The Destinations That Reward Early Birds

Travel tips

Pina Coladas Poolside in Tahiti (French Polynesia)

Conventional travel wisdom tells us to book our vacations early. That’s not always the case in practice, and let’s be honest, the arguments about the best time to book a flight will never stop. But some destinations see consistent peak periods year after year that you should be aware of if you’re planning to vacation there during that time.

New Zealand

At the opposite end of the earth lies an island nation defined by some of the most beautiful landscapes to be found anywhere – and everyone knows it. With a small population and relatively few “big” cities, many of New Zealand’s most impressive attractions are reached only via small towns where accommodation choices are of high quality, but often limited quantity. Booking between January and March? Be ready for stiff competition and higher rates as Kiwis and Aussies take their summer holidays. Beyond your hotel room, hire cars also book out during this period, and are best reserved as early as possible. If the idea of travelling with a group appeals to you, you can circumvent both problems by joining an organized coach tour. You’ll be taken to all the best destinations, with plenty of time to explore and not a care in the world about accommodation or transport.

If you’d prefer to go it alone (and accessible, English-speaking New Zealand is one of the world’s best countries for that), consider skipping the summer and try to book your trip between September and November, or April and May. From lower prices to fewer crowds in the most beautiful locales, the rewards of a New Zealand vacation at this time of year are endless.

Mountain landscape in Autumn, near Queenstown, New Zealand
Mountain landscape in autumn, near Queenstown, New Zealand

Iceland

Like New Zealand, Iceland is a naturally stunning, but small country where accommodation is in relatively short supply. It’s only getting more popular every year, and if you want to visit here in the summer, you’ll want your sleeping arrangements “put to bed” well before you arrive. All that remote beauty comes at a cost. This is one of the world’s most expensive countries, so planning ahead is crucial if you want to get the best deals.

The trick to an affordable Iceland vacation is knowing it’s a great escape at any time of year. Iceland tours run year-round, and while travellers flood through Reykjavik looking to enjoy the long, high-latitude summer days, the shorter days of winter offer an experience that’s just as spectacular, while arguably giving visitors a stronger sense of Iceland’s wilderness. It’s not as cold as you might expect either. “Unpredictable” might be a better way to describe Iceland’s weather in winter, which bottoms out at around -3°C (or 26.6°F) in January, the coolest month. Be prepared for wintry combinations of rain, wind, and snow, but nothing on par with colder parts of the US or Canada. There’s one other big advantage in skipping the summer… the Northern Lights appear only during the cooler months.

Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Iceland
Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, Iceland

Tahiti

What do Tahiti and Iceland have in common? They’re both small, remote, admittedly expensive, and showcase nature at her absolute best – at opposite ends of the climate spectrum. Tahiti also boasts that extra “dream trip” quality, and planning ahead ensures you wind up enjoying exactly that. The tropical climate creates two very different travel seasons. The dryer high season stretches from May to October. Expect higher prices, fewer deals, and a lot more competition for the ones that do pop up.

Here’s the thing, though. The “wet” season in tropical destinations often means a single downpour late in the day – at around the same time every day. This predictable pattern means very few Tahiti vacations are rained out at any time of year. Perhaps make this daily rain storm your spa or cocktail hour and spend the rest your time enjoying the spectacular scenery, endless activities, and serene waters only the Islands of Tahiti can offer.

If your trip does fall within the high season, book well in advance. Even though the Islands of Tahiti are brimming with tourism options, they’re small. A few weeks delay can be the difference between staying on the island you want and compromising. Who wants to compromise on their vacation in paradise?

Beautiful Beach on Moorea
Beautiful Beach on Moorea, Tahiti

Japan

A densely populated country with a well-developed tourist infrastructure, Japan doesn’t pose much of an accommodation challenge through most of the year. It’s during hanami, the annual Cherry Blossom season that the country goes mad with foreign tourists and holidaying Japanese alike. Adding to the confusion, there’s no telling for sure when exactly the blossoms will bloom, or how long they’ll last, though it’s typically only a week. Educated guesses are taken several months in advance, and vary widely throughout the country. This makes sense when you consider the vast differences in climate between the southern island of Okinawa, and Sapporo, far in the country’s north.

Many visitors on a Japan vacation want to experience hanami in either Tokyo, where Ueno Park and the Imperial Palace Gardens come alive with colourful booms, or Kyoto, where the short-lived flowers are in picture perfect contrast to the enduring temples of the old empire. Indeed, these popular cities don’t disappoint, and the blossoms usually arrive here in the last week or so of March. But there’s a lot of Japan outside these two cities. Consider Osaka, Nagoya, or Hiroshima, where hanami is just as beautiful, but accommodation is less in demand. Alternatively, rug up and visit in February, when the equally beautiful plum blossoms arrive, or see Japan’s colours at the opposite end of the spectrum, letting the autumn colours of October and November enchant you.

Japan can also be tight for accommodation during summer, particularly over Japanese holidays. So check the calendar before you arrive, or just avoid July and August altogether. Climate-wise, there are far nicer seasons to visit Japan.

Cherry Blossoms Along the Meguro River, Tokyo, Japan
Cherry blossoms along the Meguro River, Tokyo

Brazil

Accommodation on a Brazil vacation isn’t usually in short supply. But there’s one big, boisterous exception.

No matter what alarmist media reports might throw at Brazil, the Carnival season remains one of the world’s biggest and best parties, and there are wonderful Carnival celebrations all over the country. The season kicks off in Salvador, the country’s most African city and one of its cultural capitals. Then right before Lent come the biggest events in Sao Paulo, and of course… Rio!

And that’s where accommodation gets tricky. Rio de Janeiro’s population swells during Carnival weekend, which begins the Friday before Lent, not stopping until Ash Wednesday. Hotel bargains suddenly become few and far between, and accommodation isn’t the only issue. Planning a guided tour of Rio? Good quality private guides are in high demand, particularly during Carnival. Domestic airfares around Brazil also skyrocket during these holidays, so if you’re planning a longer Brazil vacation encompassing Salvador, Iguassu Falls, the Amazon, or the north eastern beach cities, either book well in advance, or stay in one place during the actual Carnival holiday dates (usually the Saturday to Tuesday).

If Rio is too expensive, you’re booking late, or you just want to experience a very different style of Carnival, consider spending the holiday in Sao Paulo. The city’s sambadrome parade doesn’t get nearly the attention bestowed on Rio’s, but it’s no less spectacular, quite a bit cheaper, and for now, almost empty of foreign tourists. That won’t last. With Brazil’s best dining and nightlife scenes, more and more foreigners are discovering that what “ugly, but sexy” Sao Paulo lacks in beach glamour, it more than makes up for in culture, energy, and fun.

Carnival Float in Sambadrome, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Carnival float in Sambadrome, Rio

Don’t leave getting your visa to the last minute either. In early 2017, Brazilian tourist visas through Brazil’s Toronto consulate were taking about a month to process. Don’t wait too long and miss out on a once in a lifetime Carnival experience.