Canadian dollar

It’s not hard to hear a lot of gloom and doom in the news these days, but if you’re a traveler, this is shaping up to be one of the best summer vacation seasons in a long time.

Good news for the Yanks

TransylvaniaFor Americans, this is probably a temporary gift from the gods that we should all take advantage of. Our ineffectual congress and weak housing market aren’t going to suddenly do an about-face and our long-term fiscal debt issues still need real bipartisan compromise to tackle. Also something not very likely in this climate. Compared to Europe though, we look like a superhero standing next to a patient in a hospital bed—our battle scars be damned. So the euro is hovering around 1.25 to the dollar and more than a few pundits have said it’ll go to parity if Greece drops the euro and Spain and Italy default. When the euro goes down, so does the Hungarian forint, the Bulgarian lev, the Czech crown (from 17 to 20 in the past year), and the rest. Not hand in hand, but on the trend line. The expensive destinations in Europe are not as expensive this summer and the cheap ones are cheaper.

In the rest of the world, it’s a mixed bag, but the U.S. dollar is way up against some key currencies for us. Right now you get 14 Mexican pesos to the dollar, compared to 11 or 12 most times I’ve been there over the past decade.  You get 55 Indian Rupees now for a buck instead of 45 this time last year. Exchange rates are better in more expensive Brazil, Chile, and South Africa.

But let’s face it, the way most Americans travel is…in the USA. So gas prices dropping from $4 to $3 a gallon is a big deal. Take that road trip before the nutjobs in Iran start shouting again. I doubt we’ve seen the end of fuel price spikes. Someday soon though, offending airlines might actually do the fair thing and ratchet back those hated “fuel surcharges.” Or at least stop slapping frequent fliers cashing in miles for them. (I’m talking to you British Airways.)

Good news for the maple leaf backpack crowd

For Canadians, your currency is as strong as its been in decades and the natural-resource-based economy has allowed you to prosper in the current commodity climate. Like Americans, you take a lot of vacations domestically and have to go quite far to travel internationally, so lower fuel prices can make a big difference in the budget. At 1.3 loonies to the euro (sometimes less), Europe’s costs are at a record low for the canucks. Go!

Plus the math’s easier these days. At near-parity with the U.S. dollar and Australian dollar, you can cash in loonies for something else that’s easier to exchange around the world and not have to do double-math on what you’re spending.

Do Aussies really need another reason to travel?

Breakfast in Bali

You Australians are currently blessed with an exchange rate your parents probably never dreamed was possible. Places that used to cost them a bloody fortune are now cheaper than home. As with Canada, an economy based on the extraction of things in the sparsely populated ground can mean boom times when said things are in demand. So while Australia has gotten crazy expensive for citizens from the rest of the world (okay, except Japan and Scandinavia), when you take your local earnings abroad it’s party time.

Like the rest of us though, don’t assume this good fortune is going to last. It’s probably not sustainable to count on rich commodity prices forever, especially gold, and China’s not going to keep buying whatever the world can mine forever. Travel now and make good memories.

Where does that leave Europeans?

It’s hard to find a silver lining in Europe, but despite your faltering currency, most of the world is still cheaper than where you live now. And hey, if you come visit us in the U.S. you can fatten up and buy some electronics on the cheap.

Otherwise, take advantage of  your own continent’s problems and roll out your own personal stimulus plan. Grab one of those unbelievable package deals to Greece or the coast of Spain. Rent an apartment in Barcelona or Athens from an owner that needs the money. Buy a vacation home on the cheap from someone who really needs to unload it. There are a lot of bargains out there on places you can reach by train or a budget airline.

Take advantage of what may be temporary

In five or ten years from now, we may look back on this summer as one of the great opportunities to travel well for less. Don’t let it pass you by.

[Top Flickr photo by Naharb, Vegemite one by joeywan]