January - February in the Northern Hemisphere is mostly about winter sports under blue skies 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, well at least a bit. Now that some notable North African countries have a tarnished travel image, good value choices for Europeans lie in The Canary Islands for volcanic excitement (average highs about 22C in this season), South Africa for wildlife, lovely drives, hikes and value, Dubai (average highs about 26C) for guaranteed winter sun, beaches and serious bling, Oman (average highs about 27C) for beaches, culture or more off-the-wall destinations such as Cape Verde island off Senegal (average highs about 26C) or serious heat in Gambia (average highs about 30C) while North Americans just have to nip down to Latin America for incredible, colorful cultures (especially Mexico) or to the Caribbean for magnificent beaches and sunshine.
Demon monkey caryatides around a golden Chedi in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
Best value holiday destinations worldwide
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.
Winterlude Festival drummers in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by Saffron Blaze.
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 dip off Miami beach is definitely doable and the Florida Art Deco Weekend in Miami, with 1920's-30's style music and parades is quite special (15-17 January). A colourful blast from the past. Or bikers need to head for Daytona Beach's Official Bike Week - the world's biggest motorbike fest (4 - 13 March).
A video glimpse of what goes on in Daytona during bike week...
Mexico or the Caribbean are primary beach destinations for Americans but check on the Sargassum seaweed situation before booking! We heard that Cancun hotels were denying any issues at the same time that they had hundreds of tons of decaying seaweed on their beaches.
Official Ottawa city video of Winterlude 2014, Canada.
Winter sports fans should definitely consider a trip to Canada for Montreal's Fete des Neiges (Snow Festival) with ice sculpting, dog sledding and more icy fun (16 January - 7 February, weekends only). Then there's Carnaval de Québec in beautiful Quebec City, a wild winter celebration with parades, themed parties and more ice sculptures (29 January-14 February) or Winterlude Festival in Ottawa (Ontario) over 3 weekends - parades, dances, snow races, ice sculptures, sleigh rides, but especially skating on the 7km Rideau Canal. If skating is your thing, then this is your festival (29 January- 15 February, weekends only).
The Caribbean, January - February
Trunk Bay beach on St John island, US Virgin Islands, the Caribbean.
The Caribbean is one great place to be during the winter except for the possibility of attack of the Sargassum seaweed! Before booking check on the latest news and don't believe everything you hear from hotel information.
Sargassum seaweed on Barbados beaches June 2015.
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.
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 - of course - welcome.
The best value Caribbean island is generally considered to be the Dominican Republic, but still gorgeous, varied and interesting island in spite of the low prices.
Latin America, January - February
The Maya Temple of the Cross in Palenque, Mexico, a pyramid group still surrounded by thick jungle vegetation that gives visitors an Indiana Jones esteem. Photo by Jim.
Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote, more volcanoes in the Spanish Canary Islands off Morocco's coast. Photo by Norbert Nagel.
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.
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 warm winter temperatures around 18C (64F), lows about 15C (59F) and water temp of 18C (64F) so book a place with heated pool, preferably on an easterly island on the south-east coast (such as Lanzarote, Fuerteventura (especially if you like board sailing) or Gran Canaria (Las Palmas is the capital and has the best climate in the world according to some US climatologists) for best chance of a warm, dry holiday. The Canaries can be easily reached by via masses of cheap flights or packages from Europe.
Camps Bay beach near Cape Town, South Africa.
Sadly Egypt is off the tourist trail for the time being, as is Tunisia, though 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!
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.
Kids in Burma/Myanmar, a brilliant winter destination. Also a fine place to buy organic bananas.
The extraordinary country of Burma/Myanmar is packed with amazing sights and seems to be democratising so may become over-popular in the not-too-distant future, so get moving!. For much of the year Myanmar is way too hot for comfort but midwinter is perfect!
India is also awaiting your visit but it's massive so focus, don't try to see everything at once! Kerala, down south is terrific at this time as are the country's primary sights 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. The Kathmandu Valley appears to have recovered from the recent 'quakes and be mostly intact.
Bondi beach, Sydney, Australia. Photo by Adam.J.
Southern Australia is in great shape in summertime, with Sydney and Melbourne buzzing with energy and things to do including swimming, surfing and various festivals in January such as the Sydney Festival, the biggest cultural event in the country (7-26 January) though sadly lacking a lunatic Fringe, and Melbourne's Midsumma, a wild and queer arts and culture festival (17 January - 31 February; Pride March 31 January).
Adelaide Fringe is the Australia's largest, wackiest festival. A huge and unhinged event - Edinburgh in the sun (12 February-14 March). Adelaide Pictures and Information. The more formal Adelaide Festival runs 26 Feb - 14 March.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (19 February - 6 March; Parade on 5 March) - a huge and world famous celebration of gay life, with a stunning parade, shows and parties.
However! 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.
Here are some broad generalisations on where NOT to go on vacation if you have a nervous disposition.
Africa except for Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius.
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!