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.
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.
Yes, these lists are reviewed and updated at least once a year. I’ve been adding new cities each year and even removing a few that have become too expensive to be on a “cheap” list. Personally, I’m an obsessive travel planner (which is why I do this for a living) and I like planning at least a few months in advance. You usually get the cheapest flights around 3 months out, although it can range from 2 to 5 months for longer flights. In other words, now is a great time to plan a November trip.
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
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
Oh, did you want a sunny tropical vacation that doesn’t require a passport? Done. Hurricane season is over, flights are cheap, and the water is still warm enough for swimming (and scuba diving). Almost all the tourists come here via cruise ship, which means you’re mostly not competing with them for hotel rooms -- Windward Passage, Emerald Beach, and the Bolongo are all open for business after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. On December 16 you can catch Jazz By The Sea down at Coral World Ocean Park, and on December 21 watch the St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, where contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.
If you are looking for something far less developed than Phuket or any other Thai island, Boracay might be for you. This gorgeous strip of sand is a bit out of the way, but partly because of that it still feels only partly discovered. You'll spend your days relaxing along White Beach or walking up and down the sandy paths that serve as the only real form of transport for most people. Many visitors come every year, and quite a few of those never seem to leave.
Bali has nice weather in the first half of November and it’s very family friendly as long as you don’t stay on the nightlife streets of Kuta Beach. That is possibly your best choice. Dubai has great weather in November as well, and it’s very kid-friendly. There are shopping malls there that also have huge and modern play centers that are sort of like amusement parks there. And there are nice beaches as well. It’s unfortunate that the weather close to India limits your choices that time of year, but either of those could be great and they are both fairly affordable with frequent flights. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Heading east, India could be a possibility, although it’s not for the faint of heart. As a resident of Singapore, I assume you know a fair bit about India. Outside of Mumbai, it’s all quite cheap and the weather will at least be good. Personally, I love the southern state of Goa, and it has everything you are looking for, without the insanely crowded conditions of India’s big cities.
Aside from Indonesia you might also consider Thailand, which has great infrastructure so it’s much easier to travel with young children. Phuket has by far the most options, and its rainy season usually ends in early November. For families I recommend Kata Beach and Karon Beach, which are both just south of the main shopping and nightlife town of Patong Beach.
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.
Since flights to Mexico City from the US and Canada are usually quite cheap this time of year as well, this could be a perfect short cultural holiday. This city has great shopping, dining, and nightlife, and the central historic and tourist districts are far safer than most people would expect. There are ruins just out of town as well, so a bit of everything is available.
There were fresh croissants, cereal, doughnuts, crackers, sandwiches, nutella, jams, fruit juices and the hot option was Spanish rice. I hadn’t eaten anything yet and was starting to feel a bit hungry. I had planned to bring bacon with me (emergency purse bacon) just in case but I didn’t want to have to cook and clean up after I had already showered. I took a couple of the cheese sandwiches and took the cheese off the bread and ate that. I also had a couple of cups of coffee which filled me a bit.
Thanks for the kind words and I’m happy to hear that this info helps. The Mount Rinjani ash cloud situation is also a mystery to me at this point. My plan was to fly into Bali more or less for the full month of February, but according to the news it does seem possible that the skies in the area will still be unsafe at that point. I will already be in Asia and if the Bali airport is still closed I’ll just go to the Philippines or Malaysia. But I wouldn’t book a long-haul flight into Bali for the coming months at this point, at least not unless I knew I could change it cheaply if the flights are canceled.
There are not one but a cornucopia of hotspots to check out in the Aloha State come November. First, Oahu, which has, throughout the years, been transformed by Asian-Pacific locals from a holiday outpost into a globalized, cosmopolitan destination that offers all the glory of paradise in one locale. You’ve got the allure of the Island landscape, plus the buzz of modern living mixed in a relaxed, slow-paced daily lifestyle near the shores. It is (along with Honolulu) the center of the Hawaiian universe, and will no doubt sprinkle excitement into any Thanksgiving celebration. You might even want to go all out by getting a taste of authentic, fantastic Hawaiian flavor by cooking that turkey in a traditional imu (underground oven)! Those who want to work off all that feasting can hop on into the Turkey Trot 10 Mile Run on Thanksgiving morning and then spend Black Friday enjoying the annual Waikiki Holiday Parade—instead of braving those restless shopping crowds.
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.
The fastest high-speed trains between those cities only take 2.5 hours, although most departures are closer to 3 hours. Definitely take the train and also buy the ticket as far in advance as possible for the lowest fare. Not only is it FAR quicker than flying (and of course the coach), but it’s far more comfortable and more enjoyable. This is a link to the official Spanish rail site. The scenery isn’t all that special, but it’s still interesting. Have a fantastic trip. -Roger
Orlando’s theme parks are a major draw for families (and big kids, too!), but this iconic experience doesn’t necessarily come cheap. During the pre-Christmas November lull, however, hotels often offer attractive discounted rates, meaning potential savings and – more importantly for the kids – less time spent standing in line. Those looking for a more alternative American adventure should consider the island of Puerto Rico in November. While there’s a chance of rain (but a greater chance of balmy beach-lounging days), the out-of-season discounts are as appetising as the island’s take on Thanksgiving dinner: turkey stuffed with mashed plantain.
If an apartment isn’t your thing, or you have to book a hotel for your business trip, then there is one upside: the food. Typically hotels will include some sort of breakfast, and occasionally some sort of dinner plan. In Portland, we stayed at a great hotel that included both. Breakfast usually consists of pastries, waffles and oatmeal – but they almost always have eggs, bacon, and sausage ready to go on your plate.
Mexico’s spectacular Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), bewitches Mexico City at the start of each November. Donning the skeleton face paint for the mass parades in the main Zócalo square is a must, but take time to step back from the party and seek out more intimate family celebrations where deceased loved ones are honoured with candles, sugar skulls and, of course, tequila. If you’d prefer to relax with a rum, then Barbados in November may be more to your tastes. The sugar-cane liquor is thought to have originated here in the 17th century and continues to be the local tipple of choice. Toasting the sunset from one of the island’s magnificent beaches is a quintessential experience.
Unsurprisingly, the end of December is the beginning of the peak season for resort prices, so those who are able to come earlier in the month will be getting better deals. Still, the all-inclusive resorts are locked in heavy competition all year so this area can be a great deal compared to the alternatives, even in high season. If you are looking for where to go in December for an all-inclusive beach holiday, this is your best option for most people.
While the most recent hurricane has hit some areas of Florida pretty hard, most people know that come wintertime, the further down south or towards the desert you go, the warmer the weather will be. This tried and true fact makes November one of the best times to visit Florida, especially for travelers wanting to engage in lots of opportunities for nature-viewing. You won’t need binoculars in the Sunshine State to spot the sight of wintering birds at Florida’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge -- they make an annual pit stop along the major migration corridor located near Cape Canaveral. You and the entire fam can also stare at a colorful gathering of pink roseate spoonbills that hide out in various estuaries around the area come November.
Montreal’s oldest Catholic Church, dating to 1656, includes stained glass that chronicles the history of the city. The city’s Parisian-style historic district, with cultural landmarks, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, can be toured in a horse-drawn carriage for the full vintage effect. La Grande Degustation de Montreal (Nov. 2-3) attracts wine producers, distillers, and brewers from around the world. Montreal also hosts the 24th-annual French Language Film Festival (Nov. 1-11) featuring contemporary films from around the world subtitled in English. When it’s cold, visitors can head to the underground city, a network of tunnels, corridors, and plazas with more than 1,000 retailers and restaurants. The Montreal Tower Observatory, the world’s tallest inclined tower, provides breathtaking views of the city, the Laurentian Mountains, and St. Lawrence River Valley.
Like so many others on this list, Goa is completely done with its harsh rainy season by the time November begins, yet crowds don't really start showing up in earnest until mid December. If you have the time off then you'd be very happy just finding a cheap hotel in one of Goa's beach towns and just chilling the whole month in great weather and with minimal crowds.
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.
Those temples are all outdoor for the most part, so cooler and dryer conditions mean you can spend more time touring the temples and still being comfortable. Almost any other month of the year and you'll be better off going back to your hotel for a few hours in the afternoon, but in December you can carry on all day if you like. The town of Siem Reap is a delight in itself, but of course it fills up near Christmas.
You’ve been to Cancun, but have you been to Playa del Carmen? Personally I much prefer it because PdC is a lovely tourist town with hundreds of little hotels and restaurants and bars, unlike Cancun, which is mainly a long string of high-rise beach hotels that are so spread out that you are nearly trapped in your own hotel. It’s about an hour south of Cancun airport by taxi or shuttle. That would be another of your cheaper options, partly because flights into Cancun are pretty cheap. It will be the tail-end of the rainy season in all of these places, but that usually just means a 30-minute rain storm a few afternoons each week.
Similar to so many on this list, Cape Town begins its busy season in the second half of December, so November is ideal in that the weather is nearly perfect and you don't have to worry about high-season crowds or prices. This is a city that has things available at almost any price level. Many of the hotels cater to the 4-star resort crowd, but there are also plenty of hostels and cheap hotels so backpacker-types should be able to get by on a low budget.
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.
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.
Those countries are all very safe, and especially that time of year, you’ll be surrounded by dozens of other backpackers everywhere you go, including many solo ladies or girls in pairs. There is very little petty crime there, although it’s always wise to keep track of your belongings. It’ll be easy once you get there, and Bangkok is the perfect place to start. You can book a place near the famous “backpacker ghetto” of Khao San Road, which is quite affordable and really fun, as well as close to the top sights.
Hotels in Buenos Aires are starting to reach their summer peak prices in November, especially toward the end of the month, but still they are a fantastic bargain by European or North American standards. The weather in November is also pretty much perfect, and while there's always a threat of rain in BA, it's mostly an indoor city so it shouldn't be too much of an inconvenience.
Surprising to some people, December can actually be a bit cool in Mexico City, especially at night. Its elevation keeps it mild all year, but at least the rainy season is totally over by December, so it's an ideal month for a cheap cultural holiday, perhaps combined with a trip to one of Mexico's many beach resorts. You can get cheap flights between Mexico City and Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, for example.
The truth is, Rio de Janeiro will make this list for at least 8 months of the year, as the weather is always pretty good and the prices are still reasonable compared to Europe and North America. November is still well into the sweet spot, as the high season for hotels doesn't begin until December. This means bargains are often available at some of the luxury places along the beach, which won't be true again until April.
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.