This is a really interesting question. If you want to avoid crowds then you have already figured out that it’s best to avoid Honolulu and I would avoid Oahu completely. The Big Island is very interesting because of the volcano and some of the other scenery, but the most beautiful islands are Maui and Kauai. I haven’t made it to Kauai yet, but everyone I know has been there and they swear it’s the most photogenic, which looks right based on the photos I’ve seen. Maui is also really gorgeous and all islands other than Oahu are uncrowded even in high season. I drove all over Maui in a rental car and loved it and I don’t think there is as much to see on Kauai. So either of those will be great choices and the weather should be almost perfect in December with warm (but not scorching) temperatures and almost no rain. Have a great trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
For those looking for an even calmer slice of paradise without all the holiday festivities, try Waimei on Kauai’s southwestern shore, which offers calm waters and sandy beaches that are especially attractive in the early winter months. Get away from all the gloomy weather of the East Coast by trying out a Waimea vacation rental—it’ll definitely make for makes the perfect base to explore all Kauai has to offer.
If you are looking for an island that is moderately priced in late November I would probably head to Thailand. The rainy season typically ends in the middle of November in Phuket and Ko Samui and the other popular islands, although you might still get a few quick storms in late November. One nice thing is the crowds don’t start coming until mid December so you have a huge selection of hotels at really good prices.
As the year winds down the parties amp up, none more so than in Scotland’s capital, where Hogmanay celebrations see flaming torches, fireworks displays and night-long parties take over the usually quiet cobbled streets. Slightly more sedate, the Caribbean’s southernmost island Trinidad simmers with stirring Spanish-style musical performances as the locals usher in the start of the dry season.
Your Munich plan sounds good. It can be fun to actually spend a full night in a town like Rothenburg ob der Tauber because it’s filled with day-trippers in the day and you almost have it to yourself at night. But it’s small enough that one night there would be enough. Nuremburg is quite a large city, and you might even stay there a night or two as well. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of anyone saying they enjoy the cold and the rain, but if you do you’ll love it there. Fortunately, nowhere in the popular parts of Europe do they get extreme winters, and there is a good chance you won’t even see any snow in those cities. Most people are looking for the warmest places, which can be found in Portugal and Spain, but since that isn’t you I think your plan is good. Christmas is a big deal in some European cities such as Rome, but not a huge deal in others. Most businesses will be closed that day in nearly all countries, but of course hotels and many restaurants will be open. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
As for the hurricane, it’s true that it did go through that area a few days ago, but I think that was the first one in almost 10 years to do so. In other words, it’s an extremely rare event, and even when it does happen, they know about it long in advance so everyone is evacuated or safely sheltered. Also, the “Hurricane Season” technically goes through the end of November, but November hurricanes are actually far rarer than the earlier months. Personally, I love to book into places like Punta Cana during that season because the weather is the same about 95% of the day, and prices can be half as much as December or January.
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.
This creamy-yet-virtuous gratin of greens from Ivy Manning is crowned with crunchy homemade bread crumbs tossed with nutty-tasting brown butter. Make ahead: The gratin can be assembled up to one day in advance. Allow the gratin to cool completely before covering it with plastic and storing it in the refrigerator. Add 10 additional minutes to the baking time.
Of course in November you can pretty much forget about Europe if you want warm weather and little chance of rain. Fortunately you can go almost anywhere in Latin America and through many parts of Southeast Asia on a cheap flight, and you'll be in the sun with shockingly low prices, easily making the flight duration and cost worthwhile. The best holiday destinations in November are found all over the world, which you'll see on the list below.
In colder weather it’s probably better to focus on the great cities rather than places more known for scenery and outdoor activities. If your budget is generous then my top choice would be London, Paris, and Amsterdam. You could fly into any of those and then visit the others by high-speed train. The train that connects London to Paris and Amsterdam is called the Eurostar, and the earlier you buy your tickets the cheaper they will be. Paris and Amsterdam are linked by normal high-speed trains, which are also cheapest when you buy early. Speaking of that, your dates are prime travel dates over the Christmas holidays so the airfares will be kind of expensive and they will only go up from here. In other words, buy as soon as you can.
If you're determined to travel during the holiday periods, though, book your vacation flights, hotels, and cruise far in advance. If it works with your schedule, fly on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day; those are the least crowded days of the holiday season. And if at all possible, avoid traveling during weekends, on the days right before or after the holiday, and late in the day. It's not only crowded at airports but also northern storms can wreak havoc and create weather delays that cascade across the system.
Another consideration is that Thailand is generally easier to get to with far more flights that are often cheaper, and Thailand also has FAR more beach options because of its long southern coastline and especially the islands. The posh beach areas on Phuket are typically the most expensive beach hotels in Thailand, but there are other more remote beaches in Phuket with lower prices so it’s worth a look. Aside from Phuket you should also look at Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Phi Phi. You might also look at the town of Pattaya, which is the closest beach resort to the Bangkok Airport. Parts of town have a lot of single foreign men in certain bars at night, but most of the town is actually quite family friendly and very good value. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
One thing about Cancun that is interesting. Cancun itself is essentially a very long beach sticking out into the Caribbean that is lined with high-rise hotels and time-share properties. Except for a busy area at the corner of that peninsula, most of the hotels are spread out quite a bit, so there aren’t many things that most guests can walk to. Many people love it and are happy to basically stay in their own hotel most of the time, and maybe take a taxi down to that busy corner area once in a while. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of Playa del Carmen, which is a full-on tourist town about 50 miles south of Cancun. It’s got hundreds of small hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and everything else a visitor wants. The beaches aren’t quite as nice, but I find the town to be very fun and vibrant. Also, up and down the coast from south of Playa del Carmen to north of Cancun there are large resorts that are far from each other and on huge properties. Many of them are all-inclusive, so that is another option.
If you’re pretty simplistic when it comes to food, you can always bring nuts with you. They last long, they taste great, and they’re packed full of fats (if you choose correctly). Macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts are among the top high-fat nuts out there, and they’re well worth the extra cost if they save you from an accidental cheat right at the end of a great vacation.
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.
Looking to shake up the traditional holiday season table? We’ve got just the foodie forays for you this festive month. Tuck into a spicy blend of fabulous flavours at Malaysia’s hawker food stalls, where bright bowls of creamy laksa (noodle soup) and deliciously deep-fried lor bak (pork or prawn wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with dips) will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding. With tourist numbers low, now is the ideal time to visit Spain’s Basque Country, seeing out the year with a plate piled high with pintxos (tapas); or check out Cuba’s capital, exploring the crumbling, colonial architecture with a rum-based cocktail in hand.