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Chatting with Olympians about sailing challenges, traveling with Expedia

Expedians will be cheering for all of the U.S. Olympians at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but we’re reserving some extra-special cheers for Paris Henken and Helena Scutt. In addition to being all-around great gals, the two comprise are part of the US Sailing Team Sperry, and will represent our country in the women’s 49er FX, one of the fastest races on the water. Helena, 23, also is what we here in Bellevue, Washington, consider to be a local girl—she’s from Seattle. (Paris, 20, is from San Clemente, California, which isn’t that far away either.) We were jazzed to hear that the young women book all of their travel—by themselves, mind you—on Expedia. So I recently caught up with them on Skype to talk about their booking strategies, their training routines, and how they’ll approach the big event this summer in Brazil.

Matt Villano (MV): From where in the world are you two talking to me right now?

Helena Scutt (HS): We’re in Mallorca, off the coast of Barcelona. We’re training here. Most places in Europe are too cold to sail right now but here it’s warm.

MV: Mallorca this month, Brazil this summer. You guys live in the U.S. Sounds like a ton of travel.

HS: Yeah, travel is a really cool part of this sport. Personally I always have traveled a lot. I was born in England. My whole family is British. We moved to Seattle when I was 2, but I’ve been back to England a lot. When I was a kid for sailing I went to France and Spain and the Bahamas and Italy. This whole Olympic campaign—that’s what we call it when you’re trying to go to the Olympics—it’s taken travel to the next level. I really like seeing new places and different cultures. The food is amazing too.

Paris Henken (PH): The food! I can’t say my favorite, but I know most of the time when we go out, we try to order something specific to the region. Something that’s local.

HS: In Argentina, we tried chicken gizzards. I wouldn’t say they were my favorites, but we tried them. In Rio they have those barbecue restaurants where they keep bringing food, the churrascos. I’m looking forward to that.

Paris and Helena

MV: When you visit these new places, do you ever have time to sightsee?

HS: We do, but it’s nothing like going on vacation in terms of being able to do everything you like to do. We’re usually able to fit in a couple of days during the training, and another day or two of the end. When we’re exploring, those are some of my best memories, since after a while the training blends together. You have a lot of hours in the water and a lot of hours in the gym. Those little trips going to see a castle or hiking up a mountain nearby really stick in your mind.

MV: Training sounds intense. What’s it like?

PH: Training usually [comprises] waking up and going to the gym in the morning. We have a trainer who will give us a schedule of exercises to do at the gym. We come back and eat breakfast. Each day we sit down with coach and talk about something we want to focus on for the day. Some days it’s boat speed. Other days it’s boat handling. We usually train for two or three hours a day. Sometimes we’ll do it for four hours, but that’s a long day. We come back home. Usually make dinner. Then our coach will sit down with us show us the video he took of us throughout the day, critique things we did wrong, tell us what we did well and share with us what we need to do to improve.

HS: We’ve trained a ton this year; there are no such things as weekends when you’re training for the Olympics. In 2015, we trained for 114 days and we raced for 65 days. In total we were on the water for 179 days. That’s excluding all the travel.

MV: What’s the biggest challenge of managing the training and the travel and life?

HS: Logistics is a big one. We just spent five days traveling from the United States to the UK to get our car and our boats. We couldn’t rent a car because we’re so young. Also, no cars let you put boats on the roof, so we had to buy a car. Last year we had events on three continents – North America, South America, and Europe. Logistics of all the shipping is another dimension. We do all the planning, and we most recently split a container to get the boats home.

MV: How do you try to make it easier on yourselves?

HS: Step no. 1 is booking with Expedia. One time after trials we needed to buy ticket back home from Miami. I booked it to Seattle. Within 24 hours I realized that I needed to go to Paris’ house, in San Diego. I was able to cancel the original flight for free. Expedia made it easy. I also really like the mobile app for booking hotels. The other day, we arrived in Spain on the ferry from the UK. We arrived in Bilbao and we had to go and get our trailer in a city an hour away. On the way back, we booked our hotel in Bilbao for the night with the Expedia app on my phone. It was really convenient. And it was nice to know we didn’t have to worry.

Practicing in Rio harbor

MV: In addition to our app, what else do you consider to be your must-have travel items?

PH: We do try not to pack too big. It’s hard. Half our suitcases are filled with sailing equipment. We hit the max of weight for each bag. If it’s over 50 pounds, we’ll start pulling out all of our blocks and screws.

HS: TSA pulled me aside on the way here. One of my carry-on bags was just ropes. He pulled out all the ropes. He asked me what all of it is for.

PH: Sometimes we travel with sails. We have these big tubes for them. We haven’t had any trouble with them yet but sometimes we need to talk to customer service managers to make sure they let us fly with them.

HS: I always travel with earplugs and an eyeshade and headphones. Mine aren’t marked as noise canceling but they do a pretty good job at that, even if you just turn them on and don’t play any music. You don’t look very cool but who cares.

MV: What are your rituals when you get to a new city?

HS: We don’t usually do stuff right when we arrive because we’re focused to get the boat ready and hit ground running as soon as our coach arrives. Within a few days, we usually hear from other sailors where the cool places are to go.

PH: Sometimes we’ll get out on the water right away, too, just to get a sense of currents and wind. We actually will have sailed in Rio three times before the Olympics. It’s a very interesting place to sail.

MJV: Will you have family members joining you at this year’s Olympics?

HS: My parents and my grandmother and two of my aunts and uncles and my sister are coming down. One of my aunts is going to be second in command for the sound and audio systems for the opening and closing ceremonies. She’s been in the industry for a long time. That’ll be really cool. We’re all really excited. We’ll be focused and not interacting with them much while we’re racing in order to keep it like other events as much as possible. Afterward we’ll get to spend more time with them.

PH: The team is like family, too. Before the Olympics they’ll have a house and we’ll go over there every dinner and their cook will cook for us. For the games we’ll move in to the athlete village.

MV: Is there anything in particular you hope to do while you’re in Brazil?

PH: We made it up Sugarloaf last time but we still haven’t been to Christ the Redeemer, so I really want to do that. It’s a classic thing. I don’t think we’ll have time for it but there’s an island off the coast called Isla Granda. That’d be fun if we have time.

MV: And because we know you’re going to win it, how will you celebrate a gold medal?

HS: With my family. They weren’t at any Olympic selection events but they were at the Pan-American Games, where we got bronze. That was really special for me.

PH: Well the first thing I’m going to do is celebrate with my family, too. Helena and I are pretty close, and our families are pretty close as well. I imagine we’ll all be together. But after that, I’m going to go out Samba dancing.

Follow Helena and Paris on Twitter here. Special thanks to Paris, Helena, and the US Sailing Team Sperry for the photographs that accompany this blog post.

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at WanderingPod.com, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for SeeAmerica.com (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit Whalehead.com.

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