Ah, summertime at the beach.

Around the world people flock to beaches and the gentle surf, ready to frolic in the shallows or venture further out, floating along on the highest-tech surf boards or $10 inflatable rafts.

Sunshine, skimpy swimsuits, sunscreen, glare-proof glasses – and crowds. Lots of crowds. Other people intent on the exact same thing as you. At the same spot. At the same time.

Maddening, frustrating, patience-testing, nothing-to-be-done-about-it. Suck it up and make the best of a too-many-people in a beautiful place situation.

But why don’t you do something about it? Why don’t you break out of the pack? One way to do this would be to find an undiscovered beach. But since the days of Spanish and French explorers roaming around this part of the world, those have been in very short supply.

Actually, the best way to do it is logical and, we will bet, fully open to you. Don’t go to the beach in prime season. Go around the prime season.

Here’s the deal: because of the staggered times in which school years begin and end in various parts of the country, the actual “high season” for beach activities is really very short. Only from about the first week in June to the second week in August. During these times, everything about heading to the beach is crowded and expensive.

Many folks are at the mercy of the school year, and when the summer vacation break season gets squeezed, so do they.

But if you can head to the beach outside of these times, you are in for a special treat. Lower prices in hotels, shorter lines in restaurants, more room on the sand for your set-up, usually lower gas prices, and minimized traffic hassles.

The longer you can push your beach getaway into October and even November or, on the other end of the calendar, March and April, the better the deals get. Hotel rates are lower still during these “shoulder” seasons, and all the other allied benefits enumerated above become even more so.

And there’s another bonus: Since rental properties usually have significant vacancies during seasons adjoining the high season, they are more apt to bargain in order to rent the unit. Don’t accept the first price you are quoted. Ask the rental representative for a better price. If none is offered, then move along to another property. And let the first property know you are going to ask other rental properties for their best price.

Suddenly, you, the consumer, are in the driver’s seat. Not so during the busy summer season. Away from high season, and not too far away, vacancies abound and the landlords/managers would love to have you stay in their property.

Remember you don’t have to book in the winter months to enjoy this benefit. Simply wait until after Labor Day in the fall and savings will come your way.

As for weather, during October and November, Gulf Coast beaches are not subject to the jolting changes of seasons so often experienced along the entire Eastern seaboard, nor do daytime temperatures soar to the 90-degree mark. More comfortable ranges around 80 degrees are the norm during these earlier and later seasons. There’s still plenty of sunshine, though, so don’t leave the sunscreen or sunglasses at home.

Also during these shoulder-season periods, you will have a lower chance of being cancelled out of your well-earned vacation by a hurricane in the neighborhood.

Point is, just because you have always headed to the beach during July, maybe now your children are grown, your friends don’t go at this time anymore, or maybe you just have not thought this program through lately. If the only reason you go to the beach in July is because “that’s what we’ve always done,” re-think.

A few examples of how just a few days can make a big difference in your travel budget:

Two-Bedroom Condo, Seagrove, Florida, one week:
       July – $1890
       September – $1239

Beachfront Hotel, Pensacola, Florida, one week:
       July – $2583
       September – $1393

Beachfront Condo, Orange Beach, Alabama, one week:
       July – $1794
       September – $1290

Beachfront Casino Hotel, Biloxi, MIssissippi, one week:
       July – $1109
       September – $880

(All prices are double-occupancy and do not include applicable taxes or fees.)

Pretty easy, right? You still have the most beautiful sandy beaches anywhere on the planet. You still have the sun. The great restaurants are all over the place, and there is no waiting for tables. The Gulf Coast is truly the home of the “Endless Summer.”

If you are going to miss the crowds and the expensive stays in hotels and condos, then who am I to get in your way? I’ll miss seeing you in September and October.