10 International Travel Bargains
The good news for U.S.
The good news for U.S. travelers who plan to venture abroad this year is that their dollars will go further.
You’ll benefit from the favorable exchange rates in euro-zone countries as soon as you hit the ground. The strong dollar will get you discounts of 20% to 30% off prices in recent years for food, train tickets, shows and more. A trip to Canada may not sound like the most exotic of vacations. But now that you can get more loonie for your buck—recently $1.26—it’s a good time to explore the country’s multiethnic flavors and diverse topography. It’s also a great time to jet down to South America.
Late August and September are good times to snag deals on airfare and hotels and to enjoy good weather while avoiding the tourist crush. For your South American adventures, you'll want to aim for the Southern Hemisphere's springtime, in September, October and November.
Here are 10 international destinations where the strong dollar is making travel remarkably affordable.
Portugal offers inexpensive restaurants and hotels, as well as wine that rivals the French and Italian varietals. It boasts Old World city squares lined with cafés and ornate churches, beautiful beaches, and lush wine country in the Douro Valley. The country was hit hard by the recession, but that works in your favor, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, because second-tier hotels and restaurants are mostly gone. “Any businesses that were not thriving fell out, so what remains is the best.”
Wander the winding streets of Lisbon, take one of the vintage trams, or grab a cheap cab to see the sights. There’s no charge for the Berardo Museum, which includes works by Picasso, Dali and Warhol, or stroll the waterfront at Parque das Nacöes. Take a day trip to the medieval village of Obidos or hit the beach in surfer’s paradise Cascais.
Airfares to Lisbon are cheaper than to neighboring countries. Flights from Boston in September recently cost as little as $730, and four-star hotels averaged $141 per night. (All airfares are round-trip, and average hotel rates come from Expedia.) The five-star Corinthia Hotel offers an annual sale that cuts rates in half; rooms in September start at $101.
Best known as the home of Transylvania, Romania’s charm extends beyond mountainside castles and picturesque villages. Bucharest’s wide, tree-lined avenues and belle epoque architecture have earned it the nickname “Little Paris.” The capital city may have lost its allure for tourists during the decades it was under Communist rule, but the vibe today is reminiscent of Prague without the crowds and high prices. Stroll the cobblestone streets of the old merchant center of Lipscani (now home to art galleries and antique shops), or celebrate classical music with the George Enescu International Festival in late August and most of September.
- Bucharest is one of the cheapest cities in the world in which to stay at a five-star hotel, according to SmarterTravel.com. September rates recently averaged $147 per night. Three hours northwest of the city, you can stay in a Transylvanian castle for as little as $41 per person per night, including breakfast. Flights from northeastern U.S. airports run about $800 to $1,000 in September. A package may save you even more and provide a guide: Gate 1 Travel recently offered a nine-night escorted trip including airfare from New York and most meals for $2,199 per person.
Relatively new to the euro, Latvia is a boon for value seekers. Because this former Eastern Bloc nation is still off most tourists’ radar, prices are low. The capital city, Riga, is home to the largest collection of art nouveau buildings in the world. It is a city where castles and Victorian gingerbread houses meet Soviet-style apartment blocks and skyscrapers. Tour the Central Market for free samples of local delicacies, such as smoked meats and pickles, and grab a beer at a local pub for about $2. For another couple of dollars, take a train to the nearby beach town of Jūrmala, considered the Riviera of the Baltics.
Airfare from New York in August recently cost $810, and waiting until September to travel dropped the cost by $200. Upscale hotels are cheap, too. Four-star accommodations averaged $82 per night. TripAdvisor’s number-one-rated hotel in Riga, the five-star Dome Hotel & Spa, recently cut its normal rate in half, to just $190 per night in September.
From iconic mosques and frenetic bazaars to hip hotels and edgy boutiques, Turkey offers a blend of history and pop culture. Istanbul is an inexpensive city for travelers, for everything from eating to sleeping and playing. Sean Murphy, editor in chief of travel Web site Jetsetter, recommends the traditional food in historic buildings with any of the government-run sosyal tesisleri, or social facilities, aimed at Turkish families. Another tip from Murphy: Bypass Bosphorus cruises and take a boat from Eminönü to Kadiköy. Not only will you find the city’s best produce market, but you can snack on a sesame-seed ring and grab a glass of tea. Cost of the entire trip: about $2.
Airfare from New York in August and September runs about $700 to $800. Turkish Airlines added a route from Boston last year; it also flies from five other U.S. cities. A recent LivingSocial Escape offered a 12-day tour of Turkey starting at $1,599 for fall departures from a handful of U.S. airports, including most meals and guided excursions. Four-star hotels average $117 per night in the fall.
- Greece’s financial troubles make it tops in value for vacationers. The tourist trade dried up enough to force lower prices, so there’s no better time to explore the whitewashed facades, twisting staircases and quaint villages of Santorini or to make the climb to the Acropolis in Athens.
Flights run $900 to $1,000 from East Coast airports in August and September, but a package deal can cut costs. A recent Groupon Getaway offer, starting at $1,899, featured 10 days touring Santorini, Mykonos and Athens in September with a New York departure (including airfare and accommodations). Want to see Greece by sea? CruiseCritic.com’s top-rated Mediterranean cruise ship, Celebrity Reflection, sails from Rome on a 10-night trip that rounds the Greek isles for $1,349.
For a soupçon of French culture close to home, try La Belle Province, Quebec. Montreal offers a romantic blend of cobblestone streets and historic architecture, beautiful views from Mount Royal, and the world-famous International Jazz Festival in late June and early July (outdoor shows are free). Sampling poutine, a combination of French fries, gravy and cheese curds, is a must; local favorite La Banquise offers more than 30 varieties, 24 hours a day. In the evenings, trade the charm of old town for the excitement of downtown, where four-star hotels recently averaged $171 a night in September. Flights to Montreal from West Coast airports hovered around $450 in August and September, but the city is easily drivable from much of the Northeast.
History buffs will eat up Quebec City, a three-hour drive northeast from Montreal. Amble atop the centuries-old fortification walls surrounding Old Quebec, which is situated on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Or picnic on the nearby Plains of Abraham. Lodging at the Château Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world, will set you back $400 a night in early September. Instead, try the stylish Le Port-Royal Hotel & Suites nearby, where we found a room for $135 per night in the same period. Waiting until September instead of August to fly to Quebec City will easily lop $100 off your ticket; fares from Los Angeles in September start at about $500.
Fill your days in Vancouver with a stroll around the Stanley Park seawall, a trip to the beach and local nibbles at Granville Island’s Public Market. Or use Vancouver as a base to explore the surrounding British Columbian mountains and coastline. Nearby ski slopes, such as Grouse and Cypress mountains, are oases for hiking in the summer; Grouse Mountain is reachable by public transit. Or take a ferry to laid-back Vancouver Island, where you can find killer whales, rain forests, vast surfing beaches, fresh seafood, the oldest brewpub in Canada, First Nations culture, and the colonial city of Victoria.
Vancouver is a three-hour drive from Seattle. (The Clipper ferry also shuttles passengers from Seattle directly to Victoria.) Airfare can be pricey from the East Coast, but wait until September or October when ticket prices from Boston edge below $400. Four-star hotel rates also fall dramatically in October, to about $160, on average, later in the month.
The vibrant capital city of Buenos Aires is a mix of old European architecture and trendy neighborhoods packed with cafés and designer boutiques. You can view Argentinean masterworks free at the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA), or stumble upon an impromptu tango lesson at the open-air Plaza Dorrego market on Sundays. We found flights to Buenos Aires in August and September for less than $1,000 from New York City, or about $800 if you depart from Miami.
If you want to explore the rest of the country, book a long-distance bus instead of splurging on an internal flight. The buses usually come with perks such as lie-flat seats, meals and free wine. Wineries that give Napa a run for its money dot the country, but if you have to pick one region, choose Mendoza, the birthplace of Malbec, which is situated along the base of the Andes Mountains. It’s a 13-hour journey by bus, but a one-way ticket in first class costs about $125 (a one-way flight costs about $175). Booking a tour can help you navigate the more than 1,200 wineries in the area. Expect to pay $170 to $200 for a full-day private or small-group tour, which typically includes tastings at three or four wineries, a gourmet lunch and transportation from your hotel in Mendoza city. Stay at one of the city’s stylish boutique hotels, such as centrally located Villaggio Hotel Boutique ($125 a night in September).
Otherworldly Patagonia, spanning the southern ends of Argentina and Chile, teems with ice fields, mountains, steppes and aquamarine lakes. One tour that traverses these landscapes is Viva Expeditions’ Southern Explorer package, starting at $3,135, plus a local fee, in November (but keep an eye out for specials online). This 12-night trip includes hiking through national parks, trekking over glaciers, boat expeditions and a visit to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and a jumping-off point for Antarctica voyages. Most accommodations and meals are included. A one-way flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, one starting point for the tour, costs about $200.
Many natural wonders abound in the north of Chile, but sticking to urban centers offers its own excitement. The towering peaks of the Andes form a backdrop to the capital, Santiago. Ski resorts are one or two hours away; you can buy a day pass for about $55 during the low season (roughly late August onward). In a beach mood? The Pacific coast is also a couple of hours away. We found flights from Boston to Santiago for $800 in September, when four-star hotels in the city average $189 a night.