At the moment we are travelling in our second winter in 7 months. We have done back-to-back winters from Australia to Ireland. Yes, we could do with a sunny beach and a tan about now, but there’s lots of reasons why we wouldn’t have it any other way. Traveling in the off-season suits us as family travelers, and here are some of the advantages to putting away the bathing suit, and hitting the road in winter instead.
Accommodation is always the biggest cost for family travelers, it’s hard to find a cheap hostel suitable for kids, and rooms with extra beds are often more expensive, as there are less of them available. We try to book self-catering for long stays, that way we don’t always need to eat out. However, booking self-catering, family accommodation in the summer can really blow the budget if you are planning on staying a while. Our solution? Avoid summer. If it’s a beach destination, why not try and book on the shoulder of summer breaks when the weather can still be suitable for a dip in the sea. If it’s city destination, travel in winter! Prices can be 50% or more, less. Right now we have taken a three bedroom apartment in the centre of Wexford, Ireland. Wexford is a hot destination in the summer, as it’s known as Ireland’s “Sunny South-East”, and in July our apartment rental would start at €600 a week. We are renting it for €600 a month! That’s a huge saving worth braving the cold for!
Choice of Accommodation
Travelling in the height of summer requires meticulous organisation when you are traveling with a family. No-one wants to be without a bed for the night with a couple of kids in tow, and so booking ahead is a must. But the opposite is true for travelling in the off-season*. Throughout our travels in winter we have not bothered to book ahead knowing full well that there will be plenty of options at our destination. This has given us the freedom to just jump in the car and explore, stopping when and where we please, without a rigid itinerary, and we much prefer to travel in this relaxed manner. *It is worth checking ahead that there is not a winter festival occurring at your preferred destination however! There are also exceptions to the winter rule, such as Christmas and New Years Eve in the Northern Hemisphere. Read here about our splurge to New York City for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
It is a well known fact that flights are most expensive at Christmas, during school holidays (at your city of origin) or in the summer (at your destination). And, because of that we try to avoid flying during those peak times of the year. When we booked our flights to leave Australia we used SkyScanner to check flights for the year ahead. With this handy search tool we were able to see that prices started to climb dramatically from about the 20th of November in the lead up to Christmas. By flying on the 12th of November we saved hundreds of dollars compared to flying just one week later. We flew with Etihad from Australia to Ireland, they were a cheaper option, and we were pleased with their service.
Cheap Car Hire
Just like flights, car hire is also much cheaper in the off-season. We are renting cars in Ireland for 28 days at a time using search tools like CarRental.com and SkyScanner to find great deals. Our first hire car cost €240 for 28 days, the subsequent rentals have been even cheaper at €218 and €170.
Uncrowded Popular Tourist Sites
Getting that perfect photo of a castle or monument when there are masses of tourist meandering about can be frustrating. Really getting to explore a historical site can be near impossible when crowds are ushered through like cattle. We’ve had none of those problems travelling in the winter. In fact we’ve had most sites almost all to ourselves. Today we visited Kells Priory, a beautiful historical ruin in Co. Kilkenny Ireland. We were the only visitors there! We had the whole place to ourselves to wander about at leisure, take photographs and explore in it’s entirety. We had a similar experience recently at Blarney Castle, one of Irelands most popular tourist sites. We really believe that we are able to have a richer experience by visiting without the crowds. I still recall our disappointment of seeing the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in August years ago. We’d waited our whole lives to see Da Vinci’s beautiful ceiling only to be carried through with the throng of other eager tourists, barely pausing to appreciate the moment.
No Lining Up in the Sun for Hours with the kids
Those of you with kids will know that children and lining up for lengthy periods are rarely a good combination. Furthermore, lining up in the hot sun is almost a sure recipe for disaster! During our off-season travels we have not had to line up longer than 2 minutes even at the most popular tourist sites. Combine that with fewer crowds when we make it through the gate, and we think that we are on a winner!
But There’s Always a Downside…
In the spirit of honest blogging it wouldn’t be fair to paint a sunshine and butterflies picture of our winter travels without revealing the inevitable downside to travelling when few others will dare… First,it has been cold, really cold, both in our bush setting in Australia and here in Ireland we have had to rug up really warm in layers of winter clothing. This makes packing more difficult as bulkier clothing takes up more space in our luggage. Second, the days are shorter in winter giving us less daylight to do our sightseeing. If we were only on a short visit, this could severely reduce the number of places that we explore, but given that we’re slow travellers, staying a few months, we have time on our side. Third, we have found in Ireland that a few sites have been closed for the winter. These have been the exception, and not the most popular ones though, and again, we will have time to return in March when the winter break is over, so it has not been a huge problem for us. Fourth, it’s grey. Our photographs are grey, and the trees and gardens are bare. Of course outdoor photographs really shine in the Spring time when gardens are at their best, so if capturing the perfect post-card shot is your thing, travelling in Winter could be a little disappointing. Don’t despair however! Blue skies in winter are crisp and stunning as a backdrop, or dark menacing clouds over a castle ruin can look especially dramatic as well.
Tell us your thoughts, would you consider travelling in the off-season to a popular destination? Or, where is somewhere that you recommend visiting when the crowds are thin and the days are chilly?