If it’s peak season somewhere, it’s shoulder season somewhere else…
One of the most memorable trips I’ve taken over the last few years was one to Luang Prabang, Laos. I went during summer, when just about everyone says not to go, due to semi regular rain. But as a lush tropical climate, was it really going to rain all day and ruin my parade? No, of course not, and by going during this “shoulder season” period, I saved a fortune at every turn and to top it all off, the trees were green, a feature no one in peak season gets to witness.
This is just one of the many examples of the joys of shoulder season, the travel term you’ve probably heard, but may have overlooked. It can lead to savings over 30% on airfare and hotels – and also side step overcrowded attractions.
Shoulder Season is the term for the period in between the highest peak seasons and the fully off peak times. Since the “best time” to visit any destination varies by factors like weather, temperature and all things geography, there’s no one stop answer for shoulder season around the world, only for specific places.
For example, early December might be the “in between” shoulder season in New York, while it’s full on peak season in Hawaii or Mumbai. Each destination will have a unique “in between” time, but it’s totally worth putting a little legwork in to figure out when the peak season begins or ends in each destination – and aim to visit on the correct side of that. Why? Savings, fewer crowds and generally equally lovely weather.
The whole “shoulder” season concept is often fairly similar in North America and European cities, thanks to the similar latitude. While many travellers will aim for Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Venice or other capitols in July and August, data shows that economy flights in the shoulder season of September are on average 35% cheaper. That’s significant savings. A few examples? Tokyo, Japan is 26% cheaper in September than mid summer, and Paris is a whopping 33% cheaper.
Side tip: If you are travelling during peak summer, don’t be afraid to look at business class airfare. There are many examples where business class is actually cheaper than economy during flash sales, since economy cabins are crammed and many business travellers take the summer off.
This same concept applies to accommodations such as hotels or Airbnb’s, thanks to the decreased demand that naturally occurs as kids head back to school. If there’s any one tip to take away here, if you don’t have children, travel when children are in school. Hotels can vary just as much as flights, with some top five star options sliding as much as 60% cheaper during shoulder season months than when everyone is travelling. Again, it’s not just about schools, it’s about the in between time for each and every destination.
The benefit of travelling during “shoulder season” versus totally off peak travel times is that you still reap the benefits of great weather and a lively environment. Think warm t-shirt weather during the day but nice cool cardigan weather at night, as opposed to wanting to live in a cold bath day or night. Basically, you’re saving on price, but not missing out on the great weather or seasonality that makes a destination special.
When it comes to crowds, it’s pretty much the same. There’s nothing fun about long queues to see the world’s best sights, but getting there just before, or just after the peak tourism periods means you will face less competition anywhere you go. Restaurants are happier to see you, great guides aren’t fully booked and fewer people will ruin the perfect vacation picture.
It pretty much all starts with a Google Search. If I wanted to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’d look up “best time to visit Chang Mai” on Google. I’d read up on the weather trends and look for any other info on when most tourists come, and then I’d look to arrive just before, or just after.
The fun thing about using shoulder season is that even if it’s peak time somewhere you wanted to go, it’s probably shoulder season somewhere else. This is a crucial step in outsmarting the growing mass tourism issues while helping to support local economies during lower season.
Sure, there’s always some risk of a bit more rain, weather that’s slightly warmer, colder, more humid or arid and so forth, but when you think about the benefits, they often outweigh any other potential negatives. Make shoulder season your new best friend.