By Christy Stehle
I had made a decision. A huge one really, and as I sat bouncing in front of my laptop hardly able to contain myself, I caught myself grinning ear to ear across the one-way ticket confirmation on my screen. My partner and I recently realized life wasn’t meant to be lived chasing the American Dream doctrine, and so we sold our business to fund our new plan: travel the world for as long as our funds would last. We’d begin our journey in Europe. On the edge of infinite possibility, I found myself asking: how can we get the most from our experience — and our dollar?
Traveling the Shoulder Season
Shoulder season is the magical time of year when a town begins to lose its ghost-town vibe but hasn’t quite yet turned into a sweaty tourist trap. Despite what I’ve always believed, this little travel sweet spot isn’t just limited to the spring and fall. After doing a little digging, I learned things like holidays, weather, and local events all make each city’s shoulder season unique. By ditching my must-see destinations and letting the shoulder season be my guide, I’ve had access to wide-open attractions, cheaper travel expenses, and the flexibility to go-with-the-flow.
To really get the most from your time abroad, heed Emerson’s words and remember it’s the journey, not the destination in life that is important. Fantasy destinations aren’t so dreamy when they’re coupled with overpriced flights, sunburned skin, pickpockets, and long lines. The summer sun and swaths of people make Rome almost unbearable until October, but did you know you can visit beautiful Roman ruins all over Spain? Choose one or two must-see attractions if you must, but don’t base your whole trip around fighting through crowds of asses and elbows.
Shoulder-season Seville warmly opened it’s arms, giving us intimate access to wide-open spaces like Plaza de España. Its relaxed and uncrowded vibe convinced us to stay another week, and our flexible flow allowed us to escape away before the madness of Semana Santa engulfed the city.
Travel like this isn’t as limiting as you would think; even within the same country you’ll find drastically different peak seasons. While Seville is living it up in between Semana Santa and Feria de Abril, Barcelona is still a solid month away from it’s tourist floodgate blowing open. If you’re limited by vacation time, seek out up-and-coming destinations that are always chilling in shoulder season.
Eager tour guides fresh from the off-season are still cracking jokes while telling the unabridged story. Shop owners smile as they patiently tend to their few customers. Excited hosts share with you their beautiful city. This is how places are meant to be explored — not shuffling through a queue as a mere number, adding to the stresses brought on by peak-season.
It’s Substantially Cheaper
Perhaps the most important factor in traveling the shoulder season is its discounted rates. My transatlantic flight was $732 in February; the same ticket in May would have been $1942! Airfare wasn’t the only place I spent less. Because the Eurail and ALSA buses have had vacancies at the time of departure I’ve received a 40% on (almost) every passage! If the clerk doesn’t offer the discount, don’t be too shy to ask for it yourself. A polite question and courteous smile can work wonders.
While we’re on the subject of not being shy, I encourage you to branch out and try my favorite new discovery — BlaBlaCar! While riding in cars with strangers may sound like your mom’s worst nightmare, trust me, this decade-old ride-sharing company is totally legit and has even recently joined the billion-dollar startup club.
The Key to Flexibility
Ahh, flexibility. The best part of a nomadic life and the reason it’s worth leaving all conveniences behind. Don’t listen to those who say that due to sold-out seats, prebooked hostels, and the 90/180 Schengen rule that flexible, long-term travel does not work in Europe. It does work. Voices against this abound on the internet, and those naysayers’ advice taunted me for weeks before I remembered that you always have a choice. I’ve chosen to be flexible rather than to create an itinerary, and yes, sometimes that means missing out on some of the places I thought I just had to visit when I was back home.
Unexpected weather, new friends, and cost of transport have all ignited me to completely change my travel plans three times…and it’s only been six weeks! Booking everything in advance would have left me cold, lonely, and struggling financially. Sure, your bucket list might have a few unchecked boxes, but I guarantee you will have a much more genuine experience if you play it like a veteran and take the season less traveled.
Christy Stehle is a full-time writer, blogger, and gastronomist. Her partner is a professional photographer and chef and together they share the same goal: travel the world, be their best selves and capture the world as they see it in brilliant HD along the way. Feel inspired as you follow their adventures at http://theworldasweseeit.today