Instead of South Florida, go to Cape San Blas
Popular South Florida spots like the Florida Keys, Miami, Orlando and Palm Beach get crowded during the holiday season. Hotel prices for a three-star property are close to $250 per night in Downtown Miami for December holiday dates, according to CheapTickets.com. However, you can beat the high prices by opting for Florida’s “Forgotten Coast,” the area around Cape San Blas near the Panhandle. According to experiential travel company Natural Retreats, three- to four-bedroom vacation homes are about $600 less on average compared to Miami in winter.
Temperatures might not be as warm as they are in the south, but you'll still enjoy plenty of sunshine and water activities. Visit the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, take a hike in Dead Lakes Recreation Area, fish at Indian Pass or enjoy dinner along Port St. Joe Marina. The area is also dog-friendly, so it's a great destination for the whole family.
Instead of Switzerland, go to Slovenia
Not only do the Swiss Alps and picturesque Swiss cities like Lucerne attract European winter crowds, Switzerland is also the most expensive country in the world to visit, according to last year's World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report. For a cheaper alternative ski destination that’s on the euro, look east, to Slovenia.
Slovenia — tucked into Central Europe just south of Austria — is known for its mountains, ski resorts, glacial lakes and Gothic churches. Slovenia has 10 major ski resorts sure to be less crowded than other popular European skiing destinations around the holidays. Head to Maribor or Bled for skiing, culture, natural sights and castles.
Instead of Cancun, go to Costa Maya
Cancun is predicted to be the most popular holiday destination this year, according to booking data from CheapOair. If you have your heart set on a Mexican getaway, look beyond Cancun to Costa Maya, about three hours south of the Yucatan Peninsula. This area is less developed, but thanks to a newer cruise port, it's getting better tourist services and infrastructure. And it’s far less pricey: According to Shore Excursions Group, the average four-star hotel stay along the Costa Maya in December can be up to 25% less expensive than Cancun.
Costa Maya has a coral reef, pristine beaches and a rich history, with access to some of the lesser-known Maya sites like Chacchoben, Kohunlich, and Dzibanche.
Instead of Aspen, go to Taos
Skiers flock to Colorado's mountains during winter, especially Aspen, and that means expensive lift tickets, accommodations and airfare. For fewer crowds and lower prices, look toward Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. Natural Retreats reports that ski condos are about $400 less per night in Taos than Aspen, and three- and four-bedroom homes are close to $1,000 less.
Less than two hours from Santa Fe, you'll find the brand new village and base area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, close to the New Mexico-Colorado border. Outside the ski village are Ojo Hot Springs, the oldest hot springs in the country, and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Just 30 minutes away is the town of Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old adobe city and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Instead of Bora Bora, go to Boracay Island
If you're looking for an exotic and far-off getaway, avoid popular tropical islands like Bora Bora, Bali and Phuket unless you want to deal with crowds and inflated holiday prices. Instead explore the Philippines, in particular Boracay.
Named one of Travel + Leisure 's Best Islands, Boracay is still relatively undiscovered and has bargain prices. December temperatures stay around 80 degrees and hotel prices are well under $100 per night for comfortable accommodations.
Instead of Los Angeles, go to Palm Springs
Los Angeles is one of the most popular holiday destinations this year for Christmas, according to CheapTickets.com. On top of the crowds, L.A. has expensive hotel prices, with average nightly rates at $250 for three-star properties. Instead, look at Palm Springs for a less-crowded California holiday retreat with a huge vacation rental market to help save on accommodations.
You'll be able to avoid the city crowds and have perfect temperatures in the desert to enjoy golfing, pool lounging, spa going and hiking. And, with the vast inventory of vacation rentals, it's the perfect place to rent a house for the extended family; check out some options on FlipKey.
Instead of New York City, go to Philadelphia
New York City is at its best in early winter, with festive decorations and plenty of shopping. It’s a particularly popular destination this year, according to liligo.com, and that will mean jammed-packed streets and sky-high prices. Instead, go to nearby Philly, which offers the same urban-holiday feel with smaller crowds and lower prices.
The City of Brotherly Love rings in the holiday with a "winterized" riverfront park overlooking the Delaware River and a skating rink next to City Hall. There's also the Christmas Village at Love Park, Chestnut Hill Stag and Doe Nights, Macy's Christmas Light Show in the Grand Court, and countless holiday markets around town.
Instead of Paris, go to Barcelona
France took third place in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, and Paris is always a popular European destination around the holidays. Instead, explore a warmer, less-crowded option that still encompasses the euro-holiday spirit. Marina Manasyan of Barcelona Eat Local Food Tours recommends the Catalonian capital as an alternative.
December in Barcelona sees temperatures in the mid-50s, and with the summer crowds gone, you can enjoy city walks, famous architectural sites and outdoor restaurants without freezing temperatures. Manasyan estimates an average hotel nightly price to be around $135. Food is also inexpensive compared to Paris, with an average meal costing around $20 (including alcohol). Don't miss the Santa Llucia Christmas Fair and life-size nativity scene for the holidays.