This article is dedicated to my father (a world traveller in his own right), Bonnie Gillespie, who encouraged me to write something like this about 2 years ago. I love you Dad!
I've been travelling abroad both as an athlete and now as a coach since 1993 and have learned some time saving ideas that will be illustrated below to help with first time travellers and perhaps even seasoned travellers.
Since 9/11, travelling has been changed dramatically with regard to security. For starters, you are limited to the amount of carry ons you can bring (some airlines charge for carry on bags) and toiletries must be carried in a zip-lock type of bag for easy viewing by security. All of the contents of this zip-lock bag must be 3 ounces or less or the items will be confiscated.
If travelling outside of the USA, you will need a passport and sometimes a visa to enter other countries. The passport will show what country you are from and the visa allows you a defined amount of time to stay in that country. When traveling with a national governing body, i.e. USA Wrestling, usually the visa will be applied for you by USA Wrestling.
Passports can take up to 6 weeks to arrive if you are applying and requesting it sent to your home address. This process can be expedited for a fee per the passport agency. In my experience, it is easier to aquire a passport via larger cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York. You can also apply for passports online now and also in smaller cities. I suggest athletes to make a 2 copies of the passport page (with photo and passport number) keeping one copy in their hotel room and the other copy with them at all times just in case the passport is lost/stolen.
Most trips require you to spend money either to buy essentials like food or non essentials like gifts. In my experience, credit/debit cards are the easiest to use and may be safer for younger travellers. However, some vendors or street markets will only accept cash. In this case, it is easier to exchange your money to the currency of the host country either at your home bank, airport bank, or bank within the country you are travelling to.
USA Wrestling will travel abroad with many more minors than in the past due to the Youth Olympic Games and the resurgence of the Cadet World Championships. Both of these age group championships are for athletes aged 15-17. Many athletes in this age range may be travelling for the first time or alone or both. In either scenario, written or verbal instructions can be given to assure safety, security, and certainty from point 'A' to point 'B'. Here are 2 short stories to illustrate the power of instructions for younger athletes:
Story #1 When Jenna Burkert and Erin Golston travelled with me to Austria 2 years ago, they were 15 year old high school athletes and this is what I explained to them as our different planes left at different times and at differentgates were headed back to the States: "Ask the ticket gate attendant for any questions you have before you get on the plane and after you get off the plane. Ask the information desk the same questions to make certain you know what is going on...and do this for the entire trip."
Story #2 Austrian Coach Bruno Hartmann physically wrote a note for a 15 year old Swedish wrestler explaining to her and all where she was going, what time her flights were, and what trains she should get on and off to get back to her home town in Sweden.
Erin and Jenna learned that asking questions of the flight attendants, ticket gate attendants, and information desk proved to be very valuable when travelling.
I have also learned that writing out instructions for folks helps even the shyest person travel with a different level of certainty that will calm parents, guardians, and secure better travel.
Other important things to consider while travelling are: The Weather Channel for monthly weather forecasts; electronic plug/outlet converters; Twitter, Facebook, Skype for communication (phone/text bills get expensive); paying attention to moniters (flight gates often change); making a copy of itinerary (either printing online or requesting via the flight gate); double checking flight time on itinerary & boarding pass; and asking for help when in doubt.
Recently, there were several posts on Twitter that athletes items had been stolen out of their rooms. This is unfortunate and will happen from time to time. You can safeguard theft by locking your doors and keeping your doors closed when you are in your rooms. It is also important to minimize bringing unnecessary expensive items on trips. Try to travel with only the bare necessities especially when you are travelling to wrestle in a camp or competition.
In 2005, I travelled to Bulgaria and Greece for the World University Championships with about 3 bags. Well, only 1 bag made it to Greece and Bulgaria for the WUC tournament. The hosts ended up giving me clothes to wear after about 3 days of me wearing the same clothes. I think my bags arrived on day 7 or the day before we left...
The lesson that was taught and learned was: travel lightly and bring several days worth of clothing in your carry on bag. Generally, I explain to athletes to bring all of their wrestling competition gear (shoes, singlets, etc.) plus weight cutting gear and several days of clothes on the plane with them. This strategy is also employed via domestic travel too. To review, it is important to pack lightlyand bring the aforementioned essentials on the plane with you.
Since 2004, I've coached female teams and here are some other safety tips perhaps for males and females. Travel in groups of 3 or more especially in the evenings. Let your coach know where your group is travelling to if you are 18 or older or be accompanied by your coach or team leader if you are a minor. Be mindful that you are a guest in the host country and respect the host as if they are the host and act like a responsible/accountable guest. Remember what your goal for this trip is and that you represent your self, your family, your school, and your country.
Other goals for travelling abroad could be to educate your self and the masses back in the States. By this, I mean you, I, or anybody could write stories, take pictures, shoot videos, and post them to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or even Themat.com. In recent years, social networking has turned into social media. Nowadays, most folks travel and show the world their new world via pictures. I encourage folks to also write about their experiences to help others along the way and also to inspire everyone to do great things.
One of the most important ideas for me is to have an open mind regarding just about everything. The food will be different. The internet will be different. The culture will be different. The language will be different. The officiating will be different. The wrestling will be different. If you mentally prepare yourself for most differences in life, you may reach peace of mind sooner than later, and, on the way --> enjoy lifes great journey...