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Even expensive vacations can be more affordable if you go during the off-season. Hotels, rental units and airlines often discount their fares significantly once the crowds thin out. And as an added bonus, you can avoid the hordes and enjoy the local ambiance at a more leisurely pace.
There are some tradeoffs, of course. Many places are popular during certain times of the year because that is when the weather is best or the events are most exciting. Skiing is tough in July, for example, and beachcombing can be challenging in January. If you want to experience Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro, you can't go in September.
Some attractions close or drastically curtail their hours during the off-season, so check ahead to make sure you will be able to do what you want to do when you get to your destination. Still, with a little flexibility and imagination, you can have a great trip for a lot less.
As a general rule, most U.S. destinations, and many foreign ones as well, are most expensive during the summer. Summer is the traditional vacation time for Americans, making many vacation destinations very crowded – and expensive.
If you have the flexibility, you might want to avoid summer travel altogether. To get better prices without sacrificing too much in terms of weather and activities, look into shoulder seasons – those dates right before and right after peak season. For example, a four-bedroom ocean-view house in Kitty Hawk, on North Carolina’s popular Outer Banks, rents for $1,860 a week during high season from July 5 to Aug. 8. But a week in the same house costs only $940 from May 24 to June 6. It may not be quite as warm, but it still can be lovely – and a lot less crowded. (Costs cited here are actual rental fees for representative properties found online.)
There are shoulder seasons for overseas travel destinations, too. For example, travel to Asia is often less expensive during the winter, while prices at many Caribbean destinations drop in the spring. Spring can also be a good time to visit places in the southern hemisphere, where it is fall -- places like Australia or Brazil. And autumn in Europe means reduced rates, cooler weather and fewer crowds.
But what if your schedule or your children's makes it impossible to avoid jumping on the summer vacation bandwagon? You still can take advantage of off-season options.
Think ski areas. Travel destinations best known for powder can be great bargains during the summer months. For example, a two-bedroom condo in Aspen, Colo., that rents for $1,000 a night over the holidays goes for $425 a night in the summer. In Steamboat Springs, Colo., a three-bedroom condo that is $265 a night during the ski season is $165 a night during the summer. And in Okemo, Vt., a two-bedroom condo that rents from Sunday to Thursday for $600 during the winter rents for $400 during the summer.
Even though the slopes are shut down, many ski areas offer tons to do in the summer. There is the obvious natural beauty of the mountains, of course. And there are many outdoor activities that let you enjoy that beauty, like fishing, hiking, swimming and biking. If you don't want to spend all your time outside, you can check out the nightlife and shopping; many restaurants and shops that serve skiers remain open during the summer.
It can pay to do a little research before you book. Check with your travel agent or online to find the best time for bargains. Sometimes changing your travel dates by only a few weeks can make a big difference in cost.