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What to Know About Traveling During Shoulder Season

Every destination will have what’s known as shoulder season when you travel. Traveling during shoulder season has a lot of benefits.So what is shoulder season and how do you know whether or not taking advantage of it?

For example, if you want to get tickets to a popular live show, you’re more likely to get better seats during shoulder season. It’s also cheaper to travel during this time, the crowds, in general, will be smaller, and you’re probably going to get better deals.

So what is shoulder season exactly, and how do you know whether or not you’re taking advantage of it?

What is Shoulder Season?

Shoulder season is a term that refers to the weeks or potentially months between a destination’s high and low season for tourism. Shoulder season varies depending on where you’re going. 

For example, if you’re thinking about going to Branson, Missouri, the shoulder season is September and October, and then March through May. Other shoulder season examples for popular destinations include:

  • In the Caribbean, shoulder season is typically both late spring and late fall. Late spring is when the Caribbean is approaching the summer season, considered the low season. Winter in the Caribbean is high season. Late fall is a shoulder season because it’s between the low season of the summer and the high season of the winter. The temperatures stay in the 70s and 80s in the Caribbean during the shoulder season, but you can typically find reasonable prices on accommodations during this time, relatively speaking. 
  • If you’re going to Europe, shoulder season is often from late April to early June and then from September to November. Again, since these aren’t the low seasons, you’ll find that the weather tends to still be good, yet you get lower prices and smaller crowds. 
  • In Florida, between April and May is shoulder season, as is September through November. 
  • If you’re going to Hawaii, shoulder season is between September and the middle of December, and then again from mid-April to mid-June. 
  • If you’re going to a southwest destination like Santa Fe, the shoulder season is mid-January to early March. 
  • In Mexico, shoulder season is April to early June. 
  • If you’d like to go to Yosemite National Park, think about visiting in the shoulder season months of April and May, as well as October. Almost 60% of all visitors go between June and September, making for a potentially frustrating experience during these times. 

You’ll often hear seasoned travelers refer to the shoulder season as the sweet spot. You get good weather and the opportunity to enjoy your destination without massive prime-time crowds. 

As a note here, any time you’re thinking about traveling during a holiday, that’s not going to fall into the category of a shoulder season, even if it would otherwise. Holidays are a unique situation and an exclusion to shoulder seasons. 

Why Travel During Shoulder Season?

We touched on some of these already, but specific reasons to think about traveling during shoulder season include: 

  • You can find some of the best deals for travel during the low season, but you might not want to travel during that time for any number of reasons. Shoulder season gives you a bit of a compromise. You have fewer downsides of the off-season, but you can still potentially find good deals. You can often save money across the board, from your flights to your hotels and your activities. 
  • You can avoid some of the biggest crowds, but if you don’t love the idea of a lonely travel experience, you’re probably not going to be entirely alone during shoulder seasons. 
  • The weather is going to be mild during shoulder season. 
  • You’ll have more options for bookings and things to do because everything won’t be slammed like it is during high season. 
  • Sometimes during the low season, things aren’t open, or the hours are limited, particularly in a lot of European countries, so there’s less of a risk of this during shoulder season. 

Tips for Shoulder Season Bookings

Some things to keep in mind if you’re considering traveling during the shoulder season and you’re booking your plans include:

  • Be aware of potential weather risks. For example, in the Caribbean, shoulder season can also fall during hurricane season. While there’s no way to predict for sure what the weather is going to be like, if you have an idea of the risks, then you can plan flexible options or perhaps invest in travel insurance or some form of protection that will cover you if the weather prevents you from traveling or cuts your trip short. 
  • Take advantage of the most popular things in whatever your destination is. For example, maybe you get reservations at the hottest restaurant or take a behind-the-scenes tour. Think about those bucket list items for whatever your destination is that you might not be able to otherwise because of cost or crowds and see if you can’t arrange them during a shoulder season trip. 
  • Splurge on your accommodations. Again, if you can save money, you might get a great hotel or rental for a fraction of the price you would pay otherwise. 
  • Make sure you know what’s open and what’s closed before you go. You don’t want to get your heart set on something and then not be able to do it. 
  • Realize that the energy can be different in the shoulder season than what you might associate with a destination. For example, if you wanted to travel to Mykonos in Greece and went before the summer high season, there would be less party atmosphere. For some people, this is a good thing, but it can be a pitfall of shoulder season for others. Just do some research to know what you should expect going into a trip. You can still have a great time even if the energy is different, but you need to manage your expectations. 

Overall, shoulder season is an excellent opportunity to explore new destinations, with some planning and mindfulness of any possible pitfalls. 

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