Captivated by the deep discounts offered for off-season travel, I have visited Moscow in January, slogged through the rain and 29 degree weather in Budapest in late November and scaled an icy precipice to view the Bled Castle on a blustery winter’s day. In each off-season foray, prices were less than in the high summer season. From the lessons I gleaned the hard way, I now answer 5 questions before booking my flight for off-season vacations.
The draw is that off-season hotel prices can be reduced by as much as 50%. Moreover, in Paris in January, not only are hotel prices a bargain, but large groups of other tourists don’t block your view as you stroll through the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay. Long lines for restaurants are reduced, and you can set your own pace. Similarly, traveling to the French Riviera mid-September, I found ½ price sales for 5 star hotels.
Since solo travelers often pay a premium for traveling alone, how can you know if an off-season discount is a good value?
Tip 1: What does up-to-date research show?
I once traveled to the Caribbean for a seaside vacation. On guides-info, I found out a storm had washed out the beach. Luckily, the hotel next door was 5 minutes walking distance and had not been impacted by the hurricane. On other trips, I arrived in a West African island only to find an ongoing cholera epidemic while my arrival in another destination coincided with a dicey political situation. In each case it worked out. However, with better information, I could have saved myself from unwelcome surprises.
The Internet travel sites make it easy to connect with other travelers and to see press accounts of current conditions. I have traveled in regions where outside of major resorts running water was only available during part of the day. Ongoing domestic turmoil can be very hard to evaluate as a foreign visitor. If you are aware of local issues before you go, it is much easier.
The key question: Is your chosen destination offering “off-season” rates because it is unsafe currently or otherwise problematic for leisure travelers?
Tip 2: What impact will the weather have?
Generally off-season discounts are available in areas where bad weather dissuades tourists from visiting. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter is cheaper as the temperatures drop. However, even transitional seasons, such as spring, can be questionable. I “viewed” the Rock of Gibraltar through a foggy rain and 55 degree boat ride on a fast-moving hydrofoil. Although I knew that it snowed in the Atlas Mountains, I did not anticipate a spring day in Morocco at sea level would be so chilly.
The key question: Will rain and cold (or conversely blazing hot days) prevent you from enjoying the trip at any price?
Tip 3: Will key sites be open off-season?
When I arrived one winter’s day in Bled, Slovenia, I was armed with a detailed guidebook. I had read of how popular a spa and tourist haven Bled was dating from the 1890’s when European royalty had made it a chic destination. One of the sought after sights was a trip by boat to the Church of the Assumption located on an island in Lake Bled. As I looked at the iced over lake, I saw there was no bridge and therefore no access in the winter. On another trip off-season, I headed to Spain during the spring only to arrive just in time for closings to coincide with the Easter Week observance.