Gather Ye Rosebuds...
May and June are arguably the best months for taking a holiday in the Northern Hemisphere as spring turns to early summer, the weather tends towards warm and sunny, kids are at school so families are out of the destination squabble, crowds around sights are limited, accommodation is at low cost and high availability, and staff are cheerful and energetic - unlike their exhausted and irritable August selves. Of course some tropical destinations - such as India and Burma - are starting to get seriously hot and sticky while Southern Hemisphere favourites such as Australia and New Zealand will be chilling into late autumn but generally speaking if you can take a vacation during these months, do it, and avoid midsummer like the plague.
Cheap Vacation Destinations
European vacations are much cheaper now thanks to 'quantitive easing' which has lowered the value of the euro dramatically, up to 20% against the dollar, pound and other major currencies with the obvious exception of the rouble which is in even worse shape. Forget London (£!) and head for the euro beauties of Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence, Seville, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin and so on.
The cheapest island in the Caribbean is the Dominican Republic with Jamaica and Tobago also offering bargain beach life (May/June are especially cheap as it's start of the low season there).
Taking a walk in Bryce National Park, inside the rim. Bryce is part of the 'Grand Circle' of awesome canyons clustered near Las Vegas that includes Grand Canyon, Arches, Monument Valley, Zion, Moab Recreation Area and much more. What a road trip that is!
The Americas, May - June
Beaches in southern California such as Los Angeles' Venice should be reaching perfect highs of around 77F (25C) and lows around 60F (15C) while on the other side of the country in Miami, Florida, temperatures could be heading towards toasty highs of 90F (32C), with lows of 74F (23C), the last months before the weather starts to get really muggy and oppressive. Still, two great months for southern USA beaches.
For those who yearn for a Caribbean experience on the cheap then May is recognised as being the most cost-effective month as the region is theoretically entering the rainy season (May-December) but generally the sunshine lasts well in May and the prices are waaaay down. Puerto Rico is the easy choice for Americans as US citizens don't need passports or visas to travel there.
This is a great season to be travelling around the USA as school is not yet out so competition for rooms/views/restaurants/parking spaces is negligible but the weather - at least in central/southerly regions - should be brilliant. We are especially fond of the canyon country east of Las Vegas, aka The Grand Circle, a perfect destination for an American road trip in a rental camper (RV).
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If you're looking for 'exotic' travel then Mexico is, like the Caribbean, heading towards the rainy season so May should be a good value month for seeing the some ancient Maya sights and have some beach time with a small risk of clouds/rain. June will be even cheaper but risks of unpleasant weather are ramping up.
Further south in Latin American May should be fine in Argentina, the Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Peru and of course Mexico - but not June! And don't even think about the rest of the South American continent during May or June.
Berne main street in Switzerland. Bern (alternative spelling) is the smallest, cutest capital city in Europe, bar none.
Europe, May - June
No guarantees of course but May is the start of European summer season and these months are generally fine with warm weather, occasional showers, low prices, cheerful staff and fewer travellers competing for services, so if you don't have children at school make hay while the sun shines.
However, the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea will still be very cold - actually the Atlantic waters are always cold! - so beware if you fancy a beach holiday. In addition some summer services in more remote places may not go into action until June, such as beach cafés, ferries and marine activities in places like the Greek Islands.
Otherwise most European cities are a delight May to June. Walking between museums, art galleries, palaces, parks, bars, restaurants and shows are a grand way to spend time in this ancient part of the world. Some of our favourite cities - that will be packed and hot in the summer months but much more relaxed during May/June - are Florence, Rome (already hot!), Prague, Budapest, Paris, London, Vienna, Berne, Lucerne, Barcelona and Cadiz (both with nice beaches too), Lisbon (beaches nearby) and Amsterdam.
Climbing Dune 45 in the early morning, one of the many spectacular sand hills in Sossusvlei National Park, Namibia. If you want to use a sand board or ATV here, you can't. But the Namib Desert is nearby (Sossusvlei is a peculiar offshoot) and it's all go there.
Africa, May - June
North Africa will be getting decidedly hot in June and impossibly hot later so this is the last chance for reasonably comfortable travel in this colourful region, unless you want to hang out on a beach or head for the mountains. Morocco and Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh's beaches offer incredible value and should present blue skies. Morocco is mainly about desert sights, wacky cities and cool, spectacular Atlas or Rif mountains.
Central Africa is not so good at this time but South Africa's varied attractions, from beaches to wildlife to wines are at their best in the Southern Hemisphere autumn, along with Namibia's incredible mix of massed animals and massive dunes.
Meeting Huli wigmen in Papua New Guinea. Those wigs are made out of their own hair, purpose-grown to that shape, as a Ceremonial Wig. They also grow a less ornate and more droopy Daily Wig.
These months are probably the best to view tricky China which is too cold in winter, too polluted in spring, too hot in summer, too wet in autumn etc.etc., but no guarantees, it's a gamble. Tibet is ready for action if you're ready for the altitude (seriously, it's very high and arriving by plane is bad news for AMS); Japan is just about perfect in May and in Laos too. The East Coast of Malaysia is hot to trot, including Borneo and lovely Tioman Island but not Kuala Lumpur, the capital.
Hiking in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand.
Australasia, May - June
Northern Australia is terrific from May to October, meaning mainly the activities resort of Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef zone and Darwin, but Sydney's weather will be cool and probably damp. New Zealand is also heading into winter so less than perfect at this time but still fine for walking, the country's favourite activity.
We don't want to discourage travel but need to point out that in these days of Ebola and quite random terrorist attacks or high levels of crime and violence there are certain regions that could be avoided if you wish to minimise risk as a tourist.
Here are some broad generalisations on where NOT to go on vacation. Avoid:
Whatever, wherever, safe travels!
Trek America discounts (USA, Canada, Central America)
Grand American Adventures (USA, Canada, Latin America)
Buy goodies or pay bills (checks) with credit cards when on vacation as they provide insurance as well as delayed repayment but don't draw cash out from ATMs with them (unless it's a new-wave, no-fee card). Interest starts accruing immediately and bank exchange fees in addition to the ATM fee may be unreasonable.
It's better to buy foreign cash at home from a commission-free provider though, of course when you travel you'll have to carry a fat wad around, so the best solution depends on the security of your holiday destination. If you travel a lot and want to get cash from an ATM do some research on transaction fees and get the lowest fee debit (not credit card) card you can find.
Gap Year travellers might consider also acquiring a prepaid Travel Money Card (aka Currency Card) which can be loaded with any amount of any currency before travelling and then topped up by family or friends while the Gappist is still in the big nowhere. Compare prepaid Travel Money Cards.
And of course never pay for anything abroad in your home currency (the exchange rate will be absurd), insist on paying in local currency.
To summarise, buy stuff abroad with a credit card, but try to pay off the balance each month before interest charges blow the wheels off your trolley; get cash from ATMs with a debit card.
Finally, don't go short of travel insurance if you're going to be participating in any kind of marginally dangerous activity, or even a non-dangerous activity in a third world location, that's NOT the way to save money! Use your brain while it's intact!
Social networking while traveling
Keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues while traveling abroad has become so much easier thanks to the internet and social networks.
Travelers logging onto social networks while abroad should ensure that they properly log out before leaving an internet café or similar because in some areas of Africa, East Europe and India it's not unknown for a watcher to access a tourist's Facebook (or similar) account after they leave and send a desperate message to family members about an accident/hospitalisation and needing money urgently. Money transferred of course disappears into a mystery account and no one's the wiser, for the time being.
Making calls to family and friends while traveling used to mean looking around for a phone booth, using phone cards and spending a fat wad, especially for international calls, but these days varied devices are used not only for keeping in touch but also booking transport, entertainment, restaurants, accommodation and more.
Best value communication abroad
1 - Cross-platform mobile instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, facebook Messenger and Snapchat which allows users to exchange messages or chat from anywhere worldwide free of charge, so long as each party has access to wifi. WhatsApp Messenger is available for smart phones, such as iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing at no cost.
2 - Sign up with the new breed of free VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] providers such as Skype, Rebtel, Tango and Google Voice/Google+Hangouts which offer free or cheap international calls on a laptop/smart phone/or even iPod Touch.
These cost nothing user to user or a small charge for calling to non internet phones such as land lines or mobile numbers.
3 - Travel with your own GSM cell/mobile phone if it works over the cellular data network type at your destination. Buy or rent a pre-paid sim card at home or on arrival and change the card over immediately.
4 - Not a cheap options but if your purpose is limited to emergencies, buy or rent a prepaid phone, online or at the airport on your arrival.
5 - Old fashioned but check out the new generation phone cards to call just about anywhere, though public payphones are disappearing and so it's hard to find one that works properly when you need to make a call. Also others can't to reach you, unless that is precisely your point!