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Off Season Travel: Advantages and Disadvantages

We consider ourselves lucky to have the option to travel at any time of year. It’s September now and we’re currently traveling in Newfoundland and plan to be here until mid-October. We chose this time of year so we could finish our tour of the province at a time when we could catch the Celtic Colors Festival as we pass through Cape Breton Island before returning home to Ontario.

We’ve fallen in love with Newfoundland and all it has to offer – amazing scenery, some of the best hiking in North America, and the people! Everything we’ve heard is true – they really are more friendly than words can ever convey. Prime travel season in Newfoundland is short - July and August. As our trip unfolds, we’ve become increasingly aware of the disadvantages of being here now, in the “shoulder season”. 

Disadvantages of off-season travel:

  • As the month wears on, we’re finding more and more attractions closed for the season or operating on limited hours.
  • As of Sept 15th, all the provincial parks and their campgrounds have been closed.
  • National Parks are still open but many guided walks and interpretive programs are no longer offered. 
  • Some visitor centers are closed.
  • Ferry services are on a less-frequent schedule.
  • There aren’t many local festivals or music events. 
  • Live entertainment in pubs and cafes has been reduced or eliminated and some restaurants and inns have closed for the season.
  • The days are getting shorter so we have fewer daylight hours.

However, we had done our research and could predict all of the above. What we did not and could not have predicted was the weather. We’ve had more windy, rainy, cold days than we’d like. Yet, from our research before the trip and according to the local people, this is unusual for September. It’s generally a pleasant month without a lot of rain.    

Advantages of off-season travel 

Not every destination will be shutting things down as early in the year, of course.  The list of advantages of off-season travel may be obvious to most of us: 

  • We can travel without worrying about reservations, or at least make them only a few days in advance.
  • We don’t have to deal with crowds.
  • There’s less traffic and, usually, less road construction.
  • We’ve missed the hottest days of summer.
  • We missed the mosquitoes and black fly season. 
  • There are less families with children. (If you’re a full time RVing family yourself, you might consider that a disadvantage.)
  • The Boondockers Welcome hosts we’re staying with are less likely to be booked already, and are not on their own summer or winter trip at this time.
  • We wanted to visit friends and family en route. In summer, it was more likely they would be away on their own vacation.

Of course, the prime season is not the same everywhere. 

Winter is prime time in Florida, July and August in Canada and the northern states, while the prime tourist season in states like New Mexico and Utah is in the spring and fall.  And, depending on location, there are other seasonal factors to take into account: 

  • Autumn is hunting season in many states and provinces. (We love to hike but are a little leery of hiking when hunters are around.)
  • Hurricane season on the southeast coast starts in August and runs through November.
  • Nature’s wonders follow their own schedule. Spring is the best time to see waterfalls that may dry up by mid-summer. Beaches may be beautiful but the water is too cold for swimming or water sports until late summer. In Newfoundland, September is too late to see icebergs and most of the puffins have migrated south. 

The decision of when to travel is very individual. It depends on what you value most. 

Although my list of advantages (above) may seem as long as the list of disadvantages, the weight and importance you place on each item will depend on what you like to do when you travel. We’re more interested in hiking, outdoor activities, local festivals, museums, and music events than shopping, theater, or fine dining. We also don’t mind boondocking, so it’s not a big deal if the campgrounds are closed. However, if that means the RV dump stations are also closed, it becomes a very big deal!  

Do we recommend off-season travel? Would we do it again? 

Truthfully, on a cold and rainy day like today, I want to say, “no way!” and I would mean it. But, realistically, we know bad weather can hamper plans any time of year. And, if we were traveling in peak season, it would be more difficult to travel without reservations, and therefore harder to adjust our itinerary and wait out a few days of bad weather here and there.

In retrospect, except for wanting to catch the Celtic Colors Festival when we leave Newfoundland, we probably would have enjoyed this trip more if we’d come earlier in the year. Newfoundland has only recently been gaining popularity as a prime tourist destination. It’s probably not all that busy, even in prime time,  because the province is so vast, and there’s so much to see that the tourists would be well-dispersed. We prefer to boondock most of the time so campgrounds being full is not really a concern for us. 

In general, although the shoulder season can be a great time to travel for many, I would only recommend it if the time you’re allowing for your trip is long enough so you can adjust it as necessary, and as long as you don’t mind missing a few tourist attractions that may be closed. Remember that, no matter when you travel, you can’t plan for the weather or any other inevitable hiccups you may encounter.  

On days like this, I just have to remind myself of what we’re avoiding and how frustrating those things have been for us on other trips: the crowds of tourists in the parks, no parking spaces available when we get to lookouts or trailheads, and “Campground Full” signs when we don’t know where to camp for the night. 

I’m keeping the positives in mind. The sun WILL come out tomorrow. If not, then there’s always the next day! 

Addendum: Co-incidentally, the morning after I wrote the above, we were at Cape Spear - the most easterly point of land in North America. Along with 15 others, we were up early - the first people on this continent to see the sunrise! And we did glimpse it, if ever so briefly.  It was windy and still cool, but the rain and fog had ended. It’s so amazing how a bit of sunshine can affect our entire outlook - not just on the day but on the entire trip.

Comments

  • rblais

    rblais  

    Thanks !
  • SandraBeaulac

    SandraBeaulac  

    Merci! C’est complet!
  • DBlacklock

    DBlacklock  

    Going to Nova Scotia during the Celtic Colours Festival has always been a dream of mine. We hope to go as soon as we can. I also have a great uncle who emigrated to Cape Breton (Sydney Mines) in the 1880s; I look forward to visit there as well. Thanks for the tips. P.S. - I live on the beach in Florida. Hurricane season for the Atlantic officially begins June 1 each year.
  • Solarseniors

    Solarseniors  

    We did a Newfoundland trip last year, crossing to Port aux Basque on September 1. It's wonderful to wander without reservations,but timing is everything. We left Butter Pot,and I can asked when they were closing for the season."We're lockin' them gates behind you b'y,we're done"
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