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
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)!
Thanks for all of this Roger! It looks like in the comments you mention Portugal a couple times and I wanted your opinion – we’re looking at the first two weeks and probably focusing on Lisbon to Porto (since we know it will be too cold to do the beaches in the south). While Portugal seems to be highly recommended, I keep seeing conflicting information about November being rainy – we definitely don’t want to spend 2 weeks in the rain but in your experience what are the chances of that? Thank you!!
The reason for the recommendation is that Bali is not only a yoga and “spiritual” hot spot, but it’s also the most popular island for solo women travelers in the region. The book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love” was inspired by this trend, and they have in turn inspired thousands of solo female visitors to go there and stay for long periods, particularly in and around the Ubud area. It’s gorgeous and quite cheap once you get there, and the locals are generally gentle and kind to all. Most other tropical hot spots in Asia have far more solo male visitors than solo females. Just avoid lingering in the Kuta Beach area, because it’s packed with bars and loud backpacker party people. Most of the rest of the island is quite mellow.
Mid- to late-November welcomes warm, dry sunshine with temperatures of about 80 degrees in this subtropical Central American nation located south of Mexico. You’ll slip in before the holiday crowds and enjoy exceptional weather and affordable prices for tours and fine lodging. White sandy beaches, friendly native people, jungle adventures, and tours of ancient Mayan ruins await visitors on this small and easy to navigate paradise. Nov. 19 is Garifuna Settlement Day, a celebration of the Garifuna people, descendants of African slaves and native Carib islanders. All are welcome to participate in dancing, parades and tasting traditional foods.
Most of the destinations below are in Latin America and Southeast Asia, so depending on where you are starting from it might be a rather long flight to get there. Many of us can take two weeks or even more around this time of year, but that fact means that all of these places do get crowded and raise hotel prices for the weeks around Christmas and New Year's. Speaking of that, we have a separate list of cheap and warm places to go over Christmas and New Year's, only listing beach areas around the world with affordable hotels during that period.
And as you mention, Bali could actually work for you. I’ve spent two Decembers in Bali, and December is quite a bit rainier on average. Still I had a great time and it was sunny most of the days. The rain in the tropics (and Bali is almost ON the equator) tends to come down in 30-minute bursts rather than drizzling all day, so it’s usually pretty easy to avoid. The best part of Bali is there are loads of things to see and do, and the nightlife is excellent. The Kuta Beach area is fun for at least a few days, but I wouldn’t spend too much time there. You should also spend a few days in Ubud, which is very touristy but also interesting. And you could spend some time in Lovina, which is along the northern coast and it has all of the charm of Bali from 20 years ago before most of it got overbuilt. With all the temples and other local attractions, there is always something interesting to do, which is not true of many other places with great beaches and nightlife. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If I were you I’d fly into Bali and spend a couple days in the Kuta area to get your bearings and then head to Ubud, which is in the foothills and easily reached by shuttle bus. It’s also fairly crowded, but it’s still quite nice and there are scores of little spas and yoga places and that sort of thing. Then after a few days there, head up to the northern coastal town of Lovina, which is sort of like how Kuta was 25 years ago. It’s still only partly developed and there are still many open spaces, which is no longer true in the Kuta area. It’s cheaper than Kuta, and somewhat like Boracay in how mellow it is. You could also take a ferry from Bali to the island of Lombok, which is the next large one over. Things there are also more like Boracay and less chaotic than the Kuta area. Again, I really love Bali and still recommend it, but unless you are an Australian surfer, it’s best to stay somewhere other than the general Kuta area.
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.
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.
Fortunately, it rarely rains at all in Cairo, so even though December is one of the wetter months, that means nothing and you are unlikely to see even a drop of rain. Hotel prices do reach their peak in Cairo starting late in December, so it's best to go early in the month if possible. Egypt is definitely one of the cheapest places to travel in December, and the weather is surprisingly nice as well.
The only places I’ve visited in Brazil at this point are Rio de Janeiro and the Iguazu Falls area. Both of those areas are very nice and justifiably popular. Aside from those, I hear a lot of mixed things about Brazil. I’m sure I’ll explore more of the country at some point, though I’m in no rush. Among other things, English isn’t widely spoken in Brazil (and in Latin America in general). You might know as much about the country as I do, aside from those places I’ve visited.
In Laos, Luang Prabang is a really lovely city, and Vang Vieng is nice, but Vientiane is kind of plain and probably not worth a stop. I don’t think I’d recommend Laos for a multi-generational trip, unless you just want to fly into and out of Luang Prabang. Laos is really interesting for backpackers and adventure travelers, but it’s behind the times for family travel.
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
Every year it goes the same way. My mom calls me up a few weeks before Thanksgiving and asks me, “You are bringing green bean Casserole this year, right?” before she launches into a chorus of “You have to! No one else makes it just like you do!” Green beans have become “my thing” around the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s the dish that I am expected to bring to dinner each year.
All of my best suggestions are in the article above, but I’ll try to expand a bit more. The tricky thing, as you probably know, is that November is part of the heavy rain season in most of Thailand and the other popular southeast Asian countries. There are wet months in summer with just short rain storms, but in November it can often be rainy all day.
I know what you mean about how easy everything is in Thailand, with a 7-Eleven on every corner. But I don’t know the current visa situation because it’s changed recently and might change again. Still, I think they are mainly trying to cut off the people who try to stay forever on consecutive Tourist Visas, and they are still welcoming of the 60-day visits. I hope so anyway because I might be heading there this winter myself.
From December through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather,” except for the Canary Islands, which is listed below. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
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.
I totally agree about the solo traveling thing being down to luck in many cases. Right now I’m on a long trip around Europe again, and from one night to the next I might meet a bunch of interesting people, or be sitting there alone in a sea of locals with no interest in chatting with foreigners. At least in a place like Goa, everybody is on holiday, so I’ve had good luck meeting people.
My second vacation meal was dinner that night. After walking almost ten miles at the park, the hotel, and spending the late afternoon swimming in the pool, we did dinner at the hotel restaurant before heading back to the park to ride a few things one last time. Dinner (Meal 2) consisted of pot roast with carrots and mushrooms (I asked them to go light on my carrots and they did a very good job of it), and a side salad that I again topped with salt, pepper, and blue cheese dressing.
Keep Snacks Handy When You are Out – This was my snack stash for Disney World. I had Macadamia Nuts, Walnuts, Pecans, and low carb bars. I made sure to chill the water bottles in the freezer beforehand so that as they thawed throughout the day, we had cold water. When hunger hit, instead of falling to temptation, I just grabbed my bag of snacks before I got HANGRY. Doing so made it so much easier to make keto/low carb choices at mealtime. I kept my snacks simple because we already had enough to bring with us (if you have a baby and a toddler you know what I mean). I saw lots of people with small coolers who were snacking on fresh veggies and deli meats, but, again, my goal was easy breezy. You can find a great list of Keto/Low Carb Snack ideas here for inspiration if you prefer a variety.
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.
I’m sure you’ll have a great time. I don’t have any good suggestions for where to celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems finding something by just walking around or checking online. The top draw in Barcelona is the architecture, and especially the 20th Century buildings by Gaudi. I recommend the hop-on, hop-off bus tour because it allows you to see almost all of the famous buildings from the street in just a few hours. Park Guell is worth a visit, but of course the main attraction is the Sagrada Familia cathedral. Check opening times and reserve a ticket in advance if you can.
While December is quite busy in Lima, as a very popular summer beach destination for South Americans, it's also still very reasonably priced so it's worth considering if you are exploring the continent. The beaches aren't spectacular as they are in Brazil and elsewhere, but Lima is still a great summer city with great outdoor life this time of year.
Still, this is a perfect time of year to find bargains, as the full-on busy season doesn't begin until mid December. You might have to stay a few blocks off the main tourist strip if you are looking for something in a backpacker price range, but fortunately there are still plenty of very cheap restaurants and bars all over the city if you scan the menus carefully.
And you mention that you’ve been to Cancun and Yucatan, but just in case you haven’t been to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, those could also be worth a look. They are both much more real tourist towns as opposed to Cancun, which is primarily a long strip of high-rise hotels and time-share buildings on a beach. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If you have a budget that allows at least US$300 per night, you should be able to rent a nice condo in Hawaii. If you haven’t been there before, it’s worth knowing that each of the 4 main tourist islands is quite different from each other, and only Oahu has an urban center that should probably be avoided. You’ll want to rent a car as well, as getting around is difficult without one.
For traditional holiday atmosphere, think about Rome or Vienna, with Christmas markets, nativity scenes, and decorated cathedrals. In Edinburgh, they know how to welcome the new year with several days of celebrations culminating in New Year’s Eve. For travelers seeking a wintery destination, Tromso in Norway has skiing, reindeer, and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Bundle up for a dogsled tour or join a whale watching excursion.
Vietnam is generally cheaper than Thailand, so if that is your primary factor, Vietnam could be the best choice. The beaches in Nha Trang are quite nice and the town is pretty easy for English-speaking tourists. But the other thing about Vietnam is that visitors have to be much more careful, especially when booking tours and that sort of thing. The travel agencies in Vietnam (even those in hotels, but mostly the independent ones) are famous for over promising and under delivering. That said, it’s a lovely country and you can have a wonderful time there on a modest budget. It’s just that you have to be more careful, compared to Thailand where the travel industry is a bit more honest about what you get and how much you’ll pay.
Jamaica Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios Martinique Martinique Netherlands Antilles Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Martin/Sint Maarten Puerto Rico Rincón, San Juan Saint Kitts and Nevis St Kitts Saint Lucia St. Lucia Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tabago Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Virgin Islands, British Tortola Virgin Islands, U.s. St. Croix, St. Thomas
Really my first bit of advice is that the best place to get a really nice hotel that is on a beach or a hill and has the other nearby and also has great weather in December is Phuket, Thailand. You could go almost anywhere in southeast Asia in December and get good weather and low prices. But Phuket has over 1,000 hotels and hundreds of those are wonderful fairly luxurious hotels or villa complexes that could be perfect for a romantic honeymoon stay.