Where to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

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It’s the backpacker’s call to India, the sunseeker’s attraction to Mexico, and the digital nomad’s drive to get to Thailand: Go where the dollar buys more.

The evergreen budget travel strategy is getting a boost this summer: The dollar has surged against a number of foreign currencies, including the Japanese yen, thanks to high interest rates offered by the Federal Reserve — attracting foreign investment, which bolsters the dollar.

“A destination’s weaker currency spells greater value for U.S. tourists,” said Erina Pindar, the chief operating officer and managing partner at SmartFlyer, a global travel agency based in New York City.

“This economic advantage could make far-flung bucket list destinations in Asia, such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan, or in South America, like Peru, Argentina and Chile, more accessible than ever before,” she added.

Distant destinations are usually more expensive to fly to, which, along with the physical toll of jet lag, helps make the case for the country’s North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico, where the exchange rates have long favored the dollar’s buying power.

But this year there are some new contenders with attractive exchange rates to consider, including the following destinations.

Currently, the U.S. dollar is worth about 1.50 Australian dollars, up about 16 percent over the last three years.

The hurdle, of course, is the long flight, which can easily run over $1,000 round trip. But the travel search engine Kayak lists some attractive summer round-trip fares between the West Coast and Sydney starting at $770, with the best availability in August.

Getting around Australia by air isn’t cheap either, especially since the recent collapse of the low-cost carrier Bonza. Jetstar offers lower fares, including, recently, $50 one-way tickets between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Camper vans can be an affordable way to take an Australian road trip, with companies like Jucy, Britz and Apollo offering vehicles that include beds and cooking facilities. Jucy recently priced a two-person van rented for a week in July at about $53 a night.

The Northern Hemisphere summer is Australia’s winter. If you’re planning a ski vacation in the Australian Alps, Tourism Australia suggests avoiding mid-July when schools are on break and many families head to the slopes.

Australia does not have a culture of tipping, potentially saving travelers 20 percent on restaurant meals, according to Craig Bradbery, the chief operating officer of Baillie Lodges, which includes the newly rebuilt Southern Ocean Lodge, a luxury property on Kangaroo Island.

Many destinations in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, offer compelling exchange rates. In Indonesia, the rupiah is at a four-year low against the dollar.

“I would send clients to Bali, Indonesia,” said Rob Huie, the owner of Luxury Travel Services by Rob, based in Millsboro, Del., noting that the cost of living is low on the island. “The caveat is a higher upfront cost to fly there, but once you’re there you are able to stay at three- and four-star hotels at very affordable rates, have meals for $10 to $25 per day and massages for $10 to $30.”

Travelers with Marriott loyalty points can cash them in at the Four Points by Sheraton Bali, Kuta (rooms from $57 a night). IGH Reward members can spend or earn points at Hotel Indigo Bali Seminyak Beach (from $138).

Tripadvisor’s list of the top budget hotels in the central highlands around Ubud includes options under $100.

Bali is a good place to look for a vacation rental, according to the home rental platform HomeToGo. Its data shows the median per-night price for a rental property on Bali this summer is $86, compared to the median price of a rental in the United States at $388.

“Despite the strength of the U.S. dollar on a global scale, prices across the states continue to rise, prompting travelers to look to international destinations where their dollar can stretch further,” said Eleanor Moody, a travel expert at HomeToGo, who added that searches for rentals in Indonesia have more than doubled in the past year.

South America — including Argentina where inflation has spiraled, and Peru where the sol has softened against the dollar — is another place to look for value.

“Stop going to Europe,” said Cecile Blot, the owner of the travel agency Boundless Travels in Washington, D.C., praising “destination dupes” in South America. “Many of the countries on the southern continent offer the entire package — history, culture, nature, culinary delights, world-class accommodation — at a fraction of the price.”

One of these is Colombia, where the dollar recently equaled about 3,935 pesos, a gain of roughly 20 percent over the past five years.

“Colombia has something for everyone,” said Stefanie Pichonnat, the owner of AAV Travel, based in Terre Haute, Ind., citing Cartagena on the Caribbean as a budget-friendly substitute for a European capital, and coastal Tayrona National Natural Park as a cheaper alternative to Costa Rica.

“Coffee aficionados can spend days touring the coffee fincas, passionate hikers can challenge themselves with a trek to the páramo desert and bird watchers will find an abundance of options to explore,” she added.

Air service is frequent and affordable. A recent search for round-trip fares from the New York area turned up summer departures starting from about $290 to the capital of Bogotá and $320 to coastal Cartagena.

From Bogotá, visitors can reach Chingaza National Natural Park in the eastern Andes or spend a few days in the laid-back colonial city of Villa de Leyva. But Colombia’s mountainous terrain and perilous roads often require travelers to fly domestically to see other areas.

Among tour operators that do the planning for you, Responsible Travel, based in England, offers a customizable 12-day trip to Colombia that visits Bogotá, Medellín and the central coffee country, including the lush Cocora Valley with its nearly 200-foot-tall wax palm trees (from $2,990 a person).

The U.S. dollar is currently worth about 156 Japanese yen, a gain of more than 11 percent over the past year.

Demand for Japan was already booming when the economic picture improved. BWH Hotels, which includes Best Western Hotels, said occupancy and rates have grown steadily for the past two years because of demand and a shortage of employees, especially in popular destinations like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.

But with careful planning, Americans can still exploit the exchange rate. IHG Hotels & Resorts, which operates hotel brands in the country from the design-focused Voco to the high-end InterContinental, suggested traveling by early July for the best rates (an overnight at the Voco Osaka Central starts at $135).

The Japanese-owned Hoshino Resorts tend to be upscale, but their OMO line offers more entry-level accommodations, from capsule hotels to full-service locations. The OMO5 Kyoto Gion, for example, offers rooms that sleep up to six people and include kitchens, starting at 24,000 yen, or about $153. Staff guides offer free tours to temples in the area.

While many temples, parks and shrines are free, travelers in the capital can get the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass for 2,500 yen (about $16) that includes admission to more than 100 museums and attractions around town.

Among its tips for budget travelers, the tourism office of Japan recommends making lunch your big meal as many restaurants offer midday specials.

There are a number of cost-conscious ways to get around Japan, including trains (a Japan Rail Pass starts at 50,000 yen, or about $320, for seven days), low-cost airlines like Peach and Zipair and overnight buses.

Or consider walking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route that connects sacred shrines in the Kii Mountains. Walk Japan has a self-guided seven-day trip, including accommodations and most meals, starting at 224,000 yen.


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