Phuket is incredibly popular among Europeans in December, especially the final week, of course, so it's critical to book early to get a good price at a beachfront hotel if that's your mission. It's also important to mention that Phuket is an island with more than a dozen different beach towns, each with its own personality and price range. Some are raucous and down-market while others are quiet and very expensive.
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This popular island in the Andaman Sea boasts mountains, rainforests, white sand beaches, nightlife, and a range of hotels from casual to ultra-luxury. Watersports of all kinds are popular, with snorkeling and scuba diving among the colorful fish and coral reefs a favorite. Boat trips take visitors to smaller nearby islands and among the limestone cliffs, caves, and karsts — steep limestone structures rising from the clear aqua sea. The white marble “Big Buddha” statue, nearly 150 feet tall, on top of Nakkerd Hills is visible from miles around, and it provides a stunning viewpoint. The island has been settled from early times and through the years with migrants from India, Arabia, China, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, France, and Great Britain, all attracted by Phuket’s natural resources. Old Phuket Town’s shrines, temples, museums, shophouses, and buildings provide some evidence of the island’s history. Today, for lively nightlife, head to Bangla Road at Patong Beach for restaurants, pubs, music, open air cafes, and street performers. For many visitors, Phuket’s beaches are the main attraction, and with more than 30 around the island along with ideal December weather, everyone can find the perfect spot for sunning and swimming. For the ultimate in luxury, the beachfront Banyan Tree Phuket offers villas with private pools and open-air bathtubs, an award-winning spa, several dining options, golf, and a tranquil saltwater lagoon.
If you wanted to spend maybe 7 days outside of Singapore, I think I’d do 2 or 3 in Malaysia and then the rest in Thailand. Bangkok is another huge city but it’s also somewhat exotic compared to the other two, and much cheaper as well. Or if you wanted to spend some time on a beach you could instead go to one of Thailand’s islands. Phuket is the easiest to reach, but it’s not very interesting. Kho Phi Phi or Kho Samui are probably better choices because they really feel like islands (Phuket is more of a peninsula) and there is still plenty to do.
Far from the crowds and heat of summer, a visitor to Rome in December will find that it’s a lovely time there, with fewer lines at popular tourist spots, more attractive prices, and a chill in the air. With a warm jacket, comfortable shoes, cozy hat and gloves, you’re ready to explore the Eternal City. Stroll through the main streets to enjoy colorful lights, decorated trees, and Nativity scenes. The Piazza Navona hosts a Christmas market, and stores welcome shoppers with longer hours and attractive displays. Rome’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah with a large Menorah in Piazza Barberini where candles are lit each evening of the eight-night holiday, this year from December 2–10. The Catholic community celebrates the Immaculate Conception on December 8 when the Pope leads a procession from the Vatican to the Piazza di Spagna. December is the perfect time to visit the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and museums that are usually filled with tourists during warmer months. Even without crowds, it’s still most convenient to book ahead through a tour company such as City Wonders or Access Italy, for no-wait entry, professional guides, and early admission. Food is always one of the great pleasures of a visit to Italy, and in December, a warming plate of spaghetti carbonara or hot chocolate and seasonal panettone taste especially good. The new Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection is a convenient home base in the center of the action with a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Pantheon.
You mention New Zealand and of course it’s summer there then, so it would be a good choice. However, all of these places will be crowded and near peak hotel rates if they are warm. So I’ll be happy to give you advice if you tell me if you’d rather visit one or more European cities in the cold season, or if you are looking for a warm place like New Zealand where it will be fairly crowded. By the way, the southern European cities such as Rome and Barcelona are lively and enjoyable that time of year, as the Christmas season goes on, and there aren’t too many tourists except for a few that travel to see their families around the holidays. So it can be a good time for southern Europe, as long as you don’t mind wearing a jacket or jumper during the day, and maybe a bit more in the evening. Give me a bit more guidance and I’ll be happy to try to help. -Roger
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.
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 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
For our early dinner (Meal 4) we found a burger joint, where I had a bacon and cheese (shredded, not the gross, carb-laden “cheese” sauce) hot dog. I grabbed some green beans with salt and pepper as my side, and sidled up to their topping bar where I smothered my dog with mayo, mustard, onions, and pickles. Dinner was great, and I wasn’t hungry again until much later in the evening (around 9 pm) when the kids and hubby stopped for ice cream. I walked down two shops to the coffee joint and got a plain iced coffee blended with ice, heavy cream, and some sugar free caramel flavor. I accompanied this treat with one packet of my almond butter and was good to go. I sat with my family while they were enjoying their sweet treat and didn’t feel deprived in the least.
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.
If you are referring to days trips and that sort of thing, it will be much cheaper if you book once you get there. In Vietnam in particular it’s amazing how cheap tours can be if you book them through your hotel. I once did a 6-hour bus tour to Mỹ Sơn, which is near Hoi An, and I think I paid about US$6. It even included a boat ride and a basic lunch. That same day tour online would probably cost US$30 because the booking company takes a share and there is very little competition.
Mauritius would be an interesting option if you wanted to mainly stay in one place, which I think is typical on a honeymoon. Sri Lanka is fascinating and really nice, though most people who visit tend to tour around seeing some beach areas and some of the hills and jungles. So I’m not sure if it’s ideal if you want to just stay in one place. Kerala has some really nice resorts that are within easy reach of the backwater boat tours and other attractions.
First of all, applause to all your kind help (and your time). My 8 years old boy and I want to travel in December to a warm country and I am a little bit nervous to be only two of us since my hubby could not join us. I am just wondering if Costa Rica (or Brazil) safe to travel for a woman alone with young kid? Any other safe countries in your mind (with affordable price)? We live in D.C and don’t want to fly too far like Asia, Australia, etc. We have been in Dubai and Mexico.
Australia is so large and varied that one cannot simply say ‘go to Australia in November’ and expect everything to be fine beachy. That said, November is probably as close as it gets to being perfect weather country-wide. The tropical rainy season in the North hasn’t properly settled into humid downpours yet, while the cooler southern states of Victoria and Tasmania are shaking off the winter frost and basking in warmer days. Vino and meals are taken al fresco, outdoor music and food festivals pop up everywhere, and beaches across the country begin to buzz.
One thing about Cancun that is interesting. Cancun itself is essentially a very long beach sticking out into the Caribbean that is lined with high-rise hotels and time-share properties. Except for a busy area at the corner of that peninsula, most of the hotels are spread out quite a bit, so there aren’t many things that most guests can walk to. Many people love it and are happy to basically stay in their own hotel most of the time, and maybe take a taxi down to that busy corner area once in a while. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of Playa del Carmen, which is a full-on tourist town about 50 miles south of Cancun. It’s got hundreds of small hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and everything else a visitor wants. The beaches aren’t quite as nice, but I find the town to be very fun and vibrant. Also, up and down the coast from south of Playa del Carmen to north of Cancun there are large resorts that are far from each other and on huge properties. Many of them are all-inclusive, so that is another option.
Back in 2008, we asked chef Stephanie Kimmel from Eugene's Marche restaurant to take a stab at updating Thanksgiving's well-worn green bean casserole -- you know the one we're talking about, with the canned beans and mushroom soup, topped with fried onions. Kimmel's from-scratch version features colorful fresh green beans that are baked in a homemade white sauce that tastes cleaner than the 1950s tinned three-can combo. If Thanksgiving dinner doesn't feel complete without a green bean casserole, this is the one to make!
Another reason to consider Dubai is that the busy airport has cheap non-stop flights coming in from almost every major airport in Europe and Asia. As a result it's popular to book long weekend trips of 3 or 4 days to Dubai, where you can enjoy some sunshine and shopping before flying back home where it gets colder by the day. You might also consider stopping for a few days in Dubai and then moving onto somewhere else with cheap direct flights such as the Maldives.
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.
The food, including its famous ceviche dishes, is a particular highlight here, and the tourist district of Miraflores is packed with interesting and cheap restaurants. Basic and cheap hotels are in the same neighborhood, so it's a better alternative to the historic center of Lima for most people. By the way, the rainy season in Cusco starts in December, so the trails can sometimes be cut off, although many people go anyway.
Me and a buddy is traveling late december, till mid january (about 2 weeks). We’re relatively young and would appreciate a combination of some partying, some beach, and offcourse some cultural input. We were in Bali and Lombok this summer and really enjoyed it. Its great to being able to travel around a little, so that would be a plus for sure:) Right now we’re looking at Vietnam, Goa, and some of the Thai islands. I know the two latter can be quite lively, but how about Vietnam? We’re from Norway, so we need it to be as warm as possible.
On my own trip I spent 3 nights on the North Island after leaving Auckland, and then 4 nights on the South Island. The South Island is more scenic and interesting, and much less crowded, so I would have liked to have stayed another 2 or 3 nights if I had the time. So I’d recommend 3 or 4 nights on the North Island and 5 to 7 nights on the South Island. With smaller towns and smaller crowds on the South Island, that is the better place for star gazing, though most of the North Island is fairly empty as well. It’s an amazing place and I’m sure you’ll love it. Have a great trip. -Roger
Lace up your boots for an end-of-year adventure at the wild ends of the Earth. December is the ideal time to explore Patagonia’s mind-blowingly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Embark on an epic trek along the eight-day circuit, or take the four-day ‘W’ trek for Instagram-worthy views of Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’), the region’s iconic jagged granite peaks. Similarly breathtaking experiences can be had diving the coral reefs around Thailand’s Similan Islands. Beneath the sparkling surface of the ocean you’ll find sharks, barracuda, rays and green and hawksbill turtles – it’s Finding Nemo brought to life.
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.
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.