That’s an interesting question. On my main list of Caribbean destinations ranked from cheapest to most expensive, I have a list of the 6 islands that suffered heavy damage and are not going to be open for normal business this coming winter. But that leaves 26 other destinations on the list where things are totally normal. Fortunately for the industry in general, the busiest destinations such as Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and the Cancun area, are all still unscathed.
For the record, the official Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, but hurricanes in November are extremely rare, so we have likely seen the last of them for this season. The devastated islands will need help rebuilding, and the remaining islands are hoping that visitors know they need the business as well, and that there is no risk of big storms starting in December and usually earlier. -Roger

Needless to say, Australia is a huge country so you could spend 6 months there and not get bored, or you could spend one week there and barely see any of it. The obvious destinations are Sydney and Melbourne, both with plenty to do for non-beach people. Melbourne is known a bit more for culture and food, while Sydney is more pleasant and still very interesting. There is also the Great Ocean Road, which is a very scenic drive just a bit south of Melbourne.
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Those countries are all very safe, and especially that time of year, you’ll be surrounded by dozens of other backpackers everywhere you go, including many solo ladies or girls in pairs. There is very little petty crime there, although it’s always wise to keep track of your belongings. It’ll be easy once you get there, and Bangkok is the perfect place to start. You can book a place near the famous “backpacker ghetto” of Khao San Road, which is quite affordable and really fun, as well as close to the top sights.
Vietnam and Sri Lanka could both be excellent choices for what you have in mind. Both are best for people who already have experience in these sorts of places, which you do. Twelve days could be a perfect length of time for a classic tour of Vietnam, flying into Hanoi and spending a few days there and in Halong Bay (with a possible side trip up to Sapa), and then taking the train down to Denang for a quick transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An is really a wonderful place and 3 or 4 days there would be great. There are good beaches nearby as well. Then take the train down to Ho Chi Minh City for a few more days before flying home from there. You could also do a side trip to Nha Trang (wonderful beaches) or Dalat up in the mountains. Vietnam really is gorgeous and the food is wonderful (French influences remain) but it can be a bit complicated for new travelers because you’ll find that many people you meet are trying to hustle you a bit, particularly travel agents booking trips and tours. The hotels are generally honest and great value, and so are the restaurants. You’ll learn to ignore the annoying people quickly.
If you are interested in a place that isn’t focused on beaches in that area then I’ll point you to some recent answers just above where I mention the charms of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, or Luang Prabang in Laos, and/or Siem Reap in Cambodia. All of those are wonderful places with temples and other sights, and they are quite affordable once you are there as well.
For the record, the official Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, but hurricanes in November are extremely rare, so we have likely seen the last of them for this season. The devastated islands will need help rebuilding, and the remaining islands are hoping that visitors know they need the business as well, and that there is no risk of big storms starting in December and usually earlier. -Roger

If the Caribbean sounds better, I’ll recommend Puerto Rico. The area around San Juan is fairly crowded, although not nearly as crowded as a typical resort area that is loaded with hotels. And there are many smaller resort towns on other parts of the island where people usually rent a condo for a week or two. In a town like Rincon you won’t get crowds, and you will get great beaches.
On the hunt for a non-traditional ski vacation? Look no further than the Japanese Alps. According to American Express Travel, the region has seen an increase in bookings during the holidays in recent years. And while December has historically been less popular than Japan’s peak season—April-November—adventurous travelers are now intrigued by the wilderness of Japan in the winter. The Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi alps are home to indigenous snow monkeys, volcanoes, and lava plateaus, plus, visitors are drawn to the area for its pristine ski offerings, natural hot springs, and rural hiking. 

As for Malaysia, I’m a big fan, and with your friend there it should be easy. Interestingly, I was just in China myself recently and a few days ago I published a long article on my advice for whether to go yourself to China or go on a group tour. I also discuss the most popular and best places to visit when you are there in the bottom part of the article. One tricky thing for many of us is that you have to get a China travel visa and some of us can only get that visa issued in our home country, at least according to their rules. I literally spent years traveling around Asia but I was never able to visit China because they required that I get a visa issued in the US and I had to show my flights booked from the US to China and then from China back to the US. If I could have gotten a visa issued at a Chinese embassy in Bangkok or Singapore, I would have done it years ago.
If you are looking for first-rate destinations that are among the cheaper European cities, I’ll suggest Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin. You could visit all four of them by taking trains, or choose any one, two, or three. In December you can get quite a nice room in any of those cities, with Berlin being the most expensive by a bit. Food and attractions are also quite affordable in those cities.
During the holidays in Europe, Christmas pop-up markets open in November, bringing intoxicating tastes and aromas (mmm...gingerbread) that brighten even dreary-weather days. On Viking Cruises, for example, the Danube Waltz itinerary enables passengers to experience a variety of markets, which are great places to shop for affordable holiday gifts. Vienna and Budapest both host multiple markets, and each one is different and features different merchandise. Smaller Passau has a more intimate market, and you get to stroll through a charming town to reach it.

It’s only fitting that the closest big tourist destination to the North Pole would do Christmas up big. Reykjavik feels almost like a mini-New York in December, with the Oslo Christmas tree standing sentinel over the city and a public skating rink in Ingolfstorg Square. Seeing the northern lights is never a guarantee, even during days of near-perpetual darkness, but your odds are much greater in winter. On the other hand, who needs ’em when you have 13 official Santas walking around town posing for pictures? The Christmas Village at Hafnarfjordur is a top weekend destination for both locals and the newfound throngs of American visitors. Just beware their holiday tradition of eating ruinously smelly fermented skate.
The park we visited has an app you can download on your phone that allows you to reserve a table at any table service restaurant on their property ahead of time. The app also lists the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings at every single food establishment on site. There really is no excuse for settling for the popcorn or french fries when you can easily find a place with compliant options if you’re willing to look and tweak a bit. A lot of other theme parks are either offering similar apps or putting their information online for those who need to research their options ahead of time. If your destination is the beach or a famous city, check out what’s in the area online, or call your hotel to get an idea.
If this were last year I might have also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico or Cartagena, but both of those have issues at the moment. If for some reason you don’t like what you see in Costa Rica, there are also some really nice resorts in Panama, especially in the San Blas Islands area. Aside from those you’d probably have to fly longer than you prefer. I hope this helps. -Roger
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