Keen to go to Thailand but want to avoid the gap year crew? Always dreamed of seeing the northern lights but not sure when you're most likely to catch them? What about a staycation to the Lake District? It’s a big old world out there and seeing it all takes planning. There are no hard and fast rules – if you’re up for a high-summer sizzle on a Balearic beach, then so be it. But if you want to get savvy, freelance travel writer, Anna Melville-James, has put together a go-to travel calendar to make sure you’re always in the right place at the right time…
Head for: The Southern Hemisphere, all sunshine and parties while we’re huddled up against the winter sleet. King of the bunch is Cape Town, hot, relaxed and no jet lag thanks to a two-hour time difference. Oman and Dubai are also hot, without feeling like God left the grill on – both around 24 degrees. January is prime Caribbean time, but avoid price-heavy Barbados and head somewhere lower key like the Dominican Republic. The wild card for January is Venice, a city that wrestles back its mystery and romance from the summer hoards. In winter it’s misty, a little flooded, empty and utterly beautiful.
Avoid: Stockholm, gloomily cold with short days and a sunset at 3pm.
Head for: Lapland to see the northern lights – temperatures are higher than January, with fewer snow clouds and more chance of clear skies to see the show. Valentines should head to Marrakech, to enjoy the romance of sunny weather and off season room rates. Rome too is another hectic city that benefits from off-season heel cooling. For a vitamin D blast think about Goa as beaches empty out between now and monsoon season. Book ahead and negotiate great rates from hoteliers keen to keep rooms occupied.
Avoid: Iceland, where it’s storm season – 53 of them in the first 70 days of 2015 alone.
Head for: Koh Samui, where March offers low cloud cover and the highest visibility in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand – perfect for scuba divers. Other good spring options include California, warming up, but still relatively crowd-free – especially in national parks such as Yosemite. Love Paris in the springtime? It’s a song, so you know it’s good – take a brolly though, and a lover. Or bag a bargain with late-season, high-altitude skiing in the Austrian and French Alps – at Soelden, Tignes or Val Thorens – bonus; sunny days and longer lift openings. The towns may be beginning to close up, but there’s still enough snow, fondue and beer for one last cheap hurrah.
Avoid: Canada, where melting snows and regular rain make for a soggy stay.
Head for: Southern Europe, where things start heating up now - it’s a top time for Sicily or Andalusia in southern Spain. OK, it’s not quite bikini weather yet, but temperatures and flight prices are perfect for city breaks to places like Palermo and Seville. The Caribbean is still going strong in April – book for the end of the month and you’ll find better deals and emptier islands. You’ll have to put up with crowds though in Tokyo as it’s the cherry blossom season, but some events are worth the extra crush – just remember to book accommodation well ahead.
Avoid: Cancun in Mexico, popular with US students on their infamous (boozy) Spring Break.
Head for: The Scottish Highlands, where the wildflowers are out and you can enjoy the scenery without getting shredded by midges. Elsewhere, Europe’s pleasantly warm in places usually oven baked in summer such as Crete and Portugal, with pre-high season prices. It’s tulip time in The Netherlands, but play your dates right and enjoy Amsterdam and the flower fields outside without crowds – go on one of the two UK May bank holidays, when the Dutch are still at work. May to September is also the best time to visit South Africa’s game parks – and happily also low season so prices are moderate. It gets chilly though, so pack warm.
Avoid: Egypt; May’s khamasin desert wind often causes heatwaves of over 40 degrees.
Head for: Yellowstone National Park, the oldest in the US, in Wyoming where geyser activity and grizzly bear spotting are at their height. Best of all, the park is two million acres, so you don’t have to worry about seeing anyone else, even in high season. Another world away is Iceland – June is blue whale-watching time and even if that means a few more people in Reykjavik here and there, you’ll soon lose them while exploring the virtually uninhabited rest of the island. Closer to home, June is a great time to explore Cork and other places in southern Ireland - stats prove it is the driest month of the year here.
Avoid: Venice - the crowds and mosquitos are legion.
Head for: Sweden or Norway for midnight sun, lengthening the days, especially above the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set for weeks. The party vibe is everywhere, with bars and cafes open til the early hours. Plus you get the chance to do everything from play golf to swim in the sea at midnight, all in broad daylight. Continue the party vibe in the USA where 4th July celebrations in New York, Philadelphia and Washington are American-big and free. In the southern hemisphere it’s winter, which offers a rethink on options. New Zealand’s ski season, for example is in full flow in July, but coincides with low season and some of the cheapest flights all year.
Avoid: India, racking up the rain in monsoon season.
Head for: Kenya, where the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara beats the annual migration to the choked beaches of Europe hands down. If you do have to get a beach fix though, then pick a local hero – the Spanish head for the white sand of the rugged northern Basque country or wind-cooled Tarifa on the Costa de la Luz in southern Spain. If you’re looking for villa chill then landlocked Umbria in Italy is the savvy travellers’ choice, as the Italians head for the coast and the Brits to Tuscany, leaving it quiet and cheap even in August.
Avoid: The French Riviera, where the rest of France decamps to on holiday.
Head for: Ibiza, winding down from the summer parties, is a September gem - the crowds have gone, temperatures are still mid-20s and accommodation is half the price – as are most nightclub admissions. It’s wet season in the Maldives, but don’t let that put you off – great deals now balance out the odd quick shower – while India’s monsoon season has just finished, leaving the country fresh and lush, and as it’s shoulder season here, prices are a steal. At the other end of the world, it’s still warm enough to hit the beach in southern Australia - and cool enough to tour Uluru.
Avoid: The Caribbean, Florida and Louisiana, where the hurricane season is still at its peak.
Head for: Bali, and ignore the fact it’s technically the start of the monsoon season here. The rains usually hold off until November, and those who hold their nerve get temperatures averaging 27 degrees, low prices and beaches to themselves. Eastern Europe is also holding on to late season warmth. Turkey, Greece’s Dodecanese islands and Cyprus offer out-of-season sunshine, although many shops and restaurants are closed. Not so the Canary Islands, still busy and rocking an average 25 degrees. Or give in and admit it’s autumn; in New England and Virginia the red and gold Fall leaf shows are spectacular and unapologetic.
Avoid: China. The first fortnight is ‘Golden Week’, national holidays meaning packed attractions and high travel prices.
Head for: The Lake District and don’t let drizzle stop you enjoying England’s most beautiful national park. Think cracking fires, cosy nooks and cheek-reddening hikes up hill ridges without seeing another soul. Not so in New York, which is great fun in the run up to Christmas, perfect for shopping and cocktails at any point - and not quite as cold in November as it is in December. Hong Kong is another big city visit for November, in its element as both the typhoon season and the oppressive humidity tail off – plus there are no big events here this month, which keeps hotel costs steady.
Avoid: Brittany. Similar to the UK in climate, it’s a depressingly wet and grey affair in winter.
Head for: Prague, for Christmas markets and glorious Baroque buildings, usually iced with snow now. Berlin, too, is a great place to limber up for the festive season buying knick-knacks and gingerbread from the big Christmas fairs, but with an urban edge that takes the twee out of it all. High-altitude ski areas are building up snow by now – for reliable early powder avoid the French Alps and head to Ischgl or the Hintertux glacier in Austria, Saas Fee in Switzerland – or Colorado, which is blanket-white by now.
Avoid: Barbados, where you’ll find Simon Cowell and silly prices on accommodation.