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One Simple Secret to Getting a Great Travel Deal

I’m writing this from a hotel in Matera, Italy, where I’ve stopped during a weeklong driving trip of Apulia—the only part of Italy I hadn’t seen before. And wow: It’s really off-season, at least at some of my stops. Italy’s Adriatic coast, from Venice down, is dotted with resorts that cater to northern Europeans seeking summer beach holidays. And with temperatures in the 60s, you don’t see anybody swimming or lounging on the beaches. So this trip is a good example of visiting destinations off-peak.

The Good: There’s almost no tourist competition for hotel accommodations or access to visitor attractions. You can enjoy off-season rates at many hotels, and airfares to leisure destinations are usually low. I can’t be sure that hotel rates are priced at less than summer rates, but I sure found some very nice accommodations in the range of $50 to $70 per night, including breakfast. Traffic also seems light by Italian standards.

The Bad: Lots of hotels, restaurants, and other visitor services are closed. These days, darkness comes early, which limits sightseeing hours. I was one of three guests at my first hotel stop and the only individual guest (not part of a religions pilgrimage tour) at the second. Hotel restaurants seem to be offering limited menus.

The “that depends” factor is climate/weather. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t encountered any rain, and none is forecast for the next few days. But late November can risk low temperatures and even snow or ice in many areas.

Like this time, my most recent overseas trips have all been off-season: two in April, one in September. And my experience suggests some recommendations:

  • Northern Hemisphere: April to May is probably the optimal time to travel within the U.S. or overseas. Days are long and temperatures are generally mild. The biggest risk is rain, at least in some areas. September to October is also good.
  • Beach Destinations: If you’re considering Florida, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, or Mexican beaches, choose September to October if you plan to do any ocean swimming. The ocean can feel icy in spring but waters remain reasonably warm in fall. Hawaii is OK any time of the year. The fourth quarter—September through mid-December—is the slowest of the year at beach destinations.
  • Mountains: Fall is almost always OK, and spring is good at any destination where skiing has closed for the season. I have visited Austria and the Dolomites in September and Val d’Aosta, Normandy, Brittany, the English Lake Country, and Scotland in spring and found the usual off-season benefits on those trips.
  • Big Cities: You don’t find many seasonal price breaks in the big cities, except maybe the Christmas–New Year’s period when business travel comes to a virtual standstill. But at least you don’t have the summer tourist crowd. I’ve been in New York, Boston, Chicago, and London in all four seasons, and I hope I never have to visit them in midsummer again. Sure, hotels are air-conditioned, but the streets are not, and that heat can be intolerable.
  • Europe: I recommend April to May. Economy airfares are hundreds of dollars less than they are in July and August, and you encounter occasional big discounts in business class. Big-city hotels in areas with lots of business travel don’t cut rates much, but in leisure destinations you’ll get whatever cuts are available.

The takeaway here is that if you’re retired or have a job that gives you some flexibility, plan your big trips in the off-season: September and October for beach destinations, April and May for other times. You’ll find it easier to visit the attractions and museums you want to see, have far fewer crowds with which to contend, and, in many cases, find better hotel deals and airfares. When you have the flexibility, take advantage of the opportunities it provides.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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