Another destination that might not exactly have “great” weather in December, yet deserves to be on the list, Sharm el-Sheikh is famously Egypt's most popular Red Sea beach resort. Those following the news might still hesitate to book a trip here, whether that is a rational decision or not. But at the very least this is one to consider in the future, as it's an amazing bargain once you get here.
I’ll be happy to try to help, but I’d really need to know your starting point because there are cheap places in different corners of the world, and it’s not worth flying halfway around the world to try to save US$20 per day. In mid December through January for beaches you should consider Thailand and perhaps also Vietnam. I’ll give you more information once I know where you are starting from. -Roger
If a warm weather getaway sounds appealing, consider seeking the sun in Cartagena where summer is approaching. The South American city offers history, Christmas spirit, and unique gifts for holiday shopping. Sun-drenched Phuket, Thailand’s popular island, is a place to relax during the day and party at night. St. Bart's in the Caribbean is recovering nicely from hurricane damage, an ideal spot for a winter vacation. Miami’s December weather is perfect for a warm Christmas, and Art Basel, early in the month, is an exciting time for fans of contemporary art. In Santa Barbara, a few days of pampering might fit the bill, or you can join in their holiday festivities throughout the month. Death Valley, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, offers a respite from the crowds and a chance to enjoy quiet days and starry nights.
“Winter in Eastern Canada” might sound more like a 19th-century prison sentence than it does a pleasant vacation, but Quebec City does the cold better than anywhere in North America. Blanketed in snow, QC looks like the world’s most elaborately constructed Christmas village. The cobblestone streets in Old Quebec densely packed with storefronts beckoning you to come in for hot food and baked goods, and boisterous bars overflow with a cacophony of Quebecoise. In December the streets are draped with Christmas wreaths and populated with carolers, plus there’s an authentic German Christmas market -- a true novelty in a city so overwhelmingly French.
This country-style dish from vegetarian cooking icon Deborah Madison is delicate and delicious and makes a lovely side dish for turkey. The recipe calls for baking it for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, but the results can be achieved in a 325 oven – the temperature for most turkey recipes – so it can be baked at the same time as the bird (provided your oven is large enough). Just allow 60 to 70 minutes total baking time.
As with other Caribbean resort destinations, the weather in Montego Bay is perfect in December, and the first half of the month is still cheap for flights and resort prices. The weekend before Christmas is when peak season here starts, and if you book early enough you can still get a good deal then, but don't expect many last-minute bargains during that period.
Weirdly enough, Central America and South America aren’t really known as top “culture” destinations, as the colonial history has mostly wiped out the indigenous history in the larger places. There are Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins and sights, but not really enough to build a whole trip around. I’d say the most interest of those would be the Inca culture of Peru, specifically around Machu Picchu and the valley around Cusco. Alternatively, visiting Argentina is pretty much like visiting Europe from a culture standpoint. It’s quite nice there and prices are low if you know about the blue market for currency, but otherwise it may not be what you are looking for.
Ferrari World, a huge indoor theme park, houses rides, driving schools, theaters, and car displays. The Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Nov. 23-25) will be held on the Yas Island Marina Circuit. The Taste of Abu Dhabi Food Festival (Nov. 8-10) will feature chef demonstrations, samples from the best local restaurants, music, food, and drink. The weather will be warm, so a day at Yas Beach should be on your itinerary for swimming, lounging, and water sports.
Not surprisingly, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are literally the busiest of the year in Goa, so either book a hotel way in advance or be flexible once you arrive. Some towns, like Calungute, are lined with package hotels that fill up completely, but other towns, like Anjuna and Vagator, are usually booked in person or by email, so you can often find a place just walking around. If you are in the mood to tour around, Mumbai has great weather during December, and Delhi has warm days but cool evenings this time of year. Goa has some of the best beaches in December in all of Asia, so give this one a serious look.
Needless to say, Australia is a huge country so you could spend 6 months there and not get bored, or you could spend one week there and barely see any of it. The obvious destinations are Sydney and Melbourne, both with plenty to do for non-beach people. Melbourne is known a bit more for culture and food, while Sydney is more pleasant and still very interesting. There is also the Great Ocean Road, which is a very scenic drive just a bit south of Melbourne.
Another option is Chiang Mai, Thailand, which has wonderful weather in December as long as you don’t require constant heat. It is popular with tourists and expats, but it’s not an overly touristy city so it never seems too crowded. Other options in that general area to consider are Luang Prabang, Laos, and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Let me know if any of these sound interesting and I can provide more info if you need it. -Roger
Overall, I’m declaring this vacation a great success! Not only did we have a wonderful time at the parks riding all the rides and enjoying the shows, I did not feel at all deprived or put upon food-wise, and not even once did I go hungry. All but one of our meals, including those at the hotel, were counter-service only establishments and I was able to find something filling and tasty for each meal. After this experience here are my recommendations for eating on vacation:
November is a wonderful time to explore this diverse country without the crowds and heat of the summer months. The ancient city of Marrakesh presents an uncommon blend of ancient traditions and modern conveniences. Accommodations include traditional Moroccan houses, or riads, once the homes of upper class Moroccan families. Riads range from budget-friendly room rentals to luxurious palace-like dwellings. Shop the souks or markets of the old city for leather goods, textiles, pottery, spices, and much more. Be prepared to haggle with the vendors for the best prices.
The Norwegian coastal city of Tromso, located more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is an enchanting winter wonderland in December. During the Polar Nights — when there is no sun at all — the opportunity to witness the Northern Lights is greatly increased. For another awesome view, take a cable car or an adventurous hike up to Floya, overlooking the city of Tromso and the surrounding mountains and fjords. The Polaria Arctic Experience Center and Aquarium is a family-friendly destination, both educational and fun. The 360-degree Planetarium at the Science Center in Tromso is another family option with breathtaking photos and a lifelike video of the Northern Lights. Stroll along Storage Street to be amazed at the number of cafes, restaurants, pubs, and shops featuring artwork, clothing, and crafts by local artisans. Mack’s famous Olhallen beer hall, established in 1928, is Tromso’s oldest pub, boasting Europe’s longest tap beer tower and a micro brewery. Their acclaimed Christmas Beer is released every December. Experience the Tromso wilderness on a dog sled or chase the glowing night sky on a reindeer sled with a native Sami guide. Tours range from four hours to five days. Whale watching is also ideal in December when humpbacks, killer whales, and several other species thrive on the plentiful herring fish in the fjords. Downhill and cross-country skiing opportunities abound for all skill levels.
I’ve done most of my travel as a solo, and I’m now a couple years older than you, so I know exactly what you are asking about. If you had even 2 full weeks I’d suggest going to southeast Asia, but as you say, the travel time could be a killer for a shorter trip. Still, it’s a unique experience with a lot of positive aspects to it, so you should keep it in mind. If you are still considering it, I’d suggest flying to Bangkok for 4 days or so, and then spend the rest of your time on one of the islands such as Kho Samui or Phuket. If you want more information on that, let me know.
The idea of holidaying in a country where the depths of winter are approaching may seem a little counter intuitive but stick with us. The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, is the best light show on Earth, and a trip to Iceland in November is the perfect ticket to see them. Explore thermal geysers, stunning waterfalls, and epic glaciers by day then stay up late and watch the skies dance with green light by night. Just make sure you pack your thermals though – the average day time temperature only reaches highs of 4c (40F)!
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.