“I’ve lost a third of my savings,” seems to be the refrain—or gasp—when Americans take a look at their latest 401K or IRA statement through the end of October. Some have done a tad better, some worse, but with every sector in decline, it has been hard for anyone to look like a smart investor this year.
There’s a counterbalance to that though for travelers: the dollar is way up against foreign currencies. In many cases, the dollar has risen as much as the stock market has declined as global investors rush to U.S. Treasury bonds for safety.
So which countries are in this one-third club? Which currencies are down by 33 percent or more on the year?
Surprisingly, most are not obscure developing nations with a weak tourism infrastructure. Sure, you can get a lot more bang for your buck in Lesotho, Namibia, or Swaziland, but if a currency falls in the dunes and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? This time around, some of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world are on the clearance rack.
Deal of a decade in Australia and New Zealand
As of this week—and things could change fast of course—both the Australian and New Zealand dollars are down by around 32 percent against the U.S. dollar. In real terms, that means the restaurant meal that was $30 earlier this year is now $20. The same goes for tours booked locally, hotels priced in local currency, taxi rides, and internal transportation. On top of that, the airlines are struggling to fill seats, so it is easier than it has been in ages to find a flight or package deal as well.
Europe on Sale
I mentioned in an earlier column that Iceland is a screaming bargain right now after their dramatic currency fall, but a few other European countries have also joined the one-third club. After spending the last few years trading at or above $2, the British pound sterling is now worth a shade less than $1.50. The $80-plus taxi ride of a few months ago is now $60 and a single subway ticket now costs $6 instead of more than $8.
After flying high over the past couple years, the Turkish lira has also come down to Earth. That currency is down 38 percent on the year, making museum admissions, local meals, pansiyon hotels, and local transportation much more affordable. Don’t expect such dramatic relief from hotel chains and carpet dealers though: they set their prices in euros, which means a drop closer to 15 percent.
Skip Japan, head to Korea
The Japanese yen is the strongest currency on the planet right now, making the world’s most expensive destination even pricier. A short flight away sits South Korea though, a country that has a lot to offer at a fraction of the price. While prices in South Korea are typically close to what they are in the U.S., this year is different. The value of the Korean won has dropped in half. If you’re up for unusual ski resorts (lots of communal hot tubs and bulgogi lunches in the lodge) or seeing Buddhist temples in a magical snowy landscape, you can find low-season flight prices over the next few months as well.
There are a few other destinations scattered around the globe where your travel funds will stretch much more than they would have a few months or a year ago. In many cases the difference isn’t enough to get excited about, but other members either in or flirting with the one-third club include enticing destinations such as South Africa, Chile, and Botswana. Destinations where the dollar is up at least 20 percent since January include India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Hungary, Norway, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada.
So if you still have money left to spend and you want to see an instant 20-33 percent return, head abroad for that big, long vacation you’ve been talking about for years. Or leave the awful job market behind and go vagabonding around the world on the cheap. You’ll probably burn through less money than you would staying home paying bills and you’ll definitely have a lot more fun.
Tim Leffel is author of the books Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and co-author of Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America. He also edits the award-winning narrative Web ‘zine Perceptive Travel.