Among the major recent events in travel, illustrating a larger trend, has been the continued sharp decline in the value of the Russian ruble. Two years ago, that currency enjoyed an exchange rate of 33 to the U.S. dollar, and then plunged last year to a level of 65 to the dollar, which most observers felt to be its bottom value. Lo and behold, the ruble has now plunged again, to about 80 to the dollar, and consequently, the cost of a stay in Russia for the American tourist has become quite low. All this has occurred, of course, because the Russian economy – almost totally dependent on the sale of oil, has been battered by the current price of oil averaging $30 a barrel. If you have ever felt curious about life in Moscow and St. Petersburg, you now have the best-ever conditions for a stay there.
This Russian development has caused me to realize that I have negligently limited my own discussion of the currently mighty value of the U.S. dollar (and its impact on tourism) to the euro, the Canadian dollar, the Japanese yen, the Indian rupee and the Australian dollar. I should have pointed out that the currencies of our neighbors to the south also have plummeted. The Mexican peso, which recently sold at 13 to the dollar, is now exchanged at 18 to the dollar. The currencies of both Brazil and Argentina have also fallen by half against the dollar. There has rarely been a more advantageous time to travel to a large part of the world, for Americans possessing dollars.
To see the latest exchange rates, go to the oddly named website, xe.com. And to obtain your foreign currency, always wait until you have actually arrived at your destination; exchange rates in the local area nearly always are more favorable to American tourists than the rates you will receive from U.S. banks. And generally speaking, ATMs at the destination usually will provide you with your foreign currency at excellent rates of exchange. ATMs are just as easily found overseas as they are at home, but it is important to remember that they usually will require use of a four-digit PIN. If your own PIN is lengthier than that, have it changed to a shorter version before you set out on your trip.
One final caution: In some countries whose currency has drastically fallen in value – Argentina is the best example – expensive luxury hotels often will raise their room rates for well-heeled American tourists, thus erasing the advantage of a strong U.S. dollar. To be certain that you are obtaining the advantage of good exchange rates, it’s important to stay at modest hotels, of the sort that will have a stong local clientele (and not simply overseas tourists). By avoiding the deluxe properties in Argentina, for example, and staying only at modest hotels, you now will receive the advantage of the strong drop that has taken place in the Argentinian peso.
Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.