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Why “Shoulder Season” Is the Best Time for You to Travel

Tourist on a rock in Switzerland. Active rest and tourism in summer time.

When dreaming of their next getaway, most envision either the sun-soaked peak of summer or the cozy embrace of winter. Yet, your calendar is more generous than it seems, and if you aren’t careful, you may overlook a gem for travel booking: the so-called “shoulder season.” This in-between time may net you many of the perks associated with the busiest travel times of the year and the quiet lull of the off-peak months.

Shoulder season is a godsend for those who want to plan their dream vacations, especially with their families. On top of dodging crowds and saving more than a few bucks, shoulder season travelers can readily embrace a destination in its most authentic form, without the distortion of extreme weather or overwhelming swathes of fellow tourists.

If you’re a travel enthusiast already planning your next adventure, either by yourself or with your family in tow, then you’ll definitely want to look into taking a trip during the shoulder season instead of during peak seasons. Here are the unique benefits shoulder season will offer you:

A woman meets the sunset in the mountains. Man travels in the mountains. Mountain tourism
A woman meets the sunset in the mountains. Man travels in the mountains. Mountain tourism

1) Pleasant Weather

Imagine embarking on a journey where every day welcomes you with near-perfect weather. That’s the magic of the shoulder season. You won’t be grappling with the biting cold of winter or the scorching heat of summer. Instead, you can look forward to comfortable and moderate temperatures every day of your trip. Whether you’re exploring a busy city or taking a serene walk in the countryside, the weather during these months will likely seem tailor-made for your adventures.

Packing will also be so much easier for such a trip. You won’t have to deal with packing your bulky winter coat or coordinating a plethora of light summer outfits. Instead, you can shop leggings, light cardigans, and other clothes for all seasons and pack them into your suitcase without worry. Not only are these items exceptionally comfortable, but they’re also perfect for everything from a brisk morning walk to a relaxed evening out. Plus, less luggage means you can move around with ease, making each transition on your trip a stress-free one.

Moderate climates during shoulder season may also give you the chance to see your destinations in an entirely new light. You can lounge on white beaches with your family without feeling the summer burn, or enjoy snowy terrains that aren’t just expanses of white. The landscapes you’ll encounter will offer you a fresh perspective far removed from the usual postcard images, which will in turn enable your travel stories to stand out.

2) Significant Cost Savings

Though travel will always be a significant investment, you’ll be able to cut your expenses by a large margin if you schedule your trips during shoulder season. With fewer tourists around, there’s a ripple effect on costs that will work in your favor. Those plush accommodations that felt out of reach might just fit snugly within your budget. And if you’re more budget-conscious, rest assured that your dollar will stretch further and give you better value at every turn.

You’ll also be able to score excellent deals on airfare, which can take up a huge chunk of your travel budget especially if you’rebooking tickets for a large group. With airlines keen on maintaining steady passenger numbers, you’ll often stumble upon discounted tickets or attractive promotions during this time. You can either get direct savings or the opportunity to upgrade your seat, and you’ll also be able to experience quieter airports and more relaxed flights—which will of course set the tone for a more pleasant journey.

And then there are the everyday expenses. Dining out, renting a bike, or even indulging in local experiences like concerts will often come with a friendlier price tag during shoulder season. These incremental savings might seem small, but they’ll accumulate over the duration of your trip, and you’ll definitely feel them if you booked for a group. In the long run, they’ll give you the freedom to splurge elsewhere or perhaps add a few more days to your adventure.

3) Fewer Crowds

Have you ever arrived at a must-visit landmark only to be greeted by a sea of tourists, all jostling for the perfect photo spot or a better view? The shoulder season dramatically reduces this scenario. Without throngs of fellow tourists, popular destinations will regain their inherent charm. You’ll get the space to truly appreciate the beauty around you, unhindered by the push and pull of large crowds.

Without the long queues, you’ll spend more time actually enjoying attractions rather than waiting for your turn. You’ll be also be less worried about losing sight of your kids or other travel companions and subjecting them to the dangers and anxieties of crowd crush.

The serenity of shoulder season will ultimately allow for a deeper connection with the places you visit. Museums, historical sites, and natural wonders will become rich personal experiences, not just items you tick off on a checklist.

Tourism, travel, vacation on the rocky sea.
Tourism, travel, vacation on the rocky sea.

4) More Local Experiences

Traveling during the shoulder season also offers you something priceless: a more authentic experience. With the bustling tourist scene taking a step back, local life becomes the main act. You’ll see the streets filled with residents going about their daily routines, rather than tour groups following a flag. Cafés and restaurants, no longer catering primarily to tourists, will serve dishes that locals truly love.

Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll find that your interactions will also become richer. Shopkeepers and café owners, for example, may have the time and inclination to chat, share stories with you, or offer you helpful recommendations.

Ever wanted to know about that hidden beach not mentioned in guidebooks? Or a quaint little eatery that serves the best local delicacies? This is your chance. Traveling during these months immerses you in the local culture, letting you experience a destination as the residents do.

5) Tourism Demand Is Better Spread Out

Choosing to travel during the shoulder season will benefit people other than you and your travel companions. You may also be able to advocate responsible tourism by helping spread out tourist arrivals, thus alleviating pressure on your chosen destinations and keeping them pristine for future visitors.

In addition, local businesses that rely on tourism will benefit from a steadier flow of income throughout the year. Instead of a feast-or-famine scenario, they’ll experience a more consistent stream of customers. Choose to book your trip during the shoulder season, and you’ll be indirectly supporting these communities and ensuring that their traditions, crafts, and services continue to thrive.

There are a lot of hidden benefits to booking during the shoulder season, both practical and immaterial. As you plan your next adventure, consider this often-overlooked period. It may just allow you to savor a destination’s true essence and contribute to sustainable tourism practices in the process.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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