The traffic in Bali makes sightseeing notoriously challenging in June through August, but November is less crowded so it's a good time to come and spend a day in Ubud or even take a tour of the towns along the northern shore. In fact, if you want to avoid the huge Kuta crowds altogether you should consider basing yourself in the Lovina area of the north shore. It's as lovely and charming as the whole island was 20 years ago, but that may not last.
From December through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather,” except for the Canary Islands, which is listed below. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
Cartagena is a lovely place as well, but another reader just pointed out that the US government has a new travel warning to all of Colombia as of June, 2017. The US has travel warnings to many countries that people still safely travel to every day, but it is something to consider. Many years ago Colombia had quite a few problems, and yet Cartagena was always okay because it is this little cruise port and tourist city far away from the major urban centers. Seeing this, I would think twice myself, although I wouldn’t rule it out, but I also wouldn’t go anywhere except Cartagena at the moment.
It’s going to be pretty cold in December all over Europe, although not quite so bad in the south, of course. As far as where to go, I’ll refer to our Europe 3-star traveler index, which lists every major city in Europe from cheapest to most expensive. The price is the typical daily expense per person for a couple traveling and staying in 3-star hotels. Once you scan through that list you should have some ideas.
Back in 2008, we asked chef Stephanie Kimmel from Eugene's Marche restaurant to take a stab at updating Thanksgiving's well-worn green bean casserole -- you know the one we're talking about, with the canned beans and mushroom soup, topped with fried onions. Kimmel's from-scratch version features colorful fresh green beans that are baked in a homemade white sauce that tastes cleaner than the 1950s tinned three-can combo. If Thanksgiving dinner doesn't feel complete without a green bean casserole, this is the one to make!
Fortunately, it rarely rains at all in Cairo, so even though December is one of the wetter months, that means nothing and you are unlikely to see even a drop of rain. Hotel prices do reach their peak in Cairo starting late in December, so it's best to go early in the month if possible. Egypt is definitely one of the cheapest places to travel in December, and the weather is surprisingly nice as well.
Since you might be open to flying then another nearby option to consider is Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s a pleasant tourist town on its own, but it only exists as the gateway to the amazing Angkor Wat temples nearby. Those temples are by far the most dramatic and memorable tourist attraction in southeast Asia, and I think your daughters are old enough to appreciate it all. But again, the town of Siem Reap is nice with plenty of other things to do, so it’s a great all around stop.
As a male who usually travels solo, I’m not sure I’m the best source of advice for solo female tips. There are hundreds of travel blogs run by solo female travelers, and if you Google some specific topics that you are curious about, I’m sure you’ll find some great information. Generally speaking, the females tend to say that traveling solo is far easier and less threatening than they had feared.
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.
I haven’t followed the Zika list, but I do understand the concern. Since you aren’t big beach people, you might just bring jackets and go to a more romantic city like Paris, and then maybe down to Nice for part of the trip and something a bit different. I’m not sure if this is helping, but if you have any questions about any of this I’m happy to keep trying. -Roger
December is a popular month to go cruising around Hawaii and Mexico. It’s an ideal family trip, especially with most kids in the US out of school for the holidays. Experience the Hawaii’s tropical paradise. Pick a popular cruise liner and visit ports of call like Nawiliwili on Kauai, Honolulu on Oahu and Kona on the Big Island. If the Caribbean floats your boat, we recommend taking a cruise to explore Mexico’s Costa Maya, Cozumel, Ensenada, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and more.
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Lovers of historic architecture should consider tiny Malta in November, which still basks in glorious warm weather as much of Europe starts to shiver. The baroque palaces, churches and fortifications of its harbour-hugging capital Valletta look much the same as they did 400 years ago, and are extra lovely when observed from a traditional dghajsa (open boat) water taxi. If a life on the high seas has always appealed, then charter a course for the Cayman Islands come November, when the serene Caribbean isle hosts Pirate Week, a fun-filled festival that includes costume contests, street dancing and a horde of swashbucklers ‘invading’ the island and capturing the governor.
I know what you mean about how easy everything is in Thailand, with a 7-Eleven on every corner. But I don’t know the current visa situation because it’s changed recently and might change again. Still, I think they are mainly trying to cut off the people who try to stay forever on consecutive Tourist Visas, and they are still welcoming of the 60-day visits. I hope so anyway because I might be heading there this winter myself.
When you mention, “not too touristy”, the first thing that comes to mind is San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m not sure if you’ve been there already or not, but one great thing about it is that the “tourist” areas close to Old San Juan are filled more with apartments than with hotels, unlike Cancun, where it’s nothing but hotels and timeshares. I can highly recommend the Condado neighborhood, which does have some large hotels but is mostly apartments for expats and seasonal visitors. There is even a free bus that goes from there to the heart of Old San Juan, which is a gorgeous colonial town filled with great restaurants, bars, and interesting attractions.
I’m not really an expert on surf destinations and even less so on skate parks, although I am aware of many places that do have good surf beaches. From Ireland I think your two best bets would be either Rincon, Puerto Rico, which has the best surfing in the Caribbean and is good for longer rentals like that. You could get a reasonably priced flight into San Juan, which is also a really nice place with some surfing and great beaches, and then hire a car for the drive to Rincon.
And you mention that you’ve been to Cancun and Yucatan, but just in case you haven’t been to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, those could also be worth a look. They are both much more real tourist towns as opposed to Cancun, which is primarily a long strip of high-rise hotels and time-share buildings on a beach. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger