Bargain destinations? Try Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America

 

The Seattle Times

The dollar is plunging against most of the world's currencies, hitting record lows against the euro, British pound and Canadian dollar, but there are still places in the world where Americans can find travel bargains.

Some countries are better values than others - meaning that food, hotel rooms, transportation and souvenirs cost far less than they do in Paris, Vancouver or London, even when the dollar is falling.

The purchasing power of the U.S. dollar - what it buys for identical or similar goods or services in one country vs. another - is still strong in most of Asia.

In Thailand, where the greenback has dropped more against the baht this year (down 10.5 percent) than it has against the euro (down 6.8 percent as of last week), you can book a room for under $100 in the Amari Watergate Hotel & Spa, a luxury hotel near the Siam Square and Sukhumvit Road shopping areas. A 30-40 minute taxi ride from the new airport into town costs about $7-$9.

According to the Economist Magazine's July "Big Mac" Index (www.economist.com) which measures the value of the dollar according to the cost of a McDonald's hamburger paid for in dollars converted to the local currency, the dollar is still king in China, where the Big Mac cost 11 yuan, the equivalent of $1.45; in Hong Kong ($1.54); and in Malaysia ($1.60). That compared to $7.61 in Iceland, $5.20 in Switzerland and $4.01 in Britain.

Other suggestions: Eastern Europe, where many countries haven't yet adopted the euro. Pizza and beer money still buys a gourmet meal in former Soviet-bloc countries such as Poland, Croatia, Romania and Hungary.

In Bulgaria, a first-class ticket for a seven-hour train ride in an air-conditioned car costs about $12, not quite as much as the cost of a one-day pass for travel on the London Underground. In Budapest, waiters at the historic Cafe Central serve frothy coffee concoctions on silver trays for what Starbucks charges for a latte in a paper cup.

Latin American countries are excellent values. With an 11-1 exchange rate on Mexican pesos to dollar, Americans will find bargains, especially outside the resort areas that cater to Western tourists.

Currency-watchers expect the dollar to fall even lower during the coming months on speculation another cut in interest rates will make U.S. investments less attractive on the world market. Some believe it could hit $1.45 per euro by year-end.

For handy conversion tables showing how the dollar measures up against 164 world currencies, see www.oanda.com. The Web site publishes currency converter "cheat sheets" to print and take along on trips.

"The World's Cheapest Destinations - 21 Countries Where Your Dollars are Worth a Fortune," by Tim Leffel, has advice and recommended itineraries for inexpensive and off-the-beaten path adventures. See http://worldscheapestdestinations.com.

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