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.
The three places that jump out to me are the Playa del Carmen area just south of Cancun in Mexico, the island of Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. All of those have endless beach activities and sights and great food and everything else, and they are all well within your budget. Puerto Rico would be easiest, and probably my first choice. Costa Rica is better known for adventure activities that might suit the younger ones. There are several good resort areas along the Pacific coast that would work.
November is a perfect time to visit Bermuda, with temperatures in the mid-70s and pink sand beaches that are less crowded than in high season. There are many ways to explore the 21-square-mile island, from under the sea where you can snorkel or dive among coral reefs or shipwrecks to the Bermuda Railway Trail, an 18-mile abandoned rail bed that winds through scenic landscapes and shorelines. The Crystal Caves take you into an underground world with a subterranean lake and white limestone stalagmites. The 36-acre Botanical Gardens, established in 1898, inspired John Lennon during a two-month Bermuda stay that led to his Double Fantasy album.
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.
Vietnam might be your best choice of the three. Most people (if they can) fly into Hanoi and fly out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or the other way around. Again, you can travel between them by train, although getting tickets can be a bit complicated. Hanoi is really interesting and nice (and super cheap). The best tourist city in Vietnam is Hoi An, which is between the two big cities. There’s a nice beach there and a bit farther away is Denang, which has large resorts along an excellent beach. Nha Trang is another good beach city in Vietnam, but probably not great for families. Ho Chi Minh City is bigger and more crowded than Saigon, but it’s also more modern (and hotter). You could spend two really nice weeks going north to south in Vietnam with a long stop in Hoi An.
Cancun is at the north end of the Riviera Maya, which also includes the island of Cozumel, so this is a huge area with over a thousand hotels to choose from. All that competition keeps prices down until the high season begins, so November is still a buyer's market. There are even ruins nearby and other cultural opportunities, so it's not all about sitting on the beach here. If you prefer a high-rise hotel overlooking a beach then stay in Cancun itself, but if you prefer to stay in a friendly town with many restaurant and shopping choices then head to Playa del Carmen, just a bit to the south, instead.
Always happy to hear that people find this useful. If you are looking for a driving holiday with warm weather in December I think you’ve already narrowed down the best choices. New Zealand will be ideal, although maybe not for more than two weeks or so. As you might know, the South Island is more scenic than the North, but the North has many great things to see and do as well.
For those from the Northern hemisphere in need of decent a blast of winter sun, the picturesque coastal town of Essaouira is the perfect place to put your feet up and relax. Fresh-caught fish sizzles on beachside grills, whitewashed houses with blue shutters lend a Mediterranean vibe, and you can lose hours wandering through the dozens of art galleries and workshops.
Assuming you might be in the US or Canada, my first hunch is Costa Rica, or Panama, which is a bit cheaper though not as well organized. Costa Rica has good surfing on its Pacific beaches, and there are very few all-inclusive resorts, which means that the restaurant scenes in resort areas are vibrant and interesting. Costa Rica also has limitless adventure opportunities, like zip-line tours and such, although they aren’t exactly cheap. Going inland you’ve got loads of national parks, as well as the famous volcano and its little spa town.
November brings the annual Vodafone Mexefest Music Festival (Nov. 24-25), a gathering of popular artists in venues throughout Lisbon. The Lisbon & Sintra Film Festival, in its 12th year, is a celebration of cinema with directors, actors, artists, musicians, and writers in town for the event (Nov. 16-25). Billed as the “largest technology conference in the world,” Web Summit began in 2010 as a way to connect industry and the technology community (Nov. 5-8). The year’s new wine and the ripening of chestnuts are celebrated with the Magusto, on Nov. 11, St. Martin’s Day. The holiday spirit becomes apparent at the end of the month, with colorful lights and roasted chestnut vendors along the streets.