The first time I visited Istanbul, I was short on cash and long on time. I was visiting friends who had found me a free apartment to stay in for almost a month, so I booked a ticket to Turkey, not knowing much about the country or when to go. The apartment was empty, of course, because I was going in January. In tourist advertisements, Turkey is a sun-kissed Mediterranean paradise with palm trees and beaches as far as the eye can see. Visits back to the country since my first time have shown this to be true (and I have the sunburn to prove it!) but the first time I went, I was in for a surprise.
Turkey during high season: Blue skies and tourists
Needless to say, I did not get the beaches of my fantasy. Istanbul in January is rainy and cold. I spent much of the trip under an umbrella or multiple layers. Although I’m a Chicagoan and therefore prepared to deal with a myriad of temperatures, the rain surprised me. Rather than be disappointed at the weather, however, I realized that there were a number of advantages to low season travel, at least to Istanbul.
Not every day was rainy!
Firstly, the prices. Prices during low season are a lot lower than during high season, especially in popular tourist destinations like Istanbul. I was able to save a significant amount of money at restaurants, tourist sights, and while shopping for souvenirs. For cash-strapped me, this was heaven.
Another great benefit of visiting Istanbul during January was the lack of tourists and ability to see the real culture. This perk was unexpectedly what made my trip so great. No lines, anywhere, for anything and no other tourists to share sights with. I wandered on into the Hagia Sofia and had the place practically to myself. Although the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Istanbul’s other otherworldly sights are amazing even with tourists, there’s something magical about visiting them all by yourself. I also took a trip to Ephesus, and seeing the ruins with only my small group and another family there was spectacular. The lack of tourists also allowed me to really observe Turkish culture. When I’m the only Westerner at a restaurant, I learned so much more about what life in Turkey was like than when I was surrounded by fellow tourists as I was on my second and third visit.
A very empty Ephesus
However, you can’t travel during the low season anywhere and expect a great time on the cheap. Some destinations should be avoided during the low season, depending on what you’re interested in doing. An safari during July in South Africa might not be as fun as one in December (remember, their summer is the Northern Hemisphere’s winter!). Traveling to Southeast Asia during Monsoon season is a bad idea, as is the Caribbean in autumn because you don’t want to find yourself in a hurricane. Although there are a number of advantages to low season travel, it’s not universally applicable. It shouldn’t be dismissed immediately, however. Low season travel can lead to some of the most rewarding trips.