I first became a convert to off-season travel when I was, perhaps, 12 years old and my father took me on a mid-winter excursion to Old Sturbridge Village.
On that day, the entire village belonged to us. We wandered snowy paths and explored historical buildings without interruption or interference. And at the tinsmith’s shack, where we lingered for some time, chatting and enjoying the warmth, I was surprised and delighted to be given a small, tin sconce that the craftsman had just completed.
It was on that trip that I got my first hint that doing things differently than everyone else can have its advantages.
So, in late August, when I happened upon an incredibly good deal on a weeklong trip to Ireland — in December — I hesitated only long enough to talk my boyfriend into the adventure before I whipped out the credit card and booked our tickets.
The trip that ensued was, as I had hoped, delightful not in spite of our off-season schedule, but because of it.
And here’s how:
In the warmer and sunnier months, plane tickets from Boston to Dublin cost more than $700 per person, according to Expedia.com. Add in hotels and in-country transportation and the price tag for a one-week, peak season trip to Ireland quickly approaches $1,500 per person.
But, thanks to an e-mail alert from travel Web site Travelzoo, we found a package deal that included six nights lodging in four-star hotels, a rental car and airfare for just $699 per person.
The people we encountered
On our first full day in Ireland, before we had found our navigational groove, we started the day trying to find our way back to the main highway that would bring us from Dublin to Cork. In the course of these wanderings, we happened across the tiny town of Abbeyleix, where we decided to stop for coffee.
The owner of the cafe we chose, hearing our American accents, peppered us with questions about our trip; shared amiable anecdotes; and advised us what sights to seek in Cork, even digging out a map to show us the best route into the city.
Without the summertime crowds of tourist competing for the attention of shopkeepers and publicans, we had several more such experiences.
In the village of Portmagee, on the Ring of Kerry, we lingered over lunch in front of a peat fire while chatting with the waitress. In Dingle, sculptor Seamus Fitzgerald wrapped my purchase while telling us the natural history of the bog woods with which he works.
The people we didn’t encounter
The Ireland guidebooks all stress the likelihood, nay, the inevitability of getting caught in traffic on the overwhelmingly popular Ring of Kerry.
But in early December, the prophesied hordes of cars and tour buses were nowhere to be found. No irritated drivers were forced to slow down behind us as we lollygagged along scenic stretches; no fellow tourists disturbed the peace of the rocky beach at Rossbeigh.
Both of the nights we spent at the Old Ground Hotel in the charming town of Ennis, we faced little competition for dinner seats in an intimate alcove in the hotel’s cozy pub, the Poet’s Corner.
Sure, it was frequently gray, consistently damp and persistently windy. But the inclement weather only added character to the rough and wild landscape of coastal Ireland.
When we visited the Cliffs of Moher near the end of our trip, signs in the parking lot warned us that the wind was so severe that it may be dangerous to proceed.
As they passed along the paths to the cliffs, visitors exchanged commiserating grimaces through the gusts; the wind quickly stole any hat that wasn’t protected by a securely drawn hood.
But the intensity of the wind only complemented and heightened the tremendous drama of the spot, making it all the more exhilarating to stand atop the sheer, towering cliffs.
Throughout the week, clouds gathered over distant hilltops, then dispersed; sun broke and rainbows appeared on the horizon with astonishing frequency.
And we were more than happy to chase them.
This story was published in the Cape Cod Times on January 31, 2010. Read the story and see more pictures on CapeCodOnline.com.