By accident or through bad planning we have followed winter around the world. Whilst it can be strange being wrapped in layers whilst friends in the UK are enjoying a heat wave there is something to be said for travelling off season.
It wasn’t our intention to spend a year in the cold and neither of us have a perverse liking for thermals. It’s just that we wanted to avoid the mad dog Indian summer and because we like walking amongst mountains.
Starting in India in October was still warm (32C warm not the 45C brain melting warm it gets in July and August) but then we decided to spend 2 weeks in the Himalayas, in November. After that it was grey winter in Vietnam and record snowfall in Japan. And then, just as the north was warming up for spring we headed South to Patagonia and glaciers.
This meant that in most places we have travelled it’s been off season – when it’s way colder and no one else is daft enough to visit. But, being out of sync does have its advantages. For a start there’s no one else around.
When we visited the Perito Moreno Glacier in southern Argentina there was maybe 100 people there all day. In summer there’s over 3,000. In Puerto Madryn, where we went whale watching, there was 6 people on our boat instead of the usual 40 and in Punta Del Diablo there was just us and a few dogs on the beaches. In high season the beach is covered by 20,000 people. I’m not so anti-social that I prefer snowstorms to people but if you do want to get out into the big wide countryside then less really is more.
Off season also means that the locals shift down a gear. With less people around hotel staff and tour guides have much more time for you. They’re not stressed or rushing you to check out, you get the best rooms and they have time to take you to places off the usual tour plan. In Japan we spent lovely evenings drinking free sake with the hotel owners, in Argentina we got our own personal guide and in Uruguay we got upgraded to a whole suite for free. Maybe they’re just happy for the business but I also think the people who live and work in holiday places are generally a little happier when most of the tourists have gone home.
Obviously places are popular in summer for a reason – namely, the weather. But sometimes the weather in winter can actually be better or at least more interesting. In Peru and Bolivia high season also coincides with rainy season. Winter can be cold but it also brings crisp, clear skies. After hearing tales of people not being able to see Machu Picchu through the torrents of rain or missing most of the slat flats because of flooding, winter seems like a pretty good option. There’s also something nice about seeing places in a more ‘wild’ state. Being in Japan during their heaviest snow storms for forty years was beautiful and walking up a volcano in 80km hour winds when you can’t see 10 metres in front of you is fun – as long as there’s a hot shower at the end of it.
There are some downsides to travelling in the offseason – icy hotel rooms, short days and irregular schedules. It’s not really the flip flop, Thai tan, gap year of the brochure but I’ve really enjoyed the wintery walks and misty mountains. Having said all of that I am looking forward to wearing a few less layers and burning off this Yorkshire tan on the beaches of Brazil soon…