“You should have waited until summer!”
Here’s a phrase that many travellers have heard too often and usually occurs after a comment about the weather or an attraction being closed until the peak season for maintenance and after the first dozen times hearing it you’ll probably become desensitised, smile and accept that yes, you probably should have arrived during peak season when the weather is perfect, every attraction is open and more facilities are available to you. Sometimes you simply can’t help when you need to arrive at a destination. There may be that month you need to fill before a major event in a different country and the only ways to fill it is to stay later at your current location which may not be possible, travel on tangent to a completely different location or to simply turn up early at the location you’re going to be. Or, you could be that cunning adventurer who looks past the cons of off-season travel and experience the destination in a completely different way. In New Zealand, this is definitely what we did. So, what are the pros and cons of off-peak travel?
In the first part we’ll look at some of the benefits of travelling off-peak…
1. Price. This is a big one for those of us for who want to travel further and longer while still experiencing the best of a country. Flights, accommodation, activities and sights will often reduce prices to attract more visitors as demand drops. We’ve managed to save a lot so far just by travelling a few months earlier. This could mean the difference between a few extra weeks in a location or being able to do something which at peak season would cause you to clutch your wallet in fear! Another benefit is shops often put on great sales off peak meaning if you need a new pair of shoes or your backpack falls off the top of an bus you’re more likely to be able to afford new gear and still have money left over for other essentials. We’ve definitely saved enough for a few cheeky beers here and there.
2. Fewer crowds. In some ways this can be more valuable than financial savings. The ability to walk around a museum or really feel like you’re exploring the countryside is incredible. Anyone who has ventured to the British Museum in the hope of seeing the Rosetta Stone or to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa will know it is an indescribably stressful experience wading through a crowd of sweaty, loud and merciless tourists who simply want a picture rather than enjoy the cultural significance attached to them. We actually gave up with the Mona Lisa where the crowd was literally twenty bodies deep. Having a day pack on made it an impossible task so we saw what we could and moved on. To be honest, locations in cities with high populations and where school trips and tour groups constantly re-enact the beach landings in Saving Private Ryan may be the few places where visiting off peak probably wouldn’t make a difference and meditation would be more beneficial! We’ve already been on guided in caves, museums and kayaks where we’ve enjoyed a more personal and relaxed guided tour due to us being the only two there. It meant we were able to chat to and learn from the guides than we would ever hope to if there were even a handful of other people with us. If you’re a hiker, the tracks and views might be more enjoyable when you’re not looking at the boots in front of you and the voices of walking groups are bouncing through gorges and drowning out the birdsong. Tables at restaurants, tickets to gigs and freed up accommodation have all been noticably easier to acquire and getting around has been smoother with fewer cars on the road and bums on buses.
3. Different experiences. There’s always something going on no matter what the weather brings because funnily enough residents don’t immmediately cease having fun and living their lives the moment the tourists leave. Festivals, markets, celebrations and more that you might not see at other times of year will be unique experiences that the majority of travellers will miss. All months are celebrated somewhere in the world and there’s always something to see. Don’t forget that many cultures have roots in elemental beliefs so the onset of rain, snow and sun might not excite the average tourist but communities are usually determined to look the elements in eye, get dressed up and party!
4. Overall reduction in stress. All of the above points mean that the day to day worry surrounding booking accommodation, travel and activities is almost non-existent and you can simply enjoy your time wherever you are.
In part two, we look at the downsides of off-peak travel.
Until then, happy travels!