Your guide to planning fall travel, from leaf peeping to cheap flights

September and pumpkin lattes are here. It’s time to start planning fall getaways.

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

Labor Day has come and gone. College football just kicked off. The annual cloud of pumpkin spice is upon us. Fall doesn’t technically begin until Sept. 22, but many Americans are already saying goodbye to summer.

If you’re not eager to open your sweater drawer and have no use for spooky season, it’s not all bad. Along with milder weather, autumn brings opportunities for leaf-peeping, apple picking and cheaper flights. Early planners can lock in holiday travel arrangements at prices that could make them smile by the time Thanksgiving arrives.

The rules of flying like a decent human

We rounded up our best fall travel tips on a variety of topics, from where (and when) to see peak fall foliage to camping in cooler temperatures to avoiding the crowds.

Plan a leaf-peeping trip with this tool

If you’re getting in the mood for fall trips, the 2022 foliage prediction map is an excellent place to start.

Every year, the tourism site for the Smoky Mountain region releases an interactive tool to give leaf-peepers an idea of when peak fall occurs across the contiguous United States. With an easy swipe, you can get an estimate of when regions should have minimal colors, patchy changes, full-force foliage and past-peak conditions.

Find cheaper travel in the ‘shoulder season’

The cheapest time to travel is when most people aren’t. We’re approaching one such season: fall. Unless you’re going to peak foliage destinations, many of the world’s loveliest places see fewer travelers around September, October and November. So where should you go? Here are nine ideas to consider.

Embrace the cliches

Pumpkin spice lattes. Apple picking that results in $100 worth of apples. Cable-knit sweaters in 80-degree weather. The road to autumnal bliss is littered with cliches. Don’t avoid them; life is hard enough as it is without trying to be cool all the time. Embrace the classics, and take a tried-and-true fall trip the Hallmark Channel would be proud of.

Travel like your favorite fall movies

Halloween thrillers and sweater-stacked romantic comedies: There are certain movies that just feel right to watch once fall arrives. To take your fall movie appreciation up a notch, you can visit the places where they take place, like the “Hocus Pocus” house in Salem, Mass. These 12 ideas will get you started. Just remember: Be a respectful tourist, and don’t pop up on people’s porches.

Get into spooky season

When the fall weather creeps in, so, too, does an urge to seek out ways to terrify ourselves. Some of the scary fall activities we partake in can be casual and festive, such as visiting a “haunted” corn maze. Others are more serious, dipping into the realm of what has become known as dark tourism. Visiting these sites can be different from other types of travel, requiring a different set of manners to keep in mind. Here’s how to navigate the etiquette — no matter how dark.

Scare yourself with a night in a haunted house

Did you know you could book a haunted house on Airbnb? Reporter Natalie Compton did just that in 2020 when she stayed the night alone in an Upper Marlboro, Md., estate built in 1852. She entered as someone who didn’t believe in ghosts and left as someone very afraid of ghosts. If camping is more your thing, you can stay in the “Blair Witch” woods near Burkittsville, Md., like Natalie did to see if they are just as scary off-screen.

Prepare for cooler weather camping

Speaking of camping: While outdoor adventures proved alluring in the spring and summer, as temperatures begin to drop, sleeping in the great outdoors can require different rules and gear. Use these expert tips on camping during the cooler months, and before you head out, here are some unexpected items to pack. If you’re worried about finding a campsite, we’ve got you covered there, too.

Book your holiday flights now

Radio stations are nowhere near queuing up Christmas playlists, but it’s time to start thinking about booking holiday flights. Travelers who shop months early tend to have an advantage over those who wait — less competition. Don’t wait too long because experts said September is the sweet spot. Here are their best tips.