Last February, I searched for a vacation rental in Door County, the wayward spear of Wisconsin that juts into Lake Michigan, for an early May getaway, confident that I had beaten the summer rush to the popular vacation spot. But Airbnb occupancy calendars for lovely converted farmhouses and log cabins were already full.
When I called a local vacation home rental agency, the agent said they were almost completely booked through the summer. That’s how I ended up in a one-bedroom shack last spring with a wobbly card table in an ant-infested kitchen and a new awareness of the shrinking off-season.
From Miami to communities around national parks like Zion in Utah and Joshua Tree in California, high-occupancy rates during traditionally off-season times of the year are muddling what was normally a reliable way to save money — traveling when few others are.
Continued work-from-anywhere policies have freed travelers from their homes, and as they have flocked to places like Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the Florida Keys, lodging rates have soared.
In 2020, a survey from Booking.com found that 58 percent of American travelers were more likely to travel during off-peak seasons — to avoid crowds and the risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 — than they were before the pandemic. In 2021, it found the sentiment grew: Nearly seven in 10 travelers said they would choose an alternative destination to avoid peak season.
But there are bargains to be had. Consider traveling mid-week, the new “off-season.” Or travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas.