Everyone always says, “never travel on a holiday weekend.”  And yes, it’s true that holiday weekends are much more crowded and harder to maneuver, but it’s not impossible.  Sometimes it just works out to be the best for you, especially if you have paid holidays and limited vacation days.

This was the case for us two weekends ago.  We went to California on Memorial Day weekend, which isn’t ideal, but we managed to get through it by reading up on avoiding crowds in the places that we went.

We flew into San Jose and rented a car.  We drove to the Big Sur area and had dinner and slept in Seaside the first night.  The next two nights, we stayed in a lodge near Yosemite National Park and drove in to see the park on the actual holiday.  The next day we drove through Livermore Valley wine country and then we slept in San Jose before catching an early morning flight.

There were a few things I learned from traveling during the holiday, a lot of things I knew already, but could be good reminders for others.

1.  Do not check a bag.  I feel like a broken record saying this so much, but it seems like I can’t stress it enough.  People who don’t travel often may not realize how much more of a hassle it really is to check a bag.  Especially on a holiday weekend.  We showed up to the airport at 5 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight.  There is a line backed up to the main entrance for Delta.  When we thought it was a line for the self-checks, we got in it.  My husband ran up to the front to double-check, but it was actually the line to check a bag.  Since none of us were checking a bag, we walked ahead of the entire line.  There was a man walking back and said, “Oh, you’ll be back to the end of this line.  Don’t worry.”  We snickered, and said, “No, we won’t.  But thanks.”  We walked up to an empty self-check, printed our boarding passes and got in line at security.  I am betting that most of those people missed their flight if they were on an early one.  There is no way they could have gotten through that line fast enough to make it to their gates.  

2.  Be prepared for the security line.  Security was the longest line I’ve seen in Columbus ever, and they were rushing us like crazy.  I stopped to take my jacket off, and the guy seriously said, “TAKE IT OFF WHILE YOU’RE MOVING.  LET’S GO.”  So I did, and I didn’t take any jewelry off or anything.  They didn’t seem to care about that so much as crowd control.  I was glad my shoes were slip-ons, and my quart size bag was already out and ready to go.   They were waiting for no one.  Make sure you have your affairs in order.

3.  Beware if you rent a car.  I knew that since we were flying in on Saturday, that most people would have come on Friday and snatched up all the good cars and the good upgrades.  Well, such was the case with us.  We requested a four door economy, and were told that we would be getting a two door Fiat.  Now, I have a Fiat, and I love it.  I also know that there is no way we can fit four bags and four people inside comfortably.  Since they didn’t have any other options, we were forced to upgrade and it ended up doubling the price.  We needed a car, so we had to suck it up.

4.  Visit sites during meal hours.  You will run into traffic.  Of course.  However, you can work around this by choosing to go to sites or parks at times when everyone else will be rushing to the restaurant.  We tried to visit a beach with limited parking in the Big Sur and they were turning all the cars away.  They offered for us to park and then walk two miles there and back to see it.  Since that sucked, and it was 4:30 p.m., we decided that we would go eat and come back.  Sure enough, after we ate (which the we only had to wait 15 minutes for a table since it was early) we drove back and got a spot.  

5.  Do research before you go.  We found some great online resources with suggestions of how to avoid times when Yosemite was the busiest.  One of the suggestions was to get there early and stay late.  We didn’t have to wait in any long traffic lines because we left to drive into the park at 7:00 a.m. and got in at 8:00 a.m.  We left around 7 p.m., and a lot of people had left much earlier to go to dinner.  So we ended up beating the crowds pretty well and had a nice time in the park.  We even got to see Mirror Lake with only a few other people there, basically had it to ourselves.  Even though we knew that one of the busiest times for Yosemite all year is Memorial Day, it didn’t seem to be busier than going somewhere on the weekend.

If the only time you can go somewhere is during a holiday, don’t sweat it.  There are ways to avoid crowds, just takes a little planning, research and flexibility!  We managed it just fine, and had a great time.  

Nina Thomas

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