In colder weather it’s probably better to focus on the great cities rather than places more known for scenery and outdoor activities. If your budget is generous then my top choice would be London, Paris, and Amsterdam. You could fly into any of those and then visit the others by high-speed train. The train that connects London to Paris and Amsterdam is called the Eurostar, and the earlier you buy your tickets the cheaper they will be. Paris and Amsterdam are linked by normal high-speed trains, which are also cheapest when you buy early. Speaking of that, your dates are prime travel dates over the Christmas holidays so the airfares will be kind of expensive and they will only go up from here. In other words, buy as soon as you can.
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)!
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
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.
The mountains of Canada include the gentle slopes of Mont Tremblant in the east to the towering ones of Whistler in the west. Note that Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving before the United States does, which makes our neighbor to the north a particularly good place for couples who won't be visiting family during that U.S. holiday—especially if you're willing to forgo turkey and stuffing for crepes and poutine.
If you are looking for a cheap, beautiful, and relaxing beach destination during December then Goa is ideal. This has become hugely popular with package tourists from Europe and Israel (and more recently Russia), and the facts that pretty much everyone speaks English and there aren't many cultural opportunities means that it's a perfect place to just vegetate in a beach chair for a week or two.
That was very nice of you to take the time to mention this. Interestingly, I’ve been to Bali exactly twice so far (going again in early 2016) and both times have been in December. As you have probably noticed, the rainy season in Bali can be VERY rainy at times, which is why I didn’t put it on the list during the worst months. I still clearly remember standing in almost 2 feet of water trying to push the minibus I was riding in to a dry enough area to start the engine again. That was on the way to Ubud, but most of the time the rain isn’t problematic and I’d go back again again in December if given the chance. Just don’t expect any Christmas decorations or celebrations because they pretty much ignore it there, even in tourist areas. Have a great trip. -Roger
There are always those travelers who celebrate the end of summer and the opportunity to don a sweater and take out the wool scarves and quilted jackets. For them, Iceland would be a perfect destination, with a chance to see the Northern Lights and adorable sled dogs. Montreal is another place with a winter chill, and at the end of the month, you might even find an early Christmas market. San Antonio gets into the holiday spirit at the end of November as well. Sedona offers chilly nights and gorgeous scenery, while Hilton Head Island still enjoys autumn weather and activities.
Plus, Colorado is home to the world-renowned Breckinridge, a historic town at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range that’s well-known for its ski resort, year-round alpine activities, and Gold Rush history. You’ll also find tons of shops, galleries, and restaurants housed inside colorfully-painted Victorian buildings, along with four whole mountain peaks that provide 2,358 acres of enough variety to suit even the most seasoned of skiers, boarders, or even snow-shoers. It’s also important to mention that last season, the Summit County municipality saw 447 inches of snow. Lifts open up in November, so what are you waiting for?!
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
This is a really interesting question. If you want to avoid crowds then you have already figured out that it’s best to avoid Honolulu and I would avoid Oahu completely. The Big Island is very interesting because of the volcano and some of the other scenery, but the most beautiful islands are Maui and Kauai. I haven’t made it to Kauai yet, but everyone I know has been there and they swear it’s the most photogenic, which looks right based on the photos I’ve seen. Maui is also really gorgeous and all islands other than Oahu are uncrowded even in high season. I drove all over Maui in a rental car and loved it and I don’t think there is as much to see on Kauai. So either of those will be great choices and the weather should be almost perfect in December with warm (but not scorching) temperatures and almost no rain. Have a great trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If I were you I’d fly to Bangkok and stay at least 2 or 3 nights in the famous Khosan Road area, which has a bad reputation with some people, but it’s really fun. It’s also cheap, and a short walk from most of the main cultural sights. After that you could fly to Ko Samui or Ko Phagnan or Ko Phi Phi, and easily find the better party spots. You could also go to Phuket, but I prefer the others for younger people. Phuket has loads of nice beaches for families and couples, but the one “party town” (Patong Beach) is a bit over the top, and mostly geared for groups of men who want to go to the “beer bars” and strip clubs and whatnot. The smaller islands will have a more mixed crowd, including many backpacking females. Hopefully this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Thank you. If you are looking for an all-inclusive or large resort hotel on a beach, you can’t do any better than Punta Cana for value and facilities. You can also find really nice resorts in the general Cancun area, and the flight would probably be cheaper, but the nightly rate would be quite a bit more. Both have really nice beaches, although with Cancun you have to pay attention to the specific location because not every resort is on a wide stretch of sand.
You still get warm ocean breezes and 70-degree temperatures, plus the Hawaiian islands go all out for the holidays. Locals host potlatch-style parties where the Christmas goose is replaced by a luau pig, and the resorts deck themselves out like tropical North Poles, including a massive tree-lighting ceremony at the Outrigger on Oahu and tree-decorating contests at Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Residents there climb to the top of the 13,000-foot-tall volcano, shovel snow into their trucks and speed back down to build snowmen in their yards before it melts.
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
The hotel rates all over Goa are highest in December and January, but in Anjuna or Vagator they still start at around £10 per night for a private room with ensuite. The cheap places are quite shabby, so it might be worth spending more. Vagator has an amazing beach, but it’s often filled with Russians these days. Anjuna is famous for its beach raves and music scene, but I’ve honestly heard nice things about many other beach areas in Goa.
Cambodia could work because Siem Reap is inland and the amazing Angkor Wat temples are worth a full day or two, and the town of Siem Reap itself is quite nice. You could actually combine a couple days in Siem Reap with a few days in Bangkok, and take a (cheap) luxury bus between the two. Bangkok is a really fascinating city with a lot to see, plus it’s a great transport hub. The other main non-beach option in Thailand is the city of Chiang Mai, which is wonderfully inexpensive with quite a bit to see. It’s even a bit cool during December, so that might be a nice change of pace from India. Many people are also going to Myanmar these days, although I haven’t been yet so it’s hard for me to recommend it. I’d say if you combined 2 or even 3 of these places you could have a very interesting holiday.
Interestingly, December though February do get a bit cool in Cairo, so it's not a great winter break, but in November it's still pleasantly warm and bone-dry so you can enjoy the outdoors for long periods of time. If you don't mind staying in a locally-owned hotel you can save a lot of money and see some old-world charm at the same time. Reservations in advance aren't necessary, but it's best to book your first couple of days just to avoid all the confusion once you arrive.
Most hotels these days include at least a small refrigerator, and some even include a full kitchen and stove. This is great because it allows you to shop locally for some fresh food options. Search online for nearby farmer’s markets or grocery stores and see if you can pick up some local meats or fresh veggies to have in your room. This is more likely to be an option in the warmer months.
I’d recommend 1 night in Auckland, then 3 nights on the North Island, and then a ferry to the South Island. If you can spend a week there, and return the camper van or car to Christchurch for a flight to Auckland and home, it would be perfect. As long as you can spend at least 4 nights on the South Island, it will be worth it. But if your schedule or budget don’t allow that much, you might just stay on the North Island. The most interesting place on the South Island is Queenstown, but there is plenty to see all over.
Unfortunately, it can be a bit complicated and time consuming to reach any of these Philippines resort areas. I don’t think I’d recommend doing more than 2 of them in a 8 to 10 day trip. The nice thing is that they are very secluded-feeling once you get there because they are so out of the way. Partly for that reason, I think staying for 4 or 5 days each is very nice.
If your real goal is to sit on a European beach and not freeze or be alone in December, your only real choice is the Canary Islands. Tenerife is the largest of them, and the best one for English speakers. The average high in December there is 22C with 16C as a low, and in December it’s packed with Swedes and Brits and Germans who actually do sit on the beach or around pools, even though it’s a bit cool for most of us. It’s important to note though that the Canary Islands are technically part of Europe because they are a territory of Spain, but only the largest cities on each island are “European” at all. The beach resort areas are quite generic, and not very special aside from the pleasant weather and modest prices.
Bali, which is just south of the equator, would be a good choice in November. It does rain a bit that month, but they are summer storms that tend to only last 30 minutes or so. It’s a wonderful island with great prices on most things, including massages. The complicated thing about Bali is that the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak are now so crowded that they can be unpleasant. I spent a month there again earlier this year, and I don’t think I’ll go back to that part of the island.
If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with reasonable airfares from Chicagoland, your best bets will be in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, or the Cancun/Playa del Carmen area. Both have everything on your list, except perhaps wild life, depending on how you define that. You can get cheaper flights into Cancun, and there is a wide variety of offerings once you are there. If you don’t think you want to leave the hotel much, then stay in the Cancun hotel district or along the Maya Riviera nearby. But if you want to interact with a real and lovely town, then stay in Playa del Carmen or over on Cozumel. There are many nearby activities and some very interesting ruins.
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.