multicolored houses of Burano island, Venice, Italy

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. With social distancing now the way of the world, the perks are more enjoyable than ever.

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, or pretend to understand. It can lead to savings over 30% or more on airfare and hotels – and also side step overcrowded attractions.

A little extra space also counts for a lot these days, and this can help with that too.

two boats on a calm body of water

Shoulder Season: It Varies By Destination

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, shoulder season is unique for each destination. Things like school holidays factor in no doubt, but it’s a bigger picture.

For example, early October or early December might be the “in between” shoulder season in New York, while it’s full on peak season in Hawaii or Mumbai. People flock to New York for summer and September attractions, then don’t tend to come back until Thanksgiving or December holidays, so any time in between is that “shoulder” time.

Each destination will have a unique “in between” time aka shoulder season, but it’s totally worth putting a little legwork – aka a google search – to figure out when the peak season begins or ends in each destination – and aim to visit just on the correct side of that.

Why? Savings, fewer crowds and generally equally, or even more lovely weather. Like Tokyo, where it’s hot and humid in the peak summer when many travel, but lovely just after, when everyone is back at school.

a glass pyramid with a building in the background

Shoulder Season Travel Savings

The whole “shoulder” season concept is often fairly similar in North America and European cities, thanks to the similar latitude.

While many travelers 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 travelers 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.

a multicolored building with blue sky

Shoulder Season Weather And Crowds

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. Even better, right?

There’s nothing fun about long queues to see the world’s best sights, particularly as the world rebounds from health scares. But getting there just before, or just after the peak tourism periods means you will face less competition anywhere you go.

Even restaurants are happier to see you, great guides aren’t fully booked and fewer people will ruin the perfect vacation picture.

a group of people walking on a hill

How To Plan Your Shoulder Season Trip

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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Great advice! My wife and I do most of our travel during shoulder season whenever possible. The tradeoffs are always well worth it for us.

    1. Thanks Ryan! Same for us. I’ll take those trade offs any day, and really, fewer people is hardly a trade off in my book haha! Cheers.

  2. My wife and I love to travel in September. Everyone just got kids back to school, so there are less people traveling and very few kids.

  3. Hi Gil,
    Great article. But have you done a report on that trip to Laos? Does it feel as safe as Vietnam and Cambodia? It’s definitely on our list to visit at some point. We do Thailand Malaysia and Bali on a rotation , but hope to add in Laos at some point. Will search your site also.

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