The US dollar, known for its universal allure from the barrios of South America to the walkways of the Taj Mahal, has been in steady decline over the past year against global currencies. Americans traveling abroad in the developed world see the weakening dollar as a source of angst; with dollars buying less, their purse has less power. In a word, 'poor' is the rate of exchange in Western Europe and England.
The Euro is at an historic high relative to the US dollar. Over the past thirteen months, the dollar has depreciated against the Euro by about 9 percent. In 2000, one Euro equaled $0.90; today, that same Euro equals $1.45. Americans traveling to Western Europe are encountering tour operators who add currency surcharges of about five percent to package tour prices; others simply increase the package price ten to fifteen percent. Some travel agents are even requesting payment in Euros rather than dollars. With the dollar's decline, the Paris vacation you planned to see the Mona Lisa and the Seine River may obliterate the contents of your wallet. Anglophiles beware as well; travel to Westminster Abby, the Roman Baths of Bath and Stonehenge in Wiltshire in England is prohibitively expensive for Americans as the pound remains very strong against the US dollar, with1 pound equaling $1.96 US.
However, for those wanting to appease their wanderlust needn't despair; there are culturally rich countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and Central and South America where the local currencies remain substantially less than or on par with the US dollar, affording you not only great deals, but the experience of a new culture. Remember, though, while favorable exchange rates are important when planning your overseas jaunt, do your research; compare online airline prices through reputable websites and make certain you are not sacrificing your safety, creature comforts or a lack of local attractions for the opportunity to stretch your budget.
You can find vacation bargains for Americans in non-Euro, eastern European nations like Croatia where the Croatian Kuna is 2 to1 to the US dollar; providing a lot of bang for the buck. Zagreb, the capital and largest city of Croatia, offers a taste of modern Eastern Europe where your dollars enable you to discover a destination filled with history and churches, palaces and markets to explore and chic restaurants to dine. A beautiful night of peace and comfort in a boutique hotel can cost as little as $126 per night including value-added tax, compared to $400 in a comparable hotel in London.
Those bound for Asia could consider Vietnam; a destination where the local currency, the Vietnamese dong, remains undervalued compared to the US dollar. Vietnam offers a range of experiences for the adventurous traveler from historic Hanoi, steeped in old world customs and cultural activities, to Danang with seaside resorts just a few miles out side of the city. For a sense of the 16th century Vietnamese cultural mix, visit the commercial port city of Hoi An, once a mecca for merchants from India, Holland, China and Japan. Hoi An could be a perfect trip for the architecture buff as the majority of the 16th century religious buildings, ports and streets remain intact. Art collectors are discovering Vietnam as well - some of the most talented contemporary artists in the 21st century are Vietnamese.
Argentina is a hot spot and gem of South America where the local currency continues a favorable exchange rate, roughly $1 dollar to three Argentine pesos. Buenos Aires, a South American capital with a European flair, boasts an exciting arts & culture community and wine country rivaling Napa. Natural wonders abound in this country of beauty and reverse seasons make skiing possible at Patagonia in August.
Some other destination options actually accept US dollars as their currency. Panama, using US dollars, is a great example of an exotic location well within budget. Panama City is a booming metropolis of bright lights and a spectacular skyline; a 2 hour drive north takes you to the mountainous countryside of El Valle, or drive 30 minutes from the city to Veracruz, a local beach where a delicious entrÈe of fresh red snapper, garden salad, plantains and a bottle of locally brewed Balboa beer will cost $3.50.
In a word, traveling is an "adventure". Plan your next adventure with your hard earned dollars in mind.
Websites to consult:
Currency conversion: www.oanda.com
Gigi Harris is Director of Client Services/Marketing for The Bedminster Group. The Bedminster Group provides fee-only investment, estate and financial planning services. The information contained herein was obtained from sources considered reliable. Their accuracy cannot be guaranteed. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those from any other source.