Summer is nearly over and that means that those of us living in Canada and northern US are already thinking about escaping harsh winter conditions by seeking out warm weather escapes. But there is an alternative to the high priced winter getaway – travel to locations in the off-season.
A couple of winters ago, my mother and I spent two weeks in London, England – in January. This might seem like an odd time to go – isn’t it usually grey, rainy and cold? A little. But we quickly discovered a couple of advantages to travelling to London at that time of the year.
Cheap Flights and Hotels
Our airfare and hotel was almost half of what it would have cost if we’d gone in June or July – peak season for London. Actually, the airfare was so reasonable that we had no qualms about upgrading to Economy Plus on British Airways to enjoy more legroom and premium service.
Saving money on the two biggest travel expenses allowed us to splurge a little bit on restaurants and shopping while we were in London.
Avoid the Crowds
London is home to many major tourist attractions – and major line-ups (or queues as they say in British English) during peak season. In fact, during the summer you can expect to queue for three hours to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London and experience similar wait times to get into Westminster Abbey and other hot spots.
In January, my mother and I had these places nearly to our selves. At the Tower of London we sped past the velvet rope and got to linger over the jewels longer than normal. At Westminster Abbey we were able take in Philosopher’s Corner and the Royal tombs without having to crane our necks or be jostled by the crowd. Mom even had the opportunity to take Holy Communion and considers the experience a highlight of the trip.
We had no problem getting into any of the restaurants near the major attractions. Mom and I tend to get headachy and cranky when we are hungry, so not having to wait to get a table made our days that much more enjoyable. We also got to enjoy conversations with our servers, including one server who was just as interested in our life in Canada as we were about his life in his native Senegal.
Public Transit Less Crowded
We took the London Underground everywhere and rarely found the platforms and trains crowded. (We also timed our trips to avoid morning and afternoon rush hours. We were on vacation after all.) We usually found ourselves on the Tube with Londoners commuting to work, students and a handful of tourists.
One of our guidebooks had warned that people on the Tube tend to be rude, except that every time we boarded a train someone happily gave up a seat to my mother without having to ask.
Overall, off-season travel is an intimate experience. We never felt hurried or jostled. We also got to interact with guides at many of the attractions and servers at the restaurants in a friendly and relaxed manner.
Here are a few tips to make your off-season travel successful.
Be Flexible With Travel Dates
When I was booking our trip to London, I discovered that by delaying the trip by a week, we saved hundreds of dollars on airfare. Check airfares for dates a few weeks before and after your desired travel time – you will be amazed at how much the cost will vary.
Flight times and days also impact fares. Flying to certain destinations, such as New York City on a Friday afternoon, will always be more expensive than flying mid-week.
You don’t have to travel to Europe in the dead of winter like we did to save money on airfare and hotels. Even shifting your trip a few weeks before or after the peak tourist season will help you save big.
Check the Weather
I like to look up weather forecasts on local media before I go, as they will be more accurate than the general information provided in travel guidebooks. You will know what to expect and what clothes to pack.
London in January was grey, a little rainy and mild with temperatures hovering a few degrees above zero. As we spent most of our time inside galleries and museums, it didn’t matter what the weather was like outside. Plus, it was far more pleasant than the deep freeze we left behind in Canada.
Research the Attractions and Activities
One of the risks of off-season travel is that some tourist attractions and activities may not be open or have reduced hours, so it is wise to check websites or even email the attractions directly to be sure they are open when you want to go.
The key is being flexible. Off-season travel is a great time to find out what the locals do and where they eat. You can pretend to be a local instead of a tourist and you will open yourself up to having a much richer experience.
Where are you going during the off-season?