Timing your trip
When to travel, and when to book travel
Everything you need ot know about timing your trip: What time of year to travel and how far in advance to book things.
So, when should you travel? The usual answer is whenever you can get the vacation time. It may have to be summer, when the kids are out of school or your work schedule slows down.
If you can hand-pick the dates for your trip, however, consider these facts: Summer is usually high season when everything is up and running in Europe, but everything is crowded as well, and the temperature is often sweltering. There will be colorful folk festivals, but horrendous museum lines.
On the other hand, Christmas in Paris can be lovely, but many people don't want to spend their vacations all bundled up against the cold.
The best travel time in general? Mid spring (late April/early May). The worst? August, especially August 15 through 31.
Personally, I reserve in advance my airfare, rental car, a marquee event or two, and the first and last nights' lodgings (so as to remove that stress)—but try not to book the rest of the trip.
The best timing when it comes to much of travel is "right now"—and it's hard to embrace those unplanned opportunities, happenstances, serendipity, unexpected festivals, and other strange travel suggestions when your entire trip has been pre-programmed.
(Special occasions are an exception to this rule, of course—though I did book all the details for my New Zealand wedding—from the rented house on the Coromandel to the local celebrant and photographer—only five weeks before I was standing on the each saying "I Do.")
- First and last nights: 1-2 weeks out.
- Particular lodgings: If there is a hotel or other accommodation you have your heart set on, book a room as soon as your travel dates are set.
- All others: 2-3 weeks max—but really 1-3 days ahead (at least call around by early afternoon).
- If there's a festival or trade show in town: As soon as you can.
When to book car rentals
When to book escorted tours
- 2 to 6 months out, depending on how small they are and frequently they run (if there are relatively few departures, you need to snag a seat early).
When to book walking tours and activities
- 1-2 weeks (unless its a marquee event for your trip—rafting trip, night at the opera, etc.—in which case ASAP). You can often just show up for these, but I have often found them sold out a day or two in advance, so I play it safe by going ahead and reserving them.