Take 2 — London Calling
Planning for the London Olympics on a budget
I can't believe that the countdown for my trip to London for the 2012 Olympic Games has officially hit one week! I've been planning this trip with one of my good friends, Christina, for about nine to 10 months now, so it's crazy that we are so close to take-off. Every day until July 25 is going to be an eternity until we're on the runway at LAX on our flight to London.
Being recent college grads on a budget (I graduated from UW in 2011 and Christina from USC in 2009), it was a little unnerving booking a lot of tickets and travel accommodations so far in advance, especially with the conversion rates from dollars to pounds and Euros. With that being said, we know every dollar, pound, Euro will be worth the trip and want to share some of our tips for planning an international trip so far in advance.
Vacation time: This was probably one of the biggest factors for both of us to take seven to eight days of vacation (for a 10-day trip) during the middle of the summer at fairly new jobs. Thankfully we knew the dates of the Games, time frame of the events that we wanted to be around for, and it was far enough in advance for us to save up vacation days. Making a spreadsheet of accrued vacation time can be your best friend when planning a trip like this! We made sure to let our bosses know early on in the planning stages since many people request time off during the summer. We've definitely had to be more careful about taking days off around the holidays and limit our weekend getaways, but we know it will be worth it!
A place to stay: Finding a place to stay is probably the most important thing when traveling abroad. We'll be staying at a hostel during our time in London and were able to lock in a great deal since we booked it back in October 2011. Most hostels only require a 5 to 10 percent deposit with the rest due upon arrival. We both thought the 10 percent booking fee was well worth the risk in case we didn't end up going. Rates for our hostel skyrocketed as summer approached, so we are very fortunate to have found a place early!
Flights: Finding deals on flightsespecially at a time like the Olympics when everyone is trying to get to one citycan be a daunting task, so we were realistic in what we expected to pay. I mainly used kayak.com to compare flights and checked it every week for a few months to monitor the prices. I did some research on historical summer prices and set a realistic range and bought my flight when it was near the low end. We both have mileage accounts with the same airline, so that helped narrow down the flight selection to maximize our miles earned. Departure times also impacted the price of flights (morning and afternoon flights were a bit more than departing in the late evening), so if you don't mind getting to your destination in the afternoon or evening that could save you some money!
City transportation: From experience, taking cabs in foreign cities is very convenient, but can quickly add up. Luckily, London has one of the best public transportation systems in the world, so we will be taking full advantage of the Tube. I think I even have a few pounds left on my Oyster card from when I studied abroad a few years back! London is also a very "walkable" city, so we may opt to walk instead of the Tube on nicer days.
Food/drinks: Many hotels and hostels offer a continental breakfast that can last you for a few hours in the morning. We probably won't be eating at any five-star restaurants while in London, but there are many cafes and pubs that offer economical dining options. We both liked Pret A Manger (similar to a Panera) while we were in London last time and will probably be making frequent visits for meals. We're hoping to meet fellow Americans and other international fans in the pubs!
Seeing the sights: Sightseeing can get expensive, but many cities now offer a "city pass" that grants you admission to many main attractions in one day or over a multi-day span. While we won't be using this option in London, we purchased Dublin Passes for our short getaway to Dublin at the end of our trip. This will be both our second time in London, so we'll be able to pick and choose what we want to see this time (fingers crossed for a royal family sighting!). A lot of museums, monuments and other attractions offer discounted admission prices to young adults up to age 25 or 26 and we plan to take full advantage of that!
Olympic events: Most tickets to Olympic events went on sale in early 2011 and we didn't start planning until later in the year, so many tickets were already sold out. Fortunately, more tickets were released to fans in the United States and we were able to get tickets to U.S. Women's Soccer vs. North Korea at Old Trafford in Manchester. There will also be huge televisions set up around the city for spectators and pubs will most likely be overflowing with fans from all over. While we were fortunate to get tickets, we were content on just being in the city for the experience! Tickets may still be available up until the start of events, so hopefully we will be able to see more.