Full of the season’s goodwill and cheer, you head out to shop for presents for friends and loved ones — and then you hit the traffic at the shopping center. In minutes, you’re grumping as if you were Scrooge or the Grinch.
Here are tips from AARP Driver Safety, insurance companies, traffic experts and others to help you avoid holiday traffic and parking headaches.
Don’t hunt for a great spot
You could circle a busy parking lot or ramp a long time before a choice spot opens, and you might have to arm-wrestle another motorist for it if there’s a dispute over who got there first or who’s been waiting longer. If you park far from the entrance, you will get a little exercise and might avoid the door dings and dents that come when you’re squeezing in between other vehicles. Be sure there are plenty of security lights to make your stroll safe. If you’re wary, ask mall security to walk you back to your car.
Think twice before parking near an exit
Depending on the traffic flow in the parking structure or lot, you might be blocked by a backed-up line of weary shoppers who are all trying to get out and go home simultaneously. Maybe somebody who’s feeling the holiday spirit will pause and let you in. Good luck.
Pick your shots
Go when things are slow. Retail follower ShopperTrak expects the low-traffic days this year to be Nov. 28-30 and Dec. 5-6.
Remember where you park
Not as easy as it sounds. You’re distracted by crowds, lists, timetables, commitments. Some cars and cellphones can be linked by applications so you can use your phone to find your car. Or try the old-fashioned way — write down the location. Or use your cellphone camera to snap a photo of the sign indicating your parking lot section or space number if there is one.
Expect the unexpected
Watch for wound-up kids dashing and darting where and when they shouldn’t. Look all around before backing up instead of just hitting reverse and assuming the coast is clear. A car or pedestrian that was not there moments ago might suddenly move into your path. Keep an eye out for carts left adrift in the parking lot by thoughtless shoppers who do not return them to the store or properly tuck them into the lot’s cart corral.
Shop online instead. Brick-and-mortar merchants won’t like hearing that, but neither will they be surprised. Online retailing already has eaten up big pieces of their pie. Of course, online cannot substitute for the wonderful restaurant that happens to be in the shopping mall, or let you inspect the items in person like you could inside a store. If something doesn’t fit or is not what you expected, then return it. A hassle for sure, but is it bothersome enough to outweigh the fight over parking spaces?
Go but don’t park
Let the shopping center’s concierge service do it. Check first, of course, to see if that’s available where you wish to shop.
Park with a reservation
If you shop where parking’s not free, see if you can reserve a spot in advance. The International Parking Institute notes: “An increasing number of cities offer parking apps that allow you to find and reserve your space ahead of time, pay [the fee] and even extend parking time via your mobile phone.”
Use your turn signal to indicate that you intend to turn into the nearby empty spot. If the driver is starting to leave, then that’s fine. But don’t stop and wait for a spot to open, blocking others cruising for their own spots. When parking, center your vehicle between the lines in order to leave the most room possible for doors to be opened without damage. Don’t swipe a handicap spot if you’re not qualified to use it, or shoehorn your big SUV into a spot marked “compact car,” or park at a curb or another spot that’s not designated for parking.
Last but not least: Be polite
Don’t confront other drivers who irk you. Avoid the horn and angry hand gestures. Help to keep other folks — and yourself — in the holiday spirit.