Last Updated on December 9, 2021 by Jim Ferri
It’s well known among people who travel a lot that off-season travel can save you a lot of money — as well as provide a better experience without the crowds…
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Donna Manz
There is no denying it … I love off-season travel.
While some call it “shoulder-season,” I call it delightful. After all, summer is hot, humid and packed with tourists at popular destinations. Shopkeepers ring up sales nonstop. Airfares are at their priciest and hotels fill up, leaving you to look at alternatives.
Autumn, spring and winter, like no other seasons, embrace the spectrum of weather, from hot and sultry to cool and crisp to cold and snowy. Whether it’s the explosion of color in New England or ski powder in Colorado, beer and wine and food festivals in Europe or harvest festivals and seasonal celebrations across the U.S., there’s pretty-much something for everybody. All you need to do is adjust the way you pack.
I have three international trips planned for this fall, all within a 7-week time span – one to Rio de Janeiro, two to Western Europe. I cannot resist the moderate airfares, themed river cruises and Christmas markets. While it will be in the 90s in Rio, the weather I’ll experience in Europe will shift down by about 50 degrees and if I’m lucky – and I usually am – I’ll feel snowflakes on my face at the Christmas markets.
Yes, off-season is the time to travel. Here are my top five reasons to travel during the off-season.
1. In the Off-Season Crowds Have Dissipated
High season has waned and the tourist herds have thinned out in towns, at attractions and on aircraft.
Although I usually upgrade to business-class on international travel, I really don’t mind the daytime flights in coach. The middle seat is typically unused when I fly in fall and winter and I’m able to move around in my own seat. That’s nice.
Once I arrive during the off-season I also don’t have to wait for an outdoor table in a town square, either. When a chill comes upon the town, restaurants might bring heaters outdoors. I feel adventurous when I’m sipping hot chocolate in the frosty air. Some European cafes even offer blankets.
And in museums I’m also much more serene examining a work of art when I’m not being jostled. I plan on standing in front of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” for as long as I want when I’m there in November.
2. It’s the Season of Values
Airfares go down and hotels and resorts market value-added packages during off-season travel. River cruise lines that ply Europe’s great waterways offer themed sailings, from beer and wine cruises to Jewish heritage and Christmas market tours, usually with promotional pricing. Waking up and looking out at a glass-walled balcony-setting on local life unfolding in medieval towns and cities rejuvenates and inspires me. Throw in gently falling snow and it becomes magical.
When you travel during the off-season, family resorts, in particular, recognize that kids are back in school. And room and meal-plan discounts try to lure a family into taking the kids out of school (it works). Disney parks do what Disney does best – create parallel universes that come around only in the fall, such as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party. My grandchildren loved it … the moody ambiance, the scary music, the ghoulish parade, the haunted rides, and the interactive shows. And it was not only the kids who dressed in costumes – so did many adults.
During the off-season many destinations and theme parks offer seasonal celebrations at prices less expensive than high-season. Sign up for newsletters from theme parks that are within driving distance and take advantage of holiday festivities for the family.
And, I must say that kettle-corn is at its most seductive when it’s popped and gooey-ed up in the night air.
3. Both Hemispheres Can Satisfy
While you can spend your vacation on the beach in the Southern Hemisphere, the cooler weather in the Northern Hemisphere makes it perfect for touring on-foot. I took a July river cruise along the Seine last year and loved the ship, the food, the service and the itinerary that took us to small towns made famous by Impressionist painters. What I did not love, though, (in addition to the throngs of tourists bumping into one another at Giverny and the Eiffel Tower) was the heat. Walking up steep hills when it’s very hot makes me weary. I can always layer in the cold – and I do – but when it’s hot you can only take off so much clothing.
4. Off-Season Is the Season of Celebrations
From Munich’s two-week Oktoberfest to cider pressings in Vermont, in the autumn festivals, fairs and harvest-season celebrations abound throughout the U.S. and Europe. Before the leaves of the deciduous trees in the North take their final seasonal bow, they dance a swirling ballet of vivid hues delighting us all. Memories of my early years in New England still come to the fore every September when I recall walking along paths of rustling fallen leaves as a child. Every kid needs to do that in his or her lifetime.
5. During the Off-Season Shopkeepers Value Your Business More
Shopkeepers value your business more in shoulder and off-seasons more than they do during high season. When shops are packed with tourists buying souvenirs and gifts, your support does not carry the weight as it does when business slows down. Even hotel staffs go beyond your expectations, chatting about local life or going beyond their job description. In Vienna, a hotel concierge took the time to describe to us his life growing up in Romania. In London, a hotel’s general manager invited us for drinks in the lounge. In Galway, an innkeeper took my wet wool hat and dried it in her own dryer.
More than any other time of the year, it’s during the shoulder- and off-seasons when people have the time to be personable. A couple of years ago I returned to a shop near Notre Dame where I had previously purchased silk scarves. It was mid-November and as the lone customer I began examining each gently hung scarf but saw nothing that jumped out at me. The shopkeeper asked if she could help and I took her up on her offer.
She was soon off to the stockroom and returned with a big box filled with cellophane-wrapped scarves. Together, we knelt on the floor and opened the package to examine over each scarf. Even though I assured her I could only afford one, she insisted on helping me. I sensed she enjoyed the company as much as I appreciated her efforts.
I still smile when I think how impossible that encounter would be on a sultry July afternoon.