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Destinations to Avoid During the Holidays and Where to Go Instead

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No Reservations Needed
Juergen Sack/istockphoto

No Reservations Needed

It's no secret that the winter holidays are a challenging time of year to travel. The lines at the airport alone can be daunting, not to mention the crowds and sky-high prices at your final destination. While popular places like New York City may be festive, they'll also be packed with holiday visitors from Thanksgiving through New Year's. The good news is there are plenty of other options, places where you're unlikely to be surrounded by a crush of visitors or be faced with price gouging. With insight from travel industry insiders, here are some of the destinations around the globe you'll want to avoid during the busy winter holiday season and where to go instead. (When you do actually go, you'll want to remember these 50 Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Travel.)

Skip: Stratton, Vermont
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Skip: Stratton, Vermont

With millions of active skiers and snowboarders in the U.S., the holiday season and winter break is prime time to hit the slopes and explore charming ski villages. One of the most quintessential and thus popular places for skiers on the East Coast is Stratton in Vermont, a place that morphs into a mini-Manhattan with the swelling crowds, ski-lift lines, and skyrocketing prices come November and December.

Instead: Reno / Lake Tahoe, Nevada
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Instead: Reno / Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Consider instead heading out west to explore the wide-open spaces in a destination like the Reno / Lake Tahoe area. Make Reno / Lake Tahoe home base for all sorts of snow adventure, from snowboarding and skiing to snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and dog sledding. There are also snow parks in the area that offer tubing and other family fun to entertain young travelers. Lodging options range from cozy boutique properties to casino hotels just in case you want to try your luck at the slots in between the slopes.

Related: The 15 Best Casinos Not in Vegas

Skip: New York City
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Skip: New York City

While some may argue there's never a bad time to visit the greatest city in the world, the fact is that New York City prices soar during the last few days of the year, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor for Travelzoo. "From December 27 through December 31, you'll see expensive pricing on New York City hotels all in the lead up to the big New Year's Eve countdown," says Saglie. "And the crowds that were already beefed up with holiday shoppers will swell even more with revelers. Congestion will make getting around the city tougher, too."

Related: 15 Types of People Who Shouldn't Visit New York City

Instead: Chicago
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Instead: Chicago

Business travel to the Windy City comes to a halt Christmas week, making it a great time to head to Chicago and take advantage of last-minute holiday sales, says Saglie of Travelzoo. Not only are you likely to find sales, visitors will also be treated to a city that transforms into a holiday wonderland offering everything from a Christkindlmarket (Nov. 15 through Dec. 24) to streets decorated in festive holiday lights. "Just be sure to bundle up," Saglie says, adding that as with most destinations, expect a bump in hotel prices even in Chicago as the calendar turns toward Dec. 31. (Check out these other Last-Minute Trips to Take Between Christmas and New Year's, too.)

Las Vegas
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Skip: Las Vegas

While Christmas week isn't so bad in Las Vegas, the buzz of a new year brings out the crowds in Sin City, Saglie says. Between Dec. 29 and Dec. 31 hotel prices soar here, Saglie says, adding that show tickets and dinner reservations will also be very hard to come buy (unless you're willing to pay up). "Vegas kicks into party mode the last couple of days of the year, which may not be everyone's scene," Saglie says. Once the countdown buzz wears off, the crowds dissipate quickly, bringing prices way down again starting Jan. 1, he says.

Instead: San Francisco
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Instead: San Francisco

The City by the Bay is another city that sees a big slowdown in business travel and conventions at the end of the year, according to Saglie of Travelzoo, so travelers may find bargain pricing in San Francisco over the winter holidays, particularly Christmas week. In fact, by some accounts, the holidays are one of the best times of year to visit the city, not only because the hotels might be more budget-friendly, but also because there's so much to do. There are numerous Christmas tree displays around the city from Union Square to the nondenominational tree at City Hall. Added bonus: Visitors can also go ice skating in Union Square.

Skip: Hawaii
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Skip: Hawaii

There's nothing like a sunny island vacation during the frigid chill of winter. But families (driven by the coveted extra time kids have out of school) flock to Hawaii during the holidays, and that drives up prices on everything from resorts, to airfare and vacation packages, Saglie says. "The beaches will be more crowded, too, and reservations at the spa and the golf course will be tougher to come by," Saglie explained. "Count on higher prices and thicker crowds from about December 20 through the first weekend in January." Important note, however, prices tend to decline 50% or more by the second week of January, once school's back in session, Saglie says. (When you do go, you'll want to remember these 20 Tips for Visiting Hawaii on a Budget.)

Instead: Nicaragua
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Instead: Nicaragua

Nicaragua remains is a relatively undiscovered gem, says Megan Walters manager of Selvista Guesthouses. Yet it's a destination that offers spectacular coastlines, wildlife and stunning scenery at a fraction of the price of more well-known tropical getaways. "And without those pesky crowds," Walters says. Among the highlights in Nicaragua is Ometepe Island, which is made up of two volcanoes, one of which is dormant and surrounded by a cloud forest. In recent years, farms on the island have transitioned to sustainable farming practices and now many hotels feature self-grown produce. Earlier this year, Nicaragua was the scene of numerous anti-government protests, and the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory in April. Of late, the country has since calmed and is seeking to regain tourism.

Skip: Orlando, Florida
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Skip: Orlando, Florida

Another destination impacted by kids being out of school around the country, the theme park mecca of Orlando is likely to be on many a family itineraries this holiday season. "High demand and the fact that vacations to places like Walt Disney World can be bucket-list trips mean prices will be high and the wait lines at popular attractions will be long," says Saglie of Travelzoo. Hotel costs tend to peak Dec. 22 through Dec. 31, but then drop off pretty quickly after the first of the year, Saglie says. (Here are 26 Ways to Do Disney on a Budget.)

Instead: San Diego
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Instead: San Diego

San Diego's weather cools in November and December, but there's little rain throughout the month, meaning sunny, crisp days on the beach are still a possibility, says Saglie of Travelzoo. "Since this is still low season in SoCal, there will be plenty of hotel prices in the $175-and-under realm," he says. And much like Orlando, there are plenty of family attractions in San Diego, everything from the San Diego Zoo to Legoland and SeaWorld.

Skip: Los Cabos, Mexico
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Skip: Los Cabos, Mexico

The secret is out on one of the great south-of-the-border destinations, says Saglie. Between the quick, two-hour flight from Los Angeles, the temperate climate, and the vibrant food scene, Cabo is a desirable place to be all year long. So, it should come as no surprise that the holidays mean peak demand in this hotspot, according to Saglie, who says prices climb quickly to meet that demand from about Dec. 20 through the first weekend of January. "Higher prices, packed resorts, busy beaches and long lines at the all-inclusive buffet will be par for the course during this period, as families and couples alike flock to Cabo," he says.

Instead: Mérida, Mexico
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Instead: Mérida, Mexico

The colorful capital of the Yucatan state, Mérida is known for its many plazas, beautiful cathedrals, and historic haciendas, says Shelley Ewing, president of TierOne Travel. "The streets are narrow, safe, clean and lined by pretty periwinkle, pink, mint green, and vibrant peach colonial-style buildings," Ewing says. Mérida is noteworthy for being just one hour south of Uxmal, a UNESCO-listed Mayan ruin that remains in good condition and where you can expect far fewer visitors than at other ruins such as Chichén Itzá. One last notable highlight, Mérida is also close to a variety of cenotes and swimming holes, Ewing says. "There are many options around Mérida but some of the best cenotes are Cuzama, Dzibilchaltun, Santa Barbara and more," Ewing says.

Skip: Bali
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Skip: Bali

Yes, Bali is a tropical paradise where visitors will find a vibrant culture, picturesque beaches, and stunning landscape. But being one of the planet's most sought-after travel destinations can have its drawbacks, says Analisa Jolley, who along with her husband, Zach, created the site The Honeymoon Vagabonds. "During the holiday season, this little island is beyond busy," Jolley says. "With Australia within a few hours via plane and the rest of Asia nearby, this tropical retreat can become an extremely overcrowded place, which can majorly detract from the natural allure of Bali."

Instead: Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
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Instead: Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Just a one-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur this island destination remains relatively unknown and it shows, says Analisa Jolley, creator of the The Honeymoon Vagabonds. "Pricewise it's similar to Bali, but the beaches here are much more beautiful, with crystal clear blue waters and white sands," Jolley says. Travelers can only transit around the Perhentian Islands by water taxi and even be taken to locations where there are no hotels are resorts, enjoying your own private beach, Jolley says. "The snorkeling and scuba diving here is extraordinary, making this our all-time favorite beach destination," Jolley says.

Skip: Thailand
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Skip: Thailand

Similar to Bali, Thailand (and much of Southeast Asia for that matter) tends to be particularly overrun with tourists from December through January, primarily because many Western travelers are on holiday, and Southern Hemisphere countries are on summer breaks from universities and schools, says Becca Siegel of the site @halfhalftravel. In particular, Siegel recommends avoiding Phuket, one of Thailand's most popular beach regions.

Instead: Taiwan
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Instead: Taiwan

Taiwan has a mild winter, and because it is an island, it is often overlooked by tourists traversing by land or by those who are seeking a more quintessential tropical getaway, says Siegel of @halfhalftravel. "Taiwan is lovable, safe, offers delicious food, friendly locals and pristinely clean cities," Siegel says. During the holidays, the city hosts a variety of festive events including Christmasland, which transforms a neighborhood into a winter spectacular that includes culinary offerings, entertainment, and shopping.

Skip: Barcelona, Spain
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Skip: Barcelona, Spain

Tourism has taken a significant toll on the popular city of Barcelona, and that fact is particularly evident during the holidays, says Sofia Scott of the site Trip Trip Now and who also happens to be a resident of the city. "Barcelona is not what it used to be," says Scott. "And during the holiday season accommodation prices are stratospheric."

Instead: Lisbon, Portugal
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Instead: Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is charming, offers much in the way of culture, and is not nearly as pricey as Barcelona, says Scott of Trip Trip Now. As an added bonus, Portugal is so small you can travel from Lisbon to Oporto in the north in only three hours, Scott says. From festive holiday decorations to Christmas markets, there is also a great deal of holiday cheer throughout the season in Lisbon.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
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Skip: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is another sunny destination that tends to draw crowds during the holidays. "It is very expensive and overrated," says Jessie Synan, creator of the site Follow Their Sunshine. "We went to Myrtle Beach last winter thinking it was off season. Apparently, many people think that and visit Myrtle Beach around Christmas time."

Instead: Wilmington, North Carolina
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Instead: Wilmington, North Carolina

Wilmington has all of the same types of activities as Myrtle Beach vacation sans the crowds, says Synan of Follow Their Sunshine. "There are holiday events all over Wilmington almost every day in December. There's also a variety of beaches nearby," Synan says. "The hotel prices are significantly lower than Myrtle Beach, and eating out is significantly cheaper. It's basically Myrtle Beach without the crowds and with a lower cost." The city's top attractions include a historic civil war fort, antebellum-era mansions and the World War II battleship North Carolina.

Skip: Washington, D.C.
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Skip: Washington, D.C.

The traffic congestion alone in Washington, D.C., is reason enough to skip this destination during the holidays, Synan says. The prices are yet another reason. By some accounts, the prices in the nation's capital during the winter holidays are second only to New York City. And then there's the frigid weather (the average high temperature in December is 46 degrees). Who wants to pay a fortune to freeze?

Instead: Annapolis, Maryland
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Instead: Annapolis, Maryland

Maryland's capital of Annapolis is a picturesque sailing city with a charming downtown that hosts a variety of events during the holiday season, Synan says. In fact, the city is regularly ranked one of the best places to be during the winter holidays. "They have a huge celebration for New Year's that takes over Main Street and is right on the water, but the prices and traffic are a fraction of what it would cost in Washington, D.C.," Synan says. Yet another highlight of the season is Lights On the Bay, from Nov. 18 through Jan. 1, when more than 60 animated and stationary displays are staged to wow visitors.

Skip: Berlin, Germany
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Skip: Berlin, Germany

Germany's picturesque and charming Christmas markets are legendary around the world for their romantic lights and tasty hot wine, says Georgina Blasco of Freetour.com. Berlin in particular attracts countless tourists in search of a winter wonderland. "The city gets crowded and the prices of hotels and restaurants rise," says Blasco.

Intead: Dresden, Germany
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Intead: Dresden, Germany

Rather than Berlin, try Dresden, suggests Blasco, who says the city hosts the oldest Christmas market in the country, known as the Striezelmarkt. "Its name derives from the famous Christstollen cake, a fruit bread with nuts and spices that can still be found at the market among other Saxon treats," Blasco says. "Dating back to the 15th century, the market has preserved Advent celebrations such as carol singing and candle lighting, and you can buy a traditional wooden ornament in any of its stands." In addition to the Striezelmarkt, the city hosts other Christmas markets that are worth a visit, adds Blasco, including the medieval-themed markets of Mittelalter Weihnachtsmarkt im Dresdner Stallhof.

Skip: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
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Skip: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Those not traveling to see family during the holidays are often looking to go somewhere warm, says Kate Sullivan, head of experience for Otis Travel Group. In many cases, that means a trip to the Caribbean and destinations like St. Thomas, Sullivan says. "In St. Thomas, the busy season starts in December when hurricane season is over and temperatures are consistently amazing with very little rain. It's basically perfect weather every day," Sullivan says. But for that same reason, St. Thomas can be crazy during the winter holidays. "Between resort visitors, cruise ship passengers, and folks who just want to go to the tropics to get away, it's extremely busy in December. Hotel and lodging prices can climb by 50% or more compared to just a month previous, and you'll probably be fighting tooth and nail for space on the beach or at a restaurant."

Instead: Miami
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Instead: Miami

If it's a beachy, breezy retreat you're after, consider Miami, says Sullivan, head of experience for Otis Travel Group. It costs less to get to and less to stay there, Sullivan says. "I always recommend visiting Miami instead. Even during the holidays, you can find amazing flight deals. Right now, you can fly one-way from New York to Miami in late December for under $50 and there's tons of lodging options, from chain hotels to Airbnbs to fit every budget," Sullivan says. Prices don't rise nearly as much in Miami as in St. Thomas, as tourists tend to come all year instead of just descending on the destination during one busy season.

Skip: Aspen, Colorado
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Skip: Aspen, Colorado

Sure, ski vacations are great for families, but between the cost of lift tickets, lodging, and equipment rentals, the price of fun on the mountain adds up very quickly, says Mark Jackson, travel expert for Brad's Deals. And nowhere is that more true than glitzy Aspen, particularly during the holidays.

Instead: Flagstaff, Arizona
Coconino National Forest

Instead: Flagstaff, Arizona

Want the snowy, ski experience without the Aspen prices? Opt for Flagstaff and visit Arizona Snowbowl, Jackson suggests. Located on Mount Humphreys, which is the tallest point in the state, Snowbowl offers 777 skiable acres, lessons, equipment rentals, and more. In addition to hitting the slopes, while in Flagstaff, you can also pay a visit to the Grand Canyon, which is open even in winter. "Snowy photos of one of the world's wonders may add a unique addition to a family's travel memories," Jackson says.

Avoid: London
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Avoid: London

Yes, it may be cold in London during the winter holidays (the average temperature is between 30 and 40 degrees) but that doesn't deter visitors and merrymakers. In addition to prices rising during the festive year-end holidays, some parts of the city will be jam packed with holiday shoppers and revelers. London attracts both local visitors and international travelers, so unless crowds combined with cold weather is your idea of holiday fun, it may be best to steer clear.

Instead: Ljubljana, Slovenia
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Instead: Ljubljana, Slovenia

For a festive and traditional holiday getaway minus the hordes of people visit Ljubljana, Slovenia, suggests Shelley Ewing of TierOne Travel. "It is one of Europe's least discovered capitals," Ewing says. "Every Christmas season the beautifully lit streets are full of Christmas markets, nativity scenes, and lively processions." Added bonus: If you like skiing, keep in mind that Slovenia's second-largest ski resort, Krvavec, is just a half-hour drive from Ljubljana, Ewing says.