Few things in life are as frustrating as dealing with crowds. Long lines clog up grocery stores, amusement parks, museums, and more, but there are ways to get around them and stop wasting valuable time. Here are the best times to go to popular places and other strategies to skip the wait and get on with your day.
How to Avoid Long Lines at 14 Busy Places, From Costco to Disney
Costco is a favorite spot for finding good values on everything from socks to pickles. It's not just the warehouses and package sizes that are massive; the crowds of shoppers can be as well. To catch the deals and skip the lines, head to Costco weekday afternoons (3 to 5 p.m.), when checkout crowds generally are at their thinnest.
The wait to rent a car during peak times (such as national holidays or major events) can seem endless. Many rental companies, such as Avis, offer free loyalty programs that let preferred customers skip the lines altogether when picking up a car. This perk also minimizes the risk of walking away without a car because all available vehicles have been snapped up.
The best time of the week to score great deals at the grocery store is when fresh weekly ads and sales are rolled out. Shoppers who wait out the crowds for even a day or two may find that many of the best deals are gone. Avoid grocery stores' busiest times -- typically in the afternoon on weekdays and all day on Saturdays. Fridays also are hectic, especially if the market has an in-store bank. If possible, shop later in the evening on Sunday or on weeknights.
Fortunately, the internet has made many routine transactions at the DMV (or a similar agency) as easy as clicking a mouse. If an in-person visit is required, book an appointment online if the option is available. Otherwise avoid the end of the month, when procrastinators show up in hordes to beat a deadline to renew a driver's license or vehicle registration. The middle of the month is better than the last or first days of the month, and mornings are preferable to the lunch hour or late afternoon. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the quietest days of the week.
With an application fee of $85 for the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program, frugal travelers may prefer to time their trips strategically to avoid a crush of people at security. Major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas typically result in long lines in many U.S. airports, but other days, too, can be hectic. Many airports see peak foot traffic on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., as travelers scramble to weekend destinations or home from business trips. Late Sunday and early Monday are also busy, so schedule travel midweek and preferably midday when possible.
Special museum exhibits can engender long lines, but planning ahead can eliminate the wait. Buy tickets online to save time as well as the frustration of finding out a limited-time engagement is already sold out. Also, check for affinity discounts on advance tickets. AAA, for example, frequently offers member discounts and allows some ticket purchases on its website. In Europe, advance reservations let travelers spend less time in line and more time seeing some of the most popular sights.
One way to buy discounted tickets to Broadway shows is through TKTS, but the lines can be daunting. The ticket booth gives patrons a 7-Day Fast Pass to return with a ticket stub from the previous seven days and head directly to the window to purchase more tickets. It's best to seek out TKTS locations in places such as Brooklyn instead of Times Square, which is the most popular spot. Also, be aware that plays (as opposed to musicals) have a shorter TKTS line.
Long lines at polling places have frustrated many voters. Early voting laws in 37 states permit eligible residents to cast a ballot in person prior to Election Day. Further, all states allow absentee voting, accepting mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day, although an excuse is required in 20 states. If those options don't work, try voting during an off-peak period, such as mid-morning or midafternoon.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in New York City is the Empire State Building, famous for its breathtaking views -- and long waits. To avoid the crowds, show up right when the observation deck opens at 8 a.m. Waking up early is worth it to enjoy the view of the New York skyline unobscured by the back of someone's head.
The best way to avoid long waits for rides at Disney parks (which can sometimes take upward of three hours) is to go during off-peak periods, such as mid-November through mid-December (except the week of Thanksgiving), the second week of January through mid-February, the first three weeks of May, and all of September. FastPasses (free with admission) for popular rides let visitors cut to the front at an assigned time. It's best to get them immediately after arriving at the park. Only one (per person) can be held at a time. Going on rides during fireworks shows and other events that draw crowds away from the rides is a sure way to cut queuing time.
The optimum time to avoid lines at the Post Office is about half an hour after the local branch opens, on the heels of the early birds who show up just as the doors open. Better yet, print out labels at home with Click-N-Ship and use an automated postal center (often located in the lobby) to bypass lines completely.
The Space Needle offers awe-inspiring views of the Seattle skyline, but no tourist wants to wait in a long line. The best time to get to the top of the Space Needle is right after it opens each morning: 9 a.m. Friday through Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Big crowds tend not to come out until after noon.