Christmas markets sprout up all over the country this month, and from the smallest towns to the biggest cities they’re a great place to mingle with locals, learn about regional handicrafts, and sample seasonal delicacies. Depending on the venue, you can find anything from medieval reenactments to outdoor concerts. But they’re usually at their prime once darkness has set in and the fairy lights are out in full force (which means there’s also time in the day for museum visits and city touring before indulging in the market flurry). Some travelers skip dinner altogether for a smorgasbord of yuletide samplings at the wooden market huts!
Seeing as our vacation was planned at the last minute, I didn’t have enough notice to be able to get the special meal treatment, so I had to make-do with what was readily available at the parks and the hotel resort. The following is a chronicle of how, with the help of their handy app and some careful surveying of the land, I managed to stay keto-compliant and, hopefully, will serve as inspiration for you to remain keto on vacation, too. After all, if I can do it at theme parks famous for burgers, fries, popcorn, ice cream, and breading everything, you can make it work just about anywhere.
I am wanting to plan a college graduation trip for 10 days/2 weeks during the last days of December and early January. We live in Az. The graduate would like to do the Galapagos or Austraila or New Zealand. I am thinking it is too late to plan the Galapagos as those trips seem to get booked so far in advance. We want to have a memorable trip. Are these destinations you would suggest? Any other suggestions? We want to be somewhat active, not just driving and looking at sights.
As you begin to cross off the final 31 days on your calendar you may be tempted to put away the passport and swap those itchy-footed escapades for quiet nights in. But with nearly a year of adventures behind you, why stop now? December is jam-packed with high-octane adventures on mountain peaks and coursing rivers; indulgent escapes with mulled wine, rum cocktails and spicy Malaysian street food galore; walks on the wild side with kaleidoscopic creatures and soaring giants; and countless seasonal celebrations whisking you from the sunny Caribbean to Santa’s hometown.
The most important holiday in Japan is oshogatsu (New Year), and the month leading up to it is packed with fun festivals and markets. Standouts are Shimai Kobo (December 21) and Shimai Tenjin (December 25) both of which offer great ceramics and handicraft shopping, in addition to lots of good things to eat and drink. From December 8 through the 17th, thousands of lanterns will be placed around Arashiyama, including in the enchanting bamboo forest. If you’re there on New Year’s, you’ll catch the famous the bell-ringing ceremonies -- get up real early and see the monks at Kyoto’s largest temple, Chion-in, or drop by a small-scale local shrine instead.
A visit to Vienna in December might be a holiday experience of a lifetime. From the festively adorned palaces, magical Christmas markets, classical concerts, and choirs to the cozy cafes and restaurants, the surreal atmosphere seems like a Hollywood movie. With nearly a dozen Christmas markets to choose from, the one in front of City Hall is notable for its giant tree, ice skating rink, carousel, and reindeer train. At another in Freyung Square, you’ll find delicious mulled wine, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, and a variety of regional snacks in addition to jewelry, handmade toys, candles, and more. The market at Spittelberg, set amidst lovely townhouses and narrow streets filled with bars, restaurants, and galleries, is a wonderful place to sip champagne and browse the many shops. Set in front of the world famous baroque residence, the Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace should not be missed. Book a Christmas concert at the renowned Kursalon where Johann Strauss was the concertmaster or enjoy a recital at one of the many distinguished churches through Vienna. You can even take a walk or a “hop on, hop off” bus to enjoy the Christmas displays. No winter night is complete without a stop at a sausage stand for a succulent bratwurst served with mustard, horseradish, and a classic bun. In the heart of the city, the magnificent Hotel Grand Ferdinand would be the perfect home base for exploring Vienna.
The largest national park south of Alaska, Death Valley is located 295 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Much of the park is below sea level, and it is surrounded by mountain peaks, often covered in snow. December’s temperatures are moderate, generally in the mid-60s during the day and 40s at night. Daily guided walks and naturalist talks are presented by the National Park Service, acquainting visitors with the natural beauty, history, geology, and wildlife of the area. Stargazers will be in awe of the Milky Way and starry nighttime skies of this “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park, a designation by the International Dark Sky Association. The newly renovated Oasis at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek), hosts the elegant 4-diamond Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented Ranch at Death Valley, offering visitors a range of lodging options and activities. At Furnace Creek Stables, guests can explore the valley floor or foothills of the Funeral Mountains on guided horseback rides. The Stables also offer carriage and hay wagon rides. Jeep rentals, tours, and a variety of hiking and walking paths provide many ways to experience Death Valley. Play golf at the world’s lowest elevation golf course or enjoy a rejuvenating spa treatment at The Inn.
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.
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
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.
My first thought was Goa, which you say you’ve been to before, but maybe you don’t realize that there are about 20 different beach areas that are different from one another in terms of vibe and types of visitors? Personally, I found that Anjuna and Vagator were both kind of mellow but also busy enough and easy to meet other people. But if you don’t like those, there are many different beaches in the south, which I’ve heard are also great and draw different groups. It’s something to think about because it doesn’t get much cheaper than Goa for beaches anywhere in the world. -Roger
In Rome, the Coliseum and Ancient Rome are outdoors, but the city also doesn’t get as cold as the others so most likely you’ll be fine if you bundle up a bit. In Venice, they often have those floods during December, but they come and go every 6 hours so even if you get unlucky you’ll still be able to get around half the day, and it’s a small city anyway.
Of course, the Caribbean has its own share of problems. As I just mentioned to another reader, my list of Caribbean destinations from cheapest to most expensive has 32 entries and only about 6 of them were damaged by the recent storms. I would probably choose one of those instead. November is still technically the final month of hurricane season, but November storms are extremely rare. And the islands closer to South America haven’t been hit in over 50 years or so, such as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
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.
A trip to glittering New York City during the holiday season is exciting, and it’s the perfect place to finish gift shopping while enjoying the festive atmosphere. Ice skating under Rockefeller Center’s fabulous Christmas tree and watching the high-kicking Rockettes are holiday traditions for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Or come at the end of the month for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve watching the ball drop among the crowd in Times Square. If a little bit of country is more your style, you’ll love Austin in December. Whether you travel far or stay close to home, a December trip can be the perfect gift to yourself.
If you have a flexible schedule, or if you just happen to have some time off in November, you are in luck. This is honestly the best month of the year for finding cheap destinations that also have fantastic weather. Since most people don't start their winter travel until mid or late December, it means crowds are small and hotel prices are low through huge sections of the travel world. Those wondering where to go on holiday in November have many great choices at bargain prices, although airfare may cost a bit.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper. In a medium bowl, toss the green beans, garlic and olive oil together until completely coated. Then, spread the coated green beans on the lined pan in a single layer without crowding. Season with salt and pepper, then roast in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven once during this time to turn the beans so they cook evenly. When finished roasting, remove from oven and place beans on serving tray. Before serving, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. This makes a great recipe for Thanksgiving dinner sides.
Turkey has bars all over Istanbul and the other tourist cities, but there are also cafes and tea shops and that sort of thing that are filled with locals (and some tourists) all evening. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the only bars are attached to hotels (and there are a LOT of them), but almost no locals drink, so there are unlimited evening alternatives. Other nearby Muslim countries such as Oman and Bahrain are similar, except with far fewer tourists (and drinkers).
As with other Caribbean resort destinations, the weather in Montego Bay is perfect in December, and the first half of the month is still cheap for flights and resort prices. The weekend before Christmas is when peak season here starts, and if you book early enough you can still get a good deal then, but don't expect many last-minute bargains during that period.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
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
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.
Spend the past two days discussing your ideas. Group thoughts; Is that adventurous and cultural enough? We want a “wow” factor. We have vacationed in Cayman Islands about a dozen weeks since the kids were little (been there done that.). We have ruled out Asia only because don’t see a huge Wow factor for the amount of travel. What about African Safari? Still not ruling out your ideas, just want to know what is Wow about Puerto Rico? Costa Rica?
Of course in November you can pretty much forget about Europe if you want warm weather and little chance of rain. Fortunately you can go almost anywhere in Latin America and through many parts of Southeast Asia on a cheap flight, and you'll be in the sun with shockingly low prices, easily making the flight duration and cost worthwhile. The best holiday destinations in November are found all over the world, which you'll see on the list below.
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.
The best places in December with good weather and that are inexpensive and also fairly close to India are Sri Lanka and Thailand, and they are both mentioned in the article above. Sri Lanka is obviously closer and you have many nice and scenic areas in the hills as well as the beach areas along the southern coast. But Sri Lanka has many similarities to India, as you may know.
If you didn’t want to go to Asia you could instead consider the ABC islands, which don’t get much rain and haven’t had a major storm in many decades. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are known for good snorkeling as well and you’d get good hotel rates that time of year. Two weeks might be a long time to spend on those islands though, so I would go to Asia if you can. Late November is a perfect time of year for a visit there, and you can even include a few days in Siem Reap to visit Ankor Wat. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
This looks great and I wish I could be of more help. As I mentioned before, my first safari will probably be in 2017. I have a couple safari articles on this site from writers who have done them, and I’ve read a lot about the experience and the extremely positive reviews that most of them get. But having not yet done one, I wouldn’t feel comfortable offering specific advice. There are hundreds of articles on the internet that discuss these safaris, so I recommend you seek advice from someone with plenty of first-hand experience. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on a commercial safari outfitter, and try to seek advice from a travel blogger or other regular consumer. Have a great trip. -Roger
Increasingly popular, Lisbon is quite warm in summer, but November’s cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make it a pleasant time to visit. A city of hills and spectacular views, many terraces (miradouros) offer vistas for those who climb (or take a taxi) to the top. Alfama is the city’s historic district, defined by hilly, narrow cobblestone streets. The Fado Museum, in Alfama, honors Portugal’s soulful folk music and provides some background on the sounds heard nightly in the city’s fado houses and bars. Seafood is plentiful in Lisbon, and the traditional Portuguese dried salted cod (bacalhau) is on most menus along with octopus, shrimp, sardines, clams, and tuna.
Thank you, and I’ll be happy to try to help. But first I have to mention that ALL of Europe is quite cold in December and there are no beaches that are anywhere near warm enough to even spend time on, much less go swimming. The only place that could possibly fit the bill is the Canary Islands, which is off the northern coast of Africa although technically part of Spain. It’s reasonably warm there during December, and there is quite a bit to do.
From Atlanta, the places that come to mind with the theme of “nature” would be Costa Rica and Belize. Costa Rica is probably the better choice, as it famously has around a third of its land as natural parks. Much of it is jungle, and they have all sorts of activities including zip lining, but also canopy tours and much more. There is also the Arenal volcano there, which is really nice and has some fun hot springs around it. They also have beaches, of course, but there is plenty in the interior of the island to keep you busy. If you know a bit of Spanish, it helps, but most other visitors know little or none.
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.
If you do want to go to Thailand then Bangkok is the obvious starting point and it’s a wonderful city. You also want to visit Ayutthaya, which you can do on a day trip but it’s better to stay a few days. Chiang Mai is the highlight of the north, partly because it’s insanely cheap and the weather is a bit cooler than Bangkok. Luang Prabang is another town not to miss and it’s fun for at least a few days. Don’t bother spending much time in Vientiane though.
Located off the coast of East Africa, the Seychelles—an archipelago consisting of 115 islands—is about as close to paradise as you can get. Crystal clear water, lush jungles, and powder-fine sand make it the ultimate early winter escape, particularly for romantic getaways. Book one of the 30 breathtaking pool villas at Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which is among the region's top luxury resorts. The hotel is situated on a private island that offers prime territory for snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, and hiking—plus, the spa has scenic pavilion-style treatment rooms that are worth the trip alone. Health conscious guests will be particularly impressed by the property's new "Eat with Six Senses" program, which is intended to make travelers leave vacation without the guilt that comes with overindulging. There are four tailor-made treatment plans that focus on sleep, detoxing, fitness, and more, depending on the issues you prefer to address.
This classic Thanksgiving side came from Julia Child. We don’t see many creamed vegetables any more, except maybe creamed corn or spinach, so this might be a bit of a novelty. And it’s delicious. If people complain about the richness, just remind them that Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be a feast, right? (And you can get by with an awful lot be invoking the name Julia Child).
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.
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
As for the alcohol thing, I’m a bit of a drinker myself, so it’s hard to offer advice to an AA person. I guess one factor could be that there are many places around the world where alcohol is so cheap and the days are so warm that many people drink during the day AND at night. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably want to avoid those places. Probably the easiest places to go would be Muslim countries and India because there is little or no drinking culture there, so they have endless evening alternatives that don’t revolve around drinking.
It’ll definitely be too chilly in Portugal or Malta to go in the water in November, and Malta has almost no beaches anyway. I really like Malta a lot, but it’s not a great beach destination. It will be warm enough in the Canary Islands, but the flight from Atlanta would be long and expensive because you have to change planes in Madrid. Also, I find the Canary Islands to be pleasant and the weather is wonderful, but it’s kind of boring there compared to the other places we are discussing.
One reason that Vietnam isn’t as popular as it could be is that travelers often feel a bit hounded when they are there. For some reason, those in the travel business in Vietnam (working at travel agencies where you book tours and such) make tourists feel like they are being hustled. They are rarely 100% honest with what they tell you or about the prices they are charging. Still, it’s an amazing country and it’s also incredibly cheap, even if you end up paying a bit more than you were supposed to. I highly recommend it, and it won’t be a problem if you realize before you get there that you can’t take everything at face value in the way that you usually can in Thailand or Bali. Quality of hotels for the money is also very good.
I think Spain is probably your best bet, and you can probably get there on a reasonably priced flight with a change in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The winter weather is decent and the big cities are always packed with locals rather than so many tourists. Barcelona is probably more fun than Madrid, though both are big cities with a lot to see and notoriously good nightlife. If you get a cheap enough flight I don’t think you need to do a package. It’s pretty easy to get around Spain’s big cities just on English, as long as you do a bit of research. In 5 days you could spend 3 days in Barcelona and then 2 days in Madrid, or just 5 days in the Barcelona area. It’s a big city with plenty to see and some good day trips. You could also go to Valencia, which is also really fun and a short train ride away.
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
Once the scorching temperatures and monsoon rains of summer have subsided, November is the perfect time for exploring this kaleidoscope of colour and culture. Due to India’s size and terrain, you can still expect some variation across the country, but travels through Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle will be mostly dry, clear and balmy with a maximum of 30c (86F). Perfect for tiger-spotting in Ranthambhore, camel rides in Pushkar, and admiring the shimmering Taj Mahal!
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.