You’re checked in, your bags are packed and you are ready to hop on a plane tomorrow to get out of town to disconnect from normal life for a bit. But what may set you apart from Marge in seat 5C is that within your luggage, in addition to the perfect menu of eight-ounce travel shampoos, you managed to fit your BJJ gi and belt. But traveling and training can be a challenge especially when traveling internationally. Having done this a few times, there are a few tips that I always use to make sure that training is as simple and straightforward as possible:
1. Pre-socialize: At least a week prior to your visit, search for places to train on social media, but then go the extra mile and reach out to the gym through their social media platforms. Gyms change schedules very frequently, close due to local holidays/customs, or close due to instructors being out of town. A few times when I failed to do this, I ended up driving down a dirt road to some obscure neighborhood because I was sure that the gym was there, only to find out that the gym had closed months ago but never updated their social media or Google maps listing. Messaging ahead of time lets the professor know that you’ll be there which may even get him/her to bring in more people that day for your benefit.
2. Learn the lingo: BJJ in itself is a language, however, learning some basic phrases will help you immensely. First and foremost, learning how to say “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” will help cab drivers get you to the right spot when you get lost. BJJ has grown enough where if you’re lost but know you’re in the right area, you should be able to figure out the final stretch by asking some of the locals just by saying that. Beyond that, during any travel it’s useful to know at least four simple phrases: Hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. Trying your best to hit those four phrases in as convincing an accent as possible anywhere you go will get you a million times further than not attempting to communicate in the language of the locals.
3. Act like a local: In addition to learning some of the local phrases, there are a few things that will help you merge into the local culture. Carrying some local currency when you show up will ensure that if there is a mat fee you’re not stuck negotiating exchange rates (most of the time, gyms will waive the fees for you, but it always ends up being awkward if they do it just because you don’t have enough money). Local currency always helps if the gym’s crew wants to go out for dinner or drinks afterwards. Different countries also use differing phone apps to communicate, pay each other and navigate. Load Whatsapp, Waze and the various payment apps on your phone before travelling so that you don’t get nailed with ridiculous data charges while frantically trying to get around a city that Google Maps hasn’t figured out.
4. Clean up your act: Bringing something as simple as a large plastic grocery bag to stash your gi in after training can mean a world of difference in keeping the rest of your luggage stank free. Packing hangers to hang your gi up in your hotel/hostel/AirBNB can also save the day. If the place you’re staying doesn’t have laundry facilities, search out a laundromat before the trip (and you remembered that local currency from above for the laundromat right?). Aside from this, bringing the basics like nail clippers, athletic tape and anti-bacterial soap (having Lamisil never hurts too) goes without saying.
5. Dial back the hulk: This is strictly a matter of opinion, but whenever I go to a new gym, I dial things back a little bit and let some of my training partners get some submissions in that maybe I would have tried to muscle out of at a more familiar gym. I’ve never found it beneficial to go in, smash all of the rooster weights and knee-on-face everyone who I’m meeting for the first time. Each gym has its own “dialect” of BJJ, so letting some of your partners work through their submissions will only help you to grow and understand new approaches to those submissions.
The growth of BJJ has created amazing opportunities to train in places that would have been unimaginable even five years ago, so the next time you’re looking to get out of town, don’t forget to pack your gi!