Travel tips and advice: Which month is best for travel?

St Marks Square in Venice, tourist free. Photo: iStock
St Marks Square in Venice, tourist free. Photo: iStock

May is one of my favourite times of the year to travel.

In the northern hemisphere, spring is full on. Blossoms have bloomed and much of the changeable, squally early spring weather is over. In London this month, for instance, there has been a two-week heatwave, making it hotter than Ibiza.

When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, it was also unseasonably warm. I didn't need many of the woollies I brought with me and there was barely a drop of rain in two weeks.

It's the same for much of Australia this month – record temperatures in the preceding months of this year and a remarkably long "Indian" summer.

But even in cooler years when winter lingers into the spring, May and early June are the friendliest times to hop on a plane.

It's not just a matter of being agile enough to avoid the peak holiday seasons, if you are fortunate enough to be able to do that.  It's also much easier to pack when your home base and your destination share approximately the same temperature. I'm often caught out when it's high summer at home, imagining incorrectly just how cold I'll be in a wintry climate, and vice-versa. It leads to some serious packing errors, like lugging a heavy, unnecessary coat all over Europe when it's mild.

Packing is not rocket science but still I often get it wrong, especially when I'm handling fleece or cashmere in 35-degree heat. In the trans-seasons it's simple to transfer what's on the clothes rack straight into a suitcase.

May is also mostly free of major weather incidents around the world – the Pacific cyclone season is over, the Asian typhoons haven't swooped yet, it's months before damaging hurricanes hit the Americas.

It's not quite the worst of the wet in south-east Asia nor too blazing hot in Morocco or Spain. May averages a lovely 22 degrees in Istanbul, Budapest and Venice.

September and October, beautifully mellow in Europe, northern Asia and the United States, are also wonderful times to travel, although you can strike a hurricane.

Several websites list monthly average temperatures and rain days in a variety of destinations, providing guidance for the planning stages of a trip. But statistics don't provide the whole story. Take Ireland, for instance. It rains a lot in any season, but that's part of the atmosphere, and a great excuse to hang out by the fire in a pub. Even so, I was there last October and it hardly rained at all, despite it typically being a wet month.

Tokyo should be freezing cold in winter, but when I was there this January and February it was glorious – a little chilly, to be sure, but sunny and clear and perfect for travelling about.  There were even a few cherry blossoms peeking out in February.

And in the wet season in countries like Cambodia it is not wet all day. The clearing showers in the afternoon make everything fresher – and the vegetation is more luminous in photographs.

Even Venice, which is considered to be a horror at the height of the tourist season, wasn't too bad or muggy when I visited one July, as long as I didn't go near St Mark's Square and the streets radiating off it. In fact, it was totally delightful in many neighbourhoods, gardens in full flower and quiet pockets where locals enjoyed the sun or a stroll. The infamous summer stench was nowhere to be sniffed that year.

So then, apart from being stuck in the middle of a cyclone or a major snow event, which magnifies the likelihood of travel delays, should we be overly concerned about a bit of bad weather on a trip?

A wise elderly friend always said to me, "I never let the weather rule me!" And she didn't. She'd forge on with her umbrella regardless. I always remember that whenever I whinge about a cold wind or an unloading sky. (I still whinge though.)

There are many advantages to going to places when others avoid them, if you don't mind plans going a bit awry sometimes. And the bonus is that you're experiencing a place as the locals experience it. They don't have the option of escaping every time there's a downpour.

I love May and what the airlines call the "shoulder" seasons, but for me it's more often a case of have umbrella, will travel.

This story Travel tips and advice: Which month is best for travel? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.