A Short Guide to Racing Internationally
Racing internationally is the only way to vacation, if you ask us. It allows you a unique vantage point into a new place that comes with running through the streets, swimming in the water, and feeling the wind on your face as you bike. Racing builds camaraderie with your foreign competitors, showing that you have more in common than you might think. You’ll build a bond with new friends that will not soon be forgotten.
But we understand that the whole idea of racing internationally might be daunting, so we’ve put together a short guide with a few things to help you think it through. Oh, and we’ve also built a business modeled on helping you execute your racing vacation.
Selecting the Race. Choosing the right place and right race should be one of your first considerations. We love to try races recommended by friends in countries we’ve been to, but are also always up for tackling a race we’ve been looking to visit as a reason to visit. We generally like to stay away from name brand races in favor of smaller outfits, such as Croatia’s Marco Polo Challenge Triathlon Festival organized by the Split Triathlon Club. Smaller outfits seem to be more about celebrating the sport than cashing in on your love of racing.
If you’re traveling to a new place, we strongly recommend getting to know the local culture. If we have a few days to spare, we’ll often book a local guide to show us the best spots. Depending on your travel style, you may not need a guide the whole time, but they often know the best spots – the kind you won’t find in your Lonely Planet.
Learning a few phrases of the local language is a great way to show respect for your host country’s culture and serve as an icebreaker when interacting with the locals. If you’re off the beaten path, it’s also a good idea to assume that you might not encounter many English speakers – if that’s the case, we highly recommend bringing a phrase book and keeping the phone number to your country’s embassy or consulate handy.
Understanding the cultural customs might also be useful in helping your communication with locals flow more easily. For example, in Bulgaria, shaking your head side to side indicates agreement, whereas in the United States, such a move indicates disagreement. In Poland, for example, if a friend looks at you and taps the side of their neck, it’s not threatening – they are likely inviting you for a drink, and probably not just one!
Travel with a group: Of course, we think group trips to do races is the best way to go, but in all honesty, traveling with a group is also a bit safer and way more fun. We love comparing notes and having someone to help us tell the stories afterwards.
The Real Challenge – Logistics
It’s not as hard to pull these trips off as you might think, but it does require some research and local knowledge – lots of experience racing, living, and travelling abroad also doesn’t hurt.
First things first – get your travel documents straight. You’ll need a passport, which should be sufficient to enter countries you’d want to go to, but sometimes you might need a tourist visa. American citizens can check the State Department’s web page for more info.
Second, figure out how you’re getting there and where you’re staying. Don’t forget to plan for the airport to hotel transfer – this is a point when many tourists are susceptible to predatory practices. Many hotels offer an airport pickup option and you can often pre-arrange a taxi or private car pickup. When I’m feeling adventurous, I also like to give public transportation a shot; this is where that language phrasebook would really come in handy!
Money matters. Don’t get ripped off by unnecessary fees and ridiculous exchange rates. There are many credit cards that offer zero international transaction fees and reimburse ATM fees. I do recommend withdrawing local currency from ATMs instead of bringing lots of cash – they often offer good exchange rates (stick to major banks and non-airport ATMs if you can). Of note, when traveling with Open World Racing, you probably won’t need much cash because we take care of most of the things you’ll need so you can relax and enjoy the trip.
Registering for the race can be a challenge if the material is not available in English or if the race payment system is complicated. We’ve found that some European outfits require bank transfers for race payments instead of credit cards, which complicates registration. We’ve negotiated day-of-race cash payments in some situations and figured out other ways to prepay.
For websites that aren’t in English, you can always Google Translate the website or reach out to the race organizers directly. They will often have someone who can provide guidance to you in English. If that fails, you can work with a local tour guide to facilitate your registration or contact Open World Racing to see if we have a trip already planned to your chosen destination.
Internet: You might have to live without a good connection to the internet depending on how remote your destination is, but I’ve found that most cell phone plans have an international option, some more expensive than others. AT&T has great service abroad, but charges a hefty per day fee. Some of T-Mobile’s plans include free international service. I’d recommend figuring out what your service provider offers before you get on the plane.
What do I do for equipment? This is the million dollar question, the answer to which will vary heavily based on your location. We’ve found that most European destinations will have high-quality rental equipment such as road bikes readily available to rent – we have even worked with some suppliers to make sure that bicycles for our travelers are properly sized and equipped with the appropriate pedal clips upon pickup.
Adventure Gear: It’s a good idea to bring your own wetsuit and other personal equipment that is easy to transport. We also recommend bringing hiking boots and other weather appropriate gear to help you venture out into more scenic areas beyond the urban areas that often host race events.
Camera: A good camera is worth the investment, if you ask us – a high-quality image can decorate your home and remind you of the wonderful time you had. If you don’t want to invest in an expensive camera, iPhones are pretty good these days or you could rent a set of equipment – I’m in love with this site and plan to rent a few things before our next trip.
Safety and Wellbeing
Going to a beautiful faraway destination to compete in your dream race is not worth it if you don’t come back. We strongly recommend taking a few precautionary and common sense steps to minimize your risk.
Emergency Contact: Designate a trusted friend or loved one to serve as your emergency contact – someone who can help make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated or out of reach. You should register with your home country’s embassy or consulate before traveling. This is increasingly important if you go to a more remote location. U.S. citizens can register here.
Immunization: Check to see what immunizations you might need and other basic health information about your destination. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has a great tool for this.
Staying Healthy: There are a few things you can do to stay healthy while travelling. We recommend exercising common sense when choosing which foods to eat and water to drink. I like to bring a water filter to help remove chemicals, microorganisms, particles, and bad taste – I use the Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter, but there are a number of different types to choose from. I also recommend keeping a first aid kit handy. Depending on the type you choose, it could help you ease the pain of a burn, splint a broken limb, wrap a twisted ankle, or fight an infection if you are scraped or cut.
You should also consider the altitude at which you will be competing and plan to arrive in time to acclimatize. Although the research on exactly how altitude affects endurance athletes seems to be limited, it is true that oxygen is more scarce at higher altitudes and athletes have been known to show symptoms of “mountain sickness” when not properly acclimatized. Symptoms can include headaches, nausea, poor sleeping, and fatigue. We are arriving a full six days prior to our race in Colombia this summer to help our adventurers properly acclimatize.
Emergency Evacuation: It is highly unlikely you will be seriously injured on a trip, but we strongly recommend taking out a travel insurance plan with medical evacuation coverage just in case. Travel insurance is required for Open World Racing participants. There are a number of high-quality and affordable providers such as World Nomads that cover endurance races and lots of other adventure activities. We’ve never had to test one, but will be sure to let you know the outcome if we do.
Caring for the Environment: There is an inherent contradiction in being a world traveler while remaining globally and environmentally conscious, we get that. That’s why Open World Racing strives to mitigate our carbon footprint and leave a positive mark on the places we visit through small environmental and other service projects. We think that by helping to broaden our horizons and nourishing our adventurers’ global consciousness, we can leave a lasting positive impact. We’ll try to minimize the waste on our trips, give back to the communities we visit, and leave a little more aware of the beauty that we have been lucky enough to experience.
This short guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list of travel and racing considerations, but rather, a short summary of things we’ve learned through a lifetime of traveling and living abroad and taking groups on racing destination trips. We encourage you to get out there and explore, whether it’s with Open World Racing or on your own.