“You guys should come back in summer. There’s a tonne more people and the weather is awesome”.
Tom and I had just spent the last hour sampling botanic-style beers in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, sheltering from the cold November rain that waited outside. We’d been chatting to the bartender about our travels while he explained the brewery’s unique beer styles: an ale with orange, a Belgian Dubbel with fig, a stout fermented with oysters (really).
Even though the Thanksgiving weekend weather dipped down to freezing and the notoriously ‘windy city’ kicked into full gear, I never really wished it was summer.
And while there’s probably no quiet time to visit Chicago (it is America’s third largest city after all), I loved wandering through less crowded streets and less frequented museums.
It got me thinking about my travel behaviours, and how much I prefer off season travel.
Sure, there are some destinations where off-season travel is more problematic. Alaska often requires a summer trip – especially if you want to cruise the Inside Passage or hike in Denali. Ski trips are pretty much limited to winter – though go early spring or right at the start of the season to bag some great deals!
But for the most part, travelling in quieter months is perfectly achievable. Not only that, it also leads to more fun, lower costs, and fewer crowds.
Here’s why I prefer off season travel!
As someone growing more and more averse to large crowds, my very favourite perk of off-season travel is that there are fewer fellow tourists sharing my space!
Fewer crowds at airports also means way less stress! And way shorter lines at security.
There is truly nothing fun about being herded through a museum courtesy of a crush of bodies. Call me picky but I’d rather have a more quiet experience. Of course I can handle crowds in cities – it’s expected – but I’m not a fan of being packed like sardines when out exploring nature. It almost defeats the purpose doesn’t it?
Hiking through Yosemite National Park on a May weekday was quite calmer than doing so during the summer holidays. Recently in Quebec I went on an early morning trip to see Montmorency Falls: the snowy, frozen park would have been spectacular regardless but being one of the only people there was the icing on the cake. It was witnessing the best of nature all to myself.
It’s a major money saver
Flights, accommodation, rental cars – pretty much everything costs less in off-season. Even activities, tours and attraction entrance fees can be cheaper. Take advantage and save hundreds of dollars!
Last-minute accommodations are more easily available in off-season: hotels aren’t always totally full, campsites aren’t booked out months in advance, and there are seats left on intercity trains and buses. This leaves room for spur of the moment changes to your itinerary without drama or stress. Go with the flow, stay longer at places you like and ditch the ones you don’t!
Book activities when you arrive at your destination and dine without having to worry about advance reservations (usually!).
In October I camped by the shores of beautiful Perrygin Lake in Eastern Washington – simply because I found it on Google Maps that afternoon and thought it sounded nice. This place is booked out all through summer.
A more local vibe
Have you visited Europe in the summer and found that everyone standing in that beautiful town square all happen to be snapping the same photos? It’s because every one of them is another tourist! Visiting a destination in summer usually means most of its residents will be away on vacation too.
I’ve always found local interaction more successful when I visit a city outside its major tourist season. Everyone is far more relaxed, the vibe is more laid back, and the locals are far more interested to talk to you when they haven’t been overwhelmed by hordes of other tourists.
Perhaps I’ve just adjusted to the mild climes of the Pacific Northwest, but the thought of traipsing through a city in the height of summer makes me sweat. Rome in August? No thanks.
Wait until fall or winter and you can wander through near empty streets. Take photos without the intrusion of a sea of selfie sticks and tourist buses, and take breaks from the cold in a warm café or pub.
One caveat: if travelling to a tropical location, check monsoon and hurricane seasons before you book. Constant storms may put a damper on your sunbathing!
Off season travel tips
- Weather can sometimes wreak havoc on plans, so make sure you get travel insurance to cover you in case of a winter snowstorm or monsoonal flood.
- Book outside school vacation periods and major public or religious holidays in your chosen destination for cheapest prices.
- Shoulder season and off season is usually when hotels and historic buildings complete renovations. If you’re an avid photographer wanting to capture perfect images of the historic town square or monument, be aware you may get a glorious view of scaffolding instead. Research beforehand to avoid disappointment.
- Some attractions may close in quieter months, so if there is a ballet performance, public garden or national park you can’t miss, take that into consideration.
- Find the cheapest days to fly using Skyscanner’s ‘show whole month’ chart. Sometimes leaving or arriving a day earlier can save hundreds of dollars! I’ve also begun using Google Flights to help find the best deals.
Do you travel in off season? Where are your favourite off season travel destinations?
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