Get the Best of Prices and Weather with Shoulder Season Travel

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Get the Best of Prices and Weather with Shoulder Season Travel

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A few years ago in the month of May, I took the train across Canada. This is a world-renowned train trip, snaking through mountain corridors, across endless prairies, and around massive lakes. And I did it for almost half of what it would have cost to go in June. Welcome to shoulder season travel.  

Many vacation destinations and trip itineraries have a few different sets of prices: high (or peak) season, low season, and sometimes shoulder season, as well. High season comes with a correspondingly high price tag, usually because it's an optimal time to visit, or it's associated with local holidays, festivals, or school vacations. But, it also comes with hordes of other travelers and tourists, and over-inflated prices from vendors and restaurants in the area.  

With low season, by contrast, you won't get the crowds or high prices, but there's also usually a reason why it's not a good time to visit - and it's often related to the weather. Depending on the destination of choice, visiting in the low season can actually be dangerous (or at least incredibly uncomfortable or inconvenient). In some places attractions actually shut down for the low season, further negating a reason to go.  

However, shoulder season is that middle-ground between low season and high season. It is also referred to as off-peak season, and it's frequently the best time to go on vacation. You may not get the optimal weather, but it's usually still pretty good (if not great), which, coupled with the lack of crowds, is well worth the accompanying low price tag. 

On my train trip across Canada, May was an excellent time to go. There were a number of areas (especially in the northern climes) that were chilly - but not teeth-chattering freezing - and still had snow, but from the window of the train it was scenic and lovely. And on the west coast, I wasn't exactly sunbathing, but nor did I have to bundle up in scarves and hats to enjoy the great outdoors. I had no problems securing accommodation at great prices, and lines were virtually non-existent.  

If you have a family with children of school age, traveling in the shoulder season can be more difficult without pulling them out of school for the trip. Try looking for destinations that don't have the same corresponding local school holidays, or get creative with your allotted vacation time and try to go away when few other people do. If worst comes to worst, pulling your kids out of school for a well-earned family vacation could work too (if you're confident they can catch up on their missed time). I'll never forget the cross-country trip my family made to Disney World when I was eight years old - again taken during the shoulder season. We didn't have to line up for attractions, but still enjoyed the best of Florida's sunny weather, without oppressive heat or torrential rains.  

So when planning your next vacation, try the contrarian strategy; see if you can go when most people aren't going, to places where most people aren't going. If you manage to time it to be just on either side of the peak season, you can get the best of both the weather and prices with shoulder season travel.

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Nora Dunn

Nora Dunn is The Professional Hobo: a full-time traveler and freelance writer. She is a contributing writer under Life Balance. Having sold her business and belongings to travel, she has been on the road since 2007. She travels in a financially sustainable manner, taking advantage of creative volunteering positions while constantly balancing life and her location independent work on the road. As a former certified Financial Planner, she is financially responsible for her actions along the way. She believes there is a fine balance between planning for tomorrow, and living for today. Compensated CareOne Blogger.

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  • We obviously don't want to deprive ourselves of a cultural or otherwise special experience abroad, but we also don't want to return home with the worst souvenir of all: debt we can't afford.

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