Oyster.com: Our favorite destinations where your U.S. dollar will stretch the furthest this winter
— from oyster.com by Katherine Alex Beaven
Winter travel is a toughy. It’s a time when most of us have a significant break from work, but our funds are working overtime to buy gifts, help us get home home to see family, and purchase wine for those endless holiday parties. It’s a time when people freezing in the snow daydream of de-thawing in warm, tropical paradises, active travelers want to hit the slopes, and others just want to finally take that trip abroad. Lucky for us, this winter, the dollar seems to be packing heat against tons of foreign currencies, so treating yourself to that holiday or post-holidays trip is totally possible. We’ve talked to experts, locals, and expats as well as consulted the XE Currency Converter and Expatistan’s cost of living calculator to put together an early Christmas gift from us to you: our favorite destinations where your U.S. dollar will stretch farther than usual this winter, so your wits won’t have to.
1. London, England
XE.com exchange rate: $1 ≈ 0.80 GBP
While the U.K. has always been a popular destination for Americans, thanks to the dollar-to-pound exchange rate, our pocketbooks usually take a beating. Until recently, £1 would generally cost $1.75 dollars, but it has been as painful as £1 for $2 in the past. However, fortunate for us (and unfortunate for the U.K.), this year’s overwhelming vote for Brexit has seen the sterling pound drop, according to Diana Gonzalez of Visit Britain, “to a 30-year low.” This makes the U.K. a “perfect example of a value destination right now.” While the cost of goods and services haven’t changed, our spending power has. Plus, with tons of flight deals on Scandinavia’s Norwegian, Hungary’s Wizz, and Iceland’s Wow Air, folks can get a lot of bang for their buck by hopping across the Atlantic this winter. And although the weather might not be ideal, the deal is hard to beat. We suggest braving London’s wet weather to experience its free museums, Christmas markets, warming meat pies, and cheaper-than-usual West End shows. It’s also a great time to treat yourself and cash in on the bargain at an upscale hotel.
Basic dinner for two: $42
One cocktail: $14
XE.com exchange rate: $1 ≈ 4,000 KHR
One destination that kept coming up when we spoke to different travel experts was Cambodia. Though the Cambodian riel (KHR) has fluctuated within 1,000KHR over the last five years, thanks to the incredible exchange rate from the U.S. dollar, it’s hardly impacted our price point. While Emily Bernard, co-founder of PlacePass, admits that nearly everywhere in southeast Asia is a bargain on the American dollar (though flights can be expensive), she says that Cambodia in particular offers “extremely affordable” options once you arrive. This include “high-quality hotels, great local tours and activities, and excellent cuisine.” Former expat Gabrielle Yetter adds that Cambodia is “off the tourist trail for the most part” and has both beautiful people and spaces. Plus, the weather here is warm (if not hot) and sunny, making winter the perfect time to catch the clubs, cuisine, and cultural (and at one time, very dark) history of Phnom Penh or the always amazing Angkor Wat temple complex just outside of Siem Reap.
Basic dinner for two: $14
One cocktail: ≈ $4
3. The Amazon (Colombia)
XE.com exchange rate: $1 ≈ 3,115 COP
If you’re looking for an ultimate adventure trip to take this winter, we suggest you head down to the Amazon rainforest. Elizabeth Avery from Solo Trekker 4 U says that “the Brazilian four- to five-star hotels in the Amazon start as low as $80.” Emily Bernard also points out that after the Olympics, Rio will be looking to fill their empty hotel rooms. But you’ll have to plan ahead — we looked and round-trip flights are sliding in at around $1,000 this late in the game. Or, opt for flying into Colombia for half the price. Here, you can snag a four-pearl property for under $70, thanks to the steady increase of the U.S. dollar over the Colombian peso throughout the last five years. Spend a few days exploring Bogota, checking out the burgeoning art scene on the streets and in galleries, catching warm sunset colors from the top of Monserrate mountain, and learning about the local food scene — all before heading to Leticia’s entrance to the Amazon.
Basic dinner for two: ≈ $17
One cocktail: $6
4. Whistler, Canada
XE.com exchange rate: $1 ≈ 1.35 CAD
Winter bunnies that feel like hitting the slopes don’t have to travel far this year — our friendly neighbors to the north have some of the cheapest skiing and snowboarding for the dollar. If you can’t quite convince yourself to take advantage of the low euro this winter, or don’t want to splurge on the flight, that’s fine. Instead, just head up to Canada where the exchange rate puts us at a slight advantage (think of it as saving 25 to 30 percent off the price in dollars). Carli Young at LeaveTown reminded us that folks in bordering U.S. states can save on airfare and just drive across the border to places like Whistler. And in case you need any more convincing, the accessible winter vacation spot ranks as one of the best ski destinations in North America.
Basic dinner for two: $36
One cocktail: $8
5. Cape Town, South Africa
XE.com exchange rate: $1 ≈ 14.34 ZAR
Another common contender among our experts: Cape Town. South Africa’s capital city has it all: wineries, beaches, mountains, vintage shops, art, history, culture, cuisine, and a beautiful waterfront. Plus, it’s all incredibly cheap if you are traveling on the dollar. Although flights to South Africa from major U.S. cities can reach over $1,000 in the winter (remember it’s summer in Cape Town), Gert Hattingh from ZA’s Flight Factory site says the exchange rate is so good right now that you could finagle a beautiful, activity-packed South African holiday “in the heart of winter for under $2,000, everything included!” Some of our favorite upscale boutiques and larger chain hotels are offering rooms for around $100 a night this winter. We can’t recommend this bang-for-your-buck winter getaway enough. Why? Not only does your dollar stretch far with the South African rand (ZAR), but the quality of what you get is much better, especially when it comes to drinking and dining.
Basic meal for two: $22
One cocktail: $3
6. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
XE.com exchange rate: $1 ≈ 20.69 MXN
While it should come as no surprise, one of America’s go-to value-for-the-dollar travel destinations is our neighbors to the south, Mexico. In fact, both Keith Shadle from EasySentri and Tim Leffel, author of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations,” couldn’t help but rave about this destination. The truth is, the dollar has continually gained value over the peso for the last two years running, giving us more spending power throughout the country. However, certain touristy havens in Mexico — party towns like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the beautiful beach area of Tulum, Los Cabos, and the like — have hiked prices up over the last few years, making them fairly equivalent to some costs stateside. Fortunately, there are still deals to be had. In Puerto Vallarta, you can snag an upper-mid-range hotel for under $100 a night this winter and use it as a home base for living up the Mexican dream, which includes plenty of beach time, sunsets, frozen drinks, fish tacos, temples, and market shopping.
Basic meal for two: $15
One cocktail: $3