never be sitting for long periods of time. If you are driving, pull over every hour and walk around and do some drills and stretches. You should never be sitting in the same position driving or on an airplane for hours on end. Try and shoot for never sitting for more than 2 hours at a time.
Read my post on foam rolling for triathletes to learn about the benefits of rolling.
3) Prepare your food before hand and plan out your meals and snacks for while you're on the road. I can't stress how important this is. We never make good decisions when we are already hungry, especially if we have nothing with us to curb the hunger. Especially if you are traveling to a race, you need to make sure you are on top of your nutrition and hydration if you want to perform properly. Remember, you are what you eat, and as a triathlete, this is extremely important.
Essentially the main idea from this post is to PLAN AHEAD. This has always been a weakness of mine so I almost feel hypocritical writing this... almost :) The times I have planned ahead and been smart about everything listed above are the times when I go into a race with a clear head, ready to put all of the work I've done into a result and that is the most exciting part of the sport!
Jake is a triathlete and coach with a passion for travel and everything triathlon. He loves sharing his knowledge and experiences with others.
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