Most of us must choose where we travel based on our budget, our available time off from work and our traveling companions’ schedules. But while most of us are focused on where to go, when to go is also important. For example, have you always wanted to see the Gardens of Versailles but dread the idea of being there with droves of other visitors in the heat of prime tourist season? Or have you ever wanted to drive through the back roads of Vermont during the peak of autumn color, but navigating the traffic isn’t part of your dream?
Consider visiting popular locales during off-season, the period in which a destination has fewer visitors for various reasons, such as so-so weather or school schedules that keep families from traveling. Local events and special experiences sometimes take place during off-season, which could work in your favor if you’re willing to be flexible with your travel dates. So, if you’re up for saving a buck and avoiding crowds, here are a few recommendations for places to visit during their off-season.
RAIL JOURNEY THROUGH THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
Traveling through the majestic Rockies in early spring means spectacular views of snow-covered peaks under crisp blue skies. Go with luxury rail line Rocky Mountaineer to travel in domed-glass train cars that wend through the scenic landscape of the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary. You’ll stop each night at a charming resort to sit fireside and reflect on the day’s sights. GoldLeaf Service on board includes gourmet dining service with complimentary drinks and an open-air viewing platform (you can return to your comfortable heated seat later).
TULIPS AND FLOWER FESTIVALS IN EUROPE
Though there will be a chilly breeze, your senses will be warmed by rainbows of colorful tulips along the canals and countryside. At nearly 80 acres, the Netherlands’ Keukenhof in Lisse is one of the world’s largest gardens. Time your visit early in the season, and you’ll be dazzled by nearly seven million blooming bulbs—but without seven million visitors. While you’re in The Netherlands, your other senses will be delighted, too, with the smells and tastes of this region’s famed beers, cheeses and chocolates. Cruise from Amsterdam, The Netherlands’ capital, to Belgium, where medieval hamlets and ancient city centers will be waking from winter with their own breathtaking floral displays (and then, you’ll be able to try Belgian waffles, too).
ST. PATRICK’S DAY IN IRELAND
It may be hard to believe, but until around the turn of the new millennium, St. Patrick’s Day was not celebrated the same way in Ireland as it was by much of the rest of the world (green rivers, green beers and so on). But with a surge of patriotism leading up to the country’s 100 years of independence in 2017, Ireland now celebrates with weeklong festivals in large cities and small towns alike. And while, yes, the festivities will be crowded in Dublin, Cork and Galway (mainly with Irish nationals), the cooler weather keeps most international tourists at home. Just bring your coat, paint your face, and join the fun.
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
When it’s summer here, it’s winter Down Under. In Sydney, however, “winter” means temperatures in the low 60s and generally sunny skies. Of course, if you are traveling that great a distance, you’ll want to visit more than just one city in Australia, a country about the size of the contiguous U.S. A good way to see the highlights is on an escorted land tour. Or, you might also choose to visit major coastal cities in Australia by cruise ship and add a bonus visit to New Zealand, where you’ll need to do a little more bundling up; that’s especially the case when visiting the South Island, where temperatures are in the 50s in June and there’s a chance of snow at high elevations.
Yes, it will be hot and humid in the summer, but it’ll be hot and humid at home, too, right? While the crowds are at home with the air conditioning on, visit one of our nation’s grand antebellum cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana; Charleston, South Carolina; or Savannah, Georgia. Map it out yourself, or consider an escorted tour so that you can leave the driving to someone else and get the most out of your vacation with a professional tour director.
FALL FOLIAGE BY SEA
Beat the heat of more southerly states and be among the first leaf- peepers of the season by visiting New England in late August. You’ll enjoy the cooler temperatures, and with many vacationers with families already in school mode, you’ll avoid crowds, too. You could map a route through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and drive yourself, but then how would you fully enjoy the spectacular golds and fire reds of those amazing leaves? Consider a guided vacation on a luxury motor coach, gliding over hills and through small towns; or perhaps journey even farther on a cruise that takes you up the New England coast and into Canada, passing lighthouses and rocky shorelines speckled in nature’s blaze.
Fall may be hurricane season, but because of Aruba’s favorable location out of reach of most major squalls, you won’t need to worry about stormy weather ruining your vacation. September and October are the least-expensive months to visit Aruba because the trade winds that otherwise provide respite from the heat have diminished. Nevertheless, you’ll find relief in the sapphire-blue waters or inside one of the island’s 13 casinos.
Other islands outside the Hurricane Belt (a swath of warm water that runs across the Atlantic Ocean from northern Africa to the Gulf Coast of the U.S.) include Bonaire, Curaçao and Barbados.
When balancing good weather with good prices, late fall is a great time to visit Japan. With little rainfall, clear skies and mild temperatures, you can experience the vivid autumn leaves that are counterpoint to the cherry blossoms in spring that drive peak travel season. With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics (ending in August), prospective visitors to the country should find a plethora of great deals for travel in fall 2020. Since Japan is typically an expensive destination, a cost-saving way to travel (in addition to visiting during off-season) is to cruise around this island nation. You’ll have the benefit of unpacking once, and your accommodations and meals are included in the trip price. Choose from major cruise lines, including Cunard, PONANT, Celebrity, Viking and Azamara.
This exotic country really has just two seasons: a mild winter that lasts from November to April and a hot summer that lasts from May to October. Visit at the season’s edge, when prices are low. Plan sightseeing for early morning when you’ll see the ancient sites without the masses of tourists, allowing peaceful contemplation of some of the world’s most awe-inspiring monuments. You might consider a Nile River cruise, a method of transportation that was once reserved for Egypt’s royalty.
As one cruise season changes into another, major lines reposition their ships to different oceans and continents. Ships move to the Mediterranean and Alaska in late spring and from Europe to Florida in the fall, offering great deals for travelers. The downsides? The cruises can be longer, and you’re purchasing airfare from one city and out of another (known as open-jaw travel), which can be more expensive.