Malta in October. Italy in February. These times of year may not immediately scream optimum holiday but there are plenty of benefits (and joy!) to be had traveling off-season. You may think you need to go to far flung destinations to experience something truly unique but, in fact, you can visit somewhere closer outside of peak season for the same thrill. What is that ski resort town like in spring or summer? What is that beach holiday destination like during winter? If you can stretch your imagination you may end up with a vacation you could have never dreamed of.
Here are all of the pros of traveling off-season.
This is an obvious perk of traveling off season. Whatever your mode of transport, it’s likely to be cheaper outside of the high tourist season. Often there are deals on flights and hotels to encourage people to travel at a time when the city or country is less busy. This can mean being able to travel for longer or book experiences that might have otherwise stretched the budget. You may even get lucky and find food and drink deals in local bars and restaurants, normally meant to encourage locals to patronize their local hospitality spots.
When you visit most cities and countries you probably want to check out the big draw, the thing they’re known for, the one that makes tourists want to visit in the first place. Whether it’s beautiful beaches, crisp ski slopes or an amazing gastronomical reputation, that’s what keeps tourists flocking to a destination. If you visit in the off season, though, you’re likely to see a side of the city or country you never would have if you’d gone during the busy season, when the crowds are larger and you’re often herded from one site to another in an effort to check off everything that you should see as a tourist. Visiting outside of that leaves room to explore other parts of town that are just as unique.
While visiting Malta in October I came across Notte Bianca (or White Night) in the capital city Valletta. This is a yearly festival of culture that takes place in October with museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions opening their doors and putting on performances throughout the city. It felt magical to accidentally stumble across this and experience this tradition. If you mention Malta to most people they will talk about the beaches, but by visiting outside of beach season I discovered a new side to the country. And it was still warm enough for me to swim in the sea.
Nothing makes a vacation feel more authentic than taking the time to connect with locals. There is a unique joy in getting a recommendation from someone who has lived in a place their whole life. Whenever you take time to speak to a shopkeeper or restaurant owner you can glean crucial information not available to other tourists. You may even learn about local customs. Developing this connection rarely happens during high season as staff in shops, bars, cafes, restaurants and other tourist attractions are often harried, and you yourself are often flitting from one place to another to ensure the checklist is complete. When there are less people everyone is a bit more relaxed and has more time to linger in conversations.
Not being surrounded by other tourists can make a difference to the kind of experience you end up having. If you’re visiting a hot country, being packed like sardines in bars or restaurants can make the experience more stressful than it should be. Sure, there’s something to be said for being in the thick of it, but I’d like to advocate for the joy of having quiet contemplation time. One February I was in Turin and loved visiting the old churches. There were almost no tourists around and I felt like they were my own private sanctuaries. What could normally be a stressful experience became serene, and left me with indelible memories.
This is related to having more space. When you aren’t surrounded by masses of people and have more room to move around, you tend to feel less rushed and therefore more relaxed. You can really enjoy that coffee and piece of cake without feeling like you need to hurry because there’s a line of people waiting for your seat. You can savor the experience more, and make little detours down side streets and alleys just to explore with no purpose in mind. These things are still possible during peak tourist season but without the hustle and bustle the vibe is more chilled out.
While there are plenty of benefits to traveling off-season it’s important to check what will be available at your destination before you book. Some places that cater mainly to tourists tend to close up shop outside of peak tourist season. You may find a lot of bars, cafes and restaurants are closed or operating on reduced hours. Museums and art galleries might also run a different schedule. And always remember to check the public transport; there’s nothing worse than getting to a place and realizing there’s no way to get around!
Olga Alexandru is a Romanian-Canadian writer currently living in the UK. You can read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter for random musings on pop culture, getting older and grammar mistakes.