Travel tips and tricks to pick the right destination irrespective of the travel season
We are increasingly planning our travels by ourselves, and most often, the planning starts with the question,
“where do I go?”
One of the most obvious ways to choose a destination is to check what kind of weather that destination has during the chosen period of travel. Typically, the travel industry describes the best time to go by using the following jargons:
i. Peak Season: the best time to visit that place
ii. Shoulder season: either before or after the peak season, or between the peak season and off-season. This is usually when the weather is just about changing in that place; and
iii. Off-season: usually not a recommended time to travel to that place.
While this is the thumb-rule to keep in mind while travelling, however, as the crowds and prices swell, it may be prudent to re-think the above categories while planning your travels.
Here are some tips and tricks that I use while planning my travel:
1. Take a world map and divide it into two parts
Bizarre? Not. Long before we (and our previous lives) were born, scientists had figured out the best way to slice the world into half – the equator.
Apart from geography, the equator helps me narrow down on a location in the most efficient way possible:
i. Anything close to the equator has good climate all year round:
Unless you’re looking at any aberration, such as the desert, then anything close to the equator has tropical weather, and is hence pleasant all year round. The only thing you need to watch out for is the rainy season in that region.
Most of these places are hot and humid, so no snow or cold winter months. Forests are abound, lots of wildlife species and wonderful tropical fruits and vegetables to sample.
ii. Anything south of the equator has seasons turned upside down
If you are looking to go to South America, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa in the summer months, then December – January is peak summer.
2. Changing our binary viewpoint – Mountains means cool, beach means warm
Most often, our subconscious associates the feeling of ‘cold’ with the ‘mountains’ and ‘warmth’ with ‘beaches’. True, that it is better to be on a beach when the weather is warm, and a hill-station is often where we cool our heels, but with the recent weather changes, and of course, awareness, our binary definitions of a place need to change.
Let me explain. When was the last time you heard Shimla or Dehradun being places to ‘cool down’ in summer? In fact, temperatures in those hill stations sore up to 40—50 degrees Celsius in the summer months. Similarly, when we land up on beaches at Nice, France in May (which we think is summer), the water is at sub-zero temperatures that can cause hypothermia especially in a tropical blooded human being!
Similarly, if you visit most countries in the world, there will be ample options to trek mountains as well as go to the beach.
3. Our ‘off-season’ may be others’ ‘peak season’ and vice versa
Summer in India is usually between April and June, and most people opt for vacations between these months. When you open a newspaper, you will see several travel agencies starting to advertise their tour packages for those months. Airline prices, hotel prices etc. will also start soaring for those booking from India during those months.
Some of the most popular places, especially Europe and North America, become almost clogged with Indian tourists during those months. However, our peak season, i.e. April – June, may not always be the peak season in those areas.
Take Europe for instance. Most Europeans take their summer break in July and August, which is monsoon season for Indians. The weather in France is perfect for beach days and there are many summer activities taking place there. In India, airlines offer their ‘monsoon’ discount for international travel during that time, as the exodus of Indian tourists decreases.
Hence, it is essential to keep in mind that the ‘peak’ season of that place may not be the peak season for Indians.
The reverse is also sometimes helpful.
Take the Canadian Rockies for instance. Most foreign travellers prefer to travel to the Rockies in July – August because it is summer there. There is a heavy tourist footfall during that time when it is extremely hot in that area. Prices increase many-fold, everything is crowded, and chances of seeing wildlife dwindle as they retreat into the forest for shelter from the heat.
It makes sense then, to go to the Rockies during the shoulder season, i.e. Mid-June, which is peak season for Indians. At that time, the bears have started descending from the slopes after hibernation, so wildlife spotting will be abundant. If you book in advance, then you can avail discounts for flights and hotel bookings, as the peak season has not officially begun. The weather is cool and pleasant, as opposed to hot and sultry. Tourist footfall during that period is also less.
4. Consider travelling during the ‘shoulder season’ or ‘off-season’
I have often taken the benefit of travelling to a place either during shoulder season or off-season. It has helped me tremendously in terms of prices and lesser density of crowds, while enjoying what the place has to offer.
However, travelling during off-season does not apply at all times.
So what are the parameters to look out for when travelling during that destination’s shoulder season or off-season?
i. Understand why it is off-season.
Crowds and prices are usually driven by two factors:
(a) Summer and winter schedules; and
(b) Pleasantness of the weather, i.e. how warm that place is.
As a result, any time after a scheduled summer and winter break; or harshness of the weather or rainy monsoon season becomes an off-season or shoulder season time for that destination.
If you can plan your travel to a place at the time when the crowds thin, either before or after scheduled summer and winter breaks, then chances are that you will get a much better deals for flights and accommodations during that time.
However, if a place is unpredictable in terms of weather, where torrential rain, or snowstorms, or cold surge of winds are expected, then you may want to consider travelling to that place at a time when the weather is a bit more stable. Usually, travelling just at the beginning of the peak season, within the realms of the shoulder season can be considered.
Alternatively, you can plan for any weather-dependent activity to be contingent on the weather during that time.
For instance – One of the must-do activities in Canada is a helicopter ride over the Banff national park. During the shoulder season in June, this ride is often contingent on the weather, so booking a few weeks or months in advance could be difficult. Instead, upon arrival in Canada, you can discuss the best time to take the tour with the tour operator, and plan accordingly. Alternatively, you can consider booking the activity last minute, depending on the activity. However, there will be high chances of not getting a spot, or not doing the activity at all due to the weather.
ii. What kind of activities do you prefer doing? Are they open and available?
Some activities may be restricted or closed in the shoulder / off –season, either because of unpredictable weather, or lack of manpower. Adventure-based activities, hiking trails, and even some outdoor attractions fall within this category.
The best way to check is to visit the website of the vendor or the government. For adventure-based activities, it is best to email or call the vendor directly; for outdoor attractions and hiking trails, it is best to keep a tab of closures on the parks websites.
If these activities are closed, you may want to consider alternative activities that you can do in that place. Most often, indoor activities and popular outdoor activities are open during that time. Locals in that area most often have other activities planned during that time, so you may want to research on what the goings-on during that time are.
However, in your research, if nothing turns up, then it is best to choose another destination. Alternatively, if that activity is a must-do attraction there, then again, it is best to choose an alternative destination.
iii. Lower airfare and accommodation prices
Travelling during the shoulder / off-season makes a big difference to your spending, especially if you are on a lower budget. However, if you find little difference between travelling during the shoulder / off-season and travelling during peak season, then it makes little sense not to travel during peak season itself.
Look out for special deals offered by airlines in your home country during off-season in your home country. If it is shoulder / off-season at your destination, then consider airlines operated by your destination country, particularly the regional / local low cost carriers.
However, if the weather at your destination is unpredictable, please check airline schedules carefully for likely postponements or cancellations.
Also look out for road closures or construction works if you are planning to travel by road.
For accommodations, look out for any scheduled maintenance / construction work during that time.
If I had to sum it up, then planning a trip to any destination is multifaceted, which includes considerations of:
(b) Sights / Activities; and
(c) Tourist footfall.
(a) If you want to travel to a popular destination with a limited budget, then travelling during off-season time may fit within the budget. However, you may face closure of many activities and sights. It may be worthwhile to check out alternative activities to do at that time. If that does not work out, then it is best to choose another destination.
(b) If you want to travel to a popular destination during shoulder season, then you may not overshoot your budget significantly. However, it is prudent to do some research about the schedule of activities / sights in advance to check if they are open and running. Most often, activities / sights start opening during the shoulder season, save for a few, where the climate is extreme.
(c) If you want to travel to a popular destination during peak season, then you may have to account for significantly inflated costs, provided you plan your trip atleast a year in advance to get discounted rates. You may want to consider off-beat places and activities in popular destinations. They may cost lesser, and you will get a unique experience during your trip.
Hope this helps!