I mentioned before that I’m editing the third edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Not that the cheapest places to travel are going to change very much—in relative terms they’re still the best deals—but many of the pricing guidelines in the current 2006 edition have gotten out of date. Here are the notable things to be aware of.
1) Prices are more fluid than ever—everywhere. Volatile energy prices, volatile commodity prices, the ethanol mess, massive currency fluctuations, and a hops shortage. These are just a few of the factors causing prices to spike from one month to the next and render any estimation about prices to be suspect at best. It’s not unusual now to see the price of a sandwich, a beer, or a bus ticket rise or (less often) fall 25 or 30 percent in the space of a month. Get used to it.
2) Some currencies have been overvalued. In the space of a few years, Turkey went from being one of the world’s best values to being just another “soak the tourists” destination. Part of this was due to the government raising prices to European levels at museums and historic sites, but part of it was also due to a currency that was flying far higher than it should have been. Now that the new Turkish lira has come back to Earth, it’s at least a better deal than Western Europe again. I almost yanked Turkey from the book this edition, but am going to leave it in with lots of caveats. I had the Czech Republic in the honorable mentions, but if you get out of Prague that country is now a better deal than Turkey.
3) Popularity + high inflation = ouch. Just as Turkey has gotten more expensive as more tourists arrive, so has Argentina. For the mid-range traveler Argentina is still a good deal, but as hotel prices have doubled and food prices have kept rising, inflation of 10% or more is eroding the value. Backpackers will probably want to do the math and think twice if the planned visitor fee hike goes into place as planned in January. If you’re American or Canadian, it’s going to cost you over $130 just for the privelege of spending your hard currency there.
5) Luxury travelers have gotten more daring. As you may have noticed, it’s pretty hard to avoid the luxury travel types now, no matter where you go. There’s a luxury resort on Hoi An’s China Beach, a Four Seasons in Chiang Rai, two competing $400 a night places at Siem Reip. And that’s just Southeast Asia! In India there are probably 50 hotels where the cheapest room costs more than the average villager makes in a year. Naturally, this drives up expectations of a fair price for taxi drivers, souvenir stand hawkers, or local adventure tour operators.
4) Some deals have gotten better. Prices have barely budged in some of the cheapest destinations, yet the infrastructure has improved and it’s easier to get there and around. This is especially true in Central America, but also in Laos and Cambodia. For the moment, political situations are more stable than in ’06, especially in Nepal, but keep an eye on Thailand and Bolivia.
If all goes well the new edition will be out in December, but it could slip into January if there are any snags. Stay tuned for an update next month.
[photo – the Llao Llao Hotel near Bariloche, Argentina, on a spooky morning.]
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