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Traveling to the London Olympics? You can medal in savings

Susan Ladika

It’s not quite to the point where I’ll pop over to London for a spot o’ tea. But the capital city has become part of my regular vacation routine, thanks to the kindness of friends who welcome me into their home.

Last year I arrived just days after the royal nuptials of William and Kate, and Westminster Abbey was still mobbed with tourists, perhaps hoping to find a stray grain of rice or wilted petal from the bridal bouquet.

The London Olympic torch. Credit: London2012

This year, my visit comes weeks before the start of the London 2012 Olympics.

While I won’t see gold medalists Michael Phelps or Nastia Liukin in action, I can take my own laps around the Olympic sites with one of the travel companies ushering visitors around the grounds.

It only costs 9 pounds, and at least I’ll be able to say “I’ve been there,” when the Games hit the airwaves.

For those actually attending the Olympic Games, which kick off July 27, or are fortunate enough to land in London during that time, you can easily be a gold medalist in the money-saving competition by watching snippets of the Games or sightseeing in the city for free or at a very low cost.

  • Money — You know you’re going to need a way to pay for things when you’re abroad, so start looking now for credit cards and debit cards that carry no foreign transaction fees. They’re much more numerous than in past years. Capital One continues to eschew foreign transaction fees on all its cards, but Citi, Chase, American Express and Discover are among the big banks that have dropped the fees in recent years on select cards — especially the high-end cards aimed at travelers. If those aren’t quite your cup of tea, look for cards that reward you for your jaunt overseas.
  • Games — Surprise! Some Olympic events are free. You can line city streets to see events like the marathon, cycling and race walk. Or you can join the crowds at places like Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park to watch events unfold on giant screens.
  • Travel — Purchase an Oyster Card for travel around the city. Prices are up to half off those of paper tickets, and you can add money as you go. If you’re heading to an Olympic ceremony or sporting event, you’ll receive a Games Travelcard, good for free travel on public transportation for that particular day.
  • Attractions — This is one city where admission to the top museums is always free. You can visit places such as the British Museum, Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert Museum and not pay a penny (or pound). There will also be myriad special cultural events going on all summer, many for free or at a low cost.

To prevent price gouging, dozens of establishments have already signed the London Visitor Charter, promising not to inflate prices during the Games.

You can find plenty of other travel information at Visit London, the official tourism site for the city.

Here’s a chance to share your own experiences. What travel advice do you have for London visitors or Olympics attendees?

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  • Online Merchant Account

    It’s a brilliant idea to look for credit cards that don’t charge fees for foreign transactions. I actually have a card that is issued in a foreign country – one that I can ironically never visit, and it constantly charges me 3% for every transaction because it is not in the country the bank that issued the card is based in. Imagine if you spend $3000 on a trip – you’ll have to give an additional $90 just for having a poor quality credit card.
    Also, you didn’t visit London for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee? Shocking!
    Great tips though. Thanks for sharing,
    James