Why You Should Absolutely Visit The Olympics When You Can!


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why visit olympics
Only 7 hours to go! The atmosphere in Beijing was electric as everyone was waiting for the games to begin!

As everyone probably knows, the 2016 Summer Olympics are going on now in Rio. As with every games, there is some controversy, but for the most part, the world has come together and it is a positive and inspiring occasion. One which inspires in the way that it should.

I grew up like so many people always wanting to visit the Olympics. That dream came true in 2008 at the tail end of our around the world trip. Those games were not only unique in that they were sort of a coming out for China, but they also coincided with Shawn Reece’s 8th birthday. It was a special couple of weeks for China and for our family.

why visit olympics
Olympics and birthday cake!
why visit olympics
Shawn Reece was even interviewed for Australian television.

why visit olympics

Initially we weren’t sure if we would be able to go, but ultimately decided to bite the bullet. The first hurdle was tickets. Tickets had all been sold ahead of time with a large portion going to locals. Foreigners who wanted tickets had to get in a lottery and we weren’t home to do that. Thankfully we met some people in Mongolia who sold us some archery tickets. At least we knew we would be able to go to one event!

Things turned out much better than that though. Quickly we learned that a lot of the locals had no interest in going to the games and thus wanted to sell their tickets. We used Twitter to find out where the makeshift scalper stands were and each morning we made our way to get tickets for that day’s events. Eventually we figured out that Shawn Reece didn’t need a ticket as long as we agreed to make him sit on our lap if there wasn’t room. Venues were rarely full so that never became an issue. When all was said and done, we spent less than $200 total for all of our tickets!

why visit olympics
Our first event attended was archery. It was rainy and gray, but it didn’t get us down.

why visit olympics

why visit olympics
Archery isn’t as boring as you would think it is.

Over the course of 11 days we saw 7 events including: Archery, Water Polo, Beach Volleyball, Weightlifting, Boxing and Track Cycling. The highlight though had to be watching Cuba play the United States in baseball. That was actually a tough ticket to get. We showed up at the venue trying to find someone selling tickets, but no one was. Then a woman whose son was a pitcher on the American team gave us two extra tickets! We sat next to the loudest group of Cuban fans. It was amazing.

why visit olympics
Ready to watch some baseball!
why visit olympics
They sat us in the Cuban section, but we represented.

why visit olympics

In fact, the whole Olympic experience was incredible. In between the actual sporting events, we attended parties and other Olympic events. We even met some athletes. We also talked to people from everywhere. It was amazing to see some much patriotism yet so much friendliness. It truly is unlike anything I have seen before and is something I will never forget.

I often tell the story of when we watched the opening ceremony in a park with about 3,000 Chinese people and maybe 100 Westerners. While I won’t try to claim to understand even 1% of the Chinese culture, it was awe-inspiring to see how much these games meant to them and to watch them cheer as both the American and Chinese delegations came out. They almost cheered as hard for the Americans as they did for the Chinese.

why visit olympics
Watching the opening ceremony in a park in Beijing.
why visit olympics
Cheering for the U.S. delegation.

So the days came and the days went. Beijing became more blue and beautiful as the games went on. Eventually we had to leave and we moved on to Xian and then to Japan and finally home to end our 18 months on the road. What a spectacular finale though! I couldn’t have planned it any better. Dreams becoming reality.

Life and work prevented us from going to London in 2012 and while Rio sounded nice this year, baby Ellie was just a little too young. She’ll be 5 1/2 when the Tokyo games come around in four years and I think it might be time to return. I still wouldn’t mind doing a Winter games as well, but the Summer Olympics have always been more interesting to me.

why visit olympics why visit olympics

If you can make an Olympics trip happen, you won’t regret making the journey.. It is something unique and something that you will only be able to experience in a limited quantity within your lifetime. Do yourself a favor and go when and if you can. Besides, NBC has way too many commercials, so why would you want to watch it on tv anyway when you can be there?

Have you been to the Olympics? Share your experiences in the comments!

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  1. I concur. Going to any Olympics is a wonderful opportunity. As you mentioned, getting tickets is next to impossible at face value. The Olympic committees restrict non locals from acquiring them, but freely allow travel agents to get them and bundle them into the most rediculously expensive packages you have ever seen. Finding lodging is not always simple either. For tickets it is probably easier to buy from resellers, the closer to the start of the event the better. However for the most popular events, gymnastics in the summer and ice skating (or finals in hockey) in the winter, the tickets will always be outrageous. Tickets can also be purchased through ebay, but there are many sharks in that pool. I went to two winter Olympics (being a ski junkie at the time). The first was in Calgary in 1988. It was a huge party. Athletes freely mingled with tourists, I collected lots of autographs on my tickets, and unlike now, you could position yourself on the side of a race course for a close up view and photo ops. Pin trading was, and still is a huge part of the games. People are starved for pins, and anyone who is in this game could make a cache of $$$ or create a nice collection of pins through buying, selling, and trading. This was all freely allowed in Calgary, as they believed in free enterprise. My second games was in Salt Lake in 2002, and even though it was a lot of fun it was far more restricted. I did learn my lesson about pin trading, however, and paid for my entire trip with pin profits. In addition, I sold lots more on ebay after the games. Selling pins was restricted to certain areas and an up front tax fee of over $700 had to be forked over in advance as well as the rent (greedy Mormons). Still, there were tons of events, music (Cheryl Crow did a four hour gig in a Park City bar), free concerts, you name it. I met a person that let me hold his falcon for the fee of a bid pin. At the games, pins are currency! And of course the big advantage to being at the winter games is that you can ski all the areas where the games are when you are not at an event. And of course you are right, you may get a better view on the TV, but there is simply nothing like being there in person. The excitement in the air is electrifying!

  2. I have always wanted to go to the world cup and would probably do that before the olympics. Looks like you had a great time. I am guessing tickets for London would have been much more expensive.

    • Oh definitely. We were expecting to pay more for tickets and were shocked at how cheap we made out. London was expensive and I am sure Tokyo will be too. Going to the less desirable events (sort of like what we did) is a good strategy to save money and it is still fun.

  3. My wife and I were lucky enough to attend the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. Our cheapest tickets were 4-man bobsled tickets so we made the trek up the mountain (out of breath) and took our place on the course at one of the turns. We were a bit disappointed when we realized that the sleds came down so fast that we couldn’t even recognize which country they belonged to because they went by us in about a 1/2 second. We decided to regroup and went looking for something hot to drink. We got lost and wandered down some stairs and ended up right at the finish line where a space opened up with a clear view. The US ended up taking silver and bronze in this event and the crowd was crazy loud at the finish line. We got to see the reaction on the faces of the racers up close as they realized they had just won a medal. Once of the most memorable events of my life.

  4. My sister and I have talked about going to the Olympics for years. London just couldn’t happen for various reasons, but we’re determined to make it to South Korea in 2018! Of course, I have been plotting how we’ll get there. Thanks for the reminder that official channels are not the only options for getting event tickets 🙂

  5. Shawn,

    I think it’s great that you and your wife are able to provide such wonderful traveling experiences for your kids!

  6. I was in Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Games. I managed to get a fair number of tickets at the last minute from people who didn’t want to go, etc. You’d be amazed how exciting it can be to be at “less-desirable” events. I watched preliminary rounds of badminton and was blown away. Of course, I also got a ticket to women’s gymnastics event finals cheap from someone who had a sponsor ticket and didn’t want to go. Part of the fun was just meeting people. I sat in a park right next to basketball stars Julius Erving and Patrick Ewing. I met the mother of US gymnast Shannon Miller. I stayed in some nasty, makeshift hostel that didn’t have AC—and I didn’t care. I definitely would like to go to another games.

  7. Who watches the Olympics on NBC? Not me….I’m lucky enough to live close to the Canadian border. I watch exclusively on CBC. Every thing is on as close to live as they can. They don’t show one or two athletes then switch to something else. I want to go to a winter olympics. Hopefully in 2026 in the US or Canada.

  8. I went to the Brazil vs Colombia football game last night and tomorrow I go to Rio. I arrived yesterday morning after booking a Korean Airlines flight from Los Angeles the day before. I transferred 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Air for a first class ticket. I’m staying at the Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo for 15,000 Hyatt Points a night and will get 10% points back with my Hyatt Visa card. I booked a hotel in Rio for four nights using my Citi Prestige card so I got the last night for free. I still don’t know how I will get home back to Los Angeles but I have lots of miles in different programs so I’m not worried about it. I love to be able to go and leave places without making plans. The miles and points game is great. Every time I go on a great trip I feel like I’ve won a gold-medal!

    Your blog is very useful. Keep up the good work.


  9. I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics. I was hoping for Rio but I run a summer business and get zero time off in the summer. I can imagine it would be the trip of a lifetime! Thanks for sharing. Maybe someday I’ll get there.


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