In praise of off-peak travel
It might be a little tougher to identify now with travel schedules compressed and demand still high in the industry’s recovery from Covid, but the shoulder season is here. A lot of people are still traveling, though things are a far cry from the heights of summer. Those who are traveling are onto something, because there are a great many things that make the shoulder season a wonderful time to explore.
Generally speaking, prices are lower in the shoulder seasons than they are in the summer, which makes things better right from the jump. Given the dollar’s current strength against the euro and pound, the difference is even more palpable in Europe (and French islands in the Caribbean) right now. You also get more local color, plus fall colors, when the bulk of tourists are gone. The streets contain more locals than visitors once again, and they celebrate traditional festivals that harbor centuries of customs. Given how hot summers can be and the general lack of air conditioning, it’s much more comfortable to walk through city centers and visit local shops in the shoulder season.
The lengths and timing of shoulder season vary by which part of the world you’re visiting, but they all come with certain advantages. First and foremost is having more of the place to yourself, and to the locals. You also get to know a place better when you see it in different seasons. The autumnal changing of the leaves is just as breathtaking in places like Japan and Slovenia as it is New England. Europe’s Christmas markets are a cultural touchstone, even if you have to brave a little cold to experience them. That’s what the gluhwein is for.
East Africa’s Great Migration is a continuous cycle throughout the year, and in the fall the wildebeests march from the Masai Mara in Kenya through Serengeti National Park and toward Ngorongoro Crater. They keep on the hunt for green grass as the weather turns wetter, and in February they birth their calves in Tanzania. Other animals have their young during off-peak seasons as well, so it’s a great time to see new families interact and teach the little ones their ways of life.
With their winter coming during Northern Hemisphere summer, Australia and New Zealand make for great places to take a summer vacation away from the crowds. The weather is still nice in most spots, and the crowds are thin. Just like up north, spring and fall make for great times to head Down Under, too.
With a lot of ground to cover from north to south, South America has a lot of climates on offer. For a place like Peru, winter (our summer) is the dry season, meaning you can have nice weather with pleasant temperatures and still avoid the crowds you’ll find in Europe and the U.S. During South America’s low seasons, if you can brave a bit of rain, there are some spectacular experiences to be had when the clouds break.
Just because it’s not peak season does not mean it’s not a good time to go. Oftentimes it has more to do with when people are able to travel than it does with the quality of the experience. There are gems to discover all over the world in shoulder and low seasons. It’s all part of the beauty of the adventure.