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Shoulder Season: My Favorite Time of Year to Travel
If you love to travel, but dislike crowds, I have good news for you: Shoulder season is here. No, that doesn’t mean it’s time for tank tops—I’m talking about the in-between travel season.
Summer vacation marks the start of travel’s busy season. If you have the flexibility, zero in on time between spring break and Memorial Day weekend; and the time after Labor Day, but before peak fall colors. With fewer tourists to compete with, you’ll find great deals, shorter lines, fewer crowds, all paired with spectacular weather.
Here’s a few trips to consider during shoulder season.
Let’s be honest: Disney and Budget Vacation rarely find themselves in the same sentence. However, the weeks following back-to-school tend to be some of the least busy at this iconic vacation spot. You’ll find great hotel deals, score better pricing at the parks, and not want to gouge out your eyes waiting in line for rides. If you can go on a Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday, you’ll save even more time and money. It’s worth noting that if you stay on property, you get complimentary parking, transportation to the parks, and access to Magic Hours—meaning you may arrive at the park an hour before it opens, or on some evenings, up to three hours after close. Off-peak travel also means great deals on dining packages. Time to dust off your mouse ears, friends!
Favorite places to stay: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (wake up to giraffes and zebras outside your balcony… need I say more?); Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (nice and more moderately priced rooms. However, there’s a convention center here, so you may want to double-check their event calendar before booking).
Busy National Parks
If you like to explore nature with thousands of people, go to the national parks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you crave a little more solitude, book your trip in September. You’ll slip in after kids go back to school, but before the fall colors tourists hit. In most parks, weather tends to still be warm, but not oppressively so, and everything from rental cars to accommodations tend to put less pressure on the pocketbook.
A few parks to consider: Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Zion, and Acadia.
With the arrival of autumn, the crowds are gone, prices are low, and cooler temps mean you don’t have to wear a bathing suit! In fall, I love a long stroll on the shore or planting a chair in the sand and losing myself in a great book. Paired with low hotel rates and less busy restaurants, I say there’s a great argument for saving your beach vacation until fall.
Here are a few of my favorites beach destinations.
If you’re looking to explore the Alps, fall is perfect timing—during spring’s shoulder season, you’ll still find snow at higher elevations. Not true in the fall! This time of year typically means less rain, more temperate weather, less hikers, and long days (the sun doesn’t set until about 7:30pm). You may even get a glimpse of fall colors at higher elevations. Some restaurants and tourist-driven businesses will be closed for the season, but those still open will be thrilled for your business.
Destination ideas: Interlaken, Switzerland; Lucerne, Switzerland; Aosota, Italy; Chambéry, France; Bressanone, Italy; Innsbruk, Austria
Beloved European Cities
Everyone and their bubbe heads to Europe during the summer. And that includes Europeans, who, enviably, spend weeks vacationing in August. Crowds swell, temps climb well into the 30s (that’s in Celsius, for my fellow Americans), and the humidity makes even the most put-together Parisian look a bit like Nick Notle’s mug shot. I personally prefer to visit the Spanish Steps or the Rialto Bridge without accidentally getting selfie-sticked in the eye, which is why September is the perfect time to go. Great weather, fewer lines, kinder locals, and you get full license to purchase an on-trend sweater or scarf at Zara for the cool evenings.
Favorite destinations: Rome, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; London, England; Berlin, Germany; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Prague, Czech Republic
What are your favorite places to travel during shoulder season? Share in the comments!
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Ocracoke Island, NC!
I’ll go with the alps… Been there because of you..
Three words…..Vermont in October!
My husband and I have usually traveled in September and October because I could not take vacation during summer. While we found Disney World to be delightfully uncrowded and the hotel cheaper the last week of September it was quite hot and humid. We were greeted the first night with sideways rain and spectacular lightning. One night the fireworks show at Epcot was cancelled because of the weather. Just be prepared to go with the flow.
Have you been?
We have traveled to Europe off season for many years. Early spring can be challenging due to rain and cold at times but still enjoyable and less crowded. Autumn, even into November, is great: the weather is uniformly wonderful, with low rainfall, pleasant days and cool nights so sleeping without AC is possible. We’ve even found weather pretty toasty on the Italian and French Rivieras in early November. Spouse took his resort diving class from a cruise at that time.
HOWEVER, the travelers now know about shoulder season. Many boomers and seniors prefer that time due to weather and “fewer crowds” idea. Smaller crowds not always the case anymore, and hotel prices, cruises, tours are often at their highest prices of the year. No bargains until November for the most part.
Re Disney in September. We did this once in mid September. The temperature was near 100 degrees for the entire week and the humidity was high, making for a very uncomfortable week. I would avoid September and possibly October, depending on the forecast, if you don’t enjoy super heat and humidity.
As you can see, we prefer to travel anywhere in fall over any other time of year. Just heading to Australia/NZ in October, when the rainfall and humidity is lower.
Re: National parks. Check the park you are interested in visiting to be sure the roads are still open and the weather is what you expect. We visited Alaska in early September and it was pretty cool and rainy out on the Gulf of Alaska, fog prevented a flight seeing trip over Misty Fjords. In the past, some parks even closed roads in September due to expected snowfall at high elevations. This may be changing with global warming, but before you make plans, check the park website for information.
Munich and Oktoberfest! Yes there may be some crowds at the fest, but that’s part of the fun! Get off the beaten path in Bavaria and explore the hidden gems of the small villages and lakes. The weather is wonderful and the sights are a delight (not to mention the food and drinks)! Gemutlichkeit 🙂
Badlands & Black Forest area in September are amazing!!
Also, WDW in January is perfect!!