My favorite part of Bali is now the area around Lovina along the north coast, which is still very mellow and mostly open spaces with light development. It’s really beautiful and there is plenty to do. You can get similar experiences by visiting the nearby Gili islands, which also feel like Bali used to be 20 years ago when it was much nicer. They are all really beautiful and relaxing islands with great scenery and very friendly people. You just need to steer clear of the places that are the most crowded.
And you mention that you’ve been to Cancun and Yucatan, but just in case you haven’t been to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, those could also be worth a look. They are both much more real tourist towns as opposed to Cancun, which is primarily a long strip of high-rise hotels and time-share buildings on a beach. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, head to Tallinn to see the medieval city decked out in a blanket of snow, complete with flickering candles lining the streets and markets flogging quintessential Christmas curiosities and festive treats. And if that’s not enough seasonal charm for you, make for Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, the ‘official home’ of Santa Claus. Once you’ve dropped your gift list off with the big man himself, treat yourself to a husky sledding excursion or reindeer safari to explore the region in full effect.
If you’ve got 5 to 7 days and are starting in India I don’t think you want to fly halfway around the world, so it’s probably best to go somewhere between Dubai and Bali. Dubai has cheap flights from most places and it’s very family oriented with large play parks inside shopping malls and that sort of thing. You could get an apartment there in one of the many apartment-hotels for a reasonable price, and the December weather should be pretty good as well.
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This year I’ve based myself in Miami, USA, primarily so I can visit many places in the Caribbean that I hadn’t been to before. I just got back from a week in Jamaica and soon I’m going to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Colombia, as mentioned. But in December I’m hitting the road again and I’ll be in Asia for the winter and probably in London for much of 2016. Sorry I don’t have more specific information to help you plan your trip, but it sounds like you’ve got some really good choices already under consideration. And I’m sure you’ll have a great time. -Roger

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.


As for Indonesia vs. Philippines, I’ve been to Bali quite a few times but I haven’t been to Bandung. And for the Philippines I’ve spent time in Manila and in Tagaytay just to its south, and I don’t think I’d recommend those for a longer trip. And I also spent two weeks on Boracay Island, which is quite nice, but it’s small and also a place I wouldn’t recommend for a longer trip like yours. For information on Indonesia you might go to my friend’s site – travelfish.org – which is an excellent resource. Unfortunately, they don’t cover the Philippines yet. Best of luck with what you end up doing. -Roger
Brazil, on the other hand, has a famous problem with petty crime in tourist areas so I wouldn’t recommend it for a woman and young child. Another to consider is Puerto Rico, which has a lot to offer including great weather, and it’s also more or less part of the US, so it’s fairly safe and well organized. Hotels in Puerto Rico are a bit expensive, but you should be able to get an apartment rental in the San Juan area (gorgeous, by the way) for a modest price if you are staying for more than a few days. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Overall, I’m declaring this vacation a great success! Not only did we have a wonderful time at the parks riding all the rides and enjoying the shows, I did not feel at all deprived or put upon food-wise, and not even once did I go hungry. All but one of our meals, including those at the hotel, were counter-service only establishments and I was able to find something filling and tasty for each meal. After this experience here are my recommendations for eating on vacation:
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.

If you are going for one week I wouldn’t go all the way to Thailand, but if it’s two weeks I think it’s worth it. It takes most of a day in each direction, but flights are often reasonably priced, and everything there is cheap once you get there. I’ve actually lived in Thailand for 6 months and have visited many more times and it’s actually very easy and stress free once you are there. All the important signs are in English and nearly everyone you’ll encounter as a tourist will speak enough English to help you as well. You can get around by train or VIP bus for cheap, or fly to the islands for cheap. It’s very safe there as well. You could spend a few days in Bangkok and then head to one of the islands or take a train up to Chiang Mai.
Aside from that, this is a bit tricky because you obviously want to avoid longer flights for a short trip and especially with an infant. And some of the closer options are not close to a major airport, so they are still hard to reach in half a day or so. I think if you want to go farther than Goa, it’s probably best to look for other options in Thailand. As you know from previous visits, Thailand really has tourism figured out and it feels safe and well organized there. Cambodia and Vietnam also have beaches, but none that I’d recommend for a short trip. It’s the same with the Philippines, and the flights start getting longer. Phuket is the largest Thai island by far and it’s got over a dozen different beach areas and towns to choose from. Patong Beach is the main beach town and I wouldn’t recommend it for a family, but Kata and Karon beaches are just south of that, and they are nicely family oriented. Phuket also has a large airport, so getting there quickly is pretty easy compared to other beaches and islands in the area. Phuket’s beaches are also very nice. I wish I had more suggestions for you. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

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!
hi we have 3 boys age, 9, 7 and 5. we want to go on a two week holiday anywhere ( not europe or africa)over december for christmas and new year. we are from england. where is the cheapest to go/ fly to for a beach holiday and some day trips to experience the culture of the country? some tips on where to stay,best towns for families, and is package holidays better than booking everything individually? many thanks
Regarding Thailand, I’m not familiar with any islands that are beautiful and not touristy. Phuket has beaches all over the island and many of them are isolated so the only guests are those staying at the resort in front of them. If you search other travel sites, including travelfish.org, which I think is the best site for southeast Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine, you can find more information about more obscure Thai islands. One challenge could be that you might have to take two or three total flights and then a ferry ride to reach them.
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.

This year I’ve based myself in Miami, USA, primarily so I can visit many places in the Caribbean that I hadn’t been to before. I just got back from a week in Jamaica and soon I’m going to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Colombia, as mentioned. But in December I’m hitting the road again and I’ll be in Asia for the winter and probably in London for much of 2016. Sorry I don’t have more specific information to help you plan your trip, but it sounds like you’ve got some really good choices already under consideration. And I’m sure you’ll have a great time. -Roger
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If you’ve got 5 to 7 days and are starting in India I don’t think you want to fly halfway around the world, so it’s probably best to go somewhere between Dubai and Bali. Dubai has cheap flights from most places and it’s very family oriented with large play parks inside shopping malls and that sort of thing. You could get an apartment there in one of the many apartment-hotels for a reasonable price, and the December weather should be pretty good as well.


In Central America you could consider Belize. It’s small, but it’s got islands and beaches (not everywhere though) and forests and other cultural sights, and English is more or less the official language. It’s not as well organized as Costa Rica, but it’s not bad and it feels safe. The other to consider there is Panama, which obviously has a lot in common with Costa Rica. It has far fewer adventure activities and the good beaches are spaced out a bit, but still it’s a relatively rich country with tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians living there as well as visiting, so they have a good tourist infrastructure and it’s safe.
Without knowing more about your interests, my top suggestion would be to focus on Sydney and Melbourne and the areas around both. The Blue Mountains near Sydney are also nice for a couple days or so. The main challenge you’d have in seeing a lot of Australia is that it’s all so spread out. You can hire a car for Melbourne and Sydney and that whole area, but it’s better to fly to get to Uluru (near Alice Springs) or Brisbane or Cairns/Great Barrier Reef or Perth. You’d be driving for days in between those places if you started from the southeast area where most people live.
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.
If you are looking for pleasant weather in December you might also consider the Canary Islands. They have good connections to many destinations. You would probably have to change planes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Qatar on your way to Delhi, but the flight will at least be fairly cheap. Good luck with this and let me know if you have other questions. -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.
Those countries are all very safe, and especially that time of year, you’ll be surrounded by dozens of other backpackers everywhere you go, including many solo ladies or girls in pairs. There is very little petty crime there, although it’s always wise to keep track of your belongings. It’ll be easy once you get there, and Bangkok is the perfect place to start. You can book a place near the famous “backpacker ghetto” of Khao San Road, which is quite affordable and really fun, as well as close to the top sights.
By the time November rolls around, Cancun has pretty much perfect weather for anyone. The heat of summer and early autumn has turned into a tropical warmth that is usually accompanied by pleasant breezes so it's lovely all day and all evening. The peak season doesn't start until late December so this is the perfect time to visit when rates are still nearly at their summer lows.

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.


Thank you so much Roger. This is a huge help. Thailand then….Going forward. Assuming I start in Thailand then to ?? What makes sense? i was thinking Peru then? I checked airfare from Lima to Cape Town…Huge money $1600.00. If you were doing a once in a lifetime trip around the world what would you ‘must see’? As I mentioned I’ve been to India, Egypt and Jerusalem but my friend has not. I’m not adverse to revisiting but there might be more sensible options. I need to consider ‘safer’ countries as well. I’m one of those people that sold my house, quit my job and am going to travel. Mid life crisis. LOL. How do you spend 2 years abroad? Do you need special visas for being out of the country for so long. As a Canadian we are restricted to 6 months to retain our health care. Problem!

If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with reasonable airfares from Chicagoland, your best bets will be in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, or the Cancun/Playa del Carmen area. Both have everything on your list, except perhaps wild life, depending on how you define that. You can get cheaper flights into Cancun, and there is a wide variety of offerings once you are there. If you don’t think you want to leave the hotel much, then stay in the Cancun hotel district or along the Maya Riviera nearby. But if you want to interact with a real and lovely town, then stay in Playa del Carmen or over on Cozumel. There are many nearby activities and some very interesting ruins.

If an apartment isn’t your thing, or you have to book a hotel for your business trip, then there is one upside: the food. Typically hotels will include some sort of breakfast, and occasionally some sort of dinner plan. In Portland, we stayed at a great hotel that included both. Breakfast usually consists of pastries, waffles and oatmeal – but they almost always have eggs, bacon, and sausage ready to go on your plate.

Yes, Australia is pretty expensive by most standards, although it shouldn’t seem too bad since you are coming from Singapore. Hotels in Australia are pretty expensive no matter where you go, although quite a bargain compared to the same thing in Singapore. Restaurants in Australia will seem quite expensive compared to the hawker centers, but not bad compared to Singapore’s sit-down restaurants.


Thank you, and I’m always happy to hear that people find this useful. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city and it feels very modern and very European, at least compared with most of the rest of South America. I would think that bringing a baby there would be similar to bringing one to, say, London or Paris. Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most beautiful city location on earth, and it’s got some very rich areas (mostly along the beaches) and many dodgy areas. They also seem to struggle more with infrastructure there so bus service isn’t very modern and that sort of thing. That said, I haven’t been since they hosted the World Cup and Olympics and I’ve read that much of the situation has improved. Long story short, I think you might just have to be a bit more careful in Rio when choosing a hotel and neighborhood and that sort of thing, but generally I think you’d be good.
It can still be rainy in Belize in November, so it’s not an ideal time to visit. I quite like Belize and there is a lot to do there, including of course the second largest coral reef in the world. You can also head over the Guatemala border to visit Tikal and even down to Antigua for something different. You don’t get many great beaches there, but aside from that it is great.
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