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  • Writer's pictureRick

Travel Tips: Are Holidays Good Times to Travel?

"Today just isn't my day."

The Caucasian lady who said that was standing in a local food centre and frowning at a stall that was closed for the day. That stall is rather famous and many tourists came from all over the world to try its food. I do not know of other things that did not go well for the lady, but missing the chance to try the food that she had been pinning for after flying thousands of miles sure is disappointing. Well, it's a public holiday on the 1st day of May.

Are public holidays really good times to travel? It depends on whether you know what you are doing.

Many people chose to travel during holidays because of work or family commitments (whole family can travel together). And many others do so because they can use lesser annual leaves to go for longer trips. These are the most common reasons why people plan their travels around holidays. I used to do that too, but after years of travelling to places at different times of the year, I learned that not all holidays are suitable for travelling.

In another post, I discussed about pre-planning checks that should be considered before deciding on a travel destination and travel period. Checking up on holidays is on that checklist. You may want to read that post before diving in-depth into the pros and cons of travelling during holidays.

My Experiences with Holidays

Before going into details on the types of holiday, here's a glimpse into my travel experiences with holiday encounters:

🔸 Chinese New Year or Tet in Hanoi, Vietnam (2005). On the eve of the festive season, I visited Halong Bay on a day trip from Hanoi. Halong City was emptied of people, shops were closed and very few vehicles on the road. But many people, mostly tourists, crowded at Halong Bay harbour to board the junk boats — that was the only thing left to do in Halong City. Knowing that the whole Hanoi would be closed for the next 2 days of Tet, I took a train to Sapa, a border town, that night.

Chinese New Year Eve in Halong City, Vietnam
Chinese New Year Eve in Halong City, Vietnam (2005)

🔸 Hari Raya Puasa in Ipoh, Malaysia (2006). The old town slept through the holiday with majority of the shops closed and just a few eating places to feed boring visitors. There was not much to do except to visit some temples and caves outside the town.

🔸 Songkran festival in Phuket, Thailand (2010). I was there to participate in their water-splashing festival. Same year, I was in Chiangmai for the Loy Krathong festival. Both are popular Thai festivals that attract Thais, from across Thailand, and foreign tourists every year.

Loy Krathong festival in Chiangmai
Loy Krathong festival in Chiangmai (2010)

🔸 Before Chinese New Year in China (2013). I did not get to see what it was like during the festival as fellow Chinese travellers were advising me to get out of the country at least 1.5 months before the new year to avoid the annual mass migration. All transport tickets were already sold out for that period. And no point visiting places of interests cramming with millions of locals and China-internal tourists. I went to Taiwan via a ferry service from Xiamen to Kinmen Island followed with a flight to Taiwan Island. But Taiwan celebrates Chinese New Year too, so I was back at home before the holiday.

🔸 Labour Day in Malacca, Malaysia (2015). Malaysia was on holiday, Singapore was on holiday, most of the world were on holiday. Unlike the old town of Ipoh, which became a dead town on public holidays, Malacca old town was jam-packed with people and vehicles. No restaurants and places of interest were spared from long queues for at least an hour under the hot sun. I avoided Malacca during public holidays from that day onwards.

Labour Day in Malacca, Malaysia
Labour Day in Malacca, Malaysia (2015)

These are not all my holiday encounters but they should be enough to paint some pictures.

To plan a fruitful trip, we have to know more about the holidays in our countries and also in the destinations that we intend to travel to. Even if we are not planning to use holidays (in our countries) to travel, we still need to know if our travel destinations are having any holidays. The main objective is to find out if the locals there will be cramming every popular places of interests with you and whether many more travellers will be there at the same time.

Holiday-Related Inconveniences

If your country is having a holiday, planning to visit another country saves you some annual leaves. But air fares may run out fast and become more expensive due to higher demands since most people in your country will want to do the same. Do plan and book at least 3 months in advance before your intended trip.

If the countries or places you are visiting are having holidays, accommodations may become scarce and expensive. Popular places will be crowded and there are higher chances of being caught in traffic congestion when getting around. If you are there to know more about local cultures, lifestyles and try local food, you may be disappointed to find most local shops and food stalls closed during the holidays. You may find shops still opened in tourist spots but with much higher prices.

These are the most common inconveniences associated with holidays. You will need to evaluate for yourself whether it is worthwhile to trade one day of annual leave (assuming non-consecutive public holidays) for these inconveniences.

Types of Holiday

Let's understand the types of holiday and how they can affect your travel plans. We will focus more on holidays that are non-working days as they allow locals and tourists to crowd popular spots at the same time, especially on long weekends. There are also observances and festivals that may be celebrated but without off-days.

1. International Holidays

Surprisingly, there are few international holidays, I believe only New Year's Day and Labour Day (1st of May) are the most celebrated. Both days are observed by majority of the countries in the world but not all. So, most part of the world will be non-working days on both days. Do expect popular travel destinations and places of interest to be crowded, flights and accommodations to be scarce and expensive. Locals may close shops on the holidays too.

During Labour Day, there may be mass demonstrations in some places where workers will rally for better work remunerations instead of rewarding themselves with good rests. Hopefully, staff of airlines and public transport networks will not participate in those rallies or you may have difficulties getting around.

I learned to avoid travelling during these two holidays.

2. National Holidays

These are holidays that are observed by respective countries, such as most countries' National Days, the United State's Independence Day, Queen's Birthday in Australia, etc. The locals will be on holidays during these days.

If you are from a nation that is having such a holiday, which may be unique only to your country, it is the best time to go to other places not having any holidays. As mentioned earlier, air fares may be more costly than usual.

Crowded Ziqiang Night Market in Hualien, Taiwan
Ziqiang Night Market in Hualien, Taiwan (2015)

Few people know that Taiwan has a "National Day" on 10 October, since it is not recognised as an independent country, and uninformed me was unlucky to be caught in a crowd in the night market on that day. There were long queues at all the food stalls and took me 3 hours just to eat 4 food items. I remembered that date because of the crowd.

3. Traditional Holidays

These holidays are usually related to race, ethnicity, culture or religion. Holidays like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Haji & Puasa, Good Friday, Christmas Day, Deepavali (or Diwali), etc, are traditional holidays and widely celebrated around the world.

Due to migrations since the old days, most races do not reside in a single place but spread across regions and continents. Same goes for religions. As a result, there can be more than one countries celebrating the same holiday at the same time. If you are planning to travel during such holidays, you may want to choose destinations halfway across the globe.

Do note that for Chinese New Year, most regions with majority Chinese populations usually have public holidays of 2 days. However, most Chinese local or traditional businesses and food stall owners may break from work starting as early as Chinese New Year Eve for as long as 15 days. This is especially so in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc, but not in Singapore.

4. Participative Festivals

Festivals may or may not have off days. If have, it will be a either a traditional or national holiday. Some festivals are interesting and attract tourists from all over the world at those times of the year. As travellers, we do travel to those countries to participate in such events sometimes. Since it is intentional to travel during such festivals, expect crowds, traffic jams and pay higher prices for accommodations and flights.

Songkran festival in Phuket, Thailand
Songkran festival in Phuket, Thailand (2010)

During the water-splashing festival in Phuket, Thailand, you and your luggage will be wet if you arrive in the town in the middle of the water battles. Nobody is allowed to be dry, not even the police officers on duty. A downside of the event is that most shops, shopping malls, food outlets will all be closed to prevent water from damaging their things.

On the other hand, what if you travelled all the way there without knowing there is a local festival? It will be a great surprise if you like it, but frustrated if you are not expecting any inconveniences — such as being drenched with water before you realise what is going on.

5. China Holidays

This is a rather queer phenomenon that I would like to share.

There are two holidays in China that span three or more days, namely the "golden week" in the first week of May (which coincides with Labour Day) and China's National Day that usually lasts a full week around 1st October. During these two holidays, millions of Chinese tourists will flood China and nearby countries in East Asia and South-East Asia and also reaching as far as Europe. Unlike during Chinese New Year where they have to clean off their annual leaves to return home to reunite with their families, these two public holidays are extra off-days to them, so they travel.

Do take this into consideration if you are planning to travel to China or any countries in the region during the mentioned periods. This is also one reason why I don't travel in Asia around Labour Day.

6. Normal Weekends

This is the least of concerns since they cannot be avoided, but we still need to take it into considerations when planning what to do on weekends.

Compare to long weekends where public holidays extend normal weekends to at least 3 days, lesser locals will travel around on weekends, but "lesser" doesn't mean "no". In regions where transportation networks are well-developed, many locals will go for 2-day-1-night trips in their own country. So, weekends can still be crowded, just not as crowded as during their long weekends cum public holidays.

Do plan your trip carefully to avoid popular places on weekends. You can always go to tourist spots on weekdays and have some leisure activities (shopping, eat, or sleep longer) or visit lesser-popular places on weekends.

Other Considerations

If you are not concerned with crowds, higher travel expenses and frustrations, go ahead and just book your flights. If not, here are some more factors related to holidays:

1. Are the places, that you plan to visit, some popular tourist spots or local places?

Tourist spots will usually be crowded and local places may close for the holiday if they are not in the tourism trade. If you are travelling to know more about local lifestyles and try local food, then avoid going during their holidays.

Jiufen Old Street, Taiwan
Jiufen Old Street, Taiwan (2012)

Jiufen Old Street is a popular street among locals and tourists to try local food. The street is located on a countryside hill, so expect traffic jams on the roads leading to the old street, especially on weekends.

2. Are you travelling to participate in some traditional festivals?

Make sure you do some homework on these festivals before going. Not all festive celebrations are opened to everyone, most are celebrated within own families or groups unless the locals intend to use the festivals to promote tourism. Also, do reserve flights and accommodations early as they can run out rapidly if the festivals are very popular.

3. Are you travelling to some big countries with large populations?

Another factor to consider when travelling during a local holiday is the population of internal tourists. These are locals travelling from one city or province to another within their own country. And they usually out-numbered foreigners during public holidays, especially long weekends. Internal tourists will need places to stay too, thus making accommodations scarce.

Smaller countries, like Singapore, will usually not have such issues as there will be smaller local populations to visit tourist spots and almost all will stay in their own houses, leaving most hotel rooms for overseas travellers.

In the photo below, isn't it nice to take photos without people getting in the way?

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand (2013)

So, will you go travelling on the next public holiday?

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