As for alternatives, the most obvious are the various islands of Thailand, with Phuket being the largest. It’s peak season in December in Thailand, but still pretty affordable by most standards. I spent a month in Phuket the following December, interestingly enough, and I prefer Bali even though it’s hotter and more humid. Hopefully this helps and let me know if you have other questions. Helping people figure out where to go is something I really enjoy. -Roger
Oh, did you want a sunny tropical vacation that doesn’t require a passport? Done. Hurricane season is over, flights are cheap, and the water is still warm enough for swimming (and scuba diving). Almost all the tourists come here via cruise ship, which means you’re mostly not competing with them for hotel rooms -- Windward Passage, Emerald Beach, and the Bolongo are all open for business after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. On December 16 you can catch Jazz By The Sea down at Coral World Ocean Park, and on December 21 watch the St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, where contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.
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.
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.
Interestingly, I had not seen that June travel warning. It’s hard to know what to think of it. On one hand, the US State Department has official warnings like this to many places, including quite a few that people safely travel to every day. And also, even when Colombia had its problems for all those years, Cartagena was considered safe because it’s this tourist beach town and the drug and FARC problems had nothing to do with it. My best guess is that Cartagena itself would be fine and perfectly safe, but I wouldn’t rent a car and drive around the highways myself at this point. Sadly, I think it might be best to save Cartagena for another time when there is no known threat.
It’s only fitting that the closest big tourist destination to the North Pole would do Christmas up big. Reykjavik feels almost like a mini-New York in December, with the Oslo Christmas tree standing sentinel over the city and a public skating rink in Ingolfstorg Square. Seeing the northern lights is never a guarantee, even during days of near-perpetual darkness, but your odds are much greater in winter. On the other hand, who needs ’em when you have 13 official Santas walking around town posing for pictures? The Christmas Village at Hafnarfjordur is a top weekend destination for both locals and the newfound throngs of American visitors. Just beware their holiday tradition of eating ruinously smelly fermented skate.
Later in the month, the day after Thanksgiving begins Christmas season with the Ford Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony. Decorated floats wind through the illuminated trees and bridges along the river. Luminaria, San Antonio’s annual free contemporary arts festival (Nov. 10-11) will take place in Hemisfair and other downtown venues, unveiling a special program at the Mission San Jose, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. San Antonio has been recognized as a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Influences of Mexican, Spanish, German, French, and Native American cuisine and ingredients combine to form the city’s culinary heritage, increasingly attracting foodies to its hundreds of unique restaurants.
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?
We were able to sit down in the store, relax, and eat our salmon and cheese (pictured above) – separately of course! As you eat, you can watch them hand make their cheese through a glass window, showing exactly what they do in their process to get the food you’re eating in front of you. An experience in itself that I definitely would recommend to anyone visiting this city!
Actually, all of my best suggestions for those things are in the article above. One challenge you’ll have is that all popular tropical destinations have their peak weeks at the end of December because so many people in cold areas have that time off. So flights to Central or South America are going to be fairly expensive, although buying soon can help. For hiking and views I think Costa Rica could be a good choice, or Nicaragua. You could also go to Bariloche in Argentina, though it’s probably not worth going all that way unless you were also going to spend some time in Buenos Aires and such.
Vietnam is generally cheaper than Thailand, so if that is your primary factor, Vietnam could be the best choice. The beaches in Nha Trang are quite nice and the town is pretty easy for English-speaking tourists. But the other thing about Vietnam is that visitors have to be much more careful, especially when booking tours and that sort of thing. The travel agencies in Vietnam (even those in hotels, but mostly the independent ones) are famous for over promising and under delivering. That said, it’s a lovely country and you can have a wonderful time there on a modest budget. It’s just that you have to be more careful, compared to Thailand where the travel industry is a bit more honest about what you get and how much you’ll pay.
My recommendations depend on your starting location so for now I’ll just assume you are starting somewhere in the USA. If you are looking for a really nice beach AND really good night life your best choices are the Cancun area, Puerto Vallarta, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you are in the eastern US or Canada it’s probably faster and cheaper to go to Cancun and if you are in the west Puerto Vallarta is better. San Juan will be more expensive because there just aren’t many cheap hotels in the good parts of the city. For the Cancun area I would recommend Playa del Carmen (about an hour south of Cancun Airport) because there are fairly cheap hotels near the town center, which is packed with bars and restaurants. In Cancun itself the best nightlife is in the heart of the hotel zone, and all of the hotels there are pretty expensive. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Bali, which is just south of the equator, would be a good choice in November. It does rain a bit that month, but they are summer storms that tend to only last 30 minutes or so. It’s a wonderful island with great prices on most things, including massages. The complicated thing about Bali is that the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak are now so crowded that they can be unpleasant. I spent a month there again earlier this year, and I don’t think I’ll go back to that part of the island.
With a vibrant downtown, great restaurants, culture, and a recent multi-million renovation to the Ritz Carlton, Naples, one of the areas most luxurious hotels, December is when the town really starts to get into gear. You can spend your time on the miles of gorgeous Gulf Coast white sand beaches, take an Everglades Safari, or head to the Artis-Naples which hosts world class dance, theatre, music, and comedy. And that is to say nothing of the five-star shopping.
Needless to say, Australia is a huge country so you could spend 6 months there and not get bored, or you could spend one week there and barely see any of it. The obvious destinations are Sydney and Melbourne, both with plenty to do for non-beach people. Melbourne is known a bit more for culture and food, while Sydney is more pleasant and still very interesting. There is also the Great Ocean Road, which is a very scenic drive just a bit south of Melbourne.
Hmmm…there may not be a Wow Factor in Puerto Rico, especially if you are that used to Caymen. I was thinking more about a really nice place that was easy and with great weather. Costa Rica could have the Wow Factor, however. The country is something like one-third national parks and it is packed with great scenery and adventure activities. It is the zip-lining and canopy tours capital of the Americas, so there are many great options along those lines. And there is the volcano and hot springs and really nice beaches. I’m not sure what you’d consider a Wow Factor, but Costa Rica is probably the most Wow destination other than Hawaii.
Resolve – My number one asset to staying on track was my resolve. I made my mind up before we left that I would not give in when tempted and that I would be entirely aloof for donuts, desserts, fries, and other favorite treats. I just kept reminding myself that I could enjoy those foods again perhaps on our next weekend getaway or at the end of our vacation if I chose to have a cheat day. Otherwise, they would be dead to me because I didn’t want my kids feeling guilty eating treats in front of me. I don’t want them ever to relate being good or bad based on what they ate so again; I had to have the mindset that it wasn’t a big deal.
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.