Why Shoulder Season Is the Best Time to Travel — and Save Money

by  Kaeli Conforti | Sep 26, 2023
RossHelen/iStock

For some, the idea of spending a ton of money on airfare and hotels just to be hot and sweaty in a new locale, all while vying with hordes of tourists to capture the perfect photo or secure those in-demand dinner reservations, is just too much. 

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. Enter the shoulder season, a sweet spot that happens twice a year, when travelers encounter better weather and fewer crowds, and can generally enjoy a less stressful trip than they would during the height of the summer travel rush. It’s also a great time to experience local life in the places you’re visiting since there are bound to be fewer tourists around.

While more people are able to travel during the summer high season, once the kids go back to school (and their parents go back to work) things tend to really open up and prices across the board go down. It’s a great time to hit the road for those who have that flexibility: Here’s why we say shoulder season is the best season.

The Weather is Usually Better

Because it happens in the transitional period between a destination’s high and low seasons — typically from March to late May, with the exception of spring break and Easter, then again from September to November — milder climate and weather patterns are more likely. In most places in the northern hemisphere, shoulder season is less hot, humid, or rainy in the summer and not as unbearably cold in the winter. You also won’t have to worry about blizzards or other winter weather causing delays. One thing to consider is the Atlantic hurricane season, which happens from June through November and overlaps with the fall shoulder season. Stay on top of the weather report before you go, or maybe just save trips to those areas for spring to be safe. 

You’ll Encounter Fewer Crowds

iStock/meinzahn

Anytime the kids go back to school — after Labor Day in September and after spring break in March — those who are able to travel during the shoulder season will have fewer crowds to contend with when it comes to booking hotel rooms, scoring upgrades, or nabbing a reservation at that chic new restaurant. Lines at popular attractions, theme parks, and museums will be shorter, too, while smaller crowds at airports mean your trip will be less stressful. In shoulder season, you’ll also be able to spread out and really relish in the peace and quiet of a place in a way you simply can’t do during busier times of the year. 

Offseason Closures Haven't Hit Yet

At the same time, the destinations themselves won’t be quite as quiet as they might be during the low season, when many hotels, restaurants, and other establishments close shop temporarily. You might end up scoring some time on freshly groomed ski slopes or get to stay in a newly renovated hotel room before the crowds descend a few weeks later.

Prices Will Generally be Lower

If you’re strategic about where you’re going and have the ability to book a great flight or hotel special as soon as you see it, you’ll end up saving a lot of money during shoulder season. Plan a trip to Europe in the weeks leading up to summer or the month following it; visit top ski resorts before or after they’re super busy in the winter; and head to snorkeling and diving hotspots outside of their high seasons. In any case, aim to visit during the sweet spots before the tourists really show up or after they’ve already gone.

Keep an eye out for shoulder season deals by following your preferred airlines and hotels on social media and signing up for their email newsletters to stay on top of flash sales — this is, after all, the time of year when you might see hotels lowering their rates or offering upgrades to fill empty rooms or airlines dropping prices to entice more folks to fly. You should also consider signing up for email newsletters with deal-tracking websites such as Going, Matt’s Flights, or Dollar Flight Club, which send information about mistake fares and other flight deals straight to your inbox. Of course, you should also sign up for ShermanTravel’s Top Deals newsletter for savings. You can also set up alerts via Google Flights with your desired travel dates — you’ll then get emails when prices on those dates drop.

You’ll See a Different Side to the Places You’re Visiting

Cafe in Paris / Simona Sirio/iStock

It’s one thing to visit Paris at the height of summer when just about every restaurant, café, and attraction is absolutely packed. It’s another entirely to be able to go for a leisurely stroll, stop for a coffee or crepes whenever you feel like it, and attend a local festival. Visiting during the shoulder season instead of the summer (or the winter, when it’s often too cold to be outside for long) will allow you to experience a place in a different way. Not only will you be helping to support the local economy all year long, but you also won’t be contributing to over tourism by being there during a slower time of year. This is especially true for island destinations and remote national parks, which may already be worried about limited resources.

Plan to visit Alaska in the spring or fall when the cruise ship schedules slow down. Head to busy Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece in the shoulder season for more comfortable temperatures and seasonal festivals like the grape harvest — Hawaii also has some festivities highlighting its Indigenous culture and heritage in the spring. By visiting outside the high season, you can see what a place is like during its downtime, have more chances to interact with residents at local festivals, and get more of a genuine experience than you would if the place was teeming with fellow tourists.

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