It’s September, which is my favorite time of year to travel.
Not only is the weather almost universally nice, but as soon as those little rugrats are back in school, prices plummet and the crowds thin out pretty much everywhere you want to go.
For example, Living Social just started offering its annual 30 percent off deal to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, for only $35 per person. This is only good in the fall, which is a better time to see the animals, anyway.
Want to visit Utah’s Zion National Park? We liked the bucolic Zion Ponderosa resort nearby, and you can save 30 percent on cabins by going in the fall. Believe me, hiking in Zion is much nicer after it cools down, too.
Generally, airfare deals to everywhere start showing up around Sept. 15. So, if there’s somewhere you want to go, sign up on sites like Airfarewatchdog.com to be notified when prices plummet. Also consider signing up for airline emails; they’ll alert you to special offers.
Personally, I like ski resorts in the fall, when the weather tends to be beautiful and the leaves on the trees start blazing gold and red. Prices stay low until the snow flies and the ski lifts open, especially if you can get away during the week.
This is also the season for festivals, which many locations sponsor to lure tourists in what otherwise would be a slow time of year.
I’m taking my teens to Lake Tahoe and Big Bear for mini vacations in September, after the prices drop from their summer highs and there’s plenty of availability.
Another bonus: Most activities are still open, but with business dwindling, they start offering deals on Groupon, Living Social and the like.
However, make sure they’ll be operating when you’re in town.
For example, I found a half-price deal on Groupon to ride the Squaw Valley tram in Lake Tahoe, but the tram only runs on weekends after Labor Day, until ski season. We’re going during the week.
I recently wrote a column about how you can rent nice timeshare condos without putting out a fortune to buy one.
We’ll be staying at the Worldmark Big Bear resort, which is highly rated by guests, in a two-bedroom condo that sleeps six for $139 per night. It has a balcony with gas grill.
The resort has tennis, three hot tubs, a basketball court, game room with pingpong, air hockey and arcade, and a horseshoe pit.
We save money by cooking at home, and I think there will be enough activities at the resort to keep my teens busy without spending a fortune on additional events.
The downside of going in the fall is that the pool will be closed and the Alpine Slide operates only on weekends, but I think we can keep ourselves amused without it.
Because it’s the slow season, Groupon is offering us 35 percent off bike rentals at Paddles and Pedals, 47 percent off the climbing wall at Snow Summit, and 58 percent off paddleboard rentals at GetBoards Ride.
Up in Lake Tahoe, Groupon offers a 44 percent off deal on bike rentals at Zephyr Cove.
Want to get out of California? I love the Cedar Breaks Lodge, north of Las Vegas. You get there by driving the winding, stunningly scenic Utah Highway 143 past colorful cliffs up to Brianhead Resort.
This contemporary lodge with a beautiful atrium pool deck is offering kitchenette rooms from $122, and one-bedroom condos from $134 for the fall season, 30 percent off regular rates. This property is also a timeshare owned by Diamond Resorts, and, again, it’s an excellent value to rent, without shelling out big money to buy.
I might have to head up there myself again this fall. And, while I’m at it, let me mention that Brian Head is a great, affordable place to ski in the winter, too, with unbeatable scenery.
How about a gorgeous drive up Utah’s Provo Canyon, when all the leaves will be changing? End up at Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort, where Living Social is offering a deal, including in October, for only $234 per night, a small fraction of the ski season price.
I love Sundance; it’s such a small and relaxing resort. You feel like you’re really away from everything.
And don’t limit yourself to the Northern Hemisphere, either.
Down south, where the seasons are reversed, it’s springtime and the weather’s nice, too. Maybe think about heading to Australia, New Zealand or on safari in Africa during the shoulder season.
I don’t recommend going to the Caribbean or coastal Mexico right now, unless you buy good travel insurance, due to the risk of hurricanes.
But, if you are willing to risk it, and can tolerate humidity, you can find excellent rates at the more hurricane-prone properties. Check CheapCaribbean.com and see what’s on offer.