Want to figure out where the international travel bargains will be this year? Want to find one of the most popular travel destinations on sale and 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 2023 is going to be another good year to be a traveling American, once the U.S. congress figures out how to marginalize the attention-grabbing fringe crazies so we can get back to paying our bills on time.
Despite the dark years we’ve lived through with a worldwide pandemic, the U.S. economy has been on a roll. Unemployment is the lowest it has been since the 1960s and inflation is starting to tick back down. The strong U.S. dollar party has mostly kept rolling, so when you’re ready to cross borders again, you’ll find a favorable climate for the greenback in most locations.
That’s partly because the worldwide economic recovery is not distributed equally among nations. If our problems look bad, it’s usually worse somewhere else. Except for all the gun shootings, many countries would look at the U.S. problems and say, “You want to trade?” Politically the USA is a mess, but economically the story is still a good one. That means that traveling can be cheaper than staying home.
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 often on the discount sale rack. 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 apartment rental 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. For the moment anyway, the euro is back in its traditional trading range as I write this instead of being at par like it was for a while in 2022.
Check out these travel destinations on sale for some potential vacation or backpacking plans.
Argentina Still in Financial Crisis Mode
I’ll start with where I put my miles and my money in March of last year, when I spent three weeks in a country that felt like the best travel value in the world—and still does. 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 that keeps tumbling downward in value. 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. A few years later it was 60 to the dollar. When I visited last year the blue rate had passed 200. As I write this in early 2023 you now get 371 Argentina pesos to the dollar and it’ll get worse. Their currency declined the most of any in 2022. (But hey, they won the World Cup!)
If you use an ATM and pay with a credit card, you get the official bank rate. If you bring down wads of actual dollars and trade them on the street, you’ll get a “blue rate” that’s much higher. Last time I was in the country the difference between the two rates was only about 5%, but that has widened more and more as the official rate has kept reclining. Now the street rate is double the official government rate.
Yes there’s significant inflation if you’re thinking in pesos, 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 during that stretch. Hotels are still priced in dollars, but it’s one of the world’s best values for apartment rentals.
We got a terrific apartment in a great neighborhood when we were there, with a Jacuzzi on a large outdoor deck, and we paid around $60 per night after the fees. If you’re not splurging like we were, you can find places for half that, especially outside of the capital.
Steady Prices and Close – Mexico
I have been based in Mexico permanently now since late 2018 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 18 and 21 to the dollar the past few years in this vacation paradise and is around 19 as I write this. (Uh oh, the U.S. debt ceiling crisis hit the dollar hard and now it’s 17 to the dollar as of July 2023. Adjust accordingly.)
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 $10 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. Just understand that Cancun and Puerto Vallarta benefited more than any international destination from the pent-up travel demand being unleashed, so you won’t find such great bargains in those spots or in Los Cabos.
It is now cheap enough to qualify as a reasonable backpacker destination too, with low admission prices to attractions, lots of street food options at reasonable prices, 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.
The main advantage of Mexico, especially for a shorter vacation, is that it has terrific flight connectivity and prices are generally better than for other destinations if you’re coming from the USA or Canada. Plus it’s a quick escape from the cold.
Colombia is a Travel Bargain Now
I didn’t realize until I pulled up Numbeo for research on my post on the cheapest places to live that Colombia is now cheaper than Mexico. I don’t think that has happened at any point since I started writing about travel bargains at the beginning of this century. It’s actually on par with Ecuador now too.
Once again that’s IF you are thinking in dollar or euro terms. The Colombian peso has declined quite a bit against both currencies, in a long slide that started in 2013. Back then, a greenback would get you around 1,800 pesos. A year ago, a buck would get you around 4,000 Colombian pesos. Now the rate has passed 4,700 to the dollar as I write this.
That has brought down the price of nearly everything except what’s imported, including labor costs that impact so much of what travelers spend money on. Even coming from Mexico, Colombia felt like a great bargain when I was there last year in Medellin and Bogota.
On top of that, Colombia has great air connectivity. It’s the hub of Avianca and is served by most of the carriers in the Americas, including low-frills Spirit Air. I often see round-trip flights to Bogota or Cartagena for $350 or less from the USA.
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. 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 and there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people in jails because they spoke out against the Putin-wannabe in power.
Dictators usually fall due to unrest though so his days might be numbered. The economic woes are affecting everyone hard: inflation hit a 19-year high of 36.08% at the end of 2021 and it hasn’t gotten better since. This is one ugly exchange rate chart for the Turkish lira for the past two years:
If you can put the political issues aside, Turkey will be 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.
As with Argentina, this currency slide comes with major inflation, but it has significantly lowered the cost of everything from admissions to taxis to shoeshines if you’ve got euros or dollars you’re cashing in.
Enjoying Egypt for Less
About six years ago, Egypt floated its currency freely to secure a bailout from the IMF and the currency immediately went to the level most traders thought it was worth: half. So almost overnight the Egyptian pound went from 9 to the dollar to 18. Against all odds it eventually leveled out below that level though, so for a while, the gamble seemed to have worked.
Last year the currency took a tumble again though and after trading in a relatively stable range of 15 to 16 for a couple of years, it went down and down and a US dollar now gets around 30 Egyptian pounds. You are doubly rich in the local currency if you cash in dollars or euros.
Egypt has been one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations since the very first edition of that book came out and it was a bargain before that when I visited in the mid-1990s. It has never stopped being a travel bargain for a whole lot of reasons, including occasional bouts of terrorist violence, human rights abuses, and political woes. If you’re the type of traveler who is not put off by a bit of bad news, however, Egypt is one of the world’s best values, year after year.
The site Numbeo.com has Egypt pegged as one of the cheapest places in the world to rent an apartment or house, with an average of $466 for a three-bedroom apartment in the city of Cairo, less than that in any other location. You can see that reflected in the hotel prices too, where you can commonly find a four-star place for under $50 per night, a decent budget place for $15. If you were a digital nomad, you could just rent a hotel long-term and still be living large for half or less what you used to spend in your home country.
Meals for a few dollars, a taxi ride for two bucks, and $1 men’s haircuts are just a few of the traveler prices you’ll find in Egypt. And you get to see some of the world’s greatest antiquities for a song.
Spend Time in India (and Nepal) for Travel Destinations on Sale
India was receiving more than 10 million visitors a year before Covid hit. At first they seemed to be riding it out well, then the Delta variant caught them totally off-guard. Last year things started returning to normal but the currency kept declining.
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 50 rupees for a U.S. dollar. Two years ago you got 73. Now you get 83 as I write this. 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.
Head into the mountains and prices go down even more. On many of the trekking routes you’ll pay a few bucks a night for lodging, then a few bucks more for each meal. Just be advised that Nepal recently changed its rules and banned independent trekking. We’re not sure that will stick in areas where it’s super-easy to navigate, like on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, but that’s the official word.
Travel Deals in Thailand
I was just in Thailand at the end of last year, my umpteenth time there, and I can say from experience that this is still one of the best travel values in the world. Take a look at this post on what a trip to Thailand will cost when you go there. And I wasn’t even in the cheap spots: I only visited Bangkok, Phuket, and Ko Lanta on this month-long jaunt.
I had a bit better exchange rate going for me than what it’s at as I write this, but it usually doesn’t fluctuate wildly there. Figure on 33 to the dollar being a normal rate you can use for estimates.
One factor offsetting some of this though is the cost of getting into the country to start with. Plus they seem to change their entry rules every month. Once you’ve made it past immigration though, you’ll eat well, see lots of beauty, and interact with an interesting culture. You can do all that while it’s not hosting 50 million other foreigners at the same time, for now anyway.
Travel Joy in Bulgaria and the Balkans
Where am I going this year? I’ll be in Bulgaria twice in different seasons and will be returning to Albania. It’s not that there’s any kind of currency drop in those places that’s drawing me to an opportunity. These just happen to be two of the cheapest places to travel in Europe.
First of all, I’m bringing 18 people with me to the towns of Bansko and Borovets in Bulgaria. Why? Well these are two of the cheapest places to ski in the world. I can’t bring myself to spend $250+ to go up the lifts in Colorado for a single day. I’d rather spend 1/5 that and have cheap meals and drinks in the lodge and village while I’m at it.
I rented an apartment for a month in Bansko for this summer, even though we won’t be there that long, because it was a shade more than 300 euros. For a whole month. A full one-bedroom with a great kitchen, balcony, one and a half baths, walking distance to everything. If we had gotten an Airbnb for two weeks instead, it would have been about the same price or a little less. A three-hour bus to there from Sofia is about 10 euros, a local bottle of wine is a few dollars. Most of the seasonal fruit and vegetable choices will be around one euro per kilo.
Albania can be even cheaper, especially when it’s time to grab a coffee or a meal. Plus they have some great beaches. And if you’re American, you can stick around for a year if you’d like, with no Schengen Zone worries. I’ll report back later on how it went.
In the same region, Montenegro and Bosnia are also terrific values, places that feel like travel destinations on sale, especially by European standards. But they won’t stay that way forever. Word is getting out…
What bargain destination are you headed to this year?