27 facts to help put this exchange-rate craziness into perspective for American travelers

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Arc de Triomphe, Paris

As summer of 2008 approaches, Americans looking to vacation outside our own borders are getting sticker shock like we never thought possible. In addition to runaway airfares and the fuel surcharges that make them even worse, we are looking at exchange rates for the dollar that have suddenly turned residents of the ‘richest nation on earth’ into global paupers that might have to learn how to sing on a street corner to scrape together enough change for a hot meal abroad.

The beaten-up dollar actually helps the American economy in many ways, and there isn’t much reason to think the exchange-rate pendulum will indefinitely keep swinging in this same alarming direction, but none of that helps American would-be international travelers this summer. For many people, this is probably the first time they’ve had a reason to think much about this exchange-rate phenomenon, but older travelers know this sort of thing has happened many times before, even in the last few decades. Americans have had a good run with the greenback, and lately it’s payback time for almost everyone else, but history also tells us things will correct again and soon it will be other people taking the worst of the situation.

Here are 27 facts that help put this exchange rate situation into perspective:

The euro got off to a very rocky start against the US dollar

1 – The euro began trading as an accounting currency at the beginning of 1999, but didn’t debut as a paper currency until the beginning of 2002.

2 – The opening trades of the euro in January 1999 were at $1.1747, and by December 3 that year the euro had fallen to 1/1 (even) with the US dollar.

3 – On October 26, 2000, the euro had fallen to its all-time low at $0.8252.

4 – On June 28, 2002, the euro climbed back to even with the dollar.

5 – On April 22, 2008, the euro briefly rises above $1.60, its all-time high to date.

British Museum, London
British Museum, London

The British pound has had plenty of its own wild swings against the US dollar

6 – On November 6, 1980, the British pound hit a recent high of $2.446

7 – A bit more than 4 years later, in February 1985, the GBP had fallen to $1.05.

8- On November 7, 2007, the GBP climbed back over $2.11, which is its recent high.

Many Americans probably don’t realize the euro has also been clobbering the British pound lately

9 – In August 2007, a pound would buy €1.49, but in April 2008 it was only worth €1.24, so the pound lost about 18% of its value across the English Channel in those same 8 months when the dollar lost about 14% against the euro.

The Canadian dollar hasn’t always been the American dollar's poor cousin

10- In August 1957, one Canadian dollar was worth over US$1.06.

11 – In late 1976, the Canadian dollar again spent time worth more than the US dollar.

12 – In January 2002, the Canadian dollar was worth less than 62 US cents.

13 – On November 7, 2007, the Canadian dollar was briefly worth over US$1.10.

14 – In March 2008, the US$ became worth more than the Canadian dollar again.

The Australian dollar has also has not been immune to dramatic swings

15 – On March 14, 1984, the Australian dollar was worth almost 97 US cents.

16 – In April 2001, the Australian dollar was worth less than 48 US cents.

17 – On April 23, 2008, the Australian dollar peaked again at just over 95 US cents.

For Americans who like to concentrate on the glass being half empty, it’s true that many European attractions have gone from weirdly cheap to rather expensive from late October 2000 to May 2008

Charles Bridge, Prague
Charles Bridge, Prague

18 – Third level elevator ride on the Eiffel Tower
2000 price: 57 francs or €8.69 or US$7.17
2008 price: €12 or about US$18.60

19 – Pergamon Museum in Berlin
2000 admission price: 8 Deutsche marks or €4.09 or US$3.38.
2008 admission price: €8, which is around US$12.40.

20 – Narodni Museum (National Museum) in Prague
2000 admission price: 60 Czech korunas or US$1.45
2008 admission price: 120 Czech korunas, which is about US$7.40.

21 – Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
2000 admission price: 12 guilders or €5.45 or US$4.50
2008 admission price: €10 or US$15.50

22 – Grand Tour at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna
2000 admission price: 120 Austrian schillings or €8.72 or US$7.20
2008 admission price: €12.90 or about US$20.00


For Americans who still want to go to Europe this year it’s helpful to remember that traveling is more that spinning through expensive entry turnstiles

Canal in Jordaan neighborhood, Amsterdam
Canal in Jordaan neighborhood, Amsterdam

23 – The amazing British Museum in London, and most other museums and galleries in England, continue to be free.

24 – Strolling down Paris’ Champs-Élysées and admiring the Arc de Triomphe continues to be free.

25 – Checking out and manhandling the famous statues on Prague’s gorgeous Charles Bridge continues to be free.

26 – Browsing the art galleries in Amsterdam’s trendy and bohemian Jordaan neighborhood continues to be free.

27 – Admiring Barcelona’s amazing architecture and strolling down the ever-changing human circus of the city’s famous La Rambla street continue to be free.

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