While everyone is getting excited about summer and holidays, I’m biding my time and waiting for the autumn. For me, that’s when the travel magic happens. True, I have to stoically tolerate friends’ vacation exuberance and photos on social media throughout the summer, but I know it’s worth it.
Whatever the Weather
Traveling off season has loads of benefits, particularly if you’re after a low-key trip where you can get a feel for the local way of life without hoards of tourists. If you’re planning to party, it may be less appealing, but out of season doesn’t have to mean out of action. Not everywhere is dead (unless you go to a European tourist resort in winter) and it’s more about quality than quantity. Sure, the weather can be risky, but usually there will be a bar or museum to find shelter in if necessary.
However, when the weather is good, it’s blissful; gorgeous blue skies and sunny days without the unbearable sticky heat of summer. It’s perfect weather for hiking if you should be so inclined, which theoretically I am, but in practice…maybe less so. Besides, it’s the thought that counts.
On the subject of weather, I’m definitely appreciative of seasons. I like to live in a place where they are quite distinct since I love spring and autumn so much, but it’s great to visit a tropical place every now and then. Most of Southeast Asia’s low season is actually at the same time as the Northern Hemisphere’s traditional summertime, so as soon as the students, teachers and families leave you have plenty of space to yourself.
I’ve visited Cambodia quite a few times but September was the best because wet season had made the scenery vibrant and lush. The rain wasn’t a problem since it was easy to predict with mid-to-late afternoon showers that bring some welcome relief to hot, humid weather. The showers are easy to plan around since they are torrential, short-lived, and quick to dry up. Not to mention the epic thunderstorms which light up the sky in spectacular fashion.
Also, what better way for intrepid types to immerse themselves in local culture than finding themselves experiencing a mudslide with the villagers? I mean, travelers are always going on about wanting ‘authentic’ experiences and you can’t get much more real than sitting in the mud at the side of the road waiting for your ride.
Fewer People, Less Hassle, Cheap Prices
How about fewer tourists, better prices and less organizing? All of these factors are bonus points if not deal breakers for me. When I first traveled off peak years ago, it was mostly because it was cheaper in terms of flights and accommodation, but I soon found the freedom of not needing to book everything in advance liberating. I like the idea of just rocking up to the Vatican and not queuing for hours on end. Having enough space to take photos of the scenery that don’t feature a load of random strangers taking selfies in the background is also a plus.
How about not having to book a train in advance because I might change my mind, or just turning up to the popular restaurant without a reservation? Even booking transport in advance doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride, and traveling on a packed train or bus in the middle of summer isn’t my idea of a good time.
I don’t like planning every single detail as I don’t know what I’ll feel like doing on a given day and maybe something unexpected will come up. Rigid structures and timetables don’t suit me, but this attitude can have it’s drawbacks too. Sometimes you need to plan ahead out of season since there are reduced transport services, mountain roads are closed, and businesses take a break over winter.
Travel by Season
I’ll break down the best reasons to travel off peak by season:
Early fall is the Goldilocks of seasons since it’s not too hot or too cold, but just right. The russet and golden hues of the scenery, crisp cool air, and crunchy leaves underfoot make this a really atmospheric time to visit much of North America and Europe. Flights and hotels are cheaper and there are lots of food and wine festivals thanks to the recent harvests. It’s also the perfect time to catch the last of the summer rays in the southern Mediterranean.
It’s as good as any time to go on a city break because so many of the activities are indoors. It’s a great time to visit European cities since Christmas markets are in full swing along with the heady scent of mulled wine and gingerbread. However, just two words are enough to win me over: hot chocolate. You’ll never drink instant again after sampling the thick, creamy hot chocolate served in the chilliest corners of the Continent. In fact, head to the coldest areas where there are plenty of places to escape the cold with proper central heating systems and vats of chocolate.
You may be tempted to give ‘warm’ destinations a try throughout their short winter seasons, but they tend to forgo good heating. Experience has taught me that an air conditioner is not a great way to heat a hotel when the temperature drops at night in Turkey or Mallorca and all they provide is flimsy summer blankets. Whereas you can find welcome relief from the freezing streets of Berlin and Stockholm in cozy and well-heated buildings.
The locals warm up along with the temperature and everyone’s mood is brightening after a long winter. Just as autumn is full of rich earthy colors, springtime foliage bursts to life in a dazzling display of verdant greens and rainbow colors. Hotels and apartments have some great rates and flights are cheap until Easter. There are heaps of festivals to welcome the new season and St Patrick’s Day is celebrated everywhere in the world, not just in the land of leprechauns. Aside from the peak season of Easter, snow bunnies will love the quieter slopes and discount rates of the later skiing season in places like Colorado and Switzerland.
My next trip is Ukraine in October, which I guess isn’t swarming with tourists at any time these days. I’ve heard great things about Lviv, so I’m looking forward to it.
When and where do you like to travel? Do you love the crowds and get the low season blues? Let us know your favorite off-season destinations!