Knowing when to book a trip is as important as knowing when to take it. Certain destinations require just the right amount of lead time to ensure you still have your choice of accommodations, activities, and private guides. That’s why we run this monthly series showcasing the places you should be booking right now.
Trees cloaked in butterflies, and spectacular glowing night skies: Two of the world’s greatest natural phenomena are approaching, and you’d better start planning now if you want to be there to experience it. Read on for these and nine other trips during the coming year that you’d be wise to book in October.
(If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for traveling to in any given month, see our Where to Go When series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.)
Mexico’s Monarch Butterflies
For: November 2016 to March 2017
The Monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico on their annual southern migration in November, and they can be viewed at a biosphere reserve in the states of Michoacán and Mexico until March. It’s quite a sight to see, with up to one billion butterflies carpeting the forest. During the peak months of January and February, wildlife lovers can also see migrating gray whales in Baja California.
Why book in October? The hotel options are slim in this region, so it’s important to secure your room as soon as possible.
For: December 2016
China’s capital of hippies and ham, Dali is known for its rich gastronomy and talented artisans. In winter, Dali’s ham is given a salty rub and left to dry in elaborate smokehouses until it practically melts in your mouth. After eating your fill, you can visit nearby salt wells to witness a centuries-old process of salt harvesting (the seasoning has been a major contributor to China’s economy since at least the seventh century, and this area’s salt is widely revered). Dali’s also a bit of a hippie hideout, where you can view a surprising Chinese counterculture of dreadlocked youth selling handicrafts on the street, mixed among the local Naxi minority.
Why book in October? This is your last opportunity to find hotel space and a guide with access to the ethnic communities that will be preparing ham, sausages, and pickles for winter.
Norway’s Northern Lights
For: December 2016 through March 2017
Winter is the best time to catch the northern lights, when the night sky glows with a rainbow of colors. Since snow is sure to be covering the ground during these months, you can spend your days dog- or reindeer-sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing. We can’t guarantee that you’ll see the aurora borealis, but every traveler we’ve sent to the little town of Alta in search of the phenomenon has witnessed it.
Why book in October? Before long, the best hotels and guides will be booked up—particularly over the Christmas season. Secure your spots now so that you won’t have to compromise a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Spring Break Diving/Snorkeling and Ski Trips
For: March 2017
It may feel like the school year has only just begun, but now is the time to lock in plans for your family’s spring break travel, to both warm-weather destinations and cold.
Why book in October? Right now, you can still choose from a wide selection of accommodations in your chosen destination and reserve the best dive masters and ski instructors; if you wait until everyone else books, you might have to settle for lesser hotels and activities. Ski passes (which give you access to multiple resorts throughout the winter for a much lower price than individual lift tickets) are typically only available until mid-November.
For: March through May 2017
With travel to Cuba exploding in popularity, finding a place to sleep on the island is becoming an increasingly difficult problem to solve. The most centrally located, top-rated hotels fill up far in advance. Spring is one of the best times to visit, before the summer heat (and hurricane season) hits.
Why book in October? Hotel space in Havana for next spring is already dwindling; if you plan ahead, you won’t be stuck in a shabby place on the outskirts of the city.
Japan’s Cherry Blossoms
For: April and May 2017
Springtime in Japan is the season of sakura, or cherry blossoms. Their sweet scent and beauty permeate the country, and the entire nation comes alive to celebrate hanami, or flower viewing, in colorful kimonos.
Why book in October? With both foreign and domestic travel at its peak during these months, you’ll need to plan well in advance to stay in the most atmospheric ryokans (particularly in Tokyo, Kanazawa, and Kyoto), and to hire the most well-connected guides.
Alaska Small-Ship Expedition Cruises
For: May through September 2017
Alaska’s cruise season runs from mid-May to mid-September. May sees fewer visitors and more bear sightings, as the animals come down to the shoreline searching for berries and digging for clams at low tide. May and June have the most days of sunshine and beautiful wildflowers. Humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, bald eagles, and sea lion colonies can be seen throughout the season. The smaller ships, which carry fewer than 100 passengers, get you 10 to 15 yards from bears, moose, glaciers, and waterfalls. Days are dictated not by a port-to-port schedule, but by seizing the best opportunities for wildlife watching, hiking, and kayaking.
Why book in October? For these cruises, the most popular cabin categories and departure dates typically sell out before Thanksgiving.
U.S. River Rafting Trips
For: May through September 2017
Rafting trips are popular come summer, but if you have the smarts to book now, you’ll not only secure spots on some of the country’s most beautiful rivers, you’ll have access to deals that will disappear by the time everyone else starts shopping. Case in point: Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for river rafting vacations is offering an early-booking discount—typically around ten percent, though it varies by trip—to the first four people to sign up for trips on many of the country’s most stories waterways, including the Salmon, Colorado, and Green Rivers.
Why book in October? Since most people don’t start thinking about next summer’s travel until after the New Year, these discounts are still available on a number of trips, saving you as much as $300 per person.
Villas in Tuscany or Lake Como
For: Summer 2017
A villa in the Tuscan countryside or right on the shores of Lake Como is the stuff of many a traveler’s fantasy: a lovely stone farmhouse or an elegant estate, tastings at the winery down the road or day-trips into Milan, groups of family and friends sharing generous portions of fresh pasta around the dinner table. Long days and warm evenings make summer a lovely—but popular—time to book a villa stay.
Why book in October? The calendars of the best Italian villas in these iconic regions are quickly filling up; between mid-June and mid-July, there are already just a few houses left that sleep 18 or more people.
Sri Lanka’s Kandy Festival
For: August 2017
Sri Lanka’s largest and most popular festival (particularly with children) is the Kandy Esala Perahera, an annual celebration where religion, tradition, and the arts come together to pay homage to the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha, which has been housed in the country since the fourth century. These ten days of striking processions feature scores of glittering elephants, fire breathers, and thousands of dancers, culminating on the full moon day when the relic is paraded through the streets of Kandy.
Why book in October? Some of Kandy’s hotels have rooms with views of the perahera; these generally sell out around November. Almost all of the hotels in town sell out by Christmas.
For: September 2017
September is glorious in South Africa: The winter chill has left, spring is on its way, and the grasses have been eaten down, leaving the animals in full view. It’s also the best time to see the annual migration in East Africa—the ultimate wildlife spectacle, where more than a million wildebeest and other animals pass through Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve.
Why book in October? It’s already difficult to find space at safari lodges and camps for August 2017; by next month, it’s likely that the best places will be full for September as well. Most airlines release award seats about 11 months in advance, so right now you have the best chance of redeeming miles for next year’s flights.
Wendy recommends: Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein, Trusted Travel Experts for Safaris: South Africa and East Africa. Contact Nina and Dan through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.