How to have a 'sunny' winter holiday
Are the dark evenings and cold weather getting you down? Just imagine how much better you'd feel lying on a hot beach with waves lapping at your feet.
Statistics show that more and more Brits are shunning the traditional skiing holiday and opting for some winter sun instead. According to holiday website familyholidays.co.uk, holiday trips to hot countries over the Christmas period have risen by 52% compared with the same time last year.
In the past, heading for the sun during the winter was an expensive affair, but now you can soak up the rays whatever your budget. Here are Moneywise's top winter sun destinations to fit all pockets.
ON A SHOESTRING
1. Canary Islands
The Canaries are one of the nearest places to the UK offering guaranteed sunshine throughout the winter.
According to familyholidays.co.uk, a family of four can get a package deal, including flights and an apartment in Los Cristianos, Tenerife, for seven nights in January for £920.
Bob Atkinson, travel expert for moneysupermarket.com, says: "Although the pound is struggling against the euro, the Canaries remain great value for money. There's a vast range of accommodation at the budget end of the market, and local restaurants, shops and businesses are all offering great deals for UK holidaymakers."
Thailand tops the Post Office's holiday costs barometer with its low living expenses, with Indonesian neighbours Bali and Malaysia close contenders.
Thailand has long been a backpacker's favourite and the Lonely Planet guide says budget travellers can survive on about £12 a day, including basic accommodation and food. Flights to Bangkok start at about £340, depending on when you go.
To put together your own holiday, search for flights on cheapflights.co.uk, and for accommodation at hostelbookers.com.
Sarah Munro, head of travel services at the Post Office, says: "Not only is Thailand the cheapest country in our survey, but there are great deals on package holidays too."
Given the appreciation of sterling against the dollar, UK tourists at US destinations, including Florida, can benefit from lower prices in shops and restaurants hit hard by the credit crunch. You can get a package deal for seven nights in a Florida hotel mid-January for anything from £420 a person upwards.
HAPPY TO SPEND
For people with a bit more money to spend this winter, Atkinson recommends Egypt. "Holiday prices for the Red Sea vary, but you can spend as little as £400 for an all-inclusive break in a five-star hotel with Thomson in early December.
However, peak travel times will see prices of up to £1,000 for a similar all-inclusive break," he says. "The resorts offer fabulous diving and snorkelling opportunities, sun all day and lots of activities in the evenings."
If you'd prefer to rent a villa, holidaylettings.co.uk has a number of apartments in Sharm El Sheikh, with apartments sleeping six costing between £200 and £400 a week. Flights to Sharm El Sheikh in January cost from about £200 a person.
2. East Africa
What could be more exciting than sleeping under canvas within a few feet of a herd of elephants plodding through the bush? Going on safari is the ultimate adventure holiday for families, couples and singles alike.
A private three-day safari, taking in Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and on to Zanzibar, will set you back between £1,180 and £1,462, depending on the number in your group. Flights to Kilimanjaro start at about £530 on skyscanner.net.
3. The Caribbean
Jamaica was the cheapest of the Caribbean destinations surveyed for the Post Office's holiday costs barometer – 21% cheaper than Antigua. But if money isn't an issue, how about Barbados, St Lucia or the Bahamas?
Alternatively, you could take a cruise around several islands. "Six-star cruising in the Caribbean gives you a holiday with flights and everything thrown in on board, including drinks.
The watchword here is luxury – with sumptuous cabins and every conceivable service available to guests," says Atkinson. He recommends looking out for cruise companies Seabourn, Regent, Silversea and Crystal.
Prices start from around £2,500 for a nine-day cruise holiday, including flights to the Caribbean or Miami.
MONEY TO BURN
If you have time to spend as well as money, why not head 'down under' for guaranteed winter sunshine during our winter.
Sterling doesn't go quite as far in Australia as it has in recent years, so shop around for accommodation and flights. If you're looking for a package deal, check out virginholidays.co.uk – flights from London and three weeks in a hotel in Sydney will set you back about £4,025 for two people.
From Sydney you can head south to Melbourne or up the east coast. Sailing-whitsundays.com has sailing trips round the Whitsunday Islands and Fraser Island, and its Flashpacker deals are aimed at those seeking a bit of luxury. An eight-night package costs about £462.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica has something for everyone – stunning scenery, great surfing, an active volcano and a vast array of wildlife.
Although you can see this Central American country on a tighter budget, there are plenty of luxury options too. Holidaylettings.co.uk has a villa in Casa Caiman, Peninsula Papagavo, which sleeps 11 people and costs £30,281 a week (£2,753 a person).
This luxury home overlooks the coast and comes with a concierge and a daily maid service. Flights to Costa Rica in January with American Airlines start at £476.
Don't forget travel insurance
Wherever you go and however much you spend on your winter sun holiday, it's important to have adequate travel insurance.
Compare quotes on websites like moneysupermarket.com or confused.com. As a minimum, experts recommend having cover for £2 million medical expenses, £1 million personal liability, £3,000 cancellation cover and £1,500 baggage cover.
If you're travelling in Europe, make sure you take your European Health Insurance Card too.
Adrenaline junkies should check that any dangerous sports they plan to do are covered by their insurance policy.
And if you go away a couple of times a year, opt for an annual policy as it will often work out cheaper than buying several single-trip plans.