Here in my hometown of Orlando a funny thing starts to happen around this time of the year. It’s the start of tourist season. Thousands of tourists descend upon the city to visit the theme parks and other attractions the area has to offer. The thing is- summertime is the worst time to come visit central Florida. The weather is quite hot and humid. Temperatures often get into the mid-90’s. Then there are the thunderstorms that start up at 2pm like clockwork nearly every day. The lightening often shuts down outdoor rides for hours and closes down the water parks. Plus with so many people packing into the parks, the parks reach capacity and stop letting people in. The crowds also mean that line wait times can soar into the 90+ minute range. Even away from the parks, other attractions like the beaches still tend to be crowded. To top it all off, it’s also the middle of hurricane season, so it only takes a hurricane or a strong tropical storm to rain out a trip.

The reason I find the whole “tourist season” so strange is that I can’t understand why families would spend thousands of dollars to come at the worst time of the year when they could come in the fall, spring or winter instead and tour Orlando under much more pleasant conditions. I went to Epcot in Febuary for my birthday and was able to ride my favorite ride, Soarin’, 4 times that day and never waited more then 15 minutes for it. I also rode other rides multiple times and finished off the night with a nice dinner in France, all while enjoying the pleasant mid-60’s temperatures. If I had gone in the middle of the summer, the day would have been more misery then enjoyment for me.

That day proved to me the importance of choosing when you go traveling someplace can be just as important as where you’re traveling to. If you go somewhere during a major holiday, you may be facing large crowds, overbooked lodging, or arriving and finding that most businesses have shut down. Or if you time an outdoor trip for the springtime, you might arrive just to see everything in the peak of blooming. There might be special events going on at certain times of the year that are worth seeing. Things like that can have a large impact on how enjoyable a trip is.

Of course, it may not be possible to avoid crowds if a special event is going on. For example, one of my life goals is to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Since that event draws large crowds, my stragedy for going there will be to book things like flights well in advance of the trip. This will help avoid getting shut out entirely or having to pay high prices at the last minute.

So what is the best way to figure out the best time to go? I find google searches tend to turn up answers pretty quickly. Guide books are another good resource. Knowing specifically what you want to see will help get more detailed answers- ie “When is tulip season in Holland?” (March to mid-May).

One twist on this is to go to a place at a time of the year that you might not normally visit it. I went skiing in Whistler, BC last year and was surprised to find out that during the summer much of the ski resort is turned into a place to do lots of scenic biking and hiking. Going at the low season can also yield bargains. For example, cruises to the Caribbean are often marked down during the wintertime due to lower demand, even though the boat and other services are the same as during the summer.

In the end, the when is just as important as the where when it comes to trip planning. The difference in dates could mean the difference between an average trip and an amazing one.