I recently attended two World Cup games in Brazil — my first time in the country and second time attending a major international sporting event (I saw ice dancing at the Torino Winter Olympics in 2006). I’ve learned a lot about how to spend smartly despite inflated prices and sometimes limited options, and a lot of this advice applies to any major sporting event or popular international event, such as a festival.
Here are my tips to avoid letting your budget go completely out the window while maximizing your fun:
Research free shuttle options to get to and from the stadium or event arena.
In Fortaleza, Brazil, the stadium is a 20-minute drive outside of town. We spent some time in Rio de Janeiro before heading to Fortaleza and met some Americans who had just come from Fortaleza. They told us horror stories about having to spend $100 for a cab to get to the stadium and how the drive, because of heavy traffic, took more than an hour. Once we got to Fortaleza, we quickly discovered that there were at least a dozen buses designated for transporting fans to and from the stadium for free. And because we left early enough, sometimes three hours before the game, we had no trouble with traffic; the journey took as long as it should have, about 20 minutes.
Taking the free shuttle — packed to the gills with excited, nervous and probably already a bit drunk fans — was a lively and authentic cultural experience that was way more fun than a cab would have been. The first game I attended was Netherlands vs. Mexico, and the bus ride there was somewhat tame, but the ride back was definitely interesting. The disappointed Mexico fan sitting next to me was crying real tears and shaking his fist at the sky. My second game was Brazil vs. Colombia. We’d bid for our tickets before the draw, so we didn’t know who we would see until we arrived in Brazil. It was our hope to see Brazil play and win at home. This is why:
The bus ride to the stadium was packed with Brazil fans singing, banging on the roof of the bus and otherwise behaving in the happy, raucous, manic way you’d expect. Thankfully, they won, and the result was every bit the fun, crazy party we were hoping to see.
Drink and eat before entering the stadium or event arena.
Before hopping on the shuttle, it’s wise to fill up on a full meal — or you’ll be wishing you had when hungry and faced with long lines and limited, expensive food options at the stadium. Concession prices weren’t that bad in Brazil’s stadium compared with my experiences at American venues, such as the Dallas Cowboys, but still much higher than you’d like for sub-par food.
In Brazil, a very popular lunch option is a kilo restaurant, which is sort of like a typical American buffet except without the flat fee for all you can eat — your plate is weighed after you fill it, and you pay only for what you took. Kilo restaurants were a great option before a game in Fortaleza, and the food was authentic.
At the first of the two games I attended, I didn’t plan ahead this way. By the time the shuttle dropped us near the stadium, we had about a mile walk to the entrance and I was absolutely starving. Fortunately, the chaotic promenade was lined with locals hawking beer, water, kebabs and other street food (I can still hear them yelling, “cerveja, agua!”). This was a great opportunity to grab some food and drink a beer or two before being gouged by stadium prices. I definitely took advantage of the food on offer, ordering two chili dogs from a local who’d set up a tent and was serving from a van. That’s right, I totally ate chili dogs out of the back of some random person’s van. But you know what? I lived, it was cheaper than the stadium food and I was quite nourished. (Incidentally, street food being sold from cars and vans is a popular option and was not an uncommon sight to me by that point, so this wasn’t quite as questionable of a choice as it may sound.)
Consider the local economy when deciding where to buy your fan gear.
If the event you’re attending takes place in another country, consider the value of the local currency versus the American dollar. If the economy is strong and the currency is worth more than the dollar, pick up your fan gear (especially expensive items like jerseys) at home or online if available. If the currency is worth less than the dollar, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to pick up the same or similar items upon arrival for much less. I purchased an official women’s-cut replica Brazil jersey in the United States from a sporting goods chain before I left because I didn’t expect to be able to find the same thing in Brazil — but there actually were lots of options available when I got there for much less than I paid.
Pay attention to street vendors and small markets in town for the items you’re looking for. You might find a decent array of options without having to pay full price at the stadium or official merchandise shop.
Replace souvenirs with awesome photos.
For me, limiting souvenir purchases is already a necessity due to the fact that I travel with only a carry-on suitcase and don’t have much room for anything else purchased abroad. Souvenirs can also be really expensive, and I generally don’t believe in buying things mindlessly when traveling simply because friends and family back home might like it. I consider the photos and videos I take to be my souvenirs. Most of the time, I take all photos with my iPhone, which has terrible battery life — so a portable battery charger was an absolute necessity on this trip (I like and use the Jackery Bar). Without it, I’d have been lugging around a dead phone for most of the trip and lamenting all the missed photo opportunities.
Avoid being a target of theft by leaving valuables at home.
My iPhone was by far the most expensive thing I took with me to Brazil, but I considered it an essential item, as my only camera and link to home via Wi-Fi. Otherwise, I took only basic items and certainly no showy jewelry. This is an especially necessary precaution abroad but good advice in the U.S., too. By not wearing flashy jewelry or toting expensive camera gear, you’re less likely to be targeted; even if you are a victim of pickpockets or muggers, they won’t have much to take and you won’t be struggling to replace something expensive.
Buy travel insurance.
This was my first time buying travel insurance. Fortunately, I didn’t need it, but it was reassuring to know I was protected in the case of theft, lost baggage or unexpected itinerary changes. It even would have covered the price of our World Cup tickets should something have happened to prevent our attendance.
With inflated prices and expensive tickets already eating into any traveler’s budget, it can be tough to save money on major sporting and other high-demand events. With a little inside knowledge and planning ahead, it is possible to have an amazing experience while keeping your spending under control.
Photo credit: Megan Van Groll