“Winter, spring, summer or fall,
all you have to do is call,
and I’ll be there”
– Carole King, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”
Carole aptly describes how I feel about most travel. That being said, there are some definite pros and cons to traveling in each season and they can influence the quality and value of your trip. I’ll try to lay out some of what I consider below and some examples of trips we’ve taken in each season.
Confession: I have never skied, and my limited foray into snowboarding (twice, junior high) was pretty disastrous, so I’m waiting for the day when I can “chaperone” a ski lesson or two for Julia and pick it up since all my friends are either not interested or already doing Black Diamonds and they don’t want to kill time on the bunny slopes. My job slows down a bit in February and I’m usually dying for a little break from the Seattle gray. So, while everyone else in the Pacific Northwest heads to the ski slopes or Hawaii, we’ve been to India, Egypt/Jordan and Spain/Portugal. What we’ve loved about those destinations:
- Sunshine! I’m not even a sun addict, but while the weather can be unreliable in any place, these destinations all offered us sunshine at least 50% of the time we were there, which is significantly more than we would get back home.
- Friendly locals – February is not peak season in Europe, so we felt like we got quieter streets and saw many more locals out and about when we went to Spain and Portugal at that time of year. People seemed more relaxed and were extra nice to Julia as a result. Also, India, Egypt and Jordan are still relatively less traveled destinations. Given the recent political turmoil in all of those places, it seemed like people were really looking out for us and had a sincere interest in making sure that we enjoyed their country. We always felt safe, and while there were touts in India and Egypt who only talked to us with a financial incentive, many people just wanted to practice their English or smile at a stranger.
- Low season- because of the season and/or the lower cost of living than in the U.S. (Lisbon has got to be the most economical European city I’ve ever visited), we were able to spend more time traveling because we saved money on flights and accommodations. We also leveraged this on our babymoon to New Orleans by going the week after Mardi Gras.
Commonly considered a shoulder season, I think it’s a great time to be in Europe (there’s a reason there’s a song about April In Paris). Peter proposed to me in Paris in May and we went to Ireland in late March/early April for our first anniversary. You can also still find snow, as we found out when we went to Banff shortly after Julia turned one. Here are my favorite things about spring travel:
- Everything feels fresh and new – whether it’s lambs bounding across fields in Ireland, flowers blossoming in Paris, or the tulips coming up just north of us in Skagit Valley, spring brings a feeling of optimism that is really helpful when traveling (especially if you run into hiccups). I always feel like I’m more likely to look for the good in people and places when I’m around something green and lush.
- Good for travel with young kids – older kids are still in school (with maybe a week of Spring Break), so you don’t have to compete with everyone for travel resources. It’s also not too cold, so if your little ones want to see snow, but aren’t up to super cold temperatures, it’s a great time to introduce them slowly. Banff still had snow when we went, but there were beautiful sunny days and we were able to keep baby Julia safe and warm while still enjoying the outdoors.
- Spring food! – ok, this one isn’t specific to travel, but eating seasonally is a bigger deal outside the U.S. If you’re venturing abroad during the spring, you’re likely to be able to get some really tasty local specialties (asparagus, peas, artichokes, or maybe some cherries) at restaurants or local markets.
It’s high season in most places, but you may need to travel in summer because of school holidays. My family came to meet me in Europe in August when I studied abroad. It was crowded and hot (especially in Rome), but here are some tips for how we still enjoyed our trip:
- Accommodations – putting four people in a hotel when you only have a single income is tough! I would never have guessed that the typical dormitory-style hostel would be suitable for families, but we saved money by staying in family or private rooms in hostels. I’m not sure I would recommend this for people with young children who might be bothered by frequent comings and goings, but my forever-young dad loved that he could chat with all the cool guys in the common areas. We typically shared a bathroom, but had a 4-bed room all to ourselves. Hostel hosts are also typically extremely friendly and able to provide budget-friendly restaurant and activity recommendations.
- Schedule – take advantage of the jet lag. We got up early and stayed up late, often taking a siesta or a leisurely lunch in the middle of the day so that we could avoid the heat and the crowds. While I was living in France, being out later also meant that I could take advantage of night hours at local museums when they weren’t as crowded (e.g., the Louvre stays open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays).
- Delegate – Constant togetherness can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a vested interest in the day’s activities. We each chose a location or two to stay and the chooser was responsible for picking activities for their city. This was my mom’s brilliant way of making us feel we had a stake in the game. It kept us all much more cheerful and engaged knowing that either we had planned the day, or that our chosen activity was coming soon.
Another shoulder season! Now that we live in Seattle where the weather is beautiful in September/October and we actually have changing leaf colors (such a refreshing change for this California girl!), I love to stick around and enjoy the season change. However, September is the end of my company’s fiscal year, so I often find myself in the pleasant position of having one or two extra vacation days to “spend.” Several years ago, I visited a friend who was working in Thailand when I got a surprise week off in my public accounting days, and we have also done long weekend trips to San Francisco. Here are the perks of traveling in the fall:
- It feels deliciously like playing hooky – older kids are starting to go back to school and the weather is starting to get cooler. Taking a mini weekend vacation feels like ditching 6th period because the beach was calling and you couldn’t say no. And who doesn’t want to feel like a rebel sometimes? If I had good grades (which could be based on the prior year), my parents would sometimes let me have a ditch day to have a family adventure. I plan to do the same with Julia when it’s her turn.
- It’s rainy season in Asia, but you can still get good deals – Flights to Thailand when I went were pretty inexpensive because it was September (rainy season). We had torrential rains several of the days I was there and the humidity was enough to make even my friend’s trademark smooth hair frizz up, but we still had a great trip. We had little to no competition for the top sites, we were able to snag a relatively cheap flight to Bali for a few days for even better weather, and we took advantage of the cheap massages to spend two hours out of the rain.
- Weather – if you’re like me and can’t handle high heat, this is a good time of year to head somewhere that might have been soul-meltingly hot a few months prior. My husband’s family is from the South and we took a long Labor Day weekend trip to see them, driving from St. Petersburg to South Georgia and enjoying the less humid scenery along the way. You can extend the late summer a little longer, too, if you travel somewhere like San Francisco or San Diego in September/October (there are still 70+ degree days as late as December in Southern California).
Hopefully the above pros (there are so few season-related cons for me, except for heat. *shudder*) above convince you that you can go almost anywhere, almost anytime as long as you set expectations ahead of time.
What’s your favorite time of year to travel? Did a trip ever become extra special to you because of the season you traveled?