Autumn escapes

Freed of school-year restrictions, empty nesters flock to the bargains and pleasures of fall travel

Sue and Sid Farinha of Chelmsford, seen in their vacation photos in Jamaica, are fans of the cheaper trips they find as fall travelers. Sue and Sid Farinha of Chelmsford, seen in their vacation photos in Jamaica, are fans of the cheaper trips they find as fall travelers. (Handout)
By David Perry
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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Sue and Sid Farinha of Chelmsford are fluent in travel, especially when the leaves turn and New England evenings become crisp. There’s less noise and more elbow room. Hotel rooms are plentiful, and it’s easier to mingle with the locals.

Since their three children grew up and left home, the Farinhas have become dedicated fall travelers, no longer having to schedule vacations around the demands of the school year. Typically waiting until late autumn - November or early December - Sid, 78, and Sue, 63, have traveled to Europe and the Caribbean at prices as much as 40 percent below peak summer travel periods.

“We like it best in the off-season,’’ says Sue Farinha. “That, for us, is usually the beginning of December. The rates are lower and the crowds are smaller. Less people. It’s quieter and easier.’’

Fall is one of the best times to travel, when the weather is decent, the prices lower, and crowds smaller, travel agents say. Once the kids are gone, many older travelers use the newfound flexibility to trade summer treks for autumn adventures.

The Farinhas have been to Europe and South America while making frequent treks to the Caribbean, including an even dozen trips to Jamaica. They found Sid’s distant relatives in Portugal, and unsuccessfully looked for Sue’s in Ireland. No matter, they said, the trips were great.

“The fall is really when most seniors and empty nesters travel,’’ says Gabe Garavanian, who owns Garavanian Travel in North Chelmsford with his twin brother, Harry. “They’re really more price-driven, so they’re looking for the best deals.’’

One amazing deal this fall? Hawaii, said Garavanian. Temperatures on the islands remain in the 70s and 80s, but prices drop between September and mid-December. For example, a 10-night package including air fare, inter-island air travel, car rental, and stays in four- and five-star hotels on Kauai and Maui would cost about $5,000 for a trip beginning at the end of October; in March, it would cost nearly $6,400.

In the Bahamas, fall sales on hotel rooms can slash room rates by as much as 60 percent. Atlantis Paradise Island, a resort and water park, offers a package deal in which a companion flies free when a traveler pays regular price- and tosses in a fourth hotel night for free for both of them. (Watch the weather forecasts for the Bahamas between June 1 and Nov. 30, however. It’s hurricane season.)

Prices typically drop significantly in Europe after Oct. 1. One example is the Celebrity Cruises Equinox, an 11-night trip departing from Rome in November, with stops in Italy, Greece, and Turkey. A concierge room costs about $2,500; in July, the same trip cost nearly $6,000.

Karen McCrink, vacation travel manager for Atlas Travel in Milford, cautions that Europe is “a big place.’’ While prices fall in northern Europe in September or October, peak-season rates can stay in place until November in southern European countries, such as Italy.

The Farinhas’ favorite time to travel is the first week of December, before prices jump for the Christmas vacation period. When their three children were growing, they never traveled during the school year; vacations were restricted to summers, and jaunts to Old Orchard Beach in Maine, Cape Cod, and other New England destinations.

But in early November, the planning begins. They check prices on the Internet, read newspapers, and go to their travel agent to learn about specials.

The Farinhas frequently return to Jamaica, where they have explored various parts of the island. “We don’t stay in the same place because we want to see different ends of Jamaica,’’ says Sue Farinha.

They spend days on the beaches, and evenings in night clubs. They never rent a car - “Are you kidding?’’ says Sue. “They drive on the left over there.’’ But, she added, the people are “accommodating, and helpful with everything. No matter what, it’s, ‘no problem, no problem.’ ’’

As far as the next trip, it’s still summer and they haven’t really thought about it. Which brings up another advantage of off-season travel: you don’t necessarily have to book months in advance.

“We’ll decide in November, probably,’’ says Sid. “We’ll see the rates, then decide.’’