Which is the most improved vacation opportunity for American dollars?

Sam asks:

Given all the recent global currency changes, and other turmoil, what is the best vacation destination for American’s who earn dollars.

Is it possible that I/others can go somewhere previously unaffordable because of the changes?

The dollar is much stronger in many parts of the world these days.  But the currency of Ukraine has taken an especially steep dive as of late.  It’s down about 17% in the last two weeks and that is mostly for geopolitical reasons, not hyperinflation.  So go quickly, and avoid the East!  (Whoops!  Kharkiv too…)  I hear Kiev is lovely in February.

Given government shenanigans, it is hard to get a read on the true price level and real exchange rate in Argentina, but the country has offered incredible bargains during crises in times past, and our winter is their summer.  Brazil has become much cheaper, relative to the past, but it still feels more expensive than traveling in the U.S., for the most part.  But if you are convinced you must go there, try now.  Tokyo is much cheaper than people think, but that has been the case for quite a while.

In my opinion most of the eurozone is at about PPP right now for Americans, Berlin has the best bargains, maybe Paris the worst.  Spain and Portugal to me seem to have had a lot of unreported deflation.  Just say nein to die Schweiz, they let Scott Sumner down and now you must pay for that.

Mexico remains a tremendous bargain, with a rate of about fifteen pesos to one dollar.  The best food in Mexico only costs about $2.50 a meal to begin with, now it is cheaper yet.  Most of the country is quite safe, in Yucatan the murder rate is about as low as in Finland.

Comments

Many restaurants, taxi drivers, and in Argentina accept USD with a 5% to 15% markup from the "blue market" dollar rate. Buying pesos from a blue market vendor is safe and accepted. It is extremely difficult to get USD at ATMs and banks if you run low on cash, however, and credit cards are not widely accepted, even at nicer restaurants and hotels. Nearly all of my transactions were in cash in Buenos Aires. One can spend an average of $90/day on transport, lodging, food, shopping, and entertainment and be comfortable. Beef, lodging, and taxis all seem much cheaper than they should be. Good coffee seems more expensive than it should be. San Telmo, Montserrat, and the Microcentro are becoming more and more dangerous, but Palermo, Almagro, and Recoleta are as safe as ever.

A friend was recently in Kiev, and while some things are much cheaper, other essentials are more expensive. There are many refugees in the city. Life goes on, but it's bleak.

Two other recommendations:

1. Moscow's inner ring.

2. Shanghai. Property prices are inflated, but hotel prices are a steal, and the quality of hotels here surpasses that in NYC, London, Paris, etc. Shanghai built far too many 4 and 5 star hotels in the last 20 years, and the rooms don't sell. Construction of new hotels throughout China's Tier 1 cities has come to a halting stop as property developers cancel existing hotel developments or revamp them as condos.

Decided to add on some time in Buenos Aires to an already planned trip to Miami for this reason. Seems like a great place to visit a city that has always been high on my travel list.

I hope you have fun. Buenos Aires has a bargaining culture for everything from airport taxi fares to leather goods and clothing in the malls, so save those pesos. Some of the best deals are in dining on local food. Try La Cabrera steakhouse in Palermo. One of the most rewarding experiences is visiting one of the many nightly milongas and practicas (social dancing venues), which are all listed on the smartphone app, Milonga Hoy, and which host thousands of working-age dance tourists from the Americas, Europe and Asia each season. Try La Bicicleta, Salon Canning, La Viruta, El Fulgor, El Beso, Los Zucca and Yeite.

"Tokyo is much cheaper than people think, but that has been the case for quite a while."

Yep, the claim that Japan is expensive is a myth for the most part.

Hotels in Tokyo are expensive, but Japan is a must go. Agree with Tyler that Mexico is huge value for money, in many ways. A truly great country to visit. Their toll roads are amazing too, so if you're from a border state take your car and go for a month (skip the border towns).

Two years ago (when the dollar was only getting about 100 yen) I paid $180 a night for a nice three bed room that was a 20 minute walk from Shinjuku station and 5 minute walk from the subway. Very difficult to find anything that cheap in the New York, San Francisco or London.

If your utility function includes your budget and saving the world economy: Greece definitely :D

Was surprised by comment that Japan is not expensive. Used this tool to get a ballpark cost estimate. Looks like lodging is expensive-ish, transit can be pricey, but food is quite cheap. Wrong? http://www.exploringtokyo.com/calculator.php

Lodging: You can find a very satisfactory room for under $150 in Osaka and if you look hard, under $200 in Tokyo;

Transit: a 7 day rail pass for goes for about $250- about $34/day. And if you're stuck in Tokyo for your whole trip there are unlimited subway passes for less than $10/day.

Food: Very easy to get a good lunch for $10-$15 and dinner for under $30 and often much cheaper (especially outside of Tokyo).

I'd say this compares very favorably with almost anywhere in western europe, the UK or the big cities on either coast of the US and Canada.

Yes - and the quality of the food and service is likely much higher than the UK or East Coast US.

But Houston and Texas in general still remain the bargain places in the world for vacations/living. Houston generally has nice weather in the spring as well.

Sadly, given that airfares for international flights have decidedly not declined along with oil prices, the prices of hotels and restaurants are somewhat irrelevant. Fly a family of 4 to Europe this summer and you're looking at $5,000+ for starters, and it would be much worse for destinations in Asia. Right now, the best vacation bargains for Americans are domestic.

The best vacation bargains are last minute cruises.

Seriously, 7 days in the Caribbean, departing from Miami with 3-4 destinations for $300-400 per person. All-inclusive + charge-ups if you'd like. If you have the sort of flexibility that allows last minute departures.

Budapest was the new Prauge. Is Kiev the new Budapest? Or is there something in Romania or Bulgaria that is the new Budapest, and Kiev is the new whatever that city is?

Kiev as the new Budapest? That sounds intriguing plausible. Don't underestimate the value of tourism in a country where something historically important is actually happening. (Also, Lviv is worth visiting.) What made Prague so great 20 years ago was all that unsettledness, the sense that the new rules are still unclear, so anything might happen. Of course, one difference is that the current Kiev-unsettledness isn't the sort of thing that puts one in a good mood.

Shouldn't Moscow and St. Peterburg be on the list? Or is it too early for cheap oil to be reflected in vacation cost? Of course, I'm sure they're as packed in snow as Boston this time of the year.

Oh, that must be why Tyler is thinking about vacations -- DC is also overed in snow. Perhaps there are bargains to be had in Beirut or Gaza?

They should definitely be on the list. Moscow is MUCH cheaper than usual right now. Dollars buy a lot of roubles.

His wife is Russian, so there's no way he could not know this. Maybe he's looking for other options so he won't have to visit the in-laws.

"Yap stone money is at a historic low to the dollar! We should go to Yap! We can go to Moscow next year."

They're on the cheaper side once you're there, but the cost in time, effort and money of obtaining visas is a definite disincentive.

Not to mention moving all that stone money around is a bitch.

Food and taxi service in Russia now are very cheap. Imports are a little above PPP with the U.S., however. The airport, hotel, and weather in St. Petersburg (I'm typing this from a St. Petersburg hotel room) are absolutely wonderful and very affordable for American visitors like me. Air travel within Russia is almost costless for those with dollars.

Recent reductions in the value of the Canadian dollar (vs. USD) mean that Canadian vacations are much cheaper than before. English is spoken in most places, too.

Traveled to Vancouver last August and again in January. Noticeable difference!

Indonesia, where the rupiah has lost more than 30 percent of it's value over the last four years.

"what is the best vacation destination for American’s who earn dollars": the answer is always the same. If you want to see the glories of civilisation, go to Western Europe. If you want to see nature that's almost another planet, go to Australia.

LOL

Even if you want to stick to rich countries it's idiotic to not experience Japan

Yeah, seriously. And of course if people are willing to venture outside of rich countries, SE Asia is awesome and crazy cheap even with a weak dollar.

We were in Argentina on a budget early last year and it was unbelievably expensive. We went directly from there to Madrid and Spain proved to be a much better value. The unofficial/black market/real conversion rate, known as the dolar blue, is pretty easy to find:

http://www.dolarblue.net/
http://www.buenosairesherald.com/tags/blue%20dollar

Today's Dolar Blue is almost exactly where it was when we began our trip in February of 2013. Now stack Argentine inflation on top of that. Since the government is spending their foreign currency reserves to maintain the exchange rate Argentina just gets more expensive for tourists every month. We were paying noticeably more in dollar terms for our meals by the time we left the country in early April.

Don't go to Argentina until after they've gone bankrupt and their prices normalize. It's really not worth it.

As for safety... I know Argentina is statistically still supposed to be safe, but a mob beat a purse snatcher to death in the street in Palermo (a posh neighborhood) two weeks after we left. Palermo looks European but it's still very much a South American city.

Put another way: Argentina will be a bargain once they're truly in crisis. But they're not there yet. It won't come until either they completely run out of foreign currency reserves (late this year) or Christina leaves office (also and not coincidentally late this year).

So one less purse snatcher then.

And how many more murderers?

"Unbelievably expensive"

From a certain angle this is true. If you want to buy leather goods in the malls and stay in international hotels and drink Starbucks, then yes. If you can't or won't bargain in Spanish for airport taxi fares, then yes. You'll get reamed.

My impression is the value of dining, nightlife, and taxis has improved since the crisis, especially compared to the value in other major cities with comparable services and atmosphere.

I definitely agree that prices should come down for many things, and that a long-term tourist will encounter many hidden costs. For a savvy, Spanish-speaking tourist on a 3-10 day vacation, however, it's not a better bargain than it used to be.

Colombia's a really underrated vacation destination. The only thing that held it back was being relatively expensive compared to Mexico, Peru, etc. Which of course it still is, but with a stronger dollar that's not as big of a deal. That's where I'd throw my pick.

Good call! Great hotel in a "tourist" town <$100. Spectacular ice cream ~$1/scoop. Incredible diversity of landscapes. Safe enough if you do not "dar papaya," take unnecessary risks.

Tyler writes:
Brazil has become much cheaper, relative to the past, but it still feels more expensive than traveling in the U.S., for the most part. But if you are convinced you must go there, try now.

But, if you’re American, you can’t “try now.” You need some lead time. Reason: Mainly, I think, in retaliation for the U.S. government’s reaction on foreign tourists after 9/11, the Brazilians now require Americans to get a visa. That takes a while.

Odd that you mention Ukraine and not Russia. Russia is phenomenally cheap right now.

Was in Moscow recently - prices there are not too bad now compared with a year or so ago. But still relatively not great - about UK levels I would say. For instance touristy steakhouse on Arbat street about 50 USD per head with Argentinian wine.

If you like architecture, food and urban life, Ukraine has many advantages over Russia, specifically Western Ukraine, the part that used to be Habsburg controlled. Russia has Moscow and Petersburg, but for the most part provincial Russian cities are just ugly monotone collections of Soviet monumentalism, and at best have very small old towns with a few old churches, merchant houses and pre-revolutionary school buildings that you could see in about 2 hours. Russia just didn't have a strong urban culture pre 1917, most of the estates got burnt down, and a lot of the churches and monasteries were ransacked and/or destroyed. Collectivization did a good job destroying most of the interesting rural traditions in Russia as well. Lwow/Lemberg in West Ukraine, for my money, is probably the nicest city in the whole ex-Soviet Union, other than Riga and Tallinn. It has been ethnically cleansed of its founding Jewish, Polish and German populations, but today's Ukrainian residents are very friendly to non-Russians, and have preserved a very strong sense of Ruthenian/Galician identity and tradition. Also very different to Russia, where attempts to connect to pre-Revolutionary traditions often seem forced and artificial. Ungvar (Uzhgorod) is also nice, and the wooden churches and landscapes in the Carpathians are fantastic, and not very touristed. Tschernowitz is also a very interesting place, much like Lwow, a radically different ethnic population than the people who built most of the city, but an amazing tragic history and plenty to see and explore.

Most of the Eurozone is at parity with the US? Maybe at parity with dense urban areas and monopoly-zones like Disneyland. Not with the vast majority of America.

Most of the euro area is not at the price level of Paris. Consider Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and even Austria, not to mention the new members like Slovenia and Estonia.

Even in smaller towns, consumables of all types are more expensive than the non-coastal mid-sized cities of the US.*

*anecdotal

Not that I've been to Austria, Slovenia, or Estonia.

Maybe it depends on what you consume. In my fairly crappy US town, when you avoid the expensive bars, you pay $5 for an American pint of decent beer. For that I can buy a larger, better beer in Berlin. In Prague, I can buy two. Espresso in Italy is almost always 1 Euro or less. In Portugal, it's somewhere between 40 and 80 cents. Wine is cheaper everywhere; America gouges you on wine. I don't know how to do an apples-to-apples comparison on restaurants, but I have a feeling that Europe is no worse than the US. (Note that I'm excluding Scandinavia when I talk about Europe.)

You could be right, but my experience was that Dollars to Euros was about equivalent in small-town Italy, but at an exchange rate of 1.5 USD: 1Euro.

Actually, Tokyo has always been cheaper than people thought. Even in the late 80s bubble. People confused asset prices with the cost of living. Americans came back and compared the costs of golf club memberships, and could not understand the translation of the economics of geisha entertaining into those of company entertainment. Japanese, until recently, were shocked by London prices in many areas of ordinary consumer spending.

If you're counting airfares as a part of affordability, then from a US-centric perspective, I think that Yucatan is hard to beat. Landing in Cancun is dirt cheap. Just don't stay there. The bus to Chetumal on the Belize border takes less than 6 hours, and Belize is definitely a fun place for an active holiday. My partner and I together spent less then $3500 over 2 weeks in January, including airfare, and we didn't feel like we were pinching pennies or denying ourselves things we wanted to do. I would fly to Cancun again in a heartbeat, but this time, I would spend the entire vacation somewhere on the southern shores of Quintana Roo, enjoying the amazing food, sun and scenery.

How much is Venice these days?

Planning a trip to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan right now. I am getting raked on airfare...but when I look at hotels and prices of attractions and foods in these countries, I am struck by how cheap they are. Either the exchange rate is very favorable, or these countries somehow manage to be cheaper than their equally or less advanced counterparts in America and Europe.

"Less advanced" - lol. Compare salary for the average menial hospitality worker in Taiwan versus Europe or America. That is your answer. You will be on the right side of stark inequalities within those countries.

Taiwan has true single-payer, which helps keep costs down.

Argentine true dollar price is about 16-17 even if the newspapers "blue dollar" is 13. you can easily get better prices. so says my Argentinian friend

@SpaceGeostrategy Again, to my earlier point, even during the 80s bubble Tokyo hotels were not that expensive. It has always been thus. Of course, Thailand has been very cheap during recent political upheavals and even now is OK.

Costa Rica has certainly become more touristy and expensive the past few years, but there are many affordable spots for relaxation and nature-type vacations to be had, especially if you don't mind driving yourself around the country and staying at inns (rather than American-style chain hotels). Of course, the boom in tourism has also made a lot of things a much more convenient and American-friendly.

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