Every major tourist destination in the world has their peak season when there is ideal weather; but, you will typically pay more in airfare, hotels, and find yourself putting up with annoying crowds just to take advantage of that ideal weather.
Why not alter your travel dates just a bit, which will still allow you to take advantage of good weather, but also lower fares and smaller crowds? Traveling in the off-season or the shoulder season is a great way to save on your vacation and still see popular destinations.
Popular tourist destinations typically all have an off-peak season, where tourists are not flocking in masses and prices are a bit more reasonable. There is also a shoulder season, which is a short span of time just before the peak season begins. Prices are still lower and not everything might be up and running at full capacity. The downside to shoulder season is you will find more people than in off-season; however, it will still be less than during the peak season.
Traveling during less desirable times can be quite a lot of fun. It gives you the opportunity to experience seasonal events and festivals you would otherwise miss. Take European Christmas Markets for example — try Gluhwein (mulled wine) in Belgium or eat roasted chestnuts while strolling the streets of Paris. While the summer months would be much warmer and certainly more desirable weather, think of how pretty Paris is at Christmas time, which is something you would miss during June.
Many people are concerned with traveling to tropical destinations during storm season. That is certainly a valid concern, making the need for travel insurance likely worth it, but do not necessarily let hurricane season deter you from considering travel in storm prone regions. The Caribbean is certainly one region prone to hurricanes and traveling in shoulder season is probably a better risk than right in the middle of storm season.
Belize is a great example to consider traveling to in the off or shoulder season. The last few weeks of hurricane season are usually relatively mild. Hotels are cheaper and tourists are not invading the beaches and packing in the restaurants each night. Off or shoulder season also gives you some ability to negotiate prices on excursions and tours. During peak times, there is no incentive for tour companies to discount trips; but during the off season when things are slow, they will be much more likely to work with you.
If you think there is not much difference between the seasons, just talk to someone who has vacationed on prime European beaches. Having personally started a trip during the shoulder season, the difference in the Mediterranean beaches in just a few days was astonishing. People in Europe tend to have plentiful vacation time and they take it — usually the same few months each year. Those are the times you want to avoid places like Greece and Italy as the prices are high and the beaches are packed.
Traveling in the off or shoulder season is not for everyone. You have to be willing to make concessions and understand that things may happen which are beyond anyone’s control. Factors like weather are a big one for some people, especially if you already live in a cold weather climate and want to use your vacation to get away from the dreary, snowy days. Are you willing to perhaps put up with one or two days of rain or pay twice as much to guarantee every day is likely to be sunny? If you go in the off season, you might get to take two vacations that year whereas if you spend more to guarantee better weather, that may be the only trip you get.
When considering whether to travel in the off or shoulder season, be sure to factor in all the pros and cons, and look at weather history for the region you are visiting. Find out the hotel’s bad weather policy and look at your plane tickets and any applicable coverage on travel insurance. Then, make the decision that is right for you — sometimes it is worth it to pay extra to ensure you get the vacation of your dreams — it all comes down to personal choice.