Reading through your wonderful comments- looking for Xmas for 6 people that have travelled extensively. Caribbean now is “out” and still fear zika since my kids are in their 30s- or do you think zika is a scare of the past? Uruguay has been on our radar and so i thought it interesting that you had a recent comment. Galapagos is filled. Maldives? Do you think Cuba is still an option after Irma and with current US relations? Thanks
Always happy to hear that people find this useful. If you are looking for a driving holiday with warm weather in December I think you’ve already narrowed down the best choices. New Zealand will be ideal, although maybe not for more than two weeks or so. As you might know, the South Island is more scenic than the North, but the North has many great things to see and do as well.
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.

Anyone in the western half of the US or Canada will probably get a shorter and cheaper flight to Puerto Vallarta than to any of the Caribbean destinations above. The November weather in Puerto Vallarta is pretty much perfect and usually dry, and yet crowds are smaller and hotel prices are lower until Christmas itself. Mexico is, of course, one of the hot countries in November, in more ways than one.
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.
I have been reading the thread with great interest. I took my 2 daughters aged 11 and 18 to SE Asia in December and they loved it. Siem Reap – lovely vibe over new year and not too busy. Would stay longer than 3 days because the heat and humidity slows you down and you would rather want to cool down in the hotel pool in afternoons and try and squeeze in more than 1 wat in a day. Easy to get around and good food and vibe in Pub Street.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Farmer’s Market in the city you’re visiting – give it a try! They usually have vendors there that really take pride in what they’re making. You can get some beautiful farm-to-table meat and freshly picked vegetables right from the farmer themselves. It makes for a great experience, and gives you some fantastic product to eat.
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
Thanks. I’ve been to other places in Egypt, but have yet to make it to Sharm el-Shiek. It’s hard to find places that are that inexpensive these days. Most of my best suggestions are in the article above. If your main priorities are beaches, sunshine, and nightlife, my favorites are Goa, India; Boracay Island, Philippines; and almost any of the Thai islands. Goa has many family-oriented beach towns, although some others are not so family oriented so you have to choose carefully there.
The 2nd option is a bit early in the year. The Greek Islands are cold and mostly deserted until mid April or so, and the good weather really starts in May or June. This is true in Mallorca as well. The Canary Islands are much farther south so they have acceptable beach weather almost all year, although you might get some cooler days in March as well. Even still I wouldn’t really recommend them for a younger person. In my opinion, the Canary Islands are pretty boring because the majority of visitors that time of year will be retired people from northern Europe who just want to sit in the sun. The nightlife tends to be cheesy and/or weak if you can find it at all. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Me and a buddy is traveling late december, till mid january (about 2 weeks). We’re relatively young and would appreciate a combination of some partying, some beach, and offcourse some cultural input. We were in Bali and Lombok this summer and really enjoyed it. Its great to being able to travel around a little, so that would be a plus for sure:) Right now we’re looking at Vietnam, Goa, and some of the Thai islands. I know the two latter can be quite lively, but how about Vietnam? We’re from Norway, so we need it to be as warm as possible.
I’ll be happy to try to help, but I’d really need to know your starting point because there are cheap places in different corners of the world, and it’s not worth flying halfway around the world to try to save US$20 per day. In mid December through January for beaches you should consider Thailand and perhaps also Vietnam. I’ll give you more information once I know where you are starting from. -Roger
Oh, and I just noticed you asked about general safety as well. Buenos Aires is fine as long as you don’t wander into the bad neighborhoods after dark, which is pretty much true almost anywhere you go, including Europe. But Rio is sadly famous for petty crime and it’s a real issue. As long as you know what NOT to do it’s quite safe, so I’ll still recommend it as long as you read up a bit on the topic. The most common problem is when people walk down to the water on the beach after dark. As long as you know NOT to do that you should be fine, but if you did go for an evening walk near the water and out of sight of the well-lit sidewalks, the chances of getting mugged are extremely high. Again, it’s worth learning about it and it’s easy to stay safe if you do. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

As for your Europe trip, I highly recommend spending 3 nights in any city you visit. If you change cities every day or every other day you’ll end up spending most of your holiday on trains or in airports rather than seeing the places you flew all that way to see. So if Amsterdam and Barcelona are musts, I would add exactly one other city if you’ve only got 9 days. Unfortunately it’s not on your list, but the best and easiest one to add between them is Paris. There is a train from Amsterdam to Paris in a bit over 3 hours, and another high-speed train to Barcelona from Paris in 6 hours 27 minutes with no changes. Paris is easily one of the most impressive European cities for tourists, but if you’ve been there before and don’t want to go again you can obviously choose something else.

I think Spain is probably your best bet, and you can probably get there on a reasonably priced flight with a change in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The winter weather is decent and the big cities are always packed with locals rather than so many tourists. Barcelona is probably more fun than Madrid, though both are big cities with a lot to see and notoriously good nightlife. If you get a cheap enough flight I don’t think you need to do a package. It’s pretty easy to get around Spain’s big cities just on English, as long as you do a bit of research. In 5 days you could spend 3 days in Barcelona and then 2 days in Madrid, or just 5 days in the Barcelona area. It’s a big city with plenty to see and some good day trips. You could also go to Valencia, which is also really fun and a short train ride away.
Australia’s capital has been voted the world’s most livable city—for the seven years in a row. If that isn’t reason enough to go, what is? Here's another: the artsy cosmopolitan city promises pleasant temperatures in the high 60s throughout November. Book a room at one of the area's buzziest spots, QT Melbourne, a design-centric boutique in the city’s fashion district.
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.
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
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

But if you wanted more to explore the area near Singapore then Malaysia and Thailand are the obvious choices. The three most popular stops in Malaysia are Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, and George Town on the island of Penang. I quite like all of those so it’s hard to recommend one over another. I really like Kuala Lumpur and have spent quite a bit of time there, but honestly compared to Singapore it seems a bit untidy and old fashioned. In other words, if you are tired of a big and busy city like Singapore, then don’t plan much time in KL. Malacca and George Town are both smaller tourist cities with great food and interesting sights. There is frequent and cheap bus service from Singapore going through Malacca and onto KL. Then more buses from there to Penang and onto Bangkok.
If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.
Cambodia could work because Siem Reap is inland and the amazing Angkor Wat temples are worth a full day or two, and the town of Siem Reap itself is quite nice. You could actually combine a couple days in Siem Reap with a few days in Bangkok, and take a (cheap) luxury bus between the two. Bangkok is a really fascinating city with a lot to see, plus it’s a great transport hub. The other main non-beach option in Thailand is the city of Chiang Mai, which is wonderfully inexpensive with quite a bit to see. It’s even a bit cool during December, so that might be a nice change of pace from India. Many people are also going to Myanmar these days, although I haven’t been yet so it’s hard for me to recommend it. I’d say if you combined 2 or even 3 of these places you could have a very interesting holiday.
This diverse and rapidly growing capital city of Texas is known for its live music scene, world class museums, beautiful outdoor spaces, pleasant weather, fine dining, and nightlife. A little bit city, a little bit country, Austin has no shortage of December activities for all. The Zach Theatre presents a rocking adaptation of the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" from Nov. 21 through Dec. 30, guaranteed to have you dancing in your seat. In its 56th year, Ballet Austin’s annual production of "The Nutcracker" returns to the Long Center Dec. 7-23. Holiday shoppers gather at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar to purchase unique handmade gifts including paintings, photography, jewelry, clothing, and more. Zilker Park transforms into a glittery wonderland with more than 2 million lights, 40 displays, interactive experiences, food trucks, and live music on two stages. The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an art and music festival, runs from mid-December through Christmas Eve with live music, two full bars, and local food specialties. Over 175 national and local artists display paintings, sculptures, woodworks, and an assortment of handmade gifts. Winter Wonderland at the Circuit is great family fun with holiday lights, a skating rink, Santa’s Village, petting zoo, carnival rides, and of course, live music. In the heart of downtown, the historic Driskill Hotel celebrates with an enormous Christmas tree and seasonal music. On Sunday, Dec. 16, Austin’s best bakers will share their holiday cookie collection, with the event’s proceeds supporting the Driskill’s traditional charity, “Cookies for Caring,” benefitting the community.
If you are more interested in nature and adventure than culture, then the top choice would be Costa Rica. The country has many beautiful national parks and it’s filled with things like zip-lining and canopy tours, just to name a few things. There are also volcanoes and surfing beaches and much more, plus a very good backpacker infrastructure of cheaper hotels and hostels.
Most of the destinations below are in Latin America and Southeast Asia, so depending on where you are starting from it might be a rather long flight to get there. Many of us can take two weeks or even more around this time of year, but that fact means that all of these places do get crowded and raise hotel prices for the weeks around Christmas and New Year's. Speaking of that, we have a separate list of cheap and warm places to go over Christmas and New Year's, only listing beach areas around the world with affordable hotels during that period.
Oh, and I just noticed you asked about general safety as well. Buenos Aires is fine as long as you don’t wander into the bad neighborhoods after dark, which is pretty much true almost anywhere you go, including Europe. But Rio is sadly famous for petty crime and it’s a real issue. As long as you know what NOT to do it’s quite safe, so I’ll still recommend it as long as you read up a bit on the topic. The most common problem is when people walk down to the water on the beach after dark. As long as you know NOT to do that you should be fine, but if you did go for an evening walk near the water and out of sight of the well-lit sidewalks, the chances of getting mugged are extremely high. Again, it’s worth learning about it and it’s easy to stay safe if you do. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
The rainy season in Belize doesn’t really end until early January, which is why it didn’t make the December list. Belize is definitely affordable enough to make this list and it appears for many of the following months. If you are thinking about going to Belize in December I think it’s a good choice. As you probably know, the Tropical rain patterns are such that the showers tend to come and go quickly, and they are often overnight. -Roger

Christmas markets sprout up all over the country this month, and from the smallest towns to the biggest cities they’re a great place to mingle with locals, learn about regional handicrafts, and sample seasonal delicacies. Depending on the venue, you can find anything from medieval reenactments to outdoor concerts. But they’re usually at their prime once darkness has set in and the fairy lights are out in full force (which means there’s also time in the day for museum visits and city touring before indulging in the market flurry). Some travelers skip dinner altogether for a smorgasbord of yuletide samplings at the wooden market huts!


One thing I can assure you of is that those countries are very modern and well organized, and they know how to deal with winters well. So you really don’t have to worry about getting stuck or things being cancelled. As for getting around, the trains are modern, and they can be reasonably priced if you buy a couple months in advance. Otherwise, flying is probably your best bet because it’s a large area and you’ll probably want to go well to the north, and the trains might take many hours. You could even rent a car, which could be good if there is more than one or two of you. Have a great trip. -Roger
There are snack stands everywhere at the theme park, and I can tell you from the experience of at least yearly visits that most choices at the stands are decidedly NOT keto-friendly. In recent years they’ve added what I’m sure they consider “healthy” choices, but most of those consist of yogurt and fruit with dip. You may, upon occasion, come across some carrots and celery with dip, but it’s very hard to find.

Once again, it's worth noting that the first half of December will be cheaper and far less crowded than the time around Christmas, so if it's possible you should come early for best value. Still, compared to, say, Miami Beach, Cancun and the other Mexican resort towns are far cheaper and at least as fun as well. By the way, Cancun is mainly just a strip of high-rise hotels along a lovely beach, while Playa del Carmen (about an hour south) is a real tourist-friendly town with smaller hotels as well as hundreds of restaurants and shops to choose from.
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. 
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