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.
As for Europe, it’s the low season there at the end of the year and you might be able to find a reasonable flight. Have a look at my list of best Europe destinations in December for weather and comments about each of the better places. If money is tight then Europe can be challenging because getting from place to place can add quite a bit to the daily total. I think two weeks in Spain and Portugal could be very nice, with reasonable weather and relatively low prices. Let me know what you think and I can try to help you more. -Roger
By the way, Costa Rica is quite different from the popular countries of South America itself (Peru, Argentina, Brazil etc), so it’s a different experience and not much of an introduction. I think in 12 days you could have a great time in several areas of Costa Rica, and maybe also spend a few of those days in Panama or Nicaragua. As always, feel free to ask more questions if you have them. -Roger
Located off the coast of East Africa, the Seychelles—an archipelago consisting of 115 islands—is about as close to paradise as you can get. Crystal clear water, lush jungles, and powder-fine sand make it the ultimate early winter escape, particularly for romantic getaways. Book one of the 30 breathtaking pool villas at Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which is among the region's top luxury resorts. The hotel is situated on a private island that offers prime territory for snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, and hiking—plus, the spa has scenic pavilion-style treatment rooms that are worth the trip alone. Health conscious guests will be particularly impressed by the property's new "Eat with Six Senses" program, which is intended to make travelers leave vacation without the guilt that comes with overindulging. There are four tailor-made treatment plans that focus on sleep, detoxing, fitness, and more, depending on the issues you prefer to address.