It's never too early to start thinking about your next vacation, especially if you want to avoid the crowds or save rather than forking over more money for expensive summertime flights and accommodations.
Here's a tip: Travel during "shoulder" seasons.
The time between the high (peak) and low (off-peak) seasons is referred to as the "shoulder season," which in many situations and for many destinations means spring and autumn. It's a happy medium that only appears twice a year — usually from March to May and September to November for the majority of locations in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean — when the weather, costs, and crowds are ideal. If you can work remotely or don't have to worry about class scheduling, it is the perfect time to travel.
Here are just a few advantages of travelling during shoulder season, whether you're planning a trip to the beach or a bustling city.
1. You will likely find better deals.
You'll most likely discover good deals during off-peak travel times – New York City regularly hosts Broadway Week, Restaurant Week, and Hotel Week in January to entice tourists throughout the winter months. Meanwhile, hot-weather communities offer discounts to beat the summer heat. Sales will most likely occur in the days and weeks following peak seasons as well, and you won't have to cope with extreme weather.
Keep an open mind and try to be as flexible as possible. Visit renowned ski resorts outside of the winter season (spring skiing is a thing!) or visit Europe on either side of summer for a less expensive getaway. If you like scuba diving, explore diving sites during cooler months for a true shoulder season experience.
If you want to visit most major theme parks or popular beach locations, plan your trip for shortly after Labor Day — after all the kids have returned to school — to save money on accommodations. Consider the shoulder season to be the perfect spot just before things close down for the winter but after the majority of visitors have already left.
Follow all of your favourite airlines and hotel businesses on social media to stay up to date on special offers. Signing up for deal-tracking websites can help you save money on flights all year long, not just during peak seasons. Sales at major hotels and resorts that need to fill rooms during the lull, or business-class seats priced closer to coach seat costs to entice travellers back between busy travel seasons, may also be available.
2. The weather will probably be more cooperative.
It's all about not having to deal with the sun blazing down on you in the summer or snowy weather in the winter when you travel during the shoulder seasons.
3. There will be less crowds.
If you travel during the shoulder seasons, you will have less people to compete with in terms of supply and demand. That means you'll have a greater chance of getting dinner reservations at that fancy restaurant you've been meaning to try, a higher chance of getting a room — or even an upgrade — at hotels with fewer guests, and any lineups you see at popular sites will be shorter. Summer visitors will have returned home or to school, leaving places of interest quieter but not as deserted as they might be at other times of the year.
This is notably true for big European tourism destinations such as Greece and Italy, but it also applies to domestic locations. Summer, for example, is a less popular season to visit extra-sunny destinations like Miami, which means you'll have an easier time booking accommodations, making restaurant reservations, and getting around.
4. Most things will still be open.
Another advantage of travelling during the shoulder seasons is that you will be going after the busy summer season but before businesses — depending on the destination, this may be hotels, restaurants, stores, or all of the above — close for the low season. Visit a beach town or an amusement park during the offseason, when operating hours may be reduced but you may still get to enjoy the whole experience.
5. You will experience places differently.
With less visitors about, you can take in your surroundings and get a sense of what it's like to live in the area you're visiting, because you're there experiencing everything alongside its local residents. Depending on where you are and the time of year, you may also be able to attend an event or festival that does not generally take place during busier times. Always check the tourism board websites of the places you're visiting to see if there's anything unique going on while you're there.
6. You will be helping to support tourism year-round (and more sustainably).
If you're concerned about contributing to overtourism while travelling — which is a real concern for some popular tourist destinations like Hawaii and Venice during peak seasons — visiting during the shoulder season when it's less crowded means you'll be helping to make tourism more sustainable in the long run.
Consider this: you'll be contributing to the destination's economy and supporting the tourism sector, all while putting less burden on the area's resources because fewer people will be present. Consider visiting popular national parks or other natural sites that are often packed during the summer months in the shoulder season, or going to smaller, more secluded destinations when there aren't as many people around.