November - December in the Northern Hemisphere is mostly about winter sports or moving briskly between indoor cultural activities under damp and dreary skies.
Of course in the Southern Hemisphere it's summertime so sun seekers need to head south. Easy, good value choices for Europeans lie in Africa - South Africa is particularly attractive and good value, or Dubai for guaranteed winter sun and serious bling - while North Americans just have to nip down to Latin America for incredible, colorful cultures or to the Caribbean for magnificent beaches and sunshine.
Best value holiday destinations worldwide in 2015
According to the British Post Office travel barometer on worldwide holiday costs the cheapest holiday destination in 2015 (and not just for Brits!) is currently Prague in the Czech Republic (a beautiful and fascinating old city but very chilly in winter), followed closely by Portugal and Spain's southern province of Andalusia that seem to have much less of a migrant issue than Italy, Turkey and Greece.
The cheapest non-European countries listed are Bali island (sorry, too wet in winter!), South Africa (getting hot and wet in some regions but usually excellent in and around Cape Town), Turkey (nope, grey winters and migrant overdose), Sri Lanka, Thailand (best December-March) and Costa Rica (best December-April).
The priciest country in Europe is currently Italy, which is a surprise, but it's no surprise that Singapore is the costliest place to visit in the world, followed by Dubai, New Zealand, Oman, Australia, Malaysia and Canada.
The 'activity' pool of the RIU Palace in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (this is not an advert and we have no connection to the resort, sadly!). Temperatures should be around 58F night - 77F day (14C-25C) in winter. Photo by Clemens Vasters.
Beaches on most of mainland USA are pretty much out of the picture in wintertime, though south Florida temperatures rarely fall below 50F (10C) and usually hover around 72F (22C) with lots of sunshine, so a Christmas dip off Miami beach is chilly but definitely doable while up the road in Fort Lauderdale dozens of decorated boats cruise around the Intracoastal Waterways during the Winterfest Boat Parade on December 14.
For beaches and decent weather expectations Mexico is an obvious choice, with two coasts offering varied experiences tho' we would guess that the waters of the east side Maya Riviera will be marginally warmer than the Pacific coast's Cabo, Acapulco or one of the more bohemian beaches further south. Otherwise try the Caribbean (see below).
For winter sports the homegrown Rockies have attractions other than just mind-blowing skiing these days, just get a sniff of what's smoking in Denver, Colorado. Otherwise Canada is an easy trip and you could get a feel for la vie Française while you're there if you head for Quebec or great English-speaking life in Vancouver and nearby Whistler ski resort.
The Caribbean, November - December
Trunk Bay beach on St John island, US Virgin Islands, the Caribbean.
Our choice for American visitors to the Caribbean this winter is lovely St John in USVI, small, upmarket though not cheap and visitors need to fly to St Thomas (also USVI) and then take a short boat ride. Still, St John is beautiful, no passport needed, safe and American visitors are welcome.
The Caribbean is the place to be during this time although the official hurricane season lasts till November 30th. Consequently November is a time for low-season resort prices, uncrowded beaches and cheap air fares. Storms are rare but can happen of course, so there's a small risk involved. Organise your Thanksgiving celebrations in a special place this year!
Last year we suggested Puerto Rico as an easy vacation destination for Americans flying in with just an ID card. Sadly PR is now in serious financial trouble, with a massive debt, high unemployment, high levels of poverty and supermarket shopping costing over 20% more than most US cities. A rising level of crime is an inevitable result.
The best value Caribbean island but still beautiful, varied and interesting island is generally considered to be the Dominican Republic.
Latin America, November - December
Costa Rica, another nice hotel parked conveniently close to a volcano. The best time to visit Costa Rica is from December to May when it's cooler and drier, unless you're a committed surfer in which case the big stuff appears on the Pacific side from April-October.
Further south in Latin America the weather and colourful cultures of Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica should be brilliant in November but only the last four countries will still be fine in December, along with Ecuador's spectacular Galapagos Islands.
New Year Fireworks over Ponte Vecchio in Firenze (Florence), Italy. Photo by Martin Falbisoner.
Europe in winter frequently features dull grey skies with chilly drizzle so tourism focuses on winter sports in France, Italy, Austria and Germany or cultural visits to the classic cities of London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Barcelona and Seville where the climate is not quite as traumatising as further north.
Many European cities tend to have colourful Christmas lights dispelling the gloom, firework shows on New Year's Eve and sales for bargain hunters. London's stunning museums are still free in spite of political demands otherwise.
Beach holidays? Nope, not even in southerly regions of Greece, Portugal or Spain, although there is always the Spanish Canary Islands, located on a North African latitude in the Atlantic and enjoying pretty good weather all year round with high winter temperatures around 21C (70F), lows about 15C (59F) and water temp of 19C (66F) in Tenerife (book a place with heated pool!), though the sun will be less visible than usual and some rain may make an appearance every few days. The Canaries can be easily reached by via masses of cheap flights or packages from Europe.
Luxor Temple on the town's east bank of the Nile River. Usually a disturbingly crowded place.
Egypt's Luxor will offer the unusual experience of strolling incredible temples and tombs under blue skies with very few sheeple grazing around you as previous hordes are usefully discouraged by the troubles in distant Cairo and north Sinai, though there have been a couple incidents. Security levels are high so for a small risk the adventurous will see one of the world's best group of ancient sites at low cost and low crowd levels.
Morocco will be pleasant though a bit chilly at this time and definitely not the place for swimming or serious beach use. In winter slightly more upmarket hotels/riads are a better bet for decent insulation and warmer rooms. Agadir is the most southerly tourist venue, culturally very limited (boo!) but offering massive beaches (hooray!) washed by freezing Atlantic seas (boo!).
Etosha National Park in Namibia offers self drive, secure rest camps beside waterholes and vast numbers of animals, making this one of the world's top three wildlife experiences. Add in vast dunes at Sossusvlei, seals on the Skeleton Coast and Namib Desert activities and Namibia is another bucket-list def-do.
Otherwise you could head for Tanzania's wildlife and its beach island of Zanzibar or South Africa's varied attractions, from lively cities, particularly Cape Town, beaches to wildlife and wine districts.
Bagan in Burma/Myanmar, with 2,500 ancient pagodas and stupas in 40sq kms. Photo by Christopher Michel from a hot-air balloon.
40 sq km (16 sq miles) of Bagan in Burma/Myanmar, embrace 2,500 ancient pagodas and stupas. Few ancient sites have such incredible 360 degree views in one of the world's most peaceful, Buddhist sites in the world. There's much, much more and this is the time to visit this extraordinary country. For much of the year Myanmar is way too hot for comfort!
India is also awaiting your visit but it's massive so focus, don't try to see everything at once! Kerala, down south is perfect at this time though the country's primary sights are in the Golden Triangle around Rajasthan.
Nepal is chilly in winter (so book rooms with heating!) but the key thing is the Himalayan skies (i.e. mountains) are clear, the ancient artefacts bizarre and the walks stunning. It appears to have recovered from the recent 'quakes and be mostly intact.
Check out Hot Water Beach on New Zealand's lovely Coromandel Peninsula in the summer. Build your own hot tub! Photo by Steve and Jem Copley.
Southern Australia is in great shape in summertime, with Sydney and Melbourne buzzing with energy and things to do. Further north on the Gold Coast early summer temperatures are heading into the 30Cs with occasional rain, albeit short and exciting tropical storms rather than north European drizzle. Note that Surfer's Paradise becomes very loud, pricey and overcrowded during the Christmas holidays. Far north Australia is best avoided at this time due to extreme heat.
This is also positively prime time in New Zealand for incredible walks, beaches, wine tasting, and insane adrenalin activities, but try to avoid school holidays from December 20th to the end of January.
We don't want to discourage travel but should clarify for adventurous but novice travelers which parts of the world are problematical - troubled by disease, terrorist attacks, high levels of crime or aggressive disrespect for single women.
Whatever, wherever, safe travels!
Trek America discounts (USA, Canada, Central America)
Grand American Adventures (USA, Canada, Latin America)
Buy goodies or pay bills (checks) with credit cards when on vacation as they provide insurance as well as delayed repayment but don't draw cash out from ATMs with them (unless it's a new-wave, no-fee card). Interest starts accruing immediately and bank exchange fees in addition to the ATM fee may be unreasonable.
It's better to buy foreign cash at home from a commission-free provider though, of course when you travel you'll have to carry a fat wad around, so the best solution depends on the security of your holiday destination. If you travel a lot and want to get cash from an ATM do some research on transaction fees and get the lowest fee debit (not credit card) card you can find.
Gap Year travellers might consider also acquiring a prepaid Travel Money Card (aka Currency Card) which can be loaded with any amount of any currency before travelling and then topped up by family or friends while the Gappist is still in the big nowhere. Compare prepaid Travel Money Cards.
And of course never pay for anything abroad in your home currency (the exchange rate will be absurd), insist on paying in local currency.
To summarise, buy stuff abroad with a credit card, but try to pay off the balance each month before interest charges blow the wheels off your trolley; get cash from ATMs with a debit card.
Finally, don't go short of travel insurance if you're going to be participating in any kind of marginally dangerous activity, or even a non-dangerous activity in a third world location, that's NOT the way to save money! Use your brain while it's intact!
Social networking while traveling
Keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues while traveling abroad has become so much easier thanks to the internet and social networks.
Travelers logging onto social networks while abroad should ensure that they properly log out before leaving an internet café or similar because in some areas of Africa, East Europe and India it's not unknown for a watcher to access a tourist's Facebook (or similar) account after they leave and send a desperate message to family members about an accident/hospitalisation and needing money urgently. Money transferred of course disappears into a mystery account and no one's the wiser, for the time being.
Making calls to family and friends while traveling used to mean looking around for a phone booth, using phone cards and spending a fat wad, especially for international calls, but these days varied devices are used not only for keeping in touch but also booking transport, entertainment, restaurants, accommodation and more.
Best value communication abroad
1 - Cross-platform mobile instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, facebook Messenger and Snapchat which allows users to exchange messages or chat from anywhere worldwide free of charge, so long as each party has access to wifi. WhatsApp Messenger is available for smart phones, such as iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing at no cost.
2 - Sign up with the new breed of free VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] providers such as Skype, Rebtel, Tango and Google Voice/Google+Hangouts which offer free or cheap international calls on a laptop/smart phone/or even iPod Touch.
These cost nothing user to user or a small charge for calling to non internet phones such as land lines or mobile numbers.
3 - Travel with your own GSM cell/mobile phone if it works over the cellular data network type at your destination. Buy or rent a pre-paid sim card at home or on arrival and change the card over immediately.
4 - Not a cheap options but if your purpose is limited to emergencies, buy or rent a prepaid phone, online or at the airport on your arrival.
5 - Old fashioned but check out the new generation phone cards to call just about anywhere, though public payphones are disappearing and so it's hard to find one that works properly when you need to make a call. Also others can't to reach you, unless that is precisely your point!