One of my least favorite things about travel is crowds. Pushing, shoving, line cutting, and feeling cramped and constrained at major tourist destinations can be maddening.
My family just returned from a quick trip to Atlanta in the few days after Christmas, where we pretty much dealt with non-stop crowds. While we still had lots of fun, we definitely had moments of stress. I’ve made it my mission to find ways to avoid crowds (see, for example, 10 Things to Do at Disneyland on a Crowded Day and Avoiding Long Waits at Disneyland), and it was unusual for me to be caught so flat-footed on this trip. Never again!
No matter where you are traveling, here are my top tips for coping with and even beating the crowds while traveling with kids.
1) Do your research
While it was probably fun to travel without a plan or a care in the world back in your college days, you simply cannot and should not travel with kids without doing some pre-planning. Research your destination, especially before you make air travel plans. Some spots are mobbed certain times of year and ghost towns the rest of the time. Be sure to research local holidays or special events in that might affect crowds. Know about those crowded times and plan your trip to that destination another time of year, if you can. If you can’t plan the trip another time, learn what you need to do to avoid the crowds at that particular spot when you are going to be there. Buy a guidebook, read some travel blog posts, and map out a plan of attack before you go.
2) Get tickets & make reservations in advance
So many tourist destinations now offer advance purchase ticket sales over the internet. In addition to securing your spot and avoiding the disappointment of a destination selling out, buying ahead sometimes enables you to get a small discount. My family has prepurchased tickets from everything to Disneyland to Ngong Ping 360 in Hong Kong.
3) Arrive early
The early bird gets the worm, and this is especially true when it comes to travel. I know it is supposed to be a vacation, but if you want it to be fun while you are doing it, sometimes getting up at the crack of dawn is necessary. If you have babies or young kids, they are probably going to wake you up anyway. Get up and get going before everyone else does.
4) Eat at odd hours
If you are trying to beat the crowds, don’t follow them when it is meal time. My family often tries to schedule an early or a late lunch to miss the noon rush. Young kids are often hungry on the early side anyway (particularly if they are up for an early start to the day), so hit the museum cafeteria at 11:15 or 11:30 and save yourself some agony.
5) Schedule a break
When you are fighting a lot of crowds while traveling, tempers flare. Be sure to schedule some down time for your kids and yourself to recharge. We like to schedule a post-lunch nap back at the hotel a lot of days when we are traveling with young kids. Even if you have kids that are beyond the nap stage, having a little quiet time to regroup makes the rest of the day much better.
6) Consider paying more for VIP tours
There is something quite undemocratic about paying your way into popular tourist destinations, but there are times when it is a necessity. If you are visiting a destination during a very busy time of year and a very popular site is on your must-do list, consider making room in your travel budget for a VIP tour so you can secure your spot and enjoy it more.
Have you had experiences fighting crowds during your travels? What tips have worked for you?