Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and will be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March. That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*. On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more. You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes we wonder). While Kevin and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.
So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults.
Timing is Everything
The single most important thing to consider when planning a vacation is timing. This may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. When you travel affects everything from the cost of your plane tickets to the quality of your travel photos (trust me on this one).
So when should you pack up your bags and head into the wild blue yonder? During the shoulder season – the sweet spot of all travel timing. Conveniently tucked between the high and low seasons, shoulder season weather is still good, but the crowds and prices are typically much, much better.
Shoulder season timing depends largely on where you’re going. It varies from destination to destination, sometimes even from one part of a country to another. The key is to research your destination to find out the best travel times. There’s tons of websites out there that list shoulder seasons for popular destinations, but if you can’t find your locale, try checking the average weather. Look for when things start to heat up/cool down – that’s most likely your shoulder season. Make sure to research fully though; things like monsoons or local holidays can really affect cost and crowds regardless of the average weather.
For Europe, we try to time our trips to coincide right with the end of the low season. This means traveling in late April, early May. Crowds are smaller, prices are cheaper, and the weather usually cooperates. Usually.
For our Southeast Asia trip, we’re going at the very end of peak season. By traveling mid-March, we’ll miss the monsoons of the low season, but also the crowds of the December/January high season. If you’re planning a trip to Disney, try September/October. The weather is perfect and the crowds are essentially non-existent.
Traveling during the shoulder season not only saves us miles and money, but it also makes for an all-around better experience. Crowds are smaller, tours less crowded, and reservations easier to make. Personally, I feel like you can get to know a city better when it’s not as full of your fellow tourists. Locals are friendlier without the mad rush of crazy tourists everywhere and you can spend more time getting up close and personal with the things that make each place unique. Plus, you’re more likely to snag that photo you’ve always wanted – without anyone else in it.
Of course, you might not be able to pick when you travel. Don’t worry! You can always pick where you travel. If the only time you can take the kids out of school is during Spring Break, don’t assume you’re going to have to pay full peak season prices. Pick a destination whose shoulder season coincides with your Spring Break (for the record, Ireland is great during the Spring Break season – I know from experience). This article from Travel + Leisure has some great ideas by month on the best shoulder seasons.
Another benefit of traveling on the shoulder season? You won’t be asking off at the same time as your coworkers who are traveling on-peak… the boss might be more likely to say yes.
Check back tomorrow for our tips on all things transportation: planes, trains, and automobiles!