Much of Mexico is ideal in December, after the rainy season has ended; if you go early in the month, you’ll avoid the peak holiday-season rates that kick in around December 18. On the Pacific coast, the landscapes are still ultra-tropical green, and the ocean is bathtub-warm (80s), with exceptional clarity for scuba diving and snorkeling. Mexico City is a smart place to spend the holidays, when the locals have headed to the beach and you’ll find much less traffic in this famously congested city. (Do keep in mind, though, that some of the more sought-after restaurants and galleries will be closed.)
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.
If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.
If it’s not on there already, a visit to Iceland should be added to your bucket list. November will be chilly, but you’ll miss the high season crowds and arrive during peak viewing season for the Northern Lights (November through March) when the nights are longest. The infusion of colors, mostly bright green and at times a mix of purple, pink and red, is a breathtaking sight. November is prime time to visit the gorgeous ice caves, crystal and sparkling in stunning shades of blue with cave tour options that include hiking or snowmobiling.
As Christmas approaches the city will fill up much more, so if you can go early in the month you'll be much better off. But even if you can't go before the last week of the month you'll still find Mexico City to be a tremendous bargain compared to pretty much anywhere else in North America. It's a great shopping destination, and not just for goofy souvenirs, so that's something to think about as well.
I’m not really an expert on surf destinations and even less so on skate parks, although I am aware of many places that do have good surf beaches. From Ireland I think your two best bets would be either Rincon, Puerto Rico, which has the best surfing in the Caribbean and is good for longer rentals like that. You could get a reasonably priced flight into San Juan, which is also a really nice place with some surfing and great beaches, and then hire a car for the drive to Rincon.
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.
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.
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.
The biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
Don’t be too shy to ask the wait staff how the food is prepared. If you suspect something might be breaded ask. Ask if any of the dressings have sugar in them. In Italy it’s not common at all for savoury food to contain any sugar, even the sauces. Most are based on olive oil or cream. If you order a steak without any sauce don’t be afraid to ask for olive oil to use on it. You might get some strange looks if you ask for butter and they might not have any available. Try to go for roasted or grilled food rather than fried as even in Italy, the spiritual home of olive oil, the food is usually fried in vegetable oils. Also don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. I don’t like bell peppers and they always come as part of grilled vegetable sides. I simply ask them to leave them out and I’ll get more of another type of vegetable instead.
This is a difficult question to answer without quite a bit more information. First off, it’s obviously going to be pretty cold in most of Europe that time of year, although most of the major cities aren’t known for accumulations of snow. As long as you are okay with cold weather then it’s mostly down to budget and your main interests. I’m guessing that you haven’t been to Europe yet since you didn’t mention any places that you’d prefer to skip this time.
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
Orlando’s theme parks are a major draw for families (and big kids, too!), but this iconic experience doesn’t necessarily come cheap. During the pre-Christmas November lull, however, hotels often offer attractive discounted rates, meaning potential savings and – more importantly for the kids – less time spent standing in line. Those looking for a more alternative American adventure should consider the island of Puerto Rico in November. While there’s a chance of rain (but a greater chance of balmy beach-lounging days), the out-of-season discounts are as appetising as the island’s take on Thanksgiving dinner: turkey stuffed with mashed plantain.