Good news for travelers: The U.S. dollar has increased in value over the last year, rising nearly 10 percent against the euro since January. More good news (at least for Americans): Currencies in many typically expensive places are getting weaker.
While currencies always fluctuate, the drop in the euro and the strengthening of the dollar is “a condition that analysts believe will persist for at least the next year given Europe’s economic challenges,” says Sam Chandan, chief economist of Chandan Economics and professor at the Wharton School of Business.
Of course, there’s more to the equation than currency strength. “Watch out for inflation rates,” says Chandan, who points out that even though Turkey’s lira has dropped substantially in recent months, inflation has negated any potential savings. The same goes for Russia. Even some would-be value destinations like Egypt, India, and Indonesia aren’t as wallet-friendly as you might imagine due to inflation.
You’ll get extra bang for your buck if you hit up perennial penny-saving spots like Central America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, parts of South America, and Greece. But if you want to take advantage of the market, it’s time to consider countries that have been prohibitively pricey for the past few years. These places may never be dirt cheap, but all arrows point to a less painful conversion rate in the coming year. Our five picks on which premium places to put on your radar:
For years, Japan has had a reputation as one of the most expensive countries in Asia. But Japan’s yen is at its lowest level in seven years and the country is once again in a recession. Now’s the time to think about climbing Mount Fuji (July to September) or soaking in the glow of bioluminescent mushrooms on Hachijo-jima Island, a 50-minute flight from Tokyo (May to September).
If you can’t wait 'till spring, think skiing—Japan’s northern most island of Hokkaido gets up to 500 inches of powder a year. Niseko, about two hours south of Sapporo, is known to have excellent night skiing and accepts Vail’s Epic Pass. You could also go north about three hours to Daisetsuzan National Park where locals ski. When you’ve had your fill of adventure, do some sightseeing or go right to the source of the world’s best whiskey. According to the Jim Murray Whiskey Bible, that’s Yamasaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 by Suntory.
Hosting the World Cup and preparing for the 2016 Olympics haven't improved Brazil's economy. The country had less than half a percent of economic growth in 2014 and the real has plummeted by about 14 percent.
Despite some inflation, you can squeeze out a little more for the dollar than in the past. Hit Rio before it gets consumed by the 2016 Games—it's home to the world's largest urban rainforest and surrounded by mountain peaks, perfect for hiking. Or get out of town. Spot jaguars in Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands, kayak the Amazon, or get lost along the 685 miles of beach in the northeastern state of Bahia.
Since the U.S. imports far more oil from Canada than any other country, lower oil prices have translated into a weaker Canadian dollar. The Great White North is still expensive, but it's cheaper than it has been in a while. If you're a skier, you're already thinking about which peaks to hit—check out Northern British Colombia for an unforgettable experience. But from mountain biking around Quebec to trekking Alberta's Willmore Wilderness and sea kayaking on both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, there's no shortage of adventure to be had in those sweet spots between Alaska and the lower 48.
#4: New Zealand
New Zealand is synonymous with adventure: hiking, fishing, white water rafting, bungee jumping, and surfing. Americans will pay a premium for this kind of escape, but falling dairy prices have battered the New Zealand dollar and exchanging the greenback for the Kiwi currency is as good as it’s been since 2012. While we’re not at historic lows (2001 and 2002 were really great years), the chart is trending in favor of the U.S. dollar. Now’s also a good time to think about that RV or motorbike trip since New Zealand’s experiencing a drop in gas prices.
It’s a great time to hit any European country, especially Greece, but consider Finland, which is among the most expensive countries that use the euro. It has one of the slowest growing economies in the eurozone and your dollar will get you farther in this land than it has in some time. Travelers who make the long haul here will be rewarded with nearly tourist-free cross-country skiing, long distance cycling, ice fishing, and the most saunas per person in Europe (5.3 million people to 3.3 million saunas, according to a 2013 BBC report). You can even rent your own private houseboat or, if you go in the winter, gaze at the Northern Lights and herd reindeer with the indigenous Sami people.
When paying with credit abroad, you'll get asked if you want to use dollars or the local currency. Always go local—using dollars usually leads to a 3 to 5 percent conversion surcharge.