TIME TO REBOOT
Waving goodbye to children leaving home can be highly emotional for parents. As difficult as it can be to get used to an empty nest, parents can look forward to having the freedom for a child-free getaway — at a lower price than they would pay for a family vacation. Good deals abound during the “shoulder season” between summer travel and the winter holidays, as hotels and attractions are eager to lure visitors.
With hurricane season running through November, traveling to the Caribbean in the fall can be risky, but prices are low. Minimize the chances of a rained-out vacation by heading south: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago are rarely affected. Even so, some restaurants close and hotels undergo renovations during the off-season, so choices may be limited. Be sure to ask for a room away from any construction to minimize noise.
After sailing the same routes all summer, some cruise ships switch their main ports for the season, and passengers can find discounted rates on one-way repositioning cruises. Ships might travel between Europe and the Caribbean, or between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts via the Panama Canal. Keep in mind that there is no return trip, and the price doesn't include flights to or from the ports.
Aside from holiday weeks such as Thanksgiving, October and November are off-season months in Maui, when prices are typically lower. That's great news for those on a budget, because the weather is still well-suited for beach lounging and snorkeling. Temperatures fluctuate between the high 60s and mid-80s, and the water temperature stays in the upper 70s. Whale watching is best from November through May, but the rain does pick up as winter approaches.
Disney World is generally a family destination, but plenty of adults enjoy visiting on their own. And there are ways to do Disney on a budget: Late August and the entire month of September are optimal for low crowd levels and cheaper accommodations. That said, the heat can be intense and fall is the rainy season in Orlando, Florida, so afternoon thunderstorms should be expected.
Vegas isn't as cheap as it used to be, but Sin City still has plenty of cheap entertainment options adults can enjoy. There are many free and inexpensive attractions — and, don't forget, drinks are often free when playing casino games (even the cheap slots).
Summer is prime tourist season in Chicago, and during the winter the Windy City lives up to its nickname. In the fall, though, the weather is mild and crowds have started to wane. Visit Lincoln Park Zoo or Lincoln Park Conservatory, both of which offer free admission. Millennium Park, a 24.5-acre expanse of green space, cultural activities, and public art, is just east of the Loop and also free to explore.
NEW YORK CITY
The Big Apple is never a budget destination, but some months are cheaper than others. The period between September and early November offers some of the best weather, as well as respite from the summer tourists and winter holiday crowds. The city is abundant with free and cheap entertainment, but the real treat when traveling without kids is being able to enjoy museums, rooftop bars, or a stroll through Central Park at your leisure.
Late summer and early fall are the time for crushing and harvesting grapes at California wineries. This is also peak tourist season, and prices can be high. Instead, visit during the first few weeks of November, when prices drop and there aren't so many lines at tasting rooms but the smell of grapes still hangs in the air.
Those looking to travel in late fall may want to consider San Diego. The southern California city stays warm throughout the year, and it's not uncommon to have days in the 60s throughout November. Time a visit to coincide with one of the city's November festivals, such as the San Diego Jazz Fest (Nov. 21-25).
Visitors can expect plenty of heat and some rain, but temperatures drop and rainfall tapers off in September in New Orleans. It's off-season in the Big Easy, and there's still plenty to do, including many free and cheap activities. In the fall, there are several food festivals, such as the Carnaval Latino (Oct. 13-14), and Oktoberfest (Oct. 5-6, Oct. 12-13, and Oct. 19-20).
While the heat makes the summer the cheapest time to visit Sedona, late October and November are also budget-friendly months — sans triple-digit temperatures. The natural beauty of the area is one of the largest draws, and there are lots of great hikes nearby for all skill levels. The Grand Canyon is also only about two hours away and relatively uncrowded during the fall. Visitors should bring a warm layer for the evenings. Sedona's 4,500-foot elevation means temperatures may drop to the high 30s at night.
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
September and October can be two of the best months to visit Vancouver, as hotel rates drop, tourist crowds thin, and relatively sunny weather shows off the scenery to its best effect. Visitors can take a short, steep hike up Grouse Mountain for a great view, or opt for an easier stroll in Stanley Park. Fall also brings a few festivals to the city, including the Fringe Festival celebrating the performing arts (Sept. 6-16), with tickets starting at $15. The Vancouver International Film Festival (Sept. 27 to Oct. 12) is one of the largest in North America. Six-ticket packs are $84.
After the peak tourist season ends in August, prices drop along with the temperature in this North Atlantic nation. Iceland has about 13 hours of sunlight daily in September and an opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights). Early fall is also when one of the country's oldest traditions takes place — the réttir, or annual rounding-up of sheep. Iceland is close enough for a short getaway from the East Coast; a flight is less than six hours from New York.
London is never cheap, but there is a more favorable dollar-to-pound exchange rate since the Brexit vote. The busy season lasts through September, so plan a trip for October or November to maximize savings. Rain or shine, there are always plenty of free things to do including museums, the indoor Borough Market, and watching the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Many people make leaf-peeping trips an annual tradition in the fall, when the green leaves of summer turn glorious shades of orange, red, and yellow. In the Northeast, it's hard to go wrong: Vermont's Green Mountains, New Hampshire's Lake Regions, and the Adirondack Mountains in New York are all hot spots. Out west, Leavenworth or the Enchantments in Washington, McKenzie Pass in Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge, which runs between both states, are golden.