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.
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.
If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.
November is a tricky month in tropical Asia, as you’ve discovered. In Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, it can be rainy, and that includes some days where it rains the whole day rather than the quick cloudbursts you get in June and July. The best tourist beach in Vietnam is in a town called Nha Trang in the south, and there is Da Nang near Hoi An in the center of the country, but you’ll get November rains in both of them.
If you are referring to days trips and that sort of thing, it will be much cheaper if you book once you get there. In Vietnam in particular it’s amazing how cheap tours can be if you book them through your hotel. I once did a 6-hour bus tour to Mỹ Sơn, which is near Hoi An, and I think I paid about US$6. It even included a boat ride and a basic lunch. That same day tour online would probably cost US$30 because the booking company takes a share and there is very little competition.
The Canary Islands are always an option and the weather in November is pretty decent. I spent almost a month on Tenerife a couple years ago and I thought the nightlife was mostly pretty cheesy, although at least the drinks are cheap. I think in summer the nightlife there might be good, but in the other months I think it’s pretty quiet because it’s mostly older visitors from northern Europe.
Santa Barbara has earned its nickname, “The American Riviera,” with its stunning coastline, lush landscapes, cafes, restaurants, and year-round Mediterranean-like weather. Sandy beaches invite sunbathers, and for those interested in more activity, there’s biking, paddle boarding, surfing, and kayaking. In the heart of Santa Barbara County wine country, the city presents more than two dozen downtown tasting rooms on its “Urban Wine Trail.” The artsy “Funk Zone,” with a variety of cleverly designed eateries and shops, is just blocks from the beach. The community is recovering from devastating fires and mudslides, and its resilience is apparent with new hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The Montecito neighborhood, particularly hard hit by the tragic events, is home to the recently renovated Montecito Inn and its new dining venues, Phillip Frankland Lee's The Monarch, and the suave Chaplin’s Martini Bar, commemorating Charlie Chaplin, one of the hotel’s original owners when it was built in 1928. The elegant oceanfront Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara offers a luxurious spa and views of Butterfly Beach. Less than two hours north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara celebrates the holiday season with colorful lights, a Holiday Parade (Dec. 7), Harbor Boat Parade with fireworks (Dec. 16), European-style Christmas market, and the traditional "Nutcracker Suite" at the Granada Theater.
The mountains of Canada include the gentle slopes of Mont Tremblant in the east to the towering ones of Whistler in the west. Note that Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving before the United States does, which makes our neighbor to the north a particularly good place for couples who won't be visiting family during that U.S. holiday—especially if you're willing to forgo turkey and stuffing for crepes and poutine.
Gorgeous weather, an enviable winter suntan, and thriving dining and nightlife are obvious reasons for heading to Miami in December. Art Basel Miami Beach 2018, a contemporary art extravaganza and America’s premier art fair, is another incentive for a Miami trip. With celebrities, parties, and unmatched celebrations throughout the city, over 250 world-renowned galleries and 4,000 participating artists will display their creations and collections. The Betsy South Beach, centrally located in Miami Beach’s Art Deco district, will be a major Art Basel venue. Another noteworthy accommodation is The Setai Miami Beach, situated oceanside in South Beach. Featuring 87 Art Deco rooms and 49 ocean suites, the Setai will debut five new retail stores by the end of the year. There is no shortage of family-friendly fun in the Magic City, so named for its rapid growth from 1,000 residents to over 5 million in the past 120 years. Santa’s Enchanted Forest at Tropical Park is the largest holiday theme park in the world featuring carnival rides, shows, games, race cars, food, holiday displays, music, and dazzling Christmas lights. The Miami Lantern Light Festival at the Fair Expo Center celebrates Chinese culture, featuring food, acrobats, handmade souvenirs, rides, and huge handmade lanterns symbolic of illuminating the future and the reunion of family.
December is a popular month to go cruising around Hawaii and Mexico. It’s an ideal family trip, especially with most kids in the US out of school for the holidays. Experience the Hawaii’s tropical paradise. Pick a popular cruise liner and visit ports of call like Nawiliwili on Kauai, Honolulu on Oahu and Kona on the Big Island. If the Caribbean floats your boat, we recommend taking a cruise to explore Mexico’s Costa Maya, Cozumel, Ensenada, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and more.
I’ll be happy to try to help, but I’d really need to know your starting point because there are cheap places in different corners of the world, and it’s not worth flying halfway around the world to try to save US$20 per day. In mid December through January for beaches you should consider Thailand and perhaps also Vietnam. I’ll give you more information once I know where you are starting from. -Roger
The article was written in 2013, but then updated and expanded every year. Since so many people visiting New Zealand do it in a rented car or camper van, all of the companies have deals that include the ferry crossing and returning the car on a different island. Just shop around online and you’ll find prices that include all of that. And also look into renting a campervan if that appeals to you at all. It’s really a wonderful way to see the country, and it’s cheaper than renting a car and staying in hotels or cabins.
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
Malaysia is a favorite of mine, although it’s not really known for beaches. Again, it really depends on what you are looking for. Kuala Lumpur is my favorite city in Asia because it’s got such a great mix of things and it’s also pretty affordable, but not everyone is looking for a big modern city. I’m happy to help with more recommendations if you let me know more about your goals. -Roger
Make like a Viking and soak those sore muscles in one of the many outdoor heated pools, some hidden away and others modern day gathering spots. The famed Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s best-known geothermal spa with temperatures of 98-104 degrees Fahrenheit. The lagoon’s waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and are reputed to have healing powers for skin problems. There are saunas, lockers, showers, and towels available for a reasonable fee as well as restaurants and a lagoon side bar. Whale watching, though not prime season, is always an option in Iceland, as is dog sledding — on snow if available or dry land if not. Either way it is an amazing experience, and the meet and greet part allows you get up close to these beautiful dogs. The younger crowd might enjoy the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival to be held in Reykjavik this Nov. 7-10 showcasing hundreds of acts, both famous and newcomers. Venues include bars, bookshops, theaters and concert halls.
If you are going for one week I wouldn’t go all the way to Thailand, but if it’s two weeks I think it’s worth it. It takes most of a day in each direction, but flights are often reasonably priced, and everything there is cheap once you get there. I’ve actually lived in Thailand for 6 months and have visited many more times and it’s actually very easy and stress free once you are there. All the important signs are in English and nearly everyone you’ll encounter as a tourist will speak enough English to help you as well. You can get around by train or VIP bus for cheap, or fly to the islands for cheap. It’s very safe there as well. You could spend a few days in Bangkok and then head to one of the islands or take a train up to Chiang Mai.
While the Caribbean destination tends to overflow with families during the holidays in December, go a month earlier and you’ll be treated to sunny days sans screaming kids, plus less expensive airfare. “November is my one my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of high season hasn't kicked in, average temperatures are in the 80’s, and the water temperature is lovely,” says Michael King-Hew, the proprietor of Kamalame Cay, a private island resort in the Bahamas. King-Hew specifically suggests for the resort's annual wellness retreat. “It’s the perfect way to get rested and in shape before the start of the hectic holiday season.”
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Fortunately, it rarely rains at all in Cairo, so even though December is one of the wetter months, that means nothing and you are unlikely to see even a drop of rain. Hotel prices do reach their peak in Cairo starting late in December, so it's best to go early in the month if possible. Egypt is definitely one of the cheapest places to travel in December, and the weather is surprisingly nice as well.