Prepping for fencing competition is part planning for the actual competition and part planning for the travel itself. Though it might seem like the planning for the actual competitive aspect is the most important aspect of getting ready for these big tournaments such as Regional or Super Youth Circuits (RYC’s or SYC’s), Junior Olympics (JO’s), Fencing Summer Nationals (SN), or the North America Cup Tournaments (NAC’s), participation in them involves a great deal of planning outside of the tournament itself. Getting that planning right can make things exponentially easier for the fencer who is in attendance, which is an important part of performing well in this environment.
That’s all well and good to know, but planning for this kind of travel is intimidating and overwhelming at times. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to planning your travel so that it can be as easy as possible. Travel to big fencing competition shouldn’t be a struggle!
How to get to the fencing competition – flying or driving?
The distance to competition is going to determine how you get there – by car or by plane. No matter how far a competition is, unless it’s literally in your town then you’re going to have some weariness through the travel process. A fencer is going to be cramped either into the seat of a motor vehicle or the seat of an airplane. Neither is optimal, but one of the two is necessary!
· Driving to a fencing competition
Some competitions are close enough that driving makes the most sense. If the competition is five or six hours or fewer away, then driving makes the most sense. A five hour drive is manageable for most fencing families. It’s easy to split up a five hour drive, taking short breaks. Making the decision about whether to drive or not is a big one, and it’s something that’s really up to your family.
Essential driving tips for fencers:
- Leave extra time for traffic and stops – roughly fifteen minutes for every hour is a good rule of thumb
- Pack your vehicle the night before rather than the morning of – you don’t want to be jostling for space for gear when you’re on a timetable
- Gas up your vehicle the night before you leave
- Get your GPS set BEFORE you get on the road. It’s worth the time to check your paths a day or two early and familiarize yourself with where you’re headed.
- Check with Google maps how long your drive will be few days in advance. You can configure Google maps to forecast the driving time based on when you depart or want to arrive.
- Leave in the morning if possible – night driving is more dangerous and risks exhaustion
- Pack your weapons for travel. There’s plenty of information on how to get your fencing weapons prepared for travel in our blog on packing weapons (the blog is about air travel, but these methods work well for car travel as well). Though weapons will be relatively safe in your vehicle, there’s still quite a bit of jostling and movement that happens in a long trip. Pack your weapons so that they are sure to be free from breakage when you get there!
- Bring healthy snacks with you on the trip and plenty of water. Fencers need solid nutrition going into competition in order to perform their best. Hydration is another key issue to consider. It’s worth the bathroom breaks!
Driving has plenty of perks. You don’t have to worry as much about losing things if you drive, as your vehicle is the central hub for gear, etc. The autonomy that comes with driving yourself is also pretty fantastic, no need to worry about cabs etc. If the competition is relatively close by, this is a perfect option.
· Flying to a fencing competition
Flying to a fencing competition is a whole different ballgame. Large competitions are generally going to be far enough away to require you to fly, and it requires a great deal of planning to make this happen. The good thing about flying is that everyone can rest, relatively, during the travel. Flying is also technically safer than driving.
When flying, you really should try to get a morning flight out to the competition at least one day early. This gives you plenty of time for delays or snafus that might happen along the way. What you don’t want to do is to find yourself in a situation where flight issues cause you to have a problem with competition.
Essential Flying Tips for Fencers:
- Book early (ideally six weeks before or more) so that you can be sure to get the time and airline that you want, as well as to get the best prices.
- Get to the airport at least ONE AND HALF HOUR prior to your flight.
- Know baggage requirements before you leave home – sizing of what’s allowed in carry-on luggage, what kinds of things make it through airport security, etc.
- Checking your fencing weapon into baggage is the way to go. DON’T try to carry your weapons with you onto a plane – airport security isn’t fond of any kind of weapon, even a harmless fencing sword. Learn everything you need to know about packing your weapon for flying in this blog about how to pack your fencing gear for travel. This blog also details exactly how to keep your weapons safe during travel.
- DON’T check the rest of your gear. Keep your jacket, masks, glove, shoes, etc. in your carry-on luggage. In the worst case scenario if your fencing weapons get lost in the luggage, then you can replace them when you get there. Replacing a jacket or shoes is a bigger challenge than replacing a sword.
- Take healthy snacks with you to the airport. Nutrition leading into a tournament is important, and airport snacks don’t fit the bill. Protein bars, trail mix, and dried fruit are good options. Take a refillable water bottle to keep hydrated – they’ll make it through airport security as long as they’re empty when you go through. You can then fill them when you get onto the concourse.
One more consideration with flying is what kind of ground transportation to get on the other end. There are pros and cons to renting a car in a city that you’re unfamiliar with. Parking can be challenging and there’s the risk of getting lost, but then the autonomy of having your own car can be time saving as well. On the other hand, using an Uber or cab saves money and takes some of the guesswork out of getting around, but restricts autonomy.
When you’re deciding whether to rent a car, the key is to be open to the options. How close your hotel is to the venue is a big consideration when decided whether or not to rent a car. So is the transportation available in the city you’re visiting – Virginia Beach doesn’t have great public transportation, where New York City does.
Flying is essential for getting to many of the larger fencing competitions. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of getting on a plane with that fencing gear! Planning is everything when it comes flying for competition.
Staying at the fencing competition – hotel or Airbnb?
Staying at a hotel for a fencing competition
This is of course the go to for most families when going to a big fencing competition. Hotels come in every shape and size, and there’s just no limit to your options. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re booking a hotel for a fencing competition.
Essential tips for hotels for fencers:
- Closer is better when it comes to hotels. The closer your hotel is to the venue, the easier your competition will be. Many fencing venues have hotels right next door or across the street, which is perfect. It’s worth a few extra dollars for a closer hotel.
- Booking early will save you money and allow you to get the best choice of both the hotel and the room. Oftentimes hotels have group discounts for the adjacent fencing competition. Hotels fill up early! Don’t wait until the last minute if you want to be close to the venue, as those hotels are going to fill up fast. Planning on that Youth NAC in the spring? Book your hotel now.
- A fridge and microwave can be essential. Most rooms have these included, but sometimes they don’t. Again, we’re talking about an intense athletic event and nutrition is important. A fridge and microwave can allow you to throw together healthier meals in your room, all while your fencer has some downtime.
- Free breakfast is a good thing. This takes a whole step out of the process! Most hotel breakfast bars will have healthy options like oatmeal, eggs and fruit to fill fencers up prior to competition.
- A gym isn’t a bad idea either. Again, most hotels have a gym and this can allow your fencer to work out if they need to. While competition time isn’t training time, many fencers like to get in some cardio to help them stay focused and get their blood flowing.
- Suites, or hotels with at least two rooms, can be really great for a large fencing competition as they give your fencer somewhere to go to rest and focus while the other family members are doing whatever they need to be doing. Head space and room for focus are important at a large competition.
Hotels offer convenience and ease for the most part. The trick is to getting the right hotel. First check the askFred or USFA venue recommendations and see if they work our for you. If not other options such as Expedia, Booking.com or Hotels.com are worth exploring. Priceline is a great option. You can generally save some money by using their “Express Deals”, which allow you to book a hotel with only knowing its amenities and its general location, not its name or specific location. Look around for the best options for you.
Staying at an Airbnb for a fencing competition
Though it’s new on the scene, using an Airbnb is a growing option for travel in any capacity, and that includes fencers headed to competition. Airbnb is an online service that allows you to book rooms in people’s private homes, or their entire home. Payment is safe and secure as it’s done through the site.
The great thing about staying at an Airbnb is that it allows you to feel like you’re more at home. These are people’s homes that they’re renting out, which means that they’re bigger and more expansive than a small hotel room. Multiple bedrooms mean space for fencers to focus and take time, and a kitchen means the chance to keep those healthy meals cooked and filling up your athlete.
Essential tips for Airbnb for fencers:
- If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you probably won’t want to try it out for the very first time when you’re headed to a big fencing competition. Though there are some fantastic benefits, it can be an unknown process and it’s very different than a hotel experience.
- Book early for the best options.
- Know what you need. Will towels be provided? Sheets? This isn’t a hotel, so you want to make sure you know what amenities you’ll have to provide yourself.
- Read the reviews! This is an essential piece of advice for using Airbnb. The reviews will give you the real deal about what the renter is offering.
- Come in early if you’re using Airbnb. Though this is a safe and affordable option, there is a bigger risk of kinks in the process than there are with a hotel. You’ll be meeting with the owner or picking up keys, you’ll need to figure out the amenities, and more. A day early will let you settle in more easily and assure that you’re ready to go.
Again, this is the newest option on the block, but it’s a wonderful option for fencers. You can get close to the venue in many cases, and it feels more like home. Not only that, Airbnb is an affordable option compared to comparable hotel rooms in many cases.
How long to stay – a day before, a day after, or two weeks?
This time that last one is only kind of joking – a vacation centered around a fencing competition that’s in a great location is something that we have seen families do with great success.
Coming in a day early is always a good idea.
If you can make it in a full day early, that’s a great thing. For instance, NAC’s run from Friday-Monday, so you’d want to get in on Thursday morning.
Here’s why getting in a day early is a good thing.
- Weapon check
- Stenciling uniform
- Acclimate to new surroundings
- Adjust to time zone (if necessary)
- Work out the kinks
A day early just gives fencers the time to prepare what they need in order to fence well. It can be challenging to take that extra time given work schedules and school commitments, but in our experience it’s well worth it for large competitions. If at all possible, for big competitions take that extra day.
Staying after competition can be a great thing.
Fencing Summer Nationals have been in some lovely places, as are NAC’s, which are all over the place – from San Jose, CA in 2016 to Salt Lake City, Utah in the 2017. 2018 Fencing Summer Nationals will be in St. Louis, Missouri, which is a beautiful part of the country to see.
We don’t recommend vacationing before a large competition, but adding in an extra few days to enjoy the travel on the back end of the trip can be a good thing for everyone if it’s possible. Every location has some interesting and fun things to do. Part of the fun of traveling to fencing competitions is exploring new places! This can be great family time if siblings who aren’t fencers have tagged along.
If there was a big win at competition, this time can serve as a celebration. If things didn’t go as well for a fencer then this time can serve to give fencers some family bonding and support.
Traveling for NAC’s, JO’s, or SN is awesome!
One of the best parts about fencing competition is the travel. Exploring new places and connecting with people from all over is rewarding and encourages personal growth in fencers. We love traveling with our family and meeting fencers from all over.
Planning effectively makes travel SO much easier. There are plenty of nerves about the competition itself, and there’s just no need for the travel to be an additional stressor. These tips for fencing travel are all borne out of our own experience. Travel for large fencing competition is something that is a reality if fencers want to pursue those big fencing dreams. It can be totally awesome and enriching for the whole family, not only the fencer.
Let go of the stress of traveling to big fencing competitions by thoroughly investigating your options, giving yourself plenty of time on both ends, and packing well. Then just dig in and enjoy the time with your fencer and the thrill of competition!