Even Exchange…or not!

People ask me how I am able to travel so much. ‘Isn’t it expensive?’ I am asked. Well, yes, it can be…IF you stay in high-end hotels, travel in peak season, travel in comfortable (read: pricey) modes of transportation and pick places where your home currency is not valued well against the local currency, your trip might cost you a pretty penny.

Here’s how I try to combat what could be very expensive overseas trips — which in the end allows me to travel more:

1 – I love to take in as much local culture as possible so I choose bed and breakfasts or small local hotels. Bed and breakfasts are an incredible way to get inside information from your hosts, as well as local breakfast foods. It’s also a way to meet like-minded travelers.

2 – I am also very much an off-peak traveler. With a few exceptions (Patagonia in the summer, Iceland with 20 hours of sunlight), I tend to travel off-peak. Less crowds, better service and most importantly, more interaction with the locals. You also have some instant spontaneity since everything is not already booked. Off-peak doesn’t have to be December in Italy – though it’s lovely strolling in Venice with no massive crowds, but it can also be laying out on Croatia’s beaches in early September since all the Europeans visit throughout August.

3 – Utilize public transportation. Hiring a private driver is a good idea in some places for safety, or for those long-haul flights where you just don’t want to think about getting from the airport to your accommodation. Private drivers are great when you don’t want a big group tour, and letting your host know you are open to adding a few more people can save you money, and introduce you to other travelers. These comforts shouldn’t be your primary mode of transport. And do your research. Cabs in NYC are not for budget travelers, but cabs in Buenos Aires definitely can be.

And so for the final piece, do your research. Destinations with busted economies, unstable governments (but relatively safe) and currency that does well against your home currency (mine is the USD) are great picks – and probably not completely overrun with travelers…yet.

Ten years ago when I was backpacking around Europe, pre-Euro, there was different currency in each country. So, I would make my first meal McDonald’s (gasp!) when I arrived so I could get a better idea of the exchange rate in each country. The cost of my chosen meal (which I kept consistent across countries — value meal with two cheeseburgers, small fries and a medium soda) gave me a better idea on how the currency stacked up for me for lodging, food and purchases! [When I did this, Belgium was the only country that I never saw a McD’s!]

This was obviously not the best way to get a ‘taste’ of the country but when you’re backpacking alone and stink at math, it’s a good substitute. Now, I use oanda.com instead of testing my theory so I can enjoy local cuisine from the very start of my arrival in various countries around the world.

In no particular order…here’s a short list of countries that I know do well against the USD. My goal here is not to cover the world, just give some insight on places that some people may not instantly think of when they think of places to visit overseas. Countries I have been are in bold. Everything else is on my wishlist.

I welcome comments because it’s just more options to add to my list…if they aren’t already on my longer wishlist!

  • Croatia; Europe without the Euro exchange rate.
  • Bosnia; People still have imagery of a war-torn country. This is true but it is very cheap and very beautiful.
  • Iceland; A few years ago their very prosperous economy collapsed and how can you say no to 20 hours of sunlight in the summer
  • Argentina; Unstable economy. When I booked my trip, it was 3 pesos to 1USD; when I arrived, the exchange was 4 pesos to 1USD
  • Southeast Asia; Vietnam, Laos, parts of Thailand, Cambodia. Have never been but on my list.
  • Eastern Europe: Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Estonia. Prices in these places are supposedly what the Czech Republic was like 10 years ago.

Again, I very much welcome comments. Where have you been that the exchange rate was ridiculously good?

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