Christopher Elliott | Special to USA TODAY
Here come the crowds! You knew it would happen sooner or later: Everyone will try to go on vacation this spring and summer, if the predictions are accurate. At the same time.
Can you stay away from the mass of humanity that’s on the move?
“Avoiding the crowds might feel impossible,” says Henley Vazquez, co-founder of Fora, a travel agency. “But even in the most popular areas, there are ways to be close to everything without being in the middle of the crowds.”
One of her favorite tips is narrowly avoiding a popular destination during peak travel times. “For example, if you’re heading to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, try Praiano instead of Positano,” she says. They’re just a 15-minute drive apart. Praiano is quiet and charming, like Positano would be if it were not overrun by Americans.
So what else do the pros say? If you make small changes to when and where you go, you can avoid a crush of camera-toting tourists. But you have to act soon, experts say.
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Travel outside the season if you can
To find an uncrowded place, skip the peak season and shoulder season. It’ll be full, experts predict.
“Increased work flexibility and the desire to avoid peak season, even at higher prices, has led to the end of shoulder season,” says Scott Shatford, CEO of AirDNA. “The extended summer is here to stay.”
Instead, plan your vacation during the off-season. For example, late November and early December are terrific times to visit Portugal. The hotels in the country’s Alentejo region are practically empty. If you can make it to the Azores, the island chain in the middle of the Atlantic, you’ll find only a few other guests during the off-season. But the locals will tell you to avoid summer.
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Avoid crowded accommodations
Traditional hotels overfill quickly during high season. There’s no worse way to start your vacation than to stand in a long line at an overbooked hotel with your kids asking you when they can eat. There’s a better way.
“To avoid crowds and achieve more privacy and peace of mind – especially amid new COVID-19 variants – consider booking a vacation rental rather than a traditional hotel,” says Lauren Gumport, a spokeswoman for Guesty, a vacation rental platform. “Not only do they enable you to avoid crowded common areas, like lobbies and elevators, they also provide more comfortable amenities for traveler groups like families – from full kitchens to outdoor space to bigger closets.”
Unlike past years, there should be no shortage of rentals in 2022. Guesty says the number of U.S. vacation rental hosts has grown by 27% since the onset of the pandemic in 2019.
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Get off the beach
They’re notoriously crowded for spring break and summer. Even if you get your own boat – which can be expensive – people are staying away from the overcrowded ports. GetMyBoat, a company that handles private boat rentals and charters, says more of its customers are heading to lesser-known destinations in their watercraft.
“We’re also seeing a lot of boat bookings in smaller towns and locations outside of the main tourist spots, indicating that travelers might be opting to travel off the beaten path a bit,” says GetMyBoat spokeswoman Val Streif.
For example, instead of heading to Miami, people are renting in nearby Key Largo, she says. As a former Conch myself, I can say that’s an excellent choice. Key Largo has some of the best boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, and seafood restaurants on this side of the Atlantic. Insider tip: Avoid lobster “mini-season” at the end of July. My favorite time of the year in the Keys is late September.
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Timing is everything
If you’ve ever lived at a popular tourism destination, then you’ve had a chance to watch the ebb and flow of visitors. And you know there are times when it unexpectedly gets quiet. I remember the week before Thanksgiving in Sedona, Arizona, last year, which was quieter than I expected. Or Oahu in Hawaii two weeks before Christmas, also pretty chill.
So when Mark Miller, a retired logistics manager from White Bear Township, Minnesota, told me he was taking his oldest granddaughter to Yellowstone National Park in mid-June, I thought he’d have to contend with the rest of America. But no. It turns out he’d made the same trip last year and found it surprisingly sane.
“We experienced crowds at only two sites: Mammoth and Old Faithful,” he says. The only potential issue will be the climate, he says. “Hopefully, the weather won’t be too cold.”
But maybe the most important strategy for avoiding lots of people this spring and summer is to do something now.
“Don’t wait until it’s too late,” advises Fora’s Vazquez. “For many, the appeal of the classics – the California coast, the French Riviera, the European capitals – is too strong to stay away. So book soon to be sure you’re not left without space. And fly midweek instead of on the weekend to navigate around airport hassles.”
This is how the experts avoid summer crowds
Work with a specialist. Some tour operators are known for familiarity with uncrowded travel spots. For example, Insight Vacations’ Country Roads tours go off the well-trodden tourist path, visiting remote places and interacting with locals. “The demand for these trips has been incredible, and bookings are far outpacing pre-pandemic levels,” says Guy Young, the company’s president.
No copycat vacations. Tracy Schatz, president of Elite Travel Journeys, says people shouldn’t mimic other vacations. “The one mistake I see the most is that people listen to where their friends and family have gone and basically copy those itineraries,” she says. When they do, it creates a higher demand at that location, higher prices and a worse experience. “I find that giving families other options helps them to see destinations in a light they hadn’t thought of,” she adds.
Go the distance. That’s the advice of Mark Hoenig, the co-founder of VIP Traveler, a company that pairs artificial intelligence-driven recommendations with travel planners. He says travelers willing to travel the extra mile to remote, off-the-beaten-path islands will find unspoiled beaches, minus the crowds. “That extra flight leg or post-airport drive to somewhere slightly harder to get to will ensure you encounter fewer travelers,” he adds.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.