Time to scratch that travel itch, but no savings to make it happen? No matter how modest your budget, all it takes is some forethought and savvy scheduling (around tourist seasons) to transition your dreams of Paris, Miami Beach, Thailand—or even the Maldives—to reality.
NYC doesn’t have a super discernible off-season, but sneak a peek at hotel rates throughout the year, and you’ll find that primo deals roll out in winter. Between January and early April, you’ll find the hub vibrating at a slightly lower frequency, as long as you carefully avoid dates surrounding big events and holidays like February's annual fashion week and Valentine’s Day, of course. Know that this is a great time to visit art museums (plenty offer free admission), eat divine prix-fixe menus for a fraction of the price during NYC Restaurant Week, and hole up in the city’s top discounted sleeps.
Palm Springs swells with visitors every winter right on into early spring (see: Fashion Week in March and Coachella and Stagecoach festivals in April). The Sonoran desert oasis presents ample opportunity for golfing, hiking, and swimming, but because of the demand, the price of accommodation is less than forgiving. Sidestep the seasonal tourists and five-star inflation by hitting the southern Cali spot sometime September through December. While you’ll still find the odd business convention crowd here and there, hotel prices drop off, temps still hover between the 60s and 90s, and you don’t have to contend with any Coachella crowds.
This should be obvious, but for travelers on a budget, summer is an absolute no-go for trips to Miami Beach. Buzzing with hard partying beach bodies and cooler-toting families of four, hotels book up months in advance, and at high prices. Try instead to plan for September to November. Is that the tail end of hurricane season? Technically speaking, yes. Can you plan around them to a degree? Also yes. To avoid contending with any natural disasters, pull out the Farmer's’ Almanac and plan wisely ahead in order to save loads of cash and guarantee the beach nearly to yourself.
April–May & September–October
If you’re not so keen on doling out an insane amount of euros for a decent bed only to then have to contend with crowds in Venice’s Saint Mark’s Square and Rome’s Trevi Fountain, you’ll want to avoid the summer months in Italy. Airfare drops quite dramatically mid-September, so snatch a two-way ticket and hit the hotspot in fall, when the temps are ideal and winter holiday mayhem has yet to set in. JS tip: Just make sure you plan out your accommodations and itinerary ahead of time—hotels often use these months to renovate and some attractions operate under shorter hours.
Mid April–mid December
Traveling to Mexico during off-season (read: cheap season) can be tricky thanks to these little things called hurricanes. No surprise here, but the most affordable time to travel south—mid April through mid December—also coincides with the official hurricane season—June 1st to November 30th. But if you plan carefully and hit the window right before, or right after the worst of it, you could take advantage of shockingly low all-inclusive rates at some of the best resorts around. If that makes you too nervous, just carefully work your getaway around holidays and North America’s winter (right on into February)—Mexico's highest (and most expensive) season. As for finding the cheapest flight, fly out on a Tuesday and return on a Wednesday—midweek departures and arrivals deliver the most cost-efficient fares.
As Europe’s most visited city (see: almost 20 million foreign overnight visitors in 2016), London’s tourism pulse hardly falters, seeing steady crowds no matter the season. Because of its perennial popularity, airfare and hotel costs can put a serious dent in your budget, but travel sometime between December and February—barring the holidays— and you’ll find the mobs thin out. While temperatures dip to the low 40s, dress in layers and you’ll be just fine. Major 2017 bonus? Following Brexit, the pound has dramatically weakened, leaving the USD exchange rate (and trips over the pond) as favorable as ever.
Turks and Caicos
Shoulder season is our fifth and favorite season when it comes to affordable trips to Turks and Caicos. A quick two-month respite squeezed between hurricane season (June–November) and winter’s peak tourist boom (mid-December–late March), it’s then that room rates drop dramatically—to the tune of 20-50%—and temps remain comfortable in the mid-80s.
April–June & September
Thailand operates under three seasons: hot, cool and wet. It’s during the country's dry summer months, October through February, that you'll see the highest surge in prices. That's your cue to look to shoulder season. It's quick—just the month of June—but if you can swing it, you’ll catch Thailand right before it swells with tourists (and travel-related inflation), and just as temps start to cool. Rainy season runs May through November and while the nearly-guaranteed downpours can be intimidating, if you’re planning a northern getaway, like Chiang Mai, you’ll fare just fine (as opposed to southwestern destinations like Ko Samui and Ko Phi Phi which get it way worse). When it comes to flights, Mondays and Tuesdays are the most affordable, and Bangkok is the cheapest airport to fly into.
Like other sunny escapes on our list, when deciding the best time to touchdown in the DR, first consider avoiding hurricane season: June through November. While that’s certainly the cheapest time to travel, you’ll be doing so at the very high risk of experiencing a severe tropical storm. Opt instead for March through May, when the droves of winter-escaping, North American beach bums have retreated back home, and special hotel rates are aplenty pre-storm watch.
Prices dip to their lowest from May to November in the Maldives, but keep your eyes peeled on the forecast as the southwest monsoon season makes an appearance from July to August. While it may not seem the case, visiting during the wet season does have its benefits (and more than just monetary): snorkelers and divers will find much more active wildlife, and surfers will benefit from ideal waves. Other ways to save on your Maldivian retreat? When going on excursions or traveling to and from the airport, do so by public ferry. Commuting like a local (for as little as 2USD in the case of Maafushi to Male), rather than arranging private transport through your resort, can help you save big.
September–November & March–May
June through August may spell out sunny days in the 70s, but couple that with skyrocketing airfare and hotel rates, and the fact that Parisians themselves are fleeing the city in favor of less crowded spots, and it’s time to think like a local. Say no to summer and instead, hit a sweet spot—September through November, or March through May (just pack an umbrella)—when you’ll save a significant chunk of change on accommodations.
September–October & April–June
July and August may see the bulk of Greece's international visitors, but spring and fall deliver more reasonable hotel rates and airfare. Additionally, you can save yourself some cash by staying in lesser-known locales, like the Peloponnese islands or on the northern mainland, and make day trips to Santorini and Mykonos, rather than staying right in town. Wherever you end up, just consider that in off-season there may be less frequent ferry service—something you’ll want to plan ahead for.