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When, Where, and Why to Travel in the Off Season

Jamie in Ireland

The Off Season

The Winter Travel Season can sometimes feel like a Yo-Yo Game: it starts out with High Season during the Holidays, then slips into Off Season for January and most of February, then back up to High Season for the week of Winter Break, then back to Off Season for most of March, until Spring Breaks start to ramp up, and it’s back to High Season again. 

Depending where you live, and what your travel style is, you may be hunkered down for winter, fully embracing the hibernation mode of the season, or you may be itching to get out into the sun, wherever it’s shining warmest and brightest, to escape the winter chill. 

One of the best ways to beat those Winter Blues is definitely to think ahead to the sunnier months of May, June, July and August, and map out your Summer Adventures (if you remember back to our Vacation Planning Timeline, January and February are the months when you should be planning your Summer Travel in order to get the best prices and also the widest selection of options). Remember, typically, it’s usually ideal to plan vacations four to six months in advance, except for cruises and specialty trips, which should be planned a year or more ahead of time. 

But also, don’t discount planning for travel in these in-between months, too; after all, these long months with short days are often the times when we need to get away the most. Welcome to the Off Season, my friends (and fear not, there are other Off Season periods scattered throughout the year, which we’ll delve into later). Here, prices dip, crowds thin, and the potential for extraordinary experiences abounds.

So, what exactly does traveling in the Off Season entail? Essentially, it means visiting a destination at a time when general tourism trends may deem it “less desirable.” But the benefits of Traveling in the Off Season often far outweigh the drawbacks, and you may even discover that taking adventures in the Off Season is your new favorite season to travel!

When Exactly is Off Season?

For most destinations, the travel seasons tend to align with the school calendar, with Off Season travel occuring while school is in session, and High Season travel happening during summer and school breaks. While this seems fairly straightforward, and like it would amount to an abundance of Off Season time, the variations in school breaks (especially Spring Break), and the starts and ends of school years, make it a bit trickier to navigate into those lower prices and crowds, but don’t worry, we got you!

So far, I’ve mentioned Off Season and High Season, but don’t forget about Shoulder Season as well! Sprinkled throughout the year, depending on location, Shoulder Seasons are those times in between a strict Off Season (when some resorts, restaurants and attractions are actually closed) and the High Season, when tourists descend on a location for months at a time.

Often, for locals who live in a vacation destination, Shoulder Season is the sweet spot when their favorite restaurants and ice cream shops are open, but without the lines of tourists, and when their favorite beaches are not only beautiful, but also blissfully empty, too! For all intents and purposes of this article, Shoulder Season can generally be equated with Off Season. 

Before getting too specific by place, here is a general month-by-month list of when is considered High, Shoulder, and Off Season:

Month Travel Season
January Off Season
February Off Season (except President’s Week, which is High Season)
March Mostly Off Season and Shoulder Season (except when Spring Breaks fall early, which can make the last week High Season)
April Shoulder Season and High Season
May Shoulder Season and High Season
June High Season
July High Season
August High Season
September Shoulder Season and Off Season
October Shoulder Season
November Mostly Shoulder Season and Off Season, except for Thanksgiving Week and after, which begins the Holiday High Season
December High Season

 

As you can tell by the chart, it’s somehow pretty straightforward, and also a little wonky at the same time, depending on the month. 

Plus, when you start adding in the specifics of possible destinations, there’s even more variability. For example, early January in Puerto Rico would be considered High Season because of their traditional Three Kings Day Celebrations. In fact, many destinations in the Caribbean would be in High Season during the Winter months, since that’s when many people want to escape the cold, though families with children in school most often travel during school breaks, so crowds aren’t as super high as they usually are during Christmas and Winter Break weeks.

In addition, while August in Italy is still considered High Season, many Italians go on holiday during August, so depending on the region, many shops and businesses may be closed for their own vacation time. Of course, your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor will be able to let you know exactly when the High, Shoulder and Off Season is of any destination you’re interested in! 

Off Season Months in Specific Locations

While the chart above gives you a general idea of when to travel if you want to capitalize on the benefits of Off Season Travel, there are some things that differ depending on specific locations. The following chart offers a glimpse into when some of the most popular travel destinations experience their Off Seasons.

Destination Specific Off Season Months
Disney Destinations January, February (except President’s Week), and September
The Caribbean July, August, September, and October (and sometimes June and November, depending on the severity of the Hurricane Season)
Europe January, February (except President’s Week), March, September, October, and early November
National Parks January, February and March (be sure to check before you go for closures due to weather)
Alaska Late September through April (while the Off Season in Alaska is clearly long, many traditional activities tourists look forward to are not offered in the Winter months, so be sure to contact your LOTMV TA to get everything you want out of your Alaska Vacation)

Of course, this is a very short list, summarizing the Off Season months of some of the most requested destinations of our amazing LOTMV clientele, but your favorite LOTMV TA will always be able to provide the specifics for whatever destination you’re interested in!

Where to Go in the Off Season

When it comes to Off Season Travel, the truth is that you can pretty much travel to any destination during its Off Season, it all just depends on your priorities. 

For instance, if Walt Disney World is your destination, the Off Season months of January or February might be the right choice if your priority is spending less time in lines, but those months may not work for you if your priority is experiencing the best water rides and spending time in the resort pools because Winter temperatures can dip even in Florida (but the Off Season month of September might cover all of those priorities, if you’re willing to take your kids out of school; again, it’s all down to your personal priorities). 

Likewise, if your priority for your dream European Vacation is to have the least crowds, the Winter months will be perfect for you. But if you hate bundling up, and traveling while wearing multiple layers annoys you, traveling during January and February may not be the right time for that epic European Adventure. 

However, do be mindful of the seriously “off” Off Season locations, where many businesses and activities shut down for Winter. That’s not to say that you can’t go to a place like Alaska during the Winter months, but be ready for your vacation to be filled with snow-centered and off-the beaten-path activities, and also for many businesses and even the National Parks to be closed for at least portions of the Winter months. 

Again, it all comes down to YOUR family’s preferences and priorities, but at least knowing what the Off Season can offer allows you to choose between better availability versus more temperate weather conditions, or traveling during school vacations, or whatever your specific considerations may be. It’s definitely better to know and make an informed decision, and your Love of the Magic Travel Agent will certainly be able to provide you with the Pros and Cons of visiting your chosen destination in the Off Season. 

So, what exactly does traveling in the Off Season offer, and why should you try it? I’m so glad you asked!

Why Travel in the Off Season

We’ve covered the When, we’ve covered the Where, and now for the Why. 

Since we’re such fans of Off Season travel, last Winter, we highlighted Five Reasons to Travel During the Off Season, which you can find here. But for the TLDR version, here’s the shortlist:

1. The Off Season is Less Expensive

If sticking to a budget is your priority, Off Season travel might be the perfect way to visit all the places on your bucket list!

2. Off Season is Less Crowded

There’s definitely something to be said for snapping that perfect picture without a million people in the shot too, and for breezing through the lines of your favorite theme park rides. And if excess crowds can ruin an experience for you, Off Season travel is definitely something to consider. 

3. Off Season Has More Availability

While there will always be aspects to any trip that need to be planned in advance, often your chances of scoring the tours you really want, or snagging tickets to a performance or sports event, are much greater when you’re traveling in the Off Season. 

4. Off Season Travel Offers More Authentic Experiences 

To me, this is actually THE reason why I LOVE Off Season Travel. For as much as certain vacation destinations come to life during the height of their Peak Season, it’s often during their Off Season that those same places settle into the most authentic versions of themselves. Off Season travel gives you the opportunity to see a place at its most real, not dolled up for all the tourists, just its most authentic self, full of the locals who love it for exactly that. 

5. Off Season Travel Has Positive Impacts on Both Local and Global Economies and Environments

Many people who live in Vacation destinations rely on tourists for their own livelihood and even survival, and the Off Season months can be extremely challenging financially. By traveling during the Off Season, you’re supporting local businesses when they need it most. Plus, traveling in the Off Season helps to spread out the impact of things like high volume traffic in National Parks, and pollution from exhaust, thereby bolstering vacation destinations both economically and environmentally, which is definitely something to feel good about. 

Traveling at a time when you can save money, take advantage of smaller crowds, enjoy more availability and authentic experiences, and support the economy and environment at the same time actually seems like the best time to travel when you consider all that! 

Ready to Plan?

Now that you know the Whens, Wheres, and Whys of Traveling in the Off Season, are you ready to plan your next Off Season Adventure? Whether it’s to Europe, Disney, the Caribbean, a National Park, or anywhere else you want to discover in its most authentic form, I would love to help you plan your next trip to take advantage of all the Perks traveling in the Off Season has to offer. Email me at gina@lotmv.com to start planning today! 

If you enjoyed this blog, and are interested enough in Off Season Travel to want further reading, I’d highly recommend the book, Off Season, by Ken McAlpine. A personal favorite of mine, it’s about the writer’s own journey to many of the beach towns along the East Coast, all during their Off Seasons. And it’s definitely what sparked my own passion for Off Season Travel. 

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