Almost by reflex we plan our most extravagant annual vacations for the summer. We've always done it this way because of school and work schedules, and also because it's been ingrained in us that summer is when most destinations and attractions are at their finest.
In reality, summer is the worst time to get away, while spring and early fall are the best. Here are five reasons why, as well as some travel tips on how you should plan your next journey.
1. Weather at home. We Canadians complain constantly about the chilly weather for about eight months of the year, so it doesn't make sense to leave town when the sun arrives. Increasingly, Canadian cities are filling their summer seasons with festivals and events that attract visitors from around the world. Leaving for a far-flung destination robs you of the opportunity to enjoy your own surrounding area when it's at its best. If you're in Quebec, why would you want to be anywhere else in late June when the Montreal Jazz Fest kicks off? Who in Nova Scotia wouldn't want to be in Halifax for one of its many weekend celebrations, including the Highland Games and BuskerFest? And Toronto is the number one travel destination in Canada for a reason -- its ongoing slate of warm-weather celebrations, which begin with Canadian Music Week in March, are a draw for international visitors.
2. Weather abroad. Have you noticed the summer temperatures in Paris, Rome and Moscow in recent years? In 2010, record heat was blamed for killing more than 50,000 Russians, and research from the University of Lisbon predicts more "mega-heat waves" for Europe in summers ahead. When you're at home, you don't feel the urgency to be outside in uncomfortable weather. If it's too hot, you retreat into your air-conditioned home or office, or lounge under a patio umbrella. When you're travelling, you want to pack plenty into your day and sometimes you'll need to be standing in line for a long time to enter attractions. For health reasons, you don't want to be doing that when the sun's beating down on you. Consider extreme heat, especially in Europe, Asia and the southern U.S., as a detriment to your enjoyment of your trip.
3. Price. The cost of summer travel is sometimes obscenely high, with destinations and airlines taking advantage of the rabid tourist season to rake in dollars. When you hear travel experts tell you the best time to go is in the off-season, we're not kidding. You'll save money and have a more relaxing time. Plus, the best time to see many of the world's great cities isn't in July and August. I went to Paris last May and the temperature was in the mid-20s and getting around wasn't nearly as difficult during the prime tourist season. Walking around Montmartre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower was an absolute pleasure, partly because there was room to manoeuvre. In New York, April-May and September-October are always the best time to visit, because the heat in August -- and the odours it brings -- can be unbearable.
4. Crowds. The last time I was in St. Petersburg, Russia was at the beginning of October 2010. I'd arrived just days after the busy cruise-ship season ended. That fortune meant I could stand in the rooms of the Winter Palace for minutes by myself, gazing at the astounding beauty of the Hermitage's ornate walls and the artwork on them without a 40-person tour group barraging through. An acquaintance in St. Petersburg told me if I'd been there a week earlier, I would've waited 90 minutes just to enter the building. But there was no lineup and never did I feel rushed or fed up with the size of the crowd in the museum that day. Escaping the summer frenziness at the attractions you want most to see is for some travellers reason number one to go in late spring or early fall.
5. Kids will love it. Take a kid out of school for five days and he or she is going to adore whatever alternative you've chosen. Make sure you add lots of cultural activities and learning experiences to the trip and you won't feel guilty that they should be in school. As so many of us have learned, the experience of travel is just as worthwhile an education as five days in school. Teachers will likely appreciate any projects the kids come up with during their trips to share with the class. Plus, with schools posting their curriculum and homework schedules online, catching up or keeping up while away isn't hard.