Why You Should Travel in the Off Season
Many people are stuck traveling during certain times of the year. Maybe you’re bound to a school schedule, or your time off is always structured around holidays. Or maybe because you’ve been told there is a definitive “best” time to visit a place (which often doesn’t hold true), you’ve never thought to travel in the off season?
In any case, high-season travel is why there are sky-high summer and holiday airfares, large crowds in Paris and Amsterdam (and Venice and Dubrovnik and …) during the summer, and “Jersey Week” at Disney World. People travel when they can, and often when they think weather will be best.
But would you consider visiting France in March? Costa Rica in October? Canada in January? That last one might sound crazy, but I can attest that visiting Quebec City in the dead of winter was one of the most magical trips my wife and I have ever taken. Even if it did hit -8 Fahrenheit.
There are times that peak season makes sense. But there are other times where the off-season makes far more sense. Here are 3 reasons why you should travel in the off-season, plus a couple other ideas to consider.
This is the biggest one. If you are bound to the school schedule for your family travels, bargains can be hard to find. You may get lucky, but it is fairly unlikely. Unless you’re picking a destination that isn’t frequented by the crowds (more on that later). If you have to travel peak season, you pay peak season prices. Not to mention it can be a much more difficult task to find good award space.
Being stuck traveling during peak season dates prevents you from jumping on the awesome fare sale that comes along. If you are set on traveling to London during the second week of July, chances are you’ll pay a pretty penny for your ticket. However, if you could travel in early May, you might pay half the price. You’re in that “dead zone” between Easter break and summer holidays.
So consider moving your travels to an “off” week just to save a little scratch. I’ve seen so many international fare deals during the January to May and September to November travel windows. If you’re paying cash (or using flexible points through a bank travel portal), you can save a ton by traveling during the off season.
The other factor here is that trips that would normally be off the table may all of a sudden become affordable. A trip to Spain for a family of four at $700 per ticket is quite the chunk of change. But if you can fly on Norwegian or LEVEL (or even full service carriers at times) for $1,200 all said and done, that suddenly doesn’t seem too unreasonable. But even a budget carrier like Norwegian knows not to offer those rock-bottom prices during the summer.
Visiting a place during its off season or “shoulder season” can work wonders on the crowds. Anywhere that sees peak summer tourism might be just as nice in the early fall. Or perhaps better, as you may do without the hordes of people. September is honestly one of the nicest months where I live, and I know other places that are comparable. Pushing a trip back from July into September can work wonders for the crowds, yet not sacrifice the sunshine.
Thinner crowds may save you precious time as well, allowing you to do more. I don’t want to spend any more vacation time than I must in lines, whether that line is for the rental car shuttle or for the Louvre. I hate lines. That is one of the reasons Disney isn’t for me.
My wife and I visited Banff, Alberta in April 2017, enjoying an amazing staff at the Fairmont Banff Springs. April is pretty much the middle of shoulder season. There’s still snow, so not a lot of hiking is possible. Snow sports are winding down. But the main plus? Hardly anyone is there. It’s a great time to visit.
We knew that if we’d planned the trip for July, it would have been insane. Not to mention it was the Parks Canada 150th anniversary. So the free entry would have meant even more people than normal.
A Different Experience
Many places are at their best in their peak season, which makes sense. People tend to visit a place when it is at its nicest. But sometimes it is nice to see a place in a different light. You only have a chance to do this if you travel in the off season.
Consider a visit to Canada in the winter. While I certainly wouldn’t plan a visit to the Great Plains during winter, a January city escape could be a wonderful idea. Actually, I know it is. My wife and I have taken two trips to Canada in the winter: one to Quebec and Montreal, and the other to Vancouver. There were certainly things we missed by visiting during these times, but both trips were highly enjoyable in their own unique way.
Not to mention traveling in the off season might be the best. Quebec City has an amazing European charm. I’ll argue that it might just be the most picturesque in winter. We loved our few days there.
You could also lose out on the deal. We spent nearly two months in Costa Rica during their rainiest season, and there were some periods where it poured every afternoon for days on end. This could certainly put a damper on your plans. But it was definitely a cheap time to visit. And some places were absolutely lovely.
Understand the Trade-offs
For many places, visiting in the off season means smaller crowds and cheaper prices. But if perfect weather is the reason you’re going, make sure that you keep that as a priority. If you can brave some chilly mornings or a little rain here and there, consider giving the off season a try.
You can’t (usually) have it all. If you want to visit a specific location during the best time, you’ll pay the highest price. If you’re open to visiting during a poorer time, you’ll pay better prices, but may sacrifice on experience.
Along these lines, make sure the attractions you really want to see are actually open. When my wife and I visited Quebec in winter, there were a few places I’d hoped to see that were closed. This was mainly in Montreal. Conversely, Quebec City was a romantic dream. One experience out somewhat poor. One was magical.
Do your research
There are some places that shut down completely during certain seasons, so don’t make the mistake of visiting when you won’t be able to do anything. Do your research ahead of time if you plan to travel during the off season. Italy can be hit or miss in August because a lot of places close. Visiting China during their New Year may be enjoyable or horrible, depending on what you are interested in doing.
If you want to see Costa Rica, I definitely don’t recommend visiting during October. It poured during that month. Don’t miss out on things you really want to do because you visited during the worst possible weather. Guanacaste might be okay during that time, as it is the driest province. We also got an amazing deal on an all-inclusive Costa Rican resort, so not all was lost.
But also don’t let weather scare you. Beijing in November was great. Argentina in April is fantastic. Both of these places are relatively ideal for off season travel. If you stumble onto a great fare deal, do some research to see if off season travel still lets you do everything you hope to do.
Yes, You Should Travel in the Off Season
if you choose to travel during the off season, you may be in for the best of all worlds. if you do your research, you can both save money and have a very enjoyable experience. It just requires some flexibility to move away from peak season dates.
Personally, I’m all about not traveling during peak season. I’ve also pulled my son from school a couple times to travel. Stuff like that doesn’t phase me. Traveling during the off season is well worth it for all the reasons I’ve described.
What are some great off-season destinations that you’ve found?
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Is there any list out there for off season?
I’m sure there are lists of destinations out there, but not that I know of here at Miles to Memories. Maybe we can work up a post!
#1 – fewer unruly children
Don’t worry, I bring mine along often!
90% of my travels are mostly off season and never regret it. I just think savings are more important in my situation. Quebec always fascinates me, I hope it will be included on our travel plans soon. I’ve been to Montreal though, but we don’t have enough time to visit QC few years ago. One thing I like off-season is we’re always never get tired soon after long walks. This is our experience here in the US and Europe when the average temp is around 50-55 F and a bit cloudy of course. Maybe its just me, even 72 F sunny San Francisco sometimes makes me uncomfortably hot when you walk in an area without shade. Interesting post!
Make it to Quebec! It is lovely. I do agree that walking/hiking in cooler temps is *much* preferred. I can easily do 6-10 miles per day of walking, as long as the temperature is between 50-70.
I think pulling your kids for a week or so to go on some trips that really open their eyes to other parts of the world is well justified. A cruise to the warm water south of Miami probably not. Just get the kids assignments and work on those while gone. All would be good.
Exactly what I did when I took our older two to China! Such a cool experience for them.