The final month of the year marks the time when people in northern climates start looking around for an escape to the sun. Fortunately, there are big parts of the world that have their best weather of the year at this time, and are very cheap as well, once you get there. The best places to visit in December are of course close to the equator or even below it.
I’ve done most of my travel as a solo, and I’m now a couple years older than you, so I know exactly what you are asking about. If you had even 2 full weeks I’d suggest going to southeast Asia, but as you say, the travel time could be a killer for a shorter trip. Still, it’s a unique experience with a lot of positive aspects to it, so you should keep it in mind. If you are still considering it, I’d suggest flying to Bangkok for 4 days or so, and then spend the rest of your time on one of the islands such as Kho Samui or Phuket. If you want more information on that, let me know.
It would be hard to beat Chiang Mai for its combination of great November weather and low prices. Even though it's officially the start of the high season for hotels, the beginning of the month is usually very slow anyway, so bargains are common. Hotels in Chiang Mai are among the best bargains in the entire world, so even if you do have to pay full price for a room it'll be cheaper than a dorm bed in most European cities.
If that doesn’t interest you I would point you towards the Playa del Carmen area, which is just south of Cancun and just across the strait from Cozumel. November is technically the last month of hurricane season and early in the month you’ll probably get at least a few quick rain storms, but actual hurricane in November are very rare. And at least Playa del Carmen is on the mainland and near a huge airport, so tourists would never be trapped there as they might on some small islands. Playa del Carmen is a fairly large touristy town with hundreds of little hotels, restaurants, bars, and things to do, so it’s good for a solo visit or with another person. Cancun proper, on the other hand, is mainly a long strip of beach hotels and time-share residences that are spread out and not well suited to solo visitors or small groups.
Unlike most cities on South America's west coast, Buenos Aires has fairly consistent rainfall all year long, and you might see a bit of the wet stuff even during December. Still, the temperatures should be ideal for being outdoors, and this is really mostly an indoor city anyway, so when it does rain you'll be able to pop into a shop or museum or cafe and have a great time.
I too am a planner, which is how I got involved in this, and so I totally understand your motivation. I think your plan sounds quite good. The weather in the places you are planning is actually fairly mild, and none of them are too far north. For some of us it’s easy to forget how far north parts of Europe are, and in those areas it’s not so much the cold but the fact that the sun rises at 10am and sets at 3pm that time of the year.
If you’re a fan of cheese, this place is really fun. It’s a quaint little shop that’s right across the street from Pike’s Place Market. With hundreds of competitive awards under their belt over the last decade, you know their cheese is going to be good – and they do too. They let you sample different varieties of cheese before you buy it, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
The easiest meal of the day to eat out is by far breakfast. Many places offer eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, or other type of high-fat foods that are easy to order without too much effort. Dive bars or café’s will usually be quick to serve and have some great tasting food. We had the pleasure of eating breakfast at a great place called The 5 Point Café, which featured a fantastic omelet with smoked salmon (pictured below) and hollandaise sauce.
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.
The only other suggestion I have, which gets almost no rain in November, is Goa, India. There are about 20 different beach areas in Goa, and some of them (Anjuna and Vagator) are famous as party beaches, while many others are more mellow and family oriented. It’s also very cheap and beach massages and that sort of thing are excellent value. Let me know if you have more questions about that. I hope one of these things works out for you. -Roger
I’ve spent a few weeks on Boracay, but not in early November. From what I’ve read, the monsoons there are usually not too bad, and it’s mainly a matter of a couple of hours rain in the afternoon on the bad days. Throughout the Tropics it’s very rare to get rain all day on any given day, and I’ve spent many months in those areas during rainy seasons. So early November isn’t ideal, but if it’s the only time you can go I still think you’ll enjoy it. One nice thing about Boracay is that the hotels are all basically on the beach or right off the beach, so even if it does start raining you can be back in your room in like 2 or 3 minutes. Best of luck with this. -Roger
The biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
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.
Prices go up a bit when you go south into Malaysia, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the money. You might even consider Myanmar as well, which I’ve yet to visit, but I keep hearing great things about. It’s honestly the perfect time of year there. By April it’s insanely hot (the hottest month of the year), but December through February is lovely. It’s all quite safe as well, as long as you keep your wits about you. I’m happy to help with more information if you need it.
The most important holiday in Japan is oshogatsu (New Year), and the month leading up to it is packed with fun festivals and markets. Standouts are Shimai Kobo (December 21) and Shimai Tenjin (December 25) both of which offer great ceramics and handicraft shopping, in addition to lots of good things to eat and drink. From December 8 through the 17th, thousands of lanterns will be placed around Arashiyama, including in the enchanting bamboo forest. If you’re there on New Year’s, you’ll catch the famous the bell-ringing ceremonies -- get up real early and see the monks at Kyoto’s largest temple, Chion-in, or drop by a small-scale local shrine instead.
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