3 January 2012

"The best time to go" is something you hear a lot of when you're planning a trip. But off-season travel can sometimes be better than the 'best' time for a variety of reasons. Here we untangle the good, the bad, and the crucial of going away when no-one else does.

African landscape

Some places are pretty much the same year-round though. (Image: African Conservation Experience)


Off-season travel: the good

  1. It's cheaper. Air fares, accommodation and activity costs all skyrocket during peak season. Going somewhere in low season can save you a huge amount.
  2. There are fewer people about. If you don't like crowds, queues, or screaming children, go away when other people are at home! Some experiences are best enjoyed quietly.
  3. You're doing your bit for responsible tourism. In poor countries, traveller money is essential to sustainability. If you patronise local businesses during quiet times, you will be helping the locals through a lean time of year. Also, you will often find that you get special treatment if you're the only foreigner around.
  4. It's more exciting. You might not get much sunshine, or you could miss a big famous event, but you'll be rewarded with seeing things that other travellers never get to experience, whether that's an amazing storm or some odd little local festival.

Forest in Vietnam in the off-season

A forest in Vietnam during the less popular rainy season. Lovely and green!


Off-season travel: the bad

  1. Stuff is closed. With not many travellers around, a lot of businesses shut up shop during the quiet times. You might find it inconvenient - and it can also sometimes be a bit depressing and weird.
  2. The weather may suck. You might not mind a bit of rain, but if it goes on for weeks you could get bored of it. It's not just rain - some tropical places are way too hot and stifling at some times of year, and their peak season is actually during cooler months.
  3. It can be lonely. Whether you're travelling solo or not, you might rely quite a lot on the company of other travellers or fellow English speakers for company, banter and even advice. Locals are great of course, but you might not speak the same language, and they're usually too busy to be able to hang out much.
  4. You could feel like you're missing out. Some of this feeling will come from other people who can't believe you haven't scheduled your trip around whatever they think is important. Never mind, there's always next time.

Ski reps

These career breakers have turned up at the right time for ski repping! (Image: PGL)


Off-season travel: the crucial

For some career breakers, going at the right time is crucial. If you're learning to be a ski instructor, for example, you will obviously have to go in the winter months (remember that the southern hemisphere has a winter too!).

Some voluntary work needs to be done at certain times as well - for example, if you're on a conservation project, you will be working to nature's schedule if you're planting trees, or counting hatching turtles. Remember that nature has a habit of moving her schedule without telling anyone - but volunteer organisations are equipped for this and usually have a Plan B.

If you're working as a TEFL teacher to children (or a volunteer in schools) - obviously you need to take your career break in term time, otherwise you'll be turning up to a deserted school - and no payment!

Volunteers with turtle

Turtles are easier to help when they're on the sand, rather than in the sea! (Image: Projects Abroad)


Not sure when to go?

If the time you go is crucial to your career break, your organisation will make this clear, and can help you plan.

If not, it's up to you to decide what's important about your trip. Don't forget about your life back home too - it might be better for your career or your family to take your break at a particular time.

Still stuck? Talk to us.