Now that you’re familiar with some of the many reasons to attend World War II Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania, I’m sure you want to make sure you do it up right, right?
While I had a truly thrilling experience at my first WWII Weekend, there were a handful of things I wish I’d done differently. Some of these were merely small oversights, but some were crucial errors I will not make again.
So, to make sure you have only the best time on your trip, here are 14 mistakes to avoid at WWII Weekend and the best ways to do so. I learn the hard way so you don’t have to!
1. Thinking you only need one day
The first and the biggest mistake you could potentially make would be to think you only need to visit on one of the three days of WWII Weekend. I mean, surely you could get the idea in just one day, right? WRONG!
There is so. much. going. on. here. Honestly, you will be shocked by how much there is to see, do, and watch at WWII Weekend. There are shows, reenactments, demonstrations, air shows, special guest speakers, a giant flea market, a shooting range, ceremonies, the Hangar Dance, and tons and tons and tons of encampments to explore.
And that is not even all there is… but I’ve got to at least try to keep this brief. In short, trust me when I say: If you decide to just visit for one day, you will leave wishing you had more time.
That being said, do not let that discourage you from attending WWII Weekend if you do only have one day to spare. I am totally aware of our lack of adequate vacation time as Americans, so consider yourself seen. But if you do have a weekend to spare, you may just be doing yourself a favor.
2. Not booking your hotel early enough
Your next biggest mistake will be waiting until the last minute to book your hotel for WWII Weekend. If you’re unaware of how huge this event is, let me just tell you… it’s absolutely massive. Around 20,000 people attend this 3-day event each year. And there certainly aren’t that many hotel rooms in little ol’ Reading.
As soon as you know you’re going to attend WWII Weekend, book that hotel room! If the virus that shall not be named has brought anything good to us travelers, it’s the fact that most hotels now offer free cancelation. So, go ahead and book, just to be on the safe side. Here are some great options for where to stay for WWII Weekend:
For your other travels, check out this list of World War II-themed hotels around the world.
3. Not bringing a refillable water bottle
I haven’t yet figured out what I spent more money on last year… college tuition or bottled water at WWII Weekend. Regardless, I will not repeat that mistake this year.
If there’s one thing seared into the memories of everyone who attends WWII Weekend, it’s the unyielding HEAT. And I cannot stress enough the importance of hydrating like your life depends on it. Because, oh look at that, it does!
Yes, there are plenty of food vendors at WWII Weekend who sell bottled water. However, you still have to wait in the long lines of people ordering food to get them. (Yes, this is a problem.) And when you finally get them, you’ll finish ‘em in 5 minutes or less and have to repeat the ordeal all over again.
Something I learned after WWII Weekend last year is that there are actually a number of places to fill up your own water bottle, for free! Do not let forgetting to bring a refillable water bottle be a mistake you make this year.
Fill up at the festival
Here are some of the places you can refill your water bottles at WWII Weekend (based on past experiences; the situation this year may vary):
- There is a hose for refilling bottles behind where the food trucks are parked to the right of the hangar
- There’s usually a “water buffalo”-style water tank by the mess tent for refilling
- There’s also a water source over by the Sunday church service next to Taxiway C
Again, this information is based on 2021, so the locations may be different for 2022. I will update this post when new information becomes available. Otherwise, be sure to pick up a program when you arrive–the water sources are marked on the show map.
Also, WWII Weekend does allow you to bring in small cooler bags for water only. So, maybe pack a few bottles of water into one of these, and bring a refillable bottle for when you’ve finished them all. (This Takeya insulated bottle is what I carry everywhere.)
Pro tip: Freeze a couple of the water bottles so they will stay cooler longer.
Perfect cooler bags for WWII Weekend:
Coleman 16-can insulated soft cooler bag – As far as cooler bags go, this seems to be everyone’s favorite. Perfectly sized (and lightweight) for an event like this. It has a removable hard plastic liner, an adjustable carrying strap, four outer pockets, and a lid bungee should you need one. (Comes in 5 colors.)
Carhartt Deluxe Dual Compartment Insulated Cooler Bag – If you’re looking for something maybe just a little bit smaller, check this one out. More like a lunch bag size, you can still fit plenty of water in there and maybe some ice packs too. (Also comes in 5 colors but why get anything other than camo?)
4. Forgetting to bring sunscreen or reapply often
Do not think that applying sunscreen in your hotel in the morning will be enough. One thing you should definitely be aware of regarding WWII Weekend is the utter lack of shade. Bringing a good sunscreen with you to the festival and reapplying it often are vital!
The American Cancer Society recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen (meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 30 or higher. The recommendation is to put on a decently-thick layer so, do yourself and all of the people around you a favor and stay away from the aerosol sunscreen sprays.
(Honestly, these only work if you can spray on a thick enough layer and then rub it in anyway. And we all know half the can ends up blowing away [into someone else’s mouth and eyes] as you attempt this.)
How often you’ll need to reapply differs by product, but the standard is every two hours, a little more often if you sweat a lot. Pick up some Coppertone Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 30 here. (My personal go-to.)
However, sh*t happens. Should you forget to bring sunscreen with you, you can stop by the medical tent at WWII Weekend and pick up some emergency sunscreen packets to hold you over. You’ll understand when you get there – this is indeed a medical emergency. (You can find the EMS Services locations on the map in the event program.)
5. Not preparing for serious heat
I hope my testaments to how much water you need to consume and the importance of proper sunscreen slathering have clued you in to the next big mistake you could make at WWII Weekend: not adequately preparing for serious heat.
WWII Weekend in Reading, PA takes place at the regional airfield. That should alert you to the fact that there is very little shade at all here. And you will absolutely feel this.
Don’t let the big airplane hangar and hundreds of military encampments fool you—there are actually very few places to take refuge from the sun at WWII Weekend. (And exactly zero offering abundant air conditioning.)
With this information in mind, do your best to prepare accordingly. Here are my top recommendations for preparing for the serious heat at WWII Weekend:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
At the top of the list of ways to prevent heat stroke is proper hydration. Whether you bring your own or buy it there, remember to drink lots and lots of water, all the live-long day. Some of the concession stands at WWII Weekend also sell sports drinks so maybe go that route a time or two.
Another option is to add hydration packets to your water. I use these hydration powders from Liquid IV and love them. They come in lots of flavors and they’re as simple to use as pouring the single serving tubes into a bottle of water. This is such an easy way to supercharge your hydration efforts.
Bring a fan
I so regret not bringing some kind of fan with me last year. Even something as simple as an accordion fan that folds up when you’re not using it works WONDERS. You will need something more substantial than your festival program.
I also saw a lot of:
- Small handheld, battery-powered fans
- Water-spritzing fans
- These portable neck fans are becoming popular too!
Wear the right clothing
My main concern all during WWII Weekend was the livelihood of the reenactors in heavy wool uniforms and those wielding flamethrowers. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I am concerned as hell for them.
When it’s seriously hot out, it’s important to stick to thin, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. If you’re going to reenact, reenact responsibly. The USO Girls have the right idea here. In other words, now is not the time for your Battle of the Bulge reenactment.
Other easy ways to stay shady:
- Wear a hat that covers your face (and neck)
- Bring a quick-dry towel for all your sweat needs
- Absolutely remember to wear sunglasses – preferably the polarized kind. (Remember, you’re going to be looking UP quite a lot at WWII Weekend.)
- Don’t forget that umbrellas work for rain and shine. I left mine behind on the day it rained in favor of a hooded rain jacket, but I definitely used it against the sun.
- Bring outdoor chairs that include sun shades – I saw many of these at the air show.
6. Not preparing for rain
Just as much as you prepare for heat, you’ll need to prepare for potential rain being that WWII Weekend takes place in the summer and all. Because there’s no shelter from the sun, that means there’s no shelter from the rain either. (I hid out under the wing of a C-47 during last year’s storm.)
In that case, I recommend bringing with you a waterproof rain shell or thin rain jacket to put on when you need it. (I have this Columbia rain jacket that I take everywhere! Men’s version here.) I also wore my Chacos sandals on the day it was forecasted to rain. (Men’s version here.)
Rain at WWII Weekend is likely to come down hard and fast—meaning you probably won’t have to deal with long days of rain, but there will be plenty of it when it does happen. And an umbrella will only do so much good when the rain is pelting you from sideways and down below.
You will most likely get wet, so just make sure to dress accordingly in some kind of rain jacket and in shoes you won’t mind getting wet. And opt for a waterproof-ish bag to carry your stuff in.
7. Trying to park at the wrong place
I am totally guilty of this by the way. I thought getting to WWII Weekend would be as easy as putting the Reading Regional Airport into my GPS—but I was wrong.
While that is where WWII Weekend takes place, parking for the event is actually at the Reading fairgrounds, not the airfield itself. This is a much larger space for parking, is not too far away, and then you’re shuttled to and from the event (for free) on buses.
I’ll admit we were trying to figure out where to park while we were driving around town, but the instructions on the website were pretty confusing and the signage around town didn’t help much either.
Instead, use the GPS address for the Reading Fairgrounds: 1216 Hilltop Road, Leesport, PA. Once there, follow the line of cars down and around until one of the volunteers directs you to a parking spot.
The parking lot may be muddy if it has rained or super dirt-y if it hasn’t. It will definitely be grassy and pebbly. But it will also be free.
8. Not picking up a program when you get there
If you’ve missed the last 12 times I’ve said this, there is so much to see and do at WWII Weekend. You won’t really know the truth of that statement until you get there and pick up an event program.
Should you skip this step, well I just don’t know what you’ll do all weekend. Walk around aimlessly? Miss all the scheduled events? Not have a clue what’s going on?
Do yourself a favor and spare the few bucks and pick up an event program as soon as you arrive. With this you’ll be able to plan out your entire 3-day weekend of shows, events, speeches, activities, and more.
9. Not bringing something to sit on
There are also very few places to sit at WWII Weekend… so feel free to bring your own. Over by the airfield you’ll find a sea of foldable outdoor chairs that people have brought and parked for the airshows.
I’m guessing this is standard practice since it was so prevalent. Whether or not they were actively sitting them, people brought their own chairs and staked out their own spots from which to watch the airshow. If this is something that sounds good to you, go for it.
(Just don’t be super rude if you show up halfway through the vehicle parade and find some perfectly nice strangers standing near your chairs because there was no one there. Honestly, people, it’s not life or death here.)
That being said, it’s also a good idea to bring some easily portable chairs for the hangar dances on Friday and Saturday nights. This way you can easily relax and watch the festivities and take critical notes on swing dance moves for next year.
- I use this one all the time and I love it!
- I will again recommend a chair with a sun shade (the guy in the photo above has the right idea!)
If you don’t want to bring a chair, I still advise you to bring something to sit on—for air shows, for other reenactments, or just because you’re exhausted.
I brought a simple packable picnic tarp that I just slipped into my bag when I wasn’t using it. It weighs almost nothing and is waterproof in case you have to sit on some wet grass. And nothing sticks to it like it would a blanket so you can just shake it off and go. (It even has pockets!)
10. Showing up late to battle reenactments
The battle reenactments at WWII Weekend are some of the most popular events. There’s only so much space from which to watch them and it gets crowded fast. If you want to check these out, be sure to prioritize getting there early.
For the French village skirmish, there are a number of spots from which to watch the battle, so come early and take your pick. Luckily, here in “France” the terrain is sloped so even if you’re near the back you can still get a decent view.
For the battle of the Pacific, you’ll first need to line up behind the rope while they prepare the area sans crowds. When the rope drops, get ready to run to the fence so you can get an up-close look. For this one, the closer you can get is definitely the better.
Don’t forget to estimate travel time
When the battle reenactments take place first thing in the morning, you’ll need to make sure you calculate travel time accordingly. Don’t forget to factor in the time it takes to park at the fairgrounds, wait for a bus, load up the bus, then drive to the airfield, then get through the gate, then walk through to the French village. This all moves pretty quickly, but it’s definitely a few extra steps that add up.
11. Not bringing earplugs
I think it goes without saying that a festival ripe with airplanes, battle tanks, automatic weapons, and more is going to be LOUD. I didn’t even think to bring earplugs last year and that was certainly a mistake.
Don’t be like me. Don’t forget to bring earplugs to WWII Weekend. Get 10 pairs plus a carrying case here.
12. Not learning how to swing dance
Ok maybe this is just for me. Obviously this one is just the icing on the cake, but man I wish I had taken swing dancing lessons before WWII Weekend!
Everyone at the hangar dance is so talented! Who are these people? Is this their day job? A very cool hobby? Regardless, I want a piece of it. Not that you have to properly swing dance at the hangar dance—by all means, give it whatever you’ve got—but it definitely looks like a fun goal for next year.
Search for “Swing dancing lessons near me” to find the nearest dance studio to you!
13. Standing too close to the shooting range
Yes, not standing too close to the shooting range seems entirely too obvious, but I still feel like I should mention it. Last year I was watching the visitors take their turns shooting different World War II weapons and I actually got hit with a hot shell from a Thompson submachine gun.
Don’t worry, I’m fine, I didn’t have to be airlifted, but do know that this is a possibility. I thought I was standing far enough way—I mean, I was quite far off. It’s kind of shocking how far those things can fly. Had I been closer it probably would’ve hurt a lot more. Had it hit me in the eye, perhaps I would’ve had to check out Reading’s emergency facilities.
14. Not joining the WWII Weekend Facebook group
If you’re considering checking out WWII Weekend, be sure to join the WWII Weekend Facebook group. In there you’ll have access to all kinds of festival advice and the ability to ask questions. You’ll get helpful information as soon as it becomes available as well as event recaps, visitor photos, and more.
I found it very helpful in planning my time at WWII Weekend and I have loved seeing all the photos afterwards. And while you’re there, be sure to follow Destination: WWII. 😁
Have a great time at World War II Weekend!
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