Costa Rica is kind of the Thailand of Latin America in that they have great tourist infrastructure and it’s the easiest place to get around. They also have a lot to offer with the beaches on both coasts and many natural sights and activities, plus of course the Arenal volcano, which is a really nice area. San Jose is best as a place to just pass through on your way somewhere else.
The rainy season in Belize doesn’t really end until early January, which is why it didn’t make the December list. Belize is definitely affordable enough to make this list and it appears for many of the following months. If you are thinking about going to Belize in December I think it’s a good choice. As you probably know, the Tropical rain patterns are such that the showers tend to come and go quickly, and they are often overnight. -Roger
But if you wanted more to explore the area near Singapore then Malaysia and Thailand are the obvious choices. The three most popular stops in Malaysia are Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, and George Town on the island of Penang. I quite like all of those so it’s hard to recommend one over another. I really like Kuala Lumpur and have spent quite a bit of time there, but honestly compared to Singapore it seems a bit untidy and old fashioned. In other words, if you are tired of a big and busy city like Singapore, then don’t plan much time in KL. Malacca and George Town are both smaller tourist cities with great food and interesting sights. There is frequent and cheap bus service from Singapore going through Malacca and onto KL. Then more buses from there to Penang and onto Bangkok.
On Monday morning we arrived at our hotel, dropped our stuff in the room, and headed out to our first stop. We had a light breakfast at home, and mine consisted of a fatty coffee and 2 pieces of bacon. So we were all pretty hungry by around 1 pm. We headed to one of the food joints nearby, and I found a southwest grilled chicken salad (Meal 1) on their menu. After asking them to hold the black bean relish and sugary dressing, I ended up with a decent sized bowl of salad mix topped with half a grilled chicken breast and a good-sized scoop of chopped avocado. I topped it off with salt, pepper, and a packet of blue cheese dressing.
It can still be rainy in Belize in November, so it’s not an ideal time to visit. I quite like Belize and there is a lot to do there, including of course the second largest coral reef in the world. You can also head over the Guatemala border to visit Tikal and even down to Antigua for something different. You don’t get many great beaches there, but aside from that it is great.
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.
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.
If you're determined to travel during the holiday periods, though, book your vacation flights, hotels, and cruise far in advance. If it works with your schedule, fly on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day; those are the least crowded days of the holiday season. And if at all possible, avoid traveling during weekends, on the days right before or after the holiday, and late in the day. It's not only crowded at airports but also northern storms can wreak havoc and create weather delays that cascade across the system.
My two years in southeast Asia was over a few trips, although I did have my own apartment in Bangkok for 3 months and in Chiang Mai for another 3 months. As an American I didn’t have a national health restriction and I didn’t even have travel insurance. I don’t recommend it for everybody, but healthcare in those areas is extremely cheap and of pretty good quality. I went to a hospital once in Chiang Mai and I saw an English-speaking doctor for about US$7, and spent another US$25 or so on a prescription. My longest total trip was 3 years and 7 months (only a few years ago), and I went in and out of Southeast Asia a few times in that period.
Unfortunately I’ve only been to Cartagena in Colombia, although I know of some travel bloggers who live in Medellin and love it there. The mild weather year round is one reason people love it. I don’t speak much Spanish, which is a problem in much of Latin America, but evidently there is a pretty big scene of various expats and English speakers, so Spanish isn’t so critical. In other words, I like the sound of your idea and I imagine it’ll be great, but I haven’t been there yet so I am really not qualified to give real advice. Best of luck with whatever you choose. -Roger
My Husband and I plan to holiday in a warm place in December from the 20th away from Namibia where we live. We are not looking at South Africa at all. We would like to see interesting places and cultures. We are not the beach type. We are interested in scenery as well. We visited China last year and it was too cold. We don’t surf and we don’t snorkel. We love people, not too expensive shopping, wildlife and birds.
This is a very good month to visit because the weather continues to be perfect here, while the largest crowds from northern Europe haven't quite started arriving yet. So finding an affordable hotel or apartment rental should be easy, and the restaurants and bars are always reasonably priced. If you want to be among other English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
If you are looking for a place to go abroad for a few months starting in early December, you are right on the money with Thailand as the best starting location. The weather is really nice that time of year, and it’s quite easy to keep things extremely cheap if you need to. Many of us in the travel writing community have spent months or years traveling around southeast Asia, and I’ve probably spent close to two years there myself. Bangkok is the obvious place to start and it’s an amazing city. After that you can either go north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and then over to Laos, or you can head south to one or more of the islands. Cambodia has a lot to offer, and especially in Siem Reap, and Vietnam can be entertaining for all three months of your first visa there.
As for Malaysia, I’m a big fan, and with your friend there it should be easy. Interestingly, I was just in China myself recently and a few days ago I published a long article on my advice for whether to go yourself to China or go on a group tour. I also discuss the most popular and best places to visit when you are there in the bottom part of the article. One tricky thing for many of us is that you have to get a China travel visa and some of us can only get that visa issued in our home country, at least according to their rules. I literally spent years traveling around Asia but I was never able to visit China because they required that I get a visa issued in the US and I had to show my flights booked from the US to China and then from China back to the US. If I could have gotten a visa issued at a Chinese embassy in Bangkok or Singapore, I would have done it years ago.
Eat Breakfast In – I know this isn’t always possible, and it’s certainly not a deal breaker, but we ate breakfast in most mornings. This started my day off on the right foot, and I could make my eggs exactly how I like them. I didn’t get tired of eating bacon and eggs all week, but if you do there are so many keto breakfast options if you’d prefer a variety of foods. For me, this was budget friendly, and I didn’t have to buy a ton of extra groceries. Also, I have a big family with two of my four kids being 3 and under. It takes us forever to get out, so cooking breakfast is an easier option for us. If you’d rather eat out, I get it! Keep scrolling for other helpful tips.
While the Caribbean destination tends to overflow with families during the holidays in December, go a month earlier and you’ll be treated to sunny days sans screaming kids, plus less expensive airfare. “November is my one my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of high season hasn't kicked in, average temperatures are in the 80’s, and the water temperature is lovely,” says Michael King-Hew, the proprietor of Kamalame Cay, a private island resort in the Bahamas. King-Hew specifically suggests for the resort's annual wellness retreat. “It’s the perfect way to get rested and in shape before the start of the hectic holiday season.”
I’ll be happy to try to help, but I’d really need to know your starting point because there are cheap places in different corners of the world, and it’s not worth flying halfway around the world to try to save US$20 per day. In mid December through January for beaches you should consider Thailand and perhaps also Vietnam. I’ll give you more information once I know where you are starting from. -Roger
My other two suggestions are San Juan, Puerto Rico and Cartagena, Colombia. Both cities have really wonderful colonial districts and modern resort districts nearby. San Juan is more expensive, but still reasonable, and it has far better beaches. Both have a bit of rain in November, but it tends to come and go quickly. You’ll get similar rainstorms in most of the Caribbean in November, so it’s a bit tricky. I hope this helps. If you had something else in mind let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger