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The Best Trips to Book in January: What to Lock in Now

| June 4, 2020




January is usually a great time to start thinking about where you’re headed for the major holidays at the end of the year: Spring break in Peru? New Year’s Eve Down Under? To secure the best value and access, plan early. Here are a few ideas for trips that are best booked now, in January.

(Don’t miss the rest of our series on what trips to book in each month of the year. If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for traveling to in any given month, see our Where to Go When series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.)

The Netherlands in Tulip Season

tulips and windmill at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands

Spring is tulip time in the Netherlands. Photo: Keukenhof Gardens

For: March to May 2020

With Easter taking place smack in the middle of April this year and a few public holidays in May, the best time to visit the Netherlands is mid-March through mid-May, except the days right around Easter (April 9-13). This way, you can avoid the crowds and still enjoy the flowers that will be in bloom all over the country—particularly in the fabulous Keukenhof Gardens. April 27 is a national holiday, King’s Day, and it can be fun to be part of the festivities and witness a parade in a rural setting.

Why book in January? Tickets for the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam become available two months ahead and sell out quickly; book your trip in January so that you know exactly when you want to visit this remarkable site and can snap up tickets as soon as they become available.

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Peru for Cusco’s Easter Festivities

Cusco city center, Peru

Cusco city center, Peru. Photo: Aracari

For: April 2020

In Cusco, Easter celebrations last for an entire week—known as Semana Santa—starting with Palm Sunday and followed by the Señor de los Temblores festival on Holy Monday, when Cusco’s most venerated image of Christ is taken out in procession and the entire city participates. (Booking through Marisol Mosquera means that you’ll watch the festivities from one of the coveted balconies overlooking the main square.) April is also a beautiful time to visit Machu Picchu, since the rains have just departed and left the hillsides at their greenest.

Why book in January? Easter is high season in any Catholic country, so this is your last chance to find availability at hotels and on flights.

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Off-Season Deals in South Africa

Three cheetahs lounging, Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Cheetahs in Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

For: December 2019/January 2020

The Southern Hemisphere’s fall is a great time to see South Africa, as the weather is lovely in Cape Town, and the packs of tourists don’t arrive until peak safari season starts in June. andBeyond’s Phinda Private Game Reserve and Singita’s South Africa lodges offer both lower rates and excellent wildlife at this time of year, and are easily combined with a few days in the city. United is testing a new nonstop flight between Newark and Cape Town through March (the first direct flight on that route in more than a decade). If it proves successful, you can spend an extra day on safari instead slogging through a connection in Europe.

Why book in January? While the best lodges and camps often book up six months to a year in advance, you can still find space—and excellent values—for April and May.

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Sicily’s Ancient Greek Theater Performances

Greek Theater, Sircusa, Italy

Performance at the ancient Greek Theatre of Siracusa, Italy. Photo: Marcello Baglioni

For: May and June 2020

Every year from the middle of May through the end of June, Sicily’s ancient Greek Theatre of Siracusa—which was first built in the 5th century B.C.—hosts modern performances of the ancient Greek tragedies. The theater is part of an archaeological park that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; you can explore its ancient limestone quarries, temples, and orange and olive groves before the performance.

Why book in January? Four months out, you’ll still have access to the prime tickets (those closer to the stage and in more shaded areas of this outdoor theater) and to the cultural guides best equipped to help you contextualize the plays in their proper time and place. You’ll also have your choice of accommodations in nearby Ortigia’s historical center.

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Malta: Spring Sunshine and Festa Celebrations

colorful boats in Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta

Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta. Photo: Exclusively Malta

For: May and June 2020

This Mediterranean isle is at its best in late spring. The crowds have not yet descended, and while sunshine is practically a guarantee, the heat is not overbearing. Plus, you can drop into a different village’s festa just about every weekend; these celebrations of the local patron saint involve music, parades, fireworks, and lots of delicious food.

Why book in January? The best accommodations on Malta are boutique hotels that typically have only a few rooms; planning ahead gives you a wider range of options. It also allows our Trusted Travel Experts to arrange special-access experiences with important people on the island whose schedules fill up far in advance, and to match you with the guide whose expertise most closely overlaps with your interests.

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Alaska by Small Ship

a blue-ish glacier in Alaska

Alaska. Photo: Marybeth Coghill/Expedition Trips

For: May through August 2020

Only a handful of small ships treat travelers to a more intimate, up-close experience of Alaska. Four National Geographic–flagged ships, including the newer Nat Geo Venture and Nat Geo Quest, will ply the waters of the Inside Passage this summer, with five different itinerary options to choose from.

Why book in January? With capacities of just 62 to 100 passengers, these ships fill up quickly. Lock in your summer plans while there’s still a good selection of cabins and departure dates.

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Croatia Without the Crowds this Summer

The beach at the Bellevue Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia

The beach at the Bellevue Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo: Exeter International

For: May, June, September, and October 2020

Summer in Croatia is to be avoided, due to heavy crowds—especially hordes of day-trippers from cruise ships—and the highest prices of the year. In May and the beginning of June, and from late September through October, you’ll find lower hotel rates, great weather, and fewer tourists.

Why book in January? Now is the time to reserve rooms at the best boutique hotels, some of which have only eight rooms.

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Austria’s Summer Music Festivals

Salzburg, Austria skyline with buildings and mountains

Salzburg, Austria. Photo: SalzburgerLand Tourismus

For: July and August 2020

Sure, it will be crowded, but come summer the days are long and the weather is great, and there are music festivals—especially opera—all over Austria. You can usually find good hotel deals, except in Salzburg during its six-week classical music festival (one of the biggest in Europe).

Why book in January? Six months out, you can still lock in the most charming hotels and the guides with special insider access; delay longer and you’ll be stuck with mediocre options for both.

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China’s Ancient Rituals in the Birthplace of Tai Chi

A Taoist priest performs tai chi in China’s Wudang mountain range, the birthplace of the martial ar

A Taoist priest performs tai chi in China’s Wudang mountain range, the birthplace of the martial art. Photo: Wild China Travel

For: September 2020

The birthplace of tai chi and the center of Chinese martial arts, China’s Wudang mountain range has drawn Taoist philosophers to its peaks for centuries. On September 9 each year, many Taoist priests converge there for worship rituals of fasting and offering, praying for national prosperity and peace. Wake up early and watch robed priests flow through the tai chi movements that have been performed in these mountains for centuries; you can also join in the rituals, making your own offering for peace and prosperity. In addition, autumn sees the best temperate weather for hiking among the sacred peaks.

Why book in January? This off-the-beaten-path destination has only a couple of hotels, so you’ll have to make your reservations early in order to be part of this ancient practice.

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A Tahiti Yacht Charter

Catamaran off Motu Island Tahiti

Catamaran off Motu Island. Photo: D. Kirkland Tahiti Yacht Charter

For: September and October 2020

Chartering your own yacht in French Polynesia is like staying in a moveable overwater bungalow—with a staff devoted entirely to you. You can go shelling at deserted beaches, snorkel in remote locations, stop in local villages, stargaze from a blanket laid out in the netting of your catamaran, even catch your own fish for dinner. September and October, when the trade winds aren’t too strong, are the best months to do this.

Why book in January? While there are many crewed boats to choose from in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, there are only about 50 available to charter throughout all of French Polynesia; that means you need to plan well in advance to get just the right boat for you.

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An Antarctica Expedition Cruise

Gentoo penguin leaping over ice, Antarctica. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

Gentoo penguin, Antarctica. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

For: November and December 2020

Dream of setting foot on the Antarctic continent this year? With several new ships debuting both last year and in 2020, there are more options than ever before—all the more reason to have our Trusted Travel Expert explain what makes each vessel and itinerary different, and which is right for you.

Why book in January? January is always one of the busiest times for booking Antarctica cruises, and we expect that to be even truer this year, with so many new ships coming online. The least expensive cabins and suites tend to sell out first, so it pays to plan early.

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Mexico for Christmas

Palmasola villa pool Punta de Mita CR Journey Mexico

Villa rentals, like this one in Punta de Mita, fill up by February for Christmas 2020. Photo: Journey Mexico

For: December 2020

Christmas may have just passed, but it’s now or never for planning your next holiday escape to one of Mexico’s prime destinations, such as Tulum, the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, Punta de Mita, Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, or Merida.

Why book in January? As each week goes by, the villas, boutique hotels, and haciendas in these hot spots rapidly fill up for their busiest time of the year, and by February you may well have to settle for the waiting list or a lesser property. Not only that, but the most well-connected local guides get reserved far in advance too.

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Hawaii for the Holidays

beach at Kawaihae, Big Island, Hawaii.

The beach at Kawaihae, Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

For: December 2020

Hawaii has soared in popularity as an end-of-year holiday destination—so much so that many top resorts and rental homes are already fully booked for late December: They save their space for their holiday guests who return year after year.  If those returning guests should cancel—and sometimes they do when deposits come due in March or April—then a few rooms may open up to new travelers at that time.

Why book in January?  If you want an in-demand five-star resort, get yourself onto the waitlist now, so that you’re at the top of that list when a few rooms open up in the spring.  For other hotels, book now to get the room type or rental house that suits your needs.  Our Trusted Travel Expert has an excellent relationship with the Four Seasons Maui and other such highly coveted properties, meaning that your chance of getting an optimal room is increased.

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New Year’s Eve Down Under

Sydney Opera House New Years Fireworks

New Year’s Eve fireworks over the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Robert Wallace/Tourism Australia

For: December 2020

Sydney is the first major city to ring in the New Year—and one of the most popular places to celebrate it anywhere on the globe. A massive fireworks display goes off over the Harbour Bridge not once but twice, the first at 9 p.m. for families and the second at midnight.

Why book in January? Harborview accommodations, charter vessels, and overnight cruises generally go on sale a year in advance and disappear quickly. Get those major items in place now, and you can reserve tables at harborside restaurants or other fireworks vantage points as they become available later in the year.

Ask about a trip to Australia

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We’re here to help

If your goal is an extraordinary trip when the time is right, go to Ask Wendy. We know which trip-planning specialists have up-to-the-minute intel for your destination and can minimize your risk and maximize your experience. Check out Real Trips Right Now to see the difference that this makes.


We’re here to help

If your goal is an extraordinary trip when the time is right, go to Ask Wendy. We know which trip-planning specialists have up-to-the-minute intel for your destination and can minimize your risk and maximize your experience. Check out Real Trips Right Now to see the difference that this makes.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

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