Travel can be super draining. The change in routine, different time zones, unfamiliar food, and lengthy amounts of sitting in uncomfortable positions can really throw someone off their game.
All these factors are further compounded if you are traveling to a city you have never been to before or if you are closely monitoring your weight. It took me a while to hammer down a travel routine for out-of-state jiu-jitsu tournaments, but after a few successful trips (and a few unsuccessful trips) I think I've figured out what works best for me.
Here are a few travel tips for maintaining high-level performance:Book the flight for a reasonable time
I know many of you are on a budget, but if the price difference of the plane ticket is only $20-30, book the flight for a more reasonable time and try to find direct flights. The last thing you want to worry about is missing a connection due to a weather delay. I was delayed six hours on my way to the Austin Open because of a storm in Dallas where I had a connecting flight.
Invest in a neck pillow
Airplanes are uncomfortable. A neck pillow will help reduce the stress your neck feels while you try to rest on the plane. There's no need to develop a kink in your neck the day before a competition.
Invest in noise-canceling headphones
Airplanes and airports are loud and obnoxious. If you have never tried noise-canceling headphones, try them. With one flip of a switch, the whole world goes almost silent. The dull roar of the airplane for 4-9 hours will certainly take a toll on your brain. If not that, the infamous crying baby will surely prevent you from resting well. Also, these come in handy at the tournament when the constant roar of the crowd starts to give you a headache. Personally, I love to stay at the tournament venue all day at watch the matches, but the noise can really get to me after five or six hours. So if I plan on being there all day, noise-canceling headphones are a great way to spare yourself a headache while watching the matches.
Get your own apartment
Personally, I have only had good experiences with AirBnb. It's usually cheaper than a hotel. Parking is easier, and there is a kitchen at your disposal.
Rent a car at the airport
If you are only visiting the area for two or three days it is much easier to rent a car than to get Ubers everywhere. The cost will be about the same or at least within a $20 margin, but the convenience factor of having your own wheels is huge.
Get a light sweat
Planes will often leave your body feeling stiff and lethargic. Once you get to your destination, find a gym or a jiu-jitsu academy and just give yourself a good warmup. Do some drills, flow rolling, stretches, or movement drills. This will also help you shake off the flight and any water retention that you might experience from flying. I book my flights to depart at around 9 AM, so I'm usually at my destination at no later than 2-3 PM. Of course this depends on which direction you are flying. I usually fly east, so I lose time on the way to most out of state tournaments.
Pro Tip: Many great jiu-jitsu competitors use their hotel room to do jiu-jitsu drills the day of competition.
Have a meal plan
If you are monitoring your weight for the tournament, this is crucial. Do some restaurant research before you find yourself starving and hangry. No one makes good decisions while they are hungry. When you can't make a decision, sushi is always the way to go. It's clean, healthy, low in sodium, and tastes great. It's not known for being cheap, but the night before a tournament you should feed your body something nice. If you are not watching your weight, some form of pasta is usually my next suggestion. If you are staying at an AirBnb, make use of the kitchen and cook yourself something that you would normally have.
Pack some snacks
Tournament day is long and exhausting. Even if you have a great breakfast, within 3-4 hours, you will be hungry again. And surely after your division is done, you will be hungry. So you have to fuel up for the open class. The night before the competition, take a trip to the grocery store and buy some snacks. Bananas, trail mix, cliff bars, water, coconut water, etc. Trust me, the day of the competition, you will wish you did this the night before. Don't rely on tournament booth acai bowls to fuel you for the open class.
After your light workout, eat something light and rest. Don't do crap. Watch a movie and relax. Try not to think about the competition. Don't stare at your phone late into the night. Put your phone away an hour before you plan on going to sleep. I think reading a book is a good distraction and helps facilitate falling asleep.
Eat a good breakfast
I know this is different for everyone. Personally, I will always eat a good breakfast. However, I know a lot of stud competitors who prefer to compete on an empty stomach or just a cup of coffee. I always go to the same breakfast restaurant and order the same breakfast. Even if my weight is close, I will eat breakfast and then plan on doing a monster warmup to balance my weight.
Get the job done
You didn't travel all that way to half-ass your matches. Get out there and fight like a savage.
Sign up for the open class
Why the heck not? You traveled all the way there. You might as well get some extra mat time. You'll be glad you did it when you have two gold medals in your hand.
For International TravelArrive a few days early: Allow yourself a few days to adapt to the time change.
Contact List: Keep a detailed list of relevant addresses and phone numbers. The internet and Wi-Fi may not always be available to you. Try to find accommodations close to the venue (obviously).
Find a local gym to train at
You'll probably leave home 4-5 days before the competition. It will definitely benefit you to find a local academy to train at for a few days. You will also benefit from making some new local friends. However, beware of the target on your back. Sometime, locals like to bring the heat to visitors. So, keep your guard up and protect yourself at all times. Tap early to any weird submissions that your training partner may or may not have. There's no need to test your limits just a few days before an international competition.
Travel with a friend
This is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Tournament trips with your teammates provide awesome opportunities for bonding and team building. Not only is it fun to travel with your teammates, but it is also a great benefit to have them with you as a source of support leading up to the tournament.
Making it work for youI'm not saying that travel will always create an added burden to the competitor, but in many cases if you are not prepared for it, it will take some sort of toll on your mind and body. In my personal experiences, I have performed quite well when I have traveled out of state or out of country to compete. But the reason for this is that I make sure I train hard and that I am well prepared to compete before I devote any financial resources to a competition trip.
If you are going to spend $500-1,000 on a competition trip, makes sure you are fully prepared and organized so that you can make the most of your trip and come away with a positive experience.
Josh Hinger is an IBJJF 2016 black belt no-gi world champion representing Atos Jiu-Jitsu. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.