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How I Booked My Last-Minute Olympic Vacation...And How You Can, Too (Yes, Even Now!)

Originally Posted: January 25, 2010

Christine Karpinski reveals how she book a trip for the Olympics with very little advance! (Dottie DeHart)

Southampton - Disappointed that you'll be watching the 2010 Winter Olympics on television instead of in person between February 12 and February 28? According to Christine Karpinski, it's not too late to plan that last-minute trip to Vancouver!

The 2010 Winter Olympics are almost upon us. As the athletes gear up for competition and the excitement builds to the proverbial fever-pitch, you can't help but wish you were going. After all, relatively speaking, Vancouver isn't that far away. Unfortunately, unless you reserved your spot a year and a half ago, or unless you're prepared to shell out your last dollar on exorbitantly priced scalped tickets, you might as well resign yourself to watching this once-in-a-lifetime event from your sofa. Right?

Wrong, says travel expert Karpinski. Amazing as it may sound, it's still possible for a savvy sports enthusiast to score a place in the stands without breaking the bank. And how does she know? Because she made an 11th-hour ticket purchase herself, and finalized her travel arrangements mere days ago.

"My family will soon be flying from Texas to Vancouver to take in - among other events - an Olympic hockey game, and we'll be staying within walking distance of the venue," says Karpinski, who is a veteran traveler, director of Owner Community, www.OwnerCommunity.com for HomeAway.com, and author of "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment" (Kinney Pollack Press, 2007, $26).

"When people ask me when I started making all these plans, they always expect me to say something like 'November 2008.' So when I tell them I purchased the hockey tickets this past November - yes, November of 2009 - and just finalized my travel arrangements in January, they're stunned."

Author Christine Karpinski.

"Sure, I was fortunate to find the tickets and accommodations that I did, especially at such a late date," she admits. "But my 'strokes of luck' were the result of many hours of question-asking, comparison shopping, and diligent searching."

First things first: Determine how you're going to get there. Before you can even start thinking about watching a figure skater land that triple lutz in person, you've got to plot your plan for getting from point A (your home) to point B (Vancouver). If you live in the Pacific Northwest - say, Seattle - you're lucky. It might be possible for you to drive across the border for a short stay or even just for the day. For everyone else, though, your transportation choices are probably an airplane or nothing.

Searching for flights online can be time-consuming and more than a little frustrating, but the process itself is fairly straightforward. Check with popular online travel agencies as well as the websites of individual airlines. If possible, play around with different departure and arrival points. You never know when a good deal might pop up, or how long it will last, so be ready to book quickly.

"Whenever you're taking a last-minute vacation - and the Olympics certainly qualify at this point! - I think it's a good idea to purchase a travel insurance policy that covers changed flight dates and/or cancellation," suggests Karpinski. "That way, if things fall through, you won't be out nearly as much money."

Find a place to lay your head. If you assume that accommodations will be tough to find this close to the Opening Ceremonies, you'd be right. "I won't lie, during my own search for a place to stay, I found that many hotel rooms ranged into the thousands of dollars per night," admits Karpinski, who ended up going a different route.

Consider booking an actual home away from home. If you have never booked a vacation rental home in your previous travels, it might be time to remedy that. In most instances, these cabins, chalets, and cottages are people's second homes - or in the case of an event as crowd-drawing as the Olympics, primary homes. And they're often a much better value than a hotel room.

"Granted, vacation home rentals are my area of expertise," concedes Karpinski. "But I can still say, hands-down, that I found the best Olympic deals on vacation home rental websites like www.vrbo.com, and www.homeaway.com. I'll be paying much less than I would have at a hotel, and my family will have an actual home to return to each evening, complete with a kitchen and living area.

So, what are your other options? Karpinski offers the following suggestions:

 • Visit the official Vancouver Olympics website. If you're Canadian, you can directly purchase tickets there. For Americans, there is a fan-to-fan marketplace where tickets are constantly being added and auctioned off. "This is a sanctioned ticket seller, so you can rest assured that all postings are legitimate," says Karpinski. "You can also visit www.cosport.com, which is the official ticket seller for the U.S. and other countries, and the website has one more ticket release planned before the Opening Ceremonies!"

 • Consider attending only Week 1. Unless your heart is set on seeing a gold medal round of your sport of choice, think about attending an event during the first week. "Almost all of the gold medal events are scheduled during the second week of the Games," notes Karpinski. "It stands to reason that you have a much better chance of finding affordable tickets when things are just getting started."

 • Feeling really bold? Try the "walk up" option. Once you're in Vancouver (hopefully with at least one set of tickets clutched in your mittens!), consider walking up to the ticket booth a few minutes before an event is about to start and inquiring as to whether there are any open seats. "You never know - you might get lucky!" says Karpinski.

 • Can't get four (or three or two) seats together? That's okay! The Olympics are as much about international fellowship as athletic competition. So make it a goal to mix and mingle with your fellow spectators as much as possible! If the tickets you're able to buy are scattered all over the stadium, don't bemoan the fact that you can't sit with your traveling companions. Instead, embrace the chance to meet the diverse people around you. "If your seats aren't all together, it may actually be a blessing in disguise," says Karpinski. "And if you're worried about the safety of separating from your group, rest assured that Olympic security is very, very tight."

 • Remember, it's not all games - but it is all fun! In addition to the Games themselves, the 2010 Winter Olympics will include official ceremonies and celebrations that feature live performances, recreational activities, and Canadian and international arts and culture. "My family will be attending a Victory Ceremony, which is essentially one big party with live bands," enthuses Karpinski.

"This may sound obvious, but make sure you know where you're going and how you're going to get there," she advises. "There's an official Olympic transportation system, and most venues have multiple points of entry, so you have to know in advance how you're going to get around. Believe me - you don't want to be standing on a Vancouver street corner with a map in February, because it's going to be COLD!

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