Cost optimizing a 22 country trip: Weather
My previous post in this series about cost optimizing talked about finding the cheapest flights, but what about the destinations? It wouldn’t make sense to fly into monsoon season or a blizzard, but if you go at peak season, you face huge crowds and sky high prices. Here’s the balance I found when planning my 22 country trip through Asia Pacific.
Avoid Peak Season
It should be obvious that if you go at the same time as everyone else, there will be shortages of hotels, flights, restaurant seating, etc. available to travelers. This allows shops to increase prices. Travel windows are classified broadly into three categories, peak season when everyone goes, off season, when almost nobody travels due to bad weather, and shoulder season, the time in between. I mainly used Lonely planet’s organize your time section to collect this information.
For example, summer (peak season) is popular because people want to lay on the beach but winter is too cold because people don’t associate ice skating with the beach. That leaves spring and fall, the shoulder season, two perfectly good periods which are longer than the other windows. The exact months and length of each window vary dramatically depending on the country, but regardless, I prefer shoulder season because you get the benefits of smaller crowds, reasonable weather, and lots more options and flexibility. From what I’ve seen, places only have two pricing schemes, peak and off peak, so by arriving right after peak season pricing, you get a lot of price savings. The months right before or after peak season will work most in your favor if you want to avoid extreme weather like monsoons, unbearable heat or freezes. I generally prefer to err on the side of heat over rain and snow because the ground stays dry.
A little rain is good sometimes. It can cool off an area, but then it adds a lot of humidity. It can remove pollution from the air in countries with underdeveloped roads and dirty vehicles, but there will be mud and puddles everywhere. Your feet are the most important mode of transportation if you want to travel on a budget. Most people walk at a pace of 3 mph (5 km per hour), which allows you to see a lot, often a couple of neighborhoods and districts within a day, easily.
Being on foot allows you to go at your own pace, stop to eat at whatever shop catches you eye, take pictures of whatever temple or shrine you pass by on a side street, even talk to people if you hear some English (or your language) being spoken. I recommend bringing an umbrella on any trip, but when the ground is wet, the umbrella doesn’t keep your feet from getting wet unless you bring multiple pairs of shoes (or walk really awkwardly), which makes it much harder to pack because you can’t stuff them in your bag, but if you hang them from your bag, they are easier to steal. My preference is to keep my shoes on my feet and carry cheap, <$1, lightweight, easily replaceable sandals as backup on the occasional wet day that comes with shoulder season. I used weatherbase.com and other sites that allowed me to easily see year round averages for rain and temperature.
Use a spreadsheet
The different travel seasons correlate to which time of year it rains, but not precisely. What I did to organize all the information for 22+ countries was put it on a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets allow you to quickly organize a lot of data across rows and columns so that you can easily compare the information. I laid out the countries, including which months were on and off peak, then made a color coded calendar showing the months that I wanted to travel. Then I rearranged them into a path that would allowed me to stay within good, dry, cool, and hot months. For big countries like India where the monsoon travels from south to north, I hoped to get lucky and stay ahead of the monsoon.
I also put down an estimated cost per day so I could get an idea how much losing a day due to bad weather would cost me not only in time, but money. This is probably one reason why everyone goes on vacation during peak season. When you only have a 1-2 week vacation, each day is incredibly costly if you aren’t able to go sight seeing, When you aren’t as time constrained, you have more flexibility and can afford a few bad days, but keep in mind that there are still costs associated with lounging around.
If you time your travel destinations with the rotation of the earth, you can enjoy a prolonged, even perpetual year-round season of your choosing and enjoy the luxuries of “summering” in distant places during the winter, without the costs associated with the luxury lifestyle.