Europe & Britain | Travel Tips & News

What is shoulder season and why it’s the best way to travel right now

Recently updated on June 10th, 2024 at 05:22 pm

Is it time to ditch the stress of peak season travel? Planning a trip during the high season – with sky-high costs and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds – can be overwhelming, but there’s no need to abandon your wanderlust. 

Every destination has a high and low season, but the sweet spot on any travel calendar is shoulder season. These in-between months are still a prime time for tourism, and offer a fantastic alternative for anyone seeking a more enjoyable and affordable adventure.

Think of it as a time to travel when the destination breathes a sigh of relief after a busy summer vacation frenzy, or before the place gears up for the season. Often this means significantly lower costs, shorter lines at attractions, and potentially even better weather! 

Let’s dive into the magic of shoulder season travel.

What is Shoulder Season?

A vintage yellow tram travels through a bustling street lined with classical architecture in a sunny, European city during spring tours.

Shoulder season is the period of time between a destination’s peak travel season (often referred to as prime travel time or high season) and its off-season (or low season). Imagine it as the time right before and after the summer vacation rush, or the weeks leading up to peak ski season.  

Shoulder season typically falls around the change of seasons, but it differs from destination to destination, depending on what people travel for. The shoulder sweet spot commonly falls around spring (March and April) and fall (September and October) in many places across the Northern Hemisphere. But other destinations, like South East Asia, have unique seasons like dry versus rainy seasons, which shifts the shoulder season window.

What are considered Shoulder Months?

A landscape view of Ait Benhaddou, an ancient fortified village in Morocco, with a couple walking near a river and surrounded by lush palm trees during their Moroccan holiday.

The timing of shoulder season depends on the destination, the climate, and what the main attraction there is. Most commonly spring and fall are considered the shoulder months or seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere this translates roughly to March, April and May for spring, and September and October for fall.

But shoulder season isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. Destinations with more extreme weather, such as Kenya or Vietnam, where they have a pronounced dry season will have different and more complicated patterns that fall before and after the rainy season.

Shoulder season is essential a way to say the months that fall outside of peak season travel. That might mean visiting Greece in May, exploring Morocco in March, or going to Italy in October. Traveling outside the peak season is a more relaxed travel experience with fewer crowds and good (or potentially better) weather.

Why travel during Shoulder Season?

Travel in the shoulder season and see a quieter side to Vietnam

There are so many reasons why shoulder season is the best time to travel. You can forget the fight for beach chairs and standing in long queues at famous attractions, but perhaps best of all it is often cheaper to travel during this period also.

Save money on your trip

Shoulder season can offer significantly lower travel costs when compared to the peak season. Your flights, accommodation, and tours may be priced considerably cheaper, giving you more money for souvenirs – or to travel for longer!

TRAVEL IN SHOULDER SEASON: Look for Trafalgar deals

Smaller crowds and shorter queues

In the peak months huge crowds often take over the most popular destinations. Shoulder months offer a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday with shorter wait times for attractions and ease getting into the best restaurants.

The weather is sometimes better

Shoulder season hits that perfect middle ground of weather, avoiding any weather extremes associated with peak season. Europe is getting hotter in the summer months, so shoulder months avoid any unexpected scorching summer heatwaves, while still avoiding the bone-chilling winter cold. It’s a gamble, of course, but you may be rewarded with pleasant temperatures perfect for sightseeing and outdoor activities.

Visit Japan in the fall and see beautiful autumn foliage during the shoulder season

Find unique seasonal experiences 

By traveling in the in-between months you might catch other cool experiences, like stunning fall foliage in the US and Europe, or post-summer swims at uncrowded beaches in tropical locations. You might be there for the harvest festival, or discover lesser known traditional events unique.

Travel at a slower, unhurried pace

The peak season can be chaotic. You need to plan ahead, navigate busy airports, and pre-book any activities (or risk missing out!). Shoulder season allows you to experience destinations at a more holiday pace. Hopefully you’ll see a more authentic side of the place you’re visiting.

Tips for planning a Shoulder Season trip

Planning a shoulder season trip can take a little bit of work as the shoulder months vary from place to place – here are some tips if you’d like to take advantage this special time of year.

  • Research is key: Don’t assume that all destinations have their should seasons in the spring and fall months. Even within Europe, this will change from country to country and depend on the popularity of the place too. Do some research to pinpoint the exact shoulder months for your chosen location, then look for deals on flights and accommodation during the sweet spot.
  • Pack wisely, and pack layers: To travel outside the peak season is always a weather risk. You might roll the dice and have perfect weather, or you’ll find cool days and even rain. The best idea is to pack layers you can mix and match to potential temperature fluctuations. Always pack a light jacket, sweater, and pair of trousers.
  • Be flexible: Snagging those shoulder season is all about flexibility. If you have rigid dates you may not be able to take advantage of great flight deals, or tour discounts.
  • Plan ahead, book ahead: While the crowds will be smaller than during the peak, popular tours or activities still have limited capacity. To get your ideal dates, lock in your activities – or Trafalgar tour – ahead of time.

Those are our tips on planning a trip during shoulder season. Do you have any ideas to add or stories to tell about traveling during shoulder months? Leave us a comment…

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