My top recommendation would be San Juan, Puerto Rico. It offers a wonderful mix of history and culture and nightlife and great food, alongside excellent beaches and abundant activities. Hotels and rental apartments are mostly in the mid-range for the Caribbean, but food and drinks and most other things are great value. You could get a place in the Condado area, which is close to the lovely Old San Juan neighborhood and plenty of nightlife all around. And then perhaps you could rent a car and stay for a few days at one of the smaller beach towns elsewhere on the island. You wouldn’t even need a passport, although it does feel fairly exotic while you are there. But because it’s part of the US, it’s also well organized and safe. Most people you’ll meet will speak at least some English, and many are fluent, so it’s easy even if you don’t speak Spanish.
There are not one but a cornucopia of hotspots to check out in the Aloha State come November. First, Oahu, which has, throughout the years, been transformed by Asian-Pacific locals from a holiday outpost into a globalized, cosmopolitan destination that offers all the glory of paradise in one locale. You’ve got the allure of the Island landscape, plus the buzz of modern living mixed in a relaxed, slow-paced daily lifestyle near the shores. It is (along with Honolulu) the center of the Hawaiian universe, and will no doubt sprinkle excitement into any Thanksgiving celebration. You might even want to go all out by getting a taste of authentic, fantastic Hawaiian flavor by cooking that turkey in a traditional imu (underground oven)! Those who want to work off all that feasting can hop on into the Turkey Trot 10 Mile Run on Thanksgiving morning and then spend Black Friday enjoying the annual Waikiki Holiday Parade—instead of braving those restless shopping crowds.
Christmas markets sprout up all over the country this month, and from the smallest towns to the biggest cities they’re a great place to mingle with locals, learn about regional handicrafts, and sample seasonal delicacies. Depending on the venue, you can find anything from medieval reenactments to outdoor concerts. But they’re usually at their prime once darkness has set in and the fairy lights are out in full force (which means there’s also time in the day for museum visits and city touring before indulging in the market flurry). Some travelers skip dinner altogether for a smorgasbord of yuletide samplings at the wooden market huts!
The last suggestion would be to start in Bangkok, which is an amazing city even if you avoid the Khosan Road party area, and then head south along the coast and into Malaysia and finally Singapore if you feel like it. There are many nice beaches and islands in Thailand that aren’t filled with party folks, and some really interesting places in Malaysia as well. George Town on Penang is really nice with excellent food, and Kuala Lumpur is my favorite city in Asia for few reasons. The town of Malacca is really nice, and Singapore is amazing, if a bit expensive.
As for Malaysia, you could book online and it might cost a bit more, but more things go by a fixed price in Malaysia so it might not be much different. Personally I’d probably book tours through my hotel once I got there, just as in Vietnam. But there is a BIG difference between the countries in that Malaysia is a much richer country and there are very few scams to worry about. Vietnam is still fairly poor and they were communist for so long that people got used to trying to scam people a bit as the only way of getting ahead. So the good news is that Vietnam is a gorgeous country with excellent food and very low prices on almost everything. But the bad news is that you have to be more careful in Vietnam because people will try to overcharge you if they can, even though it still might seem cheap to you. That’s one reason I like to book with hotels, because they put the reputation of the hotel on the line when they book something for you, and they can’t afford to get a string of bad reviews by charging an extra US$5 on a cut-rate tour. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
A charming, historic city to visit any time of year, Edinburgh is especially festive during December. Walking through its cobblestone streets takes you back to medieval days when sheep, cattle, and grain were sold in what is now the center of the city. Today, the Royal Mile includes shops, cafes, and museums. Edinburgh Castle, a must for first-time visitors, dates to the 12th century, with its dramatic silhouette overlooking the city. For those seeking holiday celebrations, the Royal Botanic Garden is decorated with lights, music, and illuminated trees. European-style Christmas markets pop up at Princes Street Gardens and George Street, offering traditional crafts, gifts, food, and warming drinks, most welcome during chilly December. The annual Hogmanay celebration welcomes the New Year with fireworks, food, and festivities. Don’t miss the delicious and ubiquitous fish chowder called “Cullen skink,” and be sure to try haggis, served with “neeps and tatties” — mashed turnips and potatoes. Buttery shortbread and whisky from the country’s more than 100 distilleries are also Scottish specialties. A stay at the elegant and historic Balmoral Hotel will enhance any visit to Edinburgh, and while you’re there, you’ll notice that Scottish actor Sean Connery was a guest, as was J. K. Rowling who finished the last Harry Potter book in one of its suites.
Flights, on the other hand, can be pricey if you buy too early. My recommendation would be to book a resort soon and then put a fare-alert on the flights so you’ll get an email when the fare drops. For the Caribbean the cheapest fares are usually only 2 or 3 weeks out, and since that is a slow period you really shouldn’t have any problem (unless you are trying to go on popular Thanksgiving dates). Most likely the resort prices won’t change much as November approaches, so you could probably wait on that as well. There will definitely be empty rooms when you get there, so the resorts usually don’t start pushing up rates when they will be partly empty. Best of luck on this. -Roger
If you are more interested in nature and adventure than culture, then the top choice would be Costa Rica. The country has many beautiful national parks and it’s filled with things like zip-lining and canopy tours, just to name a few things. There are also volcanoes and surfing beaches and much more, plus a very good backpacker infrastructure of cheaper hotels and hostels.
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.