Most trips and vacations take place during the summer. Students are on break and working people have time off, so this is to be expected. When I finished Peace Corps in August, I started my fourth-month trip home, labeled on this blog as “The Great Escape” because of an off-hand joke about leaving Peace Corps by a fellow PCV. I arrived in the US in December, meaning the majority of this trip took place during the fall. Now that I’ve traveled in a few different seasons, I thought it’d be interesting to make a list of the pros and cons of “off-season traveling.” This time period could be taken as “winter” or “not-summer,” and for this post I will generally just be assuming the latter.
The benefits and drawbacks will clearly vary depending upon your location in the world and personal interests and traveling style, but these should be relevant to many Western travelers.
Let’s start with the CONS:
1. Weather - This seems obvious. Sunny weather is better for walking around cities and the countryside. Rain means less walking, less seeing, and if you are camping, more time inside the tent. Possible wetness. Misery likely.
2. Shorter Days – Like weather, the shorter days mean you will likely spend more time indoors. When it’s dark at 4pm, at 8pm it seems like time for bed. You feel old and boring. If you are camping and can’t build a fire, you get in your tent well before dinner and have 14+ hours to kill.
3. Closed! – Museums and other tourist attractions are more likely to be closed, or at least have a more limited schedule, during the off-season.
4. Heavier packing – Jackets, heavier shoes/boots, other items to keep you warm. It’s extra weight. I hate weight.
5. Fewer people to meet – This could be a pro (as you’ll see below), depending on the place and your mood. If I was staying at a hostel, I hoped to meet other cool travelers. There were times I was the only person in my hostel (when I wasn’t couchsurfing). It can be lonely.
And now for the PROS:
1. Fewer tourists – In virtually every aspect besides being occasionally lonely at a hostel, the fewer tourists, the better. If you stay at a hostel, you never have to book ahead, giving you more flexibility with your schedule to do spontaneous things. There are shorter lines to get into museums and other tourist attractions. The likelihood of running into obnoxiously drunk Westerners who have come just to party is smaller.
2. Fewer tourists (more travelers) - There are less people, of course, but the ones you meet are the kind who are probably doing something a little different with their life. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have free time to travel much outside of summer. I met a couple biking from Spain to Vietnam. A few people had quit their desk-jobs to see the world. A guy who was had riding his scooter from England to Mongolia and back. A guy who had lost everything in the economic downturn, found a decent job for a year, and said, “F*** it, if I don’t travel now, when will I?”
3. Cheaper prices – At many places, there are off-season prices. This was particularly true of accommodation. Hiking up to the castle in the Bay of Kotor was free.
4. Changing colors – If you are lucky enough to be in the former Yugoslavia during the fall, you’re in for a treat. The leaves are beautiful. I saw some particularly beautiful colors in Bosnia (Visegrad), Montenegro, and Kosovo (Peja and Prizren).
5. Less sweat – It’s colder and you’ll probably walk less. Less sweating means less laundry, less smelling, and fewer showers. Might seem strange, but it certainly made a difference to me.
6. Snow – It’s pretty, and if you like it and have the budget, you can ski or snowboard.
7. CHRISTMAS MARKETS! - In addition to the first pro, this is probably one of the best reasons to travel in December. They aren’t in every country, but I visited them in Italy, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany, and they got better each time. Lots of good food, pretty lights, music, and most importantly, mulled wine. In Slovenia, there was even a massive anti-government protest that rolled through the Christmas market in Ljubljana.