Of the others, I’d say that Thailand would probably be your better choice. Goa is obviously famous for its beach parties, and drugs are easily available there just in case that is important, but there really isn’t much else to see or do there. Goa is a collection of beach towns, some of which are filled with raucous Westerners all winter. But once you go inland, it’s kind of falling apart, and it’s not even very “Indian” because it was run by the Portuguese until about 60 years ago.

Thank you for the kind words. Interestingly, had you not included that you’ve been to Costa Rica, I’d say that was the obvious suggestion because they really do that sort of thing well and it’s at least a bit better organized than its neighbors. And if you were less concerned over travel time, I’d have some interesting suggestions for you in Asia. However, as you know, it takes nearly a full day just to get to Asia from the US or Canada, and then a few days to adjust, so you might be best off saving that for later.
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.
Even though November is one of the busy months in Pokhara, they've built so many new hotels in the past few years that finding a room – even at a decent price – should always be possible. The high-season rates are still very cheap by almost anyone else's standards, and food and drinks are always very affordable, but if you look around a bit you'll be able to do even better.
The fastest high-speed trains between those cities only take 2.5 hours, although most departures are closer to 3 hours. Definitely take the train and also buy the ticket as far in advance as possible for the lowest fare. Not only is it FAR quicker than flying (and of course the coach), but it’s far more comfortable and more enjoyable. This is a link to the official Spanish rail site. The scenery isn’t all that special, but it’s still interesting. Have a fantastic trip. -Roger
Never thought of Moscow as a Winter destination! It is quite the place to go especially after the world cup hype. I second Rajasthan, India as one of the best places to travel in December. Love this list, Wendy. I have even listed Rajasthan and other offbeat places to travel in December and January over here: https://www.thegonegoat.com/inspiration-and-tips/2018/11/29/the-best-places-to-travel-december-january
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.
Escape the cold weather to sunbathe on the beaches in Rio de Janeiro and ring in the New Year with a fun celebration on Copacabana Beach. And while you're near Copa, visit the neighborhood and beach that inspired the song, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Don’t overlook the other beaches, including Baixo Baby for families, Praia do Arpoador for surfers and Sao Conrado Beach if you want to leap from nearby peaks and go hang gliding.
Yes, it's high season and rates edge up, but that's only because everyone wants to make the scene and flee cooler climes. Whether you prefer a hotel right on the beach, one in the midst of Miami's trendy Art Deco or Wynwood art district, or a tower with horizon views and vast swimming pool, there's a place for you. And each December, Art Basel in Miami Beach brings together artists with knowledgeable collectors and gallerists.
Costa Rica is kind of the Thailand of Latin America in that they have great tourist infrastructure and it’s the easiest place to get around. They also have a lot to offer with the beaches on both coasts and many natural sights and activities, plus of course the Arenal volcano, which is a really nice area. San Jose is best as a place to just pass through on your way somewhere else.

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.
The largest national park south of Alaska, Death Valley is located 295 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Much of the park is below sea level, and it is surrounded by mountain peaks, often covered in snow. December’s temperatures are moderate, generally in the mid-60s during the day and 40s at night. Daily guided walks and naturalist talks are presented by the National Park Service, acquainting visitors with the natural beauty, history, geology, and wildlife of the area. Stargazers will be in awe of the Milky Way and starry nighttime skies of this “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park, a designation by the International Dark Sky Association. The newly renovated Oasis at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek), hosts the elegant 4-diamond Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented Ranch at Death Valley, offering visitors a range of lodging options and activities. At Furnace Creek Stables, guests can explore the valley floor or foothills of the Funeral Mountains on guided horseback rides. The Stables also offer carriage and hay wagon rides. Jeep rentals, tours, and a variety of hiking and walking paths provide many ways to experience Death Valley. Play golf at the world’s lowest elevation golf course or enjoy a rejuvenating spa treatment at The Inn.
Every year it goes the same way. My mom calls me up a few weeks before Thanksgiving and asks me, “You are bringing green bean Casserole this year, right?” before she launches into a chorus of “You have to! No one else makes it just like you do!” Green beans have become “my thing” around the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s the dish that I am expected to bring to dinner each year.
I am from Chennai, India. Me and my wife are planning to spend about 8 days in SE asia around christmas time. Based on your inputs we are looking at either Vietnam or beaches of thailand. We are on a strict budget constraint so which one of these two will be a better option as far as budget goes ? And if it is thailand beaches, where do you suggest we go to avoid over crowding and for budget deals during christmas ? Thanks in advance 🙂
If you do want to go to Thailand then Bangkok is the obvious starting point and it’s a wonderful city. You also want to visit Ayutthaya, which you can do on a day trip but it’s better to stay a few days. Chiang Mai is the highlight of the north, partly because it’s insanely cheap and the weather is a bit cooler than Bangkok. Luang Prabang is another town not to miss and it’s fun for at least a few days. Don’t bother spending much time in Vientiane though.
I like your comment about how “rainy seasons” are almost always overstated. I totally agree based on my own experiences and research, although there are a few places where they should be taken more seriously than others. On my most recent December trip to Bali (2.5 years ago, I think), I spent 30 days there and the rain only became a problem that one time I mentioned. It was just an insane cloudburst while taking a minibus from Kuta to Ubud, and in the end it’s actually probably my best Bali story. Aside from that, it’s very humid during Bali’s wet season, but even that really didn’t slow me down. The thing is, in Bali you are usually on or near the beach or a hotel pool (feeling the breeze) or in your air-conditioned room. Or you might be touring around to see temples and rice terraces and whatnot, and everything is outdoors and beautiful. When it does rain it’s usually over in 15 minutes, but often the rain comes over night. That kind of humidity can be a killer when visiting a city, but for me it’s a small issue on a tropical island like Bali.

Ethiopia is known as the Roof of Africa, and dry November, with the countryside still verdant from the recent rains, is the perfect time to plan a trek in the Simien Mountains, a dramatic plateau that’s home to endemic wildlife – from walia ibex to gelada monkeys. Equally mesmerising landscapes are on offer in Northern Thailand, where hiking trails that thread through waterlogged rice paddies to waterfalls and hilltop stilt villages are even more special without the selfie-snapping summer crowds.


Bali has nice weather in the first half of November and it’s very family friendly as long as you don’t stay on the nightlife streets of Kuta Beach. That is possibly your best choice. Dubai has great weather in November as well, and it’s very kid-friendly. There are shopping malls there that also have huge and modern play centers that are sort of like amusement parks there. And there are nice beaches as well. It’s unfortunate that the weather close to India limits your choices that time of year, but either of those could be great and they are both fairly affordable with frequent flights. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.
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.
By the time November rolls around, Cancun has pretty much perfect weather for anyone. The heat of summer and early autumn has turned into a tropical warmth that is usually accompanied by pleasant breezes so it's lovely all day and all evening. The peak season doesn't start until late December so this is the perfect time to visit when rates are still nearly at their summer lows.
Back in 2008, we asked chef Stephanie Kimmel from Eugene's Marche restaurant to take a stab at updating Thanksgiving's well-worn green bean casserole -- you know the one we're talking about, with the canned beans and mushroom soup, topped with fried onions. Kimmel's from-scratch version features colorful fresh green beans that are baked in a homemade white sauce that tastes cleaner than the 1950s tinned three-can combo. If Thanksgiving dinner doesn't feel complete without a green bean casserole, this is the one to make!
Never thought of Moscow as a Winter destination! It is quite the place to go especially after the world cup hype. I second Rajasthan, India as one of the best places to travel in December. Love this list, Wendy. I have even listed Rajasthan and other offbeat places to travel in December and January over here: https://www.thegonegoat.com/inspiration-and-tips/2018/11/29/the-best-places-to-travel-december-january
Unsurprisingly, the end of December is the beginning of the peak season for resort prices, so those who are able to come earlier in the month will be getting better deals. Still, the all-inclusive resorts are locked in heavy competition all year so this area can be a great deal compared to the alternatives, even in high season. If you are looking for where to go in December for an all-inclusive beach holiday, this is your best option for most people.
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.
I’ve yet to do an African safari, although that is probable next year for me, and I know quite a bit about it from reading and publishing articles on them. That certainly would be a Wow thing to do. They tend to last around 5 days, so you could do that in conjunction with a visit to South Africa itself. That is another that I’ve yet to reach, but people rave about Cape Town and many other places in that country.
Vietnam and Sri Lanka could both be excellent choices for what you have in mind. Both are best for people who already have experience in these sorts of places, which you do. Twelve days could be a perfect length of time for a classic tour of Vietnam, flying into Hanoi and spending a few days there and in Halong Bay (with a possible side trip up to Sapa), and then taking the train down to Denang for a quick transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An is really a wonderful place and 3 or 4 days there would be great. There are good beaches nearby as well. Then take the train down to Ho Chi Minh City for a few more days before flying home from there. You could also do a side trip to Nha Trang (wonderful beaches) or Dalat up in the mountains. Vietnam really is gorgeous and the food is wonderful (French influences remain) but it can be a bit complicated for new travelers because you’ll find that many people you meet are trying to hustle you a bit, particularly travel agents booking trips and tours. The hotels are generally honest and great value, and so are the restaurants. You’ll learn to ignore the annoying people quickly.
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.
More good news comes with the fact that there are two other great resort areas that are each about 90 minutes by shuttle from Montego Bay Airport, so you can almost as easily reach Ocho Rios or Negril, both of which have a different vibe that you might prefer. Bargain hunters will also find pretty amazing prices at the all-inclusive resorts, particularly those in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. If you prefer a quiet beach area lined with smaller hotels, restaurants, and bars, then head to Negril.
The same resort that charges US$300 per night in January will usually go for US$200 per night in November, especially earlier in the month. And this goes for all-inclusive resorts as well, which start at US$116 per night for two people in the low season when we last looked. If your main goal is relaxation in a perfect climate, Punta Cana is probably the best value in the entire hemisphere. And if you are wondering where to go in November for a beach all-inclusive then this is your best choice.
If this were last year I might have also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico or Cartagena, but both of those have issues at the moment. If for some reason you don’t like what you see in Costa Rica, there are also some really nice resorts in Panama, especially in the San Blas Islands area. Aside from those you’d probably have to fly longer than you prefer. I hope this helps. -Roger
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