Shoulder Season Travel Secrets

Sunday, December 7, 2014

After the vacation crowds head home, you’ll find the smart traveler basking in good deals and wide open spaces.

Quick: What’s the best time of year to visit Thailand?If you’re looking for great bargains, slim crowds, and good weather, that time is June—after rains have cooled off the sweltering heat but before the tourist masses arrive in July (and prices go up). June in Thailand is the tiny, mystical window known as shoulder season.

Shoulder season is the Mama Bear of travel times: tucked between the high prices of peak season and the lousy weather of the low season, shoulder season is juuuuust right for many travelers. Schedule your vacation right before or immediately after high season and the only differences you’ll notice are lower costs, fewer crowds, and of course greater availability of hotel rooms and restaurant reservations.

You’ll notice a warmer welcome, too, when you travel off-peak. Locals, who may grow weary of crowds in peak season, have time to relax in shoulder season. For instance, an afternoon in early May is an ideal time to linger at an outdoor café in Rome and people-watch, before the summer tourists descend.

Timing, of course, is everything. In March, for example, spring skiing in Whistler, British Columbia is still going full-throttle (with high prices to match). But hold off until April—when the powder’s usually just as good—and you’ll find that the crowds have melted. So not only will you get great first tracks without throwing elbows, you’ll also pay $189 less per night for a standard room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler than you would in early February.

If you’re more of a warm-weather traveler, use hurricane season to your advantage. The Riviera Maya’s hurricane season peaks from August to October, but it’s long gone by mid-November. That’s when sun-worshippers with an eye on value can hit the beach and clean up on bargains before the holiday crowds arrive. Even if you opt for opulence at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun, the same guestroom that runs $489 over Easter weekend costs only $269 in mid-November.

So how do you pick the ideal time?Consult a calendar, of course. We’ve mapped out the eight key shoulder-season months, outlining destinations from Dubai (October) to Montana (September). Heading to Hawaii?Craving Costa Rica?If you’re a shoulder-season devotee, this is one calendar you don’t want to miss.

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