Shoulder season, explained: when (and where) to travel in 2024

by | 25 Jan 2024

New year, new plans and new resolutions. If you’re thinking about where to travel in 2024, looking for a more connected experience and keen to do your part for sustainable travel, then consider travelling in the shoulder season. Avoid the crowds, enjoy more bargains and see destinations in a whole new light.

To inspire you further, we’ve unpacked what ‘shoulder season’ actually is, and have some great places for you to try, whatever your preferred travel window. Plus, for a limited time you can save 15 – 20% off these and many other fantastic worldwide escapes with our Big Tour Sale.

What is shoulder season?

Shoulder season varies by destination, but it typically means the period of time between a region’s peak season and offseason. So, if a destination’s peak season is the summer and its off-season is winter, such as in the northern hemisphere, then the shoulder seasons would be spring and fall.

The term has been around since 1960s, but no one’s quite sure how it got its name. It has been said that because shoulder season tends to be in the spring or autumn when you might need a sweater to cover your shoulders. Another idea is that because winter and summer are considered by ‘head seasons,’ fall and spring are the shoulders since they fall either side, much like how a person’s shoulders are located on each side of their head. It could also have originated from the concept of the ‘shoulder’ on a bell curve, which represents the period between the peak and off-peak seasons.

However it got its name, when considering where to travel in 2024, by embracing shoulder season travel we open ourselves up to the joys of year round getaways. This means the opportunity to try many new experiences, and to do our bit for the planet, its people and its wildlife.

You may be interested to read: My 2024 Travel Resolutions, by Sustainability Expert Shannon Guihan

Photo of Bergen, Norway on the first day of snow fall in Autumn

Benefits of shoulder-season travel

Tourist hotspots are less crowded

Exploring destinations in the off-season unveils a quieter, more authentic side of many places you visit. You can enjoy a more intimate and immersive connection with its culture, history and nature. You can also enjoy a peaceful atmosphere, perfect if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Better temperatures for exploration

Shoulder-season travel brings milder weather to many warm countries, making outdoor activities more enjoyable. Without the discomfort of extreme (Hot or cold) temperatures, you can explore popular sights to your heart’s content.

A deeper engagement with local communities

With fewer tourists around, interactions with residents become more meaningful, providing an opportunity to gain insights into daily life, traditions, and customs that might be overshadowed during peak times.

Financial advantages

Accommodations, flights and activities often come with lower price tags during off-peak times.

You may also enjoy: Insight Investigates: Overtourism, and What You Can Do to Help

Why is it good for sustainable travel?

Lower environmental impact

Popular destinations experience lower visitor numbers so the strain on local ecosystems, wildlife and natural resources is mitigated, contributing to the long-term sustainability of these areas. Lower tourist numbers also mean less wear and tear on historical and cultural sites.

Support for local economies

By choosing to travel during the shoulder season, tourists contribute to a more evenly distributed flow of income for local businesses. This helps support year-round employment and economic stability.

Authentic experiences

With fewer tourists, shoulder season travelers have the chance to experience destinations in a more authentic way. This not only enhances the quality of the traveler’s experience but also helps maintain the integrity of local traditions and lifestyles. The opportunity to engage more closely with local communities, fostering cultural exchange and understanding.

Promotion of year-round visitation

By supporting shoulder season travel, destinations are encouraged to promote and develop year-round tourism offerings. This diversification helps reduce the environmental and social impact of tourism concentrated in specific seasons, making destinations more resilient and sustainable in the long run.

If you are interested in sustainable travel then you should read: Measure, Reduce, Restore and Evolve: Our journey to hitting Net Zero by 2050

a close up shot of a brown bear’s face, with shaggy brown fur

With all this in mind, where should you travel in 2024?

Where to consider for fall

Travelling in September, October and November can be described as charming yet peaceful. Crowds disperse, fall arrives, landscapes change to gold and a calm descends after the rush of summer.

Experiencing the magic of fall foliage in Eastern Canada and USA should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Quebec City, Toronto, Washington D.C and Boston all glow this time of year with comfortable temperatures and the autumn sun. Scenery is particularly stunning in Maine’s Acadia national park, and it’s the perfect time of year to feat on their famous lobster.

When thinking about where to travel in 2024, fall is also a great time of year to enjoy Eastern Europe and Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Hot and busy in the summer months, just perfect in the shoulder season, we recommend you visit Ljubljana in Slovakia, Austria’s capital Vienna and the fairy tale city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. You can also enjoy one of our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences and learn about the conservation efforts of Plitvice National Park, as you admire the cascading falls.

Discover this on: Best of Eastern Canada & USA , Eastern Capitals & the Dalmatian Riviera

If you love fall, you should also read: Falling for fall: why October is the best time to visit East Coast USA

Winter inspiration

If you’re keen to travel in December, January and February, when planning where to travel in 2024 this can be a great time of year to throw a new light on popular destinations. Maybe you’re looking for a relaxing getaway before December festivities start or want to start the new year off with an adventure.

A timeless classic any time of year, Italy’s cities are stunningly stylish in winter. Wrap up warm, enjoy festive markets, or ring in the new year in Rome? Explore the Florence’s iconic sites without the crowds and cruise serenely on Venice’s famous canals. If arriving later in February, you can also experience ‘La Serenissima’ come alive with the electric atmosphere of the carnivale.

With its mild temperatures and cultural riches, Morocco is a great winter destination. Aromatic tagines, ancient mosques and bustling markets are warm in the daytime sun, and relatively free of tourists. Join us on Best of Morocco and visit a traditional Nomad house to try authentic Berber tea.

Discover this on: Italian Intermezzo, Best of Morocco

You may also be interested to read: Almond Blossom and Crowd-Free Bazaars: This is Off-Season in Morocco

a close up shot of a brown bear’s face, with shaggy brown fur

If spring is your thing

Springtime north of the equator, March, April and May are enchanting months for travel. Cities and landscapes are springing to life, and for warmer countries, temperatures are perfect for exploring the outdoors.

For where to travel in 2024, Egypt is a great place to visit in the spring. Oct – Feb is the country’s high peak season, meaning spring is relatively quieter with temperatures ideal for exploring this bucket-list destination. The pyramids, Tutankhamun’s Tomb, the Valley of the Kings and the sacred River Nile are simply not to be missed and at their glowing best in shoulder season away from the crowds.

 What curious traveler can resist the historical lure of Greece, combined with blossoming spring flowers? Take your time to see the Acropolis of Athens, the towering rocks of Meteora and the Sacred Way, and indulge in delicious seasonal cuisine.

Discover this on: Splendours of Egypt, Greece Undiscovered

Bookmark for later: Secrets in the sand: the thrill of uncovering Egyptian artifacts

If you’re still set for a summer getaway

While the northern hemisphere’s summer months of June, July and August are high season, you can still choose to escape the crowds, connect deeper with your destination and support local communities. If you’re looking or something ab it different, consider travelling more off-the-beaten path and seeing more of the countryside, small villages and roads less travelled.

We recommend heading out on the Country roads of Ireland, to enjoy  Cork, Killarney, the Cliffs of Moher and Galway Bay. Or meander the stunning Country Roads of Switzerland and enjoy the Alps, Grindlewald, Martigny and Gruyeres.

Discover this on: Country Roads of Switzerland, Country Roads of Ireland

If you’re keen on the Emerald Isle we recommend reading: Legends of the west: discovering the best of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

If you’re thinking of where to travel in 2024, take advantage of some great offers on these spectacular destinations and more with our Big Tour Sale. Save 15 – 20% off select worldwide tours – don’t miss your chance, space is limited on popular itineraries.

I'm a writer, editor and interview specialist with a lifetime's love of travel. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than meeting, and writing about, the world's leading destination experts and travel industry insiders. The thing I love most about writing for Insightful is that I'm always learning something new.