The three places that jump out to me are the Playa del Carmen area just south of Cancun in Mexico, the island of Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. All of those have endless beach activities and sights and great food and everything else, and they are all well within your budget. Puerto Rico would be easiest, and probably my first choice. Costa Rica is better known for adventure activities that might suit the younger ones. There are several good resort areas along the Pacific coast that would work.
Yet another option would be Goa in India. November is a very dry month there. Goa has a reputation as a party destination, but most of the small beach towns there are actually family friendly. If you’ve never been to India before it can be a bit challenging because it can feel disorganized at first. But it is safe and the locals are very kind and gentle. Those are a few options and I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
The Bali thing is also kind of a mess for those on low budgets. Kuta is a headache, and pretty much the opposite of what is so beautiful about the rest of the island, but it’s also where nearly all the really cheap beds are located. If you go a bit north in that same area into Legian and Seminyak, it’s nicer, but prices also go up. And Ubud is nice, but also more expensive for hotels and such. I’ll probably rent a place in Seminyak for a few weeks, which won’t be cheap.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Farmer’s Market in the city you’re visiting – give it a try! They usually have vendors there that really take pride in what they’re making. You can get some beautiful farm-to-table meat and freshly picked vegetables right from the farmer themselves. It makes for a great experience, and gives you some fantastic product to eat.
If you do want to go to Thailand then Bangkok is the obvious starting point and it’s a wonderful city. You also want to visit Ayutthaya, which you can do on a day trip but it’s better to stay a few days. Chiang Mai is the highlight of the north, partly because it’s insanely cheap and the weather is a bit cooler than Bangkok. Luang Prabang is another town not to miss and it’s fun for at least a few days. Don’t bother spending much time in Vientiane though.
This creamy-yet-virtuous gratin of greens from Ivy Manning is crowned with crunchy homemade bread crumbs tossed with nutty-tasting brown butter. Make ahead: The gratin can be assembled up to one day in advance. Allow the gratin to cool completely before covering it with plastic and storing it in the refrigerator. Add 10 additional minutes to the baking time.
As for flight connections, Barcelona and Madrid should have decent connections to Toronto and Delhi, while Casablanca (Morocco’s largest airport) probably does not. So Spain is the better choice by that standard. On the other hand, you can get to Morocco by ferry from Spain in a short time, so you could go to Spain and also visit Morocco for a day or two.
Since you’ve been to several of the top places in Asia already, and you love it, I think Bali might be your best bet. As I’ve written many times recently, I feel that the main tourist area of Kuta/Legian/Seminyak is just too crowded and overdeveloped to recommend, although it is interesting for a couple days and some nightlife. The arts and crafts town of Ubud is still nice, although also a bit crowded, but it’s not anything like a city so I still think you’d enjoy it.
Costa Rica, as you probably know, is all about nature and adventure sports, along with some decent beaches. It would be perfect if you are up for that sort of thing. If not, Santiago and Valparaiso (nearby cities in Chile) could be good for more of an urban adventure. Or Buenos Aires is even nicer and more interesting (and probably cheaper if you bring cash) if you can get a deal on a flight there.
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.
As for alternatives, you might have a look at my recent article with my recommendations for the best places to go in Asia in December. It’s got many more choices than the article above, with weather information for all of them. Closer to India, I think Sri Lanka is very nice in December, although it’s somewhat similar to India in many ways and you may want something more exotic. In that case I think Thailand and Malaysia are the best choices for family holidays.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
If you’re pretty simplistic when it comes to food, you can always bring nuts with you. They last long, they taste great, and they’re packed full of fats (if you choose correctly). Macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts are among the top high-fat nuts out there, and they’re well worth the extra cost if they save you from an accidental cheat right at the end of a great vacation.
Aside from that, this is a bit tricky because you obviously want to avoid longer flights for a short trip and especially with an infant. And some of the closer options are not close to a major airport, so they are still hard to reach in half a day or so. I think if you want to go farther than Goa, it’s probably best to look for other options in Thailand. As you know from previous visits, Thailand really has tourism figured out and it feels safe and well organized there. Cambodia and Vietnam also have beaches, but none that I’d recommend for a short trip. It’s the same with the Philippines, and the flights start getting longer. Phuket is the largest Thai island by far and it’s got over a dozen different beach areas and towns to choose from. Patong Beach is the main beach town and I wouldn’t recommend it for a family, but Kata and Karon beaches are just south of that, and they are nicely family oriented. Phuket also has a large airport, so getting there quickly is pretty easy compared to other beaches and islands in the area. Phuket’s beaches are also very nice. I wish I had more suggestions for you. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If you are very sensitive to humidity (I normally am, to be honest) then you’ll find more pleasant weather pretty much anywhere else in Southeast Asia in December. It can actually be cool at night in places like Chiang Mai that month. On the other hand, I LOVE Bali and I’ll probably spend all of next February there, which is still in the wet season. I’d still seriously think about Bali if I were you.
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.
As for my own Top 10 destinations in general, that’s a tough one for someone like me because I can’t help but factor costs into the equation. For example, I really love Amsterdam and I even lived there for awhile, but it’s also very expensive and maybe not a great choice for everyone. And it’s also hard to avoid cliches for a list like this, because I honestly feel that most of the places on these sorts of lists are great.
As far as finding work on the road, the only decent-paying job that is fairly easy to get that I’m aware of is teaching English, but I think those gigs tend to last at least a few months. Right now Thailand is trying to get rid of any foreigners who are working in hotels and bars without permits, so Cambodia might be better at the moment. I’m one of the thousands of people who work online while traveling, and it seems much easier to make a decent living that way compared to working in hostels and such. Good luck with whatever you decide, and maybe I’ll see you on the road at some point. -Roger
December is the end of the rainy season in Boracay, but by the middle of December you would probably only get a few quick tropical showers a week. Room rates are a bit lower at that time as well, so it can be a great time to visit. If you were looking for a place to go for 2 or 3 days, I wouldn’t recommend it because it does take some time to get there and you could be a bit unlucky with the rain. But if you are going for longer than that I’d highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful little island that feels like you’ve gone back in time to before mass-market tourism in places like Phuket.
As for Costa Rica, I think it would be ideal for what you have in mind. It’s by far the most tourist-friendly (and English speaking friendly) country in that area, so it’s a great starting point. Belize is pretty easy as well, although there is far less nature to enjoy. Panama and Nicaragua are a bit cheaper and have similar things to offer, but Costa Rica has the best infrastructure and nature parks, so it’s less stressful for a first-timer. The snorkeling is better on the Caribbean coast, I believe, but the better tourist beaches are on the Pacific. The country is pretty quick to get across, so you could easily spend a few days on both sides, plus another few exploring the rain forests and volcanoes and such.
My top recommendation would be San Juan, Puerto Rico. It offers a wonderful mix of history and culture and nightlife and great food, alongside excellent beaches and abundant activities. Hotels and rental apartments are mostly in the mid-range for the Caribbean, but food and drinks and most other things are great value. You could get a place in the Condado area, which is close to the lovely Old San Juan neighborhood and plenty of nightlife all around. And then perhaps you could rent a car and stay for a few days at one of the smaller beach towns elsewhere on the island. You wouldn’t even need a passport, although it does feel fairly exotic while you are there. But because it’s part of the US, it’s also well organized and safe. Most people you’ll meet will speak at least some English, and many are fluent, so it’s easy even if you don’t speak Spanish.
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.
Of the others, I’d say that Thailand would probably be your better choice. Goa is obviously famous for its beach parties, and drugs are easily available there just in case that is important, but there really isn’t much else to see or do there. Goa is a collection of beach towns, some of which are filled with raucous Westerners all winter. But once you go inland, it’s kind of falling apart, and it’s not even very “Indian” because it was run by the Portuguese until about 60 years ago.
The next morning we hit up the hotel dining area around 7 am for a large breakfast before going out for our second day. They had gigantic breakfast bowls (Meal 3) as part of their offerings, so that’s what I got. I asked for a southwest bowl with no potatoes, and received a heaping plate of eggs, chopped ham, onion, green peppers, and melted cheese. I also got a side of bacon and had a fatty coffee that I made in my blender bottle with powdered coconut oil, liquid stevia, and half n half. I added some salt, pepper, and butter to my breakfast bowl and was very full. So full, in fact, that we did not eat again until 4 pm.
If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.
If you are going to that region I suggest you visit a site called travelfish.org, which is by far the best website on SE Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine who lives in Bali. They have busy forums where you can ask questions and quickly get them answered by experts on every imaginable topic there. I’m happy to help more as you are planning, so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
The 2nd option is a bit early in the year. The Greek Islands are cold and mostly deserted until mid April or so, and the good weather really starts in May or June. This is true in Mallorca as well. The Canary Islands are much farther south so they have acceptable beach weather almost all year, although you might get some cooler days in March as well. Even still I wouldn’t really recommend them for a younger person. In my opinion, the Canary Islands are pretty boring because the majority of visitors that time of year will be retired people from northern Europe who just want to sit in the sun. The nightlife tends to be cheesy and/or weak if you can find it at all. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
On the hunt for a non-traditional ski vacation? Look no further than the Japanese Alps. According to American Express Travel, the region has seen an increase in bookings during the holidays in recent years. And while December has historically been less popular than Japan’s peak season—April-November—adventurous travelers are now intrigued by the wilderness of Japan in the winter. The Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi alps are home to indigenous snow monkeys, volcanoes, and lava plateaus, plus, visitors are drawn to the area for its pristine ski offerings, natural hot springs, and rural hiking.
Assuming you might be in the US or Canada, my first hunch is Costa Rica, or Panama, which is a bit cheaper though not as well organized. Costa Rica has good surfing on its Pacific beaches, and there are very few all-inclusive resorts, which means that the restaurant scenes in resort areas are vibrant and interesting. Costa Rica also has limitless adventure opportunities, like zip-line tours and such, although they aren’t exactly cheap. Going inland you’ve got loads of national parks, as well as the famous volcano and its little spa town.
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
Thanks. I’ve been to other places in Egypt, but have yet to make it to Sharm el-Shiek. It’s hard to find places that are that inexpensive these days. Most of my best suggestions are in the article above. If your main priorities are beaches, sunshine, and nightlife, my favorites are Goa, India; Boracay Island, Philippines; and almost any of the Thai islands. Goa has many family-oriented beach towns, although some others are not so family oriented so you have to choose carefully there.
In her dynamite cookbook “Martha Stewart’s Vegetables,” the queen of domesticity shows how acorn squash can be a canvas for a variety of flavors. Roasted with sesame seeds and cumin, the squash takes on the warmth of the Mediterranean. Tossed with bacon, maple syrup and a touch of cayenne, it echoes the comfort of the breakfast table. And paired with orange peel, sage leaves and a touch of grated Parmigiano offers the perfect balance to rich gravy and herbed stuffing.
Never thought of Moscow as a Winter destination! It is quite the place to go especially after the world cup hype. I second Rajasthan, India as one of the best places to travel in December. Love this list, Wendy. I have even listed Rajasthan and other offbeat places to travel in December and January over here: https://www.thegonegoat.com/inspiration-and-tips/2018/11/29/the-best-places-to-travel-december-january
Located off the coast of East Africa, the Seychelles—an archipelago consisting of 115 islands—is about as close to paradise as you can get. Crystal clear water, lush jungles, and powder-fine sand make it the ultimate early winter escape, particularly for romantic getaways. Book one of the 30 breathtaking pool villas at Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which is among the region's top luxury resorts. The hotel is situated on a private island that offers prime territory for snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, and hiking—plus, the spa has scenic pavilion-style treatment rooms that are worth the trip alone. Health conscious guests will be particularly impressed by the property's new "Eat with Six Senses" program, which is intended to make travelers leave vacation without the guilt that comes with overindulging. There are four tailor-made treatment plans that focus on sleep, detoxing, fitness, and more, depending on the issues you prefer to address.
My recommendations depend on your starting location so for now I’ll just assume you are starting somewhere in the USA. If you are looking for a really nice beach AND really good night life your best choices are the Cancun area, Puerto Vallarta, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you are in the eastern US or Canada it’s probably faster and cheaper to go to Cancun and if you are in the west Puerto Vallarta is better. San Juan will be more expensive because there just aren’t many cheap hotels in the good parts of the city. For the Cancun area I would recommend Playa del Carmen (about an hour south of Cancun Airport) because there are fairly cheap hotels near the town center, which is packed with bars and restaurants. In Cancun itself the best nightlife is in the heart of the hotel zone, and all of the hotels there are pretty expensive. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
This looks great and I wish I could be of more help. As I mentioned before, my first safari will probably be in 2017. I have a couple safari articles on this site from writers who have done them, and I’ve read a lot about the experience and the extremely positive reviews that most of them get. But having not yet done one, I wouldn’t feel comfortable offering specific advice. There are hundreds of articles on the internet that discuss these safaris, so I recommend you seek advice from someone with plenty of first-hand experience. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on a commercial safari outfitter, and try to seek advice from a travel blogger or other regular consumer. Have a great trip. -Roger
There’s really nothing like the holidays in Manhattan. December tends not to be too cold in New York -- you may actually pine a bit for snow as you mosey past Fifth Avenue shops, peering in at the elaborate holiday window displays. The rink at Rockefeller Center gets crowded, but catch it midweek and you’ll have room to skate a lap beneath the most famous Christmas tree in the world. And if you’re still picking up last-minute gifts, you really can’t beat the shopping in this town. Even usually gruff New Yorkers seem to have a brighter spirit this time of year, and carols echo through the subway stations thanks to the city’s many transit musicians. There’s no better time to go and bask in the Home Alone 2 Christmas vibes.