EDITORS NOTE: This is the first of several guest posts, written by all the awesome people who donated more than $100 to Thomas' fundraiser a few weeks back. Today's post is written by longtime friend of the blog Heisenbergkamp, and is presented in two parts - part one now, and part two later today.
Dos & Dont's for Americans Traveling to Watch Arsenal
For American Arsenal fans, traveling to the UK to see Arsenal play can be a daunting prospect. Between airfare, the exchange rate, and London generally being one of the priciest destinations in the world, it's an expensive proposition. It can also be difficult to figure out how to go about getting tickets, booking away travel, etc., as someone who does not live nearby.
I was lucky enough to travel over to see three Arsenal matches last season, and based on the things I did right and wrong, I thought I would try to help out anyone considering a trip across the pond in the near future.
Getting to, Staying In, and Getting Around London
Do: Shop around for cheap fares, and be flexible. Flying round-trip to the UK is not cheap, and will probably cost you over $1000, but sometimes you can save several hundred dollars if you fly through other cities like Dublin or Reykyavik, don't travel during peak tourist times, and don't have to travel on weekends. The more flexible you are and the more time you spend looking into ways to try to save money, the cheaper you can make the trip.
Don't: Be poor. Or if you are, don't be short on plasma, because you are going to need to sell a lot of it. Honestly, no matter how flexible you are with travel, this is not going to be a cheap trip.
Do: Take an overnight flight, especially if you can grab a few hours of sleep on the flight. It saves you the cost of a hotel room for a night, and you can land in the morning and have a full day ahead of you.
Don't: Take a nap that first day. It'll mess up your sleep schedule for days. Honestly, I've found the best way is just to power through the day until the evening, then just drink beer until you pass out from drunkenness and exhaustion. Although, in fairness, this is how I approach every day of life as an adult, whether I'm traveling or not.
Do: Consider using AirBNB. Unlike some other major cities, like New York City, it's legal in London, and your money goes a lot farther with this than with a hotel. If you want privacy, you can find a nice 1BR apartment with easy access to public transit, kitchen, wireless, cable, and a washer and dryer, for about $150 a night or less. If you're trying to save money and are willing to share living spaces, you can get a private bedroom for about $50-$60 a night, much less than you'll spend on a hotel.
Don't: Plan on seducing a member of the royal family and count on staying with them for a week. They are severely inbred, and just not that into you anyway.
Do: Use public transit. The iconic London black cabs are extremely expensive, and the Underground system is one of the best of its kind in the world. It's clean and trains come every few minutes, and it's pretty easy to get anywhere you'll need to go by that method (including Heathrow). The bus system is one of the best in the world, too. If you're going to be in London for more than a few days, get an "Oyster card," which can be refilled and result in lower mass transit fares.
Don't: Eat your Oyster card. It's not an actual oyster; and it will really do a number on your GI tract.
Do: If you have an "unlocked" phone, buy a UK-specific SIM card, you can get one for $20 or so that has enough minutes and data to get you through a few days.
Don't: Put your precious little screen down for a few days and be forced to have actual face-to-face interactions with your fellow human beings like some kind of sick weirdo.
Do: Try to get tickets through Arsenal America. Membership is $25 a year, and they get an allotment of tickets for every home match. They take requests starting 3 weeks before the season starts, but you have to put your request in at least 10 weeks in advance of the match. The earlier you submit your request, the better your chances are, so get it in early. But you don't find out for sure whether you got tickets or not until 2-3 weeks prior to the match. You will need a membership for every ticket you request.
Do: Consider getting an Arsenal "Red" membership. This is the only level of membership open to new members. It costs about $60 a year, in exchange for which you get (a) a membership pack, which has the annual Arsenal yearbook with pictures and comprehensive stats from the previous season and usually a few other books and tchotchkes and (b) the right to buy tickets to home matches. Basically, all tickets that are not already reserved for season-ticket holders or bought by more senior "Silver" members go on sale a month in advance of the match to Red members. There are always at least a few thousand tickets available this way.
If the match sells out, you can also check on "Ticket Exchange," which is the way season-ticket holders who can't make the match can legally sell their tickets (for face value) through the club's website. The downsides are: (a) tickets for marquee matches generally sell out quickly and can be tough to get as a Red member; (b) the seats you get generally aren't the best seats in the stadium; and (c) tickets go on sale at 10 am UK time, so if you want to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale (which you should), you're looking at an early morning that day to log in and try to get tickets. You will need a membership for each ticket you get.
Don't: Count on buying a ticket on the secondary market, at least not without a hassle. Scalpers (or "touts") are illegal in the UK. You can't just go to StubHub and buy a ticket, even if you're willing to pay a premium. However, they do exist, obviously, it's just quite a bit more illicit than it is here in the States. If you find one, you usually will need to meet up beforehand to pick up a membership card, drop off the membership card afterward, and generally jump through a bunch of hoops.
In terms of finding a tout, the best advice is to ask around fellow Arsenal fans and seeing if anyone has someone that they've used before and had a good experience with. If that doesn't work, treat it like you're an out-of-towner looking for drugs or a strip club - discretely ask a concierge or bartender, they may be able to help you out. If all else fails, many touts advertise on Craig's List over there, but understand there's a not insignificant chance you'll get ripped off. Also, you should understand that touts are not only illegal over there, but also frowned upon by many fans, so if you do get tickets through a tout, you may not want to advertise that too loudly.
NEXT UP: Matchday!
Thanks again to Heisenbergkamp for both donating and writing.