In the first part of our look at off-season travel to major tourist destinations we examined the upsides of visiting a place when the tides of tourists are at their lowest levels and prices, crowds and stress levels allow a degree of extra freedom to our exploration of the planet.
In this post we get real (we’re down with the kids) and talk about the factors concerning off-peak travel that are sure to bum you out and make you wish you travelled a few months earlier or later. Again, these are points which we’ve discovered so if you have a different perspective on the subject don’t hesitate to get in touch as you may put forward points which are of use to us!
1. Price. Yup, the first point on both sides of the argument regard prices. “How is this helping me?!” We hear you cry. Well it’s a hard fact that during peak season there are often amazing deals to be had regarding travel, accommodation, eating, tours and all the rest. Yes in mid winter, the price of a hostel or tour might be lower because companies are trying to attract more customers but conversely, during the height of business, the same companies might not worry so much about taking as much money from your hard saved budget when they know that what they’re providing is in such high demand they can’t possibly lose money. This is especially true if a competitor is offering a better deal. As more flights are scheduled to meet demand airlines want to make sure that every seat is filled so the price difference can (if you book at the right time) be negligible. Packages for family groups might include kid’s activities, extra nights or discounts on partner activities to attract the traditional holiday time travellers. Operators know that parents taking kids on holiday can be a massive headache so the good ones try to eleviate some of that pressure. This means that if you travel off-peak you may well miss out these deals and if you’re travelling with the family you may have to put extra time in to making sure your kids are entertained (kind of your job as parents to be fair) and you may have to pay more. Bars, and other places might have a higher number of deals aimed at travelers too. For the solo traveller, you may not notice the difference and if you’re savvy enough, you’ll always find a way to keep the spending as low as possible while still having a great time.
2. Crowds. Aha! We’re being lazy and simply copying points. Good old school work compare and contrast methods. As with life and existence (whoa, deep man!) there is balance to everything. Some people dislike large amounts of people and in our view, rightly so. Although more people generally means more money going in to the local economy during busy periods, it can also help to heighten the atmosphere and excitement around the location you’re exploring. Remember, travel is about your own personal journey of discovery and adventure so whether you have ten or a hundred people around you while your mouth stretches open wider at the sight of Niagara Falls or the Great Wall of China the effect shouldn’t be diminished at all. An analogy could be made by comparing the experience to watching a film at the cinema in a sold out screen or with only a few others sat with you. You’re more likely to notice the idiots at the back chatting away during a tension building scene than if everyone in the sold out screen was giggling nervously as the atmosphere becomes electric. When Luke finds out Vader is his father (if you think that’s a spoiler, don’t even bother commenting) in The Empire Strikes Back do you think it was more memorable experience for the guy sat a home watching it on his own or the guy sat in a sold out screen? Crowds of people can offer a degree of comfort for people traveling alone who may not be comfortable exploring the back alleys of Marrakech alone and if you become lost, heading to a crowded area is often a best bet as that location is most likely to contain a landmark from which you get your bearings. For those of you who don’t like to follow the crowd anyway, you’re most likely to head off the beaten track as much as possible so again, you might not notice the difference. We’ve found traveling as a couple has been really great during the low season especially on the colder days when going on that hike up a mountain really doesn’t seem so attractive and being on your own for potentially days on end would make us stir crazy!
3. “Closed until the summer.” We’ve seen this a lot around towns, sights and activities and we’ve accepted it knowing that arriving in New Zealand in Winter means sacrificing certain activities. Of course we plan to be here in the Summer as well so it’s not so much of a problem and the attractions that have been closed weren’t really top of the list anyway but it can be pretty frustrating if you commute for an hour or two to a destination only to find it’s closed. That’s time and money wasted and if you have a very short amount of time in country then simply make sure you phone in advance to check if your desired attraction is open. A lot of companies will undertake maintenance during the low season to make sure the park or whatever is fully operational (second Star Wars reference) in time for the main business season. We’ve experienced this a few times (one being a really great looking temple in Singapore and the other a replica Maori village in New Zealand) and I hope we’ve learned our lesson! Countries with smaller populations where there’s a higher reliance on tourism in the economy won’t worry about shutting down for the winter and depending on the climate of the country you’re in, some places will shut down out of necessity as mountain passes freeze up and tracks become too flooded to navigate.
4. The weather. One of the main reasons off season happens is elemental. Weirdly, most people prefer not to spend money travelling to a place ravaged by storms, freezing cold or so hot you can fry an egg on the road. Somewhere with a climate in which the human body can feel comfortable is usually the main option and travelling off peak will probably mean you’ll need to check the weather often and make the most out of gaps in the bad conditions. We’re writing this now on one of the sunniest days we’ve had so far on this trip. We’ve enjoyed a stunning day climbing Mt. Maunganui with clear blue skies and twenty something degree heat but the three preceeding days were filled with gale force winds, constant downpours and even hail! The upside to this crazy weather is an unprecedented level of snow fell in the nearby ski area so any snow bunnies are hopping for joy at the prospect of a longer season. Swings and roundabouts.
When we were planning our trip to New Zealand we deliberately made the decision to travel during the off-peak season to avoid the crowds and make our tight budget go further. We figured that being English in a Kiwi Winter/Spring would be an advantage. We’re used to cold, wet weather after all. When we start to plan our journey from NZ through Australia and towards SE Asia, we realise that climates will really start to dictate where we go and at what speed.
When planning your travels, write a list of everything you want to do and if you can do it off-peak with no problems then perhaps take a chance and go for it. Really, unless you’re likely to find yourself unable to enjoy yourself or in a life threatening situation then it’s down to cost and comfort. Research is the key!
As always if there are any points you’d like to add, let us know and we’ll do our best to include them in a future post..