Falling into off-season travel


Summer and winter are peak times for travel, from beach-bound family vacations to ski holidays at mountain chalets, but fall, too, can be prime for extraordinary experiences.

Travelers can not only take advantage of fewer crowds but enjoy things that only happen during the season.

“For those who can get away in the fall, it is one of the best times to travel, with fewer people traveling and more availability for hotels, experiences and restaurants,” said Joan Roca, CEO and founder of Essentialist, a membership-based travel service that utilizes expertise from travel writers around the world.

Shoulder swings

Fall and spring are both off-peak seasons for travel, when the weather is not always in its finest form, but temperatures generally remain moderate worldwide.

The timing too, is often less than ideal thanks to school and work schedules. But that can be a good thing.

“You can capitalize on the shoulder seasons…and in some cases you may get a fantastic value, have vastly less tourists and still experience the same wondrous qualities the destination would have in peak season,” said Brendan Drewniany, director of public relations and communications for Black Tomato, a bespoke and experiential-focused travel planner.

Fall is perfect for avoiding tourist crowds in European cities like Oporto, Portugal. Image courtesy of Essentialist

Destinations throughout Europe and North America will certainly be free from the summertime tourism boom and will still have an enjoyable climate and plenty to do.

No matter the destination, stepping out of the standard travel season affords a more intimate experience.

“Take safari,” Mr. Drewnany said. “The ‘green’ season is just that. You may experience some rain showers, yes, but it’s ephemeral. I was in the Masai Mara in Kenya in March a few years ago and not only was able to see the ‘big five,’ but far fewer tourists were out seeking the same wildlife, so it almost felt like having the wilds of Kenya to yourself.”

Seasonal spectacles

Despite not being a peak travel season in North America or Europe, fall is a peak season for transitions, and seeing the shocking yellows, oranges and reds of turning leaves is a major selling point for many areas.

“In the U.S., one of our favorites is the classic Northeast road trip – from upstate New York north through Vermont – it’s the perfect place to see the incredible colors of the season and enjoy quintessential fall scenery and foods,” Mr. Roca said.

The American Southwest, where weather is still pool-worthy is a fabulous fall choice. Aspen, Colorado is not quite as warm but is a great place to visit between the summer hiking and winter skiing rushes.

“Less crowded but full of amazing fall festivals and chances to hike and soak up the outdoors, this would be my top pick,” said Mr. Drewniany.

European hotspots are especially nice for the season, having quieted down from their tourist peak.

“In Europe, Switzerland has beautiful options to see the leaves change – destinations like Lucerne and Lugano are stunners any season, but the fall feels even more special while still being able to enjoy the lakes,” Mr. Roca said.

Aspen, Colorado is a favorite locale for fall activities. Image courtesy of Black Tomato

Mr. Drewniany’s list adds Italy, Greece, Portugal, Iceland, Morocco and Mexico to the autumn bucket list.

“And let’s not forget the southern hemisphere where spring is in full bloom – places like Argentina and South Africa are great places to experience the changing seasons and enjoy a combination of nature, culture and delicious food,” Mr. Roca said.

Uruguay is set to reopen this month and November would be an ideal time to visit, checking out Montevideo to the rolling, Tuscany-esque hills of little-known Pueblo Eden, to the utterly glamorous Jose Ignacio,” Mr. Drewniany said.

Autumn agenda

The fall season is also home on the calendar to special occasions galore, both cultural and natural.

“Autumn welcomes key moments across the globe for those who want to include an authentic cultural experience in their travels,” Mr. Roca said. “For many city destinations, fall is the kick-off to the cultural season with new exhibitions and performing arts calendars originating then. “

Oktoberfest in Germany, the Diwali festival of lights in India, the Fete des Vendanges grape harvest in Switzerland, mid-autumn festivals across the Asian continent – choices abound.

“While many countries have adopted Halloween celebrations, Mexico is the place to be for Dia de los Muertos, where the combination of pagan traditions, colorful costumes and incredible food create a uniquely beautiful spiritual experience,” Mr. Roca said.

For nature lovers, the “great migration” of wildebeest in the Masai Mara area of Tanzania and Kenya happens each fall, lasting through October.

Monarch butterflies flock to Mexico beginning in the fall. Image courtesy of Black Tomato

Across the pond in Mexico, “the monarch butterfly migration is out of this world spectacular and begins in November,” Mr. Drewniany said.

In Iceland, another natural phenomenon captures visitors’ attention.

“The Northern Lights pick up and are at their peak in the fall, and weather-wise it’s a great time to visit that otherworldly landscape,” Mr. Drewniany said.