International Race Series: Travel Logistics

In my series of posts about International Races I aim to share some of the lessons I've learned while trying to run a marathon on all 7 continents.

In the first post of the series, we talked about how to choose a race. Once you've chosen a race, it is time to book your travel!

DIY or a Professional?
The first decision to make is if you are going to book your trip yourself or use a professional, like a travel agent. What you decide may vary from race to race.

When it comes to DIY or using a professional it all comes down to TIME and EXPERIENCE. I travel a lot for work so I am fairly adept at putting together a trip. But, if you are either short of time for planning, or your head starts to spin when you try to navigate airline websites, it might make sense to outsource to a professional.
Only one way into this race!

For me the deciding factor is race entry. There are some races that you can only get into, or have a much better chance of getting in, if you use a specific travel company. For example, the Antarctica Marathon is organized by Marathon Tours. In order to run the race, you must book the trip with them. They were also able to guarantee my entry into the Tokyo marathon if I booked the trip with them.

If you have a very specific race you want to run, and it can be difficult to get into, it may be well worth it to use a travel company to book your trip.

Alone or With a Group?
It is also important to decide if you want to travel by yourself or as part of an organized group. For me, I make this decision based on COMFORT LEVEL, TIME, and EASE OF TRAVEL.

I am an experienced traveler, but there are still places that I prefer to have a guide for some of the trip.  I know absolutely no Japanese and that Tokyo is a huge, busy city. I decided I would be more comfortable having a travel guide and being part of group. In Rome on the other hand, I was good being on my own. I had lived in Italy for a year in college and speak fairly fluent Italian.

You can never see the Trevi fountain too many times
The other reason I used a tour company for Japan is that I don't have a lot of time there. I want to see as much as possible. Their experienced guides arranged an itinerary meant to maximize our time. I won't spend any time getting lost like I might on my own!

There was only 1 way to get to Antarctica
Finally, some countries are easier to navigate than others. Some have great public transportation that is safe and reliable. Or, it is easy and safe to rent a car. But, if it isn't that easy to get around on your own, it is worth it to be tour company that will quickly and easily get you where you need to be!

When to Travel?
Ideally we could all travel to our race destination well in advance of the event in order to adjust to the new environment and still have time to stay after an enjoy the sights. In reality though, most of us can't take a month off for a race!

What I have found works best for me is to arrive 3 days before the race and then stay as long after as possible.

Leaving a buffer of at least 2 days before the race leaves room for potential travel delays. Travel delays are frequent, but they are a lot less stressful if you aren't worried about missing the race. Our flight was cancelled on the way to Chile and we were stuck in Texas for the night. But, we still had a buffer before the race, so all was okay! This also leaves time to adjust somewhat to the new time zone and climate. If there is going to be a significant time change, I start adjusting my sleep schedule in the week before.

I don't like to get there too soon before the race, because I want to save the bulk of my tourist time for after the race. Before the race I am too worried about spending too much time on feet, eating something strange that will make me sick, staying up to late, etc. After the race I can really cut loose and enjoy the trip.
post race Pisco Sours in Chile
Other Assorted Advice
Keep tracking airfare and hotel prices even after you've booked. If they drop significantly, you can get a refund to the new lower rate!
Apply for your Passport waaaay before you think you'll need it!
Make 2 copies of your passport, leave one at home with a family member or friend and bring the other with you, but keep it separate from your actual passport!
If using a travel company do some research to make sure they are reputable and have high satisfaction rates.