PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The hordes of harried holiday travelers have cleared the concourses. Their piles of checked presents no longer crowd the baggage claim. The airfares they inflated by taking up every seat on holiday flights have started to lose their Christmas bloat.
The last three weeks of January and first few weeks of February are "dark weeks" for the travel industry, but bright spots for travelers whose savings haven't been sucked dry by holiday trips.
It's a time many potential vacationers have been scared off travel by the holiday crush they endured. A full 43% of travelers surveyed by TripAdvisor said they expected to be stressed out by their winter holiday trips. That doesn't include the 31% of travelers who were already reduced to emotional rubble by thanksgiving travel. Combine that stress with the cost of those trips -- estimated at an average $436 per person -- up from $401 last year, according to TripAdvisor -- and the lack of vacation days accrued by many American workers this early in the year and you get a population of travelers willing to tether themselves to home and earth for a while.
Empty hotel rooms, vacant airports and general lack of tourists are strong anecdotal evidence, but the numbers do a better job of telling the whole story. About 48 million passengers took trips aboard U.S. airlines last January, according to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation statistics. That's up almost 1 million passengers from January 2012, but still well below the 51.2 million passengers who caught holiday flights a month earlier in December -- and woefully shy of the 59.3 million who fly during peak season in July.There is only one month in which travelers get around less, and the 45.7 million brave souls who hit the skies this February paid for their cheap trips in terrible weather and lengthy delays. If travelers can shake off the holiday trauma and emerge from their winter shelters, there's a chance to save big and stretch out while no one's around. We consulted with the folks at TripAdvisor's travel deals site SmarterTravel and found five places that make for great "dark week" travel destinations:
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