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5 Tips for International Climbing Travel

Pro climber and frequent flier Heidi Wirtz shares five tips for long airplane rides.

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Kalymnos Greece Rock Climbing Travel Sport
The beautiful coastal seaside climbing of Kalymnos, Greece. Photo: Josh Montague/Flickr; CC BY-ND 2.0

Exploring an international climbing area is exciting: unique rocks, new landscapes, and different cultures. The not-so-exciting part? Flying there in a cramped airplane on that interminable 10-plus-hour ride. Heidi Wirtz is a pro climber and frequent flier who travels the globe on climbing adventures; she also leads yoga-and-climbing retreats to destinations like Kalymnos, Greece, through her company Earth Play Retreats. Here, Wirtz, our instructor for Climbing’s Yoga for Climbers online course, offers some tips on how to make your next international trip as efficient and comfortable as possible.

1. Pack light

Avoid extra charges by paring your clothes and gear down to two bags, if possible: one carry-on and one checked bag. On many airlines, bags over 50 pounds are charged extra. “Especially within Europe, you want to keep it down to one checked bag, if possible, and one carry-on,” says Wirtz.

2. Know what to check, and what to carry on

“[Travel security officials] get a little bit weird about trad gear sometimes,” says Wirtz. So, she usually checks her trad rack. Typically, most climbing gear is fine as carry-on luggage, including climbing shoes, chalk bags, helmets, and harnesses. Crashpads can usually fly as checked baggage. If you’re ever unsure, Wirtz recommends calling the airline first.

3. Seal liquids

Products like lotions and shampoo can explode or leak in checked baggage. Wirtz takes the cap off the bottles of such liquids, covers the opening with a piece of plastic, and then screws the cap back on. She also packages these items in a large Ziploc bag.

4. Beat jet lag

Spain’s steep limestone routes will be extra hard if your body thinks it’s bedtime when it’s actually “send time.” Before leaving her home in Colorado, Wirtz considers the time at her destination and decides whether or not she should sleep on the plane. If it’s daytime at her destination during the flight, for example, she tries to avoid sleeping on the plane. Wirtz isn’t personally a fan of sleep aids, but says many people take them strategically to sync up to new time zones.

5. Request your in-flight meal ahead of time. 

Wirtz says that you can request alternative meals to better suit your tastes or dietary restrictions ahead of time through the airline’s website. “Pasta and cream sauce isn’t really my thing, which is what they serve on all the flights,” she says. Wirtz says you can instead request different cuisines and other options, like meat- or dairy-free.

Get flexible and focused after a stressful flight with Heidi’s Yoga for Climbers online course.