What To Pack When You Have to Fly

Photo courtesy of www.theconnectivist.com
Photo courtesy of www.theconnectivist.com

A while ago, I wrote a post on packing for tournaments. The focus was on tournaments you can drive to, but when you have to fly, things are a bit trickier.

Here are a few tips I can share from my son’s experiences. Each airline treats carry-on bags a bit differently, so you might want to check with your specific airline about what’s allowed.

  • Carry your racquet bag onto the plane with you. Hold your ground on this one! Put your racquets, string, towel, grips, shoes, socks, and a couple of changes of clothes in there along with any toiletries (extra contacts, medicines, etc.) that you will need in case your checked luggage doesn’t make it to your final destination.
  • Arrange ahead of time to board the plane early to ensure there is space in the overhead bin for your racquet bag. While my son has been hassled a couple of times by gate agents and flight attendants, most of the time they don’t say a word, and he finds a safe spot for his bag during the flight.
  • If you use a powdered drink mix on the court, pack some in a ziploc to bring on the plane with you, but be sure to include the label so there is no question about what the mix contains! Especially if you’re travelling overseas, the customs agents don’t take too kindly to random powdered substances!
  • Plan to go to the grocery store once you arrive at your destination to stock up on bottled water, sports drinks, an inexpensive cooler or water jug, sunscreen, and snacks. There’s no point in weighing down your luggage with that stuff when it’s just as easy to buy it on the back end. Yes, you may end up leaving some of the items instead of lugging them back home, but I promise you it’s worth it. Wherever you’re playing your matches, there is likely another player that will be happy to take your leftovers and extra jug or cooler off your hands.
  • In terms of whether to take your racquets already strung or to string them once you arrive, if you’re taking them on the plane with you, the tension shouldn’t be noticeably affected. If you think the airline will make you check your racquets, then you may need to re-string once you arrive due to the changes in air pressure.
  • Be sure to print out draws and all pertinent tournament information (including driving directions and hotel confirmation) before leaving home. You never know how your internet connection will be, and it’s best just to have those details on hand just in case.
  • Lately, I’ve been packing the video camera and fence mount in my suitcase, too. I like having the option to record my son’s matches, especially now that he’s at the stage where he’s sending clips to college coaches.
  • Coach Marc Lucero tweeted to me that players also need to be sure to pick up a couple of big bottles of water once they’re through security to drink during the flight to help prevent dehydration.

What am I leaving off the list? Please feel free to add to it in the Comments below.

Note: Coach Allistair McCaw shares some good tips for handling jet lag in this article: How To Handle the Jet Lag


7 Comments on “What To Pack When You Have to Fly”

  1. A player traveling to a tournament by plane is a serious player, and serious players carry large racquet bags (capable of holding 15 racquets and a lot of gear). This size of bag cannot be carried on and must be checked on any airline. Get a racquet “bag” that is just for racquets and use this to carry-on the racquets. Don’t ever check your racquets – big mistake.

  2. Those are some great suggestions, Lisa. What we have also found are the following ideas:

    1. We take the racquets out of the big bag, put them in a small nylon bag, and my daughter carries that on. I scrunch up the big bag, double it over, and carry out under my arm. No one then says anything.

    2. Since we are out of town, we look up a tennis court finder on the internet to find practice courts. Yes, you can get some ideas from the tournament director, but he is giving everyone that same list. Warming up on our own court away from everyone is peaceful right before a match.

    3.At the hotel, ask them for their quietest room. Often then they’ll put you away from e.g. the loud softball team and their louder parents, so you can get a good night’s rest.

    4.Get a loaf of bread, meat, and cheese, for those lunches/dinners where you are just too tired to get another eat-out meal.

    5.Do something other than tennis on this trip. Go to Georgia Aquarium, or the CNN tour, or something fun after the tournament. If you don’t, and your child has a crummy tournament, it will entirely be a negative mindset about the entire expensive trip. Adding in a fun place at the end also puts tennis into perspective, which is crucial.

    6. When you get to the rental car counter, immediately tell them upfront, before they start their sales pitch about insurance and gas, ‘I’ll do my own gas and insurance (presuming this is what you want to do). Say it authoritatively. This stops them from going on and on, wasting your time and theirs, and you can get going.

  3. Great suggestion from Judy about doing something beside tennis.
    For example, in Little Rock, you can visit Bill Clinton’s library.
    Adds something to the history class back in school.

    Also, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t always go away for the Thanksgiving Day tournament. Spend one or two with the big family and have Thanksgiving dinner.
    We didn’t do this enough, and now that some of the relatives have passed
    ( parents, uncles, aunts,), I really regret that.

  4. If they don’t let you take your racketbag on the plane take your rackets out and put them in the overhead bin. You can never check your bag and they have to let you bring the rackets with you. Thanks for the tips!

  5. When approaching the ticket agent have the child with the tennis bag on face them. No profile looks, the bag looks too big. Has never failed.

  6. 12 years of flying for Junior tournaments with three kids and 99% of the time we check the racquet bag. More so after 9-11 with the restrictions. TSA made one parent go back to the gate on a trip I was on. But for us, it normally its because of other things that we have to carry on… To keep up with schoolwork, my daughter usually has her laptop in a bag or purse and her book bag filled to the brim as her second. For me to keep up with work, I usually have my laptop/work bag and then our camera bag.
    There is usually enough stuff in our racquet bag that there isn’t an easy way to ‘slim it down’ by taking racquets out. Plus we’ll have 7 racquets usually for a week trip and she’ll go thru 5 of them at least.
    College teams will usually check there racquets.
    I think pressure affecting a stringing job is a myth. I’d be more worried about temperature, but a string guys that I talked to didn’t seem to think being in cargo would really affect a stringing job.

    I really do get the paranoia of not wanting to check racquets though….

    As far as tips, I agree with the ‘try to do something other than tennis’ on trips… Also for the holiday ones (Thanksgiving / Christmas), we usually always tried to go as a family. Even driving longer distances over flying to make it affordable for the family to be together. But if you are going to be on the road on a holiday, make sure you find a place to eat ahead of time. Sometimes Tournament Directors will help out if you ask for something local (esp on Thanksgiving).

    But my big advice is, don’t spend a penny without getting points for it. I keep a business card holder for all my loyalty program cards. If there is a loyalty program and it’s free, I have it. Points here and there add up to free rooms/flights/etc. And I save those for the more expensive places when hotel rooms or flights just aren’t cheap no matter what. Also those points will earn you elite status and that gets you other benefits, like free breakfast, access to concierge lounge, free Wi-Fi, etc (esp when you end up at hotel that doesn’t offer it for free). If you priceline, still offer your loyalty card when you check in and ask them to enter anyways. You aren’t supposed to get points when you bid on priceline, but sometimes you do, sometimes you get the nights credit towards elite status and sometimes you still get the benefit of your elite status even though you don’t get points. I remember pricelining a room for $42/night (that was going for over a $100) and got the DoubleTree. The breakfast would have been $15 / person and $10/day internet access. My Hilton honors status got the breakfast / internet for free. Nothing worse than getting the room for $42 / night and then paying $40 / day for breakfast and internet.

    Heck, I’m even getting free stuff and $ off at Panera now with their card.

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