It’s no real secret that off season is usually the cheapest and quietest time to visit any destination. The trick to choosing the right off season destination is knowing just how OFF off season is and picking the right location.
The right accommodation can make or break you
When it comes to enjoying being somewhere in off season, accommodation really is the key.
Off season usually means it’s really hot, really cold or really wet. If it’s hot you want reliable electricity and good AC. Not a generator. Living rustically in a hut on the beach is wonderful, but not in off season. Take our word for it. Two years ago we spent three weeks on the west coast of Thailand just before the monsoon hit. We got some fantastic bargains when it came to accommodation, often 50% off. But it was sweltering.
The places we enjoyed and ended up staying longer? It wasn’t the places with pristine isolated beaches and amazing people. Because we found those and hated them. We stayed with an amazing family in Krabi with a beach all to ourselves and uninhabited islands to canoe around. But we ran away screaming after two days. Why? Because they only had a generator for a few hours a day, and even then it didn’t really work. It wasn’t their fault. They were a start-up guest house and doing it tough. But it was 38 degrees with enough humidity to make it feel like you are inside a sauna and no escape. Not inside, not out. We’ve never been that hot. We checked into a nicer place with good AC and ended up having one of the best week of our entire travels.
The same goes for winter.
A lot of people choose Spain or Portugal for to spend winter in Europe, but the weather there still isn’t perfect. The big problem is a lot of the houses in these regions aren’t built for the cold because they only have a few weeks of it each year. That’s particularly true of apartments that are usually only rented out during summer. If you strike a cold day you are going to feel it.
Take Algarve in Portugal. It’s certainly stunning all year round. The winter temperatures are certainly nicer than most other places in Europe. But winter is also the wettest period and since Algarve faces the Atlantic, a wet windy day can be pretty miserable.
If your apartment isn’t built for it, you will be miserable. There’s nothing worse than an apartment where the heating or hot water doesn’t work.
Actually we found something worse in Crete this winter – an apartment where both the heating and hot water didn’t work. We were on a Greek island with completely deserted coastlines to explore and the crystal clear waters of the Aegean but every time we went back to our apartment we started counting down the minutes until we could get out of there.
Honestly, can you imagine being a short drive from place that looked like this and still being miserable? Cause we were. Accommodation can kill a destination.
There’s off-season and there’s almost off-season
The shoulder periods around off-season are actually the time you want to be there. A month before the monsoon hits in Asia most places start to drop their rates. Which is perfect. It’s quiet, it’s cheap and most days you’ll just get an afternoon storm, not all-day rain or the risk of getting flooded in.
Of course this doesn’t always apply.
Hoi An in Vietnam just before the monsoon hits is dusty, hot and miserable. The city’s power comes from hydro-electricty and there’s not enough water to meet energy needs so blackouts every second day are common. Your accommodation will most likely have a generator but a) see above and b) nothing else will. Shops, restaurants, coffee shops. No cold drinks, no ice cream for hot kids, no espresso coffee. These might sound like ridiculously petty things, but when it’s 40 degrees out and you’ve been sightseeing, not being able to give the kids a cold drink is a sure way to bring on tantrums (not to mention Mum not being able to have a decent coffee!)
But generally speaking just at the edges of off-season is the best time to go.
Go there first before you commit
What sounds lovely on the Internet might be very different in person. “Quiet village” in low season may actually translate to “ghost town 20km to the nearest corner store”. Pictures and websites can be misleading. Promised of heating might turn out to be an AC that barely keeps your toes from getting frostbite. Or you can mislead yourself until you are there in person locked into a three month lease you’ve already paid for over the Internet realising you hate the place.
Look for summer resort towns that aren’t just summer resort towns
That may sound pretty silly, but if you are heading to a summer resort town in winter because you can get an apartment for a steal then you want to pick a town that has a large local population base. You don’t want a tiny summer resort village, unless you are renting a car. Because small resort towns shut down in low season so you’re going to be along way from everything.
We learnt that in Crete, Greece and Koh Lanta, Thailand. The smaller the town, the more likely everything except your accommodation will be shut down. No restaurants, no corner stores, limited buses. In Crete, the nearest store was a 20 minute walk away. That doesn’t sound too bad but when it’s wet, cold and you have two tired kids a 40 minute return walk for a loaf of bread is miserable. I like walking, I like the quiet but it really wasn’t fun.
Go for a larger town. Honestly. Or budget in the cost of renting transport.