From Atlanta, the places that come to mind with the theme of “nature” would be Costa Rica and Belize. Costa Rica is probably the better choice, as it famously has around a third of its land as natural parks. Much of it is jungle, and they have all sorts of activities including zip lining, but also canopy tours and much more. There is also the Arenal volcano there, which is really nice and has some fun hot springs around it. They also have beaches, of course, but there is plenty in the interior of the island to keep you busy. If you know a bit of Spanish, it helps, but most other visitors know little or none.
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.
As you begin to cross off the final 31 days on your calendar you may be tempted to put away the passport and swap those itchy-footed escapades for quiet nights in. But with nearly a year of adventures behind you, why stop now? December is jam-packed with high-octane adventures on mountain peaks and coursing rivers; indulgent escapes with mulled wine, rum cocktails and spicy Malaysian street food galore; walks on the wild side with kaleidoscopic creatures and soaring giants; and countless seasonal celebrations whisking you from the sunny Caribbean to Santa’s hometown.
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.
My two years in southeast Asia was over a few trips, although I did have my own apartment in Bangkok for 3 months and in Chiang Mai for another 3 months. As an American I didn’t have a national health restriction and I didn’t even have travel insurance. I don’t recommend it for everybody, but healthcare in those areas is extremely cheap and of pretty good quality. I went to a hospital once in Chiang Mai and I saw an English-speaking doctor for about US$7, and spent another US$25 or so on a prescription. My longest total trip was 3 years and 7 months (only a few years ago), and I went in and out of Southeast Asia a few times in that period.

Much of Mexico is ideal in December, after the rainy season has ended; if you go early in the month, you’ll avoid the peak holiday-season rates that kick in around December 18. On the Pacific coast, the landscapes are still ultra-tropical green, and the ocean is bathtub-warm (80s), with exceptional clarity for scuba diving and snorkeling. Mexico City is a smart place to spend the holidays, when the locals have headed to the beach and you’ll find much less traffic in this famously congested city. (Do keep in mind, though, that some of the more sought-after restaurants and galleries will be closed.)
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
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
From November through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather.” We list Tenerife below because it's technically in Europe, although not really much of a cultural destination. Antalya, Turkey (which technically isn't even in Europe), has the closest thing to a sunny climate with acceptable temperatures. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
Malta would have decent weather as well, but I think the nightlife there is pretty dead during the colder months because they don’t get many visitors. They don’t have proper beaches as well, as the coastline is mostly these huge rocks. If you really want a warm beach in December your best bet is the Canary Islands, and even then it can be slightly chilly in December. But the nightlife in Malta is pretty dull, since so many of the visitors are retired Europeans.

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!!
Weirdly enough, Central America and South America aren’t really known as top “culture” destinations, as the colonial history has mostly wiped out the indigenous history in the larger places. There are Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins and sights, but not really enough to build a whole trip around. I’d say the most interest of those would be the Inca culture of Peru, specifically around Machu Picchu and the valley around Cusco. Alternatively, visiting Argentina is pretty much like visiting Europe from a culture standpoint. It’s quite nice there and prices are low if you know about the blue market for currency, but otherwise it may not be what you are looking for.
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

Yes, I’ve been to all of the Nordic countries, but mostly during the summer months. However, I know that those Northern Lights tours are popular and well established. On one hand, you know you’ll be visiting areas where there is only a bit of sunlight in the middle of each day, so it won’t be great for general sightseeing. But the cold months are also the best Northern Lights months, and if you want to see them then it’s your best bet.
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.
Congratulations. In order to help you I’d have to know your starting point and also whether you are more interested in cities and culture or beaches and relaxation. November is a tricky month for beaches since it’s a very rainy month in most of the best and cheapest beach areas and islands in the Northern Hemisphere. But if you give me a bit more info I will try to help you the best I can. -Roger
Those who adore the holidays and don’t mind the cold (the average high is around 48 degrees) might consider an end-of-year trip across the pond. Arguably Europe’s most festive destination, December in London promises charming Christmas markets, show-stopping Christmas trees, and streets covered in twinkling lights. A number of posh hotels, like 45 Park Lane and The Dorchester even have Christmas-centric packages available to get you into the holiday spirit.

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.
Aside from Indonesia you might also consider Thailand, which has great infrastructure so it’s much easier to travel with young children. Phuket has by far the most options, and its rainy season usually ends in early November. For families I recommend Kata Beach and Karon Beach, which are both just south of the main shopping and nightlife town of Patong Beach.

New Zealand is an excellent option in December, as it’s before the Christmas crowds and just before the summer holidays there. The best and most popular way to explore New Zealand is to rent a camper van or a car and drive from one “holiday park” to another. Auckland is a pretty generic city so it’s not worth spending more than 1 or maybe 2 days there. Just fly in, and rent a vehicle to leave the next morning, and drive south. The North Island has a lot to see, but the South Island is even more scenic and pleasant. You can take a ferry between the two with your vehicle.

The Bali thing is also kind of a mess for those on low budgets. Kuta is a headache, and pretty much the opposite of what is so beautiful about the rest of the island, but it’s also where nearly all the really cheap beds are located. If you go a bit north in that same area into Legian and Seminyak, it’s nicer, but prices also go up. And Ubud is nice, but also more expensive for hotels and such. I’ll probably rent a place in Seminyak for a few weeks, which won’t be cheap.
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.

You mention New Zealand and of course it’s summer there then, so it would be a good choice. However, all of these places will be crowded and near peak hotel rates if they are warm. So I’ll be happy to give you advice if you tell me if you’d rather visit one or more European cities in the cold season, or if you are looking for a warm place like New Zealand where it will be fairly crowded. By the way, the southern European cities such as Rome and Barcelona are lively and enjoyable that time of year, as the Christmas season goes on, and there aren’t too many tourists except for a few that travel to see their families around the holidays. So it can be a good time for southern Europe, as long as you don’t mind wearing a jacket or jumper during the day, and maybe a bit more in the evening. Give me a bit more guidance and I’ll be happy to try to help. -Roger
×