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News Flash: Travel Prices Fluctuate

For those who typically skip intros in books or take prices in travel articles as gospel, here’s some news: prices for hotels, restaurants, taxis, buses, visas, and admissions will change. They are probably more liable to go up than down, just as they have for centuries.

U.S. dollar vs. Hungarian forint over 3 years

No book author likes to get negative reviews, so it always pains me a little when someone has something bad to say about The World’s Cheapest Destinations on Amazon. The other day someone put up a review complaining that the travel prices in Southeast Asia were higher than what’s listed in my book.

Well duh.

As the publishers put in every guidebook intro, travel prices can and will fluctuate, often as soon as the book has left the printer. On the web the prices may be more updated…or not. I don’t know of any website that adjusts its sample prices for a destination every week depending on inflation, currency exchange changes, or seasonal variances. (If you know of one, put a link in the comments as I’d love to see that.)

The value of the U.S. dollar on the world market bounces up and down just as frequently as the world’s stock markets and for the past two years it’s been more down than up. In some places this doesn’t matter much, especially in Latin America, whereas in other places it can be a game of “follow the bouncing ball.” The prices you pay in baht or rupiah or soles are always most dependent on that exchange rate—unless you’re in a country where the rate stays fixed, like Ecuador or Belize.

U.S. dollar vs. Thai baht over 3 years

Here’s a good site for looking up current exchange rates. Here’s one for looking up historic exchange rates to see how things are now compared to the past. Here’s a link to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message board so you can see what backpackers are paying in the here and now.

For the most part though, it’s all relative. As prices go up in Thailand, for example, they usually also go up in more expensive places like Japan and Singapore. If they rise in Hungary, you can bet they’ve risen as much or more in France. The cheapest places to travel are still generally the cheapest places to travel, though I usually make some tweaks from edition to edition. (Turkey and Morocco are probably out for the 4th edition coming in 2012.)

So, if you’re going to pick up my book, or any guidebook or travel app, for that matter, look at the budget ranges as a general guide and don’t treat specific prices as gospel. Financial markets are always in flux, so the price of tortillas, rice, beans, and labor will change every month you are on the road. Take enough money to roll with it, go to the right destinations, and you will travel well for what would be a pittance at home, no matter what’s going on in the world commodity and currency markets.

Thomas Dembie

Wednesday 29th of June 2011

Great post. Guide books are 'guides' exactly for this reason. So many factors that cannot be controlled, such as inflation, come into play. It's extremely naive to think that prices will always remain the same.


Tuesday 7th of June 2011

good explanation it was really very hard experience in last few years


Friday 3rd of June 2011

I bought a copy of World's Cheapest Destinations in the first edition and I'm a big fan of the book and the overall premise. I agree that it's impossible to keep up with every price shift, but I did recently start a website dedicated to this whole topic called Things like attraction admission prices don't change too often, but I do scan sites for updates to try to stay on top. Also, my site actually does adjust all currencies on a daily basis. However, these tiny shifts don't interest everyone, and you are right that a place like Vietnam is always going to be cheaper than Thailand, and they usually move up and down together.


Wednesday 1st of June 2011

Most travelers are totally clueless about what's going on in the world beyond where they are right now and most spend 20X more online time talking to their friends back home of Facebook than they do looking at global economic news. So they keep getting unhappy surprises and blaming it on the messenger. You see it all the time on the LP board---people complaining that prices are higher than it says in the guidebook, failing to note that the dollar is down 25% in the local currency since the guidebook came out.

Vago Damitio

Wednesday 1st of June 2011

Great post. The dollar has been a painful experience for the past couple of years. This spring when I was back in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore I noticed it profoundly. Here in Turkey I tend to think in Euros because if I start to think in dollars I realize that I'm paying about the same as in the US for things. Luckily, Morocco remains a good value and I'm quite happy to be heading back there today.