Travel Hack: Book Your Next Vacation During Shoulder Season

Among the many travel hacks out there in the world, booking your vacation during the shoulder season might just be the best one yet. Not to be confused with a body part, the shoulder season is the period of time between a destination's peak season and its off season. And yes, booking during this time brings less crowds, better prices, and decent-enough temperatures that will still remind you you're far away from home.

Below, Katy Nastro, a travel expert for Going (formerly Scott's Cheap Flights), shares more about what is shoulder season and why it's the move the next time you travel. For even more travel hacks, check out the best day to buy airline tickets and the best seat to pick on a plane too.

What Is Shoulder Season?

The shoulder season refers to the time period between when a destination is most popular and when it's in its off season. However, because every vacation destination's shoulder season will vary depending on weather and holidays, there's not one specific shoulder season globally. (More on when a destination's shoulder season is below.)

Generally speaking, booking during your destination's shoulder season is the move for three major reasons. For one, your vacation may be cheaper. Shoulder seasons often fall during the time of year when kids are in school or there is no major holiday or occasion for people to take PTO. For that reason, less people will be likely to travel. "Because fewer people are looking to travel during these windows of time, you find better prices in general — not only on airfare, but also lodging and attractions most of the time," Nastro says.

There are also less crowds, which means fewer lines. For foodies wanting to check out a popular restaurant or adventurers who want to see a historic site, less crowds could be the difference between a bad experience and an incredible one. "Traveling just outside of these peak windows means less people in general, and you get a better sense of what day-to-day looks like in a place," Nastro says.

Plus, the weather is still moderately nice. "The shoulder season delivers a happy medium of optimal weather for exploring," says Nastro. It likely won't be too hot, but it won't be too cold either.

When Is Shoulder Season?

Shoulder seasons depend heavily on where you're traveling. For the United States, shoulder season is approximately from the beginning of September to the end of October and again from March to April. "Generally those months fall into the shoulder category, whereas summer months and December are in the high season, and winter is considered low season."

In Europe, however, shoulder season extends a bit longer from March to April and October to November. The end of November in the United States means Thanksgiving, which is a peak travel period, but in Europe, where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, it's the perfect time to book.

If you're traveling outside of Europe or the United States, the shoulder season of your destination will most likely fall during its spring or fall season, Nastro says. For Australia, that would be mid-February to April and September to early December, and for somewhere in South America, that would be March to May and September to November.

What to Remember When Booking During Shoulder Season

Unfortunately, many people who are in school, have children in school, or have to take PTO from work for vacations will have a hard time booking during a destination's shoulder season. But if you can plan ahead, the savings may be worth it.

Just keep in mind that if you are looking for a specific kind of trip or activity, especially based around the weather, booking during shoulder season "may not apply," Nastro says. "If you're planning a ski vacation, you need snow, which means a spring trip probably won't do. And if you're looking to sunbathe on a sandy beach, autumn temperatures aren't likely to allow for that," she adds.

Bottom line: If you can be flexible on the dates, times, and destinations of your vacation, booking during shoulder season may be an A+ travel hack that is 100 percent worth it.