This post I wanted to go through everything that I organise when I am planning my trips overseas for training and competing. This post is a bit longer than usual but I hope that it can help fencers thinking of traveling overseas plan and organise their own tours down to the very last detail.
It might seem like an obvious question but this is limited not only by the FIE, Asian Fencing Confederation and European circuit calendars but also my school, university and work. To make a trip cost-effective you have to be able to combine high-level training with competitions that are in a similar geographical area. This means not having to do multiple return trips from another continent.
· What competitions are you aiming to do? What part of the calendar contains competitions close together either in time or geographically? The best resources are the FIE calendar -> http://fie.org/competitions
The Asian Fencing Confederation website -> http://www.asianfencing.com/fca2013/pages/calendar.asp
The European Fencing Confederation website -> http://www.eurofencing.info/content/calendar
The Australian Fencing Federation website to check what competitions you can qualify for and how to nominate for the competitions -> http://www.ausfencing.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=236&Itemid=394, for the International Representation page
http://www.ausfencing.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12&Itemid=85 for the AFF Selection Policy
· Next up, Where are you going to train? Start at home for this. Does your coach know anyone overseas you can train with? Do you? Can a fencing friend help you with introduction to a coach or club overseas? This is really up to you. I train with the Italian Women’s Sabre team in Rome but as this is a national training centre and not a club it required an official letter from the AFF to the Italian Federation to organise. This may not be required to train at a club rather than with the national team. Additionally, I write my own strength and conditioning programs and technical programs so that I can use the facilities. If you prefer someone writing this for you club environment might be better.
· What time off do I have? When are your school or university holidays? How much leave do you have off for work? This will affect your trip and how much time you have overseas.
2. FLIGHTS AND ACCOMMODATION
Now you know where you are going, how long you are overseas for and how long you are in each place for it is best to take care of the most expensive things first: flights and accommodation.
· Can you get flights on sale? There are usually flight sales mid-year for the winter off-peak travel season to Europe and America. I use a travel agent to book flights because I generally found they wold be cheaper than if I booked them myself. My travel agent is Helloworld in Eltham. However, for short haul flights (inside Europe) travel agents generally can’t book low cost airlines such as RyanAir so it may be better to book these yourself.
· Alternatively, train travel is a really good way to get around European countries and nearby countries as well. Explore this as an option particularly if you are competing in some local national competitions. This is a useful website for exploring this option -> http://www.raileurope-world.com/
· For big competitions there are usually official designated hotels. These can be expensive but the venue may be far away and they tend to have a bus operating between the two. Another option is to book a cheaper hotel nearby and just catch the bus from the official hotel each day. These details will be next to the competition as it is listed on the FIE website under the ‘Invitation’ heading.
· Not all competitions have an official hotel. For smaller competitions there are a few options for picking hotels. I find the best way is to look for transport options as well as cost. Is there a hotel close to the venue? Is there one close to a metro station on the same line? For example: in Istanbul I stayed closer to the tourist area near Taksim Square. This was on the same metro line as the station near the venue (the venue was a 5 min walk), it took 25 mins to get to the venue by train and about 1.50 euro for the ticket. It was a cheap and convenient option.
· During training for a few weeks accommodation can be expensive but there a couple of cheaper options. Can you stay with another fencer? This by far the cheapest option if you are training with them. Can you find an apartment stay? The best website for this is www.airbnb.com. And if you are comfortable with a super cheap option try a hostel with a shared kitchen, a resource for this is www.booking.com. For example in Rome I stay in a small hostel 3 stations away from the training venue (and 5 mins walk). It is small and quiet with a shared kitchen, a laundry, and very good wifi. Take a look: http://www.comicsguesthouse.it/
· The next part is sorting out Visas (if you need them). Europe is pretty straight forward unless you are going to countries like Russia. I would recommend checking this at least 4 months in advance in case you do need to apply.
· This trip I needed a Turkish visa which was easy as they have an eVisa system and in most cases you can purchase your visa online. For Abu Dhabi I can purchase a Visa on arrival. I also have a British passport as a dual citizen and travel on this in Europe which is easy
So after the important things are sorted the next bit to organise are all those little (and annoying) transport details. How are you getting from the airport to your accommodation? Do you need to take a connecting intercity train? What are your transport options to and from training? If we had unlimited funds taking taxis everywhere would be great but as most of us don’t we need to get acquainted with the public transport system of the places we are staying in.
· I take a bus to and from the airport in Rome. That’s right, a bus. It is cheaper than the train and cheaper if you pre-purchase a ticket (11 euro return) and it stops near Vatican City about 10 mins walk from my accommodation in Rome. Super-easy. The key to traveling to and from airports is investigating when your flight arrives and what your options are to where you are staying. Buses, trains, transfers are all common options. The best place to find out what your options are is to head to your arrival airport’s website.
· Sometimes you will need to take a longer train ride to your accommodation particularly because most fencing competitions are in smaller cities or towns than where the nearest airport is. Make sure you have a timetable and check if you can pre-purchase tickets because it can be cheaper than buying on the day.
· When you are catching metro or inner city trains make sure you have small notes or change. You can break the 50 euro note at the supermarket but rarely at the station ticket office.
Absolutely essential. Read your policy twice before you buy it and take a copy of your Certificate of Insurance with you. If anything happens this is your go to piece of paper.
I purchase my insurance from Travel Insurance Direct because they have flexible options, it is relatively well priced, and I can apply easily online. http://www.travelinsurancedirect.com.au
Now to sort out carrying funding around. How are you going to pay for your accommodation? Tickets? Food? Some needs cash and some can be paid by card. It can be useful to use a combination of the two so you avoid carrying $3,000 around in your luggage.
· There are a few options for having a card that works overseas. I use a Visa debit card attached to my regular bank account. You can also get a TravelCard, this needs to be organised a month before. Australia Post has some options http://auspost.com.au/travel-id/travel-cards.html and most banks also offer travel options as well. If you are going to use a card attached to your bank account make sure you inform your bank of your travel plans beforehand so they can watch out for any fraudulent use of your card.
· Taking money out overseas costs around $5 per transaction so it can be better to take a lot of money out at once. This is ideal for pick pockets. Make sure you separate your money and keep it in secure compartments, safes or wallets. I have a travel wallet for when I am carrying money on transport and keep everything spare in a hotel safe or locked locker in my hostel room.
This is important to sort out if you want to stay in touch and have call and text access while you are away without incurring global roaming fees.
· For mobiles it is now very easy to get travel sims with data included. There is a lot out there, even Woolworths offers a global travel sim! Make sure you know what you want. Some travel SIMs are only useful for calling Australia while you are overseas and not making local calls.
· Asides from SIMs you can also keep in touch whenever you have WiFi by using the text service app WhatsApp.
· Skype is useful as well for video calls to keep in touch particularly if you are travelling with a tablet or laptop.
· Make sure you have travel adaptors for your chargers.
The most dreaded and all important, ‘I leave in 2 days, time to procrastinate’ part of planning your trip. First of all, think about this stuff a month beforehand and DO NOT TAKE STUFF YOU WILL NOT ABSOLUTELY NEED.
· Clothes: Start with what two days-worth of training clothes. I say two days because after the first day you can wash it, it dries in a day and you wear it again. Three days maximum. Then add one casual outfit ie jeans and a t-shirt. Pyjamas do not require more than pants and a top and you will not need four jumpers, or more than one beanie for that matter.
· Invest in a really good (duck-down) winter jacket that you can waterproof. It will be all you need.
· Bring one easily-packed down travel towel.
· A travel toiletries bag is really good for organising toiletries. Try and buy shampoo when you are there because you do not want to travel with big bottles but buying little bottles of liquids is un-sustainable. Take roll-on deodorant, travel sized spray-on deodorant lasts two weeks at most.
· Bring a re-usable shopping bag for food shopping or other things, they are very useful to have. I have one that packs down to a really tiny ball so it doesn’t take up space.
· Pack your fencing breeches and named jackets into your carry on as they are the hardest things to replace if the aircraft carrier loses your fencing bag.
· Take your technology and copies of your important documents in your carry on as well. This includes copies of travel documents such as visas and passports, itinerary, etickets, transport pre-booked tickets, accommodation booking confirmation, public transport maps, and emergency contact numbers eg toll free visa line.
9. FENCING PACKING
These are things specific to sport and fencing that you need travelling overseas. Same principle as packing, take it if you might absolutely need it.
· A first aid kit is important because you don’t know what facilities where you are competing are like. Pack the basics but add sports tape, cold and flu tablets (keep in mind that under WADA you must stop taking these tablets 24 hours before competition), gastrostop powder sachets, deep heat or voltaren, and any other prescribed medication.
· A fencing ‘fixing’ kit is also needed as you never know whether a stall will be at the competition venue to help you. For sabre a basic kit should include: an allen key, sandpaper, wirestripper, small screwdrivers (phillips or flat head depending on your body wire type), small sewing kit, small patch of lame material, and spare washers.
· Only take one set of your fencing gear (except wires and weapons), if you take care of your mask, lame, and glove they will work.
· Take spare blades (not 4 complete weapons).
· Most elite athletes now bring foam rollers when they travel. I bring a hard hockey ball instead to use for self-massage at the top of the muscle. It is more specific than foam rolling.
There are a couple of things to consider when planning your diet when you travel. If you have dietary requirements this becomes more crucial.
· I tend to find stay somewhere where I can cook my own meals when I am training. That way it is easier for me to stick to my regular diet.
· Find out if there is a supermarket, markets or health food stores near to your accommodation beforehand. This is a massive time saver.
· Water- this tip is more for travelling through airports because I get really dehydrated on flights. I take a filter water bottle with me so I can fill up anywhere (as long as it is after security). Bobble bottle sells these in Australia- > http://www.waterbobble.com.au/product-bottle.html
I hope this list of things to organise is helpful! It is long but there are a lot of things to organise for a two month fencing trip J
Thanks for reading and feel free to share this with friends!