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How to Find Shoulder Season Bargains for Fall

By The Budget Travel Editors
updated September 29, 2021
Sea Crest Falmouth MA cycling
Sea Crest Beach Hotel
Booking trips in the “sweet spot” between high season and low season can nab you a great vacation at a shockingly low price.

Fall is on the way, and that means Shoulder Season bargains. We've put together this cheat sheet, based on recent trends and our best expert intel, for autumn savings:

1. "SHOULDER SEASON," DEMYSTIFIED

We call this time of year Shoulder Season because, in a lot of popular destinations, it’s between the high summer season and the low winter season. The weather is perfect in September and October, but the summer crowds are gone. We'll see airfares and hotel rates drop in popular summer destinations as summer turns to fall, including beach towns, National Parks, theme parks, and European cities.

2. HOW TO BOOK A FALL HOTEL DEAL

To take advantage of lower Shoulder Season rates, you've got to do your homework: Visit a web resource (such as our Book a Hotel page) and compare rates from late August and early September (a.k.a., right now) with rates a few weeks later. You'll often see hotels in popular summer destinations, including the Jersey Shore, New England, and the Carolinas, drop their rates by as much as half as summer turns to fall. You may find that already reasonable destinations, like Myrtle Beach, become even more affordable in fall, and pricier spots like Nantucket can be within reach  of Budget Travelers. Pounce on a rate that's right for you.

3. VACATION RENTALS CAN SAVE YOU BIG

But if you're traveling in a party of more than four people, a vacation rental like HomeAway or Airbnb may be the way to go. Don't be put off by rates over $200/night until you've compared the rental to the cost of two (or more) hotel rooms. A spokesperson for HomeAway recently let us know that they are seeing savings of 10 percent or more on Shoulder Season bookings.

4. KNOW THE BEST TIME TO BUY PLANE TICKETS

This is actually the question we get asked most often is: When is the best time to buy plane tickets. The answer has been, traditionally, roughly two months ahead of your flight -- that's typically when airlines have lowered fares as much as they are going to. But as we've reported, the rules of airline bargains are evolving.

Of course, for travel in September and October, we're already past that window, so the best day to book a flight might be...right now. Our partners at Skyscanner crunched the numbers for fall travel and noted that late August (this week, actually) may be the best time to book a Thanksgiving flight, with decent savings also available to those who book during the month of September.

5. FOLLOW YOUR FAVORITE TRAVEL BRANDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

We also always recommend following all the major airlines, hotels, and package tour companies on social media and to sign up for their e-newsletters, so you'll be among the first to learn about flash sales and deals. And, right on cue, airlines will start rolling out Shoulder Season sales in September - happy travels!

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Travel TipsFamily

Read This Before Your Kid Flies Solo

As a child, I looked forward to flying alone from Florida to New York for the summer. It meant a few blissful weeks spent with cousins I rarely saw, and precious time with my grandparents, who I knew would be waiting for me at the gate. This year, I put my own children, ages 6 and 9, on a plane by themselves to see their grandparents. Getting them on the two-hour flight was relatively easy; waiting for them to land took a bigger toll on my nerves. But they arrived safely, and yours will too. Here’s what to expect when your child is flying alone domestically: WHO’S A “MINOR”? Airlines generally consider a minor to be between the ages of 5 and 14. Some airlines, like Southwest and Alaska, cap the age at 12, but you can request and pay for unaccompanied minor status for your older child regardless. SOLO FLIGHTS FOR KIDS ARE PRICIER That solo flight is not cheap. Every airline adds a surcharge. Some are relatively small: Southwest charges $50 per flight, per child, or $100 round trip. JetBlue’s program costs $100 per child, per flight, or $200 round trip. EACH AIRLINE HAS A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT POLICY You will book the flight differently on all airlines. Delta is unique in that you book the flight by phone using their Unaccompanied Minor phone line, which adds a level of comfort knowing there is a dedicated support staff for your questions. Most other airlines allow you to book the flight online; you just indicate the child is flying alone when prompted for the status of the passenger (adult or child) or when prompted for the passenger’s birthday. AIRLINES DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP YOUR KID SAFE You tell the airline in advance who will be dropping off and picking up your child, and ticketing agents ID the designated adult on both ends to let them through security and to the gate. (Unfortunately, they often only let one adult through.) The airlines will also give your child a bracelet or lanyard to indicate they’re unaccompanied, along with an envelope with their flight details. The flight crew typically places unaccompanied minors in the front of the plane to keep an eye on them, but prepare your child to be on his or her own during the flight and to go to by alone to the bathroom or ask for help if needed. A WELL-PACKED CARRY-ON WILL KEEP YOUR KID HAPPY Pack books and games to keep your child occupied and happy, and if you’re sending them with a tablet, charge it and/or pack a charged external battery. Buy food at the airport in case there is no substantial meal on the flight. Be sure to point out where they should place their envelope with all of their flight details, and include a list of important phone numbers just in case. And show them what’s in their carry-on before you say goodbye. BE PREPARED FOR A LONG TRAVEL DAY It will take a lot of time. You and the adult on the other end will be meeting your child at the gate, which means you’ll have to go through security both times. On the departure end, you’ll arrive at least an hour before just as if you were flying and you’ll need to stay until the plane is in the air, so don’t expect a quick goodbye. On the arrival end, allow at least 30 minutes to park and get to the gate, more if you’re in a major airport. CHECK THE FLIGHT ARRIVAL BOARD OFTEN Arrival gates change, and you could be waiting at the wrong one when your child deplanes. SOME INTERNATIONAL AND CONNECTING FLIGHTS DON’T ALLOW SOLO KIDS Each airline treats these cases a bit differently, so read each airline’s FAQs carefully. DON’T DOWNPLAY THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF SAYING GOODBYE Letting your child fly alone might be harder than you imagined. My daughter clung to me before her flight, my son didn’t even wave goodbye. And until they landed safely, my stomach was in knots because my most precious cargo was out of my hands, high in the air. It can be terrifying if you think of it this way. So try not to. Send them to the family members they rarely see. You’ll be forging lasting memories—and an early sense of independence. LEARN MORE Visit each of the major U.S. airlines’ websites for more information on their unaccompanied minor programs.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

What's Your "Day Bag Personality"?

When you’re on the go, the smallest details can make or break your day. Who would rather spend time adjusting their shoulder straps or rearranging their bags to make room for souvenirs when they could be taking in new sights and sounds undistracted? We found a batch of hands-free accessories that will allow minimalists and pack rats alike to sally forth without such nuisances—and each one rings in at less than $150. (Yes, a backpack might be the ultimate example of the genre, but for these particular purposes, we’re sticking with bags of the frontal persuasion.) Read on to find the one that's right for you.  Lighten Your Load (Courtesy Parker Clay) If you prefer to travel light, this is your pick. Made with sustainably sourced, premium Ethiopian leather by Parker Clay, a company that supports vulnerable communities in Addis Ababa, where its production facility is located, the Everly crossbody is perfect for the minimalist day-tripper. At just eight inches long, five inches high, and  one inch wide, it has room for a small wallet or card holder, a set of earbuds, and maybe a lipstick or two, and that’s about it. Stash your phone in the slim external back pocket, and proceed to explore with your hands swinging. Everly crossbody in blush, $88; parkerclay.com. Mind Your Waistline (Courtesy Hustle & Hide Co) This sleek hip bag might look like a spin on an ‘80s classic, but it’s not your mother’s fanny pack. With two straps and four ways to wear it, Hustle & Hide Co’s understated, handcrafted convertible pouch is made for the modern traveler. Budget Travel senior editor Liza Weisstuch carried it on a recent trip to Alaska and came back singing its praises. “Wearing it feels like having an extra pocket,” she says. “It's the perfect size for travel, just big enough to keep the royal trifecta—phone, wallet, and passport—within easy reach. That's a huge game-changer for someone who's constantly rummaging for one or the other. Like me.” Liza prefers to use the waist strap (it’s easier for the on/off when you sit down, she says), but you can also clip it directly to your belt loops, use the standard strap and throw it over your arm, or go for the longer strap and wear it crossbody style. “What’s more,” she adds, “its soft, bourbon-brown leather and brass clasps make it a stylish accessory, regardless of whether you're wearing it around your waist or on your shoulder.” Classic button stud hip bag in brown, $100; hustleandhideco.com. Carry It Crossbody (Courtesy Peg and Awl) For years, I’ve been searching for a day bag to fit a book, a water bottle, over-ear headphones, and sunglasses, plus the wallet, organizational pouch, and lip balm that I always carry. It needs to be something big enough to hold it all without having to Tetris it in, but not so big that it weighs me down, and this no-frills satchel from Peg and Awl ticks all the boxes. Designed to carry the essentials and inspired by purpose-driven vintage bags like colonial-era satchels and the military map cases of World War II, the Hunter is made from sturdy, waterproof waxed canvas, with a brass rivets and studs for a modest flash of bling and a wide leather shoulder strap that stays put and doesn’t dig in. The interior pocket is just the right size for a wallet, keys, and a battery pack, and the main compartment is roomy enough for everything else. It's a utilitarian number with a few subtly clever details, from the smart placement that keeps the strap from twisting to a flap you can close with one hand (and a bit of dexterity).  Hunter satchel in slate, $144; pegandawl.com. Feed a Crowd (Courtesy FEED) If you require more space, the Go-To bag from FEED provides extra wiggle room and more organizational options with the same crossbody convenience. With a zippered pocket inside that’s ideal for anything that needs to be safely stowed, like a wallet or passport, and an outer pocket that offers easy access to a phone or charger, this cotton-canvas carry-all not only holds everything you need for a day on the town or in the country, its purchase also provides 40 school meals to those in need. Go-To canvas bag in burnished olive, $68; feedprojects.com. Tote It All (Courtesy Everlane) Not a fan of the crossbody thing? Consider an upgrade on the standard tote instead. With leather straps that can handle whatever fits inside and a zip top to keep it all from falling out—and grabby hands from getting in—Everlane’s twill version is a stylish, nearly indestructible upgrade on the original. I put it to the test in New York, stuffing it with gym gear, a laptop, and a bottle or two of wine, and it didn’t give even the slightest bit. If your travel style includes lots of shopping, this bag's generous size and comfortable handles make it a great option, perfect for that farmers' market haul or bookstore score.  Twill zip tote in golden brown, $48; everlane.com.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

7 Beachy Buys for Sunny Days

What’s an afternoon at the beach without the right supplies? We found the gear to make the most of the summer's sun, sand, and waves, including the must-pack essentials and fun add-ons that’ll make your day more dynamic—all for $80 or less. The Bag (Courtesy L.L. Bean) First things first: You need a proper beach bag, and L.L. Bean’s classic Boat and Tote is a sturdy option that won’t go out of style. It’s practically indestructible, and that’s no exaggeration—my family has one that’s almost 30 years old, and it’s still going strong. The large version is roomy enough to hold a blanket and a day’s worth of towels, toys, and provisions without being too unwieldy, with long handles that make it easy to throw on your shoulder and go. It’s a bit cavernous, so for more organization, take a tip from my super-smart mom and hit the hardware store for a small canvas waist apron to tie to the handles. For just a few bucks, it’ll provide a couple of internal pockets for those things (sunscreen, lip balm, tissues, phone) you want to keep within reach at all times. Large open-top Boat and Tote with long handles in dark green, $35; llbean.com. The Towel (Courtesy Dock & Bay/Emma Sailah) Banish thoughts of thick, fluffy terry cloth. This microfiber number from Dock & Bay may not have the same cushy feel as a regular cotton towel, but its powers of absorption are remarkable—it’ll get you dry in no time and won’t stay damp for long. And even though it’s plenty big, clocking in at 63 by 31 inches, it folds away to practically nothing. Stash it in the 10-by-6-inch pouch that comes with it, or toss it in your bag on its own; either way, you’ll hardly know it’s there. Plus, the company donates 10 percent of all Rainbow towel sales to Twenty10 (twenty10.org.au), an Australian organization that supports the LGBTIQA+ community, so you can show some pride all summer long. Rainbow Skies microfiber towel, $25; dockandbay.com. The Blanket (Courtesy Slowtide/Willie Kessel) Sure, this one is a little on the pricey side, but between the Instagram-bait pattern, the extremely plush cotton-velour fabric, and the fun fringed edging, it’s worth the splurge. At five feet in diameter, it works well as a personal beach blanket, though it'll accommodate two people too, especially if they’re exceptionally friendly and/or pint-sized. It not only looks good and feels good, it’s also pampering in the best way: Its materials have been independently tested to meet the guidelines set by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, so you're free to lounge around and towel off without apprehensions about harmful ingredients. Radiant Round towel, $80; slowtide.co. The Cooler (Courtesy AO Coolers) As far as soft coolers go, Yeti’s Hopper line is hyped as the gold standard, but with a starting price of $200 for the smallest model, it comes with some serious sticker shock. For those who don’t want to spend that much to transport snacks and frosty beverages, this one from AO Coolers is an excellent option. Thanks to a thick layer of foam insulation and a water-resistant exterior, it’ll keep a case of beer and 14 pounds of ice cold, without leaking, for 24 hours. If you really load it up, though, it gets pretty heavy, and its short, non-padded strap doesn't lend itself to comfortable carrying, so you’ll want to make sure someone with strong shoulders is hauling it, especially if you have a long way to go. (And if you happen to have a nicely cushioned backpack strap lying around, swapping it in here would be a smart move.) AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler in navy, $70; amazon.com. The Music (Courtesy Polaroid) When you're hanging out on a crowded beach, your fellow sunbathers might not appreciate your loud tunes, so this inexpensive little speaker is ideal: Its sound is great if you’re nearby, but it doesn’t really travel far, so you can put on your Mexican death metal or favorite ‘90s boy band without worrying about who’s going to hear it. Bonus: Its design is super-cute, too. Polaroid PBT530 Wireless Bluetooth Portable Retro Speaker in blue, $20; amazon.com. The Entertainment (Courtesy Into the Wind) Forget building sandcastles—the best seaside activities take to the skies. Thanks to the constant winds coming off the water, the beach is an ideal environment for kite-flying: You’ll barely have to work to get airborne, and the steady breezes give you more room to play, particularly on an empty, open stretch of sand. Traditional Delta or glider-style kites are as low-maintenance as they come (once they catch the right draft, you can even tie them to your chair and let ‘em coast on their own), but stunt kites are much more fun. This colorful little ripstop-nylon number from Into the Wind is easy to maneuver and awesome for beginners, with a light frame and Kevlar enforcing at the nose and tail in case of crashes. Strap on the wrist bands, and you’ll be doing combination turns and backflips in no time. Prism Jazz Stunt Kite in Rainbow, $55; intothewind.com. The Insurance Policy (Courtesy PunkCase) When you drop your phone as often as I do, certain situations are fraught with danger. Giant ocean with currents and waves and splashing children in the shallows? Check, check, and check. A waterproof case can prevent calamity. This one from PunkCase has a slim profile and a built-in screen protector, and it’s not only waterproof, it’s also made to withstand drops of nearly seven feet. Before you go and toss it in the deep end, though, be sure to test it out with a paper towel or a bit of cloth before trusting it with your phone—if there’s any moisture inside when you open it back up, you’ll know there’s a problem. It’s worth taking the time for that extra step, because once you’ve gotten the all-clear, you can go forth and shoot without a care in the world. PunkCase waterproof Crystal case in teal, from $35; amazon.com.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

The Ultimate Traveler's Guide To Skincare

Though we often talk about the importance of staying fit, eating well, and monitoring our sleep when we travel, we don't always give as much attention to our largest organ: our skin. "Skin is the house that you live in. You need to protect it and keep it healthy because healthy skin is gonna be beautiful skin," says Allison Tray, founder of Tres Belle Spa in Brooklyn. We checked in with a few experts to learn the do's and don'ts of skincare when you're on the go.   YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. AND DRINK. With fresh air often pumped in to maintain oxygen levels, not to mention recycled air and high altitudes, cabin air can be a recipe for dehydration. When moisture is depleted, your skin's barrier function is impaired, making it feel dry, look sallow, and become red and irritated. The simplest solution isn’t to slather on moisturizer, but to feed your skin from the inside—all the fancy beauty products in the world can’t come close to the importance of water. (Pro tip: Bringing an empty water bottle through security and filling it before you board your flight makes it easier to stay hydrated than looking for a flight attendant for each four-ounce pour. In a perfect world, you’d drink a liter of water for every four hours in the air.)  There are a few basic things you can do—or not do—to prevent your skin from losing too much moister at 35,000 feet. First: don’t drink alcohol on the plane. Do pack fruits or vegetables, Allison suggests, because they naturally contain water. Also, take a break from makeup. It'll help your skin breathe. And when you're on the ground, don't forget to keep sipping. “Be sure to drink lots of water throughout your trip, whether embarking on day-long tourist adventures, hiking through woods or relaxing poolside,” says Donna Regii, a beauty expert who’s worked with brands like Stila and Bliss Spa. “It’s the best way to help your skin behave, and look its radiant, glowing best.”  MOISTURIZING: IT GOES DEEPER THAN YOU THINK But the skin cannot hydrate by water alone. Just remember these three words: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Even when it doesn't seem necessary. “A lot times when skin feels oily, it’s that it’s dehydrated underneath,” Allison explains. “Glands that produce oils work overtime to protect and hydrate. A lot of times your skin feels oily, and you break out because there’s not enough hydration to balance everything out.”  Donna recommends looking for a face moisturizer with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate, which help bind moisture to your skin. Water-based moisturizers feel lighter and more refreshing on the skin during the summer and in warm or humid climates. Ingredients like shea butter are ideal for dry skin types and during cooler weather, she says. Whatever you do, though, don't use the moisturizer in your hotel room on your face. It's typically body lotion.  Before any moisturizer can work its magic, though, it has to have a clean canvas. The day before you fly, exfoliate with a gentle facial scrub, then apply a hydrating mask. The exfoliation gets rid of the dead cells, which allows the moisturizing ingredients from the mask to penetrate deeper in the skin. BEAUTY SLEEP Just like our bodies, our skin needs sleep to rejuvenate. “During the night, your skin undergoes repair, renewal, and detoxification, but if you don’t get proper sleep, these processes aren’t rescheduled. That’s why you get dark circles and sallow, dehydrated skin when you’re sleep deprived," says Donna.  From crossing time zones to sleeping in unfamiliar surrounds to perhaps a little more eating and drinking than we’re used to, travel can mess with sleep in big ways, wreaking havoc on our skin performance. Donna turns to aromatherapy to help her sleep. A lavender-infused pillow spray is a natural fix for falling asleep faster. Brands like This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray come in 2.5 fluid ounce bottles so you can take it in your carry-on. Just a spritz can help ease you into slumber.   PACK IT IN As any seasoned traveler knows, less is more when it comes to packing—how else to ensure you have room for everything you buy? Your own moisturizer should be as necessary as your passport and phone charger. “It’s best not to change up your usual regimen too much when you're on the road, because your skin may get stressed out from travel and not respond well to unfamiliar products,” Donna says. But there’s one major exception: Add sun protection if it’s not already part of your daily routine.  When Allison travels, she packs products that do double-duty to minimize her load. Many brands make moisturizers with sunscreen, and if you opt for a tinted product, it multitasks three-fold as a light foundation. She recommends sunscreen by SkinCeuticals, which has a universal tint. An exfoliating cleanser is also on her list of necessities. A hydrating skin serum with hyaluronic acid helps hold onto water, and you can also dab it under your eyes and onto your lips as a light moisturizer.