Experts: When Is the Best Time To Take a Vacation If You Want To Save?

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Year-round travel is now an option once again in most of the world. So if your soul requires the kind of soothing that only a vacation can provide, the key is not to overspend — that will only lead to money stress, which defeats the whole point of getting away in the first place. The good news is, there’s a right time of year to visit just about every destination at home and abroad for anyone looking to balance experience with cost.

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Planning a getaway near or far? Beat the crowds and save big bucks by focusing on when you go as much as where you go.

Dreaming of Europe? Summer Is a Nightmare

Raj Mahal, founder of the travel-booking app PlanMoreTrips, has flown more than 2 million miles and visited 65 countries. His experiences confirm what conventional travel industry wisdom has long warned — visiting Europe between June and August means higher prices, less availability and crowds, crowds, crowds.

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“Flights are cheapest to Europe between September and November,” Mahal said. “You can save lots of money on flights, and the accommodations are also cheaper than in summer.”

The rule in the skies applies to the rails, as well.

“If you want to take an iconic trip around Europe by train, my advice is to travel in the off-peak and shoulder seasons,” said Leona Bowman, who runs the travel site Wandermust Family. “Summer in Europe, running from June to September, is the most popular time to travel the continent by train and therefore you will see prices soar.”

However, Bowman notes that peak season can vary by location, so do your homework before you book.

“For instance, Amsterdam in April is considered peak due to the tulip season, Kings Day, a Dutch national holiday, and the Easter vacations in Europe,” Bowman said. “And if there is an option for it on your route, you will find that booking sleeper trains on longer journeys can save you money as it saves you a night of accommodation on your trip.”

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In the US, Ideal Weather Means Unideal Prices

When looking for cheap flights, trains and accommodations for travel in the U.S., the formula is fairly simple — you can have either perfect weather or perfect prices. 

“Summer rarely brings any deals with schools being out,” said Melissa Beers, co-owner of My Journey Begins Travel. “But if there are any, it would likely be warm-weather destinations such as Florida or the desert Southwest. Also, the coastal Southeast is less expensive in late August and Labor Day than the coastal Northeast because demand cools with the earlier return of local schools  — but beware of the possibility of increased hurricane activity. The mountains are generally less expensive in the late spring — after ski season but before summer — but beware the mud and sometimes mosquitos.”

Book Cheap Cruises in Early Fall, Winter and Early Spring

January through March is known as “wave season” in the cruise industry, according to Travel and Leisure. Those months are often the best time to save because it’s packed with industry-wide sales and booking promotions like free upgrades.

But depending on your ports of choice, early fall can offer the best deals of all.

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“September to mid-October is the best time to book your cruise,” said Suzanne Bucknam, CEO of Connecticut Explorer. “This is when all the summer breakers are heading back to school and you’ll find a better opportunity to appreciate sightseeing without a crowd. You can hit places like Alaska, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean for a much cheaper rate than traveling in, say, July. From Miami, you can cruise to Mexico, Honduras, and Belize for less than 600 bucks. Or from Spain, you can hit places like Marseille, Rome, and other port cities at almost half the rate of summer-goers.”

Emily Smith, owner of Female Abroad, agrees that the islands are ideal just after summer.

“The Caribbean in September, usually the week after kids are back in school, is a great time for a cruise or to visit the Bahamas,” she said. “It is shoulder/hurricane season, so prices are lower, and if you are fine with some rough water and rainy patches, then you could have a great vacation for cheap.”

For Outdoor, Activity-Specific Vacations, Always Book the Shoulder Season

Some people design vacations around specific activities like golf or fishing. Hard-and-fast rules are a bit trickier to swear by with these kinds of packages — particularly when the weather is a factor.

But according to Golfbreaks, it’s always critical to pick the shoulder seasons for a golfing vacation because the high season is too crowded and expensive but low-season weather makes a round of golf a miserable experience. The trick is finding the right time for the right region — the shoulder season in the Nevada desert, for example, will be different than that in the Carolinas.

The exact same principle applies to fishing.

“For example, if you’re looking to fly to a destination for fly fishing, spring and fall are usually the best times to find deals on flights,” said fishing blogger and avid traveler Steven Zhang, founder of Lure Me Fish. “On the other hand, if you’re interested in saltwater fishing, the summer months can often offer the best deals on vacations.”

No Matter the Trip, Some General Rules Apply

Regardless of where you’re heading and when, you’d be wise to brush up on the standard travel-booking best practices.

“Midweek travel, especially flights, is generally cheaper than weekend travel,” Beers said. “You’ll benefit from spending Sunday nights at hotels that are generally expensive the rest of the week or flying Tuesday or Wednesday rather than Friday or Sunday.”

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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