Two other suggestions would be India or Sri Lanka. Except for a few beaches in Goa, neither of those attract the party crowd, and both are excellent for scenery and culture. India is cheaper as long as you minimize time in Mumbai and other big cities, but that is good advice for many reasons. Sri Lanka is a bit better organized, and on your budget it is good value and easily affordable. There are good beaches along the south coast of Sri Lanka, but India is probably better for beaches.
Needless to say, Australia is a huge country so you could spend 6 months there and not get bored, or you could spend one week there and barely see any of it. The obvious destinations are Sydney and Melbourne, both with plenty to do for non-beach people. Melbourne is known a bit more for culture and food, while Sydney is more pleasant and still very interesting. There is also the Great Ocean Road, which is a very scenic drive just a bit south of Melbourne.
Jamaica Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios Martinique Martinique Netherlands Antilles Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Martin/Sint Maarten Puerto Rico Rincón, San Juan Saint Kitts and Nevis St Kitts Saint Lucia St. Lucia Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tabago Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Virgin Islands, British Tortola Virgin Islands, U.s. St. Croix, St. Thomas
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.
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
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.
Most hotels these days include at least a small refrigerator, and some even include a full kitchen and stove. This is great because it allows you to shop locally for some fresh food options. Search online for nearby farmer’s markets or grocery stores and see if you can pick up some local meats or fresh veggies to have in your room. This is more likely to be an option in the warmer months.
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.
I know what you mean about how easy everything is in Thailand, with a 7-Eleven on every corner. But I don’t know the current visa situation because it’s changed recently and might change again. Still, I think they are mainly trying to cut off the people who try to stay forever on consecutive Tourist Visas, and they are still welcoming of the 60-day visits. I hope so anyway because I might be heading there this winter myself.
If you are looking for first-rate destinations that are among the cheaper European cities, I’ll suggest Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin. You could visit all four of them by taking trains, or choose any one, two, or three. In December you can get quite a nice room in any of those cities, with Berlin being the most expensive by a bit. Food and attractions are also quite affordable in those cities.
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.
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.
Those who find a healthy dose of decadence aids the de-stressing process should make a beeline for UAE capital Abu Dhabi, where infinity pool-rimmed spa hotels offer a taste of the world of the rich and famous amid guaranteed November sun. In Madrid, it’s the laid-back lifestyle of the madrileños that draws travellers, who can browse works by Picasso in the Reina Sofia, quaff Tempranillo in grand plazas and tuck into warming cocido madrileño (traditional chickpea stew), without the stifling crowds of summer.
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.