Olympic Blog: The Top Olympic Travel Tips

Barbara Ferry, the director of National Geographic Libraries and

Information Services, rounds out her Olympics coverage by offering some great tips for parents planning their own trip to the Games.

As I watched the Olympics during my flight home (curling–who knew it could be so exciting?) I can’t help but think back on my nine days there. It’d been an awesome trip, as my kids would say. The highlights for me go well beyond the events themselves (although watching Lindsey Vonn win gold in the downhill was an Olympic high for me) to the people I met from around the world and the unforgettable sense of place that Vancouver and Whistler and the First Nations of Canada brought to the experience.  

Some of my friends have already asked me how I planned the trip, so for those of you who may be thinking of a visit to the 2012 Olympics in London, I thought I would pass on a few pieces of advice.

Save Your Money and Plan Ahead: The trip took more than 16 months to execute, beginning with the first CoSport (U.S. ticket distributor) lottery in October 2009, several subsequent ticket-buying opportunities as tickets were released, and one visit to Stubhub to round out our event choices. Tickets ranged from $35 to more than $200 each. With package deals for hotels out of reach of our family budget, I arranged accommodations more than a year ahead by calling what seemed like every small hotel in Vancouver and condo owner in Whistler. Although I still ended up paying rates triple the norm, we had a confirmed place to stay while I continued to gather tickets. Everything is “pay in advance” so expect to have the money handy when you are making reservations.

Counter Advice: Don’t Plan: I met a couple on the plane to Vancouver (MaryAnn Pasquarello and Rick Burdick of Tampa, Florida) who had started planning their Olympic trip just two months ago. They found a hotel by looking for last minute vacancies (still expensive, they said) but had no tickets. Turns out, theirs was a good plan. In Whistler, there appeared to be plenty of same-day tickets available to events, and since transportation was local and didn’t require reservations, it worked out well for the last-minute buyers–not to mention the fact that they didn’t have to deal with the hefty ticket distributor fees. Last minute isn’t for everyone, though, and when traveling with kids I preferred the security of knowing when and where we would be throughout the trip.

Go Early: At an event early in our trip, we missed the beginning of

the race by not leaving ourselves enough time to adjust for long

security lines after missing our train stop. We learned our lesson and began

riding local transportation two or three hours ahead of the events to

avoid the long lines. As a bonus you also get the best standing room

spots by dragging yourself out of bed very early and staking out

territory (large flags work well over fences) you can take turns

being the early bird with adults in your group.

The

bonus of going early is that you will be entertained by local bands and

real sport enthusiasts who will give you all the necessary background

for the upcoming event.  Colorful international groups also show up

early for their favorite events.
   
Leave

Early: Leave just before the event ends so that you can get to the

buses before everyone else. The latter can save you hours in getting

back to your hotel or condo but may not be worth it if you expect exciting medal finishes. At the biathlon event we attended, everyone

knew the event was basically over once the Norwegians finished and a

throng of people left at once (we sensed the mood and were just ahead

of the group). 

Show Your Colors: Bring along the flags,

signs, and noisemakers! Get into the spirit of the Olympics by representing your country with pride, but cheer for everyone.

Stay

Healthy: Long walks to events are the norm, although there are

accommodations so the handicapped can access the events. The walk from

the bus to the biathlon start was 1.2 km, most of it uphill. The

walk to speed skating was 1.5 km. Meanwhile, everyone is walking very

fast to get the best spots–the spectator version of an Olympic

sprint! Some events required standing for several hours if you

counted the line and “spot staking” time.  

Don’t Plan More than One Event in One Day: My daughter and I made the

mistake of attempting to watch both speed skating and pairs figure skating in one

day. The hectic train and taxi rides made the day more expensive and

stressful than needed. One event per day was enough – especially for

the kids – who need down time every day.

Book your next trip with Peace of Mind
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Give Yourself

a Day or Two with No Events:  We had one event canceled, and although

we were disappointed to miss it, we got a day of much-needed time to

just relax and absorb the place, in that case Whistler.  I wish we

had an extra day in Vancouver to enjoy the gardens, parks, and

neighborhoods. I plan to go back in the future to see everything I

missed!

Drink it All In: I’m very fortunate to have had

the opportunity to blog for the Olympics for Intelligent Travel –

writing every day has helped me to crystallize those memories for

myself and my family. There is so much happening at one time that if

you don’t stop for a moment just to drink it all in – it will rush past

you — just like a luger! 

Photos: Above, courtesy Ferry family; Video, Barbara Ferry; Below, Jack Ferry.

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