Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Beat the Crowds, Slash the Costs
One of the best ways to save big on your next vacation is to travel during shoulder season. This refers to the periods of time just before and after peak travel seasons. By visiting destinations during shoulder season, you can dodge massive crowds, score steep discounts on flights and hotels, and enjoy a more relaxed experience overall.
Peak season brings droves of tourists, sending prices skyrocketing. Airfare and hotel rates can easily double compared to shoulder seasons. For example, roundtrip flights from Los Angeles to Paris average around $550 during October, but balloon to $1,100 in July. Likewise, hotel rates in Barcelona hover around $125 per night in March then triple to $375 per night in August.
The savings don’t stop there. Popular tourist attractions offer reduced admission fees or bundled deals to entice visitors during shoulder seasons. In Washington D.C., the famous museums and monuments operated by the Smithsonian Institute are completely free to enter year-round. But the massive influxes of summer crowds make it nearly impossible to enjoy the exhibits. Visiting in April or September means having these world-class attractions practically to yourself.
Beyond the tangible cost savings, shoulder seasons deliver a much more pleasant travel experience overall. No more wasting precious vacation time waiting in endless queues or jostling through hordes of people. Instead, you can leisurely stroll through nearly empty city streets, museums and beaches. Locals are often friendlier and small businesses more attentive during shoulder seasons. Many travelers find this leads to a more authentic cultural immersion.
Peak crowds start subsiding after kids return to school in September. Late spring, before summer vacations ramp up in June, is another prime shoulder season.Popular destinations like Paris, London and Tokyo see peak tourism from June through August. Visiting in late April/early May or September/October means thinner crowds and temperate weather.
Caribbean hotspots like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic have peak crowds over winter months, when northerners flee the cold. Visiting during the humid summers means having those glorious beaches and turquoise waters nearly all to yourself.
What else is in this post?
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Beat the Crowds, Slash the Costs
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Snag Deep Discounts on Airfare
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Find Hotel Deals Galore
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Enjoy Cultural Festivals for Free
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Revel in Ideal Weather Conditions
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Escape the Migraines of Peak Season
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Savor the Tranquility of Empty Attractions
- Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Get Personalized Attention from Locals
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Snag Deep Discounts on Airfare
One of the biggest perks of traveling during shoulder season is scoring deep discounts on airfare. Flight prices fluctuate wildly depending on travel dates and demand. By being flexible with your plans, you can capitalize on the cheapest rates.
During peak seasons, airlines jack up prices because they know demand is high. Families traveling in summer or people heading home for the winter holidays often have no choice but to pay the inflated fares. But in shoulder seasons, airlines lower prices to attract leisure travelers with more flexible schedules. Comparing prices for the same NYC to LA roundtrip flight makes the difference clear: $280 in March versus $500 in July.
Savvy travelers use Google Flights to find the cheapest dates in their flexible travel window. Simply enter your route and length of stay to see a monthly view of prices. October tends to have the best rates for fall shoulder season in Europe. January is a steal for winter getaways to the Caribbean.
Signing up for fare alerts is another great way to snag discounts. You’ll get notifications anytime prices drop on your chosen route and dates. This works perfectly for locking down deals in shoulder seasons.
It also pays to compare rates across nearby airports. An airport 50 miles away could have hundreds of dollars in savings compared to departing from your home airport. Parking and transportation to the alternate airport often pale in comparison to the airfare savings.
Don’t forget to check full service carriers and budget airlines. Budget carriers offer cheap base fares but notoriously ding travelers on fees. Legacy carriers may have better seat comfort and amenities for longer flights.
Considering open jaws and multi-city itineraries is another way to enjoy big savings in shoulder seasons. For example, flying into Paris and back from Rome could cost much less than a standard roundtrip ticket to just Paris. The extra leg from Paris to Rome via a budget carrier is often just $50-100.
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Find Hotel Deals Galore
The off-season provides a prime opportunity to score unbelievable hotel discounts, with rates slashed sometimes 50% or more compared to peak times. Families often travel when kids are out of school, business travelers pack hotels Monday to Thursday, and certain annual events like Oktoberfest drive lodging prices through the roof. Avoiding these peak demand periods is the key to savings.
Use the Hotel Price Index on Trivago to compare the average monthly hotel prices globally. This makes it easy to visualize when the highest and lowest rates occur all year long. For Europe, August is most expensive, January is cheapest. In the Caribbean, it’s the opposite - January is peak while September sees the lowest prices.
Major hotel brands offer offline discounts to partners during shoulder seasons to generate bookings when demand lags. But these deals rarely appear on the hotel’s direct site. Instead, you’ll find dedicated low rate calendars on aggregators like Hotels.com and Expedia. Here you can view dates color coded by price. Lock in stays during the green discounted periods and get instant confirmations.
Independent hotels and boutique properties often have more flexibility than big brands to incentivize direct bookings. Keep an eye out for flash sales and limited time promotions. For example, many Swiss ski resorts offer steep summer discounts including free breakfast and resort credits to entice visitors during their low season. These deals appear right on the hotel’s website.
Consider using HotelTonight to save up to 50% on last minute deals, especially for independent hotels trying to fill remaining rooms. The app surfaces great rates just a few weeks or days ahead of your stay. This takes the pressure off locking down plans too far in advance.
Joining hotel loyalty programs, even as an infrequent guest, can unlock special discounts. As a member you’ll receive promotional rates to stay during shoulder seasons that aren’t always advertised publicly online. Status matching between programs then multiplies these rewards.
Travel deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial routinely offer shoulder season hotel coupons at popular destinations worldwide. You’ll find vouchers for discounted or even free nights that can be redeemed during non-peak periods. Read the fine print closely though as these often have blackout dates.
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Enjoy Cultural Festivals for Free
Shoulder seasons open the door to experiencing one-of-a-kind cultural festivals, often for free. Locals celebrate their heritage, cuisine, art and history with enthusiasm untarnished by mobs of tourists. Attending these authentic events fosters a deeper connection with the destination.
Small towns pour immense passion into their annual festivals, whether it’s gown-clad dancers at Hungary’s Miskolc Opera Festival, or reenactments of medieval battles at Scotland’s Stirling Highland Games. Taking part transports you back in time to when lords and peasants roamed the land. Meandering through open-air markets filled with handmade wares, free samples of local delicacies and the strains of traditional music completes the experience.
Costa Rica’s Envision Festival, held for two weeks each February, epitomizes the eco-friendly, zen vibe that defines shoulder season vibes. Yogis practice yoga to the sounds of DJs spinning natural beats. Local artisans sell their crafts in the Artisan Market. Earth-friendly workshops, art installations and even permaculture lessons foster connection with nature. Much of the programming is free or donation-based, creating an inviting atmosphere.
Scotland’s Fringe Festival in Edinburgh sets the stage for comedy, dance, theater and music every August. The streets come alive with over 55,000 performances by more than 3,000 acts. Many up-and-coming artists put on free shows to gain exposure and hone their skills. Wandering from venue to venue lets you sample productions across genres. Many tempt passersby with free previews. Big-name acts still command ticket fees, allowing main venues to profit, but ample free options keep this festival accessible.
From January through March, The Cayman Islands caters to foodies with its Restaurant Months promotion. Over 70 eateries offer prix fixe brunches, lunches and dinners priced at just $16, $32 and $48. Diners can sample top culinary creations by celebrity chefs without blowing the budget. Free cooking classes and complimentary wine pairings accompany dinners. The temptation to indulge strikes a perfect balance with lighter crowds and breezy weather during the Caribbean shoulder season.
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Revel in Ideal Weather Conditions
Visiting destinations during shoulder season allows travelers to revel in ideal weather conditions without the risks of traveling during peak hurricane, monsoon or wildfire seasons. Mild temperatures coupled with smaller crowds creates the perfect environment to enjoy outdoor activities and nature.
Popular summer destinations like Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean see peak crowds when kids are out of school from June through August. But this is also the season for hurricanes and tropical storms. Trying to relax on the beach with the looming threat of destructive weather is far from ideal! Visiting these spots in May or September means less humidity, smaller waves and fewer crowds. The odds of a hurricane directly hitting drop significantly.
Ski resorts burst with peak crowds and prices in the core winter months between Christmas and Presidents’ Day weekend. But avid skiers and snowboarders know late fall and early spring is when conditions shine. “I specifically plan my ski trips for March through May to avoid crowds and take advantage of spring skiing when there's softer snow,” says Mighty Travels reader Rob W. who frequents resorts in Utah and Colorado. Cooler temps allow resorts to prolong snow cover well into April or even May some years. Lower rates incentivize visits too.
The Mediterranean boasts pleasantly warm and dry weather during shoulder seasons without the oppressive heat or hordes of August crowds. Visitors in May or October can comfortably spend entire days meandering cobblestoned streets and exploring outdoor markets without needing to duck into air conditioning or compete for space. “We went to Greece and Turkey in late September into early October and had ideal sunny 70 degree [21C] weather every day – it was like we had these historic sites all to ourselves” remarked Katie S.
India’s winter months from November to February see cooler temperatures and lower humidity levels, creating ideal conditions for sightseeing compared to the sweltering summers. The pushed back dates for Diwali festivals also make visiting in October an ideal shoulder season option. “I lived in Delhi and always appreciated the crisis of clean air and enchanting spirit that October and November hold - the amalgamation of festivities like Dussehra and Diwali with the lovely weather makes it the perfect time to visit,” suggests India native Rahul K.
The diverse microclimates across California let travelers take advantage of ideal conditions year round by targeting shoulder seasons in each region. Visitors can tour Napa Valley vineyards or hike in the Sierra Nevada mountains May through October when coastal cities still see gloom and chilly temps. Come November, San Francisco and San Diego welcome back sun worshippers ready to enjoy 60s and 70s [15C to 24C] degree afternoons as the rest of the state turns cold. “I avoid California completely in the summer now and just visit in the shoulder seasons to beat the crowds while still getting great weather” veteran Cali traveler Amanda W. remarks.
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Escape the Migraines of Peak Season
Escaping the migraines of peak season may be one of the most compelling reasons to plan trips during shoulder seasons. Between navigating hordes of tourists at every turn to paying outrageously inflated prices, peak season travel often feels more like a headache than a vacation.
During July and August, iconic destinations like Paris, London, and Rome brim with such massive tourist crowds that locals actually flee the cities if they can. “In peak summer, major European tourist sights were so packed you could barely move or take a photo without strangers in it. I felt cattle herded from one stop to the next," reflects frequent traveler Amy W.
Toddlers having meltdowns in mile-long Disneyland lines and frazzled parents wearing the classic toddler-tantrum-embarrassment expression are ubiquitous. Braving summer crowds with kids in tow hardly sets the stage for a magical family vacation. Opting for shoulder seasons provides access to kid-friendly attractions without the chaos.
Business traveler Steve T. recounts a painfully long taxi queue recently at JFK, “Even with my early arrival, it still took 40 minutes just to get a cab after landing at 5pm on a Tuesday. I can only imagine how crowded it gets on weekends!"
Travel doesn’t need to feel stressful. In shoulder seasons, families can actually enjoy uncrowded playgrounds, couples can stroll hands-linked along deserted beach promenades, and bleary-eyed business travelers can swiftly snag cabs.
Without hordes clogging pathways, sapping energy, and causing headaches everywhere you turn, it becomes possible to fully experience each destination at your own pace. Quickly maneuvering through customs and airport security, enjoying an unhurried sunny lunch at an outdoor café before easily accessing museums, wandering down tranquil village lanes that feel pleasantly lived in rather than just Instagram backdrops exaggerated with crowds – these underrated travel pleasures become daily reality.
Local businesses also share travelers’ relief at manageable crowds. One Irish hotel owner confided, “Mass tourism is choking the character out of this village lately. Shoulder season visitors respect our home more.” Locals everywhere welcome responsible travelers.
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Savor the Tranquility of Empty Attractions
Visiting popular sights and attractions during shoulder season allows travelers to enjoy a much more relaxed, unhurried experience. Without fighting through endless queues or jostling for space, you can actually savor these sights rather than just checking them off a list.
During peak times, iconic attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Machu Picchu or the Vatican Museums get so congested that visitors spend more time waiting in lines than actually exploring. "We only had a few hours to see the Louvre and waited nearly two just to enter. We were so rushed trying to cram everything in that I barely remember what we even saw," reflects disappointed traveler Katie W.
Shoulder seasons transform these same places into tranquil, contemplative spaces. At the Taj Mahal, you may sit peacefully soaking in intricate details rather than being shuffled along by crowds. Meander through the Van Gogh Museum’s collections as long as you like rather than anxiously trying to avoid bottlenecks.
"I'll never forget having the glorious Charles Bridge and medieval streets of Prague practically to myself one crisp fall morning," recalls frequent traveler Amanda G. "Without crowds blocking photos it was like seeing this fairytale city come to life."
Thin crowds and discounts also allow you to see more with less stress. Savvy travelers take advantage of shoulder season promotions like multi-site passes or discounted hours. For example, many of Amsterdam's best museums offer after 5pm discounts in winter months. Combination tickets provide relaxed access to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and others.
"Being able to casually pop between museums, take scenic canal strolls and explore narrow alleyways really let me immerse in and savor Amsterdam," Amanda G. shares. "No maps, crowds or tickets to juggle - just quality time enjoying art and architecture."
Appreciating natural wonders also proves more rewarding without peak season headaches. Hiking Machu Picchu’s steep steps and soaking in stunning Andes vistas unobstructed by selfie-snapping hordes is an unforgettable experience for nature lovers. Stand peacefully alone watching vivid sunrises over Arizona’s ethereal Antelope Canyon rather than elbow to elbow with masses of photographers.
Saving Big By Traveling in Shoulder Season: How Much You Can Pocket in Top Destinations - Get Personalized Attention from Locals
Visiting destinations during shoulder seasons provides travelers a special opportunity to receive personalized attention from locals. Without the usual disruptions and distractions of peak tourism, residents gladly share insider tips and hidden gems. Locally-owned businesses also have more time to mingle with patrons. This fosters rewarding cultural connections and memorable travel moments.
Avid traveler Amanda W. fondly recounts shoulder season trips where, “Store owners chatted with me for ages about their products and passions. At a leather shop in Florence, the craftsman brought me into his workshop to explain each machine’s purpose.” Without crowds vying for attention, business owners can focus on building rapport with customers.
Seeing the joy of citizens celebrating beloved local festivals also creates heartwarming connections. When music lover Brad S. attended the lively New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in late April, he was eager to experience true Big Easy culture. “Locals kept encouraging me to dance and sing along, welcoming me to participate and not just spectate.” Their infectious enthusiasm reflected authentic local pride.
During quieter times, even heavily touristed destinations reveal their hidden charms. On a March visit to Paris, Janet T. exited the metro at Abbesses station in Montmartre and noted, “The iconic view of steeples and terra cotta rooftops took my breath away because it was so peaceful. An elderly Parisian woman gestured me over and pointed out her apartment of 50 years nestled amidst the couture scene.” Without hordes of Instagrammers angling for shots, it was possible to admire this view slowly and thoughtfully.
Avoiding peak season headaches allows locals to focus on cultivating meaningful exchanges. At Hawaii’s tranquil Waipio Valley in April, lifelong resident punahelehua greeted Sophie G.’s family with flower leis, sharing, “The valley is our sacred sanctuary, not some scenic backdrop. We’re keeping watch until the crowds return.” Appreciating Hawaii’s natural beauty through this cultural lens gave their family visit deeper meaning.
Watching local surfers and swimmers communally tending Hanauma Bay on Oahu’s eastern shore erased crowds from Colin S.’s mind: “Seeing their caretaking as the true owners of this nature reserve touched me. I sensed the pride they feel sharing this treasure.” Witnessing raw community spirit leaves an impression.
Without peak season fanfare, cultural institutions also provide access to locals eager to share expertise. History buff Greg P. relished discussing medieval tapestries with docents during an uncrowded October visit to the Cloisters museum in New York City. “Curators gave our family their undivided attention. I gained a whole new perspective on the true cultural value behind these artifacts.”