Travel prices are falling like leaves on a late October afternoon in Martha’s Vineyard. No question about it, autumn will be a great time to travel — it always has been.
But where should you go? Is it safe? And most importantly, where are the leaves?
In this guide to fall travel, I’ll explain how to make the most of your autumn vacation from start to finish.
Is fall a good time to travel?
Yes. For most of the world, September through November is considered the low season. Hotel rates fall along with airfares. Prices for tours, attractions and even restaurant meals may be discounted. If you can get time off work — or if your kids can get off school — it’s an ideal time to travel.
What’s the fall travel season?
Traditionally, the fall travel season in the United States runs from the Tuesday after Labor Day until the week of Thanksgiving. Anything before that is still considered summer — and anything after that is holiday travel.
Elsewhere, here’s what fall travel looks like:
- Although the European fall travel season generally begins in September, it doesn’t end with Thanksgiving, which is not a holiday over there. (In fact, Thanksgiving is a great time to visit Europe because it’s quiet.) The season runs until the beginning of December, when a series of religious holidays usher in the high winter season.
- In the Caribbean, the end of hurricane season in late November almost immediately gives way to high season. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year are periods of super-high demand. If you visit one of the islands in the middle of November, you probably won’t find any fall bargains.
- South of the equator, in Australia and New Zealand, September, October and November are technically spring travel. They have their own set of rules, which generally depend on school holidays.
Here are my seasonal travel guides
- The ultimate guide to holiday travel
- The ultimate guide to fall travel
- The ultimate guide to summer travel
Why do people travel during the fall?
Fall may seem like an odd time to be taking a vacation. After all, summer just wrapped up, and the kids are back in school. Why leave now? But there are a lot of reasons why fall is the preferred time of year to travel for people who are in the know.
For starters, you’ll pay about 20 percent less for your trip compared to the summer or late spring. What’s more, you can sometimes have the entire destination to yourself since everyone else is back at work.
Autumn weather is remarkable in the Northern Hemisphere. In many parts of Europe, you can count on warm weather and sunny days for most of September. And then there are the pictures of Neuschwanstein Castle surrounded by colorful foliage — you can’t get those during the summer.
In short, for many experienced travelers, fall is one of the best times to travel.
What’s the outlook for fall travel in 2023?
After a record summer, travel remains expensive and chaotic. Interest in travel remains high, according to numerous surveys.
- Airfares are falling — and rising. Domestic ticket prices are down 11 percent for the third quarter, to an average round-trip fare of $257, according to the airfare app Hopper. If you’re flying to Europe, they’re down only 2 percent ($813 round-trip), but if you’re headed to Asia, ticket prices are up 4 percent from last fall ($1,417).
- Hotel rates are sliding but remain higher than last fall. The average room rate is $183 this fall, up 11 percent compared to this time in 2022, but down from summer highs of over $200 per night, says Hopper.
- Car rental rates are stalling. Preliminary booking data shows a 15 percent decline in the average car rental rate compared with last fall, says Mark Mannell, CEO of CarRentalSavers.com. Rental rates will average $45 a day, according to Hopper.
Is it safe to travel this fall?
Generally, yes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control hasn’t issued any travel warnings, and the most popular international destinations for U.S. travelers do not have any significant State Department warnings. However, the situation could change at a moment’s notice, so it’s important to look before you book and before you leave, just to be safe.
How do I save the most money when I’m traveling during the fall?
Autumn trips are usually kind to your budget because costs are lower. If you want to lower them even more, you can be a contrarian traveler. In other words, go where no one else would. For example, many beach destinations are still relatively warm in September and early October. It might be uncomfortable to swim in the ocean, but you’ll have the destination to yourself — and at a considerable discount. Avoid the traditional fall destinations like apple-picking and leaf-peeping, where prices are typically higher.
Where do I find the best leaves this fall?
If you want to join the crowds viewing the leaves, be prepared for higher prices. The most authoritative resource for leaves in the United States, the fall foliage predictor, is published by the Smoky Mountain region. You can use the slider to find the most vibrant displays of leaves. If you’re only interested in New England, consult Yankee Magazine’s foliage map. If you’re headed to Europe, you can find the most colorful leaves in Sweden, Norway and Finland in early September. For central and southern Europe, wait until October for the best leaves. (Alas, there is no European leaf predictor — yet.)
What places should I avoid during the fall?
If you want to save money and avoid crowds, stay away from popular fall travel destinations. A survey by Chase Travel finds the most popular early fall destinations in 2023 are large cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Traveling internationally? Steer clear of London, Rome, Tokyo and Paris during autumn. Also, if you’re thinking of visiting Maui, you might want to move your vacation to one of the other Hawaiian islands until they can recover from the wildfires.
What’s the cheapest time to travel during the fall?
The seven weeks between the second week of September and the first week of November are considered the lowest part of the low season in most of the United States. Low season rates are typically 20 to 40 percent off high season. As long as you avoid mountain destinations, where it’s high season for leaf peeking, you’ll probably find lower prices and fewer crowds.
When should I book my flights for a fall trip?
If you’re planning to fly within the United States in September, book your flights by the middle of August for the best price, according to Hopper. You should book your October flights before Labor Day. Prices will be lowest three to six weeks before your trip departure date, but they’ll spike in the last three weeks before departure. If you’re traveling internationally, book about a month before your trip.
How do I find the lowest prices for a fall airline ticket?
Book your flights for midweek. The least expensive days to fly this fall are Tuesday and Wednesday. The day you return matters a bit more, say airfare watchers. A midweek departure can save you around $20 round-trip compared with the weekend; a midweek return can save you around $30 round-trip on average.
If you still have a few weeks before you plan to fly, check out a site like AirHint, which will tell you if this is a good time to book a flight. You might be better off waiting. Sites like Google Flights and Kayak also have reliable airfare predictors.
How do I pack for a fall trip?
Even though many popular tourism destinations enjoy remarkably stable and mild weather, particularly during the early fall, you’ll need to make some preparations for a fall trip.
- Bring your layers. Depending on where you go, you could have summerlike conditions or it could snow. My advice: Pack clothes that will accommodate both climates. Dress in layers. Bring a warm jacket, just in case.
- Don’t forget your raincoat. As fall turns to winter, the weather becomes a little less tourist friendly. So make sure you have an umbrella or a water-proof coat with a hood to stay dry. That’s particularly true if you’re visiting a place like Vietnam, where the rainy season starts in September.
- Bring an all-weather shoe. Fall isn’t the time to make a fashion statement. The changing seasons may mean that you have to spend a few days in wet conditions. Avoid packing sandals or open-toed shoes and wear a reliable all-weather shoe that will hold up to the rigors of fall travel.
Where should I travel this fall?
Fall is my favorite time of the year to travel. This year, I’m trekking through Southeast Asia and Japan. Among my favorites: My adventure through Utah’s national parks and an exciting drive up the 101 in California with my kids. I also really enjoyed our fruit safari in the western part of Colorado.
If you’re looking for recommendations, here’s my guide to finding a qualified travel advisor.
Fall is one of the best times of the year to travel. Prices are low and popular destinations are uncrowded. This year is no exception.