How do I know when to travel?
Written by Chris Garay


Determining the best time to visit a specific part of the world can involve numerous factors that interact with each other, most notably what the weather is like and when the high tourist season occurs. If you plan carefully before you buy your plane ticket or start making your plans, you can make certain to get the most out of your vacation.


The best time to visit South Africa will not be the same as the best time to visit Russia, nor will all travelers consider the same times to be ideal as other travelers. Your preference for when to travel can differ from other travelers in that you may appreciate hot weather and crowds, whereas other travelers prefer isolation and a variety of weather conditions, or some travelers always like to arrive in another country during their winter because of a preference for winter sports. Factors such as weather and climate, seasonal popularity, and festivals and holidays can all be relevant factors when deciding which country to go to, when to go, and what to pack.


High or Low Season?


There are three terms travelers and vacation planners use to describe the variations between large numbers of tourist visitors and smaller numbers:


High Tourist Season. This is also known as peak season, and typically it corresponds with the summer months in a particular region. Various factors, such as larger crowds, longer hours of daylight, as well as longer business hours, more expensive prices, and more sold-out accommodations all characterize high tourist season. What’s the best about high tourist season for some travelers who enjoy bustle, lots of people, and hotter weather can be the worst for travelers of another disposition, who may abhor crowds, for example.


Shoulder Season: This time of year is often a hodge-podge between the best and worst of high and low seasons. While some places may be closed, most will be open, though often at reduced prices. The days during shoulder season are not as long as those during peak travel season in a given area, but they are also longer and less dreary, typically than those during the off season. While the weather during shoulder seasons can be mild, it can also be unpredictable. So if you prefer to save money by traveling during shoulder season, be sure to pack for a host of different types of weather.


Low Season. During the low tourist season in a given area, places tend to close down, and often these areas turn into a shell of themselves during peak and shoulder seasons. Typically, low tourist season corresponds with winter, so even though places might be closed, towns seem underpopulated, and the days are short, low season can also be great for winter sports enthusiasts, and a time of many interesting festivals.


Climate and the tourist season often go hand-in-hand but not always. Some parts of the world cater primarily to winter sports enthusiasts, in which case, the colder it gets, the more of a peak tourist season despite it being winter. Many cultures’ most interesting and enjoyable holidays and festivals occur during the winter time. This can make for great fun, but it can also impart a level of chaos where suddenly, in the midst of a sleepy low tourist season, a place briefly comes alive with large crowds and packed public transportation. Other places do not have four distinct seasons, either. People also typically conflate weather and climate as if they were the same thing. Climate, it’s important to remember, is actually an average over time of what the weather is like in a given place during a given time of year.


It’s a good idea to research the specific country you are going to beforehand. Make note of the holidays that may occur during the time you travel there, as well as the typical weather conditions and climate. Paris can be a magical place during some times of the year, but the bloom can fade quickly when it’s cold, and dreary. While the information below provides an overview for various parts of the world, you should also make sure to research for your particular destination:


  • When to travel to Europe. Throughout Europe, the climate is relatively similar. Southern Europe may experience milder winters, while Northern Europe may experience milder summers, but throughout the continent, winter occurs at the same time, as does summer. The high tourist season is during the summer typically, from mid-June through August. However, in some cities, such as Paris, if it gets too abominably hot, people flee to the country, making the big city a much slower moving place for those travelling there. Shoulder season is often a favorite time to travel for many people because you get the best of both worlds – open attractions, but with smaller crowds and lower costs; milder temperatures but with more rain and unpredictable conditions. The months of shoulder season may vary slightly from country to country but typically comprise April through mid-June and September through October. Low season in Europe can be a fun time as well even though the days tend to be much shorter and the countryside adopts an almost bleak quality. Christmas and other midwinter celebrations bring Europe briefly back to life and can be a great opportunity to really get to know the locals, who tend to look more warmly upon travelers during the off season.


  • When to travel to Asia. Figuring out when to travel to Asia is a tricky proposition because the climate and seasons vary throughout this massive continent. In northern Asia, for instance, in countries such as Russia and Mongolia, long harsh winters stretching from November through March mark a prolonged off season for tourist activities, and even budget travelers who want take advantage of the low prices during this time may find it not worth experiencing the bitter cold and wind.


However, in China, a shorter winter from December to February also means a shorter off season. The peak travel times in China are not the high summer months as they may be in other countries. Instead, the months of April, May, September, and October are the peak months for tourist travel. The shoulder season in China includes the months of March and November as well as the summer months from June through August, which, in addition to being hot, are also the times of year when monsoons wash over the country. In addition, one of the highlights of a vacation to China is to experience one of its unique holidays, such as the Spring Festival (known to us as Chinese New Year) or the Moon Festival in mid-autumn. Many Chinese holidays are based on their lunar calendar, so they don’t occur on the same day each year according to our solar-based calendar. Consequently, if you want to take in a Chinese festival, make sure that you confirm what date it will occur for the year in which you plan to visit.


The more northerly island of Japan or the Korean Peninsula also experience radically different peak, shoulder, and low tourist seasons from the rest of Asia, and are more similar to Europe’s tourist seasons. However, in the case of South Korea, the late summer months of July and August tend to be low tourist seasons.


With the massive Himalayan mountain range separating India from China, the climate is expressed differently on the western side in India from how it is in China as well. The high tourist season in India includes June, July, and the middle of December, while two separate rainy seasons mark January through May and September through October as low tourist seasons. August and the months of November through January are considered shoulder seasons in India.


Perhaps the most varied range of high and low tourist seasons throughout the world are those in southeast Asia. For example, in Thailand, November through February marks the high tourist season, with June through October comprising the rainy season, and March through May, the hottest time of the year as the shoulder season. However in Indonesia, July through September is the high tourist season, while December through February is the rainy season. Wherever you choose to go in Asia, be sure to research when the best time to go is for your specific preferences and for that specific country.


  • When to go to Australia. Australia is another continent where the climate, and thus, the tourist season, can vary from place to place. Since this continent and country lies deep in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the reverse of what we would expect in the US. December through February are the summer months, and in most parts of the country, this is the high tourist season, while June through August, the Australian winter, is the low season. Once again, when planning your vacation, you should research what the circumstances are for the specific area in Australia where you plan to travel. When you consider it, this makes perfect sense. Even in the US, you might find early spring in Texas perfectly enjoyable, but not so much in Massachusetts where the rough winters last longer.


  • When to go to Africa. Another vast continent like Asia, Africa’s ideal times for tourists can vary from region to region. The peak travel times in South Africa include the months of December and January and the low tourist season includes June through August. Shoulder season months in South Africa are February through May, and September through November. Northern Africa will be similar to Europe in terms of peak, shoulder, and low tourist seasons.


  • When to travel to North or South America. North and South America are fairly easy to figure out in terms of high, shoulder, and low tourist seasons. In North America, the high tourist season corresponds with the summer months, so that June to September is the most popular time when tourists flock to this part of the world. Winter is the low tourist season, comprising the months of December through March. South America flips it, so that June through September comprises the low tourist season and December through February is the high season. Shoulder seasons are generally the same for both continents, where you can get the best of both worlds in terms of mild climate, low costs, and small crowds.


  • When to travel along the Equator. In terms of warm weather versus cold weather, you need not have to worry when you travel to any country along the Equator. It will invariably be hot. In fact Equatorial countries tend not to experience four distinct seasons at all. Instead they will include a hot, dry season, and a hot, rainy season. When these monsoon seasons occur can vary according to a number of factors including the physical geography of the area, the prevailing wind and water currents, and whether the country lies to the north of the Equator (where monsoon seasons tend to correspond with our winter months) or to the south (where monsoon seasons tend to correspond with our summer months).


Whichever time you prefer to travel, keep in mind that each season will have its pros and cons, but these can also correspond with your specific inclinations. With great planning, you can even stay one step ahead of the seasons and live in a world of eternal Spring.