My single seat was next to my dad and teenage son, who gave me CliffsNotes about key players and lore – like why everyone disappeared before the break. (They were rushing to the perks level for mid-game pints; with that tip, I got up and followed their lead.)
Since these weren’t the major tournaments, I could sit right behind the goal – so you can joke around with the guys. I watched the red-clad fans around me and did my best to keep up with the many cheers, standing up when everyone else stood. After the match, I joined the sea of people pouring in from the stadium and ended up spending hours inside a bustling fan-only bar (you needed to show your game tickets to get in).
Although I wasn’t interested in the teams before kick-off, the day was filled with all the semblance of a great travel experience: the rush of discovering public transportation to get to a new place, the fun of an afternoon in the sun, and the chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and learn about new people.
This is just one example of why, along with beach time, museum visits, and restaurant reservations, going to see sports is worth the highest bill on your itinerary regardless of your interest in sports.
says Luisa Mendoza, founder and CEO of Global Tourism Sports and Entertainment, a trading company — the business platform that connects tour companies to tickets for professional sporting events in the United States, among other services.
Don’t write off the idea because you don’t follow sports. I can’t tell you offhand who won the world championship. But mingling with fans in an unfamiliar place is still one of my favorite travel pastimes.
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You can spend a fortune to see the stars play, but there’s a different kind of magic to packing in cheap seats with everyone.
Seeing one of the less-followed Italian football teams in place of the very popular AC Milan or Roma is comparable to eating a meal from an Italian grandmother instead of a Michelin star, says Fulvio de Bonis, president and co-founder of Imago Artes Travel. Resturant.
“They are both authentic,” he says, “but they are two different types of authenticity.”
Shop around and find something to fit your budget, whether it’s mini leagues, collegiate leagues, cheap upstairs seating or the standing section.
“It doesn’t matter if your seats are thousands of dollars or $20 a nosebleed,” Mendoza says. “It brings us all together, and in those two hours, you forget what’s going on because you’re screaming crazy, and you support your team.”
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It’s not about the game (everything)
If you enjoy watching the same sport, that’s a bonus. But for travelers, the real joy comes from being with the fans. It’s the walk to the stadium, the cheers, the costumes, and the camaraderie. Finding a game – any game – opens doors to adventure and new friendships for travelers.
If it wasn’t for sports, I wouldn’t have seen Hsinchu, Taiwan, if it wasn’t for my desire to watch a Uni-Lions baseball game. I wouldn’t have ended up at a house party in Glasgow if I hadn’t stopped in the pub to watch the football final.
Sandra Weinacht, a former German sports journalist, says her company Inside Europe organizes travel experiences for clients from football to tennis to Tour France.
One of the many selling points of going to a game during your trip is, “At the least, it can make for a really fun experience meeting new people in a new city,” says Tori Petri, travel advisor at Fora and former Detroit Lions broadcaster. Sports events are social events.
Weinacht says that even if you don’t speak the local language, cheering on the same team can create opportunities to connect with the people around you. And if you can’t find a ticket or get to the game in person, “the public sights are another great opportunity to connect with locals,” says Weinacht.
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Then there is the food. I left a Yomori Giants baseball game in Tokyo filled with takoyaki – fried octopus balls that are a popular Japanese staple food – and kirin beer. In between the Muay Thai matches in Bangkok Stadium, I ate Khao Man Gai, a dish of chicken and rice.
Weinakht notes that food, drink, pre- and post-match rituals are often not limited to just the country, but each region. Different venues will have different perks, like tacos at Fresno Grizzlies and pork chops with pimento cheese at the Arkansas Razorbacks football field. This is all the more reason to see more sports in more places.
If there is culture from the back, go to the back door.
For example, before a football game at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, “You sort of walk around the tents and fixtures and people will invite you in and serve you gumbo,” says Petrie. “It really is an experience. So you have to go into the game, but you also have to go back.”
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You can try your luck and find a game when you’re already on your trip, but you might find that they run out. Petrie recommends finding tickets in advance while you do the rest of your planning.
Before my flight to London it took about 15 minutes after I spiced up the Manchester match prices to find tickets online for a cheaper suburban alternative.
If you don’t work with a tour operator, Petrie says the best way to find tickets is to go directly to the main stadium site.
“Find tickets directly through the team,” she says. “These will be your cheapest tickets.”
While you’re on their site, Petrie recommends seeing if the team has an app to download. “A lot of these teams have apps that give you maps of their stadium, tell you about the food in the stadium, and tell you about traditions that happen during match day,” she says.
If you are unlucky to find tickets on the team website or stadium, beware of shopping from third parties. You may want to go to a trusted travel company or well-known ticket websites for a random list online.
“I always tell my clients that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” Mendoza says. “If tickets are going for $100 and you see one for $30, good luck with that.”