There’s much to be said for traveling during the off season. Lower costs and fewer crowds… but, do these benefits come at the price of reduced enjoyment during your trip? Given the fact that I work a fairly demanding full-time job, I’ve always coveted my precious vacation days and have never traveled abroad during off-season. Shoulder season, sure… but off-season has never really appealed to me. I mean, tourists flock to a location during peak season for a good reason, right?!
Every November I plan a trip abroad with my girlfriends. Because the Thanksgiving holiday provides us Americans with at least two “freebie” days off work, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a longer trip and miss less days of work. Because of my propensity to travel as close to peak season as possible, the last few years my November trips have been to destinations in Africa or Asia.
But, this year was different. Despite an amazing trip to France, I still felt Europe calling my name… but, not western Europe… southeastern Europe. My logic for this was as follows: I love eastern Europe – it’s less traveled and less touristy. I considered heading back to Poland and exploring Russia and Estonia, but concluded it would be too cold (do remember, I am a Southerner now). Next, my attention turned to Balkan countries (which I have found myself fascinated with lately), but I decided that I would prefer to travel to the coastal countries of Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro when the weather was warm, and I could get out on the Adriatic Sea.
After much research and debate, I settled on Turkey, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Malta for my off-season European adventure. If this combination of countries seem rather random to you – they are. As explained in previous posts highlighting our itineraries, the trips I take with my girlfriends are always whirlwind adventures focused on seeing as much as we possibly can in our short two weeks together.
Would I like to stay longer in any of these countries and slowly explore them city by city? Of course. But, sadly, I’m working full-time, not traveling full time, so it’s just not feasible.
Could we have chosen destinations with more logical flight patterns to save us cash? Definitely.
But, my logic is, if I am flying all the way to another continent, I’m going to see what it is I really want to see, rather than where it is most cost efficient to travel. For example, a flight to Cyprus from Turkey would have been a small portion of the cost of our flight to Malta… but, I really wanted to experience Malta. I researched Cyprus and tried to convince myself, but it didn’t work. I’m sure Cyprus is fabulous, but Malta appeals much more to my travel interests.
So – in a couple days, I’ll be headed to Europe to begin my very first off-season European Adventure…
Our girls trip starts in Malta. The country of Malta is small in size, but it certainly doesn’t lack in culture and things to do. The island is an extremely popular holiday destination for Europeans, but many Americans haven’t heard of this tiny island nation.
Malta is located south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Because of it’s location, Italian, Greek, and Mediteranian influences would be expected; however, the island also isn’t far from Libya and Tunisia either. Given its location, the country historically has been smack dab in the middle of the trading route between southern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Because of this, all of these regions have influenced Malta’s history, people and cuisine, which seems to be a delightful melting pot of cultures!
While in Malta, we will be staying in the capital city of Valletta at the British Hotel. Valletta itself seems like a fantastic historical town, but it’s also the perfect jumping off point for us to explore Mdina, the three cities and Gozo. Many tourists travel to Malta and head to the beach towns of St. Julian’s and Sliema, since Malta is known for its world class diving; however, our itinerary is focused more on the history and culture of the country, not the beaches. That said, even in November and December Malta’s “winter weather” is mild and will hit highs in the 70s… it’s pretty amazing to think we may be able to swim in Europe during winter!
From Malta we will be flying to Turkey where our first 4 days will be spent in Istanbul. Istanbul is a city that has always fascinated me. It’s been on my travel radar for years, and frankly, I’m surprised that its taken me so long to finally get there. With part of the city in Europe, and part in Asia – its truly a destination where east meets west!
Due to advice from friends, we are staying at the brand spanking new, Hammamane in the area of town called Beyoglu. Beyoglu is a “hip” area of Istanbul that is known for great shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Based on what I know thus far, it seems that if I lived in Istanbul, I would probably reside in Beyoglu. This said, the area is not near Sutammmhet, where the majority of the major tourist attractions are found. Although staying in Sultammhet puts you close to the attractions, we decided against lodging in this area because we wanted to experience a more authentic side to the city, outside tourist traps and restaurants catering to Western tourists. While in Istanbul, we’ll be partaking in a “dual continent” food tour over to the Asian side of the city with Istanbul on Food.
Related Post: Where East Meets West: Your Weekend Guide to Istanbul.
From Istanbul we fly to Cappadocia. I’m eagerly anticipating this leg of the trip – no other place on earth exists like the unique Cappadocia region in Turkey. The landscape is littered with volcanic rock formations referred to as “fairy chimneys.” Cave homes, and even complete cities, have been carved out of these formations. It went without saying that if we were heading to Cappadocia, we would most certainly be staying in a cave hotel! We’ll be basing ourselves at the gorgeous Aydnali Cave Hotel in Goreme. Aside from exploring the underground cities and the valleys filled with curious formations, I’m thrilled to be taking a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the dramatic landscape with Turkieye Balloons. (On a side note, I am positively terrified of heights, but there was no way I could travel to Cappadocia and miss out on this once in a lifetime experience)!
Related Post: Is Cappadocia Worth the Trip in Winter?
From Cappadocia we fly to Sarajevo, Bosnia. Aside from the aforementioned reasons, Turkey and Malta were also chosen as part of our itinerary because the weather will be somewhat milder in these countries in winter. I am painfully aware that this may not be the case for our time in Bosnia & Herzegovnia. In fact, a couple weeks ago it was snowing in Sarajevo! (Groan…). However, I wanted to add Bosnia to the trip itinerary so that I could begin to satisfy my curiosity with the Balkan countries. Because only a very small portion of the country is on the coast, I felt that B&H was a place I could explore in winter and not feel like I was “missing out” (like I would had we gone to Kotor or Dubrovnik).
While in Sarajevo, we’ll be staying at Hotel Bistrik and doing a war tour with Toorico Tours. Sarajevo seems to be a fascinating city with quite the story to tell. The city was flourishing in the 1980’s and hosted the 1984 winter Olympic Games, only to find itself in the midst of conflict and destruction a decade later during the Bosnian War.
Related Post: 12 Things You Must Do in Sarajevo.
Before we leave Bosnia & Herzegovinia, we’ll head to Mostar. Sadly, we’ll only be in Mostar for one night to see the famous Stari Most bridge and explore the old town. While in Mostar, we’ll be staying at Shangri La Guesthouse. After Mostar, we will fly back to the United States from Sarajevo’s International Airport.
Is this itinerary overly ambitious? Most definitely. But, I’m willing to bet that this year’s annual international girls trip will also unforgettable (for one reason or another)!
Am I anxious about the decision to attempt this trip in the off season? Absolutely. Stay tuned for future posts which will reveal whether this off-season European adventure was a wise decision or one that I’ll regret.
Have you planned a vacation during the off-season? Was your trip a blast or a bust?
Although the above hotels and companies are hosting me as their guest, as always, all opinions are my own.
CC image credits as follows: (1) Valletta: walled city by Helen M. Bushe. (2) Istanbul by Moyan Brenn. (3) Cappadocia by Moyan Brenn. (4) Sunset in Sarajevo by Film Fledgling. (5) Remember this Bridge? Mostar, Bosnia by Kashfi Halford.