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General Running • April 24, 2023

How to Travel for a Marathon (Or Any Race)

how to travel for a marathon - feature

What You Need To Know

Expert Tips

How to travel for a marathon (or any race)

Stress Less

Everything you need to know to make your race day less stressful

How We Get Our Data

By traveling a f*** ton

people walking through a crosswalk in new york city

Lugging luggage through Manhattan

How To Travel For A Marathon

How often have you actually woken up in your own bed the morning before a race? Unless you’re a hometown hero, returning to your local marathon year after year, you’re probably traveling a decent distance for the chance to run 26.2 miles. 

As the popularity of road running increases, so does the number of people traveling for a race: Between 1986 and 2019, the percentage of people traveling to a different country has increased by 3.3% for marathons and by 1.8% for half marathons, according to a report from World Athletics and Meanwhile, Strava reported that in 2022 the share of athletes uploading activities outside their home country was up 101% over 2021. 

However, running away from the comforts of home comes with the risk of jet lag, stomach issues, and all kinds of unanticipated stressors that could derail your actual race experience. Travel smart with these tips to help maximize your performance and vacation.

man pulling luggage at an airport

Sometimes you gotta pack all the things (Ortlieb 11oL Duffle RS)

gate check-in person weighing luggate at an airport

Sneaking in just under the weight limit

Plan Ahead

Jumping into a 5K or 10K on vacation doesn’t take much preparation, but when you’re traveling for a half marathon or marathon, a little planning can go a long way. Try to anticipate any problems that could disrupt your pre-race zen: Pick a hotel near the start line or a major transportation hub to eliminate extra steps on race morning; make a rez well in advance for your race eve pasta feast; research breakfast options at or near your hotel for race morning.

If you’re not familiar with the area, hit up a local run club for recs. The goal is to eliminate as much mental stress as possible because your body can’t tell the difference between physical stress and f*ck-I-forgot-pre-race-graham-crackers stress.

Pro tip: If it’s a major race like Boston and you’re traveling with more than one person, make reservations for every night you’re there. We learned this the hard way and ended up walking around for an hour on Friday night, trying to find a spot for our group of five (we never did). 

If you’re running a big race, book your hotel as early as possible—like, as soon as your registration is confirmed! Most hotels allow for free cancellation up to 48 hours before check-in, so you might as well secure yourself a spot. Westin kicked off a new partnership this spring with the Abbott World Marathon Majors to support race travel, and Marathon Tours & Travel is a great option for the majors and often offers discounted rates you can’t find anywhere else. This requires extra planning, though, as they typically sell out really fast.

man walking through amtrak trian station with a set of stairs in the background

Arrive Early

If you’ve got big goals for a race, build in extra time to get there so your pre-race plans aren’t totally derailed by weather, mechanical failures, or just Southwest being Southwest (if you’re on Spirit, we have no advice, just thoughts and prayers).

Nearly a quarter of domestic flights operated by US airlines experienced delays between January and June 2022, according to data from the US Department of Transportation (JetBlue was one of the biggest offenders, and Chicago’s Midway International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and Baltimore/Washington International Airport were all ranked the worst for on-time departures). And that’s not even counting international travel. If you can swing the cost of an extra hotel night, padding your trip with an additional day on the front end of your trip can help you avoid headaches caused by delays and last-minute expo dashes.

Pro tip: If you have the money or miles, splurge on a premium flight option on the way to your race to prioritize extra shuteye; that’s the kind of investment that’ll pay off on race day. Trust us, there’s a huge difference between flying 14 hours in the middle seat on economy vs. extra legroom and more seat room in business class.

Also, if you’re within a few hours of a race, consider going rail. There’s no TSA, you can carry as much luggage as you want, and there’s way more space to relax and/or get work done. 

train travel board

Travel by train and take as much sh*t as you want

Account For The Jet Lag

Obviously not every pre-race flight has the same brain-frying potential as a jaunt across the world for the Tokyo Marathon, but your body still needs about one full day per time zone crossed in order to reorient its circadian rhythm, according to the American Sleep Association. If you can’t afford to leave that early, you can start shifting your bedtime earlier (if you’re flying east) or later (if you’re flying west) to be closer to the schedule of your destination. Try to book a flight that arrives at either the brightest or darkest time where you’re going, research suggests. 

Pro tip: Interrupted sleep—like the half-conscious state you’re generally in on a plane—can actually make daytime sleepiness worse when you land. Use an eye mask and ear plugs to block out all distractions while you’re in the air. And avoid alcohol; even if it seems like a glass of red helps you fall asleep, it will worsen the quality of sleep you get, which is exactly what you don’t want pre-race.

Having fun at the race expo

Pack and Overpack

Think about aaaanything you think you might want for race day. Then pack it, no questions asked. The last thing you want to be doing is roaming around London for a duplicate of your favorite rain shell because the forecast was calling for sun when you packed a week before race day.

Most importantly, pack anything race-day related in your carry-on: carbon-plated shoes, gels, other race day fuel, lucky socks, etc. In January 2023 alone, the top 10 US carriers “mishandled” (i.e. lost) more than 267,180 checked bags, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. And you know the average TSA agent doesn’t give a crap that you paid $3.50 per Maurten. 

Pro tip: Use a dry bag (or something like this Nike shoe carrier) for carrying your shoes while traveling. You can clip it onto the outside of your personal item with a carabiner, and it will keep odor locked inside on the return trip home. Anyone who’s had a rainy or muddy race knows what we’re talking about.

Gear tip: If you’re not using packing cubes, you’re doing it all wrong. In addition to saving space, packing cubes keep your different clothing types in order and make life a hundred times simpler when unpacking and packing. Simple is good, especially during race week. We love this set from Eagle Creek; they’re extremely durable and—unlike cheaper options—the zippers won’t break, and seams won’t come undone, even over years of use.

Don’t forget to pack a good walking or recovery shoe (like the On Cloudsurfer)


Feel like a dried-out husk of a human by the time you land? Most airlines keep cabin humidity levels somewhere between 20 to 30%, well below what’s needed for normal functioning. You’re basically traveling in an air desert. As such, you actually lose about eight ounces of water per hour (mostly from breathing), according to the Aerospace Medical Association, and long flights cause changes to blood viscosity (or how easily your blood flows), which may also speed up dehydration, a 2020 review in the journal Nutrients found.

Aim to drink eight ounces per hour on longer flights to offset the effects of dehydration, which has been shown to impair endurance exercise performance. Don’t forget electrolytes en route, either: Electrolyte beverages were more effective than mineral water for hydration on a flight, one study reported.

Pro tip: That blood in your body wants to move, so be sure to get up and stretch (think: squats, hip circles, and calf stretches), even if it means annoying the people on the outside of your row. Compression sleeves—like these from CEP—can also aid in blood circulation to keep your body feeling fresh.

Gear tip: Pack some Skratch! The Skratch Labs wellness hydration drink mix has 710 mg of sodium for the super salty sweaters. Their clear hydration drink mix offers 210 mg of sodium for those who don’t need quite as much but still want to replenish electrolytes. And they’re all available in travel-size packets!

Shop The Gear

CEP Compression Socks Men & Women
Skratch Labs Wellness Hydration

Front-load Your Travel With The Race

No one wants to roam around Paris for the better part of a week and then have to run a marathon on cobblestoned streets. If you do arrive at a destination early, whether it’s because the mid-week flight was cheaper or you’re trying to outsmart jet lag, don’t wear out your legs sightseeing (think: a river tour down the Spree in Berlin versus meandering through the Tiergarten for hours). Opt for low-key activities that won’t overtax your body, and get any overstimulating requirements, like picking up your race bib or browsing all the running brand pop-ups in Boston, out of the way early.

We also can’t stress this enough– do not book your return flight within six hours of your finish time. So many things can go awry on race day and we’ve heard plenty of horror stories of runners bonking on the course on a bad day, waiting in an hour-long line at gear check, scrambling for an Uber and not finding one, getting stuck in traffic, etc. Nobody wants that stress on a normal day, and especially not on a race day.Post-race, you can go all in on exploring and enjoying your destination—that’s when the vacation starts.

Pro tip: Make a reservation at a restaurant close to the finish line for post-race drinks and food. We found a spot right outside the finish area in Boston, and it made it so easy for the runners to roll in as they finished (and, if they had their phones, pre-order a drink or food!). There’s nothing worse than wandering aimlessly around a new city on marathon legs as you try to sync up with your supporters and find a spot that can serve you all.

Gear tip: Get yourself a good day pack for travel. Our favorites are the Ortlieb Metrosphere 21L waterproof pack or the Cotopaxi Moda 20L pack– both great options with a quick-access top and just enough space for a day’s worth of supplies, including a laptop compartment. For even less encumbrance, go with the Janji Multipass slingbag– perfect for run commutes or holding just enough essentials for a traipse around the city.

Shop Daypacks

cotopaxi modo pack - shop photo
Cotopax Moda 20L $115
janji sling bag - shop photo
Janji Multipass Slingbag $52

How We Make Our Picks

All of our recommendations come directly from our feet to your screen. We test countless running shoes here at Believe in the Run, and we let our reviews guide our decisions. However, we also consider other reviews and our BITR community, as not every runner has the same experiences. We also aim to stick with shoes that are currently available so you can give our recommendations a try.

Want to learn more about how our review process works? Check out this guide.


Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Kari says:

    This is great! I have a master packing list in Trello since 95% of the races I run I have to travel. I leave room for the travel details and have checklists for carb loading, race stuff and recovery gear I can reuse when planning each race/trip. I like to book a hotel with kitchen + laundry and ALWAYS with a start line shuttle option. Remove the extra stress bc race day is enough for the nerves! Plus feels like a nice something to look forward to after all the training 🙂

    1. Robbe says:

      Love it, great tips!

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Ashley Mateo
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Ashley is an award-winning journalist and editor whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Runner’s World, Women’s Running, Men’s Journal, Health, Women’s Health, Bicycling, and more. She’s also an RRCA- and UESCA-certified running coach based in Denver. Her main goal—through writing and coaching—is to make running accessible for everyone, because no matter how fast you are, we’re all just doing this for fun.

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