If you’re planning a trip overseas, consider this: some countries will cost you a ton more than others. The U.S. dollar rose against many international currencies in 2017 and through the beginning of 2018, which means it’s a good time to be choosy, says Todd Knoop, a professor of economics at Iowa’s Cornell College and author of the book The Traveling Economist: Using Economics to Think about What Makes Us All So Different and the Same. “There are a few places that are good bargains right now,” he says.
Knoop has traveled to every continent except Antarctica, and he often visits places where he knows he can get a sweet deal. We asked Knoop which countries would be his best bet in 2019 to take advantage of a strong U.S. dollar.
“Something good should come out of this trade war with China, like affordable travel,” he says. “The Chinese yuan depreciated by 5 to 10 percent in 2018. Before this depreciation, China was still a relatively cheap place to travel, and it’s only gotten cheaper.” Plus, China is as economically and culturally diverse a destination as you can get—Knoop describes it as hundreds of countries sewn into one. He encourages travelers to visit western China, which is less westernized than places like Beijing. Check out pandas, bamboo forests, and teahouses in the Sichuan province or go hiking in Yunnan’s Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest in the world.
“Your purchasing power is huge in Ecuador,” Knoop says, and the country uses the U.S. dollar, which makes traveling there even easier for Americans. Ecuador also has every type of terrain, from snowcapped volcanoes to jungles to beaches. “Everyone wants to go to the Galápagos Islands, but you can see a lifetime of biodiversity just on the mainland,” he says. Hire a guide to climb 19,347-foot Cotopaxi, try a butterfly-spotting safari, cruise the Amazon River, or kayak its world-class whitewater.
Spain and Portugal
“The dollar remains high against the euro, and Spain and Portugal are not as affluent as the rest of Europe, so there are still good deals to be found,” Knoop says. Spain is great for snagging inexpensive accommodations, especially short-term rentals, because Spaniards have a long tradition of trading vacation homes among friends. “Now, with the advent of Airbnb, those places are available to those who aren’t Spaniards. It’s amazing what you can get for $50 a night.”
Your dollar will go far in the small townships around Johannesburg. “You can go with local people to nightclubs, churches—it’s a fantastic, authentic experience of how people are actually living,” he says. Check out the township of Soweto, where you can visit Nelson Mandela’s former home, drink locally brewed beer, and eat curry cooked over an open fire from a street vendor. At Lebo’s Soweto, a comfortable backpacker’s lodge, guides will take you around the township via bicycle.
“The dollar has doubled in value against the Argentine peso over the course of last year,” Knoop says, and the country’s currency depreciation means that its tourism sectors will be looking for business. Wander the parks and museums in stunning Buenos Aires, venture farther south into Argentinean Patagonia to spot penguins in the Punta Tombo National Reserve, or go sea kayaking off the coast of Ushuaia, a city of some 60,000 residents on the southernmost tip of South America.