Shoulder Season: What Veteran Travelers Don't Want You to Know


Shoulder season is an oft mentioned term by budget travelers and industry experts. It refers to a time period for a travel destination between the busy season and the slow season. This is often tied to weather, although other factors such as holidays or spectacles of nature can play a part. While most people visit any given destination during the busy season(hence the name), savvy travelers know that there are a lot of benefits to visiting a place during its not-quite-off season. If you are looking for the best time to go to any destination you wish to visit, read on as we break down what shoulder season is, and why it is popular with many veteran travelers. 

Less Crowds = Lower Costs

A street so crowded, no one would want to traverse it

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One of the best aspects of traveling during shoulder season is the lack of dense crowds. Nobody wants to wade through a sea of people when admiring a national monument or wait in a long line to gain access to an attraction. But possibly an even better benefit is that the lower demand will often lead to lower prices, as hotels and airlines make use of surge pricing to maximize their profits. Paying less for travel and lodging means that you will have more money for activities or for taking more trips later. You may not be present for some of the big attractions that cause the busy season to be busy, but you will often be able to enjoy what is still going on even better thanks to thinner crowds!

Temperate Weather

A lone hiker enjoying temperate weather

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Weather is one of the biggest contributing factors causing a destination to be busy. For instance, colder destinations like Alaska become busy in the summer, while warmer destinations like the Caribbean become busy in the winter. Shoulder season then represents the time period where the weather is changing from good for travel to bad. Since it is in the middle, the weather will usually be completely fine for a visit, just not absolutely immaculate. If you visit Miami during the busy season, you can expect temperatures in the 60s and 70s (°F). Whereas during shoulder season, they will likely be in the 70s to 80s. This 10 degree difference is unlikely to impede your vacation very much, especially if you are spending a lot of time in the water! 

Local Events and Activities

A group of friends enjoying a live outdoor show

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Whether or not a big local event is the reason for a busy season, such as the Bavarian Christmas markets, you can expect there to be more events happening during the busy season than not. Locals want to take advantage of the increased business, and will typically provide entertainment and activities for tourists coming into town. While events will die down a bit going into shoulder season, you can expect some attractions and events to still be running, as there will still be a significant amount of demand. This is not true of every destination, however. For instance, taking a Northern Lights cruise during shoulder season will mean that there is less certainty that you will actually see the Northern Lights, and no amount of planning or research can change that. But for most locations, you can look up what activities will be available during your planned vacation and determine if it is still enough to warrant a trip.

Determining When Shoulder Season Occurs

A woman throws her hands up in confusion while staring at a laptop

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We have already discussed the major factors determining when shoulder season is, those being weather, local attractions, and natural phenomenon. Understanding those factors will help you understand when to go, either in the starting or ending periods of those events. If you want to visit the winter markets in Europe, go when they first open as visitation will only increase as Christmas approaches, or the week after as some stay open into January(and may offer discounts to unload anything that they didn’t sell). If you want to visit the Caribbean, go in May when the wet season isn’t in full swing yet, or in November before people start taking their holiday vacations. If you want to see the changing leaves of New England, go in early September to see them in their early stages or late October to watch them starting to fall off on trees. Consider the reason that people visit your destination, and it is pretty easy to determine when the shoulder season is!

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