Off-season Travel: A Love Story

I love off-season travel. Genuinely, truly love it.

It’s an affair that started back in 2012 when I took a late autumn trip to Prague and Budapest and found myself enchanted by the relative quiet of it all. I wasn’t shoulder to shoulder with other tourists, being herded like cattle through local attractions. I was with a small tour group, and we had time to savor the sights, take pictures, and enjoy the moments. Mostly, I loved that I didn’t feel like I was on vacation. I felt like I was exploring beautiful ancient cities and immersing myself in culture, which is what I’ve always looked for on my adventures.

I found that I came home relaxed and truly refreshed, rather than mildly frazzled from trying to cram everything into a few days along with the thousands of other travelers trying to do the same thing. After that trip, I decided I would do off-season travel whenever possible. Sure, I may not see some of the truly seasonal sights, but it’s hard to enjoy those anyway when waiting lines are long, weather is hot, and crowd patience is short.

In Italy for our 2022 winter retreat, we had plenty of time to marvel at the Fountain of the Four Rivers in a nearly empty Piazza Navona. In Florence, we had the Boboli Gardens all to ourselves and it was no less magical walking through it in light rain.  Even Venice’s St. Mark’s Square had barely a crowd in sight.

In truth, I’ve only had to make two real concessions for off-season travel: being okay seeing the same jacket in the pictures, and occasionally bringing an umbrella.

That’s an easy tradeoff to be able to enjoy its perks:

  • Prices are generally lower, meaning more value for your travel dollar.
  • Minimal crowds mean shorter lines and an unrushed experience. You’ll still need to make reservations for certain attractions, but they’re likely to have more availability than during high season.
  • Off-season travelers are generally experienced pros, eager to help with directions or recommendations for off-the-beaten-path shops, restaurants. and must-see experiences.
  • Opportunity for true relaxation versus organized chaos.