It looks like you’ve been to most of the more popular options for winter holidays already, and since you listed them I assume you want to go somewhere new. The one that is missing, which I think could be perfect for you, is the Guanacaste area in northern Costa Rica. The weather will be perfect and you should be able to get a reasonably priced flight into nearby Liberia Airport. There are a variety of smaller towns along those beaches, and Tamarindo might be the most famous. They offer a mix of traditional hotels and resorts in smaller towns along with newer 4-star and 5-star hotels on large properties that tend to be away from the towns. The weather will obviously be similar to Panama, as long as you were on the west coast. Costa Rica is the adventure capital of Latin America and one-third of the country is national parks, so there is plenty to see and do. There isn’t much history there, but you can’t have everything.
To the life aquatic now and Micronesia’s little-known islands scattered in the Pacific Ocean, which serve as the mating grounds for giant manta rays. With wingspans that can reach up to 5m, the chance to dive alongside these dancing behemoths shouldn’t be missed. From colossal to downright cute, rare (and ridiculously adorable) pygmy hippos can be found in Sierra Leone, once you've had your fill of lounging on palm-fringed beaches.
If you crave warmth but think the beach bores you, head to the Southwestern United States. New Age meets Old West in Santa Fe, Phoenix is still toasty and its cultural season is in full swing, and Denver makes for a great trip. And if you've never seen the Grand Canyon, winter is a good time to visit since the crowds have thinned out (but do dress warmly).
It’s unfortunate and heartbreaking how many times I have recommended San Juan, Puerto Rico in the last few years. Once they get the power back on I’m sure it’ll be back to normal fairly soon after that, but I’m guessing probably March or later. And fortunately, Nate missed the Cancun area for the most part. Have you considered somewhere in the Cancun/Playa del Carmen/Cozumel area? I’m particularly fond of Playa del Carmen, and that flight to Cancun should be pretty reasonable for you.
I too am a planner, which is how I got involved in this, and so I totally understand your motivation. I think your plan sounds quite good. The weather in the places you are planning is actually fairly mild, and none of them are too far north. For some of us it’s easy to forget how far north parts of Europe are, and in those areas it’s not so much the cold but the fact that the sun rises at 10am and sets at 3pm that time of the year.
Obviously you’d get a refund if an airline canceled your incoming flight, so I guess it’s more a matter of being able to book an alternative without much notice at that point, and that can be tricky. I’ll probably be coming from Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, and those flights are always pretty cheap. If I was coming from Europe or North America, I’d probably just wait and hope that the ash cloud starts to subside, and also get a back-up destination ready. If you mainly just want to hang out on a lovely beach and do some water activities and such, then I’d take a look at Boracay Island. However, it’s small and doesn’t come close for cultural activities or natural sights, although other parts of the Philippines are better in those regards.
If you’re highly susceptible to the Christmas spirit and haven’t already committed the entire holiday season to wrapping presents with Aunt Linda, consider Cologne. The city has a whopping seven main Christmas markets -- definitely don’t miss the Cathedral Market, which has the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, or Angel’s Market, where you can sip eggnog punch and weave around people actually dressed as angels; Santa comes through once a week as well… on horseback. All that’s left for you to do is listen to the festive music and browse the stalls for an apology gift to send to Aunt Linda.
One more destination to consider is Dubai. Its beaches are a small part of the charm, and the whole place is very impressive. Shopping is probably the most famous activity, but there is plenty more, and flights there are quite cheap from Delhi. Hopefully one of these options sounds good. Either way, feel free to follow up if you have other questions. -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:
Regarding Thailand, I’m not familiar with any islands that are beautiful and not touristy. Phuket has beaches all over the island and many of them are isolated so the only guests are those staying at the resort in front of them. If you search other travel sites, including travelfish.org, which I think is the best site for southeast Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine, you can find more information about more obscure Thai islands. One challenge could be that you might have to take two or three total flights and then a ferry ride to reach them.
Later in the month, the day after Thanksgiving begins Christmas season with the Ford Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony. Decorated floats wind through the illuminated trees and bridges along the river. Luminaria, San Antonio’s annual free contemporary arts festival (Nov. 10-11) will take place in Hemisfair and other downtown venues, unveiling a special program at the Mission San Jose, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. San Antonio has been recognized as a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Influences of Mexican, Spanish, German, French, and Native American cuisine and ingredients combine to form the city’s culinary heritage, increasingly attracting foodies to its hundreds of unique restaurants.
Traveling in December means you either fully lean into the holiday season, or else escape it entirely and flee to somewhere warm. Personally, I try to appreciate the cold weather while we have it and max out on warm seasonal beverages, colorful lights, soft snow, and good company. True, some places are overwhelmed by the capitalist engine that powers Christmas, but you can still get a non-denominational-winter-wonderland fix, if you know where to look. No matter your travel preference, there’s a perfect place in this world for you to bask in those final sunsets of 2018.
Malta would have decent weather as well, but I think the nightlife there is pretty dead during the colder months because they don’t get many visitors. They don’t have proper beaches as well, as the coastline is mostly these huge rocks. If you really want a warm beach in December your best bet is the Canary Islands, and even then it can be slightly chilly in December. But the nightlife in Malta is pretty dull, since so many of the visitors are retired Europeans.
Aside from Indonesia you might also consider Thailand, which has great infrastructure so it’s much easier to travel with young children. Phuket has by far the most options, and its rainy season usually ends in early November. For families I recommend Kata Beach and Karon Beach, which are both just south of the main shopping and nightlife town of Patong Beach.
I’m happy to try to help. It’s hard to say whether one 30-day trip would be better than several shorter trips. On one hand, it’s much more efficient to go for a month because it obviously saves you all the going back and forth. Also, one week is a short time to go 7 or 8 time zones away, as it takes pretty much an entire day each way, and at least a few days to adjust to the time change. Hmmm…
November brings the annual Vodafone Mexefest Music Festival (Nov. 24-25), a gathering of popular artists in venues throughout Lisbon. The Lisbon & Sintra Film Festival, in its 12th year, is a celebration of cinema with directors, actors, artists, musicians, and writers in town for the event (Nov. 16-25). Billed as the “largest technology conference in the world,” Web Summit began in 2010 as a way to connect industry and the technology community (Nov. 5-8). The year’s new wine and the ripening of chestnuts are celebrated with the Magusto, on Nov. 11, St. Martin’s Day. The holiday spirit becomes apparent at the end of the month, with colorful lights and roasted chestnut vendors along the streets.
Sri Lanka doesn’t really have a good infrastructure for budget travelers at this point. There are loads of nice hotels if you are willing to pay US$40 or more per night, but almost nothing below that except for a few hostels. I haven’t been to Palawan but I have been to Boracay and Palawan can’t be too much cheaper. Boracay doesn’t have many budget options either, so my guess is that Thailand or Cambodia is your best bet.