Santa Barbara has earned its nickname, “The American Riviera,” with its stunning coastline, lush landscapes, cafes, restaurants, and year-round Mediterranean-like weather. Sandy beaches invite sunbathers, and for those interested in more activity, there’s biking, paddle boarding, surfing, and kayaking. In the heart of Santa Barbara County wine country, the city presents more than two dozen downtown tasting rooms on its “Urban Wine Trail.” The artsy “Funk Zone,” with a variety of cleverly designed eateries and shops, is just blocks from the beach. The community is recovering from devastating fires and mudslides, and its resilience is apparent with new hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The Montecito neighborhood, particularly hard hit by the tragic events, is home to the recently renovated Montecito Inn and its new dining venues, Phillip Frankland Lee's The Monarch, and the suave Chaplin’s Martini Bar, commemorating Charlie Chaplin, one of the hotel’s original owners when it was built in 1928. The elegant oceanfront Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara offers a luxurious spa and views of Butterfly Beach. Less than two hours north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara celebrates the holiday season with colorful lights, a Holiday Parade (Dec. 7), Harbor Boat Parade with fireworks (Dec. 16), European-style Christmas market, and the traditional "Nutcracker Suite" at the Granada Theater.
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.

Phuket is incredibly popular among Europeans in December, especially the final week, of course, so it's critical to book early to get a good price at a beachfront hotel if that's your mission. It's also important to mention that Phuket is an island with more than a dozen different beach towns, each with its own personality and price range. Some are raucous and down-market while others are quiet and very expensive.
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
I think a side trip or two will be a great idea. Singapore is a large and very interesting city, but you can see everything that you want in maybe 3 days or so. You have almost limitless options if you include the possibility of a flight. Even though Singapore itself (especially hotels) is kind of expensive, you can get cheap flights to all points of Asia from there, and the airport is awesome. Air Asia and Tiger are two great low-cost airlines with many flights out of Singapore, so you could check their destinations and find something good.
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.

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.
As you suspected, this is a tricky one. Most of the places that would work for you are having a very rainy month in November, so it’s not a good time. Thailand would actually be a good choice if you can deal with the travel time. The rainy season there ends in October and yet the crowds don’t start appearing until December, so you get low hotel prices with nearly perfect weather. As mentioned, all of the good options in Central or South America have a wet season in November. Argentina could be a good option, as November is late spring there, and it has everything you are looking for. The flights to get there are also fairly long though.
Capital of the UAR, Abu Dhabi combines ultra-modern structures and attractions with its ancient Arabian culture. This year, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will celebrate the first anniversary of its long-awaited November 2017 opening. Built on a manmade peninsula, its collection ranges from prehistoric to contemporary works, exploring universal human themes. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a spectacular architectural achievement, consists of 82 domes clad in pure white marble. Its hand-knotted carpet, the largest in the world, features an intricate Islamic medallion design crafted by about 1,200 artisans. Open Saturday through Thursday, the mosque offers free admission, and visitors must observe proper dress and behavior.
We are looking to explore warm Central American destinations safe for kids and affordable in price. We love beaches. Not in the typical sun-bathing type of way, but rather appreciating the raw beauty of the nature. We also like to eat out and having activities for the kids and as a family would be excellent. Could you suggest a destination that fits the bill? Central America appeals to me but open to other suggestions you may find worth mentioning.

On my own trip I spent 3 nights on the North Island after leaving Auckland, and then 4 nights on the South Island. The South Island is more scenic and interesting, and much less crowded, so I would have liked to have stayed another 2 or 3 nights if I had the time. So I’d recommend 3 or 4 nights on the North Island and 5 to 7 nights on the South Island. With smaller towns and smaller crowds on the South Island, that is the better place for star gazing, though most of the North Island is fairly empty as well. It’s an amazing place and I’m sure you’ll love it. Have a great trip. -Roger

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.
Montego Bay is home to one of the Caribbean's busiest airports in addition to a few hundred hotels and resorts, so it's an ideal destination for even a shorter getaway in November. The rainy season is over but the busy holiday peak season doesn't begin until just before Christmas, so the weather is perfect and hotel prices are still very low. Flights should be cheap from most hub cities as well, so even a long weekend is within reach for budget travelers this month.
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.
I think Sri Lanka would be wonderful for 2 weeks in December. The rainy season typically ends early in December, but even when it’s still going it tends to be quick downpours, as you are no doubt familiar with if you’ve been all over southeast Asia. Still at this point there are very few hostels with dorm beds and not even many cheap budget hotels, but at the age of 30 you are probably happier with normal hotels anyway. Value is quite good in Sri Lanka as long as you can spend at least US$30 or so per night, and hopefully a bit more. Food is also quite cheap in general, although there are still surprisingly few tourist-oriented restaurants in many towns so it feels a bit undiscovered. Just don’t spend much time in Colombo and preferably focus on the mountain areas, and I think you’ll love it.
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.
From England I would say your cheapest and best late December destination with warm weather and reasonable prices is going to be Phuket. There are some other Thai islands that might be a bit cheaper, but they would be more complicated to reach, and they’d have fewer activities for the boys. Here are some Phuket resorts good for families. You can see that the price range is wide from cheapest to most expensive. In late December it’s peak season so you’ll pay at or near the top of those ranges.
Depending on where you are going on vacation, you may have a measure of control over what you will be eating. For Keto dieters who are staying at a hotel and will be traveling from tourist spot to tourist spot, check with your hotel and see what kind of meal options their restaurant offers or whether there’s a continental breakfast. There may be fewer Keto-friendly options to choose from, but you will likely be able to find something to enjoy. Also, when out traveling, be sure to stop at grocery stores and purchase some Keto-friendly snacks that travel well, such as cured meats or cheeses, which can help keep you from overindulging.
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.
Thanks for all of this Roger! It looks like in the comments you mention Portugal a couple times and I wanted your opinion – we’re looking at the first two weeks and probably focusing on Lisbon to Porto (since we know it will be too cold to do the beaches in the south). While Portugal seems to be highly recommended, I keep seeing conflicting information about November being rainy – we definitely don’t want to spend 2 weeks in the rain but in your experience what are the chances of that? Thank you!!
This is a difficult question to answer without quite a bit more information. First off, it’s obviously going to be pretty cold in most of Europe that time of year, although most of the major cities aren’t known for accumulations of snow. As long as you are okay with cold weather then it’s mostly down to budget and your main interests. I’m guessing that you haven’t been to Europe yet since you didn’t mention any places that you’d prefer to skip this time.
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.
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.
If you are mainly just looking to relax, you've found the perfect place, with warm weather and amazing off-season deals. The all-inclusive resorts tend to be much cheaper in the long run, although they do make it more difficult to experience the local culture and explore the whole island. If you don't care about leaving the resort and you want the best all-inclusive value in the Caribbean, head straight to Punta Cana, which is mentioned just below.
The Maldives is amazing for relaxing beach holidays and it’s within your range. The tricky thing for most people is that it’s quite expensive for a shorter trip. Of course the Maldives is famous for its water villa resorts, and those water villas start at around US$350 per night. Nearly all of those resorts also have island villas and rooms and those can start at as low as US$100 per night, but you also have to pay for a speedboat or sea-plane transfer from Male Airport to your resort. That can be as low as US$100 per adult for the closer speedboat islands, and up to US$600 per adult for the more remote sea-plane islands. On a shorter stay, that obviously adds to the price. Speaking of that, I run another site all about overwater bungalows and I have links from an article on this site about the cheapest overwater villas in the world. Have a look at that list as it will show you the more affordable options in the Maldives, as well as even cheaper options in Malaysia and elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are literally the busiest of the year in Goa, so either book a hotel way in advance or be flexible once you arrive. Some towns, like Calungute, are lined with package hotels that fill up completely, but other towns, like Anjuna and Vagator, are usually booked in person or by email, so you can often find a place just walking around. If you are in the mood to tour around, Mumbai has great weather during December, and Delhi has warm days but cool evenings this time of year. Goa has some of the best beaches in December in all of Asia, so give this one a serious look.


Morocco certainly qualifies as an exotic destination, and it could be fun to do some holiday shopping at their world famous markets. If there’s time, Abu Dhabi’s unique surroundings would make a memorable pre-holiday excursion. Or enjoy spring in New Zealand along with their fresh seafood, wines, and beaches. In Buenos Aires you can watch tango dancers while sipping a glass of Malbec — or get up and dance. Bermuda’s convenient location, sunshine, luxurious hotels, and November events give visitors plenty to do, but a lounge chair by the pool will be pretty inviting as well. The same can be said for Palm Springs, where it’s warm enough for poolside relaxing or al fresco dining and cool enough for cozying up to an outdoor fireplace at night. Warm weather awaits in Belize along with a clear blue sea ideal for snorkeling and diving.
It’ll definitely be too chilly in Portugal or Malta to go in the water in November, and Malta has almost no beaches anyway. I really like Malta a lot, but it’s not a great beach destination. It will be warm enough in the Canary Islands, but the flight from Atlanta would be long and expensive because you have to change planes in Madrid. Also, I find the Canary Islands to be pleasant and the weather is wonderful, but it’s kind of boring there compared to the other places we are discussing.
One more destination to consider is Dubai. Its beaches are a small part of the charm, and the whole place is very impressive. Shopping is probably the most famous activity, but there is plenty more, and flights there are quite cheap from Delhi. Hopefully one of these options sounds good. Either way, feel free to follow up if you have other questions. -Roger
The easiest meal of the day to eat out is by far breakfast. Many places offer eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, or other type of high-fat foods that are easy to order without too much effort. Dive bars or café’s will usually be quick to serve and have some great tasting food. We had the pleasure of eating breakfast at a great place called The 5 Point Café, which featured a fantastic omelet with smoked salmon (pictured below) and hollandaise sauce.

December is a popular month to go cruising around Hawaii and Mexico. It’s an ideal family trip, especially with most kids in the US out of school for the holidays. Experience the Hawaii’s tropical paradise. Pick a popular cruise liner and visit ports of call like Nawiliwili on Kauai, Honolulu on Oahu and Kona on the Big Island. If the Caribbean floats your boat, we recommend taking a cruise to explore Mexico’s Costa Maya, Cozumel, Ensenada, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and more.


The easiest meal of the day to eat out is by far breakfast. Many places offer eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, or other type of high-fat foods that are easy to order without too much effort. Dive bars or café’s will usually be quick to serve and have some great tasting food. We had the pleasure of eating breakfast at a great place called The 5 Point Café, which featured a fantastic omelet with smoked salmon (pictured below) and hollandaise sauce.
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.
The article was written in 2013, but then updated and expanded every year. Since so many people visiting New Zealand do it in a rented car or camper van, all of the companies have deals that include the ferry crossing and returning the car on a different island. Just shop around online and you’ll find prices that include all of that. And also look into renting a campervan if that appeals to you at all. It’s really a wonderful way to see the country, and it’s cheaper than renting a car and staying in hotels or cabins.
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.
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