Travelling off-season has its perks – and perils. Usually, I prefer off-season visits to famous destinations, although sometimes I can’t help it and will go in the peak season.
But why bother with travelling off-season, anyway? Here are a few ideas (and observations).
- Bargain. Bargain. Did I mention bargain? Even luxury resorts and five-star accommodations may give you huge discounts in the off-season. And the reduced prices may make you consider destinations (and hotels) you usually wouldn’t dream of. In the end, you may no only save money, but broaden your horizon by choosing a stay you’d never even have considered for your travel plans. Splurge and indulge. You’re worth it.
- Lower prices. It doesn’t start (or end) with the accommodation. On a trip to Cres, the lovely Croatian island in the Mediterranean, in May, we found that the average prices in the vastly undercrowded restaurants in the island’s capital were 40% below high season prices. And the staff was so much more interested in servicing customers. Prices for services and foods, from a haircut and massage, to a cup of coffee and a slice of pizza, or fees for attractions or a boat trip may decrease drastically in the off-season.
- Less crowds. No problems finding a parking space, in many cases for free. No half-day-queuing for the entry to an attraction – museum, theme park, cave, church or whatever may be on your list. Having the beach all to yourself in the morning, or even the day. No yelling parents and screaming kids galore. This also leads us to the next point:
- Getting to know the locals. The lady at the Walk behind the Falls in Niagara may actually have time for a chat about the weather conditions and her experience with icy rain at the Falls; the regulars in the Spanish bar might greet you over your daily coffee, and the Irish bartender may be willing to get to know the foreigner after all, when their places aren’t crowded with 1,000 different tourist faces each day. You might find yourself mingling with the locals instead of being stared at, and get some insider tipps along the way.
- Which, kind of, leads to better service. Fewer customers means, more time to talk to and focus on customers.
- Another side effect of less crowds: better chances for great photography. Not only do fewer people around the stuff you want to snap generally make for better travel photos, but you can also take your time, look for a perfect angle or different framing, and in some areas, you may have a pretty unique view due to different lighting conditions than in the bright summer or winter light as well.
Of course, it’s called off-season for a reason. While you may have luck and have wonderful weather – we spent 12 days on Ko Samui in the fall of 2009, in the middle of the rainy (monsoon) season, having a total of 3 rainy days and lots of gorgeous weather – you need to consider your options carefully, as in
- The weather may be horrendous. In many parts of the world, bad weather is just that: bad weather. Or, as a common Northern German saying goes: there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Truth be told: if you look at the current floodings in Thailand, there is worse. You seriously don’t want to be stuck in Ayutthaya or Chiang Mai during a monsoon flooding (although it might make for a great story to tell your grandchildren one day). And if you are an outdoor geek, a steady downpour will probably not make you happy. On the other hand, on a trip to any major city, the weather is only a secondary concern, since you can always opt for some indoor activities.
- Usually, main tourist attractions may be closed in the off-season – if you want to see a special attraction or take that boat trip to the outer islands, check ahead whether the option is available. For example, on Ko Samui there are no boat trips to the Ang Thong Marine National Park during rainy season – even if there isn’t a single drop of rain and not the slightest wind ahead. Museums may be closed, attractions may not open until a fixed date (such as, most attractions in Ontario are closed before Victoria Day), so your tourist-ey choices may be reduced. Even if the attractions are open, they may have reduced opening times (e.g. the ice caves in Werfen/Austria close an hour or two early in spring and fall).
- Hotels and restaurants may have closed for off-season. Pubs, bars, restaurants need a certain count of customers to be operated with profit. Some places are only open during the season. You may find that in places which are brimming with tourists during high season, many accommodations may close for renovation and some R&R of the owners (who may have another enterprise in another area, too). So if you go to Skagen in fall, don’t expect the Sushi takeaway from the summer days to deliver, and even the pizza parlor may have shut its doors, leaving you with a handful of all-year-round local options only.
- While fewer people usually mean less noise, the noise of renovation works in the off-season can be bad. Even the luxury resorts (especially the luxury resorts) need to keep up appearances and do renovation works – which may be one of the reasons they were willing to give you a huge discount in the first place. Check ahead when booking; try to make contact with your concierge and ask for another room, if the construction works are too much for you.
- Trains, buses, ferries may run on different schedules than in the high season – some may not be in operation at all. Make sure you have your travel itinerary checked and double-checked. If you are more a spur-of-the-moment traveler, ask the local tourist info and agencies for help.
For me, travelling off-season has always been a joy – I have a feeling I get to see more of the country I visit than the peak season tourists usually do. I walk a lot, too, and I’d rather walk through a city on a rainy day than grill myself in the searing sunshine of a summer day, so that’s fine with me. What about you?