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Where the U.S. dollar still has some muscle

ON A BUDGET

Overseas travel can be had for a song, but travelers must choose their destinations a little more carefully.

October 03, 2004|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

An acquaintance of mine, along with her husband and children, recently returned from a 12-night vacation in Brazil. They spent $30 a night for a family room in an ocean-side resort in the historic Brazilian city of Paraty, 125 miles from Rio, including breakfast. They spent $60 a night in Rio, where they stayed two blocks from Copacabana Beach.

The U.S. dollar is still strong (and buys remarkable bargains) in many exciting, colorful countries. In Brazil and Argentina, for example, the U.S. dollar buys far more than it did a little longer than two years ago.

On Jan. 1, 2002, the Argentine peso was selling at par to the dollar (1:1), and the Brazilian real was selling at 2.31 to the dollar; both sell now at nearly 3 to the dollar.

If you'd like to make vacation choices from countries whose currencies are weak against the U.S. dollar, go to www.xe.com, a website for currency equivalents. Click on "currency table," which enables you to compare the current value of the dollar with the value of other currencies. In Mexico the peso, which sold at about 10 to the dollar two years ago, today sells for about 11.5 to the dollar, an improvement in U.S. purchasing power of close to 15%. Mexico offers attractive hotel and meal costs to the American traveler.

There also are several countries where the dollar has held its own the last two years. Countries in Asia, with the most prominent exception of Japan, exemplify that price stability. China remains a remarkable travel bargain for Americans; its exchange rate of 8.27 yuan to the dollar has not, generally, varied. Traveling within China, Americans find high-quality hotel rooms for less than $80 a night and meals for under $10. Travelers generally feel safe in China, making it a good prospect for anyone searching for an interesting vacation destination.

Thailand is another good choice, economically. The dollar has retained its strength against the bhat, which has scarcely budged in the last two years. And from a base that was favorable to begin with, the dollar has remained strong against the Indonesian rupiah. Thus, the island of Bali remains a budget-priced choice.

Finally, in Eastern Europe, the currencies of Romania and Bulgaria have weakened a little against the U.S. dollar, and both nations are inexpensive places to travel. In this regard, their currencies contrast with those of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have strengthened against the dollar.

To be sure, the dollar has weakened significantly in most of Western Europe, much of Eastern Europe and in Japan. But by maintaining a sort of pinpoint accuracy in choosing your destinations according to their low cost of living, you can still enjoy overseas vacations at moderate costs.

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