The joys of off-season travel

Typical Icelandic road

Drive around northern Iceland in March and it’s easy to believe that you’re the only person left on the planet. An hour might go by without you seeing another car on the main road and even in the areas that are geared to accommodate summer tourists there is barely a soul in sight. We visited what is considered to be a popular national park in the area last week and encountered two other tourists in several hours of walking. Does this complete lack of fellow visitors make it a bad time to visit, or in fact is the off season the best time to go to your chosen destination?

We always seem to turn up in places when everyone else has chosen to stay away. Whether it was the highlands of Northern India in January, southern Chile in late April or Yellowstone National Park in early spring when many roads were just getting cleared of snow, we have experienced many places of outstanding natural beauty without the crowds for which they are notorious. In most cases it’s been through inadequate planning rather than careful design, but I’m pretty sure that given the choice I would forego some of the benefits of travelling in peak season for the pleasure of enjoying a place in relative solitude.

Of course off season travel has its drawbacks, especially in parts of the world where the climate turns nasty in the winter (or in the heat of summer). Hotels are often closed, dining options are severely restricted and many attractions close for the winter. Hiking trails may become inaccessible in some places and popular tours might not run.

But there are upsides and for me, these far outweigh the inconveniences listed above. City streets are less crowded and people are often less focussed on selling tat to passing tourists. They may even stop to chat with you if the tourist numbers are so low that you become a curiosity to locals rather than a nuisance or a walking cashpoint.

Hotel rates are often significantly lower off season. National parks, where they remain open, are usually free of their peak season traffic hell and can be enjoyed for their natural wonders without the large crowds congregated around car parks and food outlets. A little forward planning in packing your own lunch and snacks is hardly a major problem.

The perfect picnic spot

And perhaps best of all, the inclement winter weather can in itself be part of the adventure of travel. We battled a wind so strong last week in Iceland that we could barely stand. We were stranded in deep snow in an Indian hotel and had to be evacuated on horseback. A wander through Tierra del Fuego in late April meanwhile truly did deliver four seasons in one day, with a severe blizzard following on the heels of a glorious morning.

Next time you consider when to visit a destination, it might be wise to look beyond the simple ‘when to go’ advice on websites and in your guidebook. If, like me, you like your surroundings uncrowded and don’t mind a bit of wild weather, you might want to focus more instead on the ‘when to avoid’ advice and make your journey off season.

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Freelance travel writer

6 Responses to “The joys of off-season travel”

  1. Awesome post, Andy! I’m actually visiting Iceland at the end of this month, and am fully hoping it’ll be as you’ve described above.

    April 3, 2012 at 11:20 am
    • Thanks Alex – I’m sure you’ll love it. What are your plans while there? We particularly liked the northern part of the country around Akureyri and Myvatn. Look forward to reading your adventures :-)

      April 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm
  2. Cool post! Your pictures make off-season travel look a lot more fun!

    April 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm
  3. I’m all about traveling in the off-season as of late.

    Just in the past year, I’ve been to New Zealand in the late autumn, Ottawa in the dead of winter, and Iceland in late March.

    It’s nice not to have to book things in advance, and having places completely to yourself is always very cool!

    April 16, 2012 at 6:18 am
  4. That photo is GORGEOUS! How did they get the snow off the road? And the picnic bench?!

    Good post, but I would add that sometimes wild weather can disrupt the main reason for travlling to a particular place e.g. if you go to the Grand Canyon wanting to hike down to the bottom, going in winter (i.e. off season) could well mean you can’t hike at all.

    So while there are great reasons for traveling off-peak, other considerations also need to be weighed before making a decision.

    Nice work as usual Andy! :)

    April 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm
  5. Boston Park Plaza Hotel #

    Seaside holidays in the off-season are another way to defeat the heat. In most exotic and subtropical environments, the heat range surpasses 90 days levels well after the end of the high period for visitors. This means far less individuals by the pool, allowing you to choose where you wish to sunbathe alongside a pool, go swimming, or shop without competitive with thousands of other individuals for the same spot or item.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm