As a solo traveler, we have our own issues and problems when we travel that those traveling in pairs or groups don’t face. However, traveling solo also comes with great advantages as well. By timing your solo trip, you can not only save money but also avoid a lot of crowds.
So when is the best time of year for solo travel in terms of weather? The ideal time to travel is during your destination’s shoulder season because it offers decent weather and fewer crowds.
The three seasons of tourism
Basically there are three seasons to tourism. Peak, off peak, and shoulder season. Depending on the time of year you’re traveling, your plans will fall within one of those three seasons. Choosing the right season to travel can greatly impact your enjoyment and wallet.
Peak season is the time of year when everyone wants to travel. It’s when the weather is typically great, the crowds are massive, and hotel and airline prices are high and in demand. It’s also usually the time of year when kids have time off from school so it usually occurs during the summer.
An example is how many Americans travel overseas during the summer. Families take vacations during this time because the kids are out of school and on summer break. You can typically gauge the type of travel destination people might make because airlines will introduce seasonal routes for the summer. Airlines that don’t typically offer nonstop service to a city will start seasonal routes for a short period of time to see if they’re profitable. Considering how much money airlines put into determining which city pairs will be a winning combo, the fact that they’re willing to put a flight on that route shows a fair amount of confidence in that route. That also means if you’re planning a trip and you see an airline suddenly offer a seasonal route to a destination, it could be packed with other tourists.
Peak season also comes with its own set of problems because you’ll have to get to sites early to avoid crowds and find available accomodations. I personally hate traveling during peak season and amsto never travel to a destination during that time. The crowds alone are just too much for me and it just wears on my patience to the point that I don’t enjoy myself at all. In the years of traveling, I’ve probably been only three or four countries during peak season.
Off season is the exact opposite of peak season. It’s when no one really wants to be there. The weather is usually awful, tourists sites might be closed, and getting around might be difficult. However, the plus side is prices are lower, the destinations are less crowded, and you’ll get to see a more normal side of the everyday life of the locals.
When I went to Myanmar, I went during the rainy season. Now I got rained on a bit when I was in Yangon but got very lucky and didn’t see a drop of rain while in Bagan. But because the rainy season is the off-season for tourism, it cost very little for me to get around and I was able to stay at a great hotel that would have cost more than double the price during peak season. However, that low price came with a gamble. There was a very good chance that my trip would be horribly ruined by rain.
Another time, I was traveling to Hallstatt during the winter. This is a small town that would be ideal to travel to during the summer since it’s on the water. However, since it was winter, some of the sites were closed and the main square was having construction done. It isn’t a big deal for everyone but traveling in the off-season means tourist sites might be closed, some major areas of the city might have construction, or there could be shorter or odd business hours for some sites. Depending on when the off season falls, it could also mean you have less daylight to explore the city (as in Europe where it might be daylight until 10pm or later during peak season but around 4pm during the off-season.
Off season is also good for solo travelers because it gives us leverage against those who charge single supplements. Any solo traveler has had to deal with the dreaded single supplement. Since there are fewer tourists, companies might be more willing to waive the single supplement especially if they know that an entire city of hotels is sitting vacant and you can easily go somewhere else.
Off season is great if you can deal with certain closures and poor weather. The cheaper prices will make almost any destination worth it and you can get some amazing deals on flights and hotels. If you’re willing to gamble or if you have the time to wait out the poor weather, off-seaon travel can be great
Shoulder season is the happy medium of travel seasons and is the part of the year that falls between peak and off peak travel seasons. So, if summer is peak travel season and winter is off peak, shoulder season would be spring and fall. Shoulder seasons can vary from region to region and it all depends on your destination and what you want to do there.
By traveling during shoulder season, you get the benefits of fewer crowds and cheaper hotels and airfare but also get the relatively nice weather. You get the best of both worlds because it demand is still low while the weather isn’t perfect but certainly better than off-season.
I love traveling during shoulder season and most of my travel occurs during that time. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I traveled during peak season.
Companies are also still willing to negotiate the single supplement since there won’t be as many tourists. Remember shoulder season is not peak season or off-season so although there might be more travelers than off-season, they still aren’t running at full capacity. This means solo travelers can get the best of everything.
How solo travelers can really take advantage of the season
The solo traveler’s greatest asset is the ability to go anywhere at any time. Because we aren’t waiting on others to make plans, we can pretty much go where we want at any time. This means, we can pretty much cherry pick where and when we decide to visit a place.
For example, if you wanted to travel to Japan and Korea, you could do a trip during the winter months since the months of December to February would be off seasons for those countries. That would allow you, the solo travel, to experience two destinations that are typically very expensive. Being able to save money on hotels in both Seoul and Tokyo would be a huge savings in an otherwise incredibly difficult countries to visit solo due to cost. All the times I’ve visited Seoul have been in the winter for this reason.
Remember that off season can be at different times in the world. In predominantly Christian or Catholic countries, Christmas is going to be a peak season of travel. Tourists in Europe often want to see the Christmas markets and thus, those couple weeks leading up to Christmas is going to be a peak travel time. If going to Southeast Asia, you’ll want to avoid the time around Chinese New Year since everything will be closed and tourists will come from all around the world to celebrate.
Shoulder season is a great time to travel and I would argue the ideal time. As a solo traveler, this is perfect because you only need to find when should season is at the particular time you want to travel and go to that destination. Will it be ideal weather? No. But it won’t be terrible either. However, I think the amount of money you’ll save along with the quieter and fewer atmosphere will more than make up for a few cloudy photos.