Do you want to discover a new city? Go to a game.

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The most memorable part of my recent trip to Britain wasn’t seeing London Bridge or eating a full English – it was taking the train in the suburbs to watch a football match in the third English division of League One. The Americans might call it a minor league game.

Tickets to see the big names in the Premier League (Manchester United, Arsenal, etc.) were light years out of my budget, but I could rock a $30 seat at a lower tier stadium, that’s how that I ended up cheering on Charlton Athletic against Shrewsbury Town in a stadium that holds less than 30,000 fans.

My solo seat was next to a father and teenage son, who gave me the CliffsNotes on key players and lore – like why everyone disappeared before halftime. (They were rushing down to the concessions for pints mid-game; with that tip, I got up and followed suit.)

Because it wasn’t the major leagues, I could afford to sit right behind the goal – so close you could joke around with the players. I looked at the red-clad fans around me and did my best to keep up with the many chants, standing tall when everyone stood up. After the match, I joined the sea of ​​people streaming out of the stadium and ended up spending hours in a noisy fans-only pub (you had to show your match tickets to get in).

Although I had no direct interest in the teams before kick-off, the day had all the trappings of a fantastic travel experience: the rush to find public transport to get somewhere new, the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the sun, the chance to blend into the local culture and meet new people.

This is just one example of why, alongside beach time, museum visits and restaurant reservations, going to see sports deserves to be at the top of the list on your travel itinerary, whatever your interest in sports.

“People want to travel like a local — they want that authentic experience, and that doesn’t get any more authentic than going to a sporting event,” says Luisa Mendoza, Founder and CEO of Global Tourism Sports and Entertainment, an online business. -commercial form that connects tour operators with tickets to professional sporting events in the United States, among other services.

Don’t give up on the idea because you don’t follow the sport. I couldn’t tell you right away who won the World Series. But mingling with fans in an unfamiliar place remains one of my favorite travel pastimes.

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Minors are more personal

You could shell out a fortune to see the superstars perform, but there’s another kind of magic to getting into the cheap seats with everyone else.

Fulvio De Bonis, president and co-founder of Imago Artis Travel, says seeing one of Italy’s least-followed football teams instead of the infamous AC Milan or Roma is like eating a meal from a grand -mother Italian instead of a Michelin star restaurant.

“Both are authentic, but it’s a different kind of authenticity,” he says.

Shop around and find something that fits your budget, whether it’s minor leagues, a college league, or inexpensive seats in the upper deck or standing section.

“It doesn’t matter if your seats are thousands of dollars or $20 nosebleeds,” Mendoza says. “It brings us all together, and for those two hours you forget what’s going on because you’re screaming like crazy, supporting your team.”

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It’s not (all) about the game

If you like watching the sport itself, that’s a bonus. But for travelers, the real joy comes from being with the fans. It’s the walk to the stadium, the chants, the outfits and the camaraderie. Finding a game – any game – opens doors to adventure and new friendships for travelers.

If it wasn’t for sports, I wouldn’t have seen Hsinchu, Taiwan, if it wasn’t for wanting to see a Uni-Lions baseball game. I wouldn’t have ended up at a party in Glasgow if I hadn’t stopped in a pub to watch a football final.

“It is indeed a great way to experience the local culture, to immerse yourself in a team, its spirit, the supporters,” says former German sports journalist Sandra Weinacht, whose company Inside Europe organizes travel experiences. for customers from football to tennis to the Tour. of France.

Of the many selling points for going to a game while on your trip, “at the very least, it might just lead to a really fun experience meeting new people in a new city,” says Tori Petry, Fora travel consultant and former Detroit Lions. Streamer. “Sporting events are social events.”

Weinacht says that even if you don’t speak the local language, cheering on the same team can create opportunities to bond with the people around you. And if you can’t find a ticket or make it to the game in person, “public viewings are another wonderful opportunity to connect with locals,” says Weinacht.

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Then there is the food. I left a Yomiuri Giants baseball game in Tokyo full of takoyaki – fried octopus balls that are a popular Japanese street food – and Kirin beer. Between two Muay Thai matches in a stadium in Bangkok, I enjoyed Khao Man Gai, a chicken and rice dish.

Weinacht notes that food, drink, pre-game and post-game rituals are often not unique to one country but to each region. Different stadiums will have different concessions, such as tacos at a Fresno Grizzlies game and pork rinds with chili cheese at the Arkansas Razorbacks football stadium. All the more reason to see more sports in more places.

If there’s a tailgating culture, go tailgating.

For example, before a Louisiana State University football game in Baton Rouge, “you just walk around the tents and facilities and people invite you over and offer you okra,” says Petry. “It really is an experience. So you have to go for the game, but you also go for the tailgating.

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Don’t rely on a scalper

You can try your luck and find a game when you’re already on a trip, but you might find they’re sold out. Petry recommends finding tickets in advance while you do the rest of your planning.

Before my trip to London, it took me about 15 minutes after panting over prices for a Manchester game to find tickets online for a cheaper alternative in the suburbs.

If you’re not working with a travel planner, Petry says the best way to find tickets is to go directly to the stadium’s website.

“Look for tickets directly with the team,” she says. “These will be your cheapest tickets.”

While you’re on their site, Petry recommends seeing if the team has an app to download. “A lot of these teams have apps that will give you maps of their stadium, tell you what food is in the stadium, tell you what’s going on on game days,” she says.

If you can’t find tickets on the team or stadium website, beware of third-party purchases. You may want to go through a trusted travel agency or recognizable ticketing websites rather than a random online listing.

“I always tell my client that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” says Mendoza. “If the tickets are $100 and you see one for $30, good luck.”

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