What a shoulder-season holiday is and how to book one

Richard Mellor

A common travel-industry term, “shoulder season” can deliver affordability, heat relief and crowd-free travel

What is shoulder season?

Most destinations have three visitor seasons’ optimum peak season, deathly-quiet low season—when many establishments temporarily shut, and the weather is usually undesirable—and the murky time between the two.

This latter is known as shoulder season, an ambiguous period which is neither the best or worst period for travel. Except, in some ways, it really is the best…

 

Why is it great?

There are two chief upsides to shoulder-season travel. Firstly, everything—from airfares to accommodation—is usually around 20 per cent less expensive than in peak months.

Secondly, everything will be slightly emptier. Instead of endless lines to climb the Eiffel Tower, or mass crowds trooping round Machu Picchu, you’ll have some blessed space.

What are the downsides?

Sounds too good to be true, right? The asterisk here is weather: holiday seasons are usually graded meteorologically, with peak season likely to provide ideal climes.

In somewhere like Morocco, shoulder season is hotter, and perhaps uncomfortably hot. On a European beach, shoulder season brings a risk of rain, and, statistically, less likelihood of blue skies and the yellow stuff.

This all said, weather is capricious. It is also changing, due to global warming, with patterns adjusting. Prior to this year’s heatwave, how often has May—a shoulder-season month—been the UK’s best for sun, for instance? Very often.

 

When is it?

This is the tricky part. In Europe, shoulder season is generally May-June and September-October. However, in cities like Paris and Rome, July and August—when most locals go on vacation and the heat can be unbearable—are shoulder season, while it’s chilly January at ski resorts.

Similarly, for North African countries such as Egypt or Morocco, scorching summers constitute shoulder season. In the Caribbean, it’s May-June and October-November —but not hurricane season—while for South-East Asia the time is March-May, when you’ll encounter searing heat and humidity, but little rain.

 

Watch out for…

Be prepared for extremes of heat in tropical destinations, and bring a good umbrella if rain is possible: downpours are usually short and rare, but intense.

If you’re travelling with sights in mind, check that they’re open as often, visitor hours decrease in shoulder season. Ditto the regularity of airport shuttle buses.

 

When to book?

Like all travel, there’s a benefit in booking early, simply to guarantee space. Airlines aren’t confident of sales in shoulder season, so they’re liable to keep prices low far in advance.

Equally, if you’re good at brinkmanship and able to be flexible, leave it late: last-minute shoulder-season discounts are common, as travel providers desperately try and feel space. This is especially true of resort hotels.

 

Variations?

There are other seasons with different names but similar benefits.

Take Cambodia’s Green Season, from June through October. It’s so-called because the normal rains make everything lush and fresh. So, yes, you might get wet but only sporadically.

Otherwise, you’ll enjoy cheaper hotels, fresher air, beautiful scenes to photograph and a much-quieter Angkor Wat experience.