In our new column, The First-timer’s Guide, seasoned traveler Ewan McDonald answers your questions about holidays.
Question: We’re casting about for ideas for next year’s overseas holiday but whenever we look at a potential destination – USA, Southeast Asia, Europe – it seems to turn up on the TV news with some kind of crazy weather or wildfire event. Any ideas?
Yes – if I could predict next year’s weather, I wouldn’t be writing a travel advice column in the Herald.
Seriously, the weather is important, because there are not too many things that can ruin the holiday spirit more than three solid weeks of deluge or heatwave. Well, perhaps a global pandemic, but…
There are other factors that you can and should take into account, even if you can’t totally control them.
Just like meteorologists, travel industry professionals – be they cruise lines, airlines, accommodators, or even restaurants and cafes in some places – divide their year into seasons, usually four of them. Except they tend to be called High, Low, Off and Shoulder, or similar names that mean the same thing.
High seasons are when most people take their break, and they’re usually in – wait for it – high summer. Europeans, British, Australians, and even Americans with their idiosyncratic attitude towards taking any time off work, all go on holiday throughout August. And there are a lot more of them than there are of us, even before Japanese and Chinese citizens return to travel at previous levels.
It follows that’s when demand for airline seats and hotel beds are at their peak and, capitalism being what it is, so are prices for in-demand.
For the destinations you mention, the best time to travel – and this goes for fares, beds, most reliable weather (if there is such a thing these days), crowds and queues – has to be the Shoulder or Off-Peak season, known to us folks in the cattle class as spring. That’s spring down under, autumn or fall up over.
The US West Coast attracts visitors year-round but September to November is definitely the time you should consider. In summer, daytime temperatures in central Los Angeles can reach 30C officially, magnified by a factor of endless concrete to feel way hotter.
On the East Coast, temperatures peak from halfway through July to mid-September. Almost any other season is more comfortable but if you were thinking about hanging out in or around Florida, mid-August to mid-October is prime time for hurricanes.
Because it’s in the neighborhood and a favorite spot for Kiwi travellers, let’s look at Mexico, although it’s almost as hard to forecast the weather there as it is for New Zealand. We’re a few small rocks in a big ocean; it’s a giant country with microclimates and diverse topography from golden beaches to rugged canyons, sultry cities and mountain towns.
September to early November is a low season when you’ll save on costs; it’s a time of short afternoon storms, often a welcome relief from heat and humidity and a nice excuse for a siesta before the sun returns in the evenings. September is the eye of the hurricane season on both coasts. Dry, warm November may be the ideal month, both for the weather and the chance to catch Day of the Dead festivals and the monarch butterfly migrations.
Europe? See above and avoid June to early September at all costs – literally. Go a few weeks later and enjoy cooler and more pleasant weather, although there’ll likely be showers, cheaper (I use the word ironically) lodging and shorter queues. The UK Government says we can’t include Britain in the Europe chapter now, so: “See above and… etc., shorter queues.”
Southeast Asia is another vast region that’s impossible to cover in one paragraph but broadly speaking, there are two main seasons: the May to October/November rainy season and the December to April dry season. You’ll find November to February drier, less humid and slightly cooler with average temperatures around 30C.
What about South Africa? It’s pleasant in spring with average temperatures around 14C to 16C, not unlike home, between September and November, but be prepared for some cold days (this comes from a place of bitter experience).
At that time of year, you can enjoy spectacular floral festivals, see desert wildflowers bloom, sample the Cape Winelands, go whale-watching along the southern coast and thrill to some of the best wildlife sightings in places like Kruger National Park. You’ll need to plan this trip early because a lot of other people have twigged to this and the country can get quite packed.
There’s one other place where the weather is really mild, the kids have gone back to school and the parents (hopefully) are back to work at this time. You may have heard of it. It’s called Aotearoa.