I was knee deep in snow on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, my hands cold from the snow. Why, I wondered, had we made the decision to visit in the dead of winter? Then I looked around me and saw … no one. We’d hiked on a trail that saw heavy foot traffic in the summer, but off-season, not a single soul had ventured as far as us, and that made the off-season trip completely worth it.
Considering our constraints of time and money, we are forced to make decisions about when we want to travel and how much we want to pay to do it. Because of this, traveling in the off-season—the time of year when people are least likely to visit a destination—is both a legitimate idea and a bad choice. If you’re not sure if the off-season is for you, keep the following in mind:
Good reasons to go in the off-season:
It’s less expensive. The two biggest expenses associated with travel (transportation and accommodation) are cheaper in the off-season. There are more open seats on the flights heading to your destination, so it’s easy to find cheap airfare. Hotels need to fill their rooms, so rack rates are down.
It’s less crowded. Avoiding the busy time of the travel season also means that you aren’t rubbing elbows with strangers at every turn. You may have entire museums to yourself and a wide range of choices when it comes to finding an affordable hotel because rooms are available.
It becomes your destination. Your vacation is decided by you and not dictated by long lines and overcrowded activities. If you head off the plowed trail like we did on the South Rim in the middle of winter, then the trail is yours. When no one else is eating in the local cafe, it’s possible to spend time chatting with the owner because her focus is on you. Locals are excited to make the destination special for you, and they aren’t tied up with pleasing tons of other people at the same time.
Bad reasons to go in the off-season:
Your options are limited. In some destinations, especially if there is a very distinct tourist season, there may be facilities with limited hours or options. You may find that tours or activities cut back in the off-season, and some destinations practically shut down with no shops or entertainment offered at all. Before you travel in the off-season, it’s worth checking to see if your destination is one that closes its doors when tourism is at its slowest.
The weather may not be ideal. Sometimes the off-season is that way because it is an unappealing time to travel, and the weather can be a determining factor in whether you’d really like to test a destination beyond its prime time. In the off-season, you might encounter torrential downpours, freezing cold temperatures or blistering hot sunshine.
You go just because it’s the off season. If you’re going to a destination just because it’s the off season and therefore less expensive or easier to navigate, then don’t go. Time and money are precious. Spend them knocking off places on your bucket list, even if you can only go during the time of year when everyone else does as well.