It should come as a surprise to no one when I say that I watch a lot of sports on TV.
In just about every telecast of a sporting event, at some point you’ll see shots of the city where the game is taking place — famous landmarks, busy streets, people going about their daily business.
In essence, every televised sporting event is a mini-promo film for the host location’s tourism board.
If you see those images and think to yourself: “Wow, I’d like to go to that place,” then you are a strong candidate to travel for sports.
I should know, because I think that just about every time I watch a sporting event.
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The way I see it, everyone who travels has a strong underlying reason for it. Sometimes it’s broad — “I want to see more of the world,” or “I want to experience cultures other than my own.”
Often, you’ll see it based around a hobby or passion. Food is a popular reason, as is hiking/backpacking.
That’s where my love of sports comes in.
I’ve always been intrigued by stadium design and how sports facilities fit into the grand scheme of city building — so much so that I have, at various times in my life, considered careers in both architecture and urban planning before settling into what I guess most people would consider to be my true calling, sports media.
So for me, it’s not just about watching games. Sports is such a big part of most of the world’s great cities. In Los Angeles, where I live, it’s hard to walk around town without seeing a Dodgers or Lakers banner flying somewhere. Same for Barcelona and their beloved soccer club, FC Barcelona, or London with its many football clubs.
A big part of traveling is people-watching, seeing how the locals live their lives and noting the differences between their daily lives and yours. Many travelers are content to do that by sitting at a sidewalk cafe, watching the rhythms of a city.
Well, on the day of a big sporting event, you’ll see that times 1,000 — maybe even more, depending on just how important the event is.
Immersing yourself in that feeling of anticipation, of getting excited about something that might not have mattered to you days before but is so meaningful to so many others, will make you feel alive in a way that just about any comparable travel experience will.
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To date, the most illuminating sports travel experience I’ve had came in 2014, when Mrs. Fan and I went to Russia for the Winter Olympics.
It was the clearest example I’ve had of watching cultures come together and co-exist, and in fact become curious about one another. I wore my Team USA hockey jersey most days — since a big reason I was there was to watch NHL players do battle on an international stage — and was legitimately stunned by the number of non-Americans who came up to me for a short conversation.
The picture at the top of this post was indicative of these interactions: Two young Russian men coming up to us and, in broken English, asking for a picture. The name of the city where they were from, Chelyabinsk, was printed on the flag they held. “Meteor,” one said, referencing the event for which the town was most famous internationally.
So many smiles and souvenirs were exchanged that day that I still look back upon it fondly as one of the most illuminating, life-affirming days I’ve ever experienced. And that might sound like hyperbole, but ask any avid traveler about the best days they’ve ever had on the road, and I’m willing to bet that their story will sound a lot like this one.
Which just goes to show that sports travel can bring you just the same amount of joy that any other type of travel can.
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I have a few more international sports travel experiences on my wish list for the coming years: Soccer in England, possibly another Olympics, the World Cup for sure.
If I’m able to check all these off, it will add a good 7-8 new countries to my list and help me get to a few corners of the world that I haven’t yet experienced in my lifetime. It will also be a good intro to international travel for my daughter Little Fan, born the year after I went to Russia and just now coming into her own as an aspiring world-seer.
By the way, not all of my trips are going to involve sports. I am planning to head to Southeast Asia in early 2022, and there is no sports pretext behind that one. I just want to see that part of the world.
But you have to admit, when you have a passion behind it, the motivation to get out there has a hard time dying. And as long as there are sports going on and stadiums worth seeing, I’ll continue to travel. It’s just who I am.