Avoiding the tourist crowds
Reap the Rewards of Off-Season Travel
by Katrina Wharton
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After saving for that fantastic family vacation or couple's getaway, it's time to finally book the trip. Before you join the throngs of other vacation-goers, consider whether an off-season trip might work for you.
Off-season differs by destination. For instance, winter is low season in Europe, while the tropics enjoy low crowds in summer when beach lovers can cheaply go to their local beaches. Check out this sample chart of off-season destinations:
- Europe: November to March
- Hawaii: Easter break to mid-June and September to mid-December
- SE Asia: June to October
- New York City: January and February
- Washington D.C.: December to February
- Walt Disney World: The value season includes most of January to mid-February. However, the fall season offers almost as good rates for the end of October through December (except Thanksgiving and Christmas).
- Tropics such as Aruba and Cayman islands: Summer
- Great Smoky Mountains: January and February and fall weekdays only
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Debs Bridge of the Winter Park Lodging Company in Colorado states, "We have seen an increase in our number of off-season visitors, who are attracted by lower rates on lodging, less congested road travel, and a more relaxed, local vibe. If you do choose to visit during peak season times, try to stay mid-week to avoid higher weekend rates."
Best Reasons to Travel in Off-Season
The biggest perk to off-season traveling is that rooms, flights, and package prices are apt to be drastically cut.
Hate crowds? Nothing can ruin a vacation faster than interminable lines, tourist-choked streets, and clogged attractions. Travel in the off-season and avoid all that mess.
By taking your vacation in a low season time, you are less likely to be hit by pickpockets or clever ATM thieves. It is harder to work unobserved when there's no crowd, and off-season provides fewer targets.
Sometimes destinations offer special offers, packages, or incentives to draw in visitors during the off-season. Some give a third night free or add on a massage or free marina rentals. It is always worth checking out the possible perks.
When the mobs of tourists have returned to their home turf, it is easier to mix with the locals, who are probably in better moods. This results in more meaningful experiences and a truer sense of a place.
Along those lines, low attendance at attractions can result in more personal attention from tour guides or longer turns, such as an extended horseback session, gondola ride, or museum tour.
With fewer people to move about, buses, trains, taxis and water ferries have more capacity. That means it is easier to get transportation, and even better, you will probably have more room to stretch out or get your pick of seats.
Having more choice of accommodations is another plus to off-season travel. There are fewer people fighting for especially desirable rooms or suites. When checking in, politely ask about an upgrade; you are liable to get bumped up to a better room for only a slight increase or maybe at no additional charge.
The Pitfalls of Off-Season Travel
The most common drawback is weather. Many locations have off-seasons based on weather. For instance, rooms will be cheaper during whatever the rainiest, coldest, or scorching times of year are, as well as when storms are most likely to hit. So if going when weather is iffy, be sure to look up what the average temperatures are for that time of year. If you are heading to a place vulnerable to tropical storms or hurricanes, keep a watchful eye on the weather reports and invest in travel insurance.
Another concern for many families is school schedule. If school is in session, prices drop. When school isn't in, prices skyrocket. However, that doesn't have to be a deal breaker. For a school-year vacation, plan early. Talk to the teachers and work out a schedule for homework, tests, and anything else. Giving teachers ample warning allows them the time to gather materials, list assignments, and possibly let the students get some of the work done before leaving. Younger kids may be given fun work to do, such as keeping a journal and taking photos to share with the class.
Another possible negative can be that many places will close for the season or have limited hours. To avoid disappointment, call ahead to find out what will be open and when. For hotels or other accommodations, it may be wise to also ask if any construction or remodeling will be taking place, as off-season is a prime time to refurbish and refresh.
If too many must-sees are closed during off-season, or the weather is harsh and the to-do list is primarily outdoors, consider traveling in shoulder season. This is the period between high and low season, and it offers lower prices than high season with fewer visitors.
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