Photos and compact information
Some interesting, good weather destinations for January - February 2014
India; Puerto Rico, Caribbean; Venice, Italy; Kenya safaris, Africa; Thailand beaches
January - February and Northern Hemisphere tourism is mostly about wintersports or moving briskly between indoor cultural activities under damp and dreary skies. Of course in the Southern Hemisphere it's summertime so serious sunseekers need to head south. Easy, good value choices for Europeans lie in Africa - South Africa is particularly attractive, or Dubai for safe winter sun - while North Americans just have to nip down to Mexico or Costa Rica for culture, wildlife and beaches or to the Caribbean for just for the magnificent beaches and guaranteed sunshine.
Americas, January - February
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 (17-19 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 (7 - 16 March).
Alternatively New Orleans' spectacular Mardi Gras goes over-the-top on 4 March but locals start celebrating up to two weeks before.
Mexico or the Caribbean are primary beach destinations for Americans. Mexico offers a lot more culture (in fact this is one of the world's most interesting countries if you go to the right places) and low cost travel options than the Caribbean but budget Caribbean islands do exist and some - such as Puerto Rico - are even American territory so US citizens don't need passports or visas.
January is high season in the Caribbean, with prices to match; the Dominican Republic is the best value island with lots of activities and magnificent beaches.
Further south if you're looking for an exotic Latin American experience then January-February should be fine in Guatemala, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands but the weather in the remainder of the South American continent is at its worst.
Wintersports 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 (19 January - 3 February, mainly weekends). Then there's Carnaval de Québec in beautiful Quebec City, a wild winter celebration with parades, themed parties and more ice sculptures (1-17 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 (31 January- 18 February, weekends only).
Europe, January - February
Europe in winter features grey and dreary skies with optional drizzle so tourism focuses on wintersports in France, Italy, Austria and Germany or cultural visits to the classic cities of London, Paris, Rome and Seville where the climate is not quite as traumatising as further north.
2014 carnival festivities happen early this year, mostly in February and they are definitely worth making an effort to join, but book accommodation asap!
Italy: The best is the classic Carnival of Venice, colourful, fascinating,
funny and a superbly costumed environment in spectacular St Mark's Square (15 February-4 March). 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 Cote d'Azur is a brilliant
event on the lovely promenade of a terrific city, but not every day
and parades are basically the same so one is probably enough (14 February - 4 March).
Spain: Sitges Carnival near Barcelona is the wildest, gayest party of the year (25 February - 5 March. Parades on Sunday 2nd & 4th).
Germany has two carnival offerings, Cologne Carnival, Kolner Karneval, a huge Mardi Gras style event, the highlight being the Rose Monday parade (27 February - 5 March; 3 March is Rose Monday parade.
Then there's Düsseldorf Karneval, another outrageous and psychedelic occasion; Rose Monday Parade is probably the best
for weird dress code(28 February - 5 March).
Africa, January - February
February would be a better month than January for North Africa tough it could still be cold and damp in Morocco, though the further south you go the warmer/drier it gets, of course. Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh - a long way from troubles in the big cities on the other side - will be incredible value and should present blue skies but cold waters, even if it is the Red Sea.
Otherwise it's best to head south for a look at Kenya or Tanzania's wildlife, the beach island of Zanzibar (OK, but not at its very best now) or South Africa's varied attractions, from beaches to wildlife to wines and the Minstrel Carnival (2 January), though February's weather will be better than January's.
Asia, January - February
Over in Asia it's time to visit one of the two best tourist destinations in the world, 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 biggest 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 are clear, the ancient artefacts bizarre and the walks stunning.
Developing Laos is also
perfect in winter, as is Vietnam and some-might-say their overdeveloped neighbours Malaysia (tho' not the east. e.g. Borneo island). Thailand's huge selection of beaches will be warm and sunny.
Australasia, January - February
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 (9-26 January), though sadly lacking a lunatic
Fringe, and Melbourne's Midsumma, a wild and
queer arts and culture festival (12 January -2 February).
Adelaide Fringe is the Australia's
largest, wackiest festival. A huge and unhinged
event - Edinburgh in the sun (14 February-16 March). Adelaide Pictures and Information. The more formal Adelaide Festival runs 28 Feb - 16 March.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (7 February - 2 March, Big Parade on 1 March) - a huge and world famous celebration of gay life,
with a stunning parade, shows and parties.
Unfortunately it's not such a good time to be in north Australia around Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef when clouds and some rain may fall.
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.
Whatever, wherever, happy holidays!
Special Deals and Vacation offers from Tour Operators
China Tour Deals (China)
Trek America discounts (USA, Canada, Central America)
Grand American Adventures (USA, Canada, Latin America)
Saving money on low cost flights
Times are still tough for world travel with austerity budgets spreading and fuel/flight costs higher than ever, so consider a vacation destination that isn't long-haul and do some thorough research.
There are obvious downsides to flying with low cost airlines so check 'legacy' airlines, their fares may be competitive if you take in account all the extras (food, drink, baggage+!) and if you have problems you are much more likely to receive satisfaction.
1: Book online and pay by debit card, (Ryanair may charge for this). If using a tour operator check they have ATOL insurance coverage. According to industry research the optimum time to pre-book is 8 weeks before departure.
2: Keep check-in baggage to the minimum, preferably zero, for cheap flights and ensure the airline knows how many bags you'll have. n.b. Ryanair will not permit musical instruments as hand baggage.
3: Eliminate any 'world care fund' or 'carbon footprint' contributions - they probably go straight into the airline's revenue stream.
4: If you already have travel insurance make sure the airline doesn't add it to your charge by default. If not, check offerings through a price comparison site, and consider multi-trip insurance if you take more than one holiday abroad in a year.
5: Check flight status before leaving home.
6: If you are planning to drive yourself to the airport, choose your parking area and book it well in advance to get the cheapest rate. Alternatively explore public transport options; buses are often fast and good value for couples, though not perhaps if travelling as a family.
7: Never change money at the departure airport - apart from a little emergency cash if essential. Check around before you leave for the best exchange deals; for example the UK's Post Office offers good value. If you forget and need some cash pronto, exchanges at your destination usually give better rates, assuming you don't arrive in the middle of the night.
8: Car hire costs differ dramatically place to place, so research will be required in this area too. If you're planning to head for a city first then drive around the country, it will be easier and cheaper to taxi or bus into town from the airport then rent a car after you've finished the city sightseeing.
Check consumer rights and protection against airlines and tour operators going bust, hotel overbookings, TripAdvisor fake reviews and more on our Consumer Protection page.
See our cheap flights comparison listings
UK Cheap Flight Comparisons | USA Cheap Flight Comparisons
Using bank cards abroad efficiently
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!
Secure your Social network!
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 disappears into a mystery account and no one's the wiser.
Cheap Phones when travelling
Using data abroad can be expensive but most UK and US networks offer prepaid European travel data bundles –15 MB daily for a modest fee for example. In addition networks are obliged to cut you off when your monthly data bill reaches €50.
To keep data bills as low as possible, iPhone users should install Onavo. Fire up this app in a new country and it keeps you updated as to your usage and compresses data heading into your phone, thereby squeezing perhaps 50 per cent extra out of any data bundle. The app is free from iTunes for now, but charges are planned. An Android version is scheduled for release later this month. For now, the 3G Watchdog app tracks your data use; it's free from the Android Market.
Unfortunately, you could eat up a few megabytes just finding your hotel on Google Maps, so these tricks still don't exactly enable seamless home-and-abroad smart phone use.
To avoid data bills altogether, switch roaming off before you leave. On an iPhone, push the data roaming slider to off at Settings>General>Network. Android users should uncheck data roaming at Settings>Wireless & Networks >Mobile Networks. This eliminates some of your phone's functionality, but it doesn't hobble it altogether – and has the odd benefit, such as extending battery life. Instant access to a local map is one of the smart-phone's key benefits for travel, and all is not lost if you're without a web connection.
Android users can pre-download a map covering a 10-mile radius from anywhere: enable the 'Download map area' feature via the Labs tab in your Google Maps app and follow instructions. For iPhone users, an app called ForeverMap gives offline access to zoomable European country maps. Destinations outside Europe should be available soon. Download whatever countries you need over Wi-Fi before you leave. Any onboard map should work in tandem with your device's inbuilt GPS to guide you as you walk without using data.
If you're downloading a travel guide app, make sure that it also includes 'offline maps'.
Time Out publishes iPhone apps, with a range of eight cities.
- Travelfish's eight apps are the best for Asia.
The best Android traveller apps are in the DK Eyewitness Top 10 series covering 10 cities.
Source: Telegraph newspaper, UK.
The cheapest foreign phone options are
1 - Skype phone by internet via wifi on a laptop/smart phone/or even iPod Touch, costs are tiny tho' sound quality can be erratic. We're especially impressed by international video calls from a iPod Touch 4 in a wifi zone to a PC via Skype, incredible sound quality and pretty good pictures. USE WIFI WHERE POSSIBLE.
2 - sign up with the new breed of cheap international calls providers.
3 - get a 'world' sim card at home or buy a new sim card on arrival at your destination and change the card over. The main drawback is number will be new and you may have to own an unlocked phone (either get your unlocked or buy an already unlocked extra phone), but it's convenient and you only pay for what you use if you buy the right package.
4 - check out new generation phone cards to call just about anywhere.
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