Shoulder season: Why right now is the best time to travel

Travel during the shoulder season often means fewer crowds at popular destinations.

Brook Sabin

Travel during the shoulder season often means fewer crowds at popular destinations.

Canceled flights, stranded passengers, lost luggage – it’s enough to put off even the most seasoned traveller.

The last few months have been a little wild with the return of international travel, combined with staff shortages due to ongoing sickness and the pandemic, and weather related cancellations. It resulted in the perfect storm for what was dubbed ‘airmageddon’.

But we’re heading into a time of year that could be considered the best time to travel.

While it will take some time for things to settle properly into the ‘new’ normal, these next few months might just be magic for travelers. Lessons have been learned from the initial chaos earlier in the year and more contingency plans have been put in place by airlines and travel agencies to minimize disruption as much as possible.

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Welcome to the shoulder season. Here’s what you need to know about traveling in it.

What exactly is the shoulder season?

No major holidays, unlikely extreme weather events – the shoulder season is that glorious bit of in-between time between peak winter and summer holidays. It does vary from country to country depending on the climate and what major events or festivals might be occurring in that destination, but in New Zealand it tends to fall around March-April depending on when Easter is, and September-October outside of school holidays .

Ever spent 15 hours stuck in the middle seat in economy class? If so, this guide’s for you. (Video published September 2019)

If you plan to travel with children it can make it more difficult as you’ll need to take them out of school to make the most of the shoulder season, but if you’re not bound by the term dates, then it is one of the best times to see some new sights and explore new places – without the crowds.

Why is it a good time to travel?

While most people save up the bulk of their holidays for the main summer or winter period, traveling in the shoulder season can be a lot less stressful.

For starters, it’s often cheaper and there are some excellent travel deals available. That’s because there’s lower demand in spring and autumn than summer and winter (depending on where you’re traveling). If you have flexibility around dates, then you might be surprised at what kind of cut-price last minute deals come up. Set price alerts for your favorite destinations to try and nab a deal.

The other joy of shoulder season travel is there are usually fewer tourists. The most obvious beneficiary is for the traveler themselves – it’s a chance to explore popular locations and destinations without having to get the elbows out to barge through the crowds.

Secondly, it’s better for the communities you visit. Over tourism is having devastating impacts on certain destinations around the world, but if you must visit the most popular spots, heading there in the off season helps the local communities manage a more consistent number of tourists throughout the year, rather than being overrun and overwhelmed at peak times.

Is there anything I should be aware of about shoulder season?

Because you’re traveling off-peak, there can be less availability on flights. And if something goes wrong, that can make it harder to find a prompt replacement flight home should your original plans go belly up.

The same goes for operator availability – popular activities or restaurants may have shortened opening hours, or may even close on certain days during the off-peak season. That just means you’ll need to plan ahead and check opening hours closer to the time.

Weather can be unpredictable depending on where you are going – so be sure to always have a rainy day activity up your sleeve and appropriate clothing such as a rain jacket and warm jumper for cool nights. In some places, spring and autumn might even have more consistent weather, and something like spring skiing means you can enjoy some time on the slopes with a greater chance of those gorgeous bluebird days.

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