Is there a “best time of year” to go backpacking?
Looking to save money and spin a trip out that bit further? Try traveling out of season. The cheapest flights are often out of season ones – Caribbean Trinidad can drop down as far as £150 return in Autumn, from the thick end of a grand in August. This can be especially useful if you don’t have school holidays dictating your dates for you.
Tropical countries fare best for out-of-season travel, as their weather changes much less than those further from the equator. If you’re visiting Quito in Ecuador, there’s only a few minutes difference between the longest day and the shortest, and it rarely gets genuinely cold in the tropics.
Of course, that doesn’t work so well in Europe or North America, but then you’re probably not going there for beaches and sun, are you? The nights might be long in the winter but there’s something enchanting about stomping around northern Scandinavia in the freezing eternal twilight and besides, massive expanses of snow make the Arctic Circle what it is. In fact, Arctic Circle tourism is booming right now – some say that’s because it won’t be there in another couple of decades.
The Baltic states also look delightfully pretty blanketed in a layer of defining white snow, and New York winters will remind you of dozens of scenes from films and TV. Some countries have a pronounced rainy season, especially in Asia, but this needn’t be a reason not to visit. Indeed, the monsoons bring a verdant bright green to the landscape and are often a time of great celebration for the locals – which means lots of local festivals.
When there’s an official season for places, hunting around the edges can bring some great bargains, but can also bring a lot of solitude. Unless you want hordes of fellow holidaymakers getting under your feet, this can make a little inconvenience very much worthwhile. Check how long ski slopes stay open for – the last couple of weeks should be pretty much deserted and you won’t have to queue for the chairlift. We climbed Japan’s Mount Fuji more or less on our own, while friends who went a week earlier were in a line of thousands. Granted, the teahouse at the top wasn’t open, but it was a small price to pay.
If the locals have closed the tourist cafes and bars, go and find where they’ve gone and what they’re doing. It’s a wonderful way to get a lot closer to the local community than when the ‘tourist barriers’ are up and everyone’s a bit wary. If the buses aren’t running, chill out and enjoy what’s in front of you instead. Many tourist destinations also have a sizable population of itinerant touts, vendors and scammers, who usually shove off after the high season has passed. Not all of them, but it does become possible to walk the streets without as much bother. So next time you’re reading a guidebook and the received wisdom within tells you travel between these dates or those dates, think twice. You may find it suits you better to go off-piste.