Whether you love to travel or you love sports, there is no denying they go together. All collegiate and professional sports teams travel, and if you're a big sports fan like me, then may have actually learned geography from watching sports. Or, if you grew up traveling and weren't into sports, then you were likely exposed to international sports at some point on your travels.
Yes, I've traveled to every country in the world, but I have many passions in my life. And sports are one of my greatest passions. I grew up playing and watching all kinds of sports, they were all I thought about as a kid. I loved them then, and I still do.
Sports helped me learn geography. By the time I was six years old, I knew every sports team in every major professional sport in America and Canada. I knew the cities they played, and the states or provinces that they were in. How else would a six-year-old American kid from Trumbull, Connecticut know where Winnipeg, Edmonton, Green Bay, Portland and Quebec City were?
That knowledge also led me to study maps as a kid. I learned about every country in the world and every capital city. I didn't travel as a kid, but I was always fascinated by the world and liked to know about it. I was always curious and wanted to know everything.
As I got older and eventually made some money, I started traveling around the states to different stadiums. I wanted -- and still do want -- to visit every sports stadium. It is a lofty goal, but it's a goal that has helped me visit many cities and states. It has been a huge motivating factor in my greater travel goals.
When I finally left America for the first time, at 20-years-old, I discovered soccer. As a desperate sports fan living in London in fall 1998, I yearned for live sports. In 1998, satellite TV and the Internet wasn't nearly what it is today.
To put it into perspective, I still hand-wrote letters -- not emails -- back home. I was a day delayed getting sports scores, until the USA Today arrived at London newsstands and I could follow the 1998 Home Run race and the Yankees record-breaking season.
As a result, I started following soccer. I started following Arsenal religiously, and soon branched out into the other European leagues, especially La Liga in Spain, where I adopted FC Barcelona as my team because I loved the city so much when I visited.
While living in Europe, and during each of the 80-plus times I've been back since 1998, I tried to plan my trips around soccer games -- which are hopefully at new stadiums that I haven't yet been to. At this point, I have been to nearly every major stadium in Europe. That said, it never gets old, so I will never get tired of it.
Travel also introduced me to other sports. In 2003, while spending a year in Australia and New Zealand, I got really into rugby as the Rugby World Cup was held in Australia that year. I got really into it -- I still love the Rugby World Cup and have become a huge All Blacks fan. I also follow Tri-Nations, Sevens and all other major competitions around the world.
I can say the same for several other sports like Aussie-Rules Football, Hurling, Hockey, Sumo, Handball and many more. The only sport I just can't get into is Cricket, and I have tried several times. I just don't get it!
That all said, I am not trying to brag about the sports events and stadiums I've been to, but I am trying to illustrate how sports and travel can go together and impact each other, whether you intended it or not. That's the beauty of both sports and travel. They are two things that you can do your whole life.
My favorite place in the world is probably Yankee Stadium in New York. I have been over 1,000 times, and each time I still love it. The same can be said for Emirates Stadium in London or the Nou Camp in Barcelona or the San Siro in Milan. I can't wait until the next time I am at each one. It doesn't matter who is playing, it's just the experience of the game and the experience in the city. Each stadium is different for culture and traditions.
It doesn't matter if you see a game at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, a game at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev or a game at the Bell Centre in Montreal. All are fun, different and each one will take you to another great city in a great country. Sports and travel go together and that is a beautiful thing!
Follow Lee Abbamonte on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leeabbamonte