Summer Olympics 2012: How to Stay in London for $15 a Night

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Matthew Aslett / Demotix / Corbis

Camping at the Olympics holds a press event in front of London's City hall, May 28, 2012.

With the average cost of 2012 Olympics packages (including tickets, airfare and lodging) pushing $10,000 for the events that haven’t sold out yet, you may be surprised to know that you can still get lodging in London for as little as $15 a night. The only catch is you’ll be sleeping outside.

Mid-range London hotel rooms during the Games, which start July 27, cost around $475 a night. But there’s an alternative: Ten campsites, most of which are dotted around Greater London and close to Olympic venues, are offering camping with full facilities – bathrooms, showers, laundry and catering – for just $15 per night for adults ($7.50 for children).

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The handy locations – the Eton Manor camp is a mere nine-minute train ride from Olympic stadium – mean visitors can make use of the free London travel provided with their event tickets for a cheap and relatively easy journey.

The scheme, an Olympic first, is the brainchild of Geoff Vaughan, whose company Camping at the Games has teamed up with local sports clubs to offer the campsites and has pledged to give 75% of the profits go to grassroots sports.

“Funnily enough, Rhian and I first came up with our Olympic camping idea while out jogging in the park,” says Vaughan, referring to Camping at the Games co-founder Rhian Evans. “We were discussing new ways for sports clubs to raise money from their facilities and thought that offering affordable accommodation to Olympic visitors would be an attractive prospect to both parties.”

Bookings so far total 4,000 and have come from 26 different countries, with visitors from the U.S., Canada and Japan being the most numerous. Bookings have spiked in recent weeks but a couple thousand spaces are still available.

And for those who don’t want to haul a muddy tent through customs, you can pay for a four-man tent to be ready waiting for you at a cost of $25 per night.

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While this is the fuss-free option, those who are really on a budget should note that you can pick up a decent four-man tent from many U.K. stores for under $75 – a worthwhile investment if you’re planning a lengthy stay.

The sports clubs hosting the campsites will also be putting on a range of events for campers wanting to try British sports like rugby and cricket, while big TV screens and barbecues will be a nightly fixture.

“We’re looking to provide a unique experience and the campsites will have a real Olympic atmosphere,” Vaughan says. “It will be a great boost for sports clubs and will also help the environment.” The last two points have definitely earned Camping at the Games the thumbs up from local politicians.

Speaking at last week’s Camping at the Games launch next to Tower Bridge, London Assembly Member Roger Evans heaped praise on what he described as an “exciting initiative.”

The Member for Havering and Redbridge also enthused on the long-term benefits for grassroots sports clubs, adding: “They can re-invest (the money) in community facilities so we’re really seeing a lasting legacy from the Olympics for our part of London.”

As for the city’s sports clubs, not only are they delighted to play their part in the Olympics, but they also get to make use of their facilities during their off-seasons (the grounds are all used for winter sports) and earn some decent cash that can use to buy new equipment or improve disabled access to their grounds.

“We’re hoping to extend our youth and community program, which sees members of our club go into local schools to provide sports and social skills to disadvantaged youths,” said Neil Kersey, community manager at Barking Rugby Club, which will host a campsite. “Our area has the second highest level of youth unemployment in Britain, so we’re desperate to help as many young people as possible gain skills that can lead to employment.”

With tickets for several events still available, including those for the opening and closing ceremonies, Camping at the Games appears to be a pretty good deal as long as you can deal with one thing — the infamous London weather.

Jak Phillips is a contributor at TIME. Find him on Twitter @JakPhillips. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter @TIME.

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