The off-season is a great time to travel. You’ll enjoy cheaper airfares and lodging and fewer if any lines at the attractions you’ve traveled so far to see.
Just what does off-season travel mean?
“In general, ‘off-season’ refers to the time when a destination sees the least visitors; usually this is due to weather patterns and/or vacation schedules,” says Bailey Freeman, destination editor to South America and Antarctica for travel guide site Lonely Planet.
“Because fewer people are traveling to the destination during this time, the booking availability is higher, which leads to lower prices. Traveling during off-season is a great way to save some cash and skip the crowds.”
Consider these off-season travel suggestions.
The Caribbean in the fall
Visit islands outside the hurricane belt for a storm-free and affordable island adventure, advises Pauline Frommer, editorial director at Frommer’s, the website of the budget travel enterprise whose guidebooks have aided travelers since the 1950s.
Islands you’ll want to see in the off-season include St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
“They are in the Caribbean, but they haven’t been hit with hurricanes in decades,” Frommer says.
And prices drop by as much as 30 percent in September, October and November, she says. That’s a good off-season deal.
U.S. hotspots in December
The first two weeks in December are a good time for travel without crowds to many popular U.S. destinations.
Frommer recommends New Orleans, Hilton Head Island in North Carolina, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Oh, and a certain island chain.
“It’s a great time to go to Hawaii,” Frommer says.
Autumn in Florida
Visit the Sunshine State when it’s not quite so crowded.
“Late fall is actually a terrific time to visit the Gulf Coast and Southern Florida,” says Trisha Ping, destination editor to the Eastern USA for Lonely Planet. “Hurricane season has peaked by mid-October, but temperatures are still mild enough to enjoy time on the beach, even if it’s not quite warm enough to swim. Outdoor beach town activities like bike rides and mini-golf are also pleasant in the daytime.”
New Orleans in autumn
The peak season in New Orleans for crowds and prices is around Mardi Gras (which falls in February or early March). But travel to Louisiana’s “Big Easy” in the autumn and enjoy the deals.
“In fall, you have great hotel and great flight deals,” Butler says.
Enjoy a little elbow room as you explore Bourbon Street, Jackson Square and the Garden District, and nibble beignets at Cafe du Monde, the city’s well-known coffeehouse.
Wintry destinations in the U.S.
Head north during winter and save.
“Consider checking out the Catskills, New England or Northern Michigan in winter. No crowds, and the coziness level is off the charts,” Ping says. “If you’re looking for a winter city break, places like Chicago and Minneapolis know that life goes on when the temperature drops. Indoor cultural attractions abound, while you can enjoy outdoor activities like ice skating or snow-tubing.”
If you’re traveling in the U.S., be sure to check out: “The Best Roadside Attraction in Every State.”
Costa Rica in summer
Visit Costa Rica in spring and summer and save.
“Fewer crowds during Costa Rica’s off-season (between May and July) lead to discounts on both beds and tours,” says Alicia Johnson, managing destination editor to Central America and Caribbean for Lonely Planet.
“Since the rainy season has only just kicked off, days are mostly sunny, with occasional heavy, but short-lived, downpours. If you don’t mind getting a little wet, you can get close to plenty of critters at Costa Rica’s big-hitting natural attractions, such as Manuel Antonio National Park. The tail end of rainy season in November brings with it similar bargains, plus the added bonus of tons of migratory birds.”
European cities in the fall and spring
Want to backpack Europe? Hold off until fall and save. There are lots of new airline carriers that will be offering cheap flights to Europe.
“A neighbor went to Ireland for $200 from New York City, including taxes,” Frommer says.
Paris, Reykjavik, Madrid and Milan are all destinations with good airfares.
Norwegian Airlines, WOW air and Icelandair are among the airlines slashing prices.
You don’t need to fly out of New York, either. Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia are other U.S. gateway cities with great deals to Europe.
If you’re not going to make it this autumn, spring is your next best bet for European capitals:
“Barcelona, Rome and other popular European capitals may not be crowd-free in the off-season between April and May, but you’ll get a little respite from the crowds and sky-high prices while still being able to sample the joys of outdoor cafe culture,” says Evan Godt, managing destination editor for Lonely Planet. “It’s significantly better than in the summertime, when the lines are longer, the streets are full, and everything is more expensive (including your ticket to get there).”
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Mediterranean beaches in the fall
Wait until fall to get the deals on beaches on the Mediterranean coasts.
“During the Mediterranean’s June to August peak season, higher prices come with the swarming beaches and sweltering temperatures,” warns Godt of Lonely Planet. “Wait until October — hotel rates will have dropped significantly, but there’ll still be plenty of sun in Greece, Turkey and even southern Spain and Italy before the beach resorts close for winter.”
Marrakesh, Morocco, in autumn
Avoid the hot months of April and May and visit Marrakesh in the autumn. It’s a cooler and cheaper time to visit the Moroccan city.
“It’s a lot better to go in fall, you can still see all the sights and go to the markets,” says Meg Butler, staff writer at travel guide site Fodor’s.
Lonely Planet’s Godt agrees.
“Temperatures in Marrakesh are punishing in the summer, as are the crowds and the attendant high prices,” Godt says. “Try to travel in October or November instead, when you’ll find manageable temperatures, budget-friendly riads and the famous souks and market squares won’t be swarmed by fellow travelers.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires — with its delicious blend of Latin American and European culture — is busy from December through February, when summertime in the Southern Hemisphere offers a welcome respite for travelers from the wintry north. Fodor’s Butler says an even better time to visit is springtime there, September through November.
Plaza de Mayo is lined with 19th century buildings including Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace. There’s also a 1908 opera house and MALBA, a top-flight art museum displaying Latin American art.
Another great Southern Hemisphere spot for an off-season visit is New Zealand. Travel there in mid-June through early October, when it’s summer at home but winter down under, and you can ski on the North Island.
“You can go skiing in the summer, which is kind of fun,” Butler says of Americans traveling south of the equator. “It is a great ski destination.”
There are also geothermal springs and glow-worm caves to explore and enjoy. And you’ll be there in the off-season when the prices are right.
Mexico City in the fall
There’s a lot going on in Mexico City in the summer, but if you visit closer to fall you’ll enjoy some good deals, Fodor’s Butler says.
One caveat: During celebrations for Day of the Dead (Oct. 31 to Nov. 2) there will be enormous crowds, so keep that in mind when you plan your trip.
The city features a historic and busy city center, Zócalo, a prominent plaza full of activities, and Chapultepec, a big park filled with plenty of attractions.
Cape Town, South Africa
Summer at the southern end of Africa is the longest season, lasting from October to March. The fall and early winter months there, from April to June, are a good, off-season time to visit Capetown and see such sights as Table Mountain, Robben Island and Boulders Beach.
It’s also a fine time to do some wine tasting. There are plenty of vineyards to tour and wineries to see.
And you’ll be there without the crowds when the price is right.
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