No-Nonsense Traveler: Timing Your Trip for Cheaper Travel

There are ways to save money traveling without having to make the big compromises. You don’t have to stay in hotels with shared baths, or eat all your dinners as in-room picnics, or travel to Moscow in the depth of winter. One of the simplest ways to save money is to avoid traveling during the high season. I know that’s easier said than done when you have kids and the only time available to you is during school holidays. But even then, if you choose your destination wisely, you can still travel without breaking the bank.

Talk to Doug: When do you plan your trips so that the prices are lowest, the crowds are the thinnest, and the weather the best?

Loving the Shoulder Season

There’s a reason the low season is the cheapest time to travel: the weather is usually at its worst and some places will be closed. Anyone who has weathered a hurricane in the Caribbean or trudged through the snowy streets of Toronto knows this inherently. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept the highest prices or deal with the biggest crowds to have an enjoyable vacation.

My favorite and most simple money-saving strategy is to travel during the so-called “shoulder season.” I prefer the Caribbean from mid-April through late June, when the crowds have thinned out and when prices can be a third to half as cheap than during the busier winter months. Additionally, your flights down are less likely to be disrupted by snowy weather, the water is warmer, and the temperatures still aren’t scorchingly hot on most islands. Another place I love to visit in the shoulder season is Prague in late October, when the days are cool, the nights chilly, and the leaves are turning to a beautiful golden yellow and red. The heavy Czech cuisine was satisfying in a way it’s not during the hot summer months, and while there were plenty of people crowding the Charles Bridge, you’ll pay a third less than what you will in September. Visiting the Philippines in September still brings a risk of running into a typhoon, but the temperatures are more moderate than they will be by mid-October, and the prices are significantly lower at the beach resorts.

A Simple Worldwide Trip Planner

When travel was surging, the shoulder season was starting to disappear; expect more and deeper seasonal discounts as long as the economy remains weak. Just keep in mind that right now, you may find good deals any time of the year. The flexible traveler who can jump on deals as they materialize will save the most money. Here are the best times to visit some popular regions of the world.

U.S., Canada & Europe: April to May and September to October are the sweet months. The weather is usually neither too hot nor too cold, the kids are still in school, and you can usually find some good air and hotel deals. In the southeastern U.S., hurricanes can occur during September and October, so be sure to have contingency plans. In April and early May, you will probably find snow on the ground still in many parts of Canada and Scandinavia (and in higher elevations in the U.S.) Avoid: Easter week, July, and August, when virtually everyone in Europe and the U.S. seems to take a vacation.

Caribbean: Mid-April through mid-July, when crowds thin out and flights start getting cheaper again. The chance of a serious hurricane before mid-July is relatively low; though the season starts on June 1, the relative risk is at its lowest early in the season Avoid: The period from Christmas to New Year’s when hotel rates are ridiculous and islands are most crowded.

Asia: Given how big the region is, there’s always a good time to travel here. The rainy seasons vary throughout Southeast Asia. June through October is rainy in many places, but you can find beautiful weather almost any other time of the year if you choose your destination wisely. Northern parts of Asia can be bitterly cold in the winter. Avoid: The Lunar New Year, when most of China and Vietnam are on vacation and celebrations are held in many other countries.

South America: Remember that the seasons are reversed, so when it’s winter in the U.S., it’s the height of summer in South America. Because the continent is so large, it’s always a good time to travel to at least one country. Patagonia has a more distinct travel window, but January and February are the busiest months almost everywhere since those are the big summer months, when most kids are out of school. Avoid: Carnival, unless you are traveling to join in the festivities.

Australia and New Zealand: Relatively mild weather year-round means that it’s rarely a really bad time to travel down under. However, persistent droughts in Australia have made serious forest fires frequent and problematic in the summer months (especially from December through February). Since so many people visit New Zealand for the outdoor adventure sports, October through April are the best months even though they are the most expensive, particularly for the South Island.Avoid: Mid-December through January, when most kids in Australia and New Zealand are on their summer break.

Africa: If you are planning a safari in eastern or southern Africa, rates start going down in November and December and are cheaper almost everywhere except for South Africa, when school holidays mean the rates start going up. Avoid: Although low-season rates can apply any time of the year, depending on where you’re going, the wet season (whenever it occurs) is the time when animal-spotting is hardest. Cape Town can be wet and cold from May through August.

There are a lot of other places in the world I haven’t mentioned here, and I haven’t delved very deep into the details. I’d love to hear your feedback, country by country? When do you plan your trips so that the prices are lowest, the crowds are the thinnest, and the weather the best? What months do you absolutely avoid? Tell me the best time to visit every country, and we’ll create a super-thread for posters to follow.

Talk to Doug: When do you plan your trips so that the prices are lowest, the crowds are the thinnest, and the weather the best?

–Doug Stallings