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.
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.
New Zealand wines are world famous, and wine tours are popular with visitors. Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is set on the waterfront, with beaches, parks, and cruises to the nearby islands. The capital city of Wellington on the southern tip of North Island is home to New Zealand’s national museum, a great place to learn about the country’s cultural history. Christchurch and Queenstown are located on the South Island. There's so much to do in New Zealand — and it's convenient to reach on Air New Zealand’s nonstop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Honolulu, with a nonstop from Chicago to Auckland beginning Nov. 30.
It would be hard to beat Chiang Mai for its combination of great November weather and low prices. Even though it's officially the start of the high season for hotels, the beginning of the month is usually very slow anyway, so bargains are common. Hotels in Chiang Mai are among the best bargains in the entire world, so even if you do have to pay full price for a room it'll be cheaper than a dorm bed in most European cities.
This country-style dish from vegetarian cooking icon Deborah Madison is delicate and delicious and makes a lovely side dish for turkey. The recipe calls for baking it for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, but the results can be achieved in a 325 oven – the temperature for most turkey recipes – so it can be baked at the same time as the bird (provided your oven is large enough). Just allow 60 to 70 minutes total baking time.
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.
My other two suggestions are San Juan, Puerto Rico and Cartagena, Colombia. Both cities have really wonderful colonial districts and modern resort districts nearby. San Juan is more expensive, but still reasonable, and it has far better beaches. Both have a bit of rain in November, but it tends to come and go quickly. You’ll get similar rainstorms in most of the Caribbean in November, so it’s a bit tricky. I hope this helps. If you had something else in mind let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger
Thank you for the kind words. If you’ve got 30 days in Thailand I would recommend spending more time in Bangkok and probably in Chiang Mai as well. Bangkok is huge and in December the weather is actually quite nice, so two days seems way too rushed. As for which islands to consider it sort of depends on why you don’t want to go to Phuket. Phuket is the largest and busiest island and it’s got just about everything that the rest of the islands has. I can understand not wanting to spend time in Patong Beach, which is the shopping and nightlife capital, but there are many other wonderful beaches and towns on Phuket that are quite different from that.
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.
While the most recent hurricane has hit some areas of Florida pretty hard, most people know that come wintertime, the further down south or towards the desert you go, the warmer the weather will be. This tried and true fact makes November one of the best times to visit Florida, especially for travelers wanting to engage in lots of opportunities for nature-viewing. You won’t need binoculars in the Sunshine State to spot the sight of wintering birds at Florida’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge -- they make an annual pit stop along the major migration corridor located near Cape Canaveral. You and the entire fam can also stare at a colorful gathering of pink roseate spoonbills that hide out in various estuaries around the area come November.
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.
The next morning we hit up the hotel dining area around 7 am for a large breakfast before going out for our second day. They had gigantic breakfast bowls (Meal 3) as part of their offerings, so that’s what I got. I asked for a southwest bowl with no potatoes, and received a heaping plate of eggs, chopped ham, onion, green peppers, and melted cheese. I also got a side of bacon and had a fatty coffee that I made in my blender bottle with powdered coconut oil, liquid stevia, and half n half. I added some salt, pepper, and butter to my breakfast bowl and was very full. So full, in fact, that we did not eat again until 4 pm.
Thank you for the kind words. Interestingly, had you not included that you’ve been to Costa Rica, I’d say that was the obvious suggestion because they really do that sort of thing well and it’s at least a bit better organized than its neighbors. And if you were less concerned over travel time, I’d have some interesting suggestions for you in Asia. However, as you know, it takes nearly a full day just to get to Asia from the US or Canada, and then a few days to adjust, so you might be best off saving that for later.
Vietnam and Sri Lanka could both be excellent choices for what you have in mind. Both are best for people who already have experience in these sorts of places, which you do. Twelve days could be a perfect length of time for a classic tour of Vietnam, flying into Hanoi and spending a few days there and in Halong Bay (with a possible side trip up to Sapa), and then taking the train down to Denang for a quick transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An is really a wonderful place and 3 or 4 days there would be great. There are good beaches nearby as well. Then take the train down to Ho Chi Minh City for a few more days before flying home from there. You could also do a side trip to Nha Trang (wonderful beaches) or Dalat up in the mountains. Vietnam really is gorgeous and the food is wonderful (French influences remain) but it can be a bit complicated for new travelers because you’ll find that many people you meet are trying to hustle you a bit, particularly travel agents booking trips and tours. The hotels are generally honest and great value, and so are the restaurants. You’ll learn to ignore the annoying people quickly.
I’ve yet to do an African safari, although that is probable next year for me, and I know quite a bit about it from reading and publishing articles on them. That certainly would be a Wow thing to do. They tend to last around 5 days, so you could do that in conjunction with a visit to South Africa itself. That is another that I’ve yet to reach, but people rave about Cape Town and many other places in that country.
As for Malaysia, you could book online and it might cost a bit more, but more things go by a fixed price in Malaysia so it might not be much different. Personally I’d probably book tours through my hotel once I got there, just as in Vietnam. But there is a BIG difference between the countries in that Malaysia is a much richer country and there are very few scams to worry about. Vietnam is still fairly poor and they were communist for so long that people got used to trying to scam people a bit as the only way of getting ahead. So the good news is that Vietnam is a gorgeous country with excellent food and very low prices on almost everything. But the bad news is that you have to be more careful in Vietnam because people will try to overcharge you if they can, even though it still might seem cheap to you. That’s one reason I like to book with hotels, because they put the reputation of the hotel on the line when they book something for you, and they can’t afford to get a string of bad reviews by charging an extra US$5 on a cut-rate tour. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Since you might be open to flying then another nearby option to consider is Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s a pleasant tourist town on its own, but it only exists as the gateway to the amazing Angkor Wat temples nearby. Those temples are by far the most dramatic and memorable tourist attraction in southeast Asia, and I think your daughters are old enough to appreciate it all. But again, the town of Siem Reap is nice with plenty of other things to do, so it’s a great all around stop.
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November brings the annual Vodafone Mexefest Music Festival (Nov. 24-25), a gathering of popular artists in venues throughout Lisbon. The Lisbon & Sintra Film Festival, in its 12th year, is a celebration of cinema with directors, actors, artists, musicians, and writers in town for the event (Nov. 16-25). Billed as the “largest technology conference in the world,” Web Summit began in 2010 as a way to connect industry and the technology community (Nov. 5-8). The year’s new wine and the ripening of chestnuts are celebrated with the Magusto, on Nov. 11, St. Martin’s Day. The holiday spirit becomes apparent at the end of the month, with colorful lights and roasted chestnut vendors along the streets.