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
Thank you for the kind words. If you’ve got 30 days in Thailand I would recommend spending more time in Bangkok and probably in Chiang Mai as well. Bangkok is huge and in December the weather is actually quite nice, so two days seems way too rushed. As for which islands to consider it sort of depends on why you don’t want to go to Phuket. Phuket is the largest and busiest island and it’s got just about everything that the rest of the islands has. I can understand not wanting to spend time in Patong Beach, which is the shopping and nightlife capital, but there are many other wonderful beaches and towns on Phuket that are quite different from that.
Turkey has bars all over Istanbul and the other tourist cities, but there are also cafes and tea shops and that sort of thing that are filled with locals (and some tourists) all evening. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the only bars are attached to hotels (and there are a LOT of them), but almost no locals drink, so there are unlimited evening alternatives. Other nearby Muslim countries such as Oman and Bahrain are similar, except with far fewer tourists (and drinkers).
Don’t be too shy to ask the wait staff how the food is prepared. If you suspect something might be breaded ask. Ask if any of the dressings have sugar in them. In Italy it’s not common at all for savoury food to contain any sugar, even the sauces. Most are based on olive oil or cream. If you order a steak without any sauce don’t be afraid to ask for olive oil to use on it. You might get some strange looks if you ask for butter and they might not have any available. Try to go for roasted or grilled food rather than fried as even in Italy, the spiritual home of olive oil, the food is usually fried in vegetable oils. Also don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. I don’t like bell peppers and they always come as part of grilled vegetable sides. I simply ask them to leave them out and I’ll get more of another type of vegetable instead.
Oh, did you want a sunny tropical vacation that doesn’t require a passport? Done. Hurricane season is over, flights are cheap, and the water is still warm enough for swimming (and scuba diving). Almost all the tourists come here via cruise ship, which means you’re mostly not competing with them for hotel rooms -- Windward Passage, Emerald Beach, and the Bolongo are all open for business after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. On December 16 you can catch Jazz By The Sea down at Coral World Ocean Park, and on December 21 watch the St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, where contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.
Malta would have decent weather as well, but I think the nightlife there is pretty dead during the colder months because they don’t get many visitors. They don’t have proper beaches as well, as the coastline is mostly these huge rocks. If you really want a warm beach in December your best bet is the Canary Islands, and even then it can be slightly chilly in December. But the nightlife in Malta is pretty dull, since so many of the visitors are retired Europeans.
Hurricane season officially ends on November 30, so it's safe to visit the Caribbean. There's good news for skiers, too, since most of the northern hemisphere is heading toward winter as the year comes to a close and mountain regions become dusted with snow. Couples who prefer a warm-weather vacation in November or December will have to travel south to find balmier temperatures — and prices begin their uphill climb toward the high season.
Overall this is a perfect time of year to visit almost anywhere in Argentina. When December arrives things really start filling up and all the locals are on their own holidays, so November is the ideal mix of great weather that isn't too steamy, and modest crowds and prices. With Argentina's recent inflation and currency devaluation, it can be hard to know how expensive this trip will be, but for most people it will be cheaper than in recent years.
The food, including its famous ceviche dishes, is a particular highlight here, and the tourist district of Miraflores is packed with interesting and cheap restaurants. Basic and cheap hotels are in the same neighborhood, so it's a better alternative to the historic center of Lima for most people. By the way, the rainy season in Cusco starts in December, so the trails can sometimes be cut off, although many people go anyway.
If you didn’t want to go to Asia you could instead consider the ABC islands, which don’t get much rain and haven’t had a major storm in many decades. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are known for good snorkeling as well and you’d get good hotel rates that time of year. Two weeks might be a long time to spend on those islands though, so I would go to Asia if you can. Late November is a perfect time of year for a visit there, and you can even include a few days in Siem Reap to visit Ankor Wat. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.