So we all know the world economy stands on the frightening precipice that could lead to something much worse in the not too distant future, but finally there is some really good news for Americans who find themselves with a bit of time off (one way or another) and who have a bit of money available. After seeing our dollar become the punching bag of every other currency for the past couple years, out of nowhere it’s gained new strength as what many investors consider a “safe haven” in uncertain times.
Traveling to Europe has gotten reasonable again, and our traditional exchange-rate advantage with Canada is back to some degree, so those places are back in play for Americans. But the news is even better elsewhere, as quite a few countries that had become a bit pricey for us are suddenly bargains. The timing on quite a few of them is even better in that they are in the Southern Hemisphere so the next few months is the ideal time to visit anyway. There’s no telling just how long this will last, and things might even improve more for Americans in the short run, but for now these are some of the better places you should be considering.
July, 2008 – AU$1.02 to US$1
November, 2008 – AU$1.50 to US$1
Costs for most things in Australia had gotten quite high for Americans during the past few years, and in mid 2008 things had really gotten out of hand, but suddenly the tables have turned and Oz now (barely) qualifies as a budget destination for Yanks. Budget hotel rooms in Sydney that would cost around US$90 can now be had for around US$60 per night, and nicer 2- and 3-star tourist hotels can now be yours for around US$80 per night, which is noticeably cheaper than most American cities that are nowhere near as nice as Sydney.
To make things even better, airfares have suddenly and mysteriously dropped as well. A roundtrip from Los Angeles to Sydney has been running a bit over $1,000 for many years now, but all of a sudden fares as low as $742 have appeared. Australia certainly isn’t as cheap as most of the others on this list, but if you’ve been wanting to go this is the perfect combination of events that should get you started, and of course their summer is fast approaching to make things even better.
July, 2008 – 75 Icelandic Krona to US$1
November, 2008 – 120 Icelandic Krona to US$1 (unofficial, see explanation)
Iceland has notoriously been one of the most expensive places in the world for tourists, but due to its recent banking collapse it’s suddenly a bargain and many are now flocking in to take advantage of a situation that is still a bit up in the air. International trading of the Icelandic Krona has been suspended since October 6, so it’s a bit difficult to figure out exactly where things stand at the moment, but previous searches have shown that finding a hotel room in Reykjavik for under US$100 was virtually impossible, and now we are seeing one hotel on the outskirts of the city with rooms for US$19, and many more choices in the US$30 to US$50 range. Beers that were recently well over US$10 apiece in downtown bars are now reported to be in the US$4 range for those fortunate enough to be there now.
Flights from the east coast of the US are starting under $500 these days, and even though the days are short and getting shorter now, the winter weather isn’t nearly as harsh as most people expect, with average temperatures similar to those in New York City. The famous Blue Lagoon thermal pool is always warm, so now might be an ideal time to check out a country that has been on the ‘outrageous’ list for decades.
July, 2008 – 998 Korean Won to US$1
November, 2008 – 1,260 Korean Won to US$1
South Korea has long held a spot somewhere between the insanity of Japanese prices and the affordability of its neighbors to the west in Asia, but now suddenly our money goes more than 25% further. The exchange rate briefly hit 1,467 just a week ago, which gave us an almost 50% bonus, so this one might go further in our direction again. This is a modern country, and its giant capital of Seoul has all the modern amenities that you could want, so budget hotel rooms under $40 and business-class rooms around $75 per night are real bargains.
Flights from Los Angeles can be had for around $830, and flights from New York are starting around $960 at the moment. Especially now, it’s fairly cheap once you get there, so if you can find a flight that works this might be the ideal time to see this country that is becoming more popular with globetrotters every year.
July, 2008 – 3.02 Argentine pesos to US$1
November, 2008 – 3.40 Argentine pesos to US$1
While the currency-rate shift hasn’t been quite so dramatic in Argentina, the important thing to know is that Argentina has been a major bargain for a while now, and it’s just gotten a bit better. The country artificially held its money at 1-to-1 with the USD for many years before a banking collapse led to the 2002 decision to let the peso fluctuate, which suddenly gave foreigners about a 70% discount on everything. Inflation since then has slowly chipped away at the advantage, but the country is still a huge bargain, and now even a bit cheaper.
Buenos Aires, sometimes called the Paris of Latin America, is considered one of the nicest cities in the world by its many fans, and comfortable hotel rooms with good locations aren’t difficult to find in the US$50 per night range, and an excellent steak dinner can be found starting well under US$10, with a bottle of quality local wine around US$6 at the same restaurant. Most of the rest of the country is even cheaper, and there are many highlights to explore once you leave the big city. Flights from New York and Miami start around $850 roundtrip, and around $950 roundtrip from Los Angeles.
July, 2008 – NZ$1.30 to US$1
November, 2008 – NZ$1.70 to US$1
New Zealand is “on the list” for nearly every serious traveler who hasn’t yet made it, and it’s hard to find anything but raving reviews from those who’ve visited before. It’s always been a bit cheaper than nearby Australia, and that trend continues, with both of them becoming weirdly affordable due to the strange exchange-rate movements of late. When you go it’s really not wise to linger in the largest city of Auckland, but a hotel there can now be found in the US$50 to US$60 price range on the budget end, and not too much more for something quite nice. Lakeside resorts in the South Island tourist haven of Queenstown are now starting around US$80 per night, but most every other tourist spot in the country is even cheaper.
The trick for visiting New Zealand is to rent a car or campervan, and get out into the gorgeous and varied scenery that covers both islands. With fuel prices coming back down, and cabins or campsites at the many holiday parks now cheaper than ever, the whole place is very reasonable once you get there. Just as with Australia, flight bargains have also appeared out of nowhere, and a roundtrip from Los Angeles can now be found for around US$750, though these bargain fares might be gone soon.
July, 2008 – 1.55 Brazilian Real to US$1
November, 2008 – 2.17 Brazilian Real to US$1
There’s much more to this huge country than Rio de Janeiro and its famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, and Brazil has always been fairly affordable for Americans, at least once the plane ticket is paid for. But the currency had been gaining strength against the greenback for more than 4 years straight until the recent shift that has put the whole country solidly back into the “bargain” category. Hotels in Rio have never been all that cheap, but now you can find a good budget place in a good location in the US$50 to US$60 range again, and most all other expenses for food, drinks, entertainment, and attractions are all quite reasonable.
Of course, most of the rest of the country is even cheaper than Rio, so it’s wise to move around and take in other aspects of the country when you are flying so far in the first place. Flights from either Los Angeles or New York to Rio can be found in the $750 neighborhood these days, and of course it’s spring there now and their high season is approaching, so this could be a great winter getaway instead of Hawaii or the Caribbean.
July, 2008 – 10 Mexican pesos to US$1
November, 2008 – 13 Mexican pesos to US$1
Mexico hasn’t suddenly become a bargain, as it’s pretty much lived on the bargain list all its life, but as you can see the USD now goes about 30% further than it did just a few months ago. The trick here is finding hotels that don’t already base their rates on US dollars, but either way prices that were reasonable before should be even lower now, and of course most of your expenses on food, drinks, entertainment, and souvenirs are now more affordable than they’ve been in at least 5 years. With winter approaching and so much worldwide economic uncertainty we’ll be looking for great specials at some of the more popular resorts that will probably find themselves with more empty rooms than they know what to do with.
Flights from the US to Mexico have also been traditionally reasonable, and nothing has changed there. You can fly roundtrip from either Los Angeles or New York to Mexico City or Cancun starting in the $300 to $350 price range, even as their high season approaches.
July, 2008 – 7.2 South African Rand to US$1
November, 2008 – 10 South African Rand to US$1
Never known for being especially cheap for Americans, South Africa has always lived on its reputation of great beaches, excellent nature reserves, safari parks, winery tours, golf resorts, and much more. But now it’s pretty cheap for Americans as well. The exchange rate has been lingering in the 6 to 7 Rand per USD range for many years now, so you can imagine how nice it must be when you are getting 10 Rand for every greenback. This is another Southern Hemisphere destination that is weirdly cheap at the perfect time of year for Americans looking for a new adventure. Nice hotels in Cape Town are starting in the US$60 to US$80 range now, and of course most of the rest of the country will come in below that.
Not surprisingly, the tricky part of visiting South Africa is the flights part. You’ll have to change planes at least once, probably in Senegal or in Europe, and the combination of flights will eat up around a full 24 hours, even if you get good connections. Right now flights from New York to Cape Town are starting around $1,100, and from Los Angeles around $1,300.