Secrets of the Shoulder Season

A regional guide to the best way to see the best, and travel for less
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Caribbean Sunset
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest: Off-season travelers need never share the Caribbean sunset with a crowd. (Abrahm Lustgarten)

Vacation spots have long suffered from multiple personalities. Take my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for instance. Starting right about July every year, the sleepy City Different takes on a manic temperament. Restaurants that don’t require reservations suddenly do. Hotels that typically have rooms suddenly don’t. Trails that wind around the city—often lonely stretches of singletrack that you could once rip down—are suddenly clogged with out-of-town hikers. Post-ride margarita? You’ll die of thirst before you get a seat.

High season is like this in just about any popular vacation destination—and rightly so. After all, who wants to come to a place when the sun’s not shining, the water’s not warm, the waves aren’t big, and all the post-huck amenities—the concerts, the nightlife, the festivals—are non-existent? But your options don’t always have to be so black and white. Behold the shoulder season, those transitional months when the weather’s still great but the crowds have gone home.

We know that work schedules and school calendars can make it difficult to take a vacation during these times, but if you’re looking to save big bucks and still find big adventure, it’s worth the effort. Come to Santa Fe after Labor Day, for instance, and you’ll be rewarded with discounted prices on rooms, the best weather of the whole year, empty trails, and instant seating on the deck for drinks afterward.

Over the next couple of months we’ll single out geographical areas on the cusp of falling out of favor with the seasons—the Caribbean in the summer, Australia in the winter—and tell you how you can stretch your adventure budget without sacrificing thrills. We’ll also list a few of the better shoulder-season festivals, offer you a few dream one- and two-week itineraries (feel free to abduct at will), and profile a few sweet package trips that actually do pass the savings on to you…. Simply put, your “summer vacation” might never be the same again.


Published: 23 Jun 2004 | Last Updated: 19 Jun 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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