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Editor Pick

Why You Should Travel During Shoulder Season

Updated: November 14, 2023

Written by

Michelle Palmer

No one wants to pay premium prices for hotel rooms and airfare only to wait in long lines — or have a bunch of strangers in the background of photos. But what can you do about it? More than you'd think! If you are able to be flexible with your travel dates, do a little research and consult a trusted travel professional at your nearest AAA branch office, you can enjoy the best parts of a destination with fewer crowds and cost savings by traveling during shoulder season.

What is shoulder season?

Shoulder season is the period of time at a travel destination that is between offseason and peak season. Depending on the destination, shoulder season may be before or after peak season. That means most attractions and tour operators will be open and active, but there will be fewer crowds.

Why should I travel during shoulder season?

The benefits of traveling during shoulder season are the opportunity to save money by enjoying lower costs on hotel rooms and airfare, dealing with smaller crowds because fewer tourists will be in a destination and satisfaction from traveling more sustainably.

Keep reading to learn more about how traveling during shoulder season is beneficial and when to book in popular destinations.

1. How does traveling during shoulder season save money?

One of the big benefits to traveling during shoulder season is saving money. Hotels and sometimes airlines will offer special deals or lower pricing during this period to attract customers in what is typically a slower time. If you are able to be flexible with your travel times, you still get to have fun seeing new places and visit various points of interest in your desired destination while spending less on travel costs. That translates into having the money to do something extra that you may have otherwise skipped, upgrading an experience or having extra money in your travel budget for your next trip.

2. Does travel during shoulder season mean no crowds?

By definition, shoulder season is a slower period of time in a travel market. It's still close enough to peak season that you'll get to enjoy the same things to do, but they'll be less crowded. That means you'll get a better chance at shorter lines and more time to enjoy attractions. You also could experience more personalized service from tour operators who are used to dealing with big crowds.

If you really want to avoid crowds while you travel, also check the area's school holidays. Even during shoulder season, local travelers are more likely to visit museums, beaches, parks and other points of interest when school is out.

3. How is traveling during shoulder season more sustainable?

Traveling during shoulder season can help local markets by putting money into the economy during slower times of the year. This can be helpful for local tour operators and small business and restaurant owners, too.

Shoulder season travel can also be "greener" or better for the environment. Sometimes peak travel seasons can be difficult for ecosystems, so by traveling during shoulder season instead of peak season, you may be helping the environment.

4. When is shoulder season?

Shoulder season varies from place to place, but for many destinations, it tends to be April and May, just before summer vacation, and fall through part of winter.

I talked with Lori Gonzalez, a travel counselor at the AAA Mesa Arizona Branch, and she says these are the shoulder seasons of some top vacation spots.

  1. Atlanta, Georgia: March-April
  2. Boston, Massachusetts: September-December
  3. Charlotte, North Carolina: March-May and September-November
  4. Chicago, Illinois: May and September-October
  5. Denver, Colorado: March-May and October to mid-December
  6. Honolulu, Hawaii: Mid-April to early June and September to mid-December
  7. Las Vegas, Nevada: December-February
  8. Miami, Florida: February-April
  9. Nashville, Tennessee: March to mid-May and mid-September to November
  10. New York, New York: April-May and September-October
  11. Orlando, Florida: Mid-January to early March, late April to mid-May and mid-September to mid-December (Note that Disney World is busy throughout the holiday season)
  12. Paris, France: April-May and September-November
  13. Phoenix, Arizona: Labor Day-Thanksgiving
  14. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: October-February
  15. Rome, Italy: April-May and September-October
  16. San Diego, California: October-November
  17. San Francisco, California: April-May and September-November
  18. Seattle, Washington: March-April and September-October
  19. Vancouver, Canada: mid-September through May
  20. Washington, D.C.: September-November

AAA Travel provides peace of mind when you travel — before, during and after your vacation! Members enjoy the advantages of membership including exclusive benefits, map routing, savings with the AAA Discounts & Rewards® program as well as recommendations for AAA Diamond-designated hotels and restaurants across the U.S. and Canada. Let AAA provide the rest of your travel needs with AAA Travel Guides, TourBooks®, access to travel agents and counselors and travel insurance. Your next vacation starts with AAA — your complete travel solution. Visit AAA.com/Travel.

Written by

Michelle Palmer

Michelle Palmer is a development editor who has over 10 years of experience in the travel publishing industry. She loves telling the stories, histories and culture of places that inspire others to go and experience new destinations. When not traveling, she participates in circus arts, goes to live shows and is a “Murder, She Wrote” aficionado.

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