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.
Don’t be too shy to ask the wait staff how the food is prepared. If you suspect something might be breaded ask. Ask if any of the dressings have sugar in them. In Italy it’s not common at all for savoury food to contain any sugar, even the sauces. Most are based on olive oil or cream. If you order a steak without any sauce don’t be afraid to ask for olive oil to use on it. You might get some strange looks if you ask for butter and they might not have any available. Try to go for roasted or grilled food rather than fried as even in Italy, the spiritual home of olive oil, the food is usually fried in vegetable oils. Also don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. I don’t like bell peppers and they always come as part of grilled vegetable sides. I simply ask them to leave them out and I’ll get more of another type of vegetable instead.
When you mention, “not too touristy”, the first thing that comes to mind is San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m not sure if you’ve been there already or not, but one great thing about it is that the “tourist” areas close to Old San Juan are filled more with apartments than with hotels, unlike Cancun, where it’s nothing but hotels and timeshares. I can highly recommend the Condado neighborhood, which does have some large hotels but is mostly apartments for expats and seasonal visitors. There is even a free bus that goes from there to the heart of Old San Juan, which is a gorgeous colonial town filled with great restaurants, bars, and interesting attractions.
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.
In Cambodia the best place by far is the Angkor Wat temples just outside of Siem Reap. Siem Reap itself is a nice town with plenty to see and do, but 3 or maybe 4 days should be enough. Otherwise you have Phnom Penh, which isn’t too special, or Sihanoukville, which is a pleasant beach town that doesn’t really match up to most of what you are used to in the Philippines.
As for flight connections, Barcelona and Madrid should have decent connections to Toronto and Delhi, while Casablanca (Morocco’s largest airport) probably does not. So Spain is the better choice by that standard. On the other hand, you can get to Morocco by ferry from Spain in a short time, so you could go to Spain and also visit Morocco for a day or two.
Heat your winter up and pack your backs to explore Australia. Celebrate New Year’s Eve at The Opera Gala in Sydney. Eat your way through the Taste Festival in Tasmania. And if music is your thing, we recommend checking out the Life’s a Beach Music Festival in Rockingham (30 minutes south of Perth) or experience the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, one of Australia’s biggest cultural festivals.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
Early December is the end of the rainy season in those areas. The storms tend to be short by that time, but still you will probably get a few quick downpours a week. I’m not an expert on getting around in the Philippines, though I do know that it’s rarely fast or easy. If you want a place to relax then Boracay Island might be the best. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. -Roger
If you crave warmth but think the beach bores you, head to the Southwestern United States. New Age meets Old West in Santa Fe, Phoenix is still toasty and its cultural season is in full swing, and Denver makes for a great trip. And if you've never seen the Grand Canyon, winter is a good time to visit since the crowds have thinned out (but do dress warmly).
November is a month of transitions: weather is cooling in most places, and as the days move towards Thanksgiving, momentum picks up and we’re rushing headlong into the winter holidays. It could be a good time for a trip, whether you’re looking for warm weather, taking advantage of cheap shoulder season rates, exploring a new exotic destination, or heading to the southern hemisphere to trade autumn for spring. Or you just might want to begin the holiday season early, get a head start on gift shopping, and jump right into winter’s chilly weather. Travel during November has something for everybody.
In the desert city of Albuquerque, winter is cold but not too cold. The Downtown Growers’ Winter Market usually wraps in November, but this year you can still catch it December 1 and 8. Local produce, artists, live bands -- it is all good. And the whole month of December you can go to ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden to see River of Lights, the largest walk-through holiday production in the state, and one of the most sparkly light shows anywhere in the country.
Of course, the Caribbean has its own share of problems. As I just mentioned to another reader, my list of Caribbean destinations from cheapest to most expensive has 32 entries and only about 6 of them were damaged by the recent storms. I would probably choose one of those instead. November is still technically the final month of hurricane season, but November storms are extremely rare. And the islands closer to South America haven’t been hit in over 50 years or so, such as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
And as you mention, Bali could actually work for you. I’ve spent two Decembers in Bali, and December is quite a bit rainier on average. Still I had a great time and it was sunny most of the days. The rain in the tropics (and Bali is almost ON the equator) tends to come down in 30-minute bursts rather than drizzling all day, so it’s usually pretty easy to avoid. The best part of Bali is there are loads of things to see and do, and the nightlife is excellent. The Kuta Beach area is fun for at least a few days, but I wouldn’t spend too much time there. You should also spend a few days in Ubud, which is very touristy but also interesting. And you could spend some time in Lovina, which is along the northern coast and it has all of the charm of Bali from 20 years ago before most of it got overbuilt. With all the temples and other local attractions, there is always something interesting to do, which is not true of many other places with great beaches and nightlife. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Two of the easier other choices would be London or Madrid. From Amsterdam you can take a train to Brussels and then change for the Eurostar train to London, or you can fly. From London to Barcelona you’d want to fly for sure. If you chose Madrid you can go to Amsterdam and then fly to Barcelona and then take a train from Barcelona to Madrid in only 2.5 hours.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
If you are looking for first-rate destinations that are among the cheaper European cities, I’ll suggest Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin. You could visit all four of them by taking trains, or choose any one, two, or three. In December you can get quite a nice room in any of those cities, with Berlin being the most expensive by a bit. Food and attractions are also quite affordable in those cities.
Impressive year-round, November in Sedona is a feast for the senses, offering perfect temperatures and colorful fall foliage along with its majestic red rocks. Sedona is rich in wellness activities, spa treatments, art galleries, and locally-made arts and crafts. Along the Verde Valley near Sedona, quaint wineries with passionate winemakers offer personal tours and tastings. Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve with stunning scenery, native vegetation, wildlife, and a wide variety of birds, is popular with hikers. Visitors can also tour by jeep, horseback, hot air balloon, or helicopter. Many travelers hike among the red rocks seeking the much discussed vortexes—places of energy that are said to come directly from the core of the earth. Whether they are truly healing areas is not clear, but there are believers who experience spiritual effects and others who simply enjoy the breathtaking views. L’Auberge de Sedona Resort, centrally located in Sedona’s Red Rock Country, provides access to these activities in addition to both fine and casual dining featuring seasonal menus and locally sourced foods. Accommodations are available in the main lodge or in secluded cottages with panoramic views and exquisite rustic indulgence.
I’ll be happy to give you some suggestions, but it would really help to know your starting point and approximate budget. At this moment I am writing this reply from Cancun, which could be perfect if you are in or near the US, but if you are in another part of the world there will likely be better choices. Although thinking about it, even if you are in Europe, a place like Cancun might still be best. Let me know and I’ll give you my best answer and an alternative or two. -Roger
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.
If you are looking for pleasant weather in December you might also consider the Canary Islands. They have good connections to many destinations. You would probably have to change planes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Qatar on your way to Delhi, but the flight will at least be fairly cheap. Good luck with this and let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
If you are referring to days trips and that sort of thing, it will be much cheaper if you book once you get there. In Vietnam in particular it’s amazing how cheap tours can be if you book them through your hotel. I once did a 6-hour bus tour to Mỹ Sơn, which is near Hoi An, and I think I paid about US$6. It even included a boat ride and a basic lunch. That same day tour online would probably cost US$30 because the booking company takes a share and there is very little competition.
Jamaica Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios Martinique Martinique Netherlands Antilles Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Martin/Sint Maarten Puerto Rico Rincón, San Juan Saint Kitts and Nevis St Kitts Saint Lucia St. Lucia Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tabago Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Virgin Islands, British Tortola Virgin Islands, U.s. St. Croix, St. Thomas
Even if you can't sunbathe, the weather is still reliably pleasant all the time, with almost no rain. Weekly and monthly apartment rentals here are very popular, but there are plenty of hotels and hundreds of restaurants for those coming for shorter periods. If you want to be with the most English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
Located off the coast of East Africa, the Seychelles—an archipelago consisting of 115 islands—is about as close to paradise as you can get. Crystal clear water, lush jungles, and powder-fine sand make it the ultimate early winter escape, particularly for romantic getaways. Book one of the 30 breathtaking pool villas at Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which is among the region's top luxury resorts. The hotel is situated on a private island that offers prime territory for snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, and hiking—plus, the spa has scenic pavilion-style treatment rooms that are worth the trip alone. Health conscious guests will be particularly impressed by the property's new "Eat with Six Senses" program, which is intended to make travelers leave vacation without the guilt that comes with overindulging. There are four tailor-made treatment plans that focus on sleep, detoxing, fitness, and more, depending on the issues you prefer to address.