Not everyone thinks “Iceland” when they think winter travel. Except my family. Last winter, we traveled to Iceland and are officially hooked on off-season travel. So much so that we have planned another cold-weather trip this winter to the Faroe Islands. While our reasons for traveling off-season may apply to traveling to both warm and cold destinations, we have only experienced off-season travel to cold places in the winter, so our reasons come primarily from our winter weather cold destination travels. As a full disclaimer, I grew up primarily in Michigan and currently live in Chicago, and my parents now live in Toronto, so our family is accustomed to cold weather. Trekking through a foot or two of snow in the winter does not phase us, nor does driving through similar weather conditions. I agree completely with the Norwegian mantra that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes, so without further ado, here is our list of five reasons why we love off-season travel.
The most obvious reason to travel off-season is to save money. While some costs, such as food, remain the same year round, you can find significantly cheaper transportation and accommodation prices during the off-season, as airlines and hotels try to lure more people to those destinations so they don’t experience as much of a lull in their business. Flights from the U.S. to Iceland or Scandinavia regularly run for $300-$400 round trip in the off-season, and you can sometimes find flights for even cheaper if you plan ahead. WOW Air is my go-to for flights to Iceland, but I also check Expedia and Skyscanner regularly for cheap flights to these and to other destinations. Accommodations, including hotels, hostels, and airbnbs are also significantly cheaper in the winter months, which is particularly helpful for more expensive areas likes the Nordics.
2. Less Crowded
Everyone who’s ever traveled during peak season has experienced the frustration of pushing through crowds of tourists to see popular sights and spending a large part of the day trying to get photos in front of interesting sights without swarms of tourists making the same goofy poses for their own photos right next to you. You’ve experienced the chaos of parents trying to hold on to their screaming children and loud Americans being… loud. There is no peace and quiet to be found.
During the off-season, these crowds miraculously disappear. You have popular sights all to yourself and you can actually experience a city without impending chaos that you know will hit at any moment. You don’t have to deal with the stress that comes with pushing through large crowds of tourists. You can make a vlog of your adventures and actually hear your voice and not the voices of everyone else around you.
3. Better Service
With fewer crowds comes better service. When you sit at a popular restaurant in peak season, waiters are regularly dealing with a full house and have less bandwith to offer each individual the best service possible. During the off-season, waiters have the flexibility to be more attentive to your individual needs. Visitor centers and tour companies are more likely to cater to your specific needs and goals. Any type of business you encounter will pay more attention to you and be more accommodating to your needs because they are dealing with a much lighter customer load.
There’s something extremely raw and authentic about traveling to a place like Iceland, where “Ice” is in its name, during the cold, winter months. It would almost feel unnatural to stroll around Iceland in shorts and a tank top, as if you’re doing something wrong because Iceland isn’t ever supposed to be that warm. The same goes for any cold-weather destination, such as Scandinavia, Alaska, or northern Canada. The image of these places that I have in my mind is one of a dark, dreary, snow-covered town where sipping on a mug of hot chocolate in front of a wood-burning fireplace with my winter coat on is the only way to experience the area like a local.
When we arrived in Iceland at the end of November 2015, we were blown away by the beauty of the country. The vast emptiness we saw would not have looked the same without a passing blizzard and gloomy skies. Running into a cabin and enjoying a bowl of hot soup by the fireplace would not have been as satisfying in the summer months. And the endless sunrise and sunset views we had in the winter would not have existed in the summer months. It just felt right to experience Iceland in its unfiltered state – its “worst” state – and still enjoy every minute of it.
5. Unique Activities
Many people avoid cold weather places in the off-season because they think their activities will be limited. This is not necessarily true. For example, in Iceland, you can hike or climb glaciers with a tour guide in the winter, which is not nearly the same experience as hiking a mountain on a sunny summer day. Sauna tours are often only offered in winter months – a tradition in some Scandinavian countries in which you take a sauna boat onto an icy lake and jump into the ice cold water from the sauna. You can only see the Northern Lights in the winter months. These are just a few examples of unique activities locals partake in that are only available in the off-season months.
If we’ve convinced you to book a trip somewhere cold this winter, head on over to Skyscanner or Expedia and find yourself a cheap flight right now! Or, if you’re a student, check out STA Travel for the best deals. If you live in a cold weather location like me, you’re bracing yourself for many months of cold and snow. You might as well travel somewhere with the same blustery weather, and at least you’ll enjoy it more because you’re traveling!