On Travel Swimming

I love my pool. It’s not perfect. It’s not even close to perfect. But it’s my pool, and, you should be true to your pool, just like you would to your girl or guy.

Nonetheless, sometimes a person needs to go somewhere, and that means travel swimming. I mean, you could take a break from swimming when you travel. But you don’t stop eating just because you leave town, right? They have food in other places. They also have water in other places, and some of it is swimmable.

(I’m not talking about the travel that you do for the purpose of swimming — vacation or holiday swimming. I swam the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere as vacation swimming, although I piggybacked it on a work trip. Closer to home, I recently swam Swim the Loop in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and made a fall weekend at the beach of it. Those were both great swims, though very different experiences. If I fell into a huge pile of money, I would book myself a trip with SwimVacation or SwimTrek.)

When I travel, I pack a swimsuit, goggles, a cap, a lock, maybe an old pair of flip flops, and my second-best towel. If you’re lucky, there will be a fluffy towel for you where you are going, but you might not be lucky. And you might have to abandon that towel if you need room in your bag on the trip back. So don’t bring your favorite towel (I have a favorite towel. Don’t you?).

As The Hitchhiker's Guide says, "A towel has immense psychological value."
As The Hitchhiker’s Guide says, “A towel has immense psychological value.”

I have swum laps in tiny hotel pools. It’s not much fun, but it’s better than nothing. Some years back I swam laps in this swank little Art Deco pool at the Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles.

Image from Untapped Cities, 10 Secrets of Los Angeles’s Historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel

It was hot and nearly impossible to flip turn, but I bravely preserved.

With some preparation, you can find more swimmable pools. The best resource I know is Swimmers Guide. I have used it to find pools in the UK, Ireland, and all over the US. It’s easy to navigate and has reliable information.

It’s never a bad idea to check with the locals as well. I was staying at a hotel in Kalamazoo, Michigan and was prepared to truck across town to a public pool; the people at the hotel let me know that I could swim at a health club associated with the local hospital system just across the street.

What you’re looking for is a pool that will let you pay for one swim or buy a short-term pass. Some places that’s easier than others. Don’t neglect to check websites about the possibility of getting a free day pass. I don’t mind paying to swim, but there are private centers that admit members only, and it’s not possible to pay for one day.

You never know what you’ll find at a new pool. Sometimes they come in interesting lengths: the Stratford Leisure Centre pool in England is 33 1/3 meters, while Deep Eddy Pool in Austin, Texas is 33 1/3 yards. The first is indoors and warm (in my experience); the second is outside and 68° F all year round. Sometimes pools come with interesting people — or features. I swam at the Buckhead YMCA in Atlanta over Thanksgiving; the locker room was full of old women speaking Russian. The health club in Kalamazoo? There were signs in that locker room saying “Forget something?” and noting that you could buy underwear at the desk. I still think about the brilliance of that scheme: everybody forgets their underwear sometime, and when I do, I wish I were in Kalamazoo.

But while each pool is different, swimming is reassuringly the same. Travel is disorienting. Maybe you’re in some weird place with some weird people (they might be your own relatives). Maybe you’re jet-lagged. But you jump in a pool. The water is wet. You know what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter where you are; you are yourself again.

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