Shoulder Season Travel: A Personal Favorite

After the vacation crowds head home, you’ll find the smart traveler basking in good deals and wide open spaces.

I love shoulder season travel. In fact, the last couple of trips that I have taken have been shoulder season travel. As a prairie girl, I am not a huge fan of big crowds of tourists. Growing up in Saskatchewan I have pretty limited exposure to crowded spaces and I believe that this contributes to a mild form of claustrophobia in large metropolitan centres. In the shoulder season I get to see all of the same amazing sites, but without waiting in line to get in and you can cut the crowd pretty much in half.

Just to clarify, we all know the four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall, but in the travel industry, there are only three seasons that matter: peak, shoulder and off. Here is why you should care…

A New Zealand Autumn Road Trip

Travel Industry Seasons Peak season, or high season, is when a destination is the most popular. Peak season varies by destination, often depending on the weather or holiday seasons (ie. Christmas, spring break, summer holidays, ect.). For instance, Easter time is peak season for Florida because theme park-loving kids are on break and the weather is just hot enough, but not yet too miserable, for a frolic on the beach. On the flip side, the December holidays are prime time for Colorado; plenty of snow on the ski slopes, time off from work and school and the prospect of spending a cozy holiday around the fireplace make this Western state a popular choice in the winter months. Off season (or low season), on the other hand, is just the opposite; it is the time of year when a destination sees the fewest tourists. And shoulder season (or side season) is that sweet spot in the middle where prices are lower, crowds thinner, and the weather is mild (ie. the perfect time to travel).

Shoulder Season Travel Deals Three words: supply and demand. When demand drops, so do prices on everything, including: airfare, hotel rooms, tours, packages, and attractions. Another seasonal bonus is that side season also means fewer crowds, shorter lines, easier restaurant reservations and less stressed service people.

You’ll notice a warmer welcome when you travel off-peak season. Locals, who may grow weary of crowds in peak season, have time to relax in shoulder season. Side Season Challenges I want you to know the whole story, so here are some of the trade offs that you will make for the pleasure of side season travel:

  • Weather-- For starters, the weather might not be perfect. If you think about the Canadian autumn or spring you have some really fantastic days, but there are also a few wet or cold days thrown in there as well. The same applies to other destinations (not a shocking concept). As always I would highly recommend buying traveler’s insurance and also have a backup plan — say, a museum — for when it’s too yucky to go outside.

  • Service & Activity Availability-- Also, be prepared for some businesses to have shorter hours or be closed altogether. During shoulder and off season some shops and restaurants will likely have limited hours, tours may operate on a modified schedule, and some businesses or events might shut down all together. Here is where I recommend using a travel professional or doing some extra research yourself, you don’t want to travel all the way to your destination only to realize that the experiences that were top of your list are not available. When I travelled to Prince Edward Island in May of 2016 there were a lot of businesses closed because it was outside of peak season, but we also had the beaches pretty much completely to ourselves and were able to walk in and get a table straight away in some of the best restaurants on the island.

East Coast of Prince Edward Island

Where to Start

Search for flights first. You may find an amazing hotel deal only to discover that most airlines have already stopped seasonal flights to your destination. South holidays (ie. Mexico and the Caribbean) generally have seasonal flights over winter, so if you are flying to Mexico early in fall or late spring chances are you are going to have to take a multi-leg flight.

Be Spontaneous

I love spontaneous travel and the shoulder season is the perfect time to do it. While some places like New England, New York City, and Paris witness a high season in the fall, in general, you have your pick when it comes to beaches, national parks, and destinations that rely on family travel. Destinations that ususally require reservations months in advance, will have plenty of hotel occupancy during shoulder seasons. This means there should be plenty of last-minute deals. Start looking at Google Flights for cheap fares to find your next getaway or send me an email saying that you have the travel itch, I will ask you a couple questions and then prepare for you a unique travel experience customized for you.

Shoulder Season Differs by Destination

September and October constitutes fall shoulder season for many regions, though not all. Research your proposed destination beforehand to be sure you’re traveling at the right time. Here is a bit of a cheat sheet for some of my favorite shoulder seasons:


  • Hawaii: Room rates and airfares drop after Labour Day. Through September

  • Montana: Days continue to be sunny and dry, and dude ranches are offering discounted fall rates. Through September

  • Morocco: European vacationers have left, but the weather is great

  • Greek islands: After the summer rush has ended

  • South Africa: Prices at safari lodges are lower and the foliage less dense, making it easy to spot the Big Five. Through early October


  • Morocco: European vacationers have left, but the weather is great

  • Kenya: The wildebeest migration is ending, but herds are crossing the Mara

  • Mediterranean Resorts: Rates have started to drop, but you’ll still find ample sun on islands such as Crete, Ibiza, and Sicily.

  • Vancouver Island: Room prices have dropped and it’s still warm enough to enjoy wine-tasting at the island’s many vineyards. Through November


  • Tahiti, Fiji, and the South Pacific: The water is crystal clear before cyclone season, making it a great time for diving and snorkeling. Early November

  • Kenya: The wildebeest migration is ending, but herds are crossing the Mara

  • Caribbean and Mexico’s Riviera Maya: Before the holiday rush, beaches are empty and it’s easy to find hotel deals. Through mid-December


  • New Zealand: Summer weather has started, get here early in the month to miss the New Zealanders summer holidays. Early December

  • Belize and Costa Rica: After months of rain, the clouds are thinning. Early through mid-December


  • Hawaii: The big waves have subsided, along with the winter beachgoers; resorts are also bringing down rates. Through May

  • Langkawi, Malaysia: The beaches are less crowded

  • Rio de Janeiro: Carnival has come and gone, which means hotel rooms are easier to find and less expensive

  • India: Before the temperatures start skyrocketing

  • Ireland: It’s warming up and wildflowers are beginning to bloom; a perfect time for exploring the countryside. Mid May through April


  • New Zealand: Think autumn, cool crisp sunny days

  • Australian Outback: with average temperatures now cooling to between 80 and 86 degrees, you can visit Ayers Rock without risking heatstroke. Through May

  • The Mediterranean: before the summer crowds arrive

  • European cities: Outdoor café culture is picking up, but the summer crowds won’t arrive until early June. Get there before they do!

  • Ski resorts in Canada and the US: Late-season skiing is still excellent in high-altitude destinations

  • Caribbean Islands: Room prices fall as much as 30 percent after Easter, and hurricane season is still weeks away. Through early June


  • Scotland: Temperatures are warmer and the you will find the wildflowers in bloom

  • Japan: Peak hotel rates have come down after last month’s cherry blossom celebrations, and the humidity has yet to kick in

  • Mediterranean Cruising: the weather’s warming, but prices remain as much as 20 percent lower than in the summer high season


  • Thailand: April and May are sweltering, but the rains cool things off in June. The tourist crowds won’t arrive until next month. Through June

  • Baja California: Temperatures have yet to soar, but resorts are offering bargains in anticipation of the hot months to come

#ShoulderSeason #Travel #TravelDestinations #TravelDeals #TravelSmart #SeasonalTravel

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