Bit off topic today but I have Olympic fever.
A good friend of mine has been to several Olympics as a spectator. It’s a family affair: initially it was a trip with her parents and sibling, then spouses joined in and now her son has been to his first Olympics.
I was always impressed that they made the effort to go. I was also impressed because I thought seeing an Olympics first hand must be very expensive. They must be committed fans to spend that much money.
From newspaper reports of ticket prices and the tourist gouging that happens I imagined seeing Olympic events live was exponentially more expensive than visiting an Olympic city at any other time. The cost of it seemed far beyond what we could ever afford. And I say that with the caveat that we earn a good income and travel is one thing we spend a lot of money on. We can usually afford two one week trips and a few weekend trips a year with what we put aside for travel. When I thought about going to the Olympics I thought we’d have to cut out all other travel and save for a once every four years trip.
Here’s what I know after going to two Olympics myself: taking your family to the see the Olympics isn’t cheap but it isn’t as exorbitant a price as you may think.
Here are some of my tips from seeing two Olympic games as a spectator.
Skip the hotels.
Hotels in an Olympic city book fast and can be hard to come by even well in advance of Games times. If you’re a family looking for accommodation hotels also aren’t ideal. I much prefer renting an apartment to cook meals, have at least one separate sleeping room and get that extra space so you can play/read/relax as a family. I find that if an apartment is more expensive than a hotel we usually save the difference plus some by cooking our own meals. We also enjoy our trip more if we can put our son to bed in a separate room and have some adult time in the evening.
A year or so before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics my husband and I toyed with the idea of renting our condo out during the Games and going to Hawaii with the proceeds. Ultimately we decided to stay and enjoy the two weeks of crazy but I was floored at the prices listed for rentals when I did some research. At that time they really weren’t affordable for most families I knew.
Our friends that came up for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics didn’t book their accommodation until a few weeks before the Games. It was a smart move. The prices had dropped significantly and they found a great apartment to house six adults and a baby.
Lesson: sometimes it pays to wait to book accommodation. As the Games draw closer the locals that have set their prices too high for rentals will bring them down so they can actually fill the rooms. Other locals will decided last minute that they don’t want to live through a two week party and will put their home up for rent at the last minute.
If you are considering a hotel we learned that they can be relatively affordable if you book just outside the venue city. We considered renting a hotel room near the rowing course for our first night in London to avoid what was described as a monstrous commute. Surprisingly there were still hotel rooms available and the rate wasn’t more than you would expect for the area. We ended up saving our money and making the commute but it was good to know that if you are prepared to be a bit off the beaten path, there can be reasonable hotels available for an Olympic city.
Of course, we had the ultimate in cheap accommodation for London: my sister’s living room.
Pack snacks and cook your own meals.
Restaurant dining adds up fast and Olympic venue concessions can be expensive. I placed an online grocery order to be delivered to my sister’s flat the night before we arrived in London. I planned for most breakfasts and dinners at home and some hearty snacks to take to the venues. We weren’t allowed to bring water into the venues but there were lots of water stations available to fill up our water bottles.
This is one of those frugal traveler rules that never gets old: avoid eating at restaurants for every meal. You not only save money but you feel better. Restaurant meals tend be heavy and super-sized and will slow you down on your long days seeing sights and Olympic events.
Opening Ceremonies and Gold Medal Swimming are out of most people’s league but the 99% of events that make up the rest of the Olympics aren’t.
If you want to go to the Olympics and see all the premier events, the ceremonies, the 100 metres men’s final and have killer seats, you’ll spend a fortune. This is what most people think of when they read about attending the Olympics: crazy ticket prices. But there are many ways to experience an Olympic Games in the host city without spending a fortune.
If you want to go and soak up the atmosphere, see some great sport and experience what the Olympics are really about, it’s surprisingly affordable. We saw the British men’s volleyball team take on Poland, and, sadly for the home team, lose and we watched Angola play the Czech Republic in women’s basketball. They weren’t games with medals on the line or even quarter final matches but they were still engaging and fun to watch. And the tickets were reasonably priced.
Henry’s ticket to the preliminary rounds of the Men’s Team Sabre competition was just £2/$3. If you’re traveling with children research any children’s ticket options and find out if a child in arms/lap is free. For London they had some C and D class tickets where a child’s ticket was whatever their age was in £s. At the fencing venue we were surrounded by lots of other families that had taken advantage of the child ticket scheme. At the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Henry was only a few months old and was free as an in arms baby. He saw a hockey game, a Victory Ceremony and the Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Winter Paralympics.
The only tickets we had for a medal winning event were for rowing. This was our marquee event: two of my friends were racing and it was the catalyst for the whole trip. We splurged on those tickets and got B class seats. Those tickets alone cost as much as our tickets to three other events combined.
For the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics we purchased very inexpensive tickets to the evening medal ceremony concerts. While we didn’t see the medal winners compete live we did get to see them receive their medals in front a very appreciative crowd. Plus there was a concert in the lead up to the ceremony with some great Canadian bands.
There are many ways to experience the Olympics in a host city for free.
London had several Live Sites and we had a nice evening in the Hyde Park Live Site watching events on the big screen and enjoying free concerts. When a British Cyclist won a medal they had a confetti and streamer explosion and the thousands of people at the venue let out a roar. It was exhilarating to feel that host country pride all around us.
One of my favourite memories of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics wasn’t a ceremony or sport event, it was the people. There was a joy, a happiness, a cheer that was palpable on the streets. People were happy to be there, they were excited to see great athletes compete, they were thrilled to be a part of all of it. It was two weeks of smiles. I only had to step outside to feel it, that joy and energy from the locals and visitors, people from every corner of the world, in one place to celebrate one thing: the power of sport.
Have you ever traveled to something most people consider expensive like Disneyland or a World Cup Soccer game? How did you make it more affordable for your family?