As for your Europe trip, I highly recommend spending 3 nights in any city you visit. If you change cities every day or every other day you’ll end up spending most of your holiday on trains or in airports rather than seeing the places you flew all that way to see. So if Amsterdam and Barcelona are musts, I would add exactly one other city if you’ve only got 9 days. Unfortunately it’s not on your list, but the best and easiest one to add between them is Paris. There is a train from Amsterdam to Paris in a bit over 3 hours, and another high-speed train to Barcelona from Paris in 6 hours 27 minutes with no changes. Paris is easily one of the most impressive European cities for tourists, but if you’ve been there before and don’t want to go again you can obviously choose something else.
Interestingly, I had not seen that June travel warning. It’s hard to know what to think of it. On one hand, the US State Department has official warnings like this to many places, including quite a few that people safely travel to every day. And also, even when Colombia had its problems for all those years, Cartagena was considered safe because it’s this tourist beach town and the drug and FARC problems had nothing to do with it. My best guess is that Cartagena itself would be fine and perfectly safe, but I wouldn’t rent a car and drive around the highways myself at this point. Sadly, I think it might be best to save Cartagena for another time when there is no known threat.
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.
Your December plans probably seemed fine until this very moment when you realized they didn’t yet include Reveillon on Copacabana beach -- one of the biggest and best New Year’s Eve parties anywhere in the world. December is summertime here, so you can spend your trip under illuminated palm trees on the beach, before joining two million (yes) other humans for the debauchery of Reveillon. To extend the trip, join a week-long tour that gives you a blend of rainforest, city, and beach.
Without knowing more about your interests, my top suggestion would be to focus on Sydney and Melbourne and the areas around both. The Blue Mountains near Sydney are also nice for a couple days or so. The main challenge you’d have in seeing a lot of Australia is that it’s all so spread out. You can hire a car for Melbourne and Sydney and that whole area, but it’s better to fly to get to Uluru (near Alice Springs) or Brisbane or Cairns/Great Barrier Reef or Perth. You’d be driving for days in between those places if you started from the southeast area where most people live.
November is the time to catch the last days of spring’s moderate weather and prices in New Zealand. Temperatures vary during the month, but average in the high 60s with relatively dry weather in most areas. New Zealand's spectacular scenery invites outdoor activities, and November is the perfect time for hiking, biking, river rafting, and exploring the national parks, forests, lakes, mountains, beaches, and thermal reserves. Fresh seafood including green-lipped mussels, crayfish, oysters, and finfish, as well as lamb and award-winning cheeses are served in local restaurants.
By the way, Costa Rica is quite different from the popular countries of South America itself (Peru, Argentina, Brazil etc), so it’s a different experience and not much of an introduction. I think in 12 days you could have a great time in several areas of Costa Rica, and maybe also spend a few of those days in Panama or Nicaragua. As always, feel free to ask more questions if you have them. -Roger
I think a side trip or two will be a great idea. Singapore is a large and very interesting city, but you can see everything that you want in maybe 3 days or so. You have almost limitless options if you include the possibility of a flight. Even though Singapore itself (especially hotels) is kind of expensive, you can get cheap flights to all points of Asia from there, and the airport is awesome. Air Asia and Tiger are two great low-cost airlines with many flights out of Singapore, so you could check their destinations and find something good.
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.

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.
Traveling during the last ten days of December means crowds and exorbitant prices throughout much of the world, but the first two-thirds of the month—before holiday airfares and hotel rates go into effect—can be a serene, value-laden, and just plain lovely time to vacation. Europe is all decked out for the holidays—with locals generally friendly and in high spirits; in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is in bloom; and in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, hurricane season is over, the weather is gorgeous, and there are free upgrades galore.
Looking to shake up the traditional holiday season table? We’ve got just the foodie forays for you this festive month. Tuck into a spicy blend of fabulous flavours at Malaysia’s hawker food stalls, where bright bowls of creamy laksa (noodle soup) and deliciously deep-fried lor bak (pork or prawn wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with dips) will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding. With tourist numbers low, now is the ideal time to visit Spain’s Basque Country, seeing out the year with a plate piled high with pintxos (tapas); or check out Cuba’s capital, exploring the crumbling, colonial architecture with a rum-based cocktail in hand.

There are a lot of possible places that might work for you, so it’s hard to narrow my suggestions down without knowing where you are starting from and how far you are willing to travel from there. But two things that come to mind are Bali, Indonesia, and the Cancun area of Mexico. If you are in the US or Canada then it will obviously be a long flight to Bali, but things are quite cheap once you get there so it’s really worthwhile. The island has beaches and water sports, but also really interesting culture, not to mention loads of shopping and beach resorts. Its main problem these days is vehicle traffic, so getting around the island is slower than it used to be.
Brazil, on the other hand, has a famous problem with petty crime in tourist areas so I wouldn’t recommend it for a woman and young child. Another to consider is Puerto Rico, which has a lot to offer including great weather, and it’s also more or less part of the US, so it’s fairly safe and well organized. Hotels in Puerto Rico are a bit expensive, but you should be able to get an apartment rental in the San Juan area (gorgeous, by the way) for a modest price if you are staying for more than a few days. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.
Myself and my girlfriend are looking at travelling to a sunny destination during the first 12 days of December. We like beach and city vacations. Being from South Africa where it is warm in December we would prefer something different to our own culture. We’ve been to Thailand and Malaysia but never India, Sri Lanka or Vietnam. What would you recommend? Thanks Esteen
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.
This year I’ve based myself in Miami, USA, primarily so I can visit many places in the Caribbean that I hadn’t been to before. I just got back from a week in Jamaica and soon I’m going to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Colombia, as mentioned. But in December I’m hitting the road again and I’ll be in Asia for the winter and probably in London for much of 2016. Sorry I don’t have more specific information to help you plan your trip, but it sounds like you’ve got some really good choices already under consideration. And I’m sure you’ll have a great time. -Roger
If you’ve been following a keto diet then you know that it takes a bit of time to get into ketosis. Ketosis is the state in which your body uses ketones, which are created during the breakdown of fats in the liver, as a fuel source to give you energy. If you eat carbs then your body will use glucose that comes from the carbs as the main source of fuel.
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
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…
During the holidays in Europe, Christmas pop-up markets open in November, bringing intoxicating tastes and aromas (mmm...gingerbread) that brighten even dreary-weather days. On Viking Cruises, for example, the Danube Waltz itinerary enables passengers to experience a variety of markets, which are great places to shop for affordable holiday gifts. Vienna and Budapest both host multiple markets, and each one is different and features different merchandise. Smaller Passau has a more intimate market, and you get to stroll through a charming town to reach it.
My second vacation meal was dinner that night. After walking almost ten miles at the park, the hotel, and spending the late afternoon swimming in the pool, we did dinner at the hotel restaurant before heading back to the park to ride a few things one last time. Dinner (Meal 2) consisted of pot roast with carrots and mushrooms (I asked them to go light on my carrots and they did a very good job of it), and a side salad that I again topped with salt, pepper, and blue cheese dressing.
However, I would probably recommend staying closer to the US, unless you are really interested in the Asian cultures or that kind of experience. If you are mainly just interested in family time and a fairly easy holiday for all, and you aren’t specifically interested in getting to know an Asian culture and its food, I think I’d stay in the Americas.
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.
As for the hurricane, it’s true that it did go through that area a few days ago, but I think that was the first one in almost 10 years to do so. In other words, it’s an extremely rare event, and even when it does happen, they know about it long in advance so everyone is evacuated or safely sheltered. Also, the “Hurricane Season” technically goes through the end of November, but November hurricanes are actually far rarer than the earlier months. Personally, I love to book into places like Punta Cana during that season because the weather is the same about 95% of the day, and prices can be half as much as December or January.
My favorite part of Bali is now the area around Lovina along the north coast, which is still very mellow and mostly open spaces with light development. It’s really beautiful and there is plenty to do. You can get similar experiences by visiting the nearby Gili islands, which also feel like Bali used to be 20 years ago when it was much nicer. They are all really beautiful and relaxing islands with great scenery and very friendly people. You just need to steer clear of the places that are the most crowded.

Escape the cold weather to sunbathe on the beaches in Rio de Janeiro and ring in the New Year with a fun celebration on Copacabana Beach. And while you're near Copa, visit the neighborhood and beach that inspired the song, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Don’t overlook the other beaches, including Baixo Baby for families, Praia do Arpoador for surfers and Sao Conrado Beach if you want to leap from nearby peaks and go hang gliding.
Thank you. I think Kauai, Cancun, and Costa Rica could all be good choices for you. You’ll be looking at the last month (more or less) of the rainy season in each of them, but in the Tropics that usually means at most a few quick thunderstorms per week that typically last only 30 minutes or so. Kauai would be the most expensive of the three, although the most beautiful as well, and the easiest to visit since Spanish isn’t necessary at all.

Hi, I am from the African Continent and have travelled extensively in December in this region as it is our summer vacations. A few suggestions; Yes, Mauritius is cheap, safe and warm; Zanzibar is another beautiful destination with friendly people, beautiful weather and stunning beaches and resorts; I would recommend almost any province in South Africa, especially the Cape Regions, Kwa Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga Province- the seaside resort without the sea and The Sun City Resort in Rustenberg. I suppose a first time visitor could book a package to a few regions. And no, we don’t have lions running around, nor is it as dangerous as the media portrays it to be. Good luck May!


For those from the Northern hemisphere in need of decent a blast of winter sun, the picturesque coastal town of Essaouira is the perfect place to put your feet up and relax. Fresh-caught fish sizzles on beachside grills, whitewashed houses with blue shutters lend a Mediterranean vibe, and you can lose hours wandering through the dozens of art galleries and workshops.
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