I’ve been planning my own spring fling to Europe, and when hunting for flights, I was once again reminded why the “shoulder” seasons of spring and fall are the best times to travel. Summer is peak season for Europe, so once you get to June, it gets much harder to find great deals. Airfare is much more affordable for April through mid-May, and now is the time to act on getting those tickets.

There are lots of added benefits to springtime travel: shorter lines at attractions, beautiful blooming flowers, open-air markets full of vibrant veggies. And chances are you’ll enjoy much better weather. Because Europeans tend to travel in July and August, summertime travel can mean running into lots of closed businesses; in the spring, that’s not an issue.

You’ll find many airlines are now showing fare sales up to mid May, so move quickly if you want to head west and get a great fare. Here are some tips to plan your own Spring Fling:

Book your flight:

Start looking at flights now and book early. Sign up for fare alerts and research a variety of sources: travel search sites, consolidators and airlines themselves. Check out deal sites to see which airlines have the best deals for the time frame you want to go.

Consider flying in and out of different cities. This is normally a no-no for saving money on fares, but if you think about your entire itinerary and where you are traveling to, it might make sense and actually save you money. For example, I just booked a flight from New York to Paris, and from Nice back to New York. This will end up saving me a day of travel, another night’s hotel in Paris and the cost of another rail ticket. The tickets are slightly more expensive, but overall it’s a significant savings.

Do your research:

Check out bookstores. I always like to buy one or two guidebooks as well as look for any history or literature on the area. In New York, I recommend visiting Idlewild Books for an incredible selection. You can also check out sites such as Amazon. And check iTunes for travel podcasts and audio books; even if you don’t have time to pore over travel guides, you can listen through your morning commute.

Sign up for a language class. Start the excitement early, and get prepared to go off the beaten path with some basic words and phrases. You’ll be a lot more confident in your travels if you start just a few months before you go. If you can’t make it to a class, check back on iTunes for downloads of travel phrases.

Look at travel videos. TV shows and videos of the area will help you get a good sense of the area and decide where to spend your time. I always check out Rick Steves’ clips on regions in Europe (you can find all of his episodes free on Hulu). I also love Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and The Layover. Check out Travel Channel or rent the DVDs on Netflix.

Get recommendations from your friends. Check out TripAdvisor, and see if any of your friends have been to the destination. When you sign into the site with Facebook you can quickly see who has been there and ask them for recommendations.

Got more tips to share or want to ask me a travel question? Find me on Twitter @mindyjoyce.