Where Has the U.S. Travel Dollar Gone up the Most?

sopes Guanajuato

If you’re looking to travel to a place where you’ll feel twice as rich as you did a few years ago, you might want to head to South Africa, Colombia, or Mexico. Or take advantage of a strong U.S. dollar to hit normally expensive countries like England, Italy, or Japan.

I said before that if you’re American, you’re crazy to stay home this year. The greenback is at or near record highs across a whole basket of currencies and at 10 or 15-year highs against most others around the world. Some you might not want to visit (Russia, Algeria), but others are attractive places now on sale.

I highlighted a few international tourism favorites in this story I did for a deals blog this week: With a Strong U.S. Dollar, These Premium Destinations Are on Sale. So if you’re feeling flush, you can go that route and visit places that are normally more expensive than home, but are now much more reasonable. Or if you’re watching the budget, you will find the world’s cheapest destinations have gotten even cheaper in the past year.

If you really want to see where the most dramatic drops have occurred though, here you go.

South Africa

If you headed to an exchange booth in Cape Town at the beginning of the ’10s, a buck would have gotten you 7 rand. If you go there now a buck will get you 15. You’re essentially twice as rich in a country with plenty to keep you occupied for weeks.

South Africa travel prices


When I lived in Guanajuato for the first time between the summers of 2010 and 2011, as we were packing up our things to leave the rate was below 12 pesos to the dollar. When we went back for a while recently, we were getting 18 to the dollar—a buying power jump of 50%. Sure, there’s been a little inflation and imported goods are more, but most of the things that were already a deal there (meals, produce, beer, tequila, budget hotels) are an even better deal, especially in the interior.


The two times I visited Colombia this decade, it didn’t feel like much of a bargain. The exchange rate was between 1800 and 1900 to the dollar each time and although it was cheaper than the USA, it was more expensive than many nearby countries in Latin America. Now, however, you can take advantage of all the bargain flights heading there and get more than 3000 pesos to the dollar instead. Again, a rise of more than 50% in purchasing power. It now costs a lot less than this to live there too.


The next Olympics host has had one of the most dramatic negative turnarounds in the world thanks to entrenched political problems and a big drop in commodity prices. At the beginning of this decade the exchange rate was below 2 real to the dollar. Now it’s running between 3.5 and 4. This country felt very expensive to most visitors five years ago and Brazilians were traveling abroad for the sole reason of going shopping and filling up two suitcases at outlet malls. It’s a different story now, so if you come in with dollars it won’t feel so out of whack for South America now. Flights here are typically expensive and you get hit with a big visa fee that you have to apply for in advance. On the first point though, airline Azul is opening up some much-needed competition.

Chile currency travel


Chile’s historic exchange chart looks very similar to Brazil’s and the country is equally exposed to commodity price falls. When I was there in 2012 I was outright shocked at how expensive it was, especially in contrast to Bolivia right next door. The rate was 475 Chilean pesos to the dollar then. Now the currency is trading between 650 and 700, a dramatic change. If you wanted to visit the Atacama Desert, go vineyard hopping near Santiago, ski in our summer, or explore Patagonia, now’s the time!

Don’t Wait

Be advised that this post will probably be out of date in a year or two and we won’t have the currency winds blowing our way anymore. We’re mainly benefiting from a much-strengthened economy during the Obama tenure and a huge drop in oil prices. A president Trump or OPEC cooperation could take the wind out of our momentum in a hurry. Go now!


  1. mathieu tallard

    Twice as rich in South Africa…..Then, how much for basic room with private bathroom without looking for hours for best deal. What about security. i think it is one of the worst place in the world. I travel with a home made scooter. All luggages are exposed like on a bike. I have heard rich people have fire gun install on car to keep thefs away.
    Cheap countries are fun to go to if over a little bit out of minimum security. The movie Blue Crush 2 makes the country very appealing and there is an official nude beach. Don`t know if water is hot though. And i don`t know about girls either. I don`t like white skin but too dark like in Haiti is not attractive to me either.
    Twice as rich in south Africa compare to Thailand. Thailand still cheaper? Thanks

    Very interesthing reportage.

  2. Anthony Thomas

    I just came back from Brazil. I was in Sao Paulo and before I even hit the ground in Brazil I had spent the majority of my trip money in missed flight penalties.

    I survived in Sao Paulo for 21 days on about $400 US. I spent the first five days in a Centro area apartment from Airbnb. Cost was $26 dollars a day but even at that rate I couldn’t afford to stay beyond that and I had paid in advance as required with that service.

    After that I found a hostel in n the Piherios area for $8.65 a day after exchange.

    Despite the money issues, I was still able to enjoy Carnival, Sao Paulo style. I saw a display put together by movie director Tim Burton from his private collection for free.

    Local food staples are cheap. Food shopping is cheap

    I went out almost every night; cost was $20-40R or about $7-$10 US which includes entry and that covered three beers or three drinks. I don’t drink so I got soda instead and never exceeded that.

    I’ll be returning in Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec mainly to take some Portuguese classes.

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