In January this year, Mitch and I packed our bags and flew to Albania. Why would we do that? Low season: it’s cold, places aren’t open, cities lack atmosphere, and hostels are practically empty.
All these things are true. We had days where it was bitterly cold we couldn’t stay outside long, days we were rained in, restaurants closed, places where buses didn’t go to at this time of year, so many hotel/hostel owners saying, “Come back in July! You can see this, this and this.”
I would love to go back to all the places in the summer. You know what though? Travelling in low season is fantastic. Here’s why:
Places like South East Asia are cheap all year round. Europe is not, even in less touristy countries we visited, prices rise in the summer. In the winter, however, you can pay peanuts for luxury. In the seaside town of Vlore, Albania, we had a huge double bed, brand new ensuite facilities, a TV, and the owner cooked us dinner, for £8 (between us!) a night. In Sarajevo we stayed in a central hostel for £4 a night. In Budapest we stayed in one hostel for £3 a night, in high season that same hostel bed price increases to £20 (and it wasn’t even a high end hostel). With rates like this, you can travel for much longer.
Locals appreciate your custom
“Why are you here in January?” We got asked this, but the same people were SO happy to see us. Restaurants were quiet (even locals don’t want to go out much in the cold), they would love to see us, even take photos with us! Hotel owners would give us coffee when we arrive, make us meals, drop us off in town, take us to local schools to watch Elvis impersonators, (Oh Albania). They loved us!
Seeing the city in a different way
The Lonely Planet guide said some places would be like ‘Ghost Towns’ – this is true. Some were haunting, but, in a mysterious way. Seeing somewhere that in a few months time is teeming with tourists, it’s actually quite cool to see the opposite. I am reminded of Ulcinj in Montenegro. We pretty much had the beach to ourselves so could write this big thing in the sand.
Tourist attractions in some parts of Eastern Europe are never going to be expensive, £3 maximum perhaps. However, in low season we often found ourselves going into places for free, sometimes they just let you walk in or there was nobody around to even take your money. In the case of Ohrid, Macedonia, we were let into this building which was closed in low season, and the guide gave us a personal tour/information. What’s more, so many gorgeous tourist attractions are empty or with so few tourists that it’s very leisurely and you don’t have to worm your way through crowds.
It’s cold and wet in England in January, so why not be cold and wet in an exciting new country learning new things? We had an awesome time travelling from January to May. Next time you think about travelling, or just want to get away for a weekend, don’t rule out those winter months. You’d be surprised at the money you can save, hospitality you can receive, and fantastic new places you can explore.