‘Bout to make my debut as a travel blogger with this post.
Only kidding, I will never be a travel blogger. I love my house too much. Sometimes, I wish I could be that spontaneous person who travels on a whim by couch surfing wherever they can because I could travel SO much more for SO much cheaper….but guys…I’m just not. I like nice sheets and not having to share a bathroom.
Since I’m not hip enough to stay in hostels or do room shares, I have to find other clever ways to save money on travel. That, combined with my hate of crowds has turned me on to traveling off-season.
For four years Michael and I lived in Bar Harbor, ME. If you’ve never been it’s on Mount Desert Island which is home to Acadia National Park, one of our country’s National Parks. It’s flipping gorgeous, has an adorable downtown, and the population swells in the summertime with about 2 million visitors each year (by contrast the year-round population of Bar Harbor is only about 5,000.) Living somewhere with such a seasonal trend like this taught me a lot about off-season travel. While the summers were lively with perfect weather, it became overpriced and crowded. As soon as the season started to end, the crowds would cut way back. It was this time of year that Bar Harbor was the best. Many of the shops were still open through the holidays, the weather was temperate, and you could actually get a coffee in town without wasting an hour of your day. Since living there, I’ve always look at off-season travel times when booking a vacation.
The Perks of Traveling Off-Season
PERK #1: Traveling Off-Season is More Affordable
The most obvious reason to travel off-season is that the prices are better. Clearly, seasonal locations will jack up prices during their busy time to make the most they can. By traveling in the off-season you’ll not only save on hotels, but likely on airfare, car rentals, and other travel-related expenses.
PERK #2: Avoid The Crowds
Honestly, this is my favorite perk of traveling off-season. Especially when traveling somewhere that’s a known tourist destination, crowds can make or break a trip. This past weekend we visited the Grand Canyon off-season and even though we certainly weren’t alone, it was a lot quieter than it would have been had we visited during the busy season. I can imagine how impossible it might feel to find a quiet spot to enjoy the canyon during the peak season. In contrast, we were able to find a handful of spots where it was quieter and not teaming with selfie sticks. This was true for restaurants and dining inside the park. The expansive dining rooms were only about 1/4 full. Michael and I must have mentioned a million times how miserable it must be in the summer when the entire place is pack and lines are out the door.
In contrast to this, we visited Machu Picchu two summers ago and went at the start of the busy season. We both agreed that some of the wonder and magic was lost because it was just too busy with people. It can be hard to enjoy a location when you’re waiting in lines and avoiding crowds the entire trip.
PERK #3: Get to Know the Locals
One of the very first things Michael and I do when we arrive somewhere is find some locals and ask them for their recommendations on the area. It’s the best way to find the best restaurants, coziest bars, and attractions worth your time/money. But, when visiting during peak season often the true locals can be hard to find amongst the other tourists and seasonal workers. When visiting offseason you’re a lot more likely to run into the locals.
A great example of this is on a trip we took to Nantucket last fall. Our first night we wandered into a chic little restaurant for a drink and cozied up to the bar. We began chatting with the bartender only to find out he owned the place! We spent the entire night chatting with him about the restaurants in the area (making our list for the week) and getting free samples of all the new drinks and tonics he was working on creating. That’s not something that would have ever happened during the bustling busy season on the island.
Tips for Traveling Off-Season Like a Pro
Tip #1: Take a Look at the Weather
About 90% of the time the reason something is considered “off-peak” is because of the weather. It may be the rainy season or colder months. It’s worth it to take a look and monthly weather forecasts before you go so you can be prepared. For some locations, it’s totally OK if it’s a little chilly during your stay. But if it’s supposed to be a beach vacation going when it’s cold isn’t ideal. So, in some cases, off-season just might not be the answer.
Also, make sure to pack accordingly. If you’re going somewhere that’s going to be a little cold don’t be overly optimistic and pack all summer clothing because it says “might reach 75 degrees.” Nothing can ruin a trip more than being unprepared for different weather factors. An extra jacket or pair of warm pants can make or break the trip.
Tip #2: Try Waiting Until Last Minute to Rent a Car
During non-peak times, car rental places have a surplus of cars. If they have extras to rent out in the week your vacation approaches, there might be last minute discounts on the car rentals available.
Tip #3: Get Tips from The Locals
Like I mentioned, it’s easier to find locals to chat with the off-season and they’ll be your best resource for what’s open this time of year and what you should avoid. Either reach out to an acquaintance in the area or sidle up to a bar when you first arrive. You’re likely to get the best recommendations this way.
Tip #4: Look for travel bureaus
Depending on where you’re traveling, see if they have a travel bureau or association. These places can be a wealth of knowledge and offer a lot of insight. Certainly, they can help you for peak season too, but they’ll make navigating an area off-season a breeze.
Tip #5: Check for limited hours and closing
Remember that during the off-season, hours of things may change. In many seasonal towns, certain places will even close for an entire month of the year or more. If there are certain places you want to see, check to make sure the hours aren’t changed or limited while you’re there.
This goes for transportation too. If you’re traveling somewhere that requires a train/ferry/etc., confirm the off-season schedule so you don’t get stuck.
Tip #6: Yelp it Up
Guys, I’m a Yelper, and I don’t want to brag but I’m really good at using Yelp to my advantage. If you want to learn more of my tips for using Yelp, I wrote an entire post about How to Use Yelp to Find the Best Spots. It’ll make finding great restaurants easy, even during off-season.
Alright friends, that does it for my off-season travel tips. I hope you found it useful and it’ll help you navigate your next off-season trip. Certainly travel off-peak has it’s pros and cons, but I find it to be a great way to travel to save time and money!