Photos and Compact Guides
Easter Island, aka Rapa Nui. It's in the South Pacific and a long way to go but unique and uncrowded! Best September to April, the drier months and summertime. The hottest month is February (24C-27C).
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, or Dubai for guaranteed winter sun - while North Americans just have to nip down to Latin America for incredible, colorful cultures or to the Caribbean for magnificent beaches and sunshine.
Puerto Rico's Culebra island. Puerto Rico is US territory (kind of) so incoming Americans have no immigration hassles and will feel right at home.
If Florida was an island PR would be it. Flights are direct and inexpensive and the cost of holidays is low if you make an effort to find budget accommodation, either by going downmarket or renting your own villa/apartment and eat/drink in local restaurant/bars, which are, fortunately, interesting, tasty, cheap and easy to find.
The Americas, November - December
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 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.
The Caribbean is the place to be during this time although the official hurricane season lasts till November 30th. 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! December is the month when good weather returns to the islands, along with massive visitor numbers and substantial price rises.
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.
Nice on the Promenade des Anglais in December, the Côte d'Azur in France.
Europe, November - December
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. Those 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.
Germany's brilliant Xmas markets are extensive, frequently family-friendly and run for most of December, sometimes starting in November. 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 enjoy 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.
Abu Simbel, one of Egypt's magical sights far down south away from it all (along with Luxor and Aswan), with reduced numbers of tourists at the moment and bargain prices, so Carpe Diem, or as they might say locally, Yella bina ya hebibi!. Photo by Jim Stevenson.
Africa, November - December
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!).
As usual Marrakesh makes a terrific base for exploring the Sahara desert and the Atlas mountains but if you're temperature-sensitive go a little upmarket to ensure your hotel has heating, many hostels don't and it can get decidedly chilly!
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.
Sharm el Sheikh on the other side of the Red Sea (extremely well guarded these days) will be incredible value and offer lovely weather as the local authorities try to tempt visitors back to enjoy south Sinai delights; lower down the financial totem Dahab is a fun place to hang out. The lovely Red Sea, however, will not be very warm.
Otherwise it's best to head south to the other hemisphere for Tanzania's wildlife and its beach island of Zanzibar or South Africa's varied attractions, from beaches to wildlife to wines.
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. And that's not all...
Asia, November - December
Over in Asia it's time to visit one of the two best tourist destinations in the world, the wildly odd and golden Myanmar/Burma. Wow!
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.
Developing Laos is also perfect in winter, as is Vietnam (with OK beaches) and Thailand (with many great beaches).
And finally 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.
Australasia, November - December
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.
However! This is 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 need to point out that in these days of Ebola and quite random terrorist attacks or high levels of crime and violence there are certain regions that should be avoided if you wish to minimise risk as a tourist.
Here are some broad generalisations on where NOT to go on vacation. Avoid:
All Africa, except for Morocco, southern Egypt, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius.
All Middle-East, except for
Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi.
Pakistan, Philipines, North Korea, Indonesia, India for solo women travelers, eastern China.
Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Haiti. Mexico depends on the area.
US State Department Travel Alerts
UK FCO Travel Advice
Whatever, wherever, safe travels!
Trek America discounts (USA, Canada, Central America)
Grand American Adventures (USA, Canada, Latin America)
Travel with bank cards
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 on the road
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.
WhatsApp is not the only super-app on the planet, for example LINE has 50 million registered users in Japan and 300 million worldwide. LINE currently offers not only instant messaging but voice/video call for free. WhatsApp will soon allow voice service having been acquired by Facebook.
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.
We're especially impressed by international video calls from an iPod Touch in a wifi zone to a PC via Skype, incredible sound quality and pretty good pictures, though the quality can be erratic depending on the strength of the signal. Use wifi or 3G connection where possible. Be aware that you cannot make or receive emergency services with VoIP.
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.
The main drawback is the number will be new and you may have to own an unlocked phone so either get yours unlocked or buy an already unlocked extra phone. This system is convenient and you only pay for what you use if you buy the right package.
Alternatively check out your provider's deals for using the extended service outside of your registered country.
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!
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