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If you’ve ever found yourself in a foreign country during a national holiday or festival—and you weren’t prepared for it—it likely presented a few hiccups, from transportation woes to major attraction closures.

Factoring local holidays into travel plans before you book can offset this frustration. “You could show up, and everything’s closed,” says J.C. Lightcap, founder of Travel Safer, a consultancy that educates businesses, universities and individuals on how to travel smarter. “For financial, security and cultural reasons, it pays off to know about holidays in advance.”

Lightcap says a simple Google search or flip through a destination guide book will alert you to holiday dates that could put a wrinkle in your travel plans. It’s also worth floating your potential travel dates to locals in your target travel destination, either via social media or in online traveler forums, as they’ll know the obvious yellow flags that might not be so “obvious” to you. And if despite your prep, you still encounter an unanticipated festival, Lightcap says flexibility is key—after all, you could score unique access into the culture not available at other times of year.

Here are just a few examples of international holidays that could impact travel, with Lightcap’s rating of the travel disruption on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 equating to “definitely avoid traveling here at all costs during this time.”

 

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View over Rome 

The Eternal City

Rome, Italy

Holiday:  Easter Weekend
When:  Typically falls sometime in April (Sunday, April 1, 2018)
Travel disruption:  4
Cons: The two weeks surrounding Easter are among the busiest time of year in Rome, with Catholic pilgrims from around the world flocking to Vatican City for services and ceremonies. While most of the main attractions in Rome remain open (e.g. Coliseum), many Italians go on vacation during this time, which means that smaller, family-run restaurants and shops may be closed.
Pros: If you’re lucky, you could catch a glimpse of the Pope during his public services. You can also hang with locals on Pasquetta (“Little Easter”), the Monday after Easter and a national holiday when locals picnic in the countryside.

UAE, Morocco, Turkey, Malaysia and Egypt

Holiday:  Ramadan
When:  The ninth month in the Islamic calendar (May 15 – June 14, 2018)
Travel disruption:  8
Cons:  During this holy month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, finding food could be an issue. If you look forward to wandering the local bazaars, you could find these areas quieter—and perhaps not serving food or refreshments due to fasting. Some mosques typically open to non-Muslims are closed to visitors during this time, as well.
Pros:  Listening to the early morning or evening muezzins calling to prayer while on a rooftop can be deeply moving, and participating in an Iftar meal to break the fast after sunset is a unique event you cannot experience outside of Ramadan (if you’re lucky enough to get an invite). Plus, most tourist-centric areas and hotels do their best to accommodate visitors during Ramadan.

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The R4 on Yom Kippur | Flickr photo by Mark Nakasone

Israel

Holiday:  Yom Kippur
When:  10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei (Sept 29–30, 2017; Sept 18–19, 2018)
Travel disruption:  4
Cons:  On this Day of Atonement, the most solemn and holy day of the Jewish calendar, everything stops. This includes all transportation. There are no cars, buses, trains or planes moving anywhere. Roads are silent and quiet pervades. (So, good luck trying to get anywhere.) Many hotels won’t check people in during this day, either.
Pros:  It’s just one day. This is a good opportunity for downtime and reflection, especially if your itinerary is packed during the other days. Or, it’s an ideal day to visit the non-Jewish areas of the country, such as the Arab Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Bali

Holiday:  Nyepi Day
When:  Based on the Lunar Caka calendar (March 17, 2018)
Travel disruption:  4
Cons:  Similar to Yom Kippur in Israel, everything stops in Bali on this quietest day of the year for locals. Part of a longer “New Year” celebration for Balinese Hindus, it’s a day for contemplation and reflection. All routine activities come to a halt and nobody steps outside of their homes. The same rule applies to hotel guests. There are even community patrols to ensure the roads are silent and people stay indoors.
Pros:  The days before and after this specific day are filled with colorful festivals, rituals and pageantry across the island. So take advantage of the silence for 24 hours and relax at your Balinese resort (you just cannot leave the property).

Greece

Holiday:  Feast of the Dormition
When:  Aug 15 annually
Travel disruption:  6
Cons:  Almost everything in Greece slows down or closes in the weeks leading up to August 15, as locals prepare for the Feast of the Dormition (also called the Assumption). This is the date in the Greek Orthodox calendar when the devout believe that Mary ascended into Heaven. Buses, ferries and trains also run on modified schedules during this time, which makes travel pretty inconvenient.
Pros:  If you’re OK with experiencing Greece alongside fewer Greeks—and bathed in intense August heat—this is your time to “Opa!”

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Paris.jpg

Have Paris to yourself in August

Paris, France

Holiday:  August Holiday
When:  Entire month of August
Travel disruption:  6
Cons:  If you’re looking for an authentic Parisian experience, this is the worst month to visit. Many Parisians flee the city during the month of August, anticipating an influx of tourists on summer vacation. As a result, many family-run establishments are closed during this time.
Pros:  Want to see Paris without the Parisians? August is your time to hang in the city with other Americans. Just know that you’ll likely end up at tourist traps such as Hard Rock Cafe Paris.

India

Holiday:  Diwali
When:  Based on the Hindu lunar calendar (Oct 19, 2017; Nov 7, 2018)
Travel disruption:  6
Cons:  Diwali (“The Festival of Lights”), which celebrates the triumph of light over dark, is India’s biggest festival. India also happens to be one of the most heavily populated countries. That’s a precarious combination. Expect chaos in the streets with firecrackers and traffic (more than usual, anyway) for the five-day celebration. If you don’t have pre-booked tickets for flights and trains during this time, well, good luck.
Pros:  If you arrange a homestay during this time, you will have the best opportunity for unique access to local traditions surrounding this beloved festival. The abundant diyas (lighted clay lamps) and firecrackers that accent celebrations make it visually and audibly exciting. Shops often offer special “sales” during this period, too.

China

Holiday:  Chinese New Year
When:  Based on Lunisolar Chinese calendar (Begins on Feb 16, 2018)
Travel disruption:  9
Cons:  Don’t do it unless it’s necessary. With nearly 1.2 billion Chinese also traveling for the holiday, the transportation crush is a nightmare. This massive human migration even has a name: Chunyun.
Pros:  If you get an invitation to spend time with Chinese relatives or friends, you’ll get to experience the holiday traditions and tasty meals. (And grief if you decline the invitation.) Still, anticipate the same travel headaches.

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Carnival! | Flickr photo by nateClicks

Brazil

Holiday: Carnival
When: The long weekend between Friday to Ash Wednesday (Feb. 9-14, 2018)
Travel disruption: 7
Cons:  Hopefully you’ve pre-booked your hotels and transportation. Everything is more challenging during this festive time. Pack patience.
Pros:  This is Brazil at its most liveliest—a true bucket list experience for the culturally curious and highly caffeinated. Live! It! Up!

Turkey, Poland, Ukraine

Holiday:  Labor Day
When:  May 1
Travel disruption:  8
Cons:  Labor Day in Europe has roots in workers’ rights, so expect things to get political. Anticipate massive closures, rallies and demonstrations in public squares (including popular tourist areas). It’s best to check with embassies before travel, to temperature check the current political situation, as there could be additional security concerns.
Pros:  If you’re a political science or history geek, this could be an intriguing time for you to visit these countries.

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Tagged: Asia, Bali, Brazil, China, Europe, India, Israel, Italy, Latin America, Middle East, Paris

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