As a US-born triathlete who spends his time living in the UK and racing a lot in Asia, I'm often asked how I cope with all of the travel involved in my day-to-day life.
I've racked up 403,000 air miles in the past four years, including 59 flight legs in 2016, and I've learned plenty about the 'dos' and 'donts' of travel whilst trotting the globe as a professional triathlete.
Here are my top-five tips for optimizing your travel to races...
1) Use apps to save on flights and make the most out of airline loyalty schemes
I’m glad I don’t keep track of the time I spend just booking flights. It’s something that can be quite time consuming as I try to find that perfect flight and then work out when is the best time to purchase it.
The most common site that I find myself browsing is KAYAK. It has some nice features such as being able to select +/- days on either side of the travel, which is useful if you have flexibility and are looking for the best prices.
It also provides a recommendation on whether now is the right time to buy or if you should wait, which has seemed to be pretty accurate in my experience. On top of that, the ability to filter by multiple criteria (landing and departure time, airlines, airline alliances, etc.) make it a great site to find those perfect flights.
When it comes to flight selection there are a few key things I look at...
- Travel duration - Obviously keeping this as short as possible is key, although that can sometimes drive ticket prices up
- Time of departure and arrival - I try to plan this in such a way that I can either get a workout done before I depart or once I arrive
- Least amount of stops - This decreases the chance of bags and/or bikes getting lost, which is something that I stress about every time I travel. I always look for direct flights or one stop at most to help reduce travel duration, but inevitably when travelling around the world you sometimes have no choice other than to make two or more stops
- Bike fees - Make sure you do your research when booking flights. Don’t only look at ticket cost, look at ticket price AND possible bike fees. You may find cheap tickets, but the total cost may end up being more at the end of the day
I struggled to nail down my ‘flight strategy’ when I first started travelling as a young adult, mainly because I was pinching pennies and wasn’t as worried about all the ‘perks’ of flying.
However, the best thing that I have done over the last four years is stuck to one airline alliance. Almost every airline is a part of one, so do your research and find the one which best fits the airport you're departing from most often.
I'm actually aligned with United/Star Alliance, which some may find odd since United charge the most absurd bike fees, but it makes the most sense since Star Alliance charge zero bike fees and I am flying out of London Heathrow most often.
The perks that come with this loyalty is all based on how much you fly. A few of the key perks that I have found most useful are: Free upgrades to Economy+, two bags at 70lbs, lounge access, increased bonus miles, and then having all of the bonus miles in one place to book “free” tickets or upgrades.
2) Pack the essentials in your carry on (+ some bike case tips)
If you're travelling with a bike, it definitely adds some complexity to things.
One of the most common questions is ‘should I use a hard case or soft case?’. I have had luck with both case types, I previously used an EVOC soft case and am currently using a Premier Bike Hard Case.
Some of the key things that I do when travelling with a bike is ensure that the rear derailleur is taken off and that you have a spare RD hanger, something that can easily be bent in travel. All of the other items that might need to be removed are typically case dependent.
Something that I learned early on was to always pack your race essentials in your carry on, specifically those items that can not be easily replaced at a race expo.
That means travelling with your shoes, pedals, race kit and ideally your race helmet as well, and - if you're lucky enough to be a triathlete - then all your running and swimming gear too.
This way if for some reason your bike gets lost you have most things you really need and hopefully you have some luck renting or borrowing a bike. I also ensure that I have my race day nutrition in my carry on as well, including the most important part, PH 1500 ;-)
Over the years I have become more and more of a minimalist when travelling to races, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a bit of time to really find what you actually don’t need, but once you figure out the true essentials it can make those bags just slightly lighter when lugging them around.
3) Plan ahead when training in new locations (using these tools)
I always try to do a bit of research before heading to a new race location. The best site for finding a swimming pool is swimmersguide.com.
When it comes to cycling and running, hands down the Strava Route Builder with heat maps enabled is the best source out there. It needs to be used via non-mobile, but it's amazing.
The heat map data will show you which are the most ridden roads in the area, giving you confidence that the roads you’re venturing on to will be safe. Same goes for the running routes, if the locals are using certain paths and roads frequently, then they must be the best in the area.
4) Make the most of your spending money
This seems to be a bit of a foreign concept in the UK, but of great benefit in the US, but the number of credit cards you can take 'advantage' of is massive.
I’m certainly no financial adviser, but I do know if you can live without credit card debt, then you should probably make the most out of the perks that are offered.
The best travel and food card that I have found is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers great flexibility, 3 x points on travel, 3 x points on food, priority pass, a 50k point sign-on bonus, and no foreign transaction fees. Although it’s ~$150 a year (it’s actually $450 but you get $300 back on travel purchases and free global entry), it's money well spent if you dine out and travel frequently. If you want to become an ‘expert’ on the credit card ‘game’ a great resource is thepointsguy.com.
5) Use apps to track your travel and manage your receipts
I have been using AppInTheAir to track all of my flights and ‘stats’ over the last few years.
It’s a great tool for those who travel frequently and like to have an easy way to look back at everything. If you need to account for receipts, check out Foreceipt, I have found it quite useful to keep on top of expenses when travelling around.