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Discuss: Travel Plans

 

True story: I’ve never travelled overseas. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even have a passport.  In the middle part of the country, what some on the coasts condescendingly call the “fly-over,” this is not abnormal.  Flights from my hometown to D.C. cost more than $500, flights to places outside of the U.S. cost a kidney.  Or your first-born, whichever one you can live without.

Long story short, I’d like to do some travelling after the election.  Probably over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Maybe I’ll stay inside the country, maybe I’ll travel abroad.  But either way, I’m getting the hell out of dodge for some quality Belle time.

I’m exploring all of my options.  Warm climates, cold climates.  Big cities, quiet towns.  So if you have a trip to suggest, either in the U.S. or overseas, leave your thought in the comments with a brief defense of why this trip is the best.  Hotel suggestions, can’t-miss attractions, best restaurants, and travel tips are all welcome.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  Trips with short(ish) travel times are appreciated given the small number of vacation days allotted in the private sector.

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  1. Anon says:

    As someone who lives for traveling abroad I would say Istanbul, Paris, London. If you are keen to see Europe it is very easy to do London-Paris (you can even day trip Paris if you get the 6am train) or The Netherlands/ Belgium/ France (you take a train other than Euro star so travel is super cheap. You can also stay in private rooms in hostels which wont be as nice as a hotel but saves you money and avoids sharing with strangers.

    Also you mention that flights over seas are prohibitively expensive and justify maybe not expanding your horizons but if you add up the amount of money you spend on your morning/ night face cleaning ritual the cost of all those products together is probably about the same as a flight to London in the low season anyway. Just depends on what your priorities are.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Christina says:

    Hi Belle! Growing up a Navy brat I saw a good chunk of the world before my 18th birthday and now as a college student I've continued to fill my passport as often as possible (I just had to order new visa pages for my passport). I am going to have to recommend Japan, specifically anywhere in the Ryukyu Islands.

    I grew up on Okinawa and I can honestly say that some of the most life shaping experiences occurred there. Because of the large military presence it is incredibly easy to get around and the language barrier is not an issue if you do not speak Japanese of the local dialect. If you want private beaches that no one has ever seen before, the most amazing snorkeling and diving in the world, the greatest food, nicest people, and most inspiring and refreshing experiences in general then it is the place for you. The pace of life is much slower than mainland, its like going to Hawaii from the continental US. Getting to Okinawa is incredibly expensive though which is a major downside.

    If you cannot make it there then honestly anywhere in mainland Japan, Singapore, or the Philippines is worth the trip.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. KLo says:

    I traveled to visit a friend in London during undergrad. Because she is absolutely crazy, I ended up alone, without a place to stay, lugging my suitcase and a teddy bear (she told me she didn't have an extra pillow, I suppose I figured the teddy bear would be a great pillow). I got one of the London Passes, and even with paying for a hotel room and cabs to and from some far-off suburb, I ended up traveling pretty inexpensively. I thought London was a great place to go alone because I (obviously) knew the language, and I felt very safe there. And the food was great! And if I loved the trip after interacting with that psycho, it's got to say something about the location.

    Since you're planning on a trip well after the Olympics, it should be more reasonable, and I can only imagine how gorgeous it'll be decorated for the holidays.

    I recommend using a Visa whenever possible (unless this has changed) because they give the lowest exchange rate between when you purchase and when your bill is due, and absolutely consider renting a cell phone while there, because it (at least used to be) a lot less expensive than an international plan on your phone.

    No matter where you go – good luck and have fun!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  4. Emily says:

    Belle,

    I have traveled all over the U.S. and western Europe since I was 12, and FAR AND AWAY, the most amazing place I have ever been is the Cinque Terre in Italy. 5 coastal villages in the mountains (they don't even have cars here!), all connected by hiking paths, it was the most visually stunning scenery I have ever seen. They are still mostly undiscovered by big tourist groups, and are just breathtaking.

    https://cinqueterre.a-turist.com/index.php

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  5. MM says:

    Iceland! Not as long a flight as Europe, and really cool stuff to see (Volcanos, Glaciers, beautiful Atlantic coast), and some amazing hotspring spas to pamper yourself at. We did a package trip through Iceland Air a few years ago, and it was the most relaxing trip I've ever been on – the hotel affilated with the airline was very nice, and there were daily excursions to the volcanos and glaciers on a bus, so no need to worry about naviagting around the country. It's fairly inexpensive too (looks like it's about $700 right now for 2 nights and airfare from DC, with additonal nights about $100 each). Food was very expensive through, which makes sense, since everything has to be imported or grown in a greenhouse. And I probably wouldn't go in November b/c the days would be super short, but we went in February and it was very nice (cool, but not cold, and a little damp, which made the spa really inviting). But really fun trip!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  6. r says:

    I cannot recommend Belize enough. It's a short flight, everything is relatively cheap, and I could spend forever in the cayes (keys) there – they are gorgeous.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  7. espie says:

    For my 2 cents, got to England. If you book far enough in advanced, you can usually find a fare for about $600-$700, so the cost isn't terribly prohibitive. Also, they speak English, the signs are in English and they are generally friendly people, so as a first abroad experience,you feel like you're a world away but its not stressful because of language barriers. I got a lot, mostly to Cambridge, Oxford and London. (5 times in the last 3 years.)
    London is a great place to visit, and a nice center point. There's more than enough things to do, posh places to window shop and historic things to take in. Plus there's great jazz,theater and nightlife. But, it is quite possible to find quiet contemplative places to decompress. Also, transportation is easy and the Underground is simple to use. And the trains are very simple, so taking a day trip to a smaller place (Cambridge is beautiful as is Oxford and others!!) to get a feel for the “countryside” to England is easy. London also has convenient and cheap housing for those of us under 30 so it's worth looking into, also many of the Universities open the dorms up as hotels cheaply during holidays-another thing worth looking into.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  8. SC says:

    For Europe, I really love Barcelona. The food, the shopping, the weather, and the things to see are all amazing. Besides, you get to see some of the most creative architectural designs (Gaudi) out on the street when you're exploring the city. You definitely can't miss Park Guell or the Sagrada Familia despite both being heavy tourist places, but they're worth the look. There's plenty of culture everywhere you look in Barcelona.

    For places in Asia (if you are willing for fork out that much*) – I could go on and on with the various metros and then the surrounding cities, given that my family is from there and my family loves to travel. I like Asia mainly for cheap delicious food, super-efficient public mass transit in the metros, and random bits of leftover historic buildings in every neighborhood. The capital cities are all good places to go – Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, (Shanghai, which isn't a capital but nicer than Beijing), Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo There's also gorgeous scenery if year round and nice warm weather if you head towards the southeast.

    • the trick to getting cheap air tickets when flying overseas is 1) buy early and 2) rack up lots of mileage points and share with family members and 3) find a good travel agent because sometimes they can shave off a couple hundred dollars off the lowest price you can see online anywhere.
    January 27, 2012/Reply
  9. HMB says:

    I'm in the same boat you are and I feel like in DC we are the abnormal ones! To take a few big trips this year is my New Year's Resolution and though weddings and such are taking me all over the country, I'm determined to go overseas finally. I'm excited to see where you choose to go first!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  10. Michele says:

    Italy! In my experience, very friendly to English-speaking tourists.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  11. Dakota says:

    Dublin. Easy flight and super manageable city. There are always deals on the flight! They love Americans and the city is safe. There is plenty to do – museums, restaurants, Guinness factory, shopping, going out to the countryside (Wicklow Mountains), historic homes, the zoo…. If you do go, stay in the Waterloo Guest House, it's a renovated Georgian rowhouse in a fashionable area of Dublin and is walkable to lots of sites. Also it includes breakfast, which is nice.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  12. Nina says:

    It really depends on what you want – shopping? nature? art? history? My favorite guidebooks are Rick Steves, fwiw.

    The best place I've ever been is St. Petersburg, and I love Moscow and Helsinki too. In 2013 I'm visiting all three AGAIN, and it is really rare for me to revisit a place. Love, love, love but significant travel times involved. You do not have to speak perfect, or even decent Russian to go (my Russian is Aw. Ful. and I survive). Think about going here in a couple of years. Here are my other faves:

    Bahamas – this is like adult Disney World. No responsibilities, tons of fun, all the amenities you want, and very relaxing.

    Canada – Prince Edward Island and Halifax are beautiful. Much of Canada is beautiful! Whale watching! Anne of Green Gables! The major cities are also super cool, but it's a huge country so you can't hit everything in one trip. Consider anywhere in Canada, except for maybe the Yukon.

    London – most museums are free, history museum is great, art is meh (depending on what eras you like I guess, Smithsonian is just as good imo), lots and lots of good day trips like Bath and Stonehenge. The shopping is fabulous. Very safe for a woman traveling alone. Consider Olympics related complications.

    Italy – I've only been to Rome and Florence and I much preferred the later. If you have any interest in the Renaissance this will blow your mind. Florence is very walkable and the food is delicious. I had the best time just buying scarves and eating gelato and walk around to find more scarves to buy and amazing churches to look at. Seeing the major sites in Rome – Roman ruins, Colosseum, and the Vatican – was extremely meaningful but the city is not as clean or safe and the street harassment really got to me. You could fly into Rome, do everything great in 1.5 days and then get on a train to Florence and have a ball for as long as you are able.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  13. Ashley says:

    For my first overseas trip, I picked an English speaking country. I went to London for 5 days, 4 nights in October. The weather was perfect, little rain and mild temperatures. I stayed at the Base 2 Stay in Kennsington very close to the Gloucester Rd tube station. From the hotel, you definitely had to take a tube ride to get to the main attractions in London, but it was cheap(er) because the closer you get to the main part of London, the more expensive the hotels become. I also purchased a 24 hour double decker sightseeing tour bus that took you round and throughout London (similar to one in DC and New York) that I could get on and get off at different major attractions. My favorite attractions were the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge tour. A walk down a very long Oxford Street is a must. Also, if you can only do one thing in London, go to the Natural History Museum. During my trip I got through 1/4 of the museum and am planning a return trip just to experience the rest. For food and drinks, get a full English breakfast once, experience a real English tea, eat Indian food, and go to a pub for fish and chips. Oh, and if you go to Big Ben, you make see a pancake vendor on the side of the road…you must a get a pancake…actually, it's more like a crepe, but he says he's a pancake vendor. Delicious!

    For money, I exchanged about $300 to pounds at my local AAA, but mostly I used my Visa card. The foreign rate was low and it was accepted everywhere. For a cell phone…I have Verizon and my current phone is not global, so I purchased a BlackBerry and it worked well. For the majority of the time, I had the internet on the phone turned off. I would turn the internet on to check emails, look up attractions, and update Facebook. If I called home, it was usually once a day but I did use text messages liberally. I think my phone bill was $90 which isn't too bad considering it is normally $70.

    On Sunday, I did a bus tour to Stonehenge, Bath, and Salisbury through Evans Evans Sightseeing Tours (https://www.evanevanstours.co.uk/). If I was to do the sightseeing tour again, I would drop Salisbury. Bath was awesome…great shops, sights, and food (Mmm, pasties). Stonehenge is exactly like the pictures…go in with low to no expectations and you won't be disappointed (you may even be surprised).

    No matter where you travel, use trip advisor … https://www.tripadvisor.com/

    For my second international trip in April 2012, I am planning a trip to Phuket, Thailand.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  14. R says:

    I second Dublin! They're so friendly, it's a great place to go alone. It's low key, great for relaxation, pretty, interesting, different. Loved it!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  15. HB says:

    I have been traveling to Ireland since I was a wee lass, and I LOVE it. As recommended above, Dublin is a lot of fun and has a lot of touristy things to do, if that is what you're looking for. If it is not what you're looking for and you'd prefer a more historic/scenic/relaxing stay I would recommend flying into Shannon Airport (Limerick) and traveling the west coast. There are many beautiful castles, cathedrals and monestaries as well as adorable sheep. The prices are cheaper (5 Euro for a pint instead of 7) and everyone is friendly. You MUST stay at the Coonagh Lodge in Limerick (https://coonaghlodge.com/) because the woman of the house makes the BEST french toast and rasberry jam. The proprieters are good family friends of mine (my family) and are wonderful.

    I also like Rome and Paris, as far as Europe goes. The Bahamas/Caribbean is an adult playground. Beach, booze and fun! Being from Texas I always like a warm getaway in the winter (since winter here is roughly 30 degrees cooler than winter in TX).

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  16. Zoe says:

    I am in the same boat as you Belle. My new year's resolution is to travel abroad. I have decided on India and I am hoping to spend several days there. Happy planning!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  17. NJN says:

    I highly recommend London as well. I studied aboard there during the winter and had such fond memories of my stay. As others have said, the Tube is easy to navigator and extremely convenient. There's great food (and shopping) to be had all over the place from the more touristy places in Piccadilly to more hole-in-the-wall places in Camden. I would also recommend day trips to Oxford and Bath. Bath (St. George's Hotel) is absolutely a must-see; the architecture and landscape are beautiful. Also, I highly suggest a trip taking the train from London to Edinburgh (Ballantrae Hotel in West End). There's much to see and do in Edinburgh including the highlands and Scottish seaside.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  18. Zoe says:

    I meant several weeks, not several days. That is what I have heard about anywhere you plan to go- allow about 2 weeks to make it worth the plane ticket cost.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  19. Melissa says:

    The Caribbean is a great experience for beginner-to-intermediate travelers from the East Coast – not too far, tourist-friendly, but still full of unique different places. And of course it's all PARADISE. Last year I went to Cartagena, Colombia and I would recommend it to anybody – the food was amazing, the medieval architecture was so beautiful and felt European, and it felt very safe and tourist-friendly without feeling too Americanized. I also had the most crazy, fun spa experience of my life there – a short trip outside the city there is a small inactive volcano filled with warm skin-soothing mud for bathers. It was wild – one of my best party stories.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  20. Whitney says:

    You would LOVE Florence…the streets smell like leather goods and there is gelato on every corner.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  21. Em says:

    Hi Belle,
    After over a year of just reading, this is a topic I actually feel like I can help with! For your first trip overseas, possibly traveling alone, and in the winter, I think England and Italy are your two best options.
    1. Both are locations that have slightly more temperate climates than some of the other places proposed. You are much less likely to run into snowed-out airports flying DC to London or DC-London-Rome. When you are traveling over the holidays you are dealing with limited time and incredibly full airports, so snow delays can be tragic.
    2. Both are English-language friendly. I don't know if you speak another language, but having never been abroad, I would assume you haven't ever had to try to negotiate in anything but English, and it can be exhausting. You want your first trip to be fun and inspire more, not a challenge that leaves you drained.
    3. Both are stunning countries, and you can easily do a one-city trip (Just London or Just Rome) or add in some in-country travel if you want variety. Do not be afraid of tour buses! This is a vacation, no-one is judging you.
    4. Both are fashion capitals, but with VERY different looks than NY or LA. I think you would really enjoy seeing the difference between a professional DC woman and a professional Roman woman. Its a very elegant look for the older women, and a very creative take on business casual for younger. I loved it.

    So yeah, I would focus on Rome or London. And if not, I am always behind the ladies who have proposed international beach hopping!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  22. Monica says:

    I highly recommend Dublin/Ireland as well, it is a place that can make you “homesick” for it once you leave. It is a magical place full of history and wonderful people. Also, as others have said you can get there for a very reasonable price if you fly with Aer Lingus. I would recommend two weeks if you want to get out of the city, the West coast of Ireland is unrivaled in my mind for landscapes and history.

    Recommendations:
    Guinness Storehouse
    Wicklow Mountain tour
    Temple Bar (touristy but fun)
    Trinity College & Book of Kells

    If you can get out of Dublin which I highly recommend these are some my favorite spots:
    Sligo County (just amazingly beautiful countryside)
    Donegal and Slieve League (super high and spectacular sea cliffs close to the Arctic Sea)
    Aran Islands (amazing Iron Age forts and structures, like going back in time)
    Galway (hit up the Cliffs of Moher from here)
    Clonmacnoise (wonderful monastic site halfway from Dublin to Galway)
    Connemara (sheep and some of the most amazing landscapes)

    If you're up for it, you can also take a short train ride up to Belfast from Dublin. I enjoyed seeing it, and it isn't the war zone it used to be.

    Every time I plan a trip I am torn between going back to Ireland or going to see something new, it is THAT fantastic.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  23. Smeeshu says:

    I second Iceland. I went this past summer and it was fantastic! Very easy to get to (direct flight out of Dulles), wonderful people, very interesting history, fab shopping (lots of unique boutiques), other-worldly scenery. I'd go again just for the spa treatments. November might be a little chilly, though. I think the warmest day we had during our August visit was mid-50's.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  24. LC says:

    I think for a first trip a London/Paris combo is a great way to see some of the “biggies” in Europe (British Museum, Windsor Castle, Louvre, Eiffel, and of course FANTASTIC shopping). I just did this last Thanksgiving. We have Thanksgiving Day/Day after, so I only used 3 vacation days and took off the M-W of that week. I left the Friday before Thanksgiving week and got back the following Sunday. That gave me 8 ish days not including travel.

    The great thing about a London/Paris trip is that you can fly into London and then back out of Paris. You can spend a few days in London, then take the Eurostar train from the center of the city in London to the center of the city in Paris in about 2 hours. It was really no hassle compared to what you would have to do flying. Plus, you get to see two fantastic cities without having to worry about wasting travel time getting back to your origin airport.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  25. K says:

    Jamaica – so relaxing, great all-inclusive resorts, short flight, fabulous weather, and an english speaking population. There's also great adventures like waterfall, snorkeling, etc.

    Australia – Such a fabulous country, infinite things to do and see, friendliest people you'll ever meet, and you can hop over to gorgeous New Zealand. Unfortunately, its a longgg flight.

    Brazil – Such an exciting country, warm weather in November, because of it's Portuguese history, very different than most South American countries. Great music and food, and fabulous people. Not a short flight, but not the longest.

    South Africa – great food and wine. Beautiful views. So many crazy adventures you can go on (can you say safari?), and amazing hotels and resorts. I recommend 12 Apostles hotel in Capetown, or staying at Aquila game reserve.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  26. WZ says:

    I loved the Yucatan region of Mexico, just outside of Cancun. Favorites included Playa del Carmen (fantastic food), Akumal (snorkel right off the beach and see sea turtles), Tulum (beautiful site right off the Carribean), and cenotes (beautiful sinkholes). I loved the food and it was a fantastic and short vacation away for winter!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  27. bt says:

    Argentina is beautiful and if you have a limited amount of time and want to maximize your trip and return to work without jet lag, South America is the way to go

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  28. KC says:

    I agree with the England/Ireland/Scotland suggestions! We took the train south to Waterford and back. The countryside is beautiful and the little towns are very quaint and interesting. We stopped in Kilkinney too. We (female friend and I) stayed in Bed & Breakfasts in Ireland and had a blast–very nice, safe places to stay, reasonably priced and a great breakfast in the morning. Something to consider if you go to England/Ireland–flights between European countries are cheap, so flying into London, then flying to Dublin, and flying back to DC from Dublin might be a doable trip and give you more bang for your buck.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  29. MW says:

    If you are spending the major dollars to travel to London, I would utilize the amazing transportation options to spend several days in another country as well (which are often most accessibly from the UK central hub). It takes a couple of hours to reach France, Belgium, etc.- all of which are fantastic “Europe for Beginners” locations. The trip that changed my life, however, was my spring break to Greece (Athens, Mykonos and Santorini). Greece has the perfect mix of history/tourism, party locations, and beautiful tranquility.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  30. aw says:

    I support all the suggestions for Italy! I grew up in Southern Italy and traveled all over growing up, and I think it's a reasonably priced destination with amazing food, shopping, beautiful sights, and incredibly friendly people. You could easily make a memorable vacation out of arriving in Rome, traveling upwards over a few days by train, and leaving from Milan.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  31. A says:

    Central America in general is 1) easy to get to and 2) inexpensive (I got my ticket last year for $350!). I'd suggest Belize or Honduras or Costa Rica. All are warm, nice beaches, and you can easily see some ancient ruins if you plan it right.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  32. Emme Gee says:

    Start with PARIS!!! You will fall in love…

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  33. JD says:

    I agree with the suggestions to go to Dublin, I spent three summers living in Ireland and as someone else mentioned it is a place that you want to keep coming back over and over again. My only concern would be the weather in November might be a bit dark and gray.

    Because of the time of year I would recommend going to Madrid, United has a direct flight from Dulles. I would stay at a Roommate hotel, they are a trendy Spanish hotel chain kind of like W Hotel but at a reasonable price. Most people speak English so that wasn't an issue. Not to miss, museum Del Prado, the Royal Palace, El Escorial, tapas eating and wine drinking. Good luck with your decision.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  34. Emme Gee says:

    Also, the NYT Travel section has some great articles on places to go. Their “36 Hours in [XYZ City]” are really helpful and interesting, and can give you a good feel for what's it is like to visit that city.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  35. Lynn says:

    P.S. Capital One is by far the best credit card to take internationally. Hands down, undisputed.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  36. Valerie says:

    I'll echo a lot of the comments here and say your first trip has to be to Italy. Amazing food, amazing sights, and of course (since you're an expert blogger on this) lots of fashion. Fly into Rome and then take train trips to Milan, Florence, or Venice depending on your mood. Disclaimer: you might be called Bella rather than Belle ๐Ÿ˜‰

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  37. Capitol Hill Barbie says:

    For a first trip, you really can't go wrong with any of the suggestions here. London, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Florence etc are all amazing. I'll throw in my recommendation for Buenos Aires, Argentina. We went there for our honeymoon and I almost defected. It feels like a European city, the people are so friendly, there is art to see, fantastic food and the shopping is AMAZING. Seriously, go for the gelato and custom leather jackets along. The best part is that the exchange rate is extremely favorable and your money goes really far. You can also do a day trip to Montevideo for some beach-time or even up to Iguazu falls if you have time.

    That said, if you're headed to Europe: Paris. There is nothing else for a first trip.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  38. Maggie says:

    Hi Belle,

    I just wanted to throw in my two cents that I wouldn't do your first trip in London. After living in DC, I just don't feel like London is all that different. I HIGHLY recommend Italy! I studied abroad in Siena, which is an hour south of Florence. You could see so many incredible and different places in Italy… Florence, Rome, Venice, and Cinque Terre would be an absolutely amazing trip. You don't need to know Italian (maybe get a travel phrase book), but you feel like you've traveled to a completely different and wonderful world. London has great history, but it feels a lot like an American city to me.

    Thank you for your fabulous blog… it gets me through the week!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  39. Nancy says:

    I'm going to have to third Iceland! (Is that the way you say it?)

    I've traveled all around Europe and to a few countries in Asia, and my most recent trip was to Iceland. For a first time overseas traveller, Iceland would be great. Reykjavik isn't that big, so it's definitely a walkable city. The city has a very low crime rate and is extremely safe as well. The majority of the people speak English, and since the tourism is one of the country's biggest economic activities, everyone is super nice. They even have this really cool national program where native Icelanders invite tourists to their homes/businesses to partake in traditional icelandic food and activities.

    Contrary to what the other two people said, I went as a whim in November with a friend (found a good Icelandair package), and it was amazing! Yes it was cold, but it seems like you being from the MidWest wouldn't be TOO fazed by it. We stayed at great hotel (the Hilton Reykjavik) and went to a little “travel market” they have there and booked daily excursions for the days that we were there. You can pick and choose to do things at your own pace. For the four days that I was there, I took a tour of the city, went on a glacier walk, walked behind a waterfall at night, went snorkeling in a freshwater lake (located where the Northan American and European tectonic plates are pulling apart), swam in a hot spring, rode cute Icelandic horses, took a bus tour around the Golden circle and on the very last night, saw the northern lights!

    I went over a weekend, and even with all the daytime activities, still managed to go out both Friday and Saturday night, and it was a great time (I think I stayed out til past 4am both nights). There are tons of cute little boutique stores along the main road. While I was there, my friend and I tried a variety of traditional Icelandic food. The last night night we were there, we went to this nice restaurant called the Three Frenchman that was recommended to us by several locals and the food was amazing there.

    If you decide on Iceland, feel free to contact me and I'll give you more suggestions if you'd like. Happy travel planning!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  40. saramel says:

    I love all of the suggestions, you really can't go wrong with any place you choose! I used to work in marketing for international travel and have visited most of the places mentioned and want to suggest one more to consider: Malta. It's often overlooked but being right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea it has the best mix of everything you'd want from a major European destination and more. Every major western civilization has left their mark on this small group of islands, it has ancient temples that predate Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, lovely walled cities, beaches, and a rather mild climate. Its small size also makes it less overwhelming, you can do pretty much everything in a short visit without feeling rushed and still have time to relax. Everyone speaks English and the crime rate is inconceivably low so you can travel alone without fear. The only drawback is that it is not the easiest destination to reach, you'll probably have to change planes at least once but it's definitely worth checking out.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  41. Emily says:

    I would highly recommend Buenos Aires. It's very much like a European city, but without the jet lag and with a better exchange rate. BA has fantastic food, wine, art, and architecture. In my experience, the people were very friendly, especially considering how big the city is. Also, it was the most fun vacation for shopping I've ever had. I got riding boots to die for there.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  42. Aunt_Pete says:

    If you are planning a short-ish trip I would personally avoid Europe. Airfare is so expensive, I would save it for a time when you can really devote at least a few weeks. I want to go for another visit but I'm waiting until I switch jobs. I'm hoping to be financially prepared enough to take two to four weeks off.

    Panama is lovely and budget friendly. Vancouver too. I'm also a huge fan of travelling domestically. It always shocks me how so many of my friends have been all over the world, but yet have only visited a handful of states in the US. If you're going the city route, how about Chicago, Salt Lake City, New Orleans or San Francisco? The Florida Keys are another option or the Oregon coast.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  43. Sam says:

    I'm with you, Belle. Traveling abroad was a rite of passage that I somehow missed out on. I get funny looks for it too. Someday I'd like to cross the ocean, but I don't feel like I'm going to live a meaningless life if I don't make it over.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  44. CMS says:

    I haven't traveled much – one trip across the pond to Italy for our honeymoon, but man was it fantastic. We spent part of the trip in Rome, and the other part on the Amalfi Coast in the tiny town of Positano. If that was the only place I was ever allowed to vacation for the rest of my life, I would die completely fulfilled. Positano is one of the chicest hotels on the coast and has great shopping, but is also quaint and relatively quiet – it was only really discovered during WWII. And you can stop on Pompeii in your way in and out. It is very easy to take the train from Rome to Naples and then just rent a car or have a driver for the 35 minute drive to the coast. If by chance you make it to the Amalfi Coast, by all means, rent a boat with a skipper and have him take you in all of the little grottos and to the towns along the coast.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  45. DC Atty says:

    We have spent Thanksgiving week in England twice now. The advantage is that is the low season there so things are cheaper and less crowded. The disadvantage is that many sites are closed during the low season. That being said, there is so much to see and do, expecially on a first trip, that I would recommend it. The other recommendation I have is Quebec. Montreal and Quebec City are both charming (and the food is great). I would not go to Quebec in winter, however.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  46. JJ says:

    South Africa is truly the vacation of a lifetime. If you've got two weeks, make that your destination. In my 12 days there, I explored the gorgeous and outdoorsy city of Cape Town, visited the penguins in a charming seaside town called Simonstown, spent a few days at a lovely B&B in wine country and ate at world-class restaurants fairly inexpensively, went on safari for three days and saw the full cast of the Lion King up close and personal while staying at a five star luxury bush lodge, and spent my last day at a cheetah center where I got to PET a cheetah and see all kinds of interesting animals. The breadth of experiences you can have there is amazing, and it is a lot cheaper than Europe. The downside is a long flight, but it's worth it.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  47. love it says:

    Another vote for London!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  48. devinzgrandma says:

    Take a cruise out of Baltimore! Depending on the length, destination, and cabin location, you can go inexpensively or top-flight to either warm or cool climates. Or should you still decide to travel outside of the U.S., cruise the Mediterranean, visit Greece — your options are wide open. It is extremely relaxing, enjoyable, and your options can either be to join in every activity or quietly read a book. Can't beat cruising!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  49. Kaylee says:

    I'm going to add my voice to the chorus of those suggesting Iceland. It's an amazing place and really totally unlike anywhere I've ever been. There is great nightlife, dining, and shopping in Reykjavik and the day tours are wonderful. I did the Golden Circle and Fontana Steambath tour, horseback riding, and the Blue Lagoon (the massage there was amazing). It's a short, direct flight from Dulles and Iceland Air typically runs amazing specials.

    And, to add another suggestion, Montreal is an amazing city and has quite a European feel to it. It's obviously closer than some of the other suggestions and is generally cheaper to get to. I quite enjoyed it; I've been several places in Canada and it was far and away my favorite. It was a while ago when I was last there, so I don't remember a ton of specifics, but if you'd like to chat more about it, feel free to e-mail me. Looking at my pictures and reading through my travel journal always jogs my memory!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  50. Kaylee says:

    Oh, and if you do decide to stay in the US, I'd recommend Charleston, SC (or you could even do it as a long weekend trip some time). It's has so much southern charm and great beaches near by. Oviously the beach isn't a big November activity, but if you decide to travel during the summer, I'd recommend spending a few days in the city and then booking a room in one of the hotels on Kiawah Island and staying there for a few nights-it has amazing beaches (and great gold courses, if you and/or any travel companions enjoy golf).

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  51. H says:

    Since you've received a plethora of suggestions, I thought I'd give you someone elses opinion on the, so you can gauge a little better.
    England -Americans tourists love it because of the language and it is charming, INDEED, but if you are only going to have one outside experience in so many years, I'd go somewhere a little more exotic
    Cinque Terre, Positano or the Amalfi Coast – pretty but absolutely not off the beaten path, though in November it should be relatively empty with mild (but not warm) weather
    South Africa – its brilliant there, but you need longer than 1 week
    Greece – its a great destination, especially out of season in November; touristy enough to not make you feel unsafe
    Iceland – amazing!
    Charleston – definitely worth it, though in November you may wanna think about going further South for better weather
    Belize – awesome, for a first foreign travel experience its probably better if you have some Spanish proficiency and aren't terribly squeamish about traveling by yourself as a woman
    Barcelona – its amazing, great weather in November
    Moscow and Helsinki – great cities, would recommend those for a 2nd or 3rd trip though, rack up some intl. travel experience first, especially Russia can be a bit intimidating and both seem too cold in November
    Bahamas – if a resort is what you are going for, I'd go to something a bit more outlandish like Grenada
    Australia – sounds like too far for you
    Brazil – awesome, but if you speak Spanish I'd go somewhere in South America where they speak it
    Yucatan – great, in Hurricane season not so much, also pretty touristy
    Argentina – incredible, though might also a bit far / too big for such a trip

    Actually, I'll recommend something afterall. Costa Rica. Cheap and hassle free to get to, mild climate, the safest country in Central America and South America, they are very used to tourists but not overrun with it especially not in November, the country is small but so diverse that in 7 days you'll easily be able to see volcanoes and bathe in hot springs, hike rain forests, lie around at the beach for a day, go ziplining, eat incredibly cheap but good food, go monkey and bird watching in a river, tourist beautiful market places and churches. November is also the perfect time to go. Rain season has ended but its not as uncomfortably hot as early winter. Not the best place for shopping. If that is a key for you, you need to go to Paris instead.

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  52. Chelsea says:

    Turkey is the best place that I have visited! Istanbul is truly incredible in every season, and would be good for a week-long trip. Email me for any trip advice if you decide to go!

    January 27, 2012/Reply
  53. AM says:

    Belle,

    Seeing as I live in London I will add to the recommendations of other commenters here, but it is a great place, LOTS to see in London alone with easy day trips to Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, the countryside etc. and it will all be nice and decorated for the holidays! Also would recommend the suggestion of combining it with Paris, the Eurostar to there is only 2.5 hrs and Paris is amazing. It will be low season too. I actually don't think london is like DC at all (i've lived in both), there are so many faces to London and a different vibe in each neighborhood.

    If you're thinking of Europe, another suggestion is to go to Portugal — weather is really mild there, and lots of beautiful places to see, amazing food, and its pretty cheap (plus lots of offers now that the country is bankrupt and they're trying to attract tourism). I'd suggest basing yourself in Lisbon and exploring around there, particularly Sintra and the Estoril coast.

    Another suggestion around that time is to go to Cologne (or other German cities) or Vienna for the Christmas markets! Something different and seasonal, and really fun (although it will be cold!).

    You'll have an amazing time wherever you go!

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  54. Beth says:

    You can easily do a long wkd in London or Paris as long as you fly nonstop. I have done this several times now. Three nights, or four nights (with yet another night on the overseas flight). I even went to Madrid over MLK wkd. The key is a nonstop flight. It is a good idea to have a handful of “must sees” already listed so that you don't waste time dawdling. Otherwise you can just wander. Longer is better, but three or four nights is completely doable.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  55. Beth says:

    Charleston in November will be warm. It was 80+ this Thanksgiving. Ditto Savannah.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  56. Britt says:

    If you are only taking a few days, have you considered local? I did a road trip through New England last spring and it was great. We saw 6 states but you could focus on a few areas. ! I'm from Maryland so it's a similar distance. I'd recommend staying at The Langham in Boston – lots of history plus a young crowd. If you want more “rustic,” perhaps a b+b in Vermont (we stayed in Brattleboro). Fall in New England is beautiful- a much truer season than here in the Mid-Atlantic. Can't wait to hear what you decide.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  57. eb says:

    The pacific coast of costa rica…playa negra and playa avellanas are absolutely amazing.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  58. Christine says:

    As a Canadian, I wouldn't recommend any city other than Vancouver for that time of year, as it is often quite cold by November in most of the country, but I would recommend seeing Canada in the summer.

    Italy is great in the winter – expect the temperature to be in the 40s and overcast/rainy. I lived in Cortona, which is a town in tuscany between Rome and Florence during my degree and I had a blast. If you do choose to see the country, if possible, try and see some of the tuscan towns. I would recommend against cinque terre in late november, as it will be freezing cold and windy. If you want to do some shopping in Italy and you're in the Florence area, there is a fabulous designer outlet mall called “the mall” which i'd recommend checking out. There is enough to see in Rome, Naples, and Florence to fill up a couple of weeks.

    Paris would also be wonderful. I don't speak french very well, and both times i've visited, i've had absolutely no problems getting around and communicating with people. Keep in mind Paris is fairly expensive.

    Barcelona would also be a blast in the winter, as it's fairly warm all year round. There is a ton of stuff to see, and there is some interesting shopping.

    If you're interested in going somewhere more exotic, I've heard Morocco is amazing. There are many companies that do tours, like geckos adventures. These tours give you a chance to see places you may not be comfortable seeing as a single woman travelling.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  59. Anie says:

    For Europe—southern Spain is wonderful. Beautiful scenery, lovely people, tons of great things to see. The cathedrals in Seville and Toledo and Seville's Jewish quarter are amazing, and I could spend days in the Alhambra in Granada. Madrid and Barcelona are close, and so is the warm Mediterranean coast. A disadvantage, though, is that it might be difficult to get around without any Spanish—some people speak English, but certainly not everyone.

    However, if you've only got a week, I might second travelling within the U.S. or, at least, the western Hemisphere. This is especially true if you want real `relaxation' travel; I've always found travelling abroad to be somewhat strenuous, what with long plane rides, customs, not knowing the language…. What about some of the southern states, since it'll be warmer in November in the south than it will be up north? Austin is, of course, the Hipster capital of the south; then there's New Orleans, which is worth a week of your life at some time.

    I also strongly recommend California's bay areas. There's the San Francisco Bay, which is—of course—exciting and busy and full of amazingly wonderful things to do. But there's also Monterey Bay, an hour and a half south of SF, which is far more nature-oriented; lots of hiking, kayaking, surfing, and playing in the redwoods and the ocean around Monterey Bay.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  60. Ylesuin says:

    I'm going to add another vote for Iceland. I've traveled all over the world and Iceland is one of the most wonderful places I've ever been. If you like scenery, it has some of the most incredible scenery around. In one day's trip from Reykjavik, you can see mountains rising from plateaus, ash deserts, the seaside, glaciers, and even a glacial lagoon. The people were also very friendly, there's some good shopping, and lots of interesting history. You can easily get around Reykjavik on foot, especially if you stay downtown, which you can do pretty inexpensively. I was there for only four days and was able to see quite a bit, so it's definitely doable for a short trip. I would note that food there is expensive.

    If you want something more cosmopolitan (or warmer), I would also recommend Florence. It's a fabulous city and if you want to go anywhere in Italy, it should be there. Of course, it is a bit farther than Iceland, but still easily reachable.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  61. ~M says:

    I don't have a specific place in mind, although I've always really wanted to see the pink sands of Bermuda. I've been lucky enough to travel a few times in the past 4 months and I have practicalities on my mind.
    First, think about the temperature. You can do a go everywhere, see everything trip if it's warm. If it's cold, you cannot walk 5 miles every day. You will strain your legs and probably hurt yourself. This brings me to a second point. If you want to go have a relaxing time, you really don't want to go anywhere colder than 45 degrees. At those temperatures you can wear a wool coat or even a jacket liner depending on the wind and walk around for hours and be comfortable. You may also not want to go someplace too hot. That kind of jolt to the system can be a little rough and it's hard to pack because 80 degrees in July in DC feels very different than 80 degrees suddenly in the middle of winter.
    Next: where will you stay. It may sound pretentious, but look up Small Luxury Hotels of the World. These hotels really are wonderful. I've stayed in 2 and will soon stay in a third. As the name implies, the are small, so the people at the desk and the breakfast room/restaurant recognize you and you can ask them about what's going on in the city etc. and they are nice. They are very clean (the most important thing to me) and the rooms feel personal. The price for these vary wildly though. There are some as cheap as $100 in Bali and a few in New York that are $500+.

    Finally, I do have one idea for a place. Go to DisneyWorld. My husband and I went last year and he was very skeptical about it, but we had an amazing time. It was a ton of fun, it's possible to eat good food (we didn't eat burgers or pizza once) all day, and hotel options are extremely varied. We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is a major splurge, but it was so cool, a real resort. There are also budget hotels. You'll save money by staying in Orlando, but you'll save a ton of hassle, time, and energy by staying inside the park. We got a meal plan where we got two meals a day and a snack; we ate granola bars for breakfast, good sandwiches for lunch, and then went out for fantastic meals every night at Epcot (you can visit 10 countries in one trip!). I can't recommend it enough.

    Please make sure to report back.

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  62. KH says:

    I second a previous poster's suggestion of Montreal! It's close, it's cultured, it has great food and shopping, and it has a lovely European feel.

    Also, I saw another poster suggested India. I went to India last year and it is an amazing place to visit, but DO NOT make it your first trip outside of the US ๐Ÿ™‚

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  63. Esther says:

    If you decide to go the Canada route, unlike the poster above, I would not recommend Vancouver in the winter unless you are an avid skiier/snowboarder and want to visit Whistler. Vancouver is miserable in the wintertime, grey skies and rain everyday and all day. At least in other Canadian cities they get some sun even though it is freezing (so I wouldn't recommend those either for winter, ha).

    I am surprised by how few votes there are for Asia– I recognize it might be difficult for non-English speakers, but to me, travelling abroad is all about entirely new experiences, and you are sure to get that in Asia. I visit Seoul, South Korea often (I have family there) and it is always an amazing experience with tons of great cheap food. You might want to visit with a friend though just so you don't feel lost. The metro system is very easy to use.

    Recommended neighbourhoods/areas to visit: Apgujung (garusogil), Insadong, Itaewon, Gangnam, Myeongdong, dongdaemun….I hear Jeju Island is beautiful as well.

    South Korea can get quite cold in the winter as well, as a note. This is simply a suggestion for travel in general, rather than a specific time..

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  64. Esther says:

    Sorry, I meant English speakers, not non-English speakers. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    January 28, 2012/Reply
  65. kjz123 says:

    My personal favorite place I've been is Istanbul and the Turkish coast. It's absolutely fabulous. Istanbul is this wonderful mix European and MIddle Eastern and old and new. But if it's your first trip abroad, , I might recommend London or, if you just want a nice warm beach, the Caribbean. For the Caribbean, I highly recommend Vieques, which is a little island off of Puerto Rico. It's got the most gorgeous beaches, and, at least when I went a few years ago, was still relatively unknown and therefore basically empty on the beaches and amazingly laid back. Also, no passport required! (yay Puerto Rico)

    Turkey, btw, would be fine alone and as a first trip, I just think if you've never been to a foreign country, you might want to start somewhere where they speak English (or, well, mostly if you opt for Vieques. Dominate language is obviously Spanish, but most people speak English as well). Email me if you want any suggestions or tips.

    January 29, 2012/Reply
  66. M says:

    If you only have a few days to spare, I'm all for London or the Carib. Jamaica is breathtaking and not exactly bank breaking. I can't believe I am suggesting this but a cruise may be a good idea. You get to visit several destinations, and they'll book activities for you, just tell them what you want to do. I have a friend who visits Belize every year and I hear it's considerably cheaper than more trendier places. I've also heard great things about Barbados and Cuba.

    January 29, 2012/Reply
  67. RS says:

    I have done one-week trips to Barcelona, Istanbul and Buenos Aires in the past three years. Italy is amazing as well – the food is to die for. Paris is ok, but I found it a little less friendly than the other locations listed here.

    January 29, 2012/Reply
  68. Anna says:

    I would definitely second (third?) Istanbul, especially for November. Ive traveled to most of the European places mentioned (I live in the middle of it, after all) and this is by far my favourite city – so vibrant! Also, its good value for money since you can visit two continents (and their respective cultures) at once ;-). There are also a number of awesome (not that well known, thus inexpensive) designers, so its a good shopping destination, too.
    Contrary to what some people seem to expect, it is quite safe to travel there as a woman on your own. Obviously there are some areas you want to avoid at night, but I never ran into any troubles during my semester there. Most people only speak a little english, but isnt half the fun of travelling communicating with your hands and feet?

    While I love London, I would also urge you to consider that a) November is def. not the best time to visit and b) its probably not that different from US cities.

    January 29, 2012/Reply
  69. architect says:

    Might raise a few eyebrows, but travel to Boracay Island in the Philippines if you enjoy the beach. It's a long expensive-ish flight (20ish hours, maybe $1500 roundtip to Manila if you're flying out of JFK, then you have to take a domestic flight(about an hour) to Caticlan from Manila), but worth it. Discovery Shores and Shangri-La Boracay are excellent places to stay. HIghly recommended.

    January 30, 2012/Reply
  70. V says:

    I've travelled all over Western Europe, Asia, and South America. With limited time, I would take an overnight flight to Spain and hit Barcelona and work my way down the coast. If you are concerned about the language, Gibraltar is an English territory at the very tip of Spain so you get a good mix of both worlds. You can take a ferry over to Morroco, but be warned as a single female traveler of any unwanted attention. Look for British Airway Fall and Spring sales for complimentary hotels with air purchases. Many of the suggested cities are part of the package.

    As a former Hill staffer who also made the jump to the private sector, I would encourage women and men to negotiate for more travel holidays. The best advice that I received from my former COS was that EVERYTHING is negotiable. Just be willing to ask for it.

    January 30, 2012/Reply
  71. Ms. C says:

    If you can swing the costs (monetary and temporal) of a flight, I highly recommend Portugal. Because it is often overlooked in favor of it's more famous French and Spanish neighbors, it provides a much cheaper and less traveled but just as beautiful European destination option. Lisbon is one of the most jaw-dropping, gorgeous places I have ever been. And the beaches are impeccable. My last trip provided the perfect mix of city culture and coastline relaxation.

    Another option could be to go on jetsetter and book something closer (the Panama and Jamaica options currently available look awesome). I look at Jetsetter regularly and have always wanted to book something…

    January 30, 2012/Reply
  72. Lisa says:

    I realize this comment is a bit late as the thread was from months ago, but I saw an error in a few comments that I need to correct – they speak English in Belize, not Spanish. English is the national language and everyone there speaks it.

    I'd also vote for Barcelona, which is funky, old, and stunning. And mild in November. State-side, maybe the Florida Keys, Miami, or New Orleans?

    May 10, 2012/Reply