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7 Affordable Destinations You Have to Take Advantage of This Fall
If you’re a spendthrift with a relentless case of wanderlust, you might already know the secret of shoulder season.
Traveling outside of a destination’s peak tourism period can mean big savings, no matter where you go.
It makes sense: Slow season arrives and visitors disappear, taking their economy-stimulating travel budgets home with them.
Members of hospitality and service industries, like hotels and rental car companies, face dwindling revenue streams.
So they respond as any good capitalist would: by decreasing prices, they incentivize more business… and save flexible travelers (like you!) a heap of money in the process.
Why You Should Take Advantage of Shoulder Season This Fall
For most North American destinations, autumn is one long shoulder season.
Parents are busy getting their kids ready for school in late August and September, and there’s little scheduled time off in October and November.
Plus, these months can be pretty unpredictable weather-wise. No one wants to spend money on a rained-out vacation, no matter how good a deal it is.
But if you’re not beholden to the public school schedule, fall is actually a fantastic time to travel. You’ll benefit from shoulder season pricing, not to mention fewer crowds. You might even get to see the leaves change.
Fall is also prime time for many local events and festivals, from crop harvests to sheep herding to Oktoberfest celebrations. You’re sure to find something fun and fall-themed at almost any destination you choose.
And although it’s impossible to knock a traditional July road trip, you might be surprised at how many popular destinations are just as wonderful — if not more so — after summer comes to a close.
7 Affordable Destinations Not to Miss This Fall
Ready to hit that traffic-free highway? Here are just a few fantastic autumn adventures to choose from.
1. St. Augustine, Florida
Yes, I am totally, shamelessly plugging my hometown. But hear me out: I’ve got good reason.
Despite what you remember from history class, St. Augustine is the actual oldest city in America; it was just settled by the Spanish instead of the Brits. Its 1565 birthday means it’s got 55 years on Plymouth Rock and 42 on Jamestown, and its long and storied history means you’ll find a fascinating mishmash of architecture, artifacts and — most importantly — food to explore during your visit.
In fact, the town’s no longer such a well-kept secret. Its appearance on best-of travel lists like this one has tourists flocking in droves.
But that’s not the case in early fall, when families face back-to-school responsibilities and snowbirds aren’t quite ready to fly the coop.
Not only will you be able to traipse around downtown without bumping into anybody (or literally melting to death in the high summer heat), you’ll also score deals on even the nicest rooms. For instance, St. Francis Inn, one of the most popular of the tiny town’s bed and breakfasts, offers $10 off their regular prices during August and September.
If you’re not a history buff, other Florida locales offer similar seasonal savings, so long as you steer clear of places like Miami or the Keys. And the state’s big — and weird — enough to have something for everyone.
Relax on Clearwater’s award-winning beaches, or head to the center of the state to explore its beautiful springs. The water is cold year round, anyway, and you won’t have to deal with an overrun campground.
2. Bar Harbor, Maine
Despite its northerly locale, this quaint coastal town stays mild well into October. You can expect temperatures in the 60s and 70s, and although there may be cloud cover, there’s relatively little chance of rain.
I’ll be honest: Bar Harbor isn’t exactly well known as an inexpensive travel destination. And all those cutesy boutiques and spas don’t slash their prices just because it’s September.
But much of the best Bar Harbor has to offer is free of charge, or nearly so. All you have to do is go outside.
Enjoy stunning views of rocky, lighthouse-studded shoreline both in town itself and at nearby Acadia National Park, which offers ample hiking trails. Meander along the surreal, granite plateaus of Cadillac Mountain.
Skip the shopping trip and splurge instead on at least one lobster dinner. As long as you avoid tourist traps, you should find that lobster less expensive than it would be at home — after all, it didn’t have to travel far!
3. Washington, D.C.
Looking for a culture-intensive getaway? There’s no better place than our nation’s capital. The Smithsonian complex alone will take you multiple days to explore fully, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Oh, and did I mention a shocking number of attractions are totally free to enter?)
D.C.’s a fairly affordable destination any time of year — it even earned a spot on this year’s Backpacker Index, a favorite of thrifty globetrotters.
But September through November are some of the best months to visit, according to U.S. News and World Report. The weather’s better, the summer tourists have filtered out and if you time it right, you can nerd out even harder by attending the National Book Festival.
4. Coastal Oregon
The northwest has a rainy reputation for a reason, but the coast remains surprisingly temperate and dry well into October.
And if Portland’s on your radar but you’ve never heard of Newport (or Yachats, pronounced “YA-hots”), trust me: You’re in for a treat.
Not a climber? Stay at sea level and see the incredible power of the ocean firsthand by visiting formations with names like Devil’s Churn and Thor’s Well. You’ll want to obey the posted warnings never to turn your back on the water, however — at least because gray whales can be spotted feeding off the Oregon coast through mid-November.
As at any waterfront, you’ll find ample opportunities to waste your money on overpriced souvenirs…
….but you can also find an adorable gem of a room at seasonally-lowered prices and some of the best seafood you’ve ever had for $10 or less. It just takes a little bit of exploration. And isn’t that the point?
5. Austin, Texas
The beauty of Austin, Texas is all about balance.
You can spend Friday or Saturday night meandering the streets, drinking in some of the best music you’ve ever heard — and, let’s be honest, perhaps more booze than you should — only to redeem yourself with a refreshing hike and a visit to the flagship Whole Foods the next morning.
Although it’s going to be warm no matter when you visit, I’ll take fall’s high 80s to summer’s 100+ degree days anytime.
And as a bonus for those who prefer to get their buzz with a side of class, October is Texas Wine Month, which means area vineyards (yes, central Texas has vineyards!) offer special tours and tastings. That means you can indulge your inner oenophile without paying Napa prices.
6. The National Parks
Obviously, this one’s a little bit more open ended, and the weather will vary depending on which of the more than 400 (!) U.S. National Park sites you’re eyeing.
But in mid-southern parks, including the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, the weather stays pleasant through Halloween. And even as far north as Glacier, you’ll see 70-degree days well into September.
And here’s the great part: You won’t have to fight insane summer traffic, either vehicular or pedestrian. Plus, although the entrance fees stay static, lodging and other travel expenses fall off at the end of tourist season.
So you’ll have the park to yourself… and pay less for the experience. No brainer.
7. Montreal, Quebec, Canada
J’aime Montreal — and you will, too, once you experience its unique mixture of European-style cosmopolitan living and gritty, it-gets-really-cold-here sensibilities. Where else can you get an authentic coq a vin for dinner after lunching on the very best smoked beef on rye you’ve ever tasted?
(And yes, this is where poutine comes from. You’re welcome.)
Plus, the US dollar is worth a bit more than Canada’s, which means when you get your cash exchanged, the bank will hand you back more bills than you gave them.
That’s a nice feeling any time of year, but especially in the fall, when the sun’s still shining, the leaves have begun to change and those oh-so-wanderable streets are just about devoid of tourists.
Do bring at least a light jacket, however, as the days will be in the 60s and evenings can dip as low as the high 40s.
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.