“Are you going to England on your trip? You might be there for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee!”
The what?! I had no idea what the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was as I initially planned my European Backpacking Adventure. Research explained this was a significant moment in British royal history – a celebration to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign on the throne. To date, Queen Elizabeth II is only the second monarch to ever reach the Diamond Jubilee milestone. A little bit of pomp & circumstance and little bit of party & celebration? Sign me up! I strategically arranged my backpacking trip to include a stay in London for this historic event. But as I quickly learned, there are ups and downs to travel during a special event…
Let’s begin with our best foot forward…
The Ups of Travel During a Special Event
National Pride is Evident
My favorite part of Fourth of July is being an American (although the BBQs & fireworks placed a close second). There’s no doubt that during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a surge of British Pride transformed the city. Beyond the of waving flags and wearing of plastic crowns, the locals donned their most spirited attire and attitude. London became extra-British. As a foreigner, it thrilled to observe another country bond over its history and traditions. Their pride was infectious. During the celebrations I almost wished I had a royal family to root for (please forgive me, dear Forefathers).
Union Jacks frilled and flourished every building. Illuminating red & blue bulbs replaced average incandescents. Every corner seemed decorated for a city-wide party. Flags and streamers ornamented every nook. I met a local and commented on the décor. She said, “You’re lucky you get to experience London while it’s dressed to impress.”
Unique Gifts for You & Your Friends
For any “special occasion travel,” limited edition gifts or specifically-branded souvenirs smile from storefronts or vendor carts. If I plan to purchase anything during my travels, it isn’t going to be a silly “Made in China” plastic keychain. My favorite souvenir came from London – a porcelain pale blue mug with a monochromatic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II purchased from Westminster Abbey. For my Gramma – a special Whittard “Diamond Jubilee” blend of tea created specifically for the occasion. If you visit London today, you probably won’t find these items, which makes them even more distinct & unique.
Special Activities Will Fill Your Agenda
Festivals, concerts, parades, shindigs – boredom isn’t an issue if you travel during a special event. While in London for the Diamond Jubilee, I (sorta) watched the boats sail across the Thames during the Boat Regatta, chased down the Queen during her parade, sang along to Stevie Wonder & Sir Elton John during her Jubilee ceremony, and hung out in a park with a roaring crowd of Brits. This never would have happened had I visited on the average Tuesday. London was buzzing with excitement and activity.
Steal a Deal?
While I personally never encountered any deals in London for the Diamond Jubilee (I wasn’t really looking, to be honest), I’m sure for other destination special events you could probably find some sort of special deals.
People Are At Their Best
There’s nothing like a celebration to put everyone in a chipper mood. When we were searching for the queen, a generous driver offered us his work truck as a perch for a better view (however, our plans were foiled; see “People Are At Their Worst” in the segment below). Also, after a night of merriment, location confusion, lack of tickets/coins/whatever, a sympathetic double-decker bus driver offered a free ride to bring us closer to our hostel so we could find our way home. People can be so selfless and kind.
The Downs of Travel During a Special Event
Rules of Economics Still Apply
A basic law of economics says that as demand and scarcity increases, so do prices. That hotel room? Expensive. That crappy hostel that sleeps 20+ per room and smells like wet dog? Definitely the steepest price for cheapest quality of all my Europe trip. Why? Because I chose to book during a special event.
Availability of Accommodations
See the point above. It’s slim pickins when you try to find an accommodation within your budget, location, and quality standards unless you book well in advance. I settled for a sub-par hostel because it was the only completely available accommodation within my budget.
Going from A to B Gets an F
“Don’t worry, I’ll just sleep on the train to London.” No falser a statement was made during that Jubilee celebration. There are workers called in Japan called “pushers.” They stuff people in train cars for a living. This was a relatable experience during the commute from Manchester to London for the Jubilee: 2.5 hours of standing in a cramped train car. It was hot, stuffy and full of breath. That journey was a long, unproductive, exhausting few hours.
Besides the discomfort from simply getting to London, there were many lines in the underground closed at various times due to the event. I particularly recall being cold & tired after watching the Jubilee concert in Hyde Park. When I saw the tube closed and cramped after the event, I braved the 3 mile walk to the hostel.
This is a huge con to traveling during a special event: transportation risks include closures, crowds, and unreliability. And you, the unfamiliar foreigner, could be none the wiser until you’re cramped in a 3 hour train to London or trek 3 miles across town.
Sorry, We’re Closed
Regular business hours for some attractions, museums, and tours may change to accommodate the special event. The savvy traveler would double check and look this up prior to visiting to either a) rearrange their travel timeline or b) accept defeat & plan for other activities. I’m still irked that I walked all the way to Buckingham Palace to see a lovely tarp (You know you’re NOT a savvy traveler when… ____)
Oops, Were You Standing Here?
Agoraphobics would shudder at the crowded public spaces. Crowds. Hordes. Mobs. Swarms. Bodies. EVERYWHERE. It’s a people watcher’s paradise, but wow, traveling during a special event sure gets popular.
People Are At Their Worst
Despite the festivities, there are always the fun suckers who (try to) ruin a good time. I get it – running a hostel on an average day could be stressful. Add a big event to the mix and you could be in a tizzy. But mi amiga trying to join me in London had such a headache from dealing with the unhelpful concierge, we weren’t actually sure if she had a bed reserved until the day she arrived. And remember the kind man who invited us stake a spot on his work truck so we could see the queen? The jealousy of bystanders (literally) took over the truck (without even asking) to get a view, only resulting in everyone getting kicked off and the truck driving away… moments before the queen drove by after hours of us sitting there, waiting. People can be so selfish and rude.
You Probably Won’t Get To See The Queen
Perhaps I was slightly unrealistic with my expectations of attending an event like the Diamond Jubilee. I thought I’d see the Queen. I thought maybe Prince Harry would see me across the parade route, invite me for a pint & fall for my charm & good looks. ;) Okay, definitely not the latter, but when attending such an event, it’s important to remember that plans can’t always unfold as anticipated.
To go or not to go? That is the question. Should you visit Rio for Carnival or NOLA for Mardi Gras or South Korea for the Winter Olympics? There are ups and downs to attending big events when traveling and it is all dependent on the traveler and what he/she expects to achieve from their trip. It’s a personal preference, really.
My opinion? Do it. There will always be trials and tribulations when traveling no matter the reason or season. But to witness something historic? That’s epic. To see and sense the pride and culture of a nation? That’s exceptional. To feel that electric buzz that courses through a destination during an event? That’s incomparably extraordinary.
I’m already planning my trip back to London in 2022 for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Plus, there are usually fireworks at these things. Who wouldn’t love fireworks in the London night sky?