Shoulder Season Travel Secrets
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.
No significant shoulder seasons fall within January, February, July, and August, but prices drop immediately after the holidays in January.
The big waves have subsided, along with the winter beachgoers; resorts are also bringing down rates. Through MayEarly: Rio de Janeiro
Carnival has come and gone, which means hotel rooms are easier to find and less expensive (by as much as 60 percent).Mid: Ireland
It’s warming up and wildflowers are beginning to bloom; a perfect time for exploring the countryside. Through April
Late-season skiing is still excellent in high-altitude destinations like Whistler, British Columbia; Vail, Steamboat, and the Arapahoe Basin, all in Colorado; and Tignes, France.Early: Australian Outback
With average temperatures now cooling to between 80 and 86 degrees, you can visit Ayers Rock without risking heatstroke. Through MayMid: European Cities
Outdoor café culture is picking up, but the summer crowds won’t arrive until early June. Get here before they do.Mid: The Caribbean and Mexico’s Riviera Maya
Room prices fall as much as 30 percent after Easter, and hurricane season is still weeks away. Through early June
Peak hotel rates have come down after last month’s cherry blossom celebrations, and the humidity has yet to kick in.Mid: Mediterranean Cruising
The weather’s warming, but prices remain as much as 20 percent lower than in the summer high season.Mid: Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Airfares from the States are at their lowest, and in Australia’s north, days are full of sunshine. Through August
April and May are sweltering, but the rains cool things off in June. The tourist crowds won’t arrive until next month. Through JuneEarly
Baja California Temperatures have yet to soar, but resorts are offering bargains in anticipation of the hot months to come.
Room rates and airfares drop after Labor Day. Through SeptemberEarly: Montana
Days continue to be sunny and dry, and dude ranches are offering discounted fall rates. Through SeptemberEarly: South Africa
Prices at safari lodges are lower and the foliage less dense, making it easy to spot the Big Five. Through early October
Rates have started to drop, but you’ll still find ample sun on islands such as Crete, Ibiza, and Sicily.Early: Dubai
Days are cooler, and camel-racing season has begun. Hotels, meanwhile, are enticing travelers with bargains. Early September through OctoberMid: Vancouver Island, Canada
Room prices have dropped by nearly half, and it’s still warm enough to enjoy wine-tasting at the island’s many vineyards. Through November
The water is crystal clear before cyclone season, making it a great time for diving and snorkeling.Mid: The Caribbean and Mexico’s Riviera Maya
Before the holiday rush, beaches are empty and it’s easy to find hotel deals. Through mid-December
The snow has returned, but the winter season is just beginning. Late November through mid-DecemberEarly: Costa Rica
After months of rain, the clouds are thinning. Through mid-December