Traveling during the last ten days of December means crowds and exorbitant prices throughout much of the world, but the first two-thirds of the month—before holiday airfares and hotel rates go into effect—can be a serene, value-laden, and just plain lovely time to vacation. Europe is all decked out for the holidays—with locals generally friendly and in high spirits; in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is in bloom; and in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, hurricane season is over, the weather is gorgeous, and there are free upgrades galore.
Keep Snacks Handy When You are Out – This was my snack stash for Disney World. I had Macadamia Nuts, Walnuts, Pecans, and low carb bars. I made sure to chill the water bottles in the freezer beforehand so that as they thawed throughout the day, we had cold water. When hunger hit, instead of falling to temptation, I just grabbed my bag of snacks before I got HANGRY. Doing so made it so much easier to make keto/low carb choices at mealtime. I kept my snacks simple because we already had enough to bring with us (if you have a baby and a toddler you know what I mean). I saw lots of people with small coolers who were snacking on fresh veggies and deli meats, but, again, my goal was easy breezy. You can find a great list of Keto/Low Carb Snack ideas here for inspiration if you prefer a variety.
My family and I are planning our first trip to Europe for the last week of December (2018) and the first week of January (2019), I know this is a long way off but I am a planner and to me that is half the fun! I know to most people that time of year in Europe is not ideal, but we LOVE cold weather, snow, rain, etc. and I am drawn to the lower prices and smaller crowds. So far I am considering Rome for 6 nights, Venice for 2 and Munich for 6 nights. I want to take day trips from Rome to see Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast and from Munich to see Rothenburg and Nuremburg. Does this seem like a good itinerary? Since I love the cold weather are there any other itineraries you think would be ideal for that time of year? Any advice you have would be very much appreciated.
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.
From November through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather.” We list Tenerife below because it's technically in Europe, although not really much of a cultural destination. Antalya, Turkey (which technically isn't even in Europe), has the closest thing to a sunny climate with acceptable temperatures. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
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.
As for alternatives, you might have a look at my recent article with my recommendations for the best places to go in Asia in December. It’s got many more choices than the article above, with weather information for all of them. Closer to India, I think Sri Lanka is very nice in December, although it’s somewhat similar to India in many ways and you may want something more exotic. In that case I think Thailand and Malaysia are the best choices for family holidays.
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
Early December is the end of the rainy season in those areas. The storms tend to be short by that time, but still you will probably get a few quick downpours a week. I’m not an expert on getting around in the Philippines, though I do know that it’s rarely fast or easy. If you want a place to relax then Boracay Island might be the best. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. -Roger
The traffic in Bali makes sightseeing notoriously challenging in June through August, but November is less crowded so it's a good time to come and spend a day in Ubud or even take a tour of the towns along the northern shore. In fact, if you want to avoid the huge Kuta crowds altogether you should consider basing yourself in the Lovina area of the north shore. It's as lovely and charming as the whole island was 20 years ago, but that may not last.
Bali is wonderful, or at least parts of it are, but they now have a volcano issue and those flights are very long and never cheap. Machu Picchu is incredible, but it’s a place you visit for half a day or so, and they actually have their rainy season at the end of the year, so it’s actually not one of the better times to go. Actually, you might consider a trip to Argentina, which is warm that time of year, though rarely scorching. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city that is pretty good value now, and you can also visit the Mendoza wine region and Iguazu Falls and Bariloche, which are all even a bit cheaper than Buenos Aires.
And as far as I can see, Bali is totally up and running as of now. A friend of mine is a driver there and he has a steady stream of foreign guests who are going all over the island with no difficulties. November is a pretty good month in that it’s not too busy, so that’s another reason it might be a good choice. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Adrenaline junkies should make for Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park for roaring waterways and world-class river rafting. Punctuate your trip by exploring the surrounding scenery, from rocky gorges and mountains to tangled emerald rainforests. In Alta the snow has arrived but the crowds haven't, so get there quick to make your mark on some of the USA’s finest ski terrain.
The truth is, Rio de Janeiro will make this list for at least 8 months of the year, as the weather is always pretty good and the prices are still reasonable compared to Europe and North America. November is still well into the sweet spot, as the high season for hotels doesn't begin until December. This means bargains are often available at some of the luxury places along the beach, which won't be true again until April.
Thanks for the kind words and I’m happy to hear that this info helps. The Mount Rinjani ash cloud situation is also a mystery to me at this point. My plan was to fly into Bali more or less for the full month of February, but according to the news it does seem possible that the skies in the area will still be unsafe at that point. I will already be in Asia and if the Bali airport is still closed I’ll just go to the Philippines or Malaysia. But I wouldn’t book a long-haul flight into Bali for the coming months at this point, at least not unless I knew I could change it cheaply if the flights are canceled.
As far as finding work on the road, the only decent-paying job that is fairly easy to get that I’m aware of is teaching English, but I think those gigs tend to last at least a few months. Right now Thailand is trying to get rid of any foreigners who are working in hotels and bars without permits, so Cambodia might be better at the moment. I’m one of the thousands of people who work online while traveling, and it seems much easier to make a decent living that way compared to working in hostels and such. Good luck with whatever you decide, and maybe I’ll see you on the road at some point. -Roger
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.
You would probably get some rain in Cartagena in November, but mostly in the first half of the month, and even then it tends to come down in short bursts rather than all day, so it’s usually easy to avoid. I love Cartagena for trips like this because the walled historic part of the city is really lovely and fun, with plenty to see and do. The nearby beaches are big, but the sand isn’t white and fluffy, so they won’t make too many “best beaches” lists. It’s also very cheap there, and especially at the tail end of the off season like that. As long as you don’t mind the possibility of a couple of quick rain storms, it should be great.
If you know where you’re going far enough in advance, you can contact your resort or vacation destination and explain your dietary needs with an employee. The vast majority of destinations, including ours, are opening up their menus to try and make them more friendly to those with food allergies and special dietary needs. While keto/low carb aren’t always on those special menus, the fact that they have special menus at all shows that vacation spots recognize that there are a lot of different dietary needs and are willing to help people who can’t or won’t eat the standard fare.
Spend the past two days discussing your ideas. Group thoughts; Is that adventurous and cultural enough? We want a “wow” factor. We have vacationed in Cayman Islands about a dozen weeks since the kids were little (been there done that.). We have ruled out Asia only because don’t see a huge Wow factor for the amount of travel. What about African Safari? Still not ruling out your ideas, just want to know what is Wow about Puerto Rico? Costa Rica?
From exquisitely decorated storefronts to the amazing Rockettes Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, New York City attracts thousands of tourists every December. Visit the Big Apple during the holidays! It’s a sight to behold. We recommend visiting Rockefeller Center to go ice skating, go shopping at new pop-up shops or just enjoy a cup of hot chocolate at Serendipity 3.
Yes, I’ve been to all of the Nordic countries, but mostly during the summer months. However, I know that those Northern Lights tours are popular and well established. On one hand, you know you’ll be visiting areas where there is only a bit of sunlight in the middle of each day, so it won’t be great for general sightseeing. But the cold months are also the best Northern Lights months, and if you want to see them then it’s your best bet.
I’m hearing very mixed things about Cuba visits. The main downside for Americans is that you still have to go as part of a package deal, and those packages are all incredibly expensive for what you get. It sounds like the Cuban government is charging very high taxes and fees on companies selling tours to Americans, so they are really only popular among people who are especially curious about visiting Cuba. In other words, they are poor value unless it’s at the top of your list already. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Never thought of Moscow as a Winter destination! It is quite the place to go especially after the world cup hype. I second Rajasthan, India as one of the best places to travel in December. Love this list, Wendy. I have even listed Rajasthan and other offbeat places to travel in December and January over here: https://www.thegonegoat.com/inspiration-and-tips/2018/11/29/the-best-places-to-travel-december-january
Vietnam might be your best choice of the three. Most people (if they can) fly into Hanoi and fly out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or the other way around. Again, you can travel between them by train, although getting tickets can be a bit complicated. Hanoi is really interesting and nice (and super cheap). The best tourist city in Vietnam is Hoi An, which is between the two big cities. There’s a nice beach there and a bit farther away is Denang, which has large resorts along an excellent beach. Nha Trang is another good beach city in Vietnam, but probably not great for families. Ho Chi Minh City is bigger and more crowded than Saigon, but it’s also more modern (and hotter). You could spend two really nice weeks going north to south in Vietnam with a long stop in Hoi An.
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.
I know what you mean about how easy everything is in Thailand, with a 7-Eleven on every corner. But I don’t know the current visa situation because it’s changed recently and might change again. Still, I think they are mainly trying to cut off the people who try to stay forever on consecutive Tourist Visas, and they are still welcoming of the 60-day visits. I hope so anyway because I might be heading there this winter myself.
If you book a resort hotel from home you'll probably think Goa hotel prices are much higher than you were expecting, but if you book a family-run place once you arrive you'll still find fantastic bargains. It's probably wise to book a few nights online before you get to India, because it can be incredibly confusing at first. After that you might be able to find a similar place for half the price by just checking around the same area.
I haven’t heard much about Zika in quite some time, but I just checked the current CDC map and evidently it’s still out there. I also remember hearing that it’s really only pregnant or potentially pregnant women that are at much risk, so perhaps that is what you are implying with the kids in their 30s. I’m no expert on Zika and I’ve visited many places on the map in recent years without much worry.
Lovers of historic architecture should consider tiny Malta in November, which still basks in glorious warm weather as much of Europe starts to shiver. The baroque palaces, churches and fortifications of its harbour-hugging capital Valletta look much the same as they did 400 years ago, and are extra lovely when observed from a traditional dghajsa (open boat) water taxi. If a life on the high seas has always appealed, then charter a course for the Cayman Islands come November, when the serene Caribbean isle hosts Pirate Week, a fun-filled festival that includes costume contests, street dancing and a horde of swashbucklers ‘invading’ the island and capturing the governor.
From Atlanta, the places that come to mind with the theme of “nature” would be Costa Rica and Belize. Costa Rica is probably the better choice, as it famously has around a third of its land as natural parks. Much of it is jungle, and they have all sorts of activities including zip lining, but also canopy tours and much more. There is also the Arenal volcano there, which is really nice and has some fun hot springs around it. They also have beaches, of course, but there is plenty in the interior of the island to keep you busy. If you know a bit of Spanish, it helps, but most other visitors know little or none.
Actually, most of the popular European cities have fairly mild winters, in that they don’t spend much time below freezing and snowstorms are rare as well. It’s hard to make suggestions without knowing about your tastes, but I will tell you that the most popular European cities are London, Paris, and Rome, and none of them get snowed in often. If you are going to Italy, you should also go to Florence and maybe Venice as well.
If you are going to that region I suggest you visit a site called travelfish.org, which is by far the best website on SE Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine who lives in Bali. They have busy forums where you can ask questions and quickly get them answered by experts on every imaginable topic there. I’m happy to help more as you are planning, so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger