Competitive fencing necessarily involves a good bit of travel. In that way, it’s like a lot of other youth sports.
We’re a niche sport and one of its characteristics is that the distance between competing locally to competing regionally and then nationally is very short, unlike in such mainstream sports like tennis or basketball. Though we’re growing consistently over time and there are many local tournaments for fencers, growing in skills inevitably requires going to larger competitions, and competing at the regional and national levels will always involve a certain amount of travel.
Travel is shown to help kids become more adaptable and resilient, besides exposing them to different cultures and ways of living. Even domestic travel exposes kids to different cultures within the United States. Salt Lake City is not the same as Atlanta! The everyday life of people in various parts of the country is very different, and there’s nothing like visiting those places to help expand the worldview of young people.
Forty one travel tips for fencing families
Though we know that travel is great for kids, and we know that fencing competitions are a fantastic way to facilitate that travel, that doesn’t mean that it’s a walk in the park. Taking kids to competition, either by air or by road, is stressful for everyone. Luckily, there are things that we can do to mitigate that stress on kids and on parents.
Maybe you’re an expert at traveling for fencing tournaments because you’ve been doing this for many years, or maybe you’re new to fencing and the excitement of traveling for competitions. Either way, you’ll find some new ideas here to help make the whole process easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
Before you leave home
Preparation has to start before you even leave the house. Though you can’t plan for every eventuality, there are some things that you can do before you head out on the road that will prevent potential issues down the line. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
1. Make a list.
This is the number one tip for traveling to fencing competitions. Lists let you think about what you need without the pressure of having to do it all at this exact moment.
Give your young fencer responsibility for as much of the list as you can. You might have to go back and check over their packing later, but you’ll be teaching them a valuable skill. Eventually, they’ll be able to do it on their own!
2. Create a prioritized itinerary.
What absolutely must happen, and what isn’t essential? Knowing your must-dos will make the whole trip much less stressful. Must-dos are things like getting to the venue early, connecting with your coach before the match, and packing the necessary fencing gear. Anything not on the “must” list is technically optional – i.e. the world will not end if those things don’t happen.
3. Write out a budget.
Travel is expensive. No matter what your budget is, you’ll thank yourself for planning ahead for the final cost of the trip. If you do project a potential budget, make sure you come back around and compare your actual expenses to your projected budget. This will inform your future fencing trips.
Breaking down your budget into fencing tournament expenses versus travel expenses can help you to get a more accurate picture of how much this all costs and how you can save if you need to.
4. Stay informed.
In the lead-up to the competition, check the status through askFred, Fencing Time Live or the USA Fencing Events Registration portal, as well as check if you received an email from an organizer. There are occasionally issues that arise for competitions, so be sure you’re ahead of anything that might happen. If there’s an instance of not enough fencers pre-registering for an event to go on, it could possibly be canceled. That’s mostly true for smaller, local competitions as opposed to regional and national fencing tournaments. Hiccups are far more common now in the wake of the pandemic than it ever has been before.
5. Verify strip coaching.
Don’t assume that you’ve got a coach going for strip coaching if you haven’t confirmed this with your fencing club. Clubs generally charge a fee for strip coaching at tournaments, so you’ll want to clear that up with your club if you’re counting on it.
6. Leave your house in a good spot.
There’s already a dose of chaos when traveling, so try not to add to it by leaving your house in a chaotic spot. Have your kids do chores like loading the dishwasher and taking out the trash before you hit the road. It’s incredibly refreshing to come home to a made bed, for kids and adults.
Sometimes the bare minimum is enough here. If you’ve got a late return on Sunday after a fencing competition, which is quite common, have kids lay out their clothes and their backpacks for Monday morning. That alone can make a big difference.
7. Get your car serviced.
If you’re driving to wherever you’re going for a fencing competition, a quick check by your auto person is an essential step. They’ll be able to catch anything that might be wrong with your vehicle before you get out on the road. With new or leased cars this might be redundant but if you drive an older road warrior then why not.
8. Look into roadside assistance.
Many car insurance plans include roadside assistance, and it might also be included in your car’s warranty. You’ll thank yourself a thousand times over for having this information if you get a flat tire! If you’ve already got coverage, make sure you’ve got the number and information saved in your phone.
9. Pack an emergency travel kit.
These are affordable and will give you peace of mind, besides being useful should something go wrong. Tuck it away in the trunk, then travel with confidence.
10. Explore travel insurance.
It’s smart to add trip insurance to your plans, but always read the fine print before you decide to purchase it. Some credit cards also provide trip insurance if you purchase with them. With youth sports, injuries and illness could prevent your fencer from being able to participate. There’s also the possibility of a positive COVID test or a canceled tournament due to the pandemic. Even if you decide against travel insurance, make sure that you know the cancellation policies so you’re prepared.
11. Use Southwest or similar cancellation-friendly airline
Whenever possible travel with an airline company that allows free cancellations, such as Southwest. While sometimes they might be a bit more expensive, their free cancellation and two free bags policy make it worth it, and with fencing gear, you always check in your bags.
Important Southwest lifehack: Create a separate itinerary for each traveler. If you travel with two or more people in your family (for example, two children or one child and a spouse) and one of them suddenly must cancel, you cancel only their trip and save some headache and your money.
12. Bring an old school map.
GPS is fantastic and so needed, but it’s not perfect. If your cell service goes out, you will be so happy that you have a map to keep you from getting lost. This might sound super old school, and it is, but it’s also a real lifesaver in a pinch. If you don’t have a map, make screenshots of turn-by-turn directions on your phone.
13. Stash some coins and cash.
Though we live in a largely cashless society, it’s always a smart idea to have some cash on you when you travel. Forty dollars in small bills and two dozen quarters will make sure you’ve got cash for vending machines and tolls. Cash is also good for paying the armorer if you need to get a piece of equipment fixed at the venue.
14. Check your club information.
Before you head out, check if you have any information from your fencing club or coach, and also watch for your club’s social media accounts. Also connect to other fencers who are traveling to the same competition as you might want to coordinate with them.
15. Create an info packet.
You never know what information you might need in a pinch, but creating an info packet of essential info can be a real lifesaver. This should include a copy of insurance cards, vaccination records or COVID tests when applicable, pediatrician information, and a list of any relevant medications. Though lots of things can be done virtually, it’s a good idea to have a printed copy of this info with you just in case something happens. Include emergency contact numbers too. Keep this in your fencer’s bag or in a travel bag that you keep with you.
16. Pack for the climate.
This is such a no-brainer that you might well forget to do it. If you’re headed to the Pacific Northwest, pack an umbrella and a poncho. Jumping onto a plane to Orlando? Throw some sunscreen and flip-flops in your bag. A trip to Boston in February is going to call for a heavy coat and gloves.
Whether you’re flying or driving, the weather where you’re going might be decidedly different from the weather you’re coming from. Think about this when you’re preparing to head out!
17. Leave as early as you can.
Whether you are driving or flying to the fencing competition, you will want to leave as early as you can on the day of departure. A late night flight or a long drive in the dark puts everyone out of sorts. If there’s any way to make it to your hotel before the sun goes down, then do it!
This might mean leaving a couple of hours early from work or picking kids up at school a little early. An extra couple of hours can make a huge difference in how a trip goes and how well a fencer is able to perform given the challenges of traveling.
18. Download activities.
Long travel, whether it’s via the car or through the air, can be draining. Make sure that you download apps, games, movies, etc. to devices before you hit the road, especially for younger siblings who might be traveling with you. This way, you’ll avoid both high data charges and highly charged moments of frustration. Fencing tournaments can be long and perhaps even a little boring for younger siblings. Even fencers have a lot of downtime during fencing competitions. Keeping busy can help reduce everyone’s anxiety about being in a new place.
Info to know before you go
Though you don’t need to know every little thing about the place that you’re going to, it’s a good idea to do some cursory research to orient yourself before you hit the road. Fencing tournaments on this level tend to stretch out over several days, so knowing what’s what in the area can be a big help should the unexpected occur.
19. COVID protocols
Pandemic protocols vary from state to state and locality to locality. Check out what measures are being taken before you go. Is there a mask mandate everywhere? What kind of social distancing measures are in place? Can you access testing if you need to when you get there? If you’re flying, be sure to check with the pandemic protocols of the airline that you’re traveling with.
Travel can be seriously impacted depending on COVID numbers in various places. Plan extra time for delays and cancellations. Also, think about your comfort level with protocols in the place you’re traveling to. Are you comfortable eating out given local positivity rates and social distancing guidelines, or do you need to plan to order takeout in your hotel room? This could affect what kind of room you book and where you decide to stay.
USA Fencing has vaccination and testing protocols that are updated as the pandemic progresses. It is absolutely essential that you know and follow these guidelines, or else you could risk not being able to participate in the competition.
Starting this season the USA Fencing publishes the pools and the strips a day before the competition. This is great as you know ahead of time what to expect, but it also puts a responsibility on you to notify them ahead of time if you need to withdraw. Failure to do so will result in a $250 fine as missing fencer in such situations creates imbalanced pools.
21. Local laundry facilities.
Fencing gear can really stink up the place when it’s used for several days in a row, which might well happen in NAC’s and Summer Nationals, and we won’t even talk about what it smells like when you unzip a suitcase full of it after a long flight home. Running a load of laundry at the hotel or at a nearby laundromat can be a nose saver if you’re at a multi-day fencing competition.
Though fencing can be a demanding youth sport, know that you’re not alone in it! There’s a camaraderie to traveling for fencing
22. Carpool when you can.
For fencing families, sharing the ride can be a great way to save money, and foster camaraderie. This can also make competitions that are slightly too far to drive now drivable if there are a couple of adults to share the driving duties. Suddenly competition that’s six hours away isn’t so unreasonable when there are two drives doing three hours each!
23. Taking turns taking fencers.
Related to carpooling is working with another close fencing family to trade-off competitions. Though parents of course want to be there to support their young fencers, it’s really not a problem to miss a competition or two if your child is traveling with another family. This fosters independence and can extend the opportunities that fencers have for participating in competitions.
24. Check hotel discounts
Accommodations are one of the biggest expenses for fencers when they are traveling to competitions. Group rates and discounts are available at lots of hotels near convention centers, where large regional and national fencing competitions tend to take place. Check the tournament info before you proceed to the booking and you might find relevant info there.
25. Build relationships.
Relationships built at fencing competitions can last for decades. Teammates go from Youth to Senior together, traveling and training with each other. It’s amazing to watch how these fencers stick together and learn from each other!
When fencers compete regionally or nationally, they run through a circuit that is full of familiar faces. Thanks to the magic of social media, friendships with opponents can become rich connections that go across many miles.
There’s also the relationship between fencers and their coaches. Mentor connections are especially influential for young people. During fencing competitions that are far afield, fencers get to see their coaches outside of the club over dinner or between bouts.
Building in time to make these connections is important for everyone. Prioritize the relationships during your travel plans, both in terms of family and fencing.
26. Ask other fencers for tips!
Some fencing competitions are held in the same city over and over again, while others float around. It’s a great practice to ask other fencers and fencing families about what’s worked for them and how they navigated things through the years. Fencing Summer Nationals might be held in different cities every year, but the competition itself is always similar. As you prepare, ask questions of your fellow fencers – general or specific. You can also ask online in the fencing forum on Reddit, which is a great resource.
The primary reason for all of this is the competition itself, so athletic considerations have to be clear and central here. Fencers are athletes! The higher you go in fencing, the more these things will make a difference.
On a related note, don’t forget to include parents and siblings in the healthy habits for travel. These fencing travel tips are a great way to help keep everyone in good shape, both mentally and physically. They aren’t just for the fencers!
27. Prioritize hydration.
It can be tempting to forgo drinking water to limit trips to the restroom, but that will reduce both mental and physical performance. Look to drink eight ounces of water at minimum for every hour you travel, whether you are going by car or plane. Traveling with a water bottle is always a great idea as it’s a constant reminder to keep drinking.
28. Acclimate to the time zone before you go.
If you’re crossing time zones, don’t wait for the jet lag to catch up with you. A couple of days before you leave, fencers should adjust their sleep schedule if at all possible. Even if you don’t get all the way to the time zone you’ll be competing in, you’ll still make a dent in the jet lag. Keep naps short once you’re traveling – 20-30 minutes. Sleep has to be a priority for the best athletic performance possible. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as going into a competition tired and not performing to your potential because of it!
29. Eat healthfully.
This can be a real challenge during travel, but athletic performance requires good nutrition. Rather than stop for fast food, look for quick options that are on the healthier side like Panera or Chipotle. These aren’t ideal, but they are better than the alternatives. Look for hotels with a free breakfast, where you might find hard-boiled eggs and oatmeal. Always, always pack healthy snacks like trail mix and protein bars. Though it can be tempting to just grab whatever you can while traveling, it will absolutely catch up with everyone (family members too!).
If you’ve got an Airbnb, or even a hotel with a fridge, you can have Instacart or another service deliver healthy groceries to your door. That will save you time and stress while supporting healthy eating. You can even time it to get there just as you do. This is a great thing to do during slow times during travel.
It’s easy enough to pack a foldable insulated lunchbox when traveling. This will allow you to make a healthy sandwich or something easy for competition day. Eating at the venue is always easier than heading out into the city to search for food.
Though it might sound like overkill, it’s worthwhile to make a healthy eating plan. You don’t have to detail every calorie, but you can figure out where you’ll eat along the way. The morning of the fencing competition might be cereal with yogurt in the hotel. Nuts and fruit for a mid-morning snack during competition. A healthy sandwich or a wrap from a local shop for lunch – be sure to research a couple of options before you go – or pack something at your hotel and bring it. Then a protein bar in the middle of the afternoon to power through the last half of competition. After the final day of competition, it’s then a good time to splurge on a more decadent meal out or some pizza in your room.
Planning for healthy eating is a must for fencing travel!
30. Pack a small first aid kit
Whether you’re flying or driving, it’s worth packing a small first aid kit. Fencers get injured during bouts, so put a travel sized Tiger Balm in there for sore muscles and some bandaids for small cuts. A bit of pain reliever, dosed for the fencer’s age and size, is always a good idea. Ice packs that activate when the seal is broken, wound cleaner, and first aid ointment are great to pack too. Pack this in your travel bag to keep with you throughout the trip – you’ll be happy you did.
During the competition
The competition itself is what we’re here for! Making that day easier can take some advanced planning when you’re traveling.
31. Take stock of the space.
Every venue for a fencing competition is different. From large convention centers to cozy fencing clubs, regional and national fencing competitions take place in a wide variety of spaces.
Find out where the restrooms and concessions are when you get there, as well as where the Bout Committee (BC) table and the armorer are located. If there are multiple people from your fencing club going to a competition, find everyone when you get there and scope out the spots where you’ll hang out. You’ll want to stay close by so that you don’t miss important announcements.
32. Get some wheels.
Lugging around fencing gear and luggage is no small thing, especially when you multiply it by more than one person. When your child starts to travel often, it will make everyone’s life so much better if you get a fencing bag with wheels. The same goes for suitcases. This is true if you’re flying or if you’re driving.
33. Leave no trace.
The motto “Leave no trace” is a principle that’s found in camping and outdoors activities, and it means that you pick up after yourself when you’re in nature so that there’s no trace of your being there. This is a great philosophy for going to a fencing venue too.
Make sure that you leave the facility in as good or better condition than when you found it. Put back any chairs that you move around. Pick up any trash that is in your area of the venue. Makes sure that it’s all just the way you found it, and teach your young fencers about collective space and respect for the hard working staff members at these events.
34. Banish the smell.
After your youth fencer has finished their competition and are awaiting results, have them change into fresh clothes. Put the dirty fencing clothes into a sealed laundry bag and get them into the fencing bag. As a parent of four youth fencers, I can speak from experience when I say you don’t want those smells leaking out! If you’re leaving straight from the venue to head home, throw a couple of dryer sheets into the laundry bag as you’re packing to leave home. Driving home in a car that reeks of sweaty fencing clothes is not the best experience.
Mental health & youth sports travel
Competing can be stressful for fencers, and so can travel. When you put the two together, it can be a recipe for strain and frustration. You can avoid this by
35. Cultivate a flexible mindset.
Though it’s encouraged to plan ahead, it’s equally important to stay flexible. Emphasize this in your own mind and also talk about it with your family as you get ready to travel. The adults in the group set the tone, so a parent’s ability to roll with changes in the plan will foster adaptability in young fencers. If your flight gets delayed and you get frustrated, think about how you’d counsel your child to react, then give yourself that same advice.
36. Consider the whole family, not just the fencer.
Youth athletes necessarily have to travel with adults and they often travel with siblings. Though a good deal of the attention necessarily has to be on the fencer, everyone who’s going on the trip has individual needs. That includes you, parents!
If grabbing some Starbucks makes you feel more alert and comforts you on the road, by all means plan those stops into your itinerary. Think about the favorite blanket of a younger sibling or how they need a nightlight to sleep at ease. Real resentment can seep in if people start to feel like an afterthought. This can also come in the form of committing to time for yourself or siblings outside of fencing season.
Make no mistake here – elite fencers get there in no small part because of the whole family’s commitment to their success. Sacrifices happen on all sides to support that success. Prioritizing everyone’s needs where you can will allow everyone to continue to give that support.
37. Add in extras where you can, but keep it light.
If you can add an extra day for sightseeing after the competition, it’s a great way to add some family togetherness and make some extra memories. For siblings, this can be a time to let them do something that’s a priority for them. If you’re roadtripping to the fencing competition, you can add some fun by finding roadside attractions that can double as gas stops or driving breaks. Roadtrippers is a great app for finding weird things along the highway.
38. Set some hours for blowing off steam.
Balance is so, so important in travel. The intensity of fencing competition and the intensity of traveling itself have to be balanced with fun things. Find out the hours of the hotel pool or find an Airbnb with a foosball table in it. Chill out with a game of cards in the evening after the competition or go for a walk through the city in the morning before it all starts.
This time to blow off steam won’t just happen. It’s easy to fall into curling up with electronics and ignoring the world when you have some free time during travel, but this can lead to even more burnout. Surprisingly, everyone will be in a better mood with each other if you do something together that either engages everyone or has a physical component.
39. Keep the dialog open.
Ask kids how they’re doing with travel. Check in with your spouse and with traveling siblings. Check in with yourself! Especially given the stresses of traveling during the new normal of the pandemic, keeping an open dialog is important. Traveling for fencing should be fun! It can be even more fun when you engage with each other.
40. Pull back on the pressure to win.
The stakes can feel extremely high to a young fencer whose family has put a lot of money and time into going to a fencing tournament that’s on the other side of the country. They can easily fall into feeling as though they are letting everyone down if they get eliminated in the pools or if they go out in the first round of direct elimination. If a fencer makes it close to the podium but barely misses it, they might feel like it was a wasted trip.
For the good of everyone’s mental health, it’s so important that the emphasis stays on the experience, not the outcome. All a fencer can do is their best. There are a thousand factors that go into winning a fencing match, and many of them are out of the control of the fencer. The goal should not be to win, but to perform as best as possible and to learn as much as possible.
41. Look for unexpected memories.
The best fencing travel memories are those that are the least expected. There’s that time that you ran into an old college friend whose child is also fencing, or the great games of UNO that you played on the floor of the airport while waiting for a delayed flight. Kids remember the most unexpected moments, and often they treasure those as much as the big podium finishes or the best matches.
Fencing competitions give us this wonderful opportunity to connect with each other. They are a fantastic conduit for families to come together and forge a shared experience. The frustrating times and the hard moments, those are the things that really bring us together if we let them. Traveling for youth sports is, at its heart, one big adventure. It’s a quest that you’re going on with your kids.
Win or lose, stalled traffic or clear roads, overbooked hotels or easy check-ins – they’re all part of the adventure of it all. These are the dragons to be vanquished just as much as a fencer’s opponent is a dragon to be vanquished.
If fencing travel is a reality of your life, then you are likely always on the hunt for ways to make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Embrace this part of the fencing journey, because it’s what we train for!
Competitive fencing helps young people to grow, and it fosters lifelong friendships and treasured memories. Planning ahead, then being flexible while you’re traveling will make that all the more possible. Parents and young fencers should both enjoy the time of connecting with each other and working towards long and short-term goals.
Once you get in the groove of it, everything goes much more smoothly! We hope these fencing travel tips will help you find your groove a little faster. Safe travels and happy fencing!