The magic of shoulder season travel

On October 7th, 2015

Shoulder Season Travel

Soon after my time as a student ended, I began my career as an educator. Working at camps every summer, travel took flight over those much needed school holidays. If you were a kid in traditional school or had parents who worked in one, you may have done the same. Highest prices, hordes of crowds, long wait lines at airports and attractions – it seemed as if everyone was always in a rush. But, at that time of life, if I wanted to travel to destinations of my optimal weather, that was a side effect. Needless to say, ‘I get it’. I didn’t have the luxury of flexibility at that time. Today, things are different and I’ve learned some of the benefits of off and shoulder season travel. If you can swing it, your experience will be markedly different.

This last year, life changed. Choosing to ditch the New York winter for southern California sunshine has been a perspective shift like no other. Grabbing a shorter flight to our second home, Melbourne (Australia) in winter knowing that an endless summer is in store has been a game changer. There’s much to be said about shoulder and off-season travel. Now, I understand all the fuss.

Snuggled between the insanity of peak season and the crummy weather of low or off-season travel is Shoulder Season. It’s a campsite at a National Park not on Memorial Day weekend. It’s a room in Sydney, not on New Years’ Eve. To me, shoulder season seems like September on the beach. The crowds leave while quiet ensues. Only the locals and a smattering of tourists are left with miles of sand from one beach chair to the next. This is the time locals in a beach town yearn for yearly. Parking spots open up, restaurants are quieter and the only sound heard on the beach is the waves crashing against the shore. This, I understand.

Filled with warmer welcomes and shorter queues, shoulder season offers travelers willing to take slightly less than perfect weather – special deals, less harried locals, and a limited sea of tourists. When the crowds vanish, the offers arise. Desirable prices and deal able weather are sought after treasures. With a chance to take a breath, the tourism industry greets shoulder season travelers with that extra bit of courtesy. As the traveler whose only opportunity was Peak season, I had no idea.

My first experience with other than peak season travel in the United States was this past December. Road-tripping from New York to California for the first three weeks of the month, we saw barely any other people until we landed in southern Utah just shy of Christmas. Choosing to drive south across the country (to hopefully find less snow), we were met with unencumbered roadways, no lines at attractions, quiet hotel lobbies, scenic National Parks devoid of crowds and tours with few other guests. In other words, when we got to Las Vegas on the 24th of December, it was as if we landed on another planet altogether. The number of people in the lobby alone was more than a hundred times the amount we’d seen our entire drive.

First indications of this different season are at an airport when the absurd crowds don’t smack you in the face. Second is the greater ability to grab those camera specific wide-open scenic shots without fighting the hordes of Selfie stick-wielding tourists vying for the same image. Third is the lack of noise. Able to get better value for your money than those hectic periods of peak and high seasons, the few months on either side allows an ease in travel. Slower steps, shorter wait times, better pricing, and more uninterrupted time with locals create a more relaxed approach to your journey. Less hassle tends towards greater joy.

My first on the other side of the world was this past August. I’d never visited Australia in winter before. This warm-weather fan living in New York ventured in December or February to the land down under to continue to chase the sun and grab that much preferred Vitamin D. This time, southern California provided both, so an August visit took place. Flights were drastically cheaper, accommodation options exploded with prices more in line with expectations, staff were less harried, people were more available and our favourite spots welcomed us with even greater open arms. Yes, it’s true, I needed a jacket for the stroll on the beach instead of bathers and our morning walks involved gloves and hot chocolate instead of shorts and smoothies, but they still happened. There were new experiences to enjoy as well. The Winter Night Market at the Queen Victoria Market had significantly different vendors from the summer one and tourist attractions that we’d never set foot in on any prior visit called to us with discount offerings and easy access. We even got to take in different sporting events since the seasons were flipped.

Of course, there are pros and cons to every season, but for price and access, it’s hard to beat the magical quiet shoulder season. Consult the guidebooks and a calendar for your desired specific region and timing of those travel seasons to help find the best deals for you. No matter when you go or where, for that extra piece of mind, please take travel insurance. In my experience, travel has more pros than cons, no matter the season. Minds are opened, experiences change people and memories are shared between family, friends and strangers who might one day become friends. Shoulder season invites a bit more time for natural, openness and introspection and provides the ability for travelers to go at their own pace, truly savour those moments and further enjoy the journey.

Happy travels.

For more of Stacey’s musings visit her website.

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