I adore autumn, not because of the falling temperatures, but for the lowered expectations. The heady pressure of summer, when everything has to be SPECTACULAR and SUPER, because it’s SUMMER, has subsided. Summertime travel is high cost, high stress, high stakes. Autumn is a time of more muted joy, when we feel eerily favoured by the gods when things turn out well, not cursed when things fall short. Recently I have felt much safer positioning myself as a pleasantly surprised pessimist rather than a heartbroken optimist. Hope is an addictive drug, and I’ve had a few overdoses in the past.
This year, with the summer tourism season of 2020 delayed, shortened and (let’s face it) weird, it’s finally autumn’s turn to shine. Much of the UK is arguably at its best in September, and many European destinations still feel sufficiently summery into October.
Parisians all escape town in August, and fall in love with their city again in September. Tuscany is divine in the autumn months, with the excitement of the wine harvest in the air, and fiery hues on the hillsides. In Ibiza, October is known as the sweetest month of the year, when sea temperatures remain high but the air cools to a comfortable breeze. Here in Margate, September and October are magical months, when the crowds on the beaches thin out and the queue for fish and chips at Peter’s Fish Factory becomes manageable.
Autumn is a brilliant time to visit the British seaside, and this year, most seasonal bars and restaurants are staying open for another few weeks, to try to make up for lost time. OK, lost money. Lots and lots of lost money.
I’ve been an avowed shoulder-season traveller since my teenage years, but what started out purely as a penny-pinching exercise soon grew into a genuine preference. I am more misanthropic than I look, and there is a real limit to how much I can enjoy supposedly soul-stirring artworks in a museum when I feel like I am in a massive school dinner queue, shuffling inch by inch across the parquet floor of the Uffizi or the Louvre.
I’m also a fan of spontaneity when I travel, and will never, ever get around to booking that hotly tipped eight-seater sushi restaurant. My last-minute odds of scoring good tables, good rooms and good concerts increase dramatically outside peak season.
But perhaps most significantly, people are much nicer to you when they’re not busy. Travel outside the stressful, frenetic peak tourism months, and you get treated much better. Peak season tourism regularly requires a thicker skin than I possess. I had a solid Presbyterian Irish upbringing that makes me want to curl up and curse myself if I feel I have “put someone out” – and yes, putting someone out might be as simple as giving a harried waitress an extra plate to carry.
It was my ex-boyfriend who described height-of-summer Margate best: “It would be nice to walk into a restaurant where the staff aren’t completely horrified to see me.” When I’m on holiday, I want to be treated better than I’m treated at home, because a holiday is all about feeling like a better version of yourself. It really ruins this illusion if I sense that hotel staff, museum employees and waiters would quite like me to evaporate.
But shoulder-season travel doesn’t just feel good because people we pay to make us feel good have time to make us feel good. Sharply defined seasons, dramatic peaks and troughs in the local economy, have major socioeconomic repercussions. Margate’s winter months are a challenge, and every year we lose a few bars, shops or restaurants. Seasonal work means poor job security for service industry workers, and it disrupts the housing market.
And sharp tourism seasons encourage Airbnb and rental owners to capitalise on boom months, reducing the housing stock for permanent residents and driving up rents. Responsible travel isn’t just about thinking hard about where we spend our tourism pound. Responsible travel is also about crowd control. It’s a step in the right direction not to add your footprint to the heavy footfall during a peak season. So if you haven’t quite had the summer holiday of your dreams this weird year, don’t worry. Autumn awaits.
To read more articles by Anna Hart, see telegraph.co.uk/travel/team/anna-hart