Is There Really a Best Time to Visit a Destination?

Maybe not. A traveller makes a case for the reasons for off-season travel.  
Crewcut
Darjeeling, 1995. Photo courtesy: Rumela Basu

“We’re going mango picking, you want to come?”

My mother, aka chief vacation planner of the family, interrupted me in the middle of a frenetic day at the office to announce her vacation plan for this summer. Fair enough, I thought. It’s a fun, family thing to do and given my enthusiasm for travelling and my father’s eagerness to discover a spot to relax (preferably on a plush couch) away from home—factors which she usually considers before planning—I suspected she’d chosen a nice orchard close to Mumbai with enough summer-time comforts. “It’s at a farm in Ratnagiri. Very rustic and personal,” she added.

Now, I love rustic and personal. But this was mid-May: the hottest, the most humid month of summer in Maharashtra. I am more sweaty and bothered than most people and thus more irritated. So, while a lack of creature comforts is not unwelcome at times, peak summer in Ratnagiri is not one of those.

However, this made me think back to similar trips we’d taken as a family, going to places at an “unconventional” or “off” time. We went to Sikkim in the middle of winter. One would assume you’d visit a hill station in summer, and we have. I remember my mother scolding me as she tried to put a cardigan on me in Darjeeling—I was about four and don’t remember much but there’s a photograph of this moment. I also remember being disappointed with the fog. We never got a clear view of the Khangchendzonga. The memories of a summer trip to Manali, a decade later, involved my friend and I sitting on a couch, looking out the window, because the roads to Rohtang Pass were closed on account of fog and rain. So, for a clear view of the Himalayas—specifically Khanchengdzonga—we headed to Gangtok in winter. It may not seem like a big deal, but this is a group of people so unaccustomed to winter, having lived in Bombay for over two decades, that they bought a winter wardrobe in Kolkata before heading to the hills. But sipping our evening chai in the hotel lawn, with orange-tinted snowy peaks in the background, we couldn’t complain at all. Besides, I grew attached to my fluffy, lime-green hoodie.

Not always did everything tie up so beautifully though. A trip to the Konkan town of Dapoli during the famous Western Ghats monsoon meant seeing the coastal town adorned in emerald finery. Cheerful waterfalls greeted us at regular intervals on winding roads, the sea at Dapoli was fierce—all grey swells and roaring waves. We spent a blissful weekend away from flaring tempers on waterlogged roads and the constant urban bustle. The icing on the cake was supposed to be the fresh catch from the sea. However, having always eaten predominantly freshwater fish, we were unaware of monsoon-time fishing ban, so there was no early-morning auction at the beach to witness and no freshly caught seafood.

I realised that my family’s brand of holidaying had rubbed off on me too when taking a road trip through Scotland in 2014. We weren’t stopping in Edinburgh, we’d barely pass through Glasgow, but we’d soak in the allure of Scottish vales and countryside roads. I was sold. The 14-hour drive back to university in Cardiff was tiring but I had memories of the magic of the fairy pools, the turquoise sheen of the lochs and the charm of little B&Bs. Edinburgh’s cathedrals and Glasgow’s deep-fried Mars bars would happen later.

A trip down travel memory lane had me feeling better about this fruit-picking holiday. Two weeks later, almost dozing off in a hammock, with my Kindle resting on my stomach (some creature comforts are allowed), I was content. The air was heavy with the aroma of ripe mangoes, some of which we’d helped pick. Sketchy connectivity equalled no emails. And staying in a farm’s traditional Konkani home surrounded by mango, jamun, chikoo and jackfruit trees meant natural air-conditioning. I didn’t even mind the slight dampness of my clothes because I’d dry off in a fruit-and-flower-scented breeze lying in a hammock or on a bed in a machan.

There’s a trove of lists for travellers today—best season, ideal getaway, must-see sights. Maybe the question to ask yourself is, what would you like to do? There can be as much joy in watching a raging sea suck up the rain as sipping a summer cocktail on the beach. The ideal European summer getaway is perhaps the place where you’d like to walk in snow boots. Or, maybe you want to sleep in a hammock after plucking mangoes. A destination is what you make of it.

  • Rumela Basu is former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?