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.

As Christmas approaches the city will fill up much more, so if you can go early in the month you'll be much better off. But even if you can't go before the last week of the month you'll still find Mexico City to be a tremendous bargain compared to pretty much anywhere else in North America. It's a great shopping destination, and not just for goofy souvenirs, so that's something to think about as well.
Since flights to Mexico City from the US and Canada are usually quite cheap this time of year as well, this could be a perfect short cultural holiday. This city has great shopping, dining, and nightlife, and the central historic and tourist districts are far safer than most people would expect. There are ruins just out of town as well, so a bit of everything is available.
I’m happy to try to help. It’s hard to say whether one 30-day trip would be better than several shorter trips. On one hand, it’s much more efficient to go for a month because it obviously saves you all the going back and forth. Also, one week is a short time to go 7 or 8 time zones away, as it takes pretty much an entire day each way, and at least a few days to adjust to the time change. Hmmm…
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.
The rainy season in Cartagena winds down by early November, so this is an ideal time to come, especially toward the end of the month if you can get cheap airfare before and/or after Thanksgiving. The temperatures are pretty much the same here every day of the year, so the key is to work around the autumn rainy season to when it's dry but before hotels fill up.
The hotel rates all over Goa are highest in December and January, but in Anjuna or Vagator they still start at around £10 per night for a private room with ensuite. The cheap places are quite shabby, so it might be worth spending more. Vagator has an amazing beach, but it’s often filled with Russians these days. Anjuna is famous for its beach raves and music scene, but I’ve honestly heard nice things about many other beach areas in Goa.
As for alternatives, you might have a look at my recent article with my recommendations for the best places to go in Asia in December. It’s got many more choices than the article above, with weather information for all of them. Closer to India, I think Sri Lanka is very nice in December, although it’s somewhat similar to India in many ways and you may want something more exotic. In that case I think Thailand and Malaysia are the best choices for family holidays.
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
There's a massive range of quality and prices when it comes to hotels in Bangkok, and the city is enormous as well, so you really want to do your research for this place. Most people are happier paying a bit more to stay near the river and all the tourist attractions, or even in the infamous Khosan Road backpacker district, which is cheap and fun, if tacky.
It's getting cold out there, so consider a journey that leads you into a warm museum. Whatever your interest, there's bound to be a specialized one to engage it. If art and sculpture are your passions, discover some favorite art museums around the world. And consider that you can make a day of it soaking up culture as many contain surprisingly good restaurants to visit in between your viewing.
While the Caribbean destination tends to overflow with families during the holidays in December, go a month earlier and you’ll be treated to sunny days sans screaming kids, plus less expensive airfare. “November is my one my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of high season hasn't kicked in, average temperatures are in the 80’s, and the water temperature is lovely,” says Michael King-Hew, the proprietor of Kamalame Cay, a private island resort in the Bahamas. King-Hew specifically suggests for the resort's annual wellness retreat. “It’s the perfect way to get rested and in shape before the start of the hectic holiday season.”
That was very nice of you to take the time to mention this. Interestingly, I’ve been to Bali exactly twice so far (going again in early 2016) and both times have been in December. As you have probably noticed, the rainy season in Bali can be VERY rainy at times, which is why I didn’t put it on the list during the worst months. I still clearly remember standing in almost 2 feet of water trying to push the minibus I was riding in to a dry enough area to start the engine again. That was on the way to Ubud, but most of the time the rain isn’t problematic and I’d go back again again in December if given the chance. Just don’t expect any Christmas decorations or celebrations because they pretty much ignore it there, even in tourist areas. Have a great trip. -Roger
I know Italy is the world’s top wine producer and they obviously make a lot of olive oil as well. I’ve seen on many travel shows how it’s fairly easy to visit the olive oil places, and of course most wineries have places where you can see the process and taste it. The thing is though, that even Sicily is quite chilly in December so they might close down for the season. You definitely won’t get sunbathing weather in December at all. I would say you are best off in May, June, September, and October to get good weather and not have to deal with the insane crowds in July or August. Tuscany is the easiest to reach of the 3, but because of that its beach towns are most likely to be crowded in those warm months. I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Thank you. If you are looking for an all-inclusive or large resort hotel on a beach, you can’t do any better than Punta Cana for value and facilities. You can also find really nice resorts in the general Cancun area, and the flight would probably be cheaper, but the nightly rate would be quite a bit more. Both have really nice beaches, although with Cancun you have to pay attention to the specific location because not every resort is on a wide stretch of sand.
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
It looks like you’ve been to most of the more popular options for winter holidays already, and since you listed them I assume you want to go somewhere new. The one that is missing, which I think could be perfect for you, is the Guanacaste area in northern Costa Rica. The weather will be perfect and you should be able to get a reasonably priced flight into nearby Liberia Airport. There are a variety of smaller towns along those beaches, and Tamarindo might be the most famous. They offer a mix of traditional hotels and resorts in smaller towns along with newer 4-star and 5-star hotels on large properties that tend to be away from the towns. The weather will obviously be similar to Panama, as long as you were on the west coast. Costa Rica is the adventure capital of Latin America and one-third of the country is national parks, so there is plenty to see and do. There isn’t much history there, but you can’t have everything.

By the way, Costa Rica is quite different from the popular countries of South America itself (Peru, Argentina, Brazil etc), so it’s a different experience and not much of an introduction. I think in 12 days you could have a great time in several areas of Costa Rica, and maybe also spend a few of those days in Panama or Nicaragua. As always, feel free to ask more questions if you have them. -Roger
In India I’ve always had good luck with the trains by booking at least a couple days in advance, and also being flexible and only going when an AC3 ticket is available. As you know, the actual train stations are nightmares. But every hotel has a person who can fetch a ticket for you by going through the back door and bribing someone at the train office. Like a AC3 ticket might cost US$20, and for an extra US$4, your hotel will go buy it for you and it’ll be waiting at the front desk later that day. It’s a pretty sweet system.
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.
It’s going to be pretty cold in December all over Europe, although not quite so bad in the south, of course. As far as where to go, I’ll refer to our Europe 3-star traveler index, which lists every major city in Europe from cheapest to most expensive. The price is the typical daily expense per person for a couple traveling and staying in 3-star hotels. Once you scan through that list you should have some ideas.
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
Prices go up a bit when you go south into Malaysia, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the money. You might even consider Myanmar as well, which I’ve yet to visit, but I keep hearing great things about. It’s honestly the perfect time of year there. By April it’s insanely hot (the hottest month of the year), but December through February is lovely. It’s all quite safe as well, as long as you keep your wits about you. I’m happy to help with more information if you need it.
In South America, and you start getting into some longer flights here, the best and safest places are Argentina, Peru, and Chile. I’m not sure if this helps you much, but at least it should let you know that you were thinking along the right lines already, and there are no obvious places that you’d overlooked. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

Adrenaline junkies should make for Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park for roaring waterways and world-class river rafting. Punctuate your trip by exploring the surrounding scenery, from rocky gorges and mountains to tangled emerald rainforests. In Alta the snow has arrived but the crowds haven't, so get there quick to make your mark on some of the USA’s finest ski terrain.


My second vacation meal was dinner that night. After walking almost ten miles at the park, the hotel, and spending the late afternoon swimming in the pool, we did dinner at the hotel restaurant before heading back to the park to ride a few things one last time. Dinner (Meal 2) consisted of pot roast with carrots and mushrooms (I asked them to go light on my carrots and they did a very good job of it), and a side salad that I again topped with salt, pepper, and blue cheese dressing.

If you are interested in a place that isn’t focused on beaches in that area then I’ll point you to some recent answers just above where I mention the charms of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, or Luang Prabang in Laos, and/or Siem Reap in Cambodia. All of those are wonderful places with temples and other sights, and they are quite affordable once you are there as well.
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.
Hi, I am from the African Continent and have travelled extensively in December in this region as it is our summer vacations. A few suggestions; Yes, Mauritius is cheap, safe and warm; Zanzibar is another beautiful destination with friendly people, beautiful weather and stunning beaches and resorts; I would recommend almost any province in South Africa, especially the Cape Regions, Kwa Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga Province- the seaside resort without the sea and The Sun City Resort in Rustenberg. I suppose a first time visitor could book a package to a few regions. And no, we don’t have lions running around, nor is it as dangerous as the media portrays it to be. Good luck May!
The only other suggestion I have, which gets almost no rain in November, is Goa, India. There are about 20 different beach areas in Goa, and some of them (Anjuna and Vagator) are famous as party beaches, while many others are more mellow and family oriented. It’s also very cheap and beach massages and that sort of thing are excellent value. Let me know if you have more questions about that. I hope one of these things works out for you. -Roger
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.
Another reason to consider Dubai is that the busy airport has cheap non-stop flights coming in from almost every major airport in Europe and Asia. As a result it's popular to book long weekend trips of 3 or 4 days to Dubai, where you can enjoy some sunshine and shopping before flying back home where it gets colder by the day. You might also consider stopping for a few days in Dubai and then moving onto somewhere else with cheap direct flights such as the Maldives.
By early December the rainy season is pretty much over in Cartagena, and it cools down just a bit more as well, so the weather really doesn't get any better than this. As with most others on this list, right around Christmas you'll find that hotels get more expensive and are more crowded, so if you can go earlier in the month you'll be paying less and dealing with fewer crowds.
There are always those travelers who celebrate the end of summer and the opportunity to don a sweater and take out the wool scarves and quilted jackets. For them, Iceland would be a perfect destination, with a chance to see the Northern Lights and adorable sled dogs. Montreal is another place with a winter chill, and at the end of the month, you might even find an early Christmas market. San Antonio gets into the holiday spirit at the end of November as well. Sedona offers chilly nights and gorgeous scenery, while Hilton Head Island still enjoys autumn weather and activities.
If you are going to that region I suggest you visit a site called travelfish.org, which is by far the best website on SE Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine who lives in Bali. They have busy forums where you can ask questions and quickly get them answered by experts on every imaginable topic there. I’m happy to help more as you are planning, so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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