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A Climber’s Guide to International Travel

Navigating yourself through an international climbing trip starts like most vertical endeavors---with the beta. Being prepared can make the difference between the best trip of your life and an epic money pit.

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Whether you are going bouldering in Fontainebleau or multi-pitch climbing in Arapiles, climbing international requires navigatigating visas, airports and all sorts of other logistical aspects that come with the territoy of spending weeks away from home.

Visas

The first thing I do when researching a perspective climbing trip is sort out my visa. Every country has different rules when it comes to tourist visas. Some, like Canada and Australia, will allow you to fill out your visa when you’ve landed as long as you have a valid passport. Others, like Russia and China, require you to visit a consulate in the U.S. with all of your documentation before you can set foot inside their country. (Make sure your passport is up to date, and valid for entry before buying those plane tickets!)

Ding Dong’s Crack (5.12a), Liming, China. Photo: Levi Harrell.

Packing

Nick Chavis bouldering in Fontainebleau, France. Photo: Levi Harrell.

The next big hurdle you’ll face is packing for your trip. What you pack, and where, are essential details that can make your life a living hell in an international airport.

The most important thing you can do when packing is make sure you pack your essential gear—which for a climbing trip is your climbing kit!—in your carry on. Every time you transfer planes is another chance that your checked baggage could get lost or directed to the wrong destination. The last thing you want is to get to Céüse and not have your shoes or harness!

When you are checking a bag be sure to check the regulations for international travel. While most airlines allow two checked bags that are up to 50 pounds, you’ll find some budget airlines deviate to try and catch you in overage fees. For example, Szechuan Airlines will allow only one checked bag but allow two carry on bags for international flights.

All you pebble pullers out there also have the choice of whether or not to bring your trusted crashpads overseas with you as well. To avoid any oversized baggage fees, be sure to check your pad as gymnastics equipment. Most airlines recognize gymnastics pads as one of the few pieces of athletic equipment that won’t incur any oversize baggage fees. Make sure you wrap your pad to keep any loose straps from getting caught in the airport conveyor belts though.

Power Adapters

Now that you’ve packed your bags and secured your visa you need to consider how you will stay in touch with the outside world while on your journey. If you’re headed outside of North America you are going to need a power adapter for all of your electronics. Be sure to research what type of plug you’ll need for where you are headed! The last thing you want is to get to Spain and have your phone die with no way to charge it or have to find a place to get an adapter. Along with that adapter, you will want to bring an outlet strip. This way you will be able to charge all of your devices off of one power adapter saving you money and space.

Communication

High above the water on the coast of Cayman Brac. Photo: Levi Harrell.

Easily the most powerful tool you can bring on your adventure is your phone. Optimizing it for an expedition will make your life that much easier in a place where you do not speak the language or that blocks your connectivity to the Internet.

Download all relevant apps to your journey, from airlines to local maps. Make sure you have Google Translate with the relevant languages downloaded. Google translate can help you carry out a conversation in a foreign language and will also be able to translate text through your camera in real-time. We are living in the future here people!

Along with Google Translate, WhatsApp or Telegram are very useful. These are apps to help you stay in touch with friends and family back home, both by text and phone calls over the Internet. If you find yourself in an area where WiFi isn’t readily available, you may want to see the options your cell phone carrier has for international plans. Many will provide travel plans at an additional cost.

Some countries also have restricted use of the Internet. If you find yourself in Mainland China, Vietnam or Pakistan, you will not be able to access Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube due to government restrictions. Download a VPN service to keep connected while away.

Above all, you need to keep a good attitude when traveling abroad. The whole trip depends on how you handle obstacles that come your way. Something will always go wrong or not according to plan. Dwelling on the extra money you had to spend on a rental car or how jet-lagged you are doesn’t help in any way. Don’t forget why you came on the journey in the first place—get out there and go climbing!


See more of Levi Harrell’s work here!


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