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The famous wild swimming pigs of Big Major Cay island in The Bahamas, Atlantic Ocean

The famous wild pigs of Big Major Cay island in The Bahamas off the coast of east USA. The Bahamas group are very close to Florida but not in the Caribbean, they're in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Cdorobek.

Holiday Ideas January - February

AmericaEuropeAfricaAsiaAustralasia

 

Dangerous Countries

 

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January - February 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 northen 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.

Winterlude Festival drummers in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Winterlude Festival drummers in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Saffron Blaze.

 

The Americas, January - February

January is a lively festival month in the USA starting on January 1st with the California Rose Parade (Tournament of Roses) in Pasadena, Los Angeles and the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. New York City picks up the ball on January 6th for the Three Kings Day Parade. For something completely different Texas offers the Forth Worth Stock Show and Rodeo 16 January - 7 February, while Miami goes wild on the Florida Art Deco Weekend, 16-18 January.
January-February is also a terrific time to be in Canada with three fantastic winter festivals where skating, ice sculptures, snow racing, sleigh rides, dog sleds and dances will keep visitors on their toes: La Fete des Neiges in Montreal 17 January - 8 February (mainly weekends); Carnaval de Quebec in Quebec City 30 January - 15 February; and for English speakers Ottawa in Ontario hosts the wild Winterlude Festival.

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 reasonable amount of sunshine.

The Caribbean is perfect at this time though the region is at its priciest. The Dominican Republic is our choice of best value island with plenty of variety of things to do, though Puerto Rico is the easiest for Americans as it's practically another state. For pure historical and current oddness with sunshine, beaches and a good buzz try Cuba.

Best Budget Caribbean Islands

Further south in Latin America the weather, colourful cultures and prices of Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica should be brilliant. This is also the best time to cruise the dramatic and very special Galapagos Islands. January-February is not climatically the best time to be in Brazil but the Rio Carnival is a world-beating celebration of colour, music and dance (13-17 February); if you want something similar but more relaxed head for Salvador in northeast Brazil for their carnival (12-18 February).

 

Nice Carnival on the Promenade des Anglais in February, Côte d'Azur, France

Nice Carnival on the Promenade des Anglais 13 February - 1 March, Côte d'Azur, France. Photo by Elgaard.

 

Europe, January - February

Europe's skies are still a SAD gunmetal in this season and it's the coldest time of year so the three best options are to get some exercise on the snowy slopes of France, Italy, Austria and Germany; do shopping (January Sales!) and cultural visits in the classic cities of London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Barcelona and Seville or surround yourself with energy and colour at one of the continent's crazy carnivals...

 

European Carnivals 2015

2015 carnival festivities happen even earlier this year than last, mostly in February and they are definitely worth making an effort to infiltrate, but book accommodation ASAP!
Italy: The best event in Europe is the classic Carnival of Venice, colourful, fascinating, funny and a superbly costumed environment in spectacular St Mark's Square (31 January-17 February). For the full flavour, buy a mask, rent a costume and go to a palazzo ball (the best is the Doge's Ball).
France: Nice Carnival on the Côte d'Azur is a brilliant occasion on the lovely promenade of a terrific city, but not every day and parades are basically the same so seen one seen them all (13 February - 1 March).
Spain: Sitges Carnival near Barcelona is the wildest, gayest party of the year (12 - 18 February). Parades on 15th & 17th).
Germany has two carnival offerings, Cologne Carnival (Kolner Karneval), a huge Mardi Gras style event, the highlight being the Rose Monday parade (12 - 18 February; 16th is Rose Monday parade).
Then there's Düsseldorf Karneval, another outrageous and psychedelic occasion; another Rose Monday Parade! Probably the best for weird dress code (also 12 - 18 February and Rose Monday parade is 16th).

Beaches?

Nope, not unless you head outside the Mediterranean to the Spanish Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean where they enjoy pretty good weather all year round due to their North African latitude, 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.

 

The Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa seen from a child's swing

The Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, the country's best hiking region.

 

Africa, January - February

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.

 

 

Golden Jaisalmer city in Rajasthan, India

This is the season to be in India. The Golden Triangle is for beginners and includes Rajasthan's Jaipur, but venture further into this spectacular desert state and you come across golden Jaisalmer. Photo by Chris Schoenbohm.

 

Asia, January - February

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.
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).

 

Hikers on famous Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand

And finally consider New Zealand's lovely walks in the summertime, such as this famous Tongariro Crossing hike. Photo by Blueromulan.

 

Australasia, January - February

Southern Australia is in great shape in summertime, with Sydney's Festival, the biggest cultural event in the country from 8-26 January and Melbourne's Midsumma, a quite queer celebration (in both senses) from 18 January- 8 February, bursting with energy and things to do and see. 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. 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 until the end of January.

 

Dangerous Countries

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 could 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.
Russia, Ukraine.
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!

 

 

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Travel Money

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.

 

Travel Phones

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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