Traveling for BJJ on a Budget

Some of my most treasured life experiences have been a result of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu travel. Having a gi in your bag gives your adventure a certain sort quest-like aesthetic. You’re not just on a vacation. You are on an adventure that has purpose—to train, to learn, to come back with new ideas and insights that you didn’t have before you visited a strange mat in a far off land.

That thinking might be a result of a childhood defined by Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy literature, and Karate Kid movies.

Regardless, I believe that every jiu-jiteiro owes it to themselves to take a jiu-jitsu road trip, even if it’s just for the weekend. You might discover that it’s something of a new hobby for you, and you might be surprised at the interesting friends and characters you can meet along the way. Unfortunately, traveling in general can be expensive, and that might deter you. With a little bit of ingenuity and a healthy perspective of what it might mean to be a wandering samurai, you can travel to new places and train without necessarily breaking the bank.

Try these tips:

  • Call ahead for drop-in training policies and rates. The vast majority of jiu-jitsu gyms have absolutely no problem with visitors coming in to train, and most won’t even charge a mat fee. If there is a mat fee, it tends to be minimal. That said, call ahead to get a feel for the instructor and to eliminate any chances for surprises. Some big name gyms have some really expensive drop-in fees and some stricter policies for visitors that could mean everything from only being able to attend certain classes to having to wear a specific gi.

  • Find partners in crime. A hotel room gets cheaper the more bodies you cram into it. You might not be living in luxury, but splitting expenses two, three, or even four ways can save you money on gas and lodging. If you’re industrious enough to pack your own food, it can save you money on that front as well. Also, traveling with friends tends to be more fun.

  • Keep connections alive. In jiu-jitsu, we often see people passing through our town and stopping into our home gyms to train. Be welcoming to those people, and keep contact with them over Facebook or email. If they become a friend, each of you could end up with a couch to crash on whenever the other one travels.

  • Hostel it up. Hostels are typically affordable places to sleep. They aren’t heavy on amenities, but they tend to be easy on your wallet. Most major cities will have hostels (even in the US), so do some research ahead of time to find one that’s safe and clean. If you’re planning on spending most of your time on the mat anyway, all you really need is a place to sleep and shower, right? Small aside here: For a little bit, it seemed like BJJ hostels might become a thing, but the only one I know of (was in San Diego) closed their doors. If you know of any others, please let me know!

  • Mat surf. It's now easier than ever to find a friendly jiu-jiteiro who will house out-of-towners for a chance to roll with them. Christian Graugart of BJJ Globetrotters fame has created Mat Surfing, a directory for people to offer a bed and a place to train to adventurous travelers. Hosts across six continents are happy to welcome you (and maybe a few friends, if they have the space). This is one of the best ways to travel on a budget and get in good training at the same time.

  • Sleep at a school. If you’re on the road for worlds, as a competitor or as a fan, you should check out Brea Jiu-Jitsu run by Dan Lukehart (also known as “TrumpetDan”). He’s kept up an annual tradition of letting people sleep on the mats of his gym during Worlds with the caveat that they be cool with everyone there and don’t steal any of his stuff. My secret hope is that more gyms around the country adopt a similar open door policy, and my public hope is that Dan keeps this tradition going because it’s really cool.

  • Keep an eye out for grappling camps. The prices for grappling camps can vary especially since a lot more organizations are running them now, but if you follow some of the more reputable camp organizers you can often grab a good deal on a really cool trip. Nelson and Hillary have been hitting the road with Christian Graugart’s BJJ Globetrotters, and often times the price of the camp is a deal by virtue of the hotel price alone (and that’s not even considering the training time and the great people you get to meet). In the US, the Groundswell Grappling Camps are fun as well. The other great thing about camps is that pretty much everyone is meeting for the first time, so it’s easier to make friends than dropping in as the only new person at a strange gym.

  • Get double duty out of study abroad programs. This tip is more for college students, but it’s worth talking about. If you are clever about how you plan and pursue your academics and your academics-related travel, you could drop in to some cool places to train. For my part, I did this in the US with the National Student Exchange, which is a program where State school students can go to any other State university in the country for either your in-state tuition or theirs. Technically, you’re probably still paying for it with your student loans, but it can lead to some awesome training experiences (State schools include US territories, by the way). 

Are you budget conscious but still traveling to train? How do you do it? What tips would you add to this article? I’d love to hear them!