A charming, historic city to visit any time of year, Edinburgh is especially festive during December. Walking through its cobblestone streets takes you back to medieval days when sheep, cattle, and grain were sold in what is now the center of the city. Today, the Royal Mile includes shops, cafes, and museums. Edinburgh Castle, a must for first-time visitors, dates to the 12th century, with its dramatic silhouette overlooking the city. For those seeking holiday celebrations, the Royal Botanic Garden is decorated with lights, music, and illuminated trees. European-style Christmas markets pop up at Princes Street Gardens and George Street, offering traditional crafts, gifts, food, and warming drinks, most welcome during chilly December. The annual Hogmanay celebration welcomes the New Year with fireworks, food, and festivities. Don’t miss the delicious and ubiquitous fish chowder called “Cullen skink,” and be sure to try haggis, served with “neeps and tatties” — mashed turnips and potatoes. Buttery shortbread and whisky from the country’s more than 100 distilleries are also Scottish specialties. A stay at the elegant and historic Balmoral Hotel will enhance any visit to Edinburgh, and while you’re there, you’ll notice that Scottish actor Sean Connery was a guest, as was J. K. Rowling who finished the last Harry Potter book in one of its suites.
Malaysia is a favorite of mine, although it’s not really known for beaches. Again, it really depends on what you are looking for. Kuala Lumpur is my favorite city in Asia because it’s got such a great mix of things and it’s also pretty affordable, but not everyone is looking for a big modern city. I’m happy to help with more recommendations if you let me know more about your goals. -Roger
If the Caribbean sounds better, I’ll recommend Puerto Rico. The area around San Juan is fairly crowded, although not nearly as crowded as a typical resort area that is loaded with hotels. And there are many smaller resort towns on other parts of the island where people usually rent a condo for a week or two. In a town like Rincon you won’t get crowds, and you will get great beaches.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
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.
Hotel prices definitely go up in around Christmas so it's best to come early in the month if that's possible, but it's still a pretty good bargain even during the peak weeks. Book early if you can because the better and cheaper hotels will fill up first, of course. Also consider a side trip to the Mendoza wine region, Patagonia, or the amazing water falls of Iguazu.
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.
Traveling in December means you either fully lean into the holiday season, or else escape it entirely and flee to somewhere warm. Personally, I try to appreciate the cold weather while we have it and max out on warm seasonal beverages, colorful lights, soft snow, and good company. True, some places are overwhelmed by the capitalist engine that powers Christmas, but you can still get a non-denominational-winter-wonderland fix, if you know where to look. No matter your travel preference, there’s a perfect place in this world for you to bask in those final sunsets of 2018.
Uruguay is an interesting place. It seems to be a less modern and less developed version of next-door Argentina. Buenos Aires is a larger and more interesting city than Montevideo. There is a town there called Colonia, which is worth a couple days if you like old and charming cities. But most people who go to Uruguay either go to one of the posh beach resort towns (mainly Punta del Este), or they go to the tourist cattle ranches, which are surprisingly popular. If you haven’t been to Argentina yet you might find that it has more and different options, such as the Mendoza wine region and the mountain resort town of Bariloche.
Italy should be at least a bit warmer than England this time of year, but not by all that much in a typical year. Also, if you only have about 9 days I think I’d try for no more than 3 or perhaps 4 total cities (Venice can be appreciated in about 24 hours if you are in a hurry). And of course, Paris and Amsterdam will both be quite chilly, so I think I’d save those for another trip. My recommendation would be to spend the whole trip in Italy so you aren’t so rushed. Do Rome for at least 3 nights and Florence for 2 or 3 nights, and then Venice for 1 or 2 nights. You could still have time to pop down to Sorrento for a couple nights to see Naples and Pompeii and whatnot.
Europe in general and Greece in specific are not ideal in January because it’s cold and many sights are closed. I’d go to Thailand, which has a great variety of things to see and do, and January is the best weather month. Spend at least a few days in Bangkok and then either go to one of the islands like Phuket or Kho Samui, or head up to Chiang Mai for its temples and shopping and outdoor activities. You could even head over to Siem Reap to spend a couple days seeing Angkor Wat. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
On the morning of our last day we hit the hotel cantina again for another round of breakfast bowls and bacon (Meal 5), which I had with fatty coffee. Afterwards we headed out for our final day. After riding a few things and checking out some of the tours, we found a place for a late lunch/early dinner at around 4 pm. This was the only sit-down, table service place we patronized on the entire trip and it was worth it. The menu didn’t seem to have a lot to offer the carb-conscious, but after explaining briefly to my server that I avoid carbs and sugar, I settled on the Kobe beef burger, bunless, and the server offered to replace the side of fries or rice with a bowl of stir fried veggies. My plate arrived (Meal 6) and looked gorgeous! The veggie bowl consisted of onions, peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, baby bok choy, and some carrot sticks which I mostly ate around. After stirring in a smidgen of the offered soy sauce and Sriracha, I must say I was greatly pleased with this side. The chef also garnished my plate with a small sample of cucumber salad, which was delicious. The burger was as thick and round as a steak and was probably the best restaurant bunless burger I’ve ever had. It was served with a sesame-soy sauce mayonnaise as a condiment which really complimented the burger well. This was probably my favorite meal of the trip and it was well worth the price and effort of sorting through the menu.
Sri Lanka doesn’t really have a good infrastructure for budget travelers at this point. There are loads of nice hotels if you are willing to pay US$40 or more per night, but almost nothing below that except for a few hostels. I haven’t been to Palawan but I have been to Boracay and Palawan can’t be too much cheaper. Boracay doesn’t have many budget options either, so my guess is that Thailand or Cambodia is your best bet.