5 Off-Peak Travel Destinations to Book Now

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- Off-peak travel is the last refuge of globe-trotting introverts who want to be where the people aren't.

Off-peak travelers are the type of folks who use Yogi Berra's "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded" malapropism as their guide when choosing a vacation destination. A beachfront vacation in the summer? Who needs the traffic? A ski lodge in the winter? What, are we qualifying for the Olympics? New England foliage tours in the fall? Those withering leaves' last gasps are far less painful than the crowds at the syrup stands.

The off-peak traveler's hell is other people, and deft planning and a nose for deals are all that protects a recluse seeking rest and relaxation from the 86% of travelers TripAdvisor says are planning trips before winter. That horde is up from 74% last year and seems fixated on clogging the foliage routes (43%), packing the vineyards while draining their barrels (29%) and getting their fill of pumpkin whoopie pies and corn mazes at local fall festivals (23%).

Their most popular fall destinations are New York City, Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago and San Francisco, which leaves plenty of options. For those who don't want to spend the money on peak destinations or to be caught amid the cider-chugging crowds and cool-weather winos, we put together some off-peak suggestions from our friends at SmarterTravel. The foot traffic in these places is pretty light this time of year, but the payoff is big for those willing to stay once the peak crowds have dissipated:

Within the past year, Curacao became an independent nation within the Netherlands, convinced Continental Airlines ( UAL) to start a direct route to its airport from Newark, N.J., and got Hyatt ( H) to add its Regency to dozens of hotels in its capital city of Willemstad. Potential visitors should pardon it if the celebration continues long after the high season.

The island gets a lot more affordable once fall arrives, yet still finds it necessary to lure travelers with offers such as its Curacao on Sale promotion. The sale provides 50% off hotel and resort stays and discounts on tours, diving and other island distractions for bookings from Oct. 15 through Dec. 15. Island hotels get in on the action as well with Hotel 't Klooster offering $185 suites for stays through December before bumping the price to $220 per night for stays Dec. 17 through mid-April. The Trupial Inn Hotel & Casino goes even cheaper by offering a standard double room for $125 a night until Dec. 15, when it jumps to $150 and stays that way until spring.

Those who take the plunge and stay in Willemstad will find themselves immersed in a Dutch city full of restaurants and European shopping and surrounded by white-sand beaches, Southwest-style plains, mountains, caves and average high temperatures that still hover around 90 degrees in October and November.

So what's the catch? Well, there's the pesky little problem of fall being hurricane season in the Caribbean. While this makes other islands an iffy proposition around this time of year, Curacao lies just south of the traditional hurricane belt and has never had a hurricane make landfall during the National Hurricane Center's existence. That didn't stop Tropical Storm Tomas from dropping 10 inches of rain there last November, but considering the previous tropical storms to hit the island came in 1996 and 1988, Curacao seems to be done for the decade.

"Curacao has been coming on the map in the last couple of years," says Anne Banas, editor of SmarterTravel. "Curacao, though it's in the Caribbean, is much closer to South America, so you get the same discounts that you get at other Caribbean islands without worrying about a tropical storm."

Tybee Island, Ga.
The beaches, dunes, pier, pavilion, 275-year-old lighthouse and bed-and-breakfasts on this Georgia barrier island teem with tourists during the summer months, but get just the slightest bit lonesome once the kids go back to school.

Fortunately for off-season visitors, the price of a Tybee Island vacation drop right along with the temperatures. The Captain's View vacation rental house, for example, offers sleeping room for six just 200 yards from the beach for $250 per night in the summer, but drops that rate to $175 until Halloween and trims it to $150 as of Tuesday.

Full-service resorts such as the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort only sweeten the pot, dropping the price of a package including an ocean-view room, breakfast, champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries and dinner for two from $159 per person per night in the summer to $129 during the fall. Even at more high-end establishments such as the Lighthouse Inn Bed & Breakfast, rates fall from $199 per night in summer to $189 through October and $179 in November and December.

It's not as if Tybee Island shuts down once the summer tourists leave. The island hosts a pirate festival in early October, an arts festival a week later and holiday events throughout December. The island doesn't get too worked up about Atlantic hurricane season, either, as the last storm to hit the island was Hurricane David in 1979. The storms before that came in 1940 and 1898.

Even if the island isn't as exciting as offseason visitors hoped, it's only 20 minutes from Downtown Savannah and a cheaper, more serene alternative to staying in the city.

"It's a deal because it's very much a summer destination," Banas says. "People just aren't thinking to go there this time of year."

Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Discounts in a ski town can get as steep as a double-diamond trail when visitors forgo flakes for foliage. "A lot of people think people go to the mountains mostly to go skiing in the winter, but in the summer people rent cabins and go hiking," Banas says. "Fall is sort of in the middle, but has the added beauty of the foliage along with the hiking and outdoor stuff, while not being too cold to do any of it."

Starwood's Mammoth Mountain Ski Area draws the crowds during the cold months, but the hiking, mountain bike trails and foliage-lined mountain roads make Mammoth Lakes a must-see spot before the skiers arrive. Just 40 miles from Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lakes inspired Ansel Adams to share its scenery with the world but looks much better in color to those who get an offseason deal and see it firsthand.

The Westin ( HOT) Monache offers one of the deepest discounts of the season through its Fall Colors package. Rates range from $189 per night and come with breakfast and a map of fall foliage locations, though unpackaged rates can run as little as $179 per night. Those same rooms go for $450 and up once the the snow falls.

If offseason travelers need fall prices to drop a bit further, the lakeside Tamarack Lodge's Fall Colors Special includes a room, a bottle of wine at check-in, daily continental breakfast, a two-hour boat-and-fishing-rod rental and guided hikes for $98 per night, based on double occupancy midweek, for stays through Nov. 7. By comparison, midweek winter room rates start at $139.

If Mammoth Lake seems a bit remote, Mammoth Yosemite Airport makes it a lot closer by bringing in year-round Alaska Airlines ( ALK) flights from Los Angeles.

Nantucket, Mass.
In between the summer hours New Englanders spend fighting Expressway traffic down to vacation homes on Cape Cod or the islands and the winter weekends they spend bracing said homes for Nor'Easters, there's a seasonal sweet spot when they have the place to themselves.

Summer on Nantucket is lovely and all, but fall there can make vacationers feel like islands unto themselves. The crowds are gone, the crazy prices left with them and serene beaches and scallop season are all that remain for those willing to take the ferry once the weather turns chilly.

"Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are such expensive destinations in the high season and so many people go in the summer," Banas says. "In the fall, it just really slows down."

It's a big reason why big-ticket resorts such as the White Elephant drop rates from a high of $730 a night during the summer to as low as $195. It's why the Jared Coffin House lets rooms it charges $230 a night for during the summer go for $125 from October through December. Each hotel is also offering $25 dinner credits on meals over $100 at the Brant Point Grill and two $25 spa treatment credits.

Martha's Vineyard also isn't beyond baiting offseason travelers with discounts to lure them across the water. Its Kelley House Hotel is staying open during the offseason and dropping room rates from a summer high of $350 a night to an offseason starting price of $89.

Do you wish your offseason deals came in more of a spring pattern? They could if you're willing to hoof it to the Southern Hemisphere.

Argentina's favorable exchange rate, low offseason charges and sublime spring temperatures in the center of the country make this a great time to sample the bisteca, drink the malbec and take in the scenery as Buenos Aires goes into bloom. Even if the city's not your scene, the Cafayate Wine Resort on a sprawling vineyard in Northwest Argentina rewards travelers who can wait until December with rooms starting at $112, down from November's $135.

When the bottom of the world beckons, rates at the El Casco Art Hotel in Patagonia drop from $310 a night to $280 for bookings through mid-December.

"Airfare obviously might be a bit more expensive than traveling domestically, but it's probably going to still be cheaper than going to Europe," Banas says. "Even if that's not the case, you're going internationally to a city that's interesting and culturally vibrant and your ground costs are going to be a lot less than in Europe and some other international destinations.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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