As an American family living in Italy we get to see some of the most popular vacation destinations in our area during all seasons of the year. Pisa, Lucca, and Florence are all cities we get to visit often in all types of weather and at various levels of crowding. Since many other areas of Italy are quick drives, we can travel off season for a weekend trip to Ravenna or Venice and avoid some of the downsides of summer travel. More recently we ventured off the boot and over to Greece, visiting Athens and Crete the third week of November, far from high season travel. We were a little worried about having a less enjoyable experience visiting in the off season but we were proved wrong. We enjoyed our trip so much I decide to summarize why you should aim for off-season travel when bringing your little ones.
It Can Be More Affordable
Traveling off season usually means better flight prices and definitely better lodging rates. This past summer we went back to the USA in August, which the height of Italian holiday and it was difficult for me to find a good deal on our flights. The year before I went in September, when schools are starting back up (yay little ones too young to worry about a school schedule!) and the flights were hundreds of dollars less.. Multiplied by 4 tickets and we are talking about upwards of $1000 saved. In the case of us flying to Athens, there were less flights available than there would be in the summer, but the flights were reasonably priced. What really made this trip a good deal though was lodging. We traveled with another family of 4 and stayed in a 3 bedroom AirBnB apartment in Athens and a 4 bedroom villa in Crete. Off season pricing meant not only did I have a large variety to choose from, but prices were amazing and the value was superb.
There’s More Elbow Room
So that reasonably priced flight to Athens we just took? Well perhaps the best thing about it was that none of our planes were ever full and the airports were calm too. With a 5 and 3 year old with us, waiting in lines is the worst part of any airport experience but we literally walked right into bag checkin and security in Rome, Athens, and Crete airports. Though we did use our lounge access during our layover in Athens it was just to get some free wine, and not to escape a crazy crowded airport. It wasn’t just the airports that were relatively empty and relaxed, but the main streets in Plaka were all ours. We could see the Acropolis at 3pm without sweltering heat, sunscreen, or hoards of tourists. In fact I never saw a tour group more than maybe 5 or 10 people, if that. We could wander into shops, sit at restaurants, and hail a cab without any crowds.
On Crete we had a beach all to ourselves! The sun was shining hard and our kids thought that the 75F weather was perfect for a dip in the water, so in they went. Were some things closed on the island? Sure. Did we have plenty of places to eat and drink, even beachside? Yes! We didn’t expect a beach day in November but we enjoyed the unexpected afternoon for sure.
Less Crowds = More Spontaneity
Because we didn’t have to worry about crowds, we didn’t have to even think about advanced tickets, planning our days around the crowds or booking any advanced reservations. Without the summer heat we didn’t have to plan for stops with air conditioning or avoiding the hottest part of the day with our little ones. We were able to wake up and decide what we wanted to do that day, or even change the plan by the hour. We successfully booked a private food tour less than 24 hours in advance, and easily got tables for 8 at every taverna in Crete where we wanted to eat. It was amazing!
This isn’t the case just in Greece either. In Italy, some places like Florence always just seem crowded and busy. But from personal experience I can tell you that the crowds in November and December are nothing compared to the crowds in July and August, where you’re adding the heat to the mix. Yes, cold and rain can be a hassle too, but I’d rather bundle up or pack some rain boots for the kids than worry about heat stroke. My husband took his parents to Rome the first of November and had no problem walking right up to book a tour at the colosseum, no skip the line scheduled booking needed. In Pisa you can easily get a spot to climb up the leaning tower during the off season, no reservations needed. The spontaneity off season travel gives you is priceless when traveling with young kids too, because we know how quickly their moods and desires can change.
Obviously missing school and traveling during school breaks will be an issue once our kids get a bit older, but for us that just means that Thanksgiving might be a better time for international travel than Spring Break, you just have to sacrifice the turkey dinner.