Everything You Need to Know about Travel in the Shoulder Season

Do you want to travel with off-season savings with high-season benefits? There’s this massive travel secret that I’m about to let you in on: The Shoulder Season! Avid travelers know all about it, but everyone can benefit from this particular travel hack. Here’s everthing you need to know about traveling in the elusive “shoulder season.”

What is the “Shoulder Season?”

The Shoulder Season is the “in between” time. It’s the end of the low season or off season, right before the more expensive high season begins. It’s also usually while kids are in school, making the timing unfortunate for many families. It’s also usually around, but not on, major holidays. Making it a little more difficult to work around time off work, since you’re probably saving days off to go home for the holidays.

The inconvenience, however, is part of the beauty: If most people can’t go at any given time, there will be lower crowds at your destination.

We don’t mind putting on an extra layer if it means we don’t have to fight the crowds!
More here: 10 Essential Blog Posts All Travelers Need to Read

Why is Shoulder Season Better than High Season?

There are two big reasons why the shoulder season is way better than the more popular “high season” of travel.

Lower Prices

The high season is the most expensive time to travel anywhere. And honestly, it shocks me when I hear people say how expensive travel is… and then I find out they picked the high season! Don’t make the same mistake. The shoulder season is the perfect solution to not save that hard-earned money and travel more often!

Want to stay in an overwater bungalow? You could save thousands of dollars if you book in the shoulder season!
Keep reading: Everything You Need to Know About Staying in an Overwater Bungalow

Lower Crowds

People with office jobs have to work sometime, right? That’s usually when schools are in session. Summer is the traditional time to travel because it’s convenient for most people. That’s why summers are generally much more crowded than other times of year, including the shoulder season.

Shoulder season doesn’t always mean you’ll have the place to yourself, but it helps!
Keep reading: 7 Travel Rules You Don’t Know Until Someone Tells You

Why is Shoulder Season Better than Low Season?

There are two big reasons why the shoulder season is way better than the “low season” of travel.

Better Weather

The low season is just that for a reason: Generally, the weather stinks! The low season is often the rainy season, the cold season without the charm of a regular blanket of snow, or just too hot to be reasonable. The shoulder season, however, is close enough to the high season to have the good weather, or at least be coming out of or not quite into the bad weather.

French Polynesia in January was great, but it rained HARD every day! See that blanket of rain behind me?
More here: How to Love Your Rainy Day Travels

Businesses are Open

One big negative about travel in the low season is that some businesses close entirely, some for months at a time. But those same businesses usually start to reopen in the 4-6 weeks before the high season starts, or the weeks after the high season ends. As long as you don’t get into the heart of the low season, you can still see and do all the things on your list!

All those great small businesses will re-open as the low season fades away!
Read on: 9 Habits of Successful Travelers

What are the Downsides of Travel in the Shoulder Season?

Shoulder season is the best of both worlds–high season weather with low season crowds! However, it’s not always perfect. Sometimes you’ll get a few days of low season weather. Or you’re close enough to the high season that you actually do run into some crowds at the most popular spots (and get people in your photos–ugh!). So, the best solution is to right-size your expectations. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and hope for the best!

Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, and sometimes it’s great!
Read next: The Best Reasons to Be an Early Bird on Travel

When is the Shoulder Season?

Timing varies by destination, but in general there are three criteria:

School is in Session

With kids in school, parents who have to take care of them, and teachers and staff who have to run the schools, that’s an awful lot of people who can’t travel during the school year. So, if you can swing it, traveling while school is in session (and avoiding school holidays) you can get the best of your destination with lower prices and fewer people around. Just make sure you avoid Fall Break and Spring Break weeks!

Spending a week in the Florida Keys at the end of April was a great trip!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the Florida Keys

Before or After Major Holidays

Lots of people travel for Christmas and the New Year. Not as many people travel in the weeks before and after those holidays. Even Hawaii, which famously has no true “off season,” experiences a dip in tourism in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Visiting Guam before Christmas was a perfect trip!
Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Guam

Spring and Fall

Not only are schools in session in spring and fall, the weather in many popular tourism destinations can be volatile. The American South can have temperatures that vary from well below freezing, all the way into the 80s during spring and fall, and with that comes tornadoes. The worst of the Caribbean’s hurricane season is usually in or around September, but the weather can also be perfect! It all depends on the gamble you’re willing to take!

My Caribbean cruise in September 2009 was awesome, but a few years later, some friends had to leave theirs early due to a hurricane!
More here: The Best Destinations for Spring
and The Best Destinations for Fall

Want more? Get all my best travel planning resources and tips on my dedicated Travel Planning Page!

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