What Is A Travel In Basketball? NBA, NCAA, FIBA

Basketball is a game with so many rules that may vary regarding how competitive the level of competition is. Failure to follow these rules and regulations will prompt a game official or the referee to blow their whistles and penalize the team. One of the most prominent violations that are often called for is the traveling violation.

So, what is traveling in basketball, and how can a player avoid getting called with this violation? 

Traveling is a violation called when a player illegally moves one or both feet while holding or dribbling the ball beyond the allowed steps. A typical example of traveling is a player who steps three times after gathering the ball. There are different traveling rules in various leagues today.

Now, let us explore what traveling is and how to avoid it.

What is Traveling in Basketball? 

Traveling, also called walking or simply ‘travel,’ is a violation in basketball. The most basic definition of traveling is taking three steps without dribbling the ball. Another common reason for traveling is lifting or moving the established ‘pivot’ foot without shooting or passing the ball – which we will discuss later.

There are other ways for a referee to call the violation if you’re not careful and depending on which league you are playing. The penalty for a traveling violation is a turnover or changing of the ball possession. For high-level players, it is embarrassing to be called with travel.

The universal hand signal for traveling is that the referee will place his hands one after the other in front of him while rolling or spinning. 

Since a subjective referee calls many violations in basketball, there are still times when they will miss the right call for the violation.

Travel Rules in Different Levels of Basketball 

referee holding the ball

While the traveling violation applies to all basketball leagues, there may still be some variations depending on the level of play they’re in. here are some:


The NBA is one of the world’s most prominent professional basketball leagues. However, even at that level, many players still commit traveling violations. According to the NBA Rule Book, here are some considerations and rules for traveling.

  • If a standing player receives the ball can still pivot.
  • A moving and dribbling player can take two additional steps to a stop – even without dribbling the ball. He may then choose to shoot or pass the ball.
  • If a player receives the ball while standing or coming to a legal stop, he must pass or shoot the ball before he can raise his pivot foot.
  • A player should shoot or pass the ball if he raises his pivot foot. Suppose he loses the ball in the air; he can’t touch the ball first.
  • If a player holding the ball falls to the ground, he can’t get an advantage by sliding on the floor.
  • If a player attempting to shoot the ball misses the basketball ring, the backboard, or another player (blocked), he can’t touch the ball first.
  • A player can’t pass to himself without the ball touching the ring, backboard, or another player (assist).
  • A player can’t hop twice.

However, while these are the rules of the NBA, frequently, they are not appropriately enforced, especially for superstar players.


FIBA rules are the official guidelines for international basketball, aside from North America, which commonly follows the NBA, NCAA (college), and NFHS (high school) rules. These are some of the rules per FIBA Official Basketball Rules 2018.

  • For standing players receiving the ball with both feet on the ground:
  • The other foot automatically becomes the pivot foot if one foot is lifted.
  • If a standing player wants to dribble the ball after catching it, he can do so but still can’t lift his pivot foot.
  • He can pass or shoot the ball, but if he wants to jump with his pivot foot, he should not land again holding the ball.
  • Players catching the ball while he is moving or dribbling can still take two steps before coming to a complete stop, shooting, or passing the ball.
  • For players falling, sitting, or lying on the floor:
    • It is legal for players to fall or slide on the floor while holding the ball or trying to get possession of the ball.
    • It is illegal for players to roll or attempt to stand up while holding the ball.


NCAA is the governing body for collegiate competitions in the US and Canada. In basketball games, most travel rules are like the professional leagues, but with some variations.

  • A traveling violation happens if a player moves one or both feet in any direction up to a specific limit.
  • If a standing player with both feet on the court catches the ball and moves one foot, the other will automatically be the pivot foot.
  • It is traveling if a player falls to the floor without maintaining a pivot foot while holding the ball.

Common Examples of Traveling

  • If a player moving toward the basket gathers the ball and takes three steps.
  • If a player fails to release the ball during a jump shot attempt in fear of his shot getting blocked returns to the ground while still holding the ball.
  • If a player moves his established pivot foot in an attempt to move away from a defender.

What is the Pivot Foot? 

Guy dribbling a basketball

The pivot foot is one of the offensive player’s feet that should always maintain contact with the ground. Since it is named with ‘pivot,’ a player can rotate or turn side to side using his other foot while always maintaining his pivot foot pinned to the ground. 

A player can only lift his pivot foot if he is shooting or passing the ball. So, if a player jumps but fails to release the ball and his pivot foot touches the ground again, he will be called a traveling violation.

The best post players can use their pivot foot to their advantage to score near and around the basket. Some players who can best use their pivot foot to score are Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, and Kobe Bryant.

What is a Gather Step in Basketball? 

The ‘gather’ step is called the “zero steps,” or a “third step” after a player picks up their dribble. It has been legal in FIBA since 2018.

In 2019, the NBA revised its rule book to define gather concerning the traveling violation, which is:

  • Suppose a player receives a pass or takes control of a loose ball. In that case, the gathering happens when a player gets enough control of the ball, changes hands, passes, shoots, or even holds it against his body.
  • If a player is dribbling, the gather happens in one of these scenarios:
  • Puts two hands on the ball;
  • Puts a hand under the ball and stops it;
  • Or once he receives enough control for the ball to pass, shoot, or hold against his body.

The problem with the gather step is that many young players in high school or NCAA tries the gather step without knowing that it is illegal in their respective leagues.

4 Simple But Effective Tips to Avoid Traveling

Guy dribbling a ball in a court

1. Be mindful of your pivot foot.

Most traveling violations are called if a player moves his pivot foot illegally. So, learning to be more mindful of which foot to move will save you and your team a few turnovers due to traveling.

2. Don’t be afraid of getting blocked.

Blocked shots are routine in basketball, but some players are afraid to have their shot blocked, so they prefer to get a traveling violation instead.

3. Max of two steps.

Another common reason for traveling is to take more steps than required. Though some players can get away from mannerisms with their steps, it is still better to be careful with your steps.

4. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Like anything in basketball, a lot can be improved through practice. By practicing moving toward the ring and stepping only twice or mastering the pivot foot, in time, the habits will be incorporated into your game.

Some Clarifications Regarding Traveling

  • You will never travel while dribbling the ball. The height and steps per dribble are not necessary. Think of quicker NBA players who usually step at least three times in-between dribbles.
  • The step length is also irrelevant as long as the rules are followed. Think of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s two steps from the three-point line for a dunk.
  • There is no traveling during out-of-bounds or throw-in.
  • A player who has not fully controlled the ball, like fumbling, cannot be called for a traveling violation.


Traveling is one of the most common basketball violations, but it is easy to avoid if you know the rules of your game. Practicing proper mechanics in basketball like dribbling, footwork, and movements can be translated into actual actions during a game.

A traveling violation is not as simple as getting a turnover. In high-pressure moments, even NBA players were called traveling and lost crucial possessions.

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