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Winter breaks that won't break the budget
We've all had a taste of summer, but the sporadic British sun is unlikely to have quite been enough. So a cunningly timed winter sun break could be just the tonic – though plotting out where to go for the best weather and best value can be something of a balancing act.
Read on for the right heat-seeking holiday to escape the British winter on your terms…
What is your sun seeking style?
Different winter sun destinations have different strengths – the perfect spot for one traveller can be wrong for another.
For pure sun worshippers:
If it's all about soaking up the sun, look closely at average temperatures during the winter months – some destinations known for winter sun aren't exactly baking hot. Gran Canaria averages 18 to 19 degrees and Marmaris in Turkey just 10 to 12 degrees.
Generally, you need to fly a little further to maximise your chances of proper sunbed weather. Try Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt and Cancun in Mexico for averages of around 23 degrees, while it's likely to be 25 to 26 in the Gambia and Dominican Republic and around 28 in Phuket, Thailand.
All-inclusive resorts with plenty of activities are often winners if you have kids in tow – the Caribbean (particularly the Dominican Republic and Jamaica), and Turkey tend to be good bets. Otherwise the theme parks and Disney magic make Orlando an obvious choice.
For culture creatures:
If you like to get beyond the sunbed, Cancun in Mexico is close to numerous spectacular Mayan ruins – the gigantic Chichen Itza complex is an obligatory day trip, while Tulum's temples have a gorgeous beachside setting. Crete is full of ancient Greek and Minoan sites, while the Samarian Gorge is one of Europe's finest canyon walks. Madeira is also superb for walking. Meanwhile the volcanic landscapes around Mt Tiede and big city energy of Santa Cruz make Tenerife a hugely underrated natural and cultural destination.
When and where to go
Select a month to discover the best destination by temperatureNovemberDecemberJanuaryFebuaryMarch
Get in before the temperature drops
For late autumn bargains and perfect walking weather
Catch Christmas events and parades at the theme parks
Enjoy an average nine hours of sunshine a day
Go bargain-hunting in the Dubai Shopping Festival
For low rainfall and cheaper flights
Jam in Bob Marley week
Visit the Santa Cruz carnival
The perfect high temperature and low rainfall combo
Hit golf courses without the crowds
Finding the best deals?
The three major costs of any break are food and drink, flights and accommodation. With all-inclusive holidays, the majority of these costs are wrapped up in one up-front price. So if you have little intention of leaving the resort, this takes away the issue of constantly having to watch the wallet.
Otherwise, the cheapest places to fly to aren't necessarily the most affordable in terms of accommodation and on-the-ground costs. Particularly if you're going for more than a week, it can be worth shelling out to fly a bit further. Food and drink in Thailand and Mexico, for example, can be astonishingly cheap. The same applies to accommodation – particularly if you try lesser known resort areas such as Krabi rather than Phuket and Isla Mujeres instead of Cancun. Both are great options for independent budget travellers who want to move around a bit.The cheapest places to fly to aren't necessarily the most affordable in terms of accommodation and on-the-ground costs.
Closer to home, a recent Thomas Cook survey found that Turkey and mainland Spain had the cheapest on-the-ground costs, with Portugal, Florida and Greece blessed with the best value beach supplies while in resort. Destinations that focus on the summer trade – like the Algarve, Cyprus and Spain – can have dramatically lower accommodation prices in winter. But the reverse is true in destinations where our winter is their peak season – notably the Caribbean, Egypt and Florida.
Timing it right
A Christmas break might sound nice, but you're unlikely to get the best deals at this time. The Christmas and New Year period sees flight prices ramp up as people around the world go home to visit family.
An exception can be Christmas Day – there can be some amazing deals available for departures on December 25th as that's a date that virtually no-one wants to fly on. The problem there is getting to the airport – pre-booked taxis and self-driving are the only options when public transport has shut down.
Generally, prices will plummet in mid-January (around the 10th is the usual cut-off point) and, apart from a spike around Valentine's Day, January and February tend to have the cheaper deals.
Some destinations require more pre-planning than others. For most popular destinations, visas are either not required or are available on arrival. Cuba and India are notable exceptions – leave plenty of time to send your passport off and get the visa processed.
Short break - right flight
If you're going for a short break but want pretty much guaranteed sun and heat, then flight time is an issue. The closest (reasonably) safe bets to the UK are Sharm El Sheikh, the Gambia and Cape Verde, which generally take less than six hours to get to, while Dubai is seven hours away.
As for when to book, deals tend to offer the best value either well in advance or right at the last minute when holiday companies are trying to fill spaces. Leaving it late is a gamble, however – there's no guarantee that there will be late availability deals where you want to go to, and it can be trickier to get time off work or find someone to look after pets at short notice.The closest safe bets to the UK are Sharm El Sheikh, the Gambia and Cape Verde, which generally take less than six hours to get to.
My favourite holiday destinations
Phil Spencer shares his personal holiday tips
I have very happy memories of two trips to the Yucatan Peninsula. There's a great range of things to do: whether you want to get into the fascinating history in that part of the world, lie on the beach or go fishing. An ideal holiday for me would combine all three.
Turks and Caicos
I think my favourite hotel in the world is in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. It's far easier to get to than people give credit for and well worth the journey. There are lots of little islands, not many people and a great many beaches – my idea of heaven.
I'm not a particularly great skier, but we have skied as a family three times in Switzerland. There are so many things that could go wrong on a skiing holiday, particularly with small children who are just learning – you want things to go as smoothly as possible, and the Swiss are very good at that.Lots of little islands, not many people and a great many beaches – my idea of heaven.Phil Spencer
Wilder winter warmers
Want to go beyond the usual winter sun destinations?
Then why not give these emerging hotspots a try…
The backpackers clocked onto the relaxed beach resorts around Sihanoukville a few years ago, and now the rest of the world is beginning to notice. The Cambodian coast is still gloriously cheap, and can be combined with a cultural leg of the holiday around the temples of Angkor.
The Gulf for people who want a quieter paced alternative to Dubai. Oman has an extraordinary landscape of rugged mountains, deep gorges and Hollywood movie-style sand dunes, plus plenty of luxury hotels to kick back in afterwards.
These islands off the African coast combine a curious mix of African, Portuguese and South American cultures, plus some fabulous beaches for sunbathing on.
The Caribbean's most Americanised outpost has numerous stand-out attractions to go with the beaches. The world's biggest rum factory, the colonial gorgeousness of Old San Juan, the giant radio telescope from the end of Bond film Goldeneye and luminous bays that light up at night while kayaking on them are all part of the mix.
Snorkellers will love the coral reef that runs all the way along the country's coastline, while Belize's islands all have very different vibes. Caye Caulker is the chilled independent travellers' hangout; Ambergris Caye offers the higher end pampering.
Top winter break tips
Take a few layers – a jacket, jumper, and a warmer pair of jeans – both for cooler evenings and arriving back home in potentially sub-zero temperatures.
Plan ahead. It's worth buying warm weather clothes and swimwear during the British summer – shorts and bikinis are tougher to get hold of and often more expensive in autumn and winter. The same goes for sun lotions.
To avoid jetlag, aim for places within roughly the same time zone as the UK. Outside of Europe, the Gambia, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, Madeira and South Africa all fit the bill.
UK airports can experience delays and cancellations when it snows – this is something to be mindful of. It's also wise to factor in extra time to get to the airport in wintery conditions.
Daily forecasts from around the world
Ideas for things to do — wherever you are
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Keep up to date on travel warnings
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.About this article