It might be 5 o’clock somewhere, but if you’re staring at a calendar full of back-to-back meetings followed by weekends packed with bachelorette parties and weddings, a true vacation might feel many, many margaritas away. If you’re hesitant about splurging on a trip (yes, we understand all of those weddings and summer events add up), travel agents recommend jetting to an off-season destination to get more mileage out of your money.
“Like anything else, supply and demand often determine the cost of a vacation,” travel agent Greg Antonelle explains. “When it’s peak season in a particular country, city, or resort, the cost is almost always higher. When it’s the off-season, you are likely able to receive great savings.” And cheaper flights and accommodations aren’t the only benefits of booking in the off-season. Depending on where your wheels touch down, Antonelle notes that local shops and restaurants may offer discounts to attract more street traffic, too.
Yet to book your summer vacation? Here, travel agents reveal the off-season destinations that will make your dollar go further.
Skip: Yosemite Try: Lake Placid
No bucket list for U.S. travel is complete without Yosemite, the national park nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Known for its centuries-old sequoia trees and Instagrammable natural rock creations like El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite is definitely a destination not to be missed. But in the summer? Joost Schreve, travel expert and co-founder and CEO of KimKim, explains that Yosemite is usually packed with students out on vacation. This will make the experience more crowded and more touristy, potentially inhibiting your ability to soak up the serenity of nature.
Instead, consider Lake Placid in upstate New York’s Adirondacks. Though you might associate this hot spot with its skiing and snowboarding opportunities (after all, it was home to both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics), Schreve says it’s equally beautiful during the summer. “In addition to the usual warm-weather activities like boating, hiking, and rock-climbing, you can still give your family chills by testing out their nerves of steel on the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience. There are few places in the world where you can combine summer fun, warm weather, and Olympic sports,” he shares.
Skip: Monument Valley Try: The Wave, Arizona
Right on the border of Arizona and Utah sit the infamous towering sandstone buttes of Monument Valley. This backdrop is what you see when you watch old Westerns, complete with cacti and hot red sand. One major downfall to visiting during in the summer is the influx of tourism, thanks to summer break and backpacking college students aplenty. Schreve describes this time of year as “less like being one in nature and more like you’re in a zoo.” If you still want to experience the Southwest, though, consider visiting The Wave in Arizona instead.
Located about three hours north of Monument Valley, The Wave is where Schreve says you can “get your fill of incredible natural rock formations without getting elbowed in the side by selfie stick–wielding throngs of fellow tourists.” Keep in mind that you’ll need proper permits; plan ahead so you have your best shot at making this once-in-a-lifetime hike amid the sandstone rocks. (There are only 10 online permits for each day, available four months in advance, although if you don’t happen to land one, you’ll be able to enter a lottery.) To save money, most people camp nearby—and is there anything better than falling asleep under the stars and waking up to an epic sunrise?
Skip: New Orleans Try: The Caribbean
If you’ve ever visited the Big Easy, then you know how it almost feels like an alternative universe where people are buzzed nearly 24/7, butter is layered in everything you eat, and jazz emanates from practically every window. Though the French Quarter is definitely a place to make some memories (and try incredible eats like beignets and gumbo), the heat can be killer during the summer. Antonelle says that while NOLA is a smart choice for late summer (think September), for the rest of the weekends post–Memorial Day, consider the Caribbean. The only catch? You need to be comfortable with expecting the unexpected and willing to fork over a little more cash for trip insurance. (One word: hurricanes.)
“Visiting or even taking a cruise to the Caribbean in the summer can offer amazing savings due to hurricane season approaching. If you’re willing to roll the dice a bit, this is a great time to visit due to the cost savings, and the beaches also tend to be less crowded than the winter, when tourists flock to the beaches here,” he explains. “The benefit of booking a cruise during the summer here is that in the event there is bad weather, the crew has the ability to shift the course to safer weather if necessary.”
Skip: Hawaii Try: Cuba
With Cuba recently becoming a must-get-to-ASAP spot for world travelers since American tourism was opened last year, there are long lines of visa applications to weed through. That being said, Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, says that during the summer, you’ll have a better chance of collecting that Cuban passport stamp. Just make sure to pack your sunscreen, because it’s going to be super hot. But because of the sweltering circumstances, you’ll be met with smaller crowds, giving you the opportunity to truly see the island, from Havana to Sancti Spiritus, Holguin, and more.
Skip: Washington, D.C. Try: Colombia
If you haven’t been to the nation’s capital since your middle or high school field trip, then it’s definitely a town to experience as an adult. But if you head there in the summer, Schreve says you’ll find yourself feeling pretty uncomfortable, especially with temperatures creeping up to the 90s on the hottest days. It might seem counterintuitive to go further south to escape the heat, but Colombia is an especially promising off-season option to consider.
“July through August is the dry season in Colombia, and traveling to Colombia during those months also means you’d be avoiding the sky-high tourist prices that you typically see during the high season of December through February,” Schreve explains. Depending on where you go, you can expect temperatures in the 80s in Cartagena, while Bogota teters in the 60s, and you can find a little bit of every activity, depending on your tastes. From bird-watching and relaxing by the Caribbean Sea (or the Pacific Ocean, depending on your coordinates) to hiking ancient trails, there’s something for everyone. Just keep in mind that Schreve suggests booking your ticket ASAP before every season becomes tourist season.
Skip: Florida Beaches Try: Jackson Hole
Antonelle says you’ll pay much more for a Florida beach getaway in summer than you will any other time of the year. Since plenty of other vacationers have the same idea, your smarter bet is to head where most people are fleeing: the mountains. Antonelle suggests selecting Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Lake Tahoe.
“You can get tremendous savings visiting these ski resorts during the summer since it’s their off-season. There are a myriad of things to do other than ski at/near these resorts. Whether it’s hiking, a live show, a music festival, rafting, or visiting a local eatery, there’s never a shortage of fun visiting these destinations in the summer,” Antonelle notes. “It’s less crowded, and it gives you the opportunity to do things at your pace.”
If you do want to come back when snow is nesting on the ground and the slopes are primed for your skis, consider booking your return trip before you check out. You can bargain for a better rate since you’re booking so far in advance—and because you’re in person, the better chance you’ll have at having your offer accepted.
Have you ever booked an off-season trip? Tell us what it was like and if the savings were worth it.