Last-Minute London Olympics Trips Don't Have to Cost All Your Gold

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Jay Jones and other performers rehearse for the welcoming ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics. (AP)

The 2012 Olympic Games in London are just around the corner, and tickets are starting to pop up on the black market. But you don't have to pay inflated prices -- or meet a shady character in an alley -- to partake in the festivities, either firsthand or at community viewing sites throughout the city.

With some know-how and advance planning, you can still hop the pond like a gold medal contender without spending all your green.

Didn't Plan Ahead? No Problem

Don't have your airline tickets yet? It's not necessarily a problem. If you're seeing fares a little higher than you're comfortable with, look a few days on either end of your desired travel date to find a better deal.

"As an airline, we really want you to travel with us," says Simon Talling-Smith, executive vice president of British Airways. "And if we've got a day where we've got more empty seats, and lower prices, then we really want to tell you about that. It's not something we want to hide."

Before you go, make sure you're taking advantage of the many free tools to help you plan and get around in London. Check out a free online tour book, or download a free London tube map app or PDF to your phone. And look into buying a London city pass for more savings.

Watch Larger-Than-Life Events

Unable to score tickets to see a particular event? George Murray, head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel at Park Lane in London, suggests visitors take advantage of the large screens that are set up in Olympic Park. Plus, many of the pubs will also be showing televised coverage.

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You'll have several chances to see the Olympic torch. In the days leading up to the event, the torch relay will be under way. It will pass by many of the city's biggest attractions and be free to view (though there is a small admission fee for the finale torch concert).

A Team Sport

If you're traveling with kids to London for the Olympics, make sure you're getting the most value for your dollar by choosing a hotel that caters to the needs of families. Don't forget to let the hotel know, as you're making your reservations, the ages of your children, and any special needs you might have, such as a crib, or outlet covers, and ask if they provide entertainment packs for older children.

If you think you'll want to enjoy London's nightlife, ask about babysitting. Some hotels offer it free of charge; others will need additional notice. (Here are some other tips for traveling with the little ones.)

Learn a Few Key Translations

Lastly, Talling-Smith offers this advice to foreign visitors: Don't sound like the country cousin when you're visiting London. "Brush up on the Queen's English before you go, and understand what people in England say when our cousins in America say the same thing with a different word."

Last-Minute London Olympics Trips Don't Have to Cost All Your Gold

Plush mascots are among the cutest Olympic souvenirs, but they don't hold their value. Mass produced in the hundreds of thousands, they are likely to go down in price as soon as the games are over.

Olympic pins are among the classic souvenirs of the games. Unfortunately, though, they are produced in huge quantities and enormous variety, which means that if you're a collector, getting a full set of pins can run you thousands of dollars. To make things worse, they lose up to 90% of their value within a few months of the games.

Did you know that you can buy an Olympic torch? Sold by both the torch run participants and the Olympic committee, the torches tend to lose value immediately after the games, but can be a good long-term investment if you can wait to buy when prices are low.

Olympic winners' medals rarely go on the auction block, which helps keep prices high. When Tommie Smith tried to sell the gold medal he won at the 1968 Olympics, his asking price was $250,000.

A lesser-known Olympic collectible, "badges" were metal identification tags that were produced up until 1976. Rare and hard-to-find, their prices can be extremely high, and they hold their value. This badge was worn by Doris Storey from the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

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For example, calling the sport "soccer" is a dead giveaway that you're an American. Instead, refer to it like a Brit and call it "football." A few other important ones to remember: "bobby" instead of "cop," "crisps" for "chips," and "chips" for "french fries."

Now, let the travel games begin!

Motley Fool contributor Molly McCluskey does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. Follow her travel and finance tweets @MollyEMcCluskey.

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