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Travelling off season and saving your money

You can save a bundle travelling to a sun destination during the summer months, but it can be a calculated risk.

You can save a bundle travelling to a sun destination during the summer months, but it can be a calculated risk.

While vacationing in Mexico, our family spent part of the holiday monitoring weather reports — hoping that a hurricane would not ruin the trip. We knew that August was inside hurricane season, but when we found a rock-bottom last-minute airfare deal to Puerto Vallarta, we just couldn’t resist booking a late summer vacation.

Fortunately for us, the hurricane in question headed toward the other side of the country. While hundreds of vacationers were frantically trying to exit Cancun, we enjoyed sunny skies. By the time it travelled inland to reach Puerto Vallarta, the Category 5 hurricane had been downgraded to little more than a remnant low. That said, the low caused a day of heavy rains that shut down the core of the city.

One day of rain is less than ideal, but the six days of sun, sand and surf, and the cheap price we paid seemed, to make up for it. Travelling during the off-season can pay off — especially if you are good at searching for silver linings.

Virtually every popular travel destination has an off-season when savvy travellers can score big deals and avoid the crowds. But it’s important to realize that some destinations come with risks. It’s a good idea to know what you’re signing up for before you put your money down on a discounted vacation.

Here are a few great off-season escapes worth considering.

Aloha bargains

There is really no bad time to visit Hawaii. The climate is pretty balmy year-round.

The two busiest seasons on the islands are deep winter and high summer and the islands will be more crowded and rates will be higher during these times.

Sometimes you can score a bargain by travelling in the fall or spring, from September through November or from April to June, when crowds will be thinner and hotels and airlines may offer discounts.

Go to www.gohawaii.com for more information.

Can you handle the heat?

There are great deals to be had in Arizona and Nevada during July and August, when temperatures typically average above 40C.

Despite the scorching temperatures, Arizona and Nevada can be cool in the summer — at least figuratively. There are plenty of great ways to beat the heat and many of hotels have amazing pools, fun summer activities and huge discounts.

In August, there are a number of Las Vegas hotels with rates below $75 per night, according to booking.com, and in Arizona many of the ritziest resorts have mind-blowing summer rates.

The Arizona Biltmore for example, has summer room rates starting at $109 per night plus tax. That’s about a quarter of the cost of a lead-in room during the peak season. They also have huge discounts on golf along with a host of free summer activities (outdoor movie nights, s’mores on the lawn, and cooking classes) that guests can enjoy. The Biltmore is frequented by Hollywood celebrities and heads of state.

Many other upscale hotels are offering similar bargains.

Go to www.visitlasvegas.com.au and www.arizonaguide.com for more information.

Try a green safari

African safaris are never inexpensive. Some of the best luxury lodges can cost up to $1,000 per person per night during the peak season, but prices drop dramatically during the rainy season when rain is more frequent, the landscape is greener and wildlife becomes more difficult to spot.

In East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda), the green season generally falls from December to May. In Southern Africa (Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe), the green season falls from mid-November through April.

Mosquitoes and malaria are a bigger problem in some parts of Africa during the rainy season, but are almost non-existent in others. Travellers to Etosha National Park in Namibia have a far lower risk of contracting malaria than those who visit Krugar National Park in South Africa, for example.

Besides lower rates, the upsides to visiting during the green season are that landscapes are greener and lusher, birdlife is abundant and many animals give birth during this time of year.

A good guide should be able to help you spot plenty of baby animals as well as the predators that will inevitably be lurking nearby.

Storm watch

Rock-bottom summer travel rates are quite common in tropical destinations — especially during hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and the Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 to Nov. 30, but the odds of having a named storm make landfall are actually relatively small — even in those destinations frequented by such storms.

The fact is some destinations have a higher incidence of hurricanes and named storms than others.

Puerto Vallarta is on the western side of Mexico and thus has a lower risk of named storms than Cancun, which is on the eastern side of the country, for example.

Bermuda and Miami have approximately a one-in-four annual risk of being affected by a hurricane.

The odds for Nassau, Bahamas, are about one-in-five.

The islands of the Western Caribbean are less likely to be affected by hurricanes than those of the Eastern Caribbean.

The southernmost Caribbean islands (Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Grenada, Trinidad, Tobago) are rarely hit by hurricanes and are almost always a good bet.

If you decide to travel to a destination that is at higher risk of hurricanes, consider purchasing travel insurance for your trip. If the odds don’t run in your favour and a major storm hits, you may be able to get your money back.

Winter city escapes

If arts and culture is your thing, you can save a bundle by visiting cities like New York, Toronto or Montreal during the winter months.

Since theatres are indoors and heated, they are the same temperature year-round.

Between late September and April, rates at many big city hotels drop by almost 50 per cent and crowds become almost non-existent.

Most big cities have great heated metro systems and sometimes area attractions also offer deals during low season.

Just remember to bundle up.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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