A Derby Skater Abroad: International Derby Travel Tips

Meryl Slaughterburgh - Detroit Derby Girls

As a member of an A-level travel team (and an academic), I travel several times throughout any given year. I have been fortunate enough to add “international” travel to my already growing checklist of “national” travel locations for derby, as my league had the privilege of competing in Anarchy in the UK in April 2014. As the derby community expands globally, there are greater opportunities for skaters to travel outside of their hometown regions to play—and to recognize the ever-growing skill and prominence of non-North American leagues. Based on my experiences, I have come up with several international traveling tips for derby folk.

Be a good sport. The #1 rule of derby especially applies when you’re not on your home track. You are representing your league and yourself to the greater world at large. Be a good derby ambassador. Leave your mark (in a good way!). Something I always try to do is support the local derby economy by buying other teams’ merch. If it’s possible, bring some merch with you, because people will ask for it.

Take care of your travel accommodations early. Prices for airfare go up fairly quickly. In my league’s experience, having individual skaters book airfare with league reimbursement is a cheaper route than group bookings. Try to fly with at least one other buddy, especially if this is your first international trip (or the first time ever on a plane!). Renewing/getting a passport or other forms of identification should be done in advance to avoid expedited service fees (and frantic texts from your captains asking if your passport came in the mail yet).

Do your research. Usually for tournaments, the host league will provide a welcome packet that includes information on nearby landmarks, things to do, and other helpful information—but don’t limit yourself to this. Get a sense of the general area. That way, you avoid racing to the nearest corner store to find a converter plug that will fit your electronic devices, and the awkward question of “what do we tip?” when dining out. Take some time getting familiar with the foreign currency so you avoid being the neophyte who helplessly holds out a pile of coins to a cashier.

Check in with your wallet. Before you leave, call your bank/credit union and let them know the dates that you will be away and where, so that they know not to put a hold on your account when there’s a charge from Amsterdam. It is much easier (and cheaper) to take currency out of an ATM (just make sure that your card will cooperate). Avoid roaming charges on your phone! Skype or Viber are free messaging/calling services, provided the area has Wi-Fi (something else to check when doing your research, especially if you have to deal with work/league business while away).

Pack conservatively. What are the essentials that you will need for a derby trip? Be aware that some airlines also have a weight requirement for luggage. There’s always a joke on my team that you wear the same clothes the whole time for a tournament weekend, especially when packing for air travel—you end up wearing the jersey you didn’t wear for a game that weekend just because it’s the only clean thing you have left. You can always do laundry in the bathtub/sink if it’s that bad.

I cannot stress this enough: ALWAYS TAKE YOUR GEAR IN A CARRY-ON. DON’T PACK ANY TOOLS IN YOUR CARRY-ON THAT AIRPORT SECURITY WILL THINK THAT YOU CAN TAKE APART THE PLANE WITH. Because they will take them away from you, and you’ll be out a bearing press. (Although derby stank is something generally to avoid, it does make for a humorous moment later when airport security tells you to just leave now because your open bag smells terrible.) Finally, bring all of your wheels. Even if you know what type of floor you will be skating on, be prepared for any changes. If you’re at a tournament with a vendor village, you may be lucky enough to buy a new set of wheels/bearings/gear, but don’t count on it. Running around in a panic on game day is not a fun experience.

Reduce jet lag. When you arrive at your destination, get on the new time zone schedule right away. Even if this means staying up and dragging yourself around the first day.

Stay active—think outside of the box. How do you stay physically active while staying in a hostel, let’s say? Use your surroundings. Find a parking lot and do some agility. Go for a light jog in a nearby park. Do a small circuit in your room (provided you have space and a roommate that won’t care). Do footwork exercises on a set of stairs. If you are roaming around as a tourist the first day, the amount of walking may be enough to keep the blood flowing (especially when in Edinburgh, with its numerous hills and steep stairs while carrying a 26 lb. duffel bag on your back). Remember to be safe and to stay with buddies.

Stay fueled. If you are lucky enough to have fridge access (or devise a makeshift cooler), finding a grocery/farmer’s market and buying food there is easier on the wallet and the stomach than dining out every single day. Look for fruit, veggies, proteins, and carbs, and keep pounding the water. Trying brand new foods abroad is something you should save for after you play, as you never know how certain foods will affect you. If you’re worried you might not be able to find your favorite brand of whatever helps fuel you for games (I myself am very picky), pack it with you.

Be a tourist if you can. This naturally depends upon schedule and finances, but try to at least do one touristy thing while you’re abroad (the afterparty doesn’t count). Take photos and videos, but don’t forget to just enjoy the experience. Some things you can’t take back with you in pixel form.

Enjoy it! Chances for huge trips such as Anarchy may come along once in your derby career, so take advantage of it! Playing against such high level teams in a new place was a treat. You might also learn some things to take back with you from international teams.

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For jetlag, set your watch/phone to the timezone you are heading to when you get on the plane, and try to get into those eating/sleeping rhythms right away, rather than waiting till you land. It's like a whole extra day to adjust on a really long haul. :)