After staying home due to Covid restrictions for the last two years, many gyms are eager to embrace a wider pool of competition at travel meets, and destination travel meets are more than ready to welcome gymnasts back. Still, it’s been impossible to miss recent news stories about delayed or cancelled flights that have left travelers stranded, and the current pilot shortage, combined with an increase in airline and hotel prices, has left some parents wondering this all means for the upcoming meet season.
Travel meets are on, and they’re filling up
Cindy Scharns, Owner of Branch Gymnastics and Meet Coordinator for the Atlantis Crown Gymnastics Invitational in the Bahamas, says that currently registration is close to pre-Covid numbers.
“Last year we were at sixty percent registration, and we were very pleased given the travel restrictions,” says Scharns. “Now at this point, we’re on pace to see numbers back to where they were pre-Covid. We have clubs registering from overseas, from Canada, and all across the US, including California.”
Tim Keckler, who has been the Meet Director of the Gasparilla Classic for the last thirty-four years, is also seeing strong interest in registration, including teams across the United States and international teams.
“We usually have about twenty international teams attending the meet, but none of them came during Covid,” says Keckler. “This year we are getting much more of a response again from the international teams.”
Several months out from the meet, Keckler reports that the hotel closest to the meet venue, the Tropicana Field, has already fully booked.
With travel meets moving full steam ahead, how can you plan for the best and smoothest experience?
- Keckler recommends booking your hotel well in advance but holding off until closer to the meet to book flights. “You can always cancel your hotel if you need to, just be sure to check in advance to make sure there isn’t a penalty for cancelling,” he says. “Airlines often charge more if you book really far ahead.”
- Shop around for flights. Scharns travels frequently for work and says she often finds the best deals through Travelocity.
- Book direct flights whenever possible to help reduce the chance that one leg of your trip may be delayed or cancelled.
- If you do have a connecting flight, try to leave extra time for the layover in case your first flight is delayed. While at one point you may have been able to get away with just an hour layover in between flights, giving yourself two to three hours between connections is the safest plan.
- Fly early in the day. Early flights are less likely to be delayed or cancelled and leave you with more time to rebook the same day if your flight is cancelled.
- Plan to fly at least one full day before your gymnast is going to compete. The last thing you want is to have your evening flight before a morning session cancelled and have your gymnast miss the meet.
- Get to the airport at least two hours early. Staff shortages have meant even longer lines for airline check-in, baggage drop off, and security.
- Consider driving. In previous years, you might have chosen to skip a five- or six-hour drive in favor of flying, but this may be the year to pack up the car and road trip if feasible.
- Pack everything your gymnast needs for competition—leo, warm ups, grips, gym bag, etc. in your carry-on just in case your baggage doesn’t make it to the airport. You don’t want get to your destination only to have your gymnast arrive without the things he or she needs to compete. Even better—skip checking bags altogether and try to fit everything in your carry-on bags making missing baggage one less thing to worry about.
- Most large meets offer discounted rooms at local hotels, and some offer discounts on certain airlines. This is definitely the year to take advantage of those deals.
- Renting a house or condo with some other gym families may be less expensive than staying in a hotel. Check out www.airbnb.com or www.vrbo.com to look for rentals.
- Check back frequently on the travel meet’s web page for any changes or updated information. Scharns provides travelers with a Fast Facts sheet, which details all of the information they need to have the best experience at this destination meet.
Once you’ve arrived
- Plan out how you’ll get to the meet venue. For large travel meets, particularly in a popular tourist destination, Ubers and cabs can fill up quickly and you don’t want to run the risk of getting to the venue late.
- Prioritize the competition. My daughter’s coaches always remind them that a travel meet is, “a business trip”. Doing things like spending all day walking around in the hot sun at an amusement park isn’t the best way to prepare for a competition, and Meet Director Keckler has seen his fair share of athletes competing with a bad sunburn, which can’t be any fun. Plan most of your destination adventures for after your athlete has competed.
- Check with your coaches about any travel rules they may have for their athletes. For example, many coaches do not want their gymnasts to swim in the days leading up to competition because it can lead to softer hands and a greater chance of ripping on bars.
Travel meets are often the highlight of a gymnast’s season, and with the right planning and preparation this year’s travel meet may be the best one yet!
Jen Kula is a Massachusetts based writer, and mom to two gymnasts. She has published one novel, has worked for several magazines and websites including; MetroSports Boston magazine, Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoors Magazine, and Babyzone.com, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.