When you hear “holiday travel,” do you twitch involuntarily, thinking of crowds, delayed flights, expensive tickets, and lost luggage? Leave all of that behind this winter and travel somewhere new and off the beaten path. Not only will you be able to get a better deal on accommodations and travel, you’ll also have have the chance to share something unique with your family. Here are my top recommendations for unique destinations to discover this holiday season:
1. Fairbanks, Alaska
Alaska in the middle of winter? You’re probably thinking: NO, THANKS! But hear me out, because it’s worth the chilly fingers and toes to make Fairbanks your winter vacation destination. Why? The Northern Lights, that’s why! From September to April is the very best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, and Fairbanks is the best city to see them from. This is your chance to cross “See the Aurora Borealis” off your bucket list!
2. Joshua Tree, California
If you like stargazing and you don’t like holiday crowds, then the Joshua Tree desert should be your destination. Just a couple of hours’ drive outside of L.A, Joshua Tree is beautiful, desolate, and the sky at night is a sight you’ll never forget. In the day, take advantage of the nice weather with hiking, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities.
If you want to escape winter altogether, but don’t want to deal with the crowds in Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean, then heading to the Southern Hemisphere is your best bet. The holiday season is the nicest time of year in Chile (since it’s summertime!) and you can enjoy everything Santiago, the capital city, has to offer, as well as the beaches, the beauty of Torres del Paine National Park, or see the Atacama Desert, the most arid desert in the world.
4. Grand Canyon & Antelope Canyon
Everyone has to see the Grand Canyon at some point, it’s just one of those must-see things in our great USA. Why not skip out on the holiday crowds at beaches and ski slopes, and take a trip this winter to Arizona? Besides seeing the incredible sight of the Grand Canyon, you can also go see Antelope Canyon, a beautiful red slot canyon that doesn’t get as much attention as the Grand Canyon but really should. This is a great trip option for the outdoorsy among you, since there are lots of opportunities for hiking, trekking, and other outdoor fun.
5. Cape Town, South Africa
South Africa is another great destination if you want to escape the winter chill, and Cape Town is the perfect city to start your excursion. The city is popular for its beaches, beautiful historical buildings, and laid-back atmosphere. You can also take scenic drives outside the city and experience the beauty of the surrounding Cape Winelands wine country.
6. Lake Tahoe
If you like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or just enjoying the snow, skip out on the Aspen and Taos crowds and head for Lake Tahoe. In Tahoe you’ll find several ski resorts, beautiful snowy forests, fun nightlife, and of course the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe.
7. Tokyo, Japan
Feel like really getting away this holiday season? You can’t get much further away than the other side of the world – Tokyo, Japan! Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities in the world to visit, where you can taste exotic cuisine, shop as much as your heart desires, visit the beautiful imperial palace and gardens, bathe in a Sento public bathhouse, and tons more. Since Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, you’ll be able to enjoy having shops and restaurants all open on the 25th.
8. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Lots of people head to Taos, NM in the winter to ski, but if skiing isn’t your scene, then Santa Fe might be the perfect place for you to visit. Though the weather will be chilly, it tends to be sunnier in the desert than in the dark and dreary north and midwest. Santa Fe also has tons of fun holiday traditions, shows, plus museums and cultural sites, nightlife, spas, and more. Make sure you get a good deal by booking your hotel stay in advance.
9. Kerala, India
Does meandering down a tropical river in a houseboat sound like your dream holiday trip? Because it sounds like mine. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can do just that in the backwaters of the southern state of Kerala, India. Houseboats can be rented for overnight boating trips, or you can hire a paddle boat for just a day of exploring the Kerala backwaters. Alleppey, or Alappuzha, is the most popular city for starting a backwater cruise.
10. Bryce Canyon, Utah
Besides the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon is one of the most breathtaking places you could visit in the western United States. Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its hoodoos, the term for pillar-shaped geological formations distinctive to the park. Besides the amazing red, orange, and white rock formations, you can see beautiful forests, and probably even get some snow in the winter. There are plenty of hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing trails to keep the whole family busy during your trip.
11. Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Florida
The Florida Keys are a popular vacation destination, but did you know that there’s more to the Keys than just nice beaches? At Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, you can go snorkeling, scuba diving in the lagoon, have an undersea lunch, or even stay the night in the Undersea Lodge. If you’ve always wanted to learn to scuba dive, the Undersea Park is the perfect place to learn.
12. Istanbul, Turkey
If you want to take a trip off the beaten path this holiday season, I couldn’t recommend Istanbul more highly. This beautiful city is full of history in every street, corner, and alley. You can see some of the oldest monuments of the western world, including the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. You’ll also enjoy mouthwatering Turkish kebabs and sweets, beautiful traditional dancing and music, and exciting nightlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see the breathtaking beauty of the city under a blanket of snow. Don’t forget to warm up with some sahlep in a coffee house!