Most travelers know that shoulder season can be one of the best times to visit a place – if you care less about perfect weather than you do about the cost and crowds. Shoulder season isn’t high season for a reason. You probably won’t be able to hit the beach if you go somewhere in shoulder season. Or you may find it rains just a bit more than you’d like. But generally, shoulder season (whether it be the spring or fall in that destination) tends to mean pleasant temperatures – not too hot and not too cold – with mild weather.
Think of shoulder season like a travel compromise. You may miss out on a few activities by not coming in high season, but you’ll save money. You’ll pay just a bit more than if you came in low season, but you’ll have better weather. And though you won’t feel as though you have a place to yourself as you might in low season, you won’t have to battle the big crowds that you’d find during peak travel times.
So when is shoulder season? And where should you go? Well, shoulder seasons vary by destination, but in many places it follows the spring and fall seasons. As we head towards September and October, shoulder season is quickly approaching. Here are a few ideas on where to go.
Europe and Scandinavia
Summer is peak season is much of Europe and crowds – and prices – decrease dramatically once September hits. In October the effect is even more pronounced, yet many places in southern Europe are still experiencing pleasant weather. Visiting Italy on a budget becomes much easier when hotel rates drop and airfare goes on sale; compare prices as low as $400 or so round trip from New York in October vs upwards of $800 during summer. Spain in October is equally appealing, which high temperatures still averaging 68-70F. On the Greek island of Crete, you can even swim in warm waters well into October. And a wine tasting trip to France in October means being around for harvest.
While it’s certainly getting colder in countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark during September, it’s far from winter and you’ll find that temperatures can still be pleasant into early October. September is a lovely time to visit Iceland, with mild temperatures (typically in the 50′sF) and much lower prices. And though you’ll miss out on the Midnight Sun, you may get the chance to see the elusive Northern Lights, which begin to make an appearance this month.
North America and the Caribbean
There are thousands of choices when it comes to shoulder-season travel in North America. With most kids back in school and temperatures slowly dropping, tourists crowds decrease everywhere from National Parks to beach resorts. Avoid Labor Day weekend and you can score deals to go anywhere from wine tasting in the Napa Valley to strolling the streets of Charleston or Savannah without breaking a sweat. In the north, winter temperatures have yet to arrive and in the south, the hot and humid days of summer are a thing of the past. Even Hawaii sees some shoulder season sales, with good Hawaii travel deals in late September and October. Though the shoulder season is less noticeable in always-popular Las Vegas, October is a particularly nice time to visit.
In Canada, Nova Scotia is just as lovely during September and October as her neighboring US state of Maine. Temperatures can still be quite warm (in the 60′sF) with sunny days perfect for exploring the province’s farmers markets and wineries. On the opposite side of the country, Vancouver is getting more rain, but you’ll find lower prices in this notoriously expensive city.
Travel to the Caribbean drops off in the late summer and fall as June through November is hurricane season. But this doesn’t mean you need to cross the Caribbean off your list; in fact if you’re willing to take a bit of a chance, you can save quite a bit of money on your island vacation. Pick a Virgin Island or opt for Jamaica, Puerto Rico or whichever island strikes your fancy and you’ll find hotel rates and airfare much lower than winter high season. Just spring for the extra travel insurance, keep an eye on the weather forecast, and be flexible if a storm changes your plans.
The Southern Hemisphere
While it’s fall in the north, more southerly countries are experiencing spring. This means you may end up in the Andes of Argentina at the tail end of ski season or find yourself needing a light jacket while exploring Buenos Aires. And though there’s really never a bad time to go to Australia, spring’s shoulder season means it may be wetter in the north as it heads into the rainy season, and cooler in the south before summer arrives. Still, if you’re coming from North America, the these minor inconveniences may be far outweighed by the savings.
What’s your favorite place to travel in September and October?