Writer, photographer, potato aficionado. In 2015 I sold all my belongings, ignored mum’s advice, and left to travel through 28 countries in one year. Lessons learnt: beer is tasty, Nepal is life, and I regret nothing. The word ‘adventure’ is great, whistlers are not, and once I took a 44-hour bus ride from Malawi to Johannesburg which has led me to make better life decisions ever since. I’m also one half of The Common Wanderer blog, follow along at @thecommonwanderer
Your December plans probably seemed fine until this very moment when you realized they didn’t yet include Reveillon on Copacabana beach -- one of the biggest and best New Year’s Eve parties anywhere in the world. December is summertime here, so you can spend your trip under illuminated palm trees on the beach, before joining two million (yes) other humans for the debauchery of Reveillon. To extend the trip, join a week-long tour that gives you a blend of rainforest, city, and beach.
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.
The Norwegian coastal city of Tromso, located more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is an enchanting winter wonderland in December. During the Polar Nights — when there is no sun at all — the opportunity to witness the Northern Lights is greatly increased. For another awesome view, take a cable car or an adventurous hike up to Floya, overlooking the city of Tromso and the surrounding mountains and fjords. The Polaria Arctic Experience Center and Aquarium is a family-friendly destination, both educational and fun. The 360-degree Planetarium at the Science Center in Tromso is another family option with breathtaking photos and a lifelike video of the Northern Lights. Stroll along Storage Street to be amazed at the number of cafes, restaurants, pubs, and shops featuring artwork, clothing, and crafts by local artisans. Mack’s famous Olhallen beer hall, established in 1928, is Tromso’s oldest pub, boasting Europe’s longest tap beer tower and a micro brewery. Their acclaimed Christmas Beer is released every December. Experience the Tromso wilderness on a dog sled or chase the glowing night sky on a reindeer sled with a native Sami guide. Tours range from four hours to five days. Whale watching is also ideal in December when humpbacks, killer whales, and several other species thrive on the plentiful herring fish in the fjords. Downhill and cross-country skiing opportunities abound for all skill levels.
Prices go up a bit when you go south into Malaysia, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the money. You might even consider Myanmar as well, which I’ve yet to visit, but I keep hearing great things about. It’s honestly the perfect time of year there. By April it’s insanely hot (the hottest month of the year), but December through February is lovely. It’s all quite safe as well, as long as you keep your wits about you. I’m happy to help with more information if you need it.
Of the others, I’d say that Thailand would probably be your better choice. Goa is obviously famous for its beach parties, and drugs are easily available there just in case that is important, but there really isn’t much else to see or do there. Goa is a collection of beach towns, some of which are filled with raucous Westerners all winter. But once you go inland, it’s kind of falling apart, and it’s not even very “Indian” because it was run by the Portuguese until about 60 years ago.
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.
Back in 2008, we asked chef Stephanie Kimmel from Eugene's Marche restaurant to take a stab at updating Thanksgiving's well-worn green bean casserole -- you know the one we're talking about, with the canned beans and mushroom soup, topped with fried onions. Kimmel's from-scratch version features colorful fresh green beans that are baked in a homemade white sauce that tastes cleaner than the 1950s tinned three-can combo. If Thanksgiving dinner doesn't feel complete without a green bean casserole, this is the one to make!
Cancun is at the north end of the Riviera Maya, which also includes the island of Cozumel, so this is a huge area with over a thousand hotels to choose from. All that competition keeps prices down until the high season begins, so November is still a buyer's market. There are even ruins nearby and other cultural opportunities, so it's not all about sitting on the beach here. If you prefer a high-rise hotel overlooking a beach then stay in Cancun itself, but if you prefer to stay in a friendly town with many restaurant and shopping choices then head to Playa del Carmen, just a bit to the south, instead.
Located just 90 minutes from New York City, the quaint Caribbean island is home to fantastic beaches—like the famed Horseshoe Bay and Elbow Beach—plus a unique style all its own. A balanced mix of charming British heritage and laid-back tropical vibes, Bermuda has, in recent years, become a hotspot over the holidays. The weather is typically temperate (expect temperatures in the 70s) which makes it a perfect destination for golf-lovers, families, and anyone looking for a quick weekend escape.
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.
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.
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.
Since flights to Mexico City from the US and Canada are usually quite cheap this time of year as well, this could be a perfect short cultural holiday. This city has great shopping, dining, and nightlife, and the central historic and tourist districts are far safer than most people would expect. There are ruins just out of town as well, so a bit of everything is available.
As a male who usually travels solo, I’m not sure I’m the best source of advice for solo female tips. There are hundreds of travel blogs run by solo female travelers, and if you Google some specific topics that you are curious about, I’m sure you’ll find some great information. Generally speaking, the females tend to say that traveling solo is far easier and less threatening than they had feared.
It's getting cold out there, so consider a journey that leads you into a warm museum. Whatever your interest, there's bound to be a specialized one to engage it. If art and sculpture are your passions, discover some favorite art museums around the world. And consider that you can make a day of it soaking up culture as many contain surprisingly good restaurants to visit in between your viewing.
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 am trying to find advice on going to Cartegna, Colombia with my husband and 2 daughters next month, November 2017. We have never been there been, speak Spanish, and like the idea of the history and the hot weather. There is a US Travel Warning to Cartegna (as of June 2017) and I am thinking of cancelling our trip. There are so many websites of things “not to do” and “do not go there” and “do not where that” and “always have a full tank of gas” that I am scared. AND, the Travel Warnings says kidnapping! Do you think we should cancel and go to the Caribbean instead?
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.)
Another reason to consider Dubai is that the busy airport has cheap non-stop flights coming in from almost every major airport in Europe and Asia. As a result it's popular to book long weekend trips of 3 or 4 days to Dubai, where you can enjoy some sunshine and shopping before flying back home where it gets colder by the day. You might also consider stopping for a few days in Dubai and then moving onto somewhere else with cheap direct flights such as the Maldives.
Looking to shake up the traditional holiday season table? We’ve got just the foodie forays for you this festive month. Tuck into a spicy blend of fabulous flavours at Malaysia’s hawker food stalls, where bright bowls of creamy laksa (noodle soup) and deliciously deep-fried lor bak (pork or prawn wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with dips) will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding. With tourist numbers low, now is the ideal time to visit Spain’s Basque Country, seeing out the year with a plate piled high with pintxos (tapas); or check out Cuba’s capital, exploring the crumbling, colonial architecture with a rum-based cocktail in hand.