Life is a popularity contest. You spend your early years trying to get noticed so that one day, you too, will be able to sit at the cool kids’ table. Then once you enter the work world you realize that it too is all about popularity, hoping to get noticed by the boss so you can get that promotion, make more money and be happier. One facet of life that is not about popularity is travel.
Everyone is familiar with the popular travel spots and experiences: Paris in April, New Orleans during Mardi Gras and any tropical beach in the middle of the winter, just to name a few. Yeah, these places are popular for a reason, but I think they’re even better when it’s not the popular time to visit.
Flights, hotels and even restaurants are much cheaper during the off- or shoulder seasons and better yet, there aren’t nearly as many tourists visiting. I love Paris, but I’m not eager to visit when it’s hot and I’m joined by a few million of my fellow tourists. I’d much rather visit in the very early spring or fall, when the conquering hoards have left and I can experience the real city.
Paying special heed to this important travel rule, we recently went on a quick weekend escape to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Located on the Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore is a tourist hot spot during the summer, but much quieter in the winter, its off-season.
The first advantage was in our hotel rate. We stayed at one of the best hotels on the Eastern Shore, the Inn at Perry Cabin, but for a fraction of the cost summer travelers have to pay. Not only did we get a great rate but, because it was their off-season, we were able to get a complimentary room upgrade to a fabulous suite. That certainly would never happen during the high season when the hotel is teeming with people.
As we walked around the quiet village of St. Michaels we felt like we had the town to ourselves. There were some tourists, but not many, instead most of the people we saw lived in the town. Sure, some of the restaurants and stores were closed for the season, but many more were open and had amazing sales in an effort to clear inventory in advance of their peak season.
The entire weekend was much of the same, quick access to restaurants, reasonable prices and just a very relaxing time. Even though I couldn’t go swimming or boating, that was fine with me. Instead I got to see a gorgeous part of Maryland at a time of year when most people don’t bother to make the trip.
Visiting places when it’s not the popular time of year to go has a wide variety of benefits. Not only is it cheaper, but the experience tends to be richer and more “real” – you get to peek behind the curtain and see the destination for what it really is and not costumed for the hoards of tourists.
What is your favorite place to explore during the off-season?
9 thoughts on “Travel Rules – Popularity is Bad”
I really, really do not like crowds. So traveling in the shoulder and off seasons is my favorite travel strategy. Still, I have to say that catching popular events at least once is often worth the trouble of trying to find the cheapest way to do it. I’ve been avoiding Mardi Gras in New Orleans for years, but the couple of times I experienced it provided some of my all time favorite travel memories.
My favorite off season travel is going to beaches in summer where the high season is winter. That way, I get a cheaper beach vacation and avoid the crowds at high profile tourist destinations at the same time. Win-win.
Even better, though, is exploring areas that the crowds never go to. Sure, all those out of the way places don’t have as many attractions. But they’ve got restaurants and landscapes and offer a great way to sample a completely different way of life. Just a short train ride off the main rail line or a meandering road trip in a rental car, can take you to the “real” parts of countries where tourism has little impact on the locals who are just going about their everyday lives.
Off the beaten path doesn’t have to mean roughing it. It’s often possible to travel more comfortably with less money if your goal is just to experience life in a different country and you don’t mind bypassing the famous sights.
Excellent points. I love exploring little neighborhoods and getting off the beaten track. Don’t get me wrong, major sites are great and are famous for a reason. Finding the balance between the two though usually makes for a great trip.
I think the Alaska shoulder cruise season is a great time to go. People say it is more rainy or colder, but you can never predict the weather. The shops are closing down and ready to get their wares off the shelves. The crowds have mostly gone.
Doing the Med (Spain, France and Italy) in October is wonderful. Cooler, still have crowds, but less of them. Easier to move around crowded squares and into attractions.
For river cruising, some of the most amazing values are the Christmas markets. Pretty darn cold it can be, but absolutely amazing scenery and beauty.
those are great tips! Thank you. The Christmas Market cruise is actually very high on my must do list. Hopefully this year!
Think this is key to really explore a place. In Manila right now in what’s considered low season. Took us 2 days before we saw the first westerners, quite a good capital. Only turn to major tourist places when in you’re in the need to “escape” to a safer location.
I am a bargain shopper, which means I’ve never been anywhere in high season! I have been in Mexico during the summer, but that’s only high season because it’s when families vacation – it’s certainly not the best time to be there!
I’m always in the Caribbean in the fall (hot, humid, rainy, hurrican season) and in Europe during the winter (cold, not as much open, dark early).
Someday I’d really love to be in the Med in May, when the weather is lovely and the flowers are blooming…someday…
But, this bargain shopper will always look at that bottom line!
I hear ya! I actually prefer Europe in the winter or early spring. Just something great about it.
When I head to the Far East I tend to do it during the monsoon season – in many ways it can be a more spectacular time to visit. The way seasons are described online can be quite misleading. Websites about Krabi in Thailand talk about the ‘cool’ season…. when the temperature is actually about 27C.
I can live with that sort of cool any day of the week.
I detest crowds, I don’t like them for a lot of reasons and safety is one of the main concerns (stampede anyone?).
I don’t know if I like off peak or on peak or a little bit of both, even going somewhere off season you might find yourself in an immensely crowded place for a short duration event (no not the Olympics, but that’s another topic). I went to Hawaii in December 2010 and I’m told winter time is their off peak (really?) well the week I happened to be there was marathon week and there were no hotels on the island with vacancies. I think Hawaii doesn’t have off peak season but I did go in November 2011 it didn’t seem to be nearly as crowded.
Less crowds allow me to better maneuver & navigate which was difficult to do in NYC at times cuz it seems like no matter what time of the year Times Square is packed solid. Outside of Times Square its a much better scene!
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