“November in the desert evokes similar feelings in our hearts as springtime does for most of the world,” says Palm Springs-based Chef Michael Beckman, whose restaurants Workshop and Truss & Twine are among some of the city’s most popular hotspots. “We can set back out hiking, cycling, dining al fresco—all the things that make this place iconic—while the rest of the country is steeped in winter storms.” The Parker, The Colony Palms, and L’Horizon are generally considered the area’s top hotels, but design enthusiasts will relish the chance to stay in one of the area's signature Mid-Century Modern homes (AirBnB has hundreds available.) One thing not to miss: dinner and dancing at Melvyn’s, the beloved Old Hollywood haunt that counts Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe as some of its famous regulars.
In Vietnam every hotel will have a “tours desk” that will happily book a tour or visit to any local sight imaginable. There are also dozens of independent travel agencies around booking these same tours, but some of them are better than others. I prefer to book tours through my hotel, even if it costs a bit more, because it helps them and they have a strong incentive for you to be happy with the tour. If a hotel would consistently book guests on tours that the guests felt were rip-offs, that would be in the reviews and they would lose future business. More expensive hotels tend to charge more for the same tours, but things in Vietnam are so cheap that it’s not worth worrying about. And you might get a better pick-up at the nicer hotels as well.
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.
As for Malaysia, you could book online and it might cost a bit more, but more things go by a fixed price in Malaysia so it might not be much different. Personally I’d probably book tours through my hotel once I got there, just as in Vietnam. But there is a BIG difference between the countries in that Malaysia is a much richer country and there are very few scams to worry about. Vietnam is still fairly poor and they were communist for so long that people got used to trying to scam people a bit as the only way of getting ahead. So the good news is that Vietnam is a gorgeous country with excellent food and very low prices on almost everything. But the bad news is that you have to be more careful in Vietnam because people will try to overcharge you if they can, even though it still might seem cheap to you. That’s one reason I like to book with hotels, because they put the reputation of the hotel on the line when they book something for you, and they can’t afford to get a string of bad reviews by charging an extra US$5 on a cut-rate tour. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
However, I would probably recommend staying closer to the US, unless you are really interested in the Asian cultures or that kind of experience. If you are mainly just interested in family time and a fairly easy holiday for all, and you aren’t specifically interested in getting to know an Asian culture and its food, I think I’d stay in the Americas.
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.
Venice can get pretty cold and they also have those famous Acqua Alta floods in winter, so read up on that before you go. But Rome and Munich should be easy to visit in December. One suggestion I will make is to consider visiting Rome for 3 or 4 nights and then base yourself down on Sorrento for the remaining 2 or 3 nights. Rome is one of those cities that is crowded and chaotic even in winter, to the point that just crossing the street can be frustrating, so many people get tired of that after they’ve seen the main sights. And Sorrento, on the other hand, is a lovely small city that is close to Amalfi, Pompeii, Naples, and the Isle of Capri, so it’s an ideal base to visit all of those. Sorrento is also cheaper than Rome, and a surprising number of locals speak English there, so it’s easy and pleasant. That time of year I’m not even sure if the tourist buses are running to Amalfi, although the local ones will be.
Assuming you might be in the US or Canada, my first hunch is Costa Rica, or Panama, which is a bit cheaper though not as well organized. Costa Rica has good surfing on its Pacific beaches, and there are very few all-inclusive resorts, which means that the restaurant scenes in resort areas are vibrant and interesting. Costa Rica also has limitless adventure opportunities, like zip-line tours and such, although they aren’t exactly cheap. Going inland you’ve got loads of national parks, as well as the famous volcano and its little spa town.
If you are looking for first-rate destinations that are among the cheaper European cities, I’ll suggest Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin. You could visit all four of them by taking trains, or choose any one, two, or three. In December you can get quite a nice room in any of those cities, with Berlin being the most expensive by a bit. Food and attractions are also quite affordable in those cities.
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.
It looks like you’ve been to most of the more popular options for winter holidays already, and since you listed them I assume you want to go somewhere new. The one that is missing, which I think could be perfect for you, is the Guanacaste area in northern Costa Rica. The weather will be perfect and you should be able to get a reasonably priced flight into nearby Liberia Airport. There are a variety of smaller towns along those beaches, and Tamarindo might be the most famous. They offer a mix of traditional hotels and resorts in smaller towns along with newer 4-star and 5-star hotels on large properties that tend to be away from the towns. The weather will obviously be similar to Panama, as long as you were on the west coast. Costa Rica is the adventure capital of Latin America and one-third of the country is national parks, so there is plenty to see and do. There isn’t much history there, but you can’t have everything.
As chilly temperatures arrive in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring in Buenos Aires, an ideal time to visit. The city’s jacaranda trees are decorating the streets in purple petals, hotel prices are attractive, and the weather is comfortable and dry. A cruise along the Rio de la Plata would be a good place to start, for a relaxing overview of neighborhoods, homes, markets, and the waterfront. On Sundays, get some authentic local flavor at Feria De Mataderos, about an hour from downtown, with gauchos on horses, craft vendors, musicians, tango dancers, and regional foods.
Resolve – My number one asset to staying on track was my resolve. I made my mind up before we left that I would not give in when tempted and that I would be entirely aloof for donuts, desserts, fries, and other favorite treats. I just kept reminding myself that I could enjoy those foods again perhaps on our next weekend getaway or at the end of our vacation if I chose to have a cheat day. Otherwise, they would be dead to me because I didn’t want my kids feeling guilty eating treats in front of me. I don’t want them ever to relate being good or bad based on what they ate so again; I had to have the mindset that it wasn’t a big deal.
Two other suggestions would be India or Sri Lanka. Except for a few beaches in Goa, neither of those attract the party crowd, and both are excellent for scenery and culture. India is cheaper as long as you minimize time in Mumbai and other big cities, but that is good advice for many reasons. Sri Lanka is a bit better organized, and on your budget it is good value and easily affordable. There are good beaches along the south coast of Sri Lanka, but India is probably better for beaches.
As for Costa Rica, I think it would be ideal for what you have in mind. It’s by far the most tourist-friendly (and English speaking friendly) country in that area, so it’s a great starting point. Belize is pretty easy as well, although there is far less nature to enjoy. Panama and Nicaragua are a bit cheaper and have similar things to offer, but Costa Rica has the best infrastructure and nature parks, so it’s less stressful for a first-timer. The snorkeling is better on the Caribbean coast, I believe, but the better tourist beaches are on the Pacific. The country is pretty quick to get across, so you could easily spend a few days on both sides, plus another few exploring the rain forests and volcanoes and such.
We were able to sit down in the store, relax, and eat our salmon and cheese (pictured above) – separately of course! As you eat, you can watch them hand make their cheese through a glass window, showing exactly what they do in their process to get the food you’re eating in front of you. An experience in itself that I definitely would recommend to anyone visiting this city!
The farther, and cheaper, option is Bangkok. A flight would cost more and you might end up having to change planes in Dubai on your way, but once you get there you can find nice hotels starting around US$25 per night, although paying more for a better place is probably worth it. The whole central area of Bangkok around what is called Siam Square is surrounded by about 15 or 20 large shopping malls, many of which focus on clothing. It’s mostly chain stores and prices are good, although it’s not like they are much different from Europe except taxes are a bit lower. You can get locally made clothes at local markets for much lower prices than the chain stores in the malls. Also, Bangkok is a really fun city with plenty to see and do. For what it’s worth, alcohol is much cheaper in Bangkok than in Dubai, and much easier to get as well. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If those flights are too expensive you might think about going somewhere else in Mexico or to Costa Rica. The area around Cancun including Playa del Carmen and Tulum and Cozumel has a LOT going on. And if you’ve been there you could instead go to the Puerto Vallarta area, which is very different and also great. For activities though it’s hard to beat Costa Rica. I think they invented zip-lining and the country is about one-third national parks with all kinds of fun activities. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger