The “city that never sleeps” is a delight in December, even if the weather makes it necessary to bundle up a bit. For holiday spirit and things to do any time of year, New York City is a top destination. Broadway and off-Broadway shows are exceptional entertainment, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the famous Rockettes is a perfect holiday event. The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center presents the classic "Nutcracker," a seasonal tradition. At the New York Botanical Garden, the toy train will wind its way through a miniature Lower Manhattan for the amusement of kids as well as nostalgic adults who may have once had their own train sets. The dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, New York City’s centerpiece each year with nearly 50,000 lights, will once again overlook the famed ice skating rink and golden Prometheus statue. Window shopping takes on new meaning during December when department stores along Fifth Avenue entertain passers-by with intricate decorations and displays. Holiday markets at Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, and Union Square also invite browsing and shopping along with warm drinks and food. For a convenient stay, the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel offers spectacular views and Versa, a year-round rooftop restaurant and bar. Or enjoy the Innside by Melia New York in the trendy Chelsea area with its newly opened seafood-focused dining spot, The Wilson.
The last one is a 10 day trip for spring break 2018 most likely to be from March 9th to March 18. I’m thinking Europe but I don’t want to stay only in one country. I have so many options that I need someone to shorten the list in a way that it will work out. I want to go to Amsterdam, Rome,Venice,London,Barcelona,Zurich,Madeira,Dublin, and Madrid. (Amsterdam & Barcelona are a must).
In South America, and you start getting into some longer flights here, the best and safest places are Argentina, Peru, and Chile. I’m not sure if this helps you much, but at least it should let you know that you were thinking along the right lines already, and there are no obvious places that you’d overlooked. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.
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.
Actually, all of my best suggestions for those things are in the article above. One challenge you’ll have is that all popular tropical destinations have their peak weeks at the end of December because so many people in cold areas have that time off. So flights to Central or South America are going to be fairly expensive, although buying soon can help. For hiking and views I think Costa Rica could be a good choice, or Nicaragua. You could also go to Bariloche in Argentina, though it’s probably not worth going all that way unless you were also going to spend some time in Buenos Aires and such.
If you are looking for a place to go abroad for a few months starting in early December, you are right on the money with Thailand as the best starting location. The weather is really nice that time of year, and it’s quite easy to keep things extremely cheap if you need to. Many of us in the travel writing community have spent months or years traveling around southeast Asia, and I’ve probably spent close to two years there myself. Bangkok is the obvious place to start and it’s an amazing city. After that you can either go north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and then over to Laos, or you can head south to one or more of the islands. Cambodia has a lot to offer, and especially in Siem Reap, and Vietnam can be entertaining for all three months of your first visa there.
Vietnam might fit the bill for what you are looking for. The most popular itineraries are to start in Hanoi and end up in Ho Chi Minh City, or the other way around. There is a nice train connecting them that is scenic in many places, and the best must-stop place in between them is Hoi An. You also don’t want to miss Halong Bay, which is just outside Hanoi. Vietnam mostly attracts cultural travelers rather than party people. The food is excellent (France used to run the place) and there is plenty of culture all around, in addition to some nice beaches in Nha Trang and Da Nang (next to Hoi An).
If you are looking for a cheap, beautiful, and relaxing beach destination during December then Goa is ideal. This has become hugely popular with package tourists from Europe and Israel (and more recently Russia), and the facts that pretty much everyone speaks English and there aren't many cultural opportunities means that it's a perfect place to just vegetate in a beach chair for a week or two.
I think Sri Lanka would be wonderful for 2 weeks in December. The rainy season typically ends early in December, but even when it’s still going it tends to be quick downpours, as you are no doubt familiar with if you’ve been all over southeast Asia. Still at this point there are very few hostels with dorm beds and not even many cheap budget hotels, but at the age of 30 you are probably happier with normal hotels anyway. Value is quite good in Sri Lanka as long as you can spend at least US$30 or so per night, and hopefully a bit more. Food is also quite cheap in general, although there are still surprisingly few tourist-oriented restaurants in many towns so it feels a bit undiscovered. Just don’t spend much time in Colombo and preferably focus on the mountain areas, and I think you’ll love it.
For a cheap destination in December that has great clothes shopping opportunities I can only think of two really good options. The closer of the two is Dubai. I’m not sure if you’ve been there before, but it has some of the best shopping in the world with every store imaginable and very good prices because duties and taxes are low. In spite of its reputation, Dubai can actually be visited quite cheaply if that is important. It’s famous for expensive hotels, but it’s got hundreds of more affordable hotels that can be pretty nice.
Fortunately, Bangkok remains very cheap by almost anyone's standards. If you want to splash down for a nice 3-star room then it'll be half the price of a similar room in Europe or the US, and if you are fine with something more basic then you can find a room for next to nothing, even in the fun Khaosan Road backpacker district. Street meals for around a dollar are always there too, so you'll be able to afford a bit more for a room anyway.
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.
Eating out with confidence is a key part of success when traveling. Common sense should rule – say no to bread, ask for double veggies instead of the starch with your main course, and choose olive oil and vinegar for your salad. Ask for butter to melt on your cooked vegetables and protein. Skip dessert, or choose a cheese plate or berries with heavy cream.
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.