Studying abroad in the Spring Semester has taught me a lot about traveling during the off-season. Prior to this trip, I had only ever vacationed during the summer, and I had never really experienced being a tourist when it wasn't peak season. While I haven’t had much of a problem with traveling during the off-season in most of the cities I’ve visited, I definitely have found myself wishing that I was there during a busier season instead. So, like anything that I'm a little on the fence about, I sat down and made a short Pros & Cons list:
One of the most important aspects of traveling is where you choose to stay. You want to make sure that you’re in a great location, near all of the great attractions and restaurants that the city has to offer. During the off-season, there is a much smaller influx of tourists coming into the city, leaving a lot more places vacant and available for you. This makes it incredibly easy to find good Airbnbs in great locations, for cheaper prices as well!
There’s a reason it’s called the off-season, and 99% of the time, the weather is that reason. I’ve been traveling abroad since January, so most of the places I’ve been going to have been below 50 degrees. In most cities, the winter is manageable. London, Rome, and even Prague were still super enjoyable in the cold and snow, but not everywhere I’ve been has lived up to its expectations. For example, coastal Italy is not the place to go during the winter. Places like the Amalfi Coast or Lake Como that are meant for summer getaways are basically ghost towns in the winter, and any local will ask you why you’re there. Trust me, it’s happened.
PRO: LESS WAIT TIME
If you’re doing anything remotely touristy, there’s bound to be a wait time. Whether you’re waiting for a table at Peggy Porschen’s, waiting on line to get into the Louvre, or waiting for the next gondola in Venice, you’re definitely standing there wishing that there were less people in front of you. During the off-season, the crowds of people at these attractions are a lot smaller, and lines are, thankfully, a lot shorter.
CON: NO FESTIVALS
A lot of the big festivals and cool cultural events that occur in each destination bring in a huge amount of tourists. With that being said, it’s not likely that you’ll get to experience any of these festivals during a city’s off-season. This usually isn't the main reason people travel, but it's super cool if you happen to be visiting during the city's festival season.
It is so hard to get good pictures when there are hundreds of other people trying to get the exact same picture. Usually, to get a picture with little to no people in the background requires you to wake up at the crack of dawn and rush to all the great photo spots before anyone is even awake. During the off-season, you don’t have to worry as much about other people, and you can get great pictures at just about any time of the day. Finding a spot on the John Lennon wall in Prague, in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, or at Temple Bar in Dublin is a piece of cake.
CON: SEASONAL CLOSINGS
One of the more disappointing problems I run into whilst traveling is finding out that stores and restaurants are closed for the winter. Obviously not all places have this problem, but in the smaller towns that are more of a summer destination, there are a lot of local shops and restaurants that close down during the off-season and reopen once more tourists start coming in. Running into this problem taught me to always do research before you go.
Photos taken in Bellagio, Italy (Lake Como), where locals asked us why we were here :)