When my husband and I were engaged, we had not done much traveling beyond roadtripping with together and with friends, and so one of the first things we did was find a great travel agent and new passports. We both loved boats, blue water, and beach life, and so we knew we wanted a cruise to be our honeymoon destination, but there are so many ways to go wrong with a cruise. Luckily, we found one of the most useful professional relationships we’ve made as a couple (handyman, therapist, housekeeper, assistant and travel agent are important)! Robin, our agent, has given us lots of advice about traveling to new localities, which is great because the amount of information out there on the Internet is SO VAST. But we have found ways to streamline it, and a big chunk of that is breaking our trips down into categories and creating loose itineraries each time we go. I research everything on the internet before our trip, though, and since I am traveling with children in the city, we have a hard and steadfast rule that keeps me from overtiring myself before a race and keeps them from losing their patience. But when I am need ideas for things to do I can go to Robin, and she always sets us up with quality lodging with good places to eat and a relaxing, affordable flight so that stress is taken care of. Over the years, I have learned new things about traveling as a swimmer and a mother and traveling with a “work from the hotel” partner (which is thankfully something he can do, while I take the kids and explore, so he doesn’t have to take the full day off while we are out of town). Family trips are fun, but when you are adding in racing as part of the purpose, you have to be mindful of your goals and make sure you eat well, stay rested, don’t stress, and pick destinations your family will enjoy also.
Our Four-Block Rule
Wherever we are going, we have the 4-Block Rule, since we are exploring cities with children and I am resting up for my races. If where we want to be is 4 or fewer blocks from where we are, we walk it. (Good walking shoes are a must!) Sometimes we have a day where we walk 3 blocks, then go from there to get lunch 3 blocks away, and then see another sight 4 blocks away. So at the end of the day, we might find ourselves 10 blocks from the hotel (give or take). I know we could walk it home, and maybe stop to eat along the way, but we end up tired and whiney when we do that. So we take a cab back to the hotel, breathe, and then plan our evening, whether it’s room service and relaxing in the hot tub or eating near the hotel. Anything 5 or more blocks we drive or take a cab, and I allow for this in my traveling budget. Herding children through an unfamiliar public transportation system is a learning experience, but not fun with little ones, and I can’t strap mine into strollers while I read a subway map. If we are staying outside the city and have to take the train in, I have all that info ready when I get off at the beginning of the day in a central location for our explorations. That way I can find my way back to our train easily and we’re resting at the hotel before I have a meltdown. I never plan to eat dinner far from the hotel. I find my way back and then use the 4 block rule or order from OrderUp or GrubHub (the hotel will recommend a service, go with their recommendation!), or room service. Local food exploration is best, I think, in the middle of the day or an early dinner when people are not crabby for food!
Familiarize Yourself With Destination Swims
Often these races that I am traveling to compete in are swimming areas I am completely unfamiliar with! I live in a landlocked area with shallow, muddy lakes for my open-water swimming training. I register to swim in local races as much as I can to get used to race day scenarios, but I have to research the conditions of the races from former participants online and friends who swim open-water. I have to practice for different conditions, such as chop, channels (swimmers find themselves having to sprint in their distance events to cross currents), or undertows. Usually I like to arrive a few days before the race and check out the site and get a feel for the weather, and this is a good time to do the easy sightseeing. But don’t climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty the day before or the day after the big swim!! Depending on the length of your stay, it’s often nice to leave one or two things you didn’t get a chance to do, in case you come back and do that swim again. A big city like San Francisco or Knoxville isn’t going to run out of things to do, but you might decide you really like a spot and come back to swim year after year. I try to make the day before and the day after the most restful, and post-race is the best day to focus on feasting on local flavors and famous food stops! (Such as Big Shoulders Smokehouse—one of the best things about swimming a September 5K in Chicago)!
Favorite Family Destinations (US)
We have friends in Westchester County, NY, so we love going to see them. The children loved the audiotour of the Empire State Building. For eighty-eight floors they listened to it and read every fact about the engineering and history of this beautiful building! We went in January. When we finally got to the observation level, we tried to take a selfie. This came out as a series of the girls screaming at me to take them back inside and wind whipping our long hair everywhere!! Then another tourist tried to take our picture, and they still cried to go inside. These were great pictures to post to my Facebook that day to document our trip. The next day it snowed (by our southern standards I would call it a blizzard). For years they’ve talked about the Empire State Building, and it really spur on interest in engineering and architecture. We stayed inside most of the rest of the afternoon, in FAO Schwartz, looking at the Muppet Factory and Legos and the Big Piano, which was so hard to leave, so we are sad that this treasure is gone.
The first swim I did there was my first destination, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This swim was the Swim for Life, upriver from the Tappen Zee Bridge on the Hudson River. This was a great swim, but because of bridge repairs they have changed the course. There is now a swim in the same area that can be swam as a relay or marathon, called Eight Bridges. This is a popular and fun swim that many swimmers choose to be part of year after year. This year I will be taking the family to do the Lady Liberty Sharkfest Swim 1.5 mile swim, and we want to visit the Statue of Liberty, where I have not been since middle school! There are no limits to the number of tourist sights in New York, and you could go year after year and do a different section of Eight Bridges, or work up to the whole thing, or participate in the numerous swims a train ride away in New Jersey, Connecticut, or travel upstate for the Lake George Marathon Swim towards the end of the summer (but too early for the leaves to change)! Lake George was a big destination back in the day, and has been going through a revival lately as a mountain getaway, tucked nicely in the Catskill Mountains. But New York is definitely a must see, must do excursion for all families—so much history and opportunities for education, fun and experiences! Not to mention zoos, theater, professional sporting events, activities in Central Park… the list goes on for days. The swims here, though, are mostly June-September. They make up for the brevity of their outdoors season with the quantity of events!
Favorite places we’ve taken kids: Charlotte, Chicago, Charleston, NY, Washington, Philly
What they liked the most (Discovery Place IMAX, Please Touch, Empire State Building, Chicago Science Museum, Angel Oak, Smithsonian Mall)
Races I loved (Swim For Life, Big Shoulders)
Where to next? Oregon, Boston, Lake George, Great Salt Lake