Want to figure out where the international travel bargains will be this year? Want to go to one of the most popular travel destinations and still find a great deal?
Well you’ve come to the right place. As the author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, I keep an eye on the trends constantly and watch what’s happening with exchange rates. It looks like 2020 is going to be another good year to be a traveling American.
Despite U.S. GOP senators basically crowning our president as the great orange king who can ignore the Constitution and his whipsawing trade war policies, the greenback has held up well. We may be running a deficit during a boom time for the first time in history, but even the death of fiscal conservatism hasn’t stopped the strong dollar party.
That’s partly because the worldwide economic boom is not distributed equally among nations. If our problems look bad, it’s always worse somewhere else. Many countries would look at our problems and say, “You want to trade?” Politically the USA is a mess, but economically the story is still a good one. That means this is another year where you’re crazy to stay home and not travel.
You don’t have to go to some obscure, unknown travel destination to find a great value, however. Some of the most popular countries in the world are on the discount sale rack right now. If you’ve been putting off a trip to a place you’ve dreamed about, this might be the time to start checking flight prices and book that hotel or Airbnb to lock in a good deal.
Here’s a rundown then on where to get the most bang for your American buck in the coming year–though in most cases the deals are good if you’re earning euros as well.
Argentina Still in Crisis Mode
Argentina has been in and out of favor for bargain-seeking travelers many times since I first went there in the early 00s. It continually lurches from crisis to crisis and just when a new administration makes headway on cleaning up the mess left by the last one, they get defeated by a populist making empty promises. For now it’s clearly one of the top travel destinations on sale.
Right now there’s continuing high inflation, too much debt, and a declining Argentine peso to tumble. The last set of elections have put in candidates who are likely to make the problem even worse. When I last visited in September of 2017, Argentina didn’t seem like much of a deal for travelers anymore. Then this happened to the currency and it’s been a different story since mid-2018.
The Argentine peso was worth 17 to the dollar during my visit in 2017. As I write this you now get 60 to the dollar. Yes there’s inflation, but when you buy what the locals are buying–wine, steak dinners, bus rides, subway tickets–you’re going to find some great bargains. Hostel prices have come down a bit there as well lately. Hotels are still priced in dollars, but it’s one of the world’s best values for Airbnb rentals. I’m making plans right now to return to Argentina at the end of this year to explore Patagonia.
A Nearby Vacation Bargain – Mexico
I’m back to living in Mexico now and am seeing my foreign currency go a long way in one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. The currency has been bouncing around between 17 and 20 to the dollar the past few years in this vacation paradise but looks to have settled in around 19 most of the time.
Unless there are dramatic changes in the coming year, Mexico will continue to be one of the best travel values in the world for those at a mid-range or higher budget level. In the interior especially, you can easily find a decent hotel room double or apartment rental for under $30 a night, less if booking for longer periods. Hostels go for as little as $11 a night. The well-known beach resort areas are priced for tourists, but those too are a great value if compared to norms around the world. Check prices with airfare at CheapCaribbean.com and you’ll see what I mean.
It is now cheap enough to qualify as a reasonable backpacker destination too, with low admission prices to attractions, lots of street food options for a buck or less, and cheap bars for boozing it up. The main hits to your budget come from long-haul transportation, so don’t try to cram 15 places into a three-week trip.
Oh Canada, Oh Yes!
The U.S. is in the unusual position now to have a bargain on both borders. Canada’s prices are normally on par with those in the USA for restaurants, hotels, and transportation, but an erosion in the Canadian dollar has meant that some of the things perpetually overpriced—like a beer in a bar—are now more reasonable.
In 2010 the greenback and the loonie were at par — 1 to 1. For the past few years, the Canadian currency has been at 1.2 or 1.3, more often the latter. Things could change eventually if commodity prices rise, but it will likely happen gradually if so. Make your Canada plans now for a ski trip in Quebec or lock in good rates after things turn green again after May. Don’t forget to check apartment rentals, where owners are more likely to be thinking in the local currency than hotel chains are.
Make sure that when you do travel to this beautiful country, you and your personal items are protected. Consider purchasing some of the best travel insurance you can get for your money when traveling to Canada. This will set your mind at ease in case your passport goes missing or you get injured while in another country.
Time to Samba in Brazil
Here’s something I could never say before: travel prices in Brazil are downright reasonable if you arrive with dollars.
The political woes in Brazil have played out like a 10-part miniseries, with each episode bringing more drama and new characters. In this drama though, there seem to be no heroes, only villains. The latest one is the new president, who sometimes manages to make Trump look like a reasonable, well-adjusted leader in comparison.
Ten years ago, Brazil was one of the most overpriced destinations on the planet. Now it’s decade-long slide has put it in the “almost a bargain” category. With the Brazilian real flirting with an all-time low at 4.3 to the dollar, this may be the time to plan that trip to Rio, Iguasu Falls, and the best beaches in South America. I had a terrific time in Rio last year and can’t wait to go back. See my post here on exploring Rio de Janeiro by bike.
A Little Less Pricey for Travelers in Australia
It’s been a long time since anyone considered Australia a bargain and it’s still not one, so don’t get your hopes up. If a visit to the land down under was high on your priority list though, you might want to start checking airline ticket prices. With the recent devastating fires in the news, most travelers have been scared off, plus they could really use the visitor tax dollars in their coffers to start the rebuilding process.
In much of 2010 and 2011, the Aussie dollar was even or stronger than the U.S. dollar: 1-to-1. In 2005 one greenback got you 1.3 Australian dollars. Now a U.S. dollar gets you nearly 1.5 of theirs. That’s a big change in less than a decade’s time, so find a way to get there when it will feel like home price-wise instead of making you feel extra broke.
Unease in Turkey Means Bargains for Travelers
While I’m nearly always touting the advantages of being an opportunistic traveler, I’ve been leery about going to Turkey since I last visited four years ago. The authoritarian, religious-leaning government scares me and as a journalist, I feel like I would have a target on my back at all times. Freedom of the press has eroded massively the past five years and there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people in jails because they spoke out against the Putin-wannabe in power.
If you can put all that aside though, Turkey should remain one of the world’s best travel values this year. It’s got more things to see and do just in Istanbul than most countries can list, then you’ve got Greek ruins, Cappadoccia, ski resorts, beaches, Anatolian historic sites, and on and on. Plus this is one of the world’s greatest food destinations.
While the currency’s dramatic two-year slide has reversed a bit, it is still down 50% against the dollar and the euro and there doesn’t look to be any political or economic change in motion that will change this. See more on cheap travel in Turkey here.
Slumber for Less in Sweden
Let me start off by saying that Sweden is no bargain when compared to the rest of Europe. When compared to typically high tourism prices in Scandinavia, however, Sweden is looking more attractive than it has for a very long time. While most European currencies move in a fairly narrow band in relation to the euro, Sweden’s has diverged the past few years and it’s testing a record low against both the dollar and euro. When I was there in the summer of 2016 I got less than 8.5 krona to the dollar, which was already better than the year before. Now you’ll get more than 9.5. If the trajectory keeps going it may hit 10 to 1.
If you’re on a backpacker budget, this is only going to help a little—it’s still an expensive country to visit. If you’re on a vacation budget though, a weekend trip to Stockholm from elsewhere in Europe is not going to cost you much. If you live in Switzerland, Norway, or Iceland, it probably will feel like a bargain.
When I pulled up dates for this May on a hotel booking site, the very best hotels in Stockholm were going for around $220 per night. The hip Amaranten Hotel where I stayed a couple years ago was around $150 double in the summer including breakfast and this time of year rates start at $106. There are dozens of hotels under $100, including many right in the historic center.
Bali and Beyond in Indonesia
Most Southeast Asian currencies tend to bounce around in a range of 10% or so against the dollar and euro these days, but Indonesia has a more volatile currency. A decade ago a dollar got you around 9,000 rupiah. A year ago a buck briefly got you around 15,000. Now it has settled down to a still-favorable 13,500 for a buck. Indonesia was already one of the cheapest destinations on Earth for backpackers, so it’s just a matter of a great deal becoming an even better one.
Bali is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations and there’s a lot of talk that it has gotten too popular. It’s the island that comes up the most in discussions of overtourism. The place has an undeniable draw to it though and there’s no place quite like it anywhere else. Some people have a hard time leaving. The bargains are better here for vacationers rather than long-term travelers though, so hit other islands like Sulawesi, Lombok, Java, and Sumatra to really feel the full effect. Go to places where they don’t see a zillion tourists every year and you’re not a walking ATM in their minds. Besides, after recent natural disasters in Sulawesi and the Gili Islands in recent years, the other islands could really use your business.
Spend Time in India (and Nepal) for Travel Destinations on Sale
India now receives more than 10 million visitors a year. Those visitors range from budget backpackers hanging around for six months to Chinese tour groups rushing through the “Golden Triangle” to luxury vacationers spending $1,000 per night on a palace hotel or luxury train journey.
India’s problems are well-known and persistent, with a huge population that still gets by on a couple dollars a day. Political and economic challenges have hammered the currency as well. A decade ago you got 45 rupees for a U.S. dollar. Now you get around 71 and the overall trend line keeps going down. In a country where a single traveler could get by on $20 a day before as a backpacker, you can now get even more for your budget.
If you’re trying to stretch a small amount of money for the longest period, book a ticket to India and explore a vast nation of extremes. Then head over to Nepal: their currency chart looks almost exactly the same and in some aspects—especially lodging—Nepal is even cheaper.
Other Destinations to Consider
There are plenty of other travel destinations on sale this year worth considering if none of the above is on your short list.
In Africa, Madagascar’s currency is flirting with a record low and is down 15% against the dollar from two years ago. The currency of Namibia is worth 20% less than it was just two years ago. It’s about the same with South Africa.
In Asia, Laos is down about 7% from two years ago. Not a huge change, but the country was already one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Sri Lanka is 17% cheaper than two years ago as I write this.
China’s woes keep dragging its currency lower: it’s down about 11% from this time two years ago and the whole country is on lockdown as I write this thanks to a deadly viral outbreak that was badly handled at the start. China will be on sale for all of 2020 once tourists start going again.
In Europe, the UK pound sterling remains weak against both the dollar and the euro and with the Brexit deal being a disaster for their economy, it should stay more reasonable than usual for one of Americans’ favorite countries to visit.
Some of the most authoritative countries of the former Soviet bloc have seen their currencies lose some value, so Hungary and Poland are both down double-digit percentages, presenting a better deal than usual for now.
In Latin America, Nicaragua will remain one of the world’s best bargains for anyone who can shrug off the political woes. How’s this for a two-year currency chart?
Colombia has been a good deal since around mid-2016 and is about 10% cheaper than it was then in terms of exchange rates. It has been trading between 3,300 and 3.500 for quite a while, so it will probably not suddenly get pricier.
As I always say, take advantage of this while you can. These travel destinations on sale now may be premium priced again in a few years. Opportunity windows don’t last forever. A decade ago the Canadians were feeling rich when they came to the USA, with our currencies at par. Back then the Brits were flying here just to load up on electronics with their high-flying pound. It’ll be our turn to be glum down the road eventually when the tides turn.