“When is the best time to travel?” has no singular or simple answer. (Exactly what you want to read in bold right after clicking on an article titled “When Is the Best Time to Travel?”, right?)
The reason for that is the best time to travel varies based on your life, desired experience, and where you’re going. To account for all of those pesky variables, the better question to ask is, "What is the best time for me to go on my trip".
The two italicized portions of that question, “for me ” and “my trip” are what we are going to explore in order to get you your answer!
Based on your life circumstances, you fall into one of these two camps:
A: You have a flexible schedule and are open to finding the right mixture of low prices and acceptable weather conditions to travel.
B: You’re inflexible and know you need to travel during a certain time of the year despite the possibility that your inflexibility will cost you more money.
Being in the flexible camp is great! You can find out when the cheapest flights are to your destination throughout the year, ask Google what the weather is like during the time you select to make sure it meets your standards, and book everything at a rock bottom price!
Unfortunately, most people are not in enrolled in the flexible camp.
They're enrolled in a much crappier camp on the other side of the lake called Camp... Crap.
Camp Crap has you locked into traveling during holiday periods like Christmas, spring break, or in the middle of summer when you're off school and/or your boss is in a good mood and will approve your vacation requests because she's spending her weekends staring at guys half her age doing push-ups at the beach. (been there, done that)
Once you’ve determined whether or not you have schedule flexibility and what times of the year you’re able to travel, the next question to answer is, "Out of the time that is available to you, when should you pick?"
That brings us to the second portion of our original question.
After you've filtered out the months that you won't be available to travel, the best time for you to choose to go on your adventure should be based mostly on weather and price.
Weather and price (and occasionally special events like The Olympics or "Carnival" in Rio) are the main conditions that dictate three key travel periods we're going to spend the rest of this blog post chatting about:
High Season, Low Season and Shoulder Season.
Since I love to hear myself type, I'll explain these three seasons to you through the art of fictional storytelling!
Your destination is enjoying warm days* and pristine evenings**. That means people are staying out later which is leading to shops staying open into the wee hours of the evening to cash in on more selling opportunities. Everyone is feeling social, there are events being held, festivals, carnivals and all of that fun is working to attract tourists like zombie moths to flaming brains.
More tourists means demand goes up on flights which leads to prices going up on tickets. Demand then goes up on accommodation meaning room rates skyrocket. Streets and attractions get crowded and the lively atmosphere is exciting! (if you’re into that sort of thing)
(Note: If your location specializes in cold weather activities like skiing, high season would entail *cold days and **colder evenings.)
Cold, rain and snow rolls into your destination and the sun moves back to its permanent home in Southern California followed closely behind by the tourists (the tourists then realize that all there is to do in Southern California is swim at smoggy beaches or take out a second mortgage on their house for Disneyland tickets so they leave).
Given the questionable weather at your destination, people are staying indoors, shops are closing earlier and attractions may undergo seasonal closures due to safety concerns or maintenance.
Demand to visit right now is low. That means flight and accommodation prices for your destination go way down.
Low season can be an awesome time to score a deal but might not be worth savings since it can be a boring time to experience a place in comparison to the electricity you’ll find during high season.
The middle ground between the high and low season is what I refer to as...
During shoulder season temperatures are good (sometimes downright excellent), locals are active, shops and attractions are open and you don’t have to deal with the hordes of tourists who are waiting for "prime-time" to visit (prime-time usually means absolutely perfect weather conditions or more likely a holiday period).
During shoulder season, prices for flights and accommodation may be slightly higher than you'd find during low season but they're still excellent. Sometimes you can even find exceptional deals that rival or beat low season prices! In my opinion, shoulder season is the best time to travel!
Determining High, Low, and Shoulder Season for Your Destination
When determining high, low, and shoulder season for your destination, keep in mind that these seasons vary based on where you’re going.
For example, if you decided to become my only friend and wanted to visit me during a warm, All-American summer, I’d tell you to come over sometime between June & August.
If you later decided that you didn’t want to be my friend and instead chose to visit something more interesting like a Koala in Australia during the same period of time you were going to visit me, you’d find that when you arrived in Australia, June thru August is their coldest time of the year! (HAH! Screw you and your Koala!)
All of that strangely personal hypothetical to say, you’re going to have to dig into your destinations individually to figure what its high, low, and shoulder seasons are.
Here’s the quickest way to do that:
1) High season – Google, “What time of year is tourist high season in [your destination].
2) Low Season – Google, “What time of year is tourist low season in [your destination].
3) Shoulder Season – Shoulder season is usually two months or so before or after high season. For example, many of the places I’ve traveled to have their high season from June thru August. Because of that, I visited those places in early May and enjoyed awesome high season weather and activities at a fraction of high season prices!
Just double check what the weather is like during the time you decide to visit your destination to make sure it meets your standards prior to booking! A simple Google search asking "What is the average weather in [your destination] during the month of [the time period in question]" should do the trick!
Wrapping Up When is the Best Time to Travel
Understanding when high, low, and shoulder seasons are for the destinations on your itinerary is a powerful way to ensure that you find the perfect balance between the best experience and price for your adventure and allows you to confidently answer the question of "When is the best time to travel?".
One final note - If you do decide to save money by traveling to a destination during its low season, be sure to understand why the season is low for that destination before buying tickets. Usually, it's low temperatures or attractions being closed for maintenance. Other times you'll find that you've booked an ultra cheap vacation package to Cancun and arrive to find out you’re in the middle of their hurricane season... (hope you packed your floaties)
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