Mastering Travel to Competitions as a Student - Athlete

Although planning transportation should not be your main focus as a college student, it is important to ensure you know how you will get where you need to go.

By Ryan Adams — January 6, 2023


Mastering Travel to Competitions as a Student - Athlete

Packing efficiently for competitions as a student-athlete is an art that takes time and practice to master. On the one hand, you want to pack light enough that you're not hauling your closet across the country, especially when you factor in study materials, entertainment, and competition gear. On the other hand, you want to pack heavy enough to be prepared for any unexpected situations. Prepping in advance will ensure that you don't for get anything and won't have to scramble to find and replace any necessary gear when your mind is supposed to be on your competition.

Prepping for travel a week in advance gives you something to look forward to in the days leading up to your competition and is much less stressful than saving packing for the night before or the morning of. Competitions are why you put in early mornings, doubles, lifting sessions, and hard workouts. They're the manifestation of your time, dedication, and training. As such, it behooves you to prepare for them in a way that will facilitate your success by not appropriating excessive energy and stress during the preparation.

Carry-on: Create a Packing List of Essentials

Having a standardized list of travel essentials can help tremendously. This could be a laminated checklist, or a helpful tool is the "Reminders" app on your phone. Your essential gear ought to be able to fit in a carry-on-sized suitcase or duffel bag. It's ample space for weekend trips, and if you're flying, you won't have to worry about your uniform ending up in the wrong state due to an airport error.

Your essentials list should include: uniform, competition footwear (cleats, spikes, etc.), warm-ups, a single casual outfit (e.g. t-shirt, jeans, over wear, socks, and undergarments), and travel-sized basic toiletries. I recommend a toiletry bag for added organization, but a Ziploc will also suffice. These are the bare necessities. Dedicating your primary bag ahead of time toward your essentials will alleviate any anxieties over whether or not you brought everything you needed. After all, the purpose of your trip is competition; everything else is secondary. Somewhere around my fourth year, I decided that as long as I had the essentials with me, anything else could be easily replaced. As a textbook over-packer, this alleviated many travel-related anxieties and helped me sleep more easily without feeling I would forget something important.

Personal Item: Study Materials/Comfort Items

This might vary depending on your personality/tolerance levels. I was never able to concentrate on homework very well on competition weekends. Buses and vans were too loud to focus on, air travel was typically early in the morning, and I didn't want to have to concentrate on assignments before my races. Some of my teammates, however, didn't mind the noise or even preferred having coursework to keep their minds occupied until it was time to race. My number one recommendation if you can't work well on the move would be to complete any assignments you have and submit them in advance. Alternatively, you can request an extension from your professor.

If the trip is long or you can concentrate in moving environments, school supplies go in your backpack/personal items. If you have the option, opt-for E-books over physical textbooks, especially if you're packing for multiple classes. You can also consolidate space by having a binder dedicated toward travel rather than hauling a binder for each class.

Your comfort items should also fit in your backpack, along with your study materials. Noise-canceling headphones are bigger up-front investments but worth drowning out chatter if you're trying to get work done, read, or nap. Sleep masks are low-cost and perfect if you're sensitive to light. Neck pillows are a must whether you're traveling by land or air, although a regular pillow can be a game changer if you're traveling via bus. If you're running low on space or are flying a low-budget airline that charges for anything more than a personal item, you can pack your neck pillowcase with clothing too.

Checked Bag: Casual Clothes and Non-Essentials

When you're traveling for a more extended trip, i.e., more than two nights, you will need to bring more than just your essentials. This is your checked bag. In it will be any outfits you want, extra activewear, casual shoes, extra toiletries, bigger liquids for air travel-anything you can lose but still be fine to compete. A pair of slacks or shorts can be good for two days of wear. Pack a shirt, a pair of socks, and undergarments for each day of travel, plus one extra of each. Pack an extra outfit for your return travel day. Worst-case scenario, these are all things that can be easily replaced while on the go. I had a teammate who had a strict diet and would pack an electric burner, a small cast-iron skillet, and some spices. Packing your snacks will save you some perdiem or cash while moving, especially in airports. Bags of food don't qualify as carry-ons or personal items either, so pack a lunch. It will likely be healthier than anything you'll find at an airport.

Miscellaneous Travel Tips

When you arrive at your hotel room, unpack your clothes into the drawers/closet first. It makes you feel more at home, keeps your room organized, and is easier than living out of your suitcase. Keep your room tidy by storing dirty clothes in drawers, making your bed, and setting out your uniform and competition gear the night before.

For those of you that will frequently fly to competition, TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry will make your travel days significantly smoother and less stressful. Both programs will allow you to move efficiently through security without taking off your shoes or removing liquids, laptops, etc., from your bags. Even removing small travel annoyances could provide an edge, with competition weekends being high-stress weekends.

Last and most importantly, have fun. Even though I still have the opportunity to compete post-collegiately, I fondly remember travel days with my team as some of the most memorable parts of certain competition weeks—whether we were playing games, watching movies, or shooting the breeze on the bus. You're traveling to compete, but you'll also form close bonds with your teammates throughout and create good memories while on the road. Never take those moments for granted, and enjoy them to the fullest.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is a professional runner currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Furman University in 2021 earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish Literature and Politics & International Studies, with an interdisciplinary minor in Latin American Studies.
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