Places Where You Can Stretch the U.S. Dollar Furthest
Favorable exchange rates and cheap attractions make these cities wallet-friendly.
Places Where You Can Stretch the U.S. Dollar Furthest
Vacation planning can sometimes seem like a frustrating problem without a solution. If you don’t have enough money to travel when you’re unemployed, or underemployed, and you don’t have enough time to plan big trips when your career’s going well, then when, exactly, are you supposed to take that life-changing trip you’ve been dreaming of for years? And how are you going to pay for it?
We don’t have all the answers. But we can remind you that you don’t have to be a millionaire (or even much of a “thousandaire”) to afford an international vacation, especially if you home in on a destination where the exchange rate is working in your favor.
The value of any given country’s currency is constantly fluctuating — based on economic, political and even ecological factors. And when it takes a dip, tourists find that they’re able to buy more for less (at least until they’ve pumped enough money into the country’s economy to raise the value of its currency again).
In the following cities, American tourists can enjoy exchange rates that work in their favor — making stellar vacays on the cheap more possible.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
According to the Economist’s “Big Mac Index,” the Argentinian peso is currently undervalued by about 64 percent. As a “Telegraph” article last year declared, “Currency collapse means now is the time to visit Argentina,” and this sentiment very much holds true in 2019.
In the culture-rich capital of Argentina, you can reasonably expect to find a clean, no-frills hotel room for $30. Plus, in this city known colloquially as “the Paris of South America,” arty offerings are surprisingly affordable. The Museo Evita, Círculo Militar and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes all charge $5 or less for admission. And many of the city’s milongas, or tango parlors, have cover charges of just a dollar or two.
Moreover, because the value of the Argentinian peso is currently so unstable, many local establishments will gladly accept U.S. dollars, saving you the hassle of dealing with currency exchange centers.
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
As if warm weather and abundant wildlife weren’t reason enough to visit Costa Rica, the country’s currency, the colón, is undervalued by 32.4 percent, according to the Big Mac Index. And, according to the Global Travel Forecast, the exchange rate is predicted to fall 5.2 percent in 2019.
No-frills hotel rooms in La Fortuna — an ecotourism destination near Arenal Volcano National Park — cost the equivalent of about $20-50. And cash-strapped travellers can save even more money by eating their meals at the sodas, or diner-like eateries, in town. At most of them, a heaping plate of the house special (often rice, beans and fried plantains with a protein) costs around $5.
Just be sure to set aside enough money to pay for a few outdoor expeditions. There’s plenty in La Fortuna to keep adventurous travelers busy, from ziplining through the rainforest to rappelling down waterfalls.
Few would consider the United Kingdom a budget-friendly destination. But Brexit has put the pound sterling through the ringer, meaning that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are more affordable than they’ve been in many years.
As “The Guardian” put it, “Tourists are winners” as a result of the plunging value of the UK’s once-stalwart currency. (“Just not,” it sadly notes, “British ones.”)
Scotland’s most populous city has always been a relative bargain, and is particularly wallet-friendly now. Home to more than 20 museums and some of the world’s best street art, Glasgow has long been a favorite of artists, musicians and other creative types. And it’s still a great place to spend a long, leisurely weekend wandering to and from galleries, concert halls and pubs.
Budget hotel rooms start at around $40. And some of the best Indian restaurants in town sell bowls of piping hot curry (a local specialty) for less than $10.
The yen’s value has taken a dip in 2019, which means that — while Japan certainly isn’t what anyone would call cheap — it is more affordable now than it has been in the past.
In Japan’s futuristic, frenetic capital of Tokyo, there are other ways you can cut down on costs if you stay open-minded. Choose inexpensive ramen over spendy sushi when you’re eating out (or, if you really need a raw seafood fix, visit one of the many conveyor-belt sushi spots in town for an affordable meal on the fly). You can also take advantage of Tokyo’s exceedingly efficient, and reasonably priced, public transportation system to move around the city.
And consider staying in one of the city’s famous capsule hotels, where beds start at around $50 a night. You won’t have much space. But you will have more money leftover for memorable trips to the Imperial Palace or the Harajuku District. And you might get some good stories out of the experience to boot.
Dubrovnik’s star has risen in recent years, at least in part because “Game of Thrones” fans have realized that many of the HBO show’s scenes were shot in the coastal city, and that it’s every bit as photogenic in real life as it is on TV.
And while Dubrovnik is more expensive than many other Croatian cities, you certainly don’t need to be as rich as a Lannister to appreciate its fortified walls and medieval monasteries. Especially because its accessibility — by plane, train, bus or boat — makes it relatively cheap and easy to get to.
For about $20, you can purchase a ticket that will allow you to wander in and out of many famous cultural sites, including Rector’s Palace, the Maritime Museum at Fort St. John and the Archeological Museum. For another $5, you could buy an excellent bottle of local wine and sip it from the balcony of your $40-a-night two-star hotel room.
And, yes, the exchange rate here is pretty favorable as well, allowing you to further stretch your budget.
Mexico City, Mexico
William Faulkner once wrote that “the past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” His words certainly apply to this historic capital, where 13th-century Aztec temples and 17th-century Spanish cathedrals must compete with strikingly contemporary museums and art galleries for visitor attention.
Because of Mexico City’s size (it’s the biggest city in the Western Hemisphere) and central location, it’s easy to find relatively inexpensive flights to and from the area. And the peso has weakened in recent months, making it even easier to find dining and lodging deals once you’re there.
The city also boasts an affordable bikeshare program — with rates starting around $5 a day — and extensive public transportation networks that allow travelers to get around without paying for cabs or car rentals.
While Eastern European capitals like Prague have become steadily more expensive in recent years, Budapest — a well-preserved historic city that rises above the wide, blue waters of the Danube River — has remained surprisingly accessible to budget-conscious travelers. And the exchange rate between the Hungarian forint and the U.S. dollar is expected to remain low through the end of 2019, making it even more affordable.
Private rooms in Budapest start at around $30 a night, goulash goes for about $5 a plate and beer often costs less than $2 a pint.
Better yet, some of the best entertainment in the city is completely free. It doesn’t cost a thing to stroll along the banks of the river that bisects the city, admiring architectural gems like the Buda Castle, the Hungarian Parliament and the Great Synagogue. Several local cultural organizations offer up free walking tours too.
In the 1980s, Medellín — then the seat of Pablo Escobar’s infamous cocaine cartel — was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Today, it’s statistically safer than some U.S. towns, and tourists are beginning to rediscover its charms, from colonial-era churches to modern art museums. But the country’s economy has yet to fully recover, and the U.S. dollar is currently performing well against the Colombian peso.
For about $2, you could ride a gondola to the top of the mountain that rises above the city and the sprawling Arví Parque — a prehistoric archaeological site and park — at its summit. For around $22, you could treat yourself to an epic, five-hour bike tour of the surrounding area. And you could easily book a budget hotel room for two for less than $30.
Azerbajan — a small country on the Caspian Sea, sandwiched between Russia and Iran — is a study in contrasts. Urban oil tycoons rub elbows with the rural poor. Turkish food is served in quaint cafes modeled after Parisian buildings. And though most of the residents are Muslim, they’re fond of Russian vodka. They’re also friendly to a fault, and often go out of their way to help visitors navigate the local sites, from Baku’s beautiful boardwalk to the mud volcanoes that bubble up outside the city (yes, mud volcanoes are a thing).
In 2015, the country’s government opted to stop protecting the Azerbaijani manat against falling oil prices, and it’s been weak against the dollar ever since. Budget hotels in Baku start at around $25, and meals there typically run about $2.
The Greek Islands — deservedly — get a lot of love, but mainland Athens is known as the “cradle of western civilization” for a reason. The ancient metropolis teems with enough history to keep travelers busy for weeks. The Parthenon, Agora and Acropolis are among the most picturesque, and immediately recognizable, ancient ruins in the world. And the city’s National Archeological Museum is one of the best institutions of its kind anywhere.
After years spent plagued by crippling debt, the Greek economy finally seems to be showing signs of recovery. But tourists can still find rooms at three-star hotel rooms in Athens for under $30. And tasty Greek eats (think gyros, spanakopita and souvlaki) can be purchased from local street vendors for just a few dollars a pop.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Even though it’s the site of one of the world’s greatest architectural wonders, Cambodia has never attracted nearly as many tourists as neighboring Thailand. Those who do visit, though, are rewarded with stunning vistas and stunningly great deals: The U.S. dollar is Cambodia’s unofficial currency, and anyone carrying it will find that it’ll go a long way there.
Angkor Wat is the name given to a vast 12th-century temple complex located just north of the sleepy city of Siem Reap. Encompassing more than 400 acres and over 70 temples — with new ones still being excavated — the site deserves at least a few days of exploration.
A three-day access pass costs a little over $60 and could well be the largest purchase you make while in town. Hostel rooms in Siem Reap start around $15, and you can buy a filling, flavorful plate of food for about a dollar.
Guatemala may be small in size, but it’s got a lot going for it. Coastlines along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Jungles both literal and urban. And some of the most stunningly preserved Mayan ruins in the world. All that, and the U.S. dollar has long performed well against the Guatemalan quetzal to boot. You could easily get by on around $40 a day if you were willing to stay in hostels and cook some of your meals. On $60 or $70, you’d be living large.
Every traveler visiting Guatemala should consider a trip to Antigua, a colonial city in the country’s central highlands that’s surrounded by a ring of volcanoes. It’s known for its Spanish colonial architecture and verdant central square. It’s also a relatively short bus ride away from Chichicastenango, the largest native market in North America.
Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
The kiwi has taken a bit of a tumble in recent months, and it’s likely to remain undervalued for the foreseeable future. That’s good news for travelers with more frequent-flier miles than money, though, because they can now spend weeks crisscrossing one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world without taking out a loan or selling their plasma.
One of New Zealand’s best budget-friendly destinations is the Bay of Plenty, a constellation of islands and mainland beach towns scattered along the eastern edge of its North Island. The area appeals to adventurous travelers who want to explore parks, hot springs, geysers and beaches via foot or bike.
Egypt’s economy has struggled since its citizens ousted former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. And while the country is once again stable and peaceful, its currency has yet to fully recover from the revolution. Consider that reason enough to visit the country’s ancient capital now, when three-star hotels rent for around $30 a night and diners can find multi-course meals at mid-range restaurants for less than $20.
Located along the Nile River, Cairo has been continuously occupied since the first millenium. And the pyramids and famous Sphinx of Giza, just a short boat ride farther south along the river, are even older. Travelers can also easily reach the ancient city of Luxor by boat, where the Valley of the Kings and the Luxor Temple inspire awe (and lots of photo opportunities).
The Indian rupee is currently undervalued. Because of that, one of the world’s most endlessly enthralling countries is also one of the most affordable.
You can find rooms at even five-star hotels for less than $100 in Delhi. And you’ll likely thank yourself for splurging a little — the city’s swankiest hotels are typically also the most centrally located, and most of them filter all the water they serve their guests (even the ice), saving you from a potential bout of “Delhi Belly.”
You could spend weeks exploring the museums, restaurants and ruins of India’s capital without running out of things to do. But Delhi is also, conveniently, one of three points of the popular “Golden Triangle,” a well-trod route connecting the city to Agra (that’s the home of the Taj Mahal, y’all) and Jaipur, a 17th-century city famed for its pink palaces.