One of the greatest things about moving forward as a competitive fencer is that competitions are increasingly broad, taking fencers from one end of the United States to the other.
One of the most stressful things about being a competitive fencer is trying to figure out how to make the most of a heavy travel calendar that takes you from one end of the United States to the other.
How can fencing families get the kind of fencing experience that they want, stay on budget, and still have room to balance the rest of their lives outside of fencing? Here are nine competitive fencing travel tips to help you do just that.
1 – Set up a fencing competition calendar
Setting up a competition calendar for the season is something that families are hopefully already doing in conjunction with the coach and their club. You should know well ahead of time, with perhaps a few minor exceptions, which competitions you need to go to in order to get the points that you need to qualify for Fencing Summer Nationals or to get the experience that you need to build for next year. Of course there may be a surprise or two along the way, maybe you need to add an RYC near the end of the season to earn some extra points or you do unexpectedly well at an early NAC and don’t need to attend tournaments later in the season that you’d planned on.
Still, a solid calendar based on everything you and your coach know about your competitive strengths and likely outcomes is the number one tool in your travel toolkit. Don’t try to shoot from the hip when it comes to fencing competition season, make a plan!
2 – Plan around school breaks
When you’re sitting down with that calendar, you’ll do best to also sit down with your child’s school calendar. Often you’ll have a choice of many options that are difficult to choose between, but seeing the days off from school that surround a given competition can make a big difference. For instance you’ll find that major competitions tend to be set up around national school holidays like President’s Day or MLK Day. This is because fencing competitions are designed to be as easy as possible for traveling families to access – it’s all on purpose!
If your child has a teacher workday on Friday and a competition on Saturday, then you’ll be able to travel on Thursday when flights are less expensive and enjoy a family day exploring the city around the venue before the competition. If it’s at all possible to build in extra time, this will always always mean a better competitive outcome for your child. Checking into a hotel at 9pm on Friday ahead of a 8am call for fencers at the venue on Saturday is a recipe for stress on everyone.
Don’t forget to look at half days when you’re checking the calendar as well. Many school districts cut days off early so that teachers can do their out of classroom work, and an earlier time out of school means that you can travel earlier and not get in so late.
As a last resort, some families decide to check kids out a little early from school ahead of fencing competitions. This isn’t an option that everyone is comfortable with, but it is an option if you’re pushed on travel time. If your child has a non-academic class at the end of the day, this can be helpful as it won’t interfere in learning so much. Older students can even structure their schedules to have a non-academic class last period to accommodate fencing, though again this is a serious decision that families should make together. It’s all about balance after all!
3 – Driving vs. Flying
One big decision to make is whether it’s best to fly or to drive to competitions that are on that edge between driving distance and flying distance.
If you want to go from a strictly monetary perspective, try this calculator from Be Frugal. It’ll give you a number to put with your intuition. Sometimes a seven hour car trip works, and sometimes it’s cheaper to fly. Don’t forget to add the cost of checking fencing gear as luggage and ground transport once you arrive.
Consider both options carefully, and try to keep an open mind. Some people really enjoy driving, and the nine and a half hour trek from the Bay Area to Portland is a fun road trip. However if that sounds like a nightmare to you, don’t try it for a fencing competition. And certainly not if you’re crunched for time. It’s better to just get a two hour flight for the sake of your peace of mind and your child’s performance.
Another out of the box idea is to carpool with another fencing family that’s going to the same competition. That way you can split the driving with another adult, leaving you with three and a half hours behind the wheel instead of seven. It might even be economical to rent a larger vehicle for the weekend compared with flying. Not to mention the bonding between fencers that can happen on a trip like that!
Should you be able to build in an extra day or two, then it could be a great family getaway to drive for eight or nine hours! See there, we come back again to that calendar.
4 – Join discount programs
There are SO many discount programs out there that can save you money and give you a better experience. These are very popular with travelers for a reason, and it’s because they really work!
Using reward miles from a major credit card can make a huge difference in the cost of air travel. Many major credit card companies offer airline miles with purchases that you might already be making, which you can then cash in for flights to competitions. If you’re a frequent traveler for your business, the miles you rack up with a reward program can often be used personally depending on your company.
Most large hotel chains today have some form of loyalty program, so you might get a free night after you’ve stayed for twenty. Over the course of a fencing season that’s not too hard to do! If you’re not sure where to start with finding a rewards program, check out this U.S. News and World Report ranking of top choices.
What doesn’t work with discount programs is catering to them when it doesn’t make sense in the scheme of things. For instance make sure that the airline that your credit card offers reward miles with is one that flies out of your local airport frequently. Hotel discount clubs can have lots of strings attached, including blackout dates. While these kinds of things can be big money savers, always read the fine print so you get the value you deserve.
5 – Ask for an upgrade
This is a bit of a travel hack that seems too easy, but it really works! Just ask for what you want, whether it’s a better room or a better seat on a flight. You would be surprised at how often you can make your travel for a fencing competition more comfortable by simply being willing to ask and doing so politely. You might get a suite instead of a room or a window seat instead of an aisle.
The thing that is beautiful here is that if you’re courteous and reasonable, that pays off! It’s a great lesson for kids in terms of manners and being a good traveler. A smile and a genuine compliment to hotel staff, a few moments of patience with the airline employees, etc. will make someone’s day. Traveling is best when it’s savored and when you let go of your own stress. If you’re at your best, then when you ask the front desk clerk if they can upgrade your room then you just might get it! Even if you’ve booked through a discount travel site, it’s common to be able to upgrade for five or ten bucks a night. After a long travel day it feels great to walk into a room with a separate sitting area.
6 – Look for competition related hotels
The first place that you’ll want to look for where to stay is with the organizer of the fencing tournament. Larger tournaments like SYC and NAC will always give you a list of hotels in the area of the venue, and often they’ll go one step further and secure a discounted group rate for fencers who book at a given hotel by a specified date. This will save you money, and just as important you’ll be at the best location for the venue. Locals know their area better than anyone, and fencing tournament organizers are the most likely place to find a convenient hotel.
It might sound like a good deal to go onto a discount travel site and save some cash by booking a hotel twenty minutes away from the fencing competition site, but you’ll exchange that savings for traffic frustration and lost time on the day of the tournament. Unless you can find a substantial savings further away, you’ll be glad you booked close by.
Another great thing about staying at a tournament recommended hotel – you’ll be surrounded by other fencers. It makes the experience a great deal richer when you bump into fencers from across the country over breakfast! Remember that fencing tournaments aren’t just for winning medals or racking up points, they’re for connecting through the sport.
7 – Book with a free breakfast
Getting going on the morning of a competition is hectic and can be stressful, so do yourself a favor and always choose a hotel that’s got a free breakfast. It’ll save you money, if you project that you’ll spend seven to ten dollars per person for breakfast at a restaurant then that adds up!
Hotel breakfasts always have some smart, healthy options. Sometimes you might have to be a bit creative, try peanut butter in oatmeal for a protein packed competition day breakfast for instance. There’s sure to be something like yogurt, boiled eggs, or fruit at a hotel breakfast bar though. Grab some granola bars or eggs on a bagel if you’re running late. And for the adults, much needed fresh coffee after the travel.
As important as saving money is saving time. You’ll can easily lose an hour eating at a restaurant for breakfast, including finding somewhere and travel time. You might even be tempted to skip breakfast altogether, which is a very bad idea on competition day. Fencing competitors can get something down in less than ten minutes if it’s conveniently located in the hotel, and older fencers can even run down to eat while everyone else is getting ready. It just makes sense!
One important thing to remember is that if you’re staying at a hotel chain that you’ve never stayed at before, check online review of their breakfasts before you book. Not often, but sometimes, hotel “free breakfasts” turn out to be a basket of packaged sweet muffins and a bowl of apples.
8 – Try Airbnb
I want to start out with a word of caution on Airbnb. Sometimes it can be a gamble when you go into someone’s home ahead of a competition. Strictly speaking, the experience is not as guaranteed as that of a chain hotel, and that could be a factor if you’re nervous about a major fencing competition. However, if you look over the listing thoroughly and do your due diligence in booking, Airbnb is a remarkable way to save money and to give you and your fencer a much more memorable experience. There is something comforting about being in a home!
Many fencing families who travel to major competitions regularly enjoy Airbnb, including my own big family. The notion of staying in homes was common in Europe for many years before it reached the United States, and it can be very much rewarding. Make sure that your rental is close to the venue and that you’ve got a handle on transportation to and from the venue.
Especially if you’ve got some extra time built into your fencing competition schedule, Airbnb changes the flavor of the experience dramatically. You’re traveling with a local instead of in a canned and unremarkable hotel. Not only that, but Airbnb can offer you substantial financial savings compared to a traditional hotel, and you can book last minute in many cases if you need to and the hotels close by are full. One hundred percent an option worth exploring!
Note – if you’ve never used Airbnb before, you might want to try it out before rather than having your first time being on a big competition. The process is easy, but very different than a traditional hotel!
9 – Brighten your luggage
Most people today know how convenient it is to mark checked bags for air travel with a bright colored tag or ribbon, or better yet to buy unique looking luggage, so that’s easy to spot when you’re picking it up from the conveyor belt. A black suitcase just doesn’t stand out and is easier to lose.
What most people don’t realize is that it’s just helpful to make your hand held luggage and even your fencing equipment bags easy to spot when you’re traveling. When you’re traveling, you’ve got a thousand things on your mind. It’s hard to keep track of all of the moving parts, and the worst feeling is when you realize that you’ve forgotten something at a hotel, in a taxi, or at the venue. One way to prevent this from happening is to attach something eye catching to your bags. It can be as simple as a bright purple ribbon that you buy at a craft store or as complex as a yellow fencing gear bag. The point is that you’re less likely to miss it in the back of a hotel closet or the floor of an Uber if it’s highly visible.
On the day of the fencing competition itself, you’re going to be thinking about a lot of things. Mark your equipment clearly and make it stand out so that it’s never mistaken by another fencer. It could end up on the other side of the country if you’re not careful!
Traveling for fencing competitions should be stress free and fun, allowing you to focus on family time and enjoying the competition. We hope these tips will help you to enjoy traveling for fencing this season!