Traveling around India is a shock to the system, but it’s not as bad as it looks. If you pay a bit more for the AC3 class on trains (air-conditioned, 3 bunks per side of the compartment), or AC2, it’s pretty comfortable and civilized. Mumbai is worth a couple days before you’ll be desperate to get out, but many parts of Rajasthan are much nicer and fascinating.
Sri Lanka doesn’t really have a good infrastructure for budget travelers at this point. There are loads of nice hotels if you are willing to pay US$40 or more per night, but almost nothing below that except for a few hostels. I haven’t been to Palawan but I have been to Boracay and Palawan can’t be too much cheaper. Boracay doesn’t have many budget options either, so my guess is that Thailand or Cambodia is your best bet.
For those looking for an even calmer slice of paradise without all the holiday festivities, try Waimei on Kauai’s southwestern shore, which offers calm waters and sandy beaches that are especially attractive in the early winter months. Get away from all the gloomy weather of the East Coast by trying out a Waimea vacation rental—it’ll definitely make for makes the perfect base to explore all Kauai has to offer.
The 17th-annual Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concourse d’Elegance takes place Oct. 26-Nov. 4, attracting automobile enthusiasts and all who enjoy the southern charm, splendid fall weather, and extraordinary classic cars. The Hilton Head Island Oyster Festival (Nov. 9-10) is an oyster extravaganza with live music, crafts, a Kid Zone, and sports lounge. A stay at the Inn and Club at Harbour Town at the Sea Pines Resort will provide luxury and comfort in low country style. Or book a home rental through Vacation Company.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
The rainy season usually ends early in November in Siem Reap, and the tail end of it is rarely fierce, so this is an ideal month to hang out in town and spend multiple days at Angkor Wat. November is actually the coolest month of the year, by just a bit, at least during the days, so most people will appreciate more moderate temperatures when climbing up and over all the temples.
It looks like you’ve been to most of the more popular options for winter holidays already, and since you listed them I assume you want to go somewhere new. The one that is missing, which I think could be perfect for you, is the Guanacaste area in northern Costa Rica. The weather will be perfect and you should be able to get a reasonably priced flight into nearby Liberia Airport. There are a variety of smaller towns along those beaches, and Tamarindo might be the most famous. They offer a mix of traditional hotels and resorts in smaller towns along with newer 4-star and 5-star hotels on large properties that tend to be away from the towns. The weather will obviously be similar to Panama, as long as you were on the west coast. Costa Rica is the adventure capital of Latin America and one-third of the country is national parks, so there is plenty to see and do. There isn’t much history there, but you can’t have everything.
Located just 90 minutes from New York City, the quaint Caribbean island is home to fantastic beaches—like the famed Horseshoe Bay and Elbow Beach—plus a unique style all its own. A balanced mix of charming British heritage and laid-back tropical vibes, Bermuda has, in recent years, become a hotspot over the holidays. The weather is typically temperate (expect temperatures in the 70s) which makes it a perfect destination for golf-lovers, families, and anyone looking for a quick weekend escape.
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, head to Tallinn to see the medieval city decked out in a blanket of snow, complete with flickering candles lining the streets and markets flogging quintessential Christmas curiosities and festive treats. And if that’s not enough seasonal charm for you, make for Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, the ‘official home’ of Santa Claus. Once you’ve dropped your gift list off with the big man himself, treat yourself to a husky sledding excursion or reindeer safari to explore the region in full effect.
Weirdly enough, Central America and South America aren’t really known as top “culture” destinations, as the colonial history has mostly wiped out the indigenous history in the larger places. There are Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins and sights, but not really enough to build a whole trip around. I’d say the most interest of those would be the Inca culture of Peru, specifically around Machu Picchu and the valley around Cusco. Alternatively, visiting Argentina is pretty much like visiting Europe from a culture standpoint. It’s quite nice there and prices are low if you know about the blue market for currency, but otherwise it may not be what you are looking for.
My other two suggestions are San Juan, Puerto Rico and Cartagena, Colombia. Both cities have really wonderful colonial districts and modern resort districts nearby. San Juan is more expensive, but still reasonable, and it has far better beaches. Both have a bit of rain in November, but it tends to come and go quickly. You’ll get similar rainstorms in most of the Caribbean in November, so it’s a bit tricky. I hope this helps. If you had something else in mind let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger