People talk about Thanksgiving like they’re planning a trip to the DMV. Somehow America’s greatest holiday became a thankless chore for the sake of far-flung relatives you only talk to via Facebook comment. Sure, a seven-hour delay at DFW with two screaming kids isn’t exactly paradise, but you know what? It sure as hell beats two months on a ship before the invention of deodorant. That was the Pilgrims’ commute. Chew on that with your jiggly-style cranberry sauce.
Or maybe, ya know, go somewhere else for Thanksgiving this year. If you can swing a longer trip, there are some spectacular places to visit this November -- but even if you’re just looking for a Thanksgiving weekend getaway, there are first-rate destinations that can make this holiday downright pleasant. Get ready to be that person at the office on Monday who says, “Yeah, actually? Our trip wasn’t half bad.
This is quite honestly theperfect time to visit Puerto Rico. You don’t need a passport, and flights are cheap and short (2 ½ hours from Miami). Hurricane season has drawn to a close, the hotels and bars and restaurants around San Juan have pretty much all reopened for business, and no holiday is any kind of holiday without coquito. The food you’ll find at Lote 23 and La Placita will put to shame any Thanksgiving feast you would have cooked at home, and you can enjoy your holiday knowing that you’re helping your fellow Americans get back on their feet, as opposed to just bickering with second cousins you see only once a year.
Key West, Florida
November, after the Halloween crush, is the perfect time to head to the Keys. Though it’s usually a rowdy, liquor-soaked party city, Thanksgiving is the rare time of year when you can actually fully chill in Key West. Gone are the careless tourists who stagger their way along Duval Street, leaving spots like Hogs Breath Saloon, Sloppy Joe’s, and the Green Parrot free and easy to get a drink at. The sunsets over Mallory Square are no less spectacular, and the weather outside is relatively cool and pleasant.
The Cayman Islands
If you haven’t been to the Caribbean before, the Cayman Islands are a great starter kit. The shopping, dining, and infrastructure feel like Florida with an island twist. Spending your holiday lounging on the white sands of Seven Mile Beach isn’t a bad option, but if you’re certified to dive, check out one of the best wrecks in the world at the Kittiwake. On land, Cayman Pirate Week is spread across the islands throughout mid-November -- expect a series of parades, festivals, fireworks, and street dancers celebrating the swashbuckling local heritage.
This is a case when it pays to zig when everyone else zags. Because so many people travel OUT of big cities for the holidays, flights into them tend to be cheaper. Fly into Midway to avoid the masses connecting through O’Hare, and you’ve got a fairly easy journey into town. Get there a day early and you can catch the mayor lighting the city’s Christmas tree, followed by the second-most-famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in America. Bring your skates and you can hit the free rink at Millennium Park, or just enjoy the spectacle that is Black Friday along Michigan Avenue. The city isn’t typically too crowded this time of year, the attractions have shorter lines, and everyone looks good in a light jacket and scarf. If you’ve always wanted to check out Chicago, Thanksgiving might be the time to do it.
For people living west of the Mississippi, this region north of Puerto Vallarta is the perfect holiday weekend escape. It’s jammed with cool little surf towns full of big oceanfront houses you can rent for under $1,500 a week. For one or two families with small kids, it’s hard to score a better deal in a place this nice. Especially with the easy flights to Puerto Vallarta.
The smaller towns like San Pancho and San Blas are lined with clean, charming restaurants and craft stores, leading to sparsely populated beaches in semi-private coves. The main city, Sayulita, is energetic without feeling crowded, and there are a ton of expats who are always happy to chat. It’s also home to Hidden Beach, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, that’s carved out of a rock in the middle of the Pacific. For the luxury traveler, Punta de Mita has a Four Seasons hotel with one of the best pool views in the world.
Summer is the highest of high season in the jaw-dropping Canadian Rockies. But in the past half-decade or so, it has also become a top ski destination as slopes in the United States have struggled with climate change. Early season Lake Louise won’t be nearly as packed, rates won’t be as inflated, and the snow will still be in perfect condition. The resort hosts World Cup races around this time of year, so the runs are groomed but not yet worn down.
The exchange rate up yonder is also still pretty favorable, meaning that $104 lift ticket is only about $83 US. And if you’re hell-bent on having a big turkey dinner after a long day of skiing, condos in local apartments and ski villages can be had for under $200 a night. So you can cook your own like you would at home.
Wine tasting for Thanksgiving sounds nice, doesn’t it? Of course, in the States, winemakers sometimes want to do crazy stuff like spend the holidays with their families, and wine tours that weekend can be limited. But lucky you, Portugal is one of the cheapest places to fly to in Europe right now, and there’s even a brand-new direct route from Newark to Porto.
So a long weekend is totally doable. In the city, you’ll find temperatures in the high 60s, great surfing, laid-back nightlife (beers are rarely over $2), and incredibly friendly people. Venture out to the nearby Douro Valley wine country, stopping at scenic vineyards like Niepoort, Porto Reccua, and Sogevinus. The reds and whites are fantastic, but the star of the show is the port. If you get a chance to taste the 1957 Kopke, don’t miss out -- it’s among the best in the world.
The combination of cheap flights (WOW Air is now offering $99 nonstops) and an entire island of natural wonders make the short hop to Reykjavik well worthwhile, and this time of year -- with the sky darkening for winter -- is the best for seeing the Northern Lights.
The onslaught of American tourists has given Reykjavik the energy of a much larger city, where bars are packed with sports fans watching their teams into the late hours. If you’re looking to get out of the city to see the Aurora, drive the Ring Road and see the steamy, volcanic wonders of the island along the way. Just remember to pack your wallet. The Northern Lights might be free, but everything else here will cost you.
Granted, Disneyworld, Universal Studios, and pretty much anyplace else kids would want to go is an absolute nightmare on Thanksgiving weekend. The few days before Thanksgiving, though? It’s just you and the Hulk. If you’re willing to make a week out of it, visiting the theme parks in the days preceding the holiday is even more magical than usual, with short lines, nice weather, and a whole weekend of non-Disney Florida fun to enjoy afterwards.
Even without kids, the new Volcano Beach at Universal has easily taken the mantle of best water park in America, with a swim-through volcano and assigned times on the slides. Beyond the parks, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are just over an hour away. Of if you want to get out and see what all these cool new cruise ships are about, Royal Caribbean is offering cruise-and-theme-park deals with Universal leaving out of Port Canaveral.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The northern, mountainous region of Thailand contains the country’s second-largest city, Chiang Mai, which is one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia and one of our recommended places to travel to this November. Arrive in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, and you’ll be there for two annual festivals of light, one involving candle-filled baskets on the river and another in which you release lanterns into the night sky. And with great respect to whatever marshmallow-yam casserole thing your great aunt produces each Thanksgiving, the food here outdoes it -- prepare for a low-cost feast of khao soi, squeaky bacon-wrapped mushrooms, sticky mango rice, quail eggs, pork rinds, and street meat you’ll never identify.
New York, New York
New York City is one of the best places you can visit in November, and especially around Thanksgiving. Fine, we are biased, but we are also correct. You can count on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an inflatable-cartoon-filled spectacle that draws 3 million live spectators and over 50 million at home. Seeing it in person is mesmerizing, as characters you’ve only seen on a childhood television set magically float through the concrete caverns of Manhattan.
It also kicks off the greatest time of year to visit New York. When else can you knock skating at Rockefeller Center and seeing the world’s most famous Christmas tree off your life to-do list? And with flights into New York cheap and easy, the eye-popping hotel rates might be a little easier to stomach.
Flights to Havana are expected to be nearly half-off this month, so you must jump on that shit immediately. November in Cuba (and across the Caribbean) means that hurricane season has come to an end but the high season for tourists has not yet arrived, which leaves an ideal Goldilocks Zone for you, the discerning Thanksgiving traveler. The city is also generally less crowded than it was this time two years ago when tourism was peaking before Trump’s new travel restrictions made things more confusing. For the record, you can still travel to Cuba as an individual, though you might need a tour company to help you wade through the formalities.
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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who needs no more vacation than an excuse to eat turkey and do nothing. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.