Vacationing to Sicily during Italy’s traditional “off-season” has been trending in recent years, according to American Express Travel. What gives? Well, for starters there's Sicily's fabulous Mediterranean setting, as well as its rich baroque aesthetic and festive Catholic traditions. Plus, the crowds are more manageable than they are in the summer, which makes travel for families and large groups a breeze.
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 “city that never sleeps” is a delight in December, even if the weather makes it necessary to bundle up a bit. For holiday spirit and things to do any time of year, New York City is a top destination. Broadway and off-Broadway shows are exceptional entertainment, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the famous Rockettes is a perfect holiday event. The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center presents the classic "Nutcracker," a seasonal tradition. At the New York Botanical Garden, the toy train will wind its way through a miniature Lower Manhattan for the amusement of kids as well as nostalgic adults who may have once had their own train sets. The dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, New York City’s centerpiece each year with nearly 50,000 lights, will once again overlook the famed ice skating rink and golden Prometheus statue. Window shopping takes on new meaning during December when department stores along Fifth Avenue entertain passers-by with intricate decorations and displays. Holiday markets at Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, and Union Square also invite browsing and shopping along with warm drinks and food. For a convenient stay, the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel offers spectacular views and Versa, a year-round rooftop restaurant and bar. Or enjoy the Innside by Melia New York in the trendy Chelsea area with its newly opened seafood-focused dining spot, The Wilson.
Costa Rica, as you probably know, is all about nature and adventure sports, along with some decent beaches. It would be perfect if you are up for that sort of thing. If not, Santiago and Valparaiso (nearby cities in Chile) could be good for more of an urban adventure. Or Buenos Aires is even nicer and more interesting (and probably cheaper if you bring cash) if you can get a deal on a flight there.
You would probably get some rain in Cartagena in November, but mostly in the first half of the month, and even then it tends to come down in short bursts rather than all day, so it’s usually easy to avoid. I love Cartagena for trips like this because the walled historic part of the city is really lovely and fun, with plenty to see and do. The nearby beaches are big, but the sand isn’t white and fluffy, so they won’t make too many “best beaches” lists. It’s also very cheap there, and especially at the tail end of the off season like that. As long as you don’t mind the possibility of a couple of quick rain storms, it should be great.
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!!
In November you can find excellent resort deals all over the Dominican Republic, but Punta Cana is typically the first choice, especially if you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with all the luxury extras at a great price. The resort is actually a collection of little beach areas on the eastern tip of the island, so it's very secluded and well away from some of the confusion closer to the capital city.
The reason for the recommendation is that Bali is not only a yoga and “spiritual” hot spot, but it’s also the most popular island for solo women travelers in the region. The book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love” was inspired by this trend, and they have in turn inspired thousands of solo female visitors to go there and stay for long periods, particularly in and around the Ubud area. It’s gorgeous and quite cheap once you get there, and the locals are generally gentle and kind to all. Most other tropical hot spots in Asia have far more solo male visitors than solo females. Just avoid lingering in the Kuta Beach area, because it’s packed with bars and loud backpacker party people. Most of the rest of the island is quite mellow.
As for Malaysia, I’m a big fan, and with your friend there it should be easy. Interestingly, I was just in China myself recently and a few days ago I published a long article on my advice for whether to go yourself to China or go on a group tour. I also discuss the most popular and best places to visit when you are there in the bottom part of the article. One tricky thing for many of us is that you have to get a China travel visa and some of us can only get that visa issued in our home country, at least according to their rules. I literally spent years traveling around Asia but I was never able to visit China because they required that I get a visa issued in the US and I had to show my flights booked from the US to China and then from China back to the US. If I could have gotten a visa issued at a Chinese embassy in Bangkok or Singapore, I would have done it years ago.
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.
Dubai has pretty much perfect weather in November, and this is really the first month since April when it's not scorching here. Fortunately, the crowds are also light because most people wait until Christmas to start traveling to warmer places. Dubai can be incredibly expensive if you have a big budget, but it doesn't have to be. You can get good deals on non-chain hotels and even apartment hotels this month, and if you skip the hotel restaurants and the fancier places in malls, you can eat well on a modest budget here.
I’m looking for some ideas for driving holidays and have a month off over December and January. I’m not into trekking and looking for good warm/hot places to visit for the less mobile. Went to South Africa last year which was amazing. I like diversity, definitely not into trekking or just laying on a beach. Ideas that are floating around in my head are Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (worried about accessibility and state of roads) but loved Buenos Aires when I went there. Was also considering NZ with a fun stop on the way. I’ll be flying from the UK and will be solo.
This is a very good month to visit because the weather continues to be perfect here, while the largest crowds from northern Europe haven't quite started arriving yet. So finding an affordable hotel or apartment rental should be easy, and the restaurants and bars are always reasonably priced. If you want to be among other English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
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.