Lonely Planet Writer

How to be an 'independence' traveller

Independent travel is hot these days, as more travelers are planning trips themselves, going to new places and having greater experiences by delving deeper into local customs wherever they go.

That's music to our ears. But what about independence travel?

Nearly all countries have national days (by our survey, only Britain lacks one), but many fewer have independence days – ie national days, with plenty of fireworks, parties, concerts, parades, sizzling meats in the open-air, and other celebrations that commemorate a break from another country in the past. Say, Britain for example.

A few things to consider before you jump into independence travel.

When is independence travel's peak season?

Summer, or January 1.

If you’re planning to go on a globe-hopping travel of independence, summer is your best bet. This chart breaks down how independence is susceptible to spiking temperatures (at least in the northern hemisphere, where the large majority of the world's countries lie).

Grouping independence days into quarters shows how summer in the northern hemisphere takes 42% of the prize:

The biggest single day of independence? January 1, with nine countries worldwide sharing that day (including Haiti, Cameroon, Czech and Slovak Republics).

The real July 4

In the USA, we (falsely) celebrate our independence on July 4. In actuality the US declared independence two days earlier. Future president (and HBO star) John Adams predicted July 2, 1776, would be remembered for centuries by big festivals and fireworks shows. He was only half right. What's remembered most is the bureaucratic gesture of signing a piece of paper that followed on July 4. Incidentally that declaration wasn't read to the public until July 8 – I once volunteered as a protest reenactor of the Philadelphia event.

Also, it turns out the USA isn’t the only July 4 celebrator. Georgia Republic's territory of Abkhazia, which is only partially recognized worldwide (and not by the USA), celebrates its ‘independence’ on July 4 too.

What are the independence travel highlights?

It’s hard to favor any nation’s independence days, but if you were planning a once-in-a-lifetime independence event anywhere in the world, these four stand out as some of the most memorable:

  • Canada Day (July 1) - Originally called Dominion Day, marking the nation's independence (sort of) from the UK in 1867, the name 'Canada Day' only came about in the 1980s and with some controversy. Outside Quebec, which celebrates June 24 as its own 'national holiday', Canada Day under any name is a serious day of celebration. The biggest one, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Ottawa's 13-hour spectacle of flag-raisings, fireworks, concerts and changings of the guard at Parliament Hill.
  • Bastille Day (July 14) - Paris' festive holiday marks the anniversary of the 1789 head-rolling start to the French Revolution. And is forever named for... a prison. The most famous fireworks show is by the Eiffel Tower - great with the tower as a silhouette. You can see fireworks from across town, perhaps the best spot is atop the Pompidou Center. Most unique is the tradition of firehouses opening their doors to public on July 13 & 14, some have concerts with dancing. Very French.
  • Waitangi Day (February 6) - New Zealand's Waitangi Day, celebrating the founding of NZ in 1840 on February 6, also happens to be Bob Marley's birthday. The notion of a national day has remained controversial to some Maori groups, in particular, and Wellington has merged it into 'One Love' Waitangi Day, a reggae-filled day. Watch the results.
  • Norway (May 17) - Norway's Constitution Day is too cute to ignore. Kids rule the day. Decked in traditional outfits, waving Norway flags the size of their grandparents hugging a bunny, parading through every town, and in Oslo past the king. Zero military presence, just people singing the national anthem. And high-school grads in overalls, sometimes mocking politics, as part of the 'russ' tradition.

Do you consider yourself an independence traveler? If so, what's your favorite independence celebration?

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet's US Travel Editor and wears a size 7 tricorne.

Want to party like it's the Fourth of July? Check out our guide to the best celebrations in the USA.