As for Malaysia, I love it there too, but it has very few nice beaches in the main part of the country (not including Borneo). But now that you mention it, they do have some nice beaches in Penang, which is the best tourist area anyway. If you search for hotels in Penang, make sure that they are on or very near a nice beach. Most of the island does not have sandy beaches, but some parts do.
It's getting cold out there, so consider a journey that leads you into a warm museum. Whatever your interest, there's bound to be a specialized one to engage it. If art and sculpture are your passions, discover some favorite art museums around the world. And consider that you can make a day of it soaking up culture as many contain surprisingly good restaurants to visit in between your viewing.
Myself and my girlfriend are looking at travelling to a sunny destination during the first 12 days of December. We like beach and city vacations. Being from South Africa where it is warm in December we would prefer something different to our own culture. We’ve been to Thailand and Malaysia but never India, Sri Lanka or Vietnam. What would you recommend? Thanks Esteen
The idea of holidaying in a country where the depths of winter are approaching may seem a little counter intuitive but stick with us. The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, is the best light show on Earth, and a trip to Iceland in November is the perfect ticket to see them. Explore thermal geysers, stunning waterfalls, and epic glaciers by day then stay up late and watch the skies dance with green light by night. Just make sure you pack your thermals though – the average day time temperature only reaches highs of 4c (40F)!
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.
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.
As Christmas approaches the city will fill up much more, so if you can go early in the month you'll be much better off. But even if you can't go before the last week of the month you'll still find Mexico City to be a tremendous bargain compared to pretty much anywhere else in North America. It's a great shopping destination, and not just for goofy souvenirs, so that's something to think about as well.
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.
Even cheaper than that is Cartagena, although the flight would probably be a bit more expensive. Cartagena has a gorgeous walled colonial Old City filled with cool hotels, shops, and restaurants, and it’s a 10-minute cheap taxi ride to a strip of beachfront hotels in a modern neighborhood. It helps if you know Spanish in both places, but Playa del Carmen has so many English speakers that it’s easy to get by on that alone. Those are my best picks in our region for inexpensive places that are fun with a lot to offer a solo traveler or small group. Let me know if you have any questions. -Roger
While the Caribbean destination tends to overflow with families during the holidays in December, go a month earlier and you’ll be treated to sunny days sans screaming kids, plus less expensive airfare. “November is my one my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of high season hasn't kicked in, average temperatures are in the 80’s, and the water temperature is lovely,” says Michael King-Hew, the proprietor of Kamalame Cay, a private island resort in the Bahamas. King-Hew specifically suggests for the resort's annual wellness retreat. “It’s the perfect way to get rested and in shape before the start of the hectic holiday season.”
The biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
In Laos, Luang Prabang is a really lovely city, and Vang Vieng is nice, but Vientiane is kind of plain and probably not worth a stop. I don’t think I’d recommend Laos for a multi-generational trip, unless you just want to fly into and out of Luang Prabang. Laos is really interesting for backpackers and adventure travelers, but it’s behind the times for family travel.
I’ll be happy to try to help, but I’d really need to know your starting point because there are cheap places in different corners of the world, and it’s not worth flying halfway around the world to try to save US$20 per day. In mid December through January for beaches you should consider Thailand and perhaps also Vietnam. I’ll give you more information once I know where you are starting from. -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.
Brazil, on the other hand, has a famous problem with petty crime in tourist areas so I wouldn’t recommend it for a woman and young child. Another to consider is Puerto Rico, which has a lot to offer including great weather, and it’s also more or less part of the US, so it’s fairly safe and well organized. Hotels in Puerto Rico are a bit expensive, but you should be able to get an apartment rental in the San Juan area (gorgeous, by the way) for a modest price if you are staying for more than a few days. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
New Zealand wines are world famous, and wine tours are popular with visitors. Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is set on the waterfront, with beaches, parks, and cruises to the nearby islands. The capital city of Wellington on the southern tip of North Island is home to New Zealand’s national museum, a great place to learn about the country’s cultural history. Christchurch and Queenstown are located on the South Island. There's so much to do in New Zealand — and it's convenient to reach on Air New Zealand’s nonstop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Honolulu, with a nonstop from Chicago to Auckland beginning Nov. 30.
My partner and I (in our 20s) are thinking about where to travel next December. We are from Australia, and since our last 2 trips have been to cold places (US and Japan) we are looking for a warm place to head to next. We aren’t into partying and I would love somewhere with nice beaches, wildlife and rainforests, but my partner can get easily bored so we need some activities and civilisation too. Probably looking at around 2-4 weeks depending on how much there is to see and do and would like to spend $100-200 AUD per night accommodation. Also, would like to feel safe wherever we end up.
You still get warm ocean breezes and 70-degree temperatures, plus the Hawaiian islands go all out for the holidays. Locals host potlatch-style parties where the Christmas goose is replaced by a luau pig, and the resorts deck themselves out like tropical North Poles, including a massive tree-lighting ceremony at the Outrigger on Oahu and tree-decorating contests at Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Residents there climb to the top of the 13,000-foot-tall volcano, shovel snow into their trucks and speed back down to build snowmen in their yards before it melts.
Uruguay is an interesting place. It seems to be a less modern and less developed version of next-door Argentina. Buenos Aires is a larger and more interesting city than Montevideo. There is a town there called Colonia, which is worth a couple days if you like old and charming cities. But most people who go to Uruguay either go to one of the posh beach resort towns (mainly Punta del Este), or they go to the tourist cattle ranches, which are surprisingly popular. If you haven’t been to Argentina yet you might find that it has more and different options, such as the Mendoza wine region and the mountain resort town of Bariloche.
Thailand is far more different and it’s easier to get around. The tourist areas are quite modern and well organized, and enough people speak English that it’s easy to do whatever you like. Again there you have choices of cooler areas in the north such as Chiang Mai, and of course Bangkok, as well as all of the islands. Let me know if you have any questions. -Roger
I haven’t followed the Zika list, but I do understand the concern. Since you aren’t big beach people, you might just bring jackets and go to a more romantic city like Paris, and then maybe down to Nice for part of the trip and something a bit different. I’m not sure if this is helping, but if you have any questions about any of this I’m happy to keep trying. -Roger
Ah, November. The end of the year is nearing, and most of us haven't traveled nearly as much as we planned upon. Thankfully, the second to last month of the year boasts not one, but two, holiday weekends for you to cash in on some of those vacation days and take a little sojourn to somewhere special—with family, with friends, or maybe even your significant other. But where should you go? There are a ton of places where the weather is still warm in November. But if you are looking to cash in on the seasonal appeal, there are also scores of exotic locales which count November as the peak time to travel there (