Many popular destinations have specific windows of heightened activity—just look at ski resorts, beach towns and European capitals for proof. But there’s much to do and see in these spots in the off-season, too. Plus you’ll find lower rates, fewer crowds and, often times, more unique attractions and sights. But of course, some destinations really aren’t enjoyable off season, so it pays to do your research. Take it from affordable-travel expert Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Editor in Chief of Hospitality Technology and formerly Editor in Chief of Budget Travel magazine. He chatted with us about which destinations provide the best shoulder season values.
4 American off-season destinations
For travelers who prefer to vacation stateside, consider adding the following destinations to your domestic travel wish list:
1. Ski resorts in summer. A day on the slopes is hard to beat, but many ski resorts on the West Coast offer incredible summer trips. “I’ve been to ski resorts in winter and in summer, and I personally prefer the hiking, bird-watching, water sports and warm temperatures of summer,” admits Firpo-Cappiello, who recommends the Vail family of ski resorts in Colorado, particularly Keystone Resort. “You can usually ride the chairlift all year round to drink in the mountain surroundings. If you can get away before school ends, you can find bargains in May and June at some ski resorts.”
2. Beach towns in spring and fall. Summer might be prime time to hit the sand, but a plethora of American beach towns offer fantastic off-peak travel options. “Visit Martha’s Vineyard, Virginia Beach, Sarasota, Santa Cruz or any number of great American beach towns in spring or fall and you’re in for a nice surprise: elbow room and lower rates,” says Firpo-Cappiello. “My family has actually maintained a tradition of visiting Point Pleasant, New Jersey, each April and October for precisely this reason. The boardwalk is open [and] the sun is warm, but the crowds haven’t arrived yet.”
3. Leaf-peeping country in summer. Nature lovers know that the fall foliage in New England states hits its peak during, you guessed it, fall; but don’t forget about summer in these scenic spots. “New England states, like Vermont and New Hampshire, are incredible in summer, but their “high season” is fall because of the vibrant leaves,” explains Firpo-Cappiello. “In Bennington, Vermont, for instance, you’ll find nice motel rooms for under $100 in summer. [Plus, you’ll have] the chance to view Grandma Moses’ iconic paintings of rural life at the Bennington Museum, then peer out the window of the museum and see the Green Mountains themselves.”
4. Hawaii in spring. While summer may seem like the best time to visit, spring offers more value. “Hawaii [can be] a little rainy, and slightly less balmy [in the springtime] than usual, meaning rates are lower,” says Firpo-Cappiello. But more rain just means more of the state’s incredible rainbows.
4 international off-season destinations
If globetrotting the world is more your style, consider adding the following destinations to your international travel wishlist:
1. European cities in spring or fall. Currently, the U.S. dollar is especially strong against the euro, says Firpo-Cappiello. So there’s never been a better time to visit, though spring and fall offer the best deals. “April in Paris [may be] a cliché, and the city is actually a little drizzly and chilly in spring,” admits Firpo-Cappiello. “[But] that’s one reason [you can] nab a bargain there, and in other European capitals. Visit in spring or fall and you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and lower rates. The fall is our favorite time to visit Europe because the summer crowds are gone but the weather stays nice, especially along the coasts of Spain, Portugal, France and Britain thanks to the Gulf Stream.
2. Cape Town in winter. When winter hits in the U.S. and it’s cold and grey outside, there’s no better time to hop on a plan and head to South Africa. “Our winter is South Africa’s summer, making mild, friendly Cape Town (situated between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans at the bottom of Africa), a budget-friendly choice,” says Firpo-Cappiello. “Hike in Table Mountain National Park, visit the penguins on Boulders Beach (but don’t get too close—they bite!) and visit South Africa’s Kruger National Park, perhaps the best place on earth to see lions and elephants in the wild.”
3. Iceland, any time. “Sure, it’s cold and dark a lot of the year, but you can stop in Iceland for free if you’re flying Iceland Air to London,” says Firpo-Cappiello. “Budget travelers absolutely rave about the friendly locals in Iceland, and the unforgettable land of ’fire and ice’ with its volcanic hot springs.”
4. The ABC islands in summer. Visit the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) in the Caribbean during summertime, suggests Firpo-Cappiello. “They are out of the hurricane zone and have lower rates in summer, though they do get more rain and higher temperatures than in winter.”