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What's in your swim bag?

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

I often hear runners brag about how easy their sport is relative to swimming - "Just lace up your shoes and head out the door," they say. But, as the great Teddy Roosevelt said, "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."

So, I'll continue to leave the easy streets to the runners of the world and pack my swim bag:

  • Your Swimming Passport - US Masters Swimming is my all-time favorite organization, with tens of thousands of adults committed to the life aquatic and teams dotted all around the country. Moreover, as a traveler, how can you not love an organization that calls your annual membership card a "Travel Permit?" I've dropped in for countless workouts with Masters teams across the country and been universally welcomed. In addition, this 'swimming passport' has also opened doors for me to swim with teams around the world. Joining USMS is the single best sub-$100 investment you can make in your swimming.

  • Swimmer's Guide - If there's a pool near where you're traveling, Swimmer's Guide almost for sure has it in on their awesome website. With the recently added 'search by map' feature, this is as close as you can get to a 'one stop shop' for where to swim. A few days before any trip, I'll consult this site to map out which pools and times might work with my travels. On my business trips, I almost always lay out 2 or 3 options, a couple in the morning (my preferred time to swim) and at least one in the evening to maximize the likelihood I'll actually get in a swim.

  • Swimsuit - Yeah. Don't forget this. I've been there. Nothing's worse that getting all the way to the pool, stripping down in the locker room and realizing the one absolute required piece of equipment is sitting back at home. There are a huge number of brands and options out there and many will claim to be long-lasting, but I've had the most success with Speedo's Endurance when it comes to workout longevity. If I'm packing a bag to race, though, I far prefer TYR's excellent racing suits for competition - their Tracer Light is the best racing suit for my money, IMHO.

  • Goggles & Baby Shampoo - Swimming can be such a cheap sport if you just learn a few tricks of the trade and the best trick for fog-free goggle longevity is to periodically soak your goggles in a mixture of water and baby shampoo. I don't use precise measurements, but about every 6-8 weeks, I soak my goggles overnight in a tupperware filled mostly with water and a dollop of good, old-fashioned Johnson's Baby Shampoo. Take 'em out, rinse 'em off and I've got rejuvenated, fog-free goggles. I've got 3 or 4 pairs of goggles in rotation and the last time I bought a pair was in 2013, but only because I found some cool, burnt-orange-tinged Speedo Vanquishers when I was in Austin. I really don't foresee myself buying new googles this decade thanks to baby shampoo.

  • Cap - I generally don't wear a cap when I train, but, every once in a while, I come across a pool that requires caps. I learned this cap-packing habit on a trip to Tokyo back in 2004 or 2005 when I showed up to a community pool and tried to get in for their open lap lanes. With my Japanese pretty non-existent and the lifeguard's English only slightly better, we had an interesting time trying to get me to understand that I couldn't swim without a cap. Once we broke through that communication barrier, I then had a hard time swallowing the exorbitant cost for a cheap cap that barely covered my large head. In the end, the swim in the outdoor, long course pool was worth it and the lesson to always travel with a cap has stuck with me.

  • Lock and coins - Locker rooms are often the most disappointing and variable part of a swim-traveler's life and how you secure your valuables while you're looking down at the black line for an hour or more is always a top concern. I always travel with my lock and then various coins - quarters in the US, pounds in the UK, loonies in Canada, etc. Every once in a while I come across a pool that still uses the 'locker room attendant' model and, even if that's complimentary, the coins come in handy as a tip.

  • A workout plan - Unless I'm dropping into a structured Masters workout, I always have a workout in mind. If it's complicated, I have it written down in permanent magic marker on a piece of paper that I'll stick to a kickboard. But, of all the ways that the swim-traveler's life teaches you to be flexible, dropping in for open lap swimming is the quickest lesson in adaptability. Be prepared to change and enjoy the opportunity to flex your creativity when you are forced to change your workout!

There. That's it. That's all you need. Go forth and swim.

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