Updated: May 2, 2019
"Today just isn't my day."
The Caucasian lady who said that was standing in a local food centre and frowning at a closed stall. 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 some local food that she had been pinning for after flying thousands of miles sure is disappointing. Well, it's a public holiday, 1st day of May.
Are public holidays really good times to travel? Well, it depends on whether you know what you are doing.
Many people chose to travel during holidays because of work and 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 only reasons why people plan their travels around holidays. I used to do that too, but after years of travelling to different places at different times of the year, I learned that not all holidays are really suitable for travelling.
In an earlier post, I did discussed about pre-planning checks that should be considered before deciding on a travel destination or 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:
→ Year 2005, Chinese New Year or Tet in Hanoi, Vietnam. 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 everyone crowded at Halong Bay harbour to board the junk boats — that was the only thing left to do in Halong Bay. Knowing that all shops in Hanoi would close for the next 2 days, I took a train to Sapa that night.
Chinese New Year Eve in Halong City, Vietnam, in 2005.
→ Year 2006, Hari Raya Puasa in Ipoh, Malaysia. The old town slept through the holiday with all 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.
→ Year 2010, Songkran festival in Phuket, Thailand. I was there to participate in their water-splashing festival. Same year, I was in Chiangmai for their Loy Krathong (see photo at top of this post). Both are popular Thai festivals that attract Thais, from across Thailand, and foreigners every year.
→ Year 2013, before Chinese New Year in China. I did not get to see what it was like during the festival as 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 and a flight to Taichung. But Taiwan celebrates Chinese New Year too, so I was back at home before the holiday.
→ Year 2015, Labour Day in Malacca, Malaysia. 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.
Labour Day in Malacca, Malaysia, in 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 countries we intend to travel to. Even if we are not planning to use holidays 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 spots with you and whether many more travellers will be there at the same time.
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 as early as 3 months before the intended trip.
If the countries or places you are visiting are having holidays, accommodations may become scarce and expensive. Popular tourist spots 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 opened in tourist spots where prices are normally much higher.
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 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 (not all) of the countries in the world. 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 from places to places.
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.
Ziqiang Night Market in Hualien, Taiwan, in 2015. Few people know of Taiwan's National Day, and I was unlucky to be caught in a crowd in the night market on that day. There were long queues for all the stalls and took me 3 hours just to try 4 food items.
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.
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 countries 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, 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, in 2010. You and your luggage will be wet if you arrive in the city in the middle of the water battles. Nobody is allowed to be dry, not even the police officers on duty. The downsides of the event are most shops, shopping malls, local snacks and eating outlets are all 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 with iPackTravel followers.
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 starting on 1st October. During these two holidays, millions of Chinese tourists will flood China and 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.
By the way, due to the political tensions between China, Taiwan and South Korea (as in May 2017), fewer Chinese tourists will be visiting Taiwan and South Korea for the next few months. Hope this gives you some ideas for planning the next trip.
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 countries 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.
Weekday vs Weekend Travel to Malacca (or any popular places)
Do plan your trip carefully to avoid popular places on weekends too. You can always go to tourist spots on weekdays and have some leisure activities (shopping, eat, or sleep longer) or visit less-popular places on weekends.
If you are not concerned with crowds, higher travel expenses and probable 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, in 2012. 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 narrow road, 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.
Sukhothai Historical Park in Sukhothai, Thailand, in 2013. Isn't it nicer to take photos without people getting in the way?
So, will you go travelling on your next public holiday?
Don't travel without this: