How to take the 'suck' out of traveling with your team

written by Erica Quam

Team travel can be stressful and challenging.

What can you do to make the best of your time on the road?

Travel horror story

It was my first NCAA Championship as a head coach at WSU. We were traveling to Auburn, Alabama. I decided it would be a good opportunity for me to look especially professional - so I wore my best suit and heels. (BTW: I never ever wore a suit...or heels...I coached swimming!)

The one athlete we took that year was a senior. It was her first NCAA Championships. It would be her last. 

We flew from Seattle to Denver and were on our connecting flight from Denver to Atlanta when the pilot got on the plane and said, "I'm sorry. The Denver Airport has grounded all flights due to snow." 


I snapped into go-mode without even thinking, called our travel agent on campus who booked the last hotel room and rental car in the Denver vicinity. We spent the next 72 hours walled up in a completely booked hotel - 7 miles from the airport - waiting out the blizzard of 2003 with only our carry-on luggage. Meaning, I was wearing the same suit and high heels for 3 days+ including the 2 hours it took me to dig our rental car out of the snow to get back to the Denver Airport.

There's a very happy ending to that awful story: Lindsay Henahan (now Tuschong...who eventually came back to WSU as my assistant coach for 3 years) finally made it to the NCAA Championships in time to swim her best event - the 100 Butterfly.

We arrived into Auburn at 2am that morning. With as little warm-up as possible, Lindsay shot out of the a bullet. Not even an epic blizzard stopped her from reaching her goal of becoming an NCAA All-American. She made it into the consolation finals in the 15th spot and scored 1 point that year for WSU!

Travel karma

I believe in good travel karma. I'm serious. Rub that rabbit's foot, wear your lucky socks, and smile at the people at the ticket counter!

I've shared my worst travel story as a coach...and had a few other epic tales - including the night spent on the floor of the Phoenix Airport with my entire team due to fog in Reno, NV. I'm sure you have a few of your own doozies!

I even went so far as to drive myself to Pac 12's one year (because everyone believed I was the one bringing the bad travel karma to the team). They did arrive with no problems or delays. And I stopped in the mountains to hike on my way to the meet. I think it was ultimately a win-win for everyone!


How many variables - during our travel day - are actually out of our control? The list is long! On the way to the airport, we don't have control of how much traffic we'll face. At the airport, we can't control long lines, stressed out people, or flight cancellations & delays. Once we're on the plane, there's no way to control the people we're around much less how long we'll sit on the runway as we wait in line to takeoff.

A long day of travel - by yourself or with a whole team - can leave you stressed with anxiety and depleted of patience. It's really easy to get hooked or triggered into a pattern of reacting to all of the many circumstances - that are actually out of our control. 

Stay grounded when challenges come up

First consider this: What if the universe put some of these variables in place to rearrange itself for our highest good?

For example, when you run into traffic - ask yourself if maybe its there to help you avoid a collision further on down the road? Instead of getting road rage and using a death grip on the wheel until your knuckles turn white, take a deep breath. Catch yourself and change your story. Find a reason to shift your perspective and see things differently.

Tolerance for adversity and uncertainty

The leadership skill you and your athletes are working on during these times is tolerance for adversity and uncertainty. Just like any other skill, it can be practiced and improved.

A simple approach is to let go of the things you can't control and control what you can. (Much easier said than done.)

Here's a list of handy things to remember about this important skill:

  • Turn challenging situations into opportunities.
  • See choices as many workable options and combinations (not either/or).
  • Learn to endure, even enjoy, hard work and challenges.
  • Live in the rhythm of what you cannot control. Control what you can.
  • Use humor. Keep things in perspective. Maintain a positive mental attitude.
  • Function effectively under difficult circumstances. Make focused decisions and stay connected with others.
  • Work successfully with different types of people.
  • Be patient with less competent colleagues and people.

* from the NOLS Leadership Handout

Three other things for coaches to try

1.  Make your own self care a practice

  • Sleep more the night before - instead of rushing around to pack at the last minute, check that off your to-do list earlier in the week and hit the bed instead
  • Workout if you have the time - even doing 15 minutes of your favorite yoga poses or some core work...your body will thank you!
  • Drink water - carry your own water bottle and fill it up once you are through security

2.  Start your own travel rituals

  • Get on the plane last (or bump yourself up to first class) - either way it's worth it to keep your peace and calm even longer
  • Before you get on the plane, make a gratitude list, or set an intention for the day ahead
  • Instead of working the whole time, read - or better yet listen to ( is a great app) - a fun book or even a guided meditation to re-connect with yourself (try an app like calm)

3.  Rinse off the day...& don't skimp on your products

  • Take your favorite shampoo & soap - get something special that you look forward to using as a treat
  • Take a refreshening spray for your room and pillows (lavender is great or try a DIY version)
  • Take a bath or wash your face - bring some bath salts for the bath or a nice face wash if you don't have time for a bath

You may not be able to control everything when you travel. You're still in charge of yourself and your reaction to the challenges you'll face. Model this skill to your athletes and teach them how to do the same.

What's something that's helped you stay grounded as you travel?  Add your comments below.