Have you ever visited a place or event that was so crowded it wasn't fun?
In theory, our family prefers to avoid the crowds and travel in the off-season, but I've noticed lately that isn't what we actually do.
In recent years, my husband's work and my children's school schedules dictate that we travel at the same time everyone else does: Spring Break, summer vacation and weekends. Here are some tips for making traveling with the herd more fun.
Think like a crowd
Don't be surprised. Expect crowds any time you are visiting:
A special event, like a fair, festival or concert.
A family-friendly destination during a school holiday or weekend.
Anywhere with great weather during a school holiday or weekend.
Anything free that you usually pay for, like a popular museum.
Expect the crowd to be larger than you think it will be. If you expect a huge crowd and plan for it, your day will be better. You might be pleasantly surprised if it's not as crowded as you planned.
Make a plan
Learn everything you can about the destination or event before you leave to avoid unpleasant surprises. Find the answers to the following questions:
Do we know exactly where we are going and best routes to get there? Consider that streets are sometimes blocked for special events.
Where will we park and how much are we willing to spend on parking?
Are shuttles or public transportation a good alternative?
For young children, will strollers be helpful or will they slow us down in heavy crowds? What are our other options?
How early should we be there to ensure a good experience?
ARRIVE EARLY. ARRIVE EARLY. ARRIVE EARLY. I can't stress that enough. Even on the busiest days, most people don't show up until an hour or two after an attraction opens. If you are there at the rope drop, you will be able to enjoy the best parts first and then move on to other things when the lines grow long.
I've noticed that lots of people like to leave before an event ends to beat the crowds out of the parking lot. When I've paid to enjoy a concert, athletic event, etc., I'm going to experience all of it. If that means that I have to wait afterward to get out of the venue or parking lot, so be it. Those who miss the end just make it easier for the rest of us. Thanks!
Change your attitude
Instead of becoming grumpy or angry when you get stuck in a crowd, lighten up and make the best of it. When I'm grumpy, my children seem to throw more tantrums and fight with each other, which makes me more grumpy ... and into the downward spiral we go. Decide that you're OK and that you are going to have a good day and it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Adjust your routine or itinerary as needed. You'll avoid crowds at mealtimes if you eat early or late. June might be the best time for your family to visit Southern California, but can you visit Disneyland midweek and save a less-popular attraction for the weekend? Always have a back-up plan. Sometimes we learn new things after we arrive at our destination and change plans as we go.
Sometimes the crowds are just too much, and it's time to cut your losses. Is there a less-crowded attraction nearby that might be a fun alternative? Is it practical to return to your hotel pool for a few hours and then return later?
Most theme parks, festivals and museums bring out their best stuff and lengthen their hours on crowded days. Get the map and schedule of events, preferably in advance, and plan your day around your favorites. Arrive early for shows and parades. You, and especially your kids, will enjoy them more if you have a good seat.
Heavy crowds may keep you from seeing and doing everything, but they can't keep you from having a good day. The important thing is to make good memories, even if they are the kind you'll laugh about later.
Allison Laypath is an expert on family travel and author of the family travel blog tipsforfamilytrips.com. With her family, Allison especially enjoys road trips, national parks and local field trips. Email Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org.