Singin’ in the rain, or travel in the off season.

Dave and I

Here’s a picture of me posing with Dave, aka David of David and Goliath.  Dave is Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in Firenze (Florence) Italy.

Me and dave - cropped-2

There are a couple of things you can’t see in the picture.  First, it’s a very famous statue, but there is not a huge crowd and second, I’m wearing what I refer to as my formal fleece.  The lack of crowd and the fleece indicate that we’re travelling during the off (or off-to-shoulder) season. This post, we’ll talk travel.  Since statistics say many retirees want to travel, this post may help mitigate some surprises on the price of travel.

Off season travel

My formal fleece is the black polar-fleece jacket I use for sightseeing and as a (poor) substitute blazer when dining on vacation, because Mrs. No Surprises Retirement and I usually take our major sightseeing trips in the off season (or really close to the off season). Rick Steves suggests that in Europe shoulder season is April to mid-June and off-season is November through March.  As you might guess, this means that the weather is not always warm and sunny, so we pack for cool and potential rain. Overall, we’ve been lucky with the weather and it was only really cold and wet once and we were prepared for it.

Pluses

The pluses to the off-season include savings from lower air fares and lower hotel prices. There is little competition for trains, ferries, restaurants, or attractions. Walking down streets there are no tourist crowds, mostly locals with just a few tourists.

The best part of the deal for us is the lack of crowds.  We were almost alone on Omaha beach, reflecting on the sacrifice of the Allies and the French Resistance on D-Day. We have found that the museums we visit almost feel like we have private reservations, because there are so few people visiting. In major cities and major attractions (Louvre, British Museum), you’ll still find crowds in the off and shoulder season, but they will be smaller than high season and they will include a lot of school groups. Note that British children wear those fluorescent construction vests when out in school groups.

A plus for us is the weather. Cooler weather (40’s-60’s) is much more conducive for us to tour than the hotter summer season.

Minuses

On the minus side is the weather and access.  Weather in the shoulder season is somewhat unpredictable.  It can be comfortable one day (50 and sunny) and the next day less so (35, wind, and rain).  Layers, umbrellas, and rain jackets are lifesavers.  Access in the shoulder season can be a problem for some venues that simply can’t afford to be open year-round.  If one of those is your special favorite, perhaps shoulder season won’t work for you.  Also, at least in Europe, you will be at higher latitudes which means that daylight will be much more limited than during the high season.  We’ve experienced sunrise at 8:30 AM and sunset at 4:30, so you have to be comfortable navigating streets in twilight. (It’s safe, you just can’t see things as well.)

If you are empty nesters like we are and you like to travel on your own, we recommend the off (or near off) season for the price and the lack of crowds.  Also, you may want to Google ‘european school holidays’ before scheduling your trip to determine if you’ll be in the midst of a mid-term school break which can make attractions crowded and hotel prices increase.

Pick one, be first

Remember the picture of Dave and I, above.  That was part of Mrs. No Surprises Retirement ‘pick one, be first’ philosophy. Pick the most important attraction of that day’s itinerary and be the first ones there when it opens.  That prevents Mr. No Surprises Retirement from getting too much sleep. When you’re the first ones into one of the more important venues, you’ll have 15-30 minutes to really enjoy the major exhibits before the crowds start to clog things up.  That’s why we had breakfast as soon as the hotel breakfast room opened and were walking several blocks to the Accademia in Firenze (Florence) to be there at 8:00, 15 minutes before opening, to see the David unobstructed.

Actions you can take include:

-Think about the pros and cons of off (and near off) season travel and see if the pros make travel in retirement more affordable/achievable for you.

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here.

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.

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