Getting the Best Bang For Your Travel Dollar

The chart below (and the accompanying article called “Let Economics Help Plan Your Summer Vacation“) appeared on my Twitter feed a few times last week. The graphic shows which countries are currently cheaper to visit based on both exchange rates and inflation. Currently, Americans can get the most bang for their bucks in Argentina, while Japan comes in dead last.

VOXTRAVELINDEX5.0While a country’s exchange rate could be an important factor in travel planning, the “best bang for your buck” chart only tells part of the picture. It lets you know how your dollars can work for you when you’re in country, which affects things like hotel or lodging expenses, in-country travel, and food and souvenir purchases. However, there’s more to choosing where to go and getting the most from your travel dollars than just the current exchange and inflation rates

For example, who’s going on this trip? Argentina may give you a great exchange rate for your dollars right now, but is it just you going? You and your spouse? Are you bringing children along? How interested is everyone in visiting Argentina? How actually interested are you in visiting Argentina? Travel is a very personal experience. I have nothing against Argentina, but don’t think the best reason to visit someplace is just because it’s got a good exchange rate. Argentina and several of the countries on the top half are just not high on my list of places I want to experience. Move to the pink half of the list though and most of the countries are ones I and my family would be very interested in visiting. We would be very motivated to save in order to cover a less advantageous exchange rate.

How much will it cost to get you there? Argentina might give me the most for my American dollars right now, but getting there from here would literally wipe out any potential savings that good exchange rate would give me. Likewise, Japan might be at the bottom of the list right now, but I can find reasonable fares from here which would make my travel budget go a whole lot further. The difference between traveling from Kaua’i to South Africa (high on the green half) versus Japan, or to London, is currently around $700 per ticket. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to visit South Africa or London, but if I were picking a destination based on good exchange or inflation rates, the increase in ticket costs would potentially wipe out any benefits. Likewise, getting to Japan could be exorbitant for someone located somewhere else, and added on to the current exchange rate would make a trip there unaffordable.

How long does it take to get to your destination from where you live? I can get to Japan from Hawai’i, non-stop, in around 10 hours, New Zealand in about 13 hours. From here to Buenos Aires would take somewhere around 30 hours, which would frankly do me in, even if I could find an affordable fare (Lihue to London is 24 hours each way; Johannesburg is 36 hours going; 56 hours coming back!). If I were in my twenties or thirties, it might not faze me, but that many hours of travel time now would wipe out two or three days once I got to my destination because I’d need that much time to recover, again taking away or diminishing a good exchange rate benefit in country. Brett and I plan to make long journeys in the future, but they’ll have stopovers for rest and recuperation built in, both in time and in our budget. Always check how long it takes to get to your destination and back from where you live. Sometimes those good airfares are cheap for a reason. While shorter travel schedules can always be found, you will usually pay extra for them.

Finally, reflect on the reasons you want to visit a place. Why do you want to go? What do you plan to see and do when you’re there? Why do you want to see and do those things? I’m personally not one for going somewhere just to check it off some list, but I know that’s not true for everyone. We all have our own reasons for wanting to travel somewhere. Where I want to go and what I want to see has to do with my (and my family’s) interests and our own stories. I love visiting Japan not only because I have family there, but because I feel comfortable there. It’s safe, I can get around without a problem, I love the food and know how to eat cheaply when I’m there, where to find bargains, and so forth. I still always find or learn something new every time I go. The exchange rate barely factors into my plans at all.

Another country’s exchange and inflation rate is just one small part of choosing a location for a visit or vacation. Choose where to go because you’ve always wanted to go there, or because it’s piqued your interest, and because you can get there affordably and comfortably from where you are, not just because the dollar might be stronger there. Getting the “best bang for your buck” means looking at the whole travel picture.

And who knows? You might even decide you want to go back . . . again and again.

11 thoughts on “Getting the Best Bang For Your Travel Dollar

  1. Couldn’t agree more. The exchange rate has never been a factor in deciding where I want to travel.


    1. I think you should know what the exchange rate is before you travel outside of the U.S. but I don’t think it should be the primary reason to pick a destination. I found this chart to be a bit weird for that reason. A good exchange rate is sort of like an “extra” you get.


  2. Fiji, the Philippines, and Costa Rica are on tap this year (I will be dialing it back next year!!) and they are all favorable. It’s getting harder to fly that long, though. But I want to see some places before I decide it’s just too much work.


    1. I just cannot handle the long flights any more, especially if they involve a red-eye segment. I don’t bounce back like I did when I was younger. So, it’s either short flight hops for us (although there is really nothing “short” from Hawaii), or we have to break them up with an overnight stay somewhere along the way.

      I hope you will still be able to make it to Kaua’i again this year!!


    1. That chart really struck a nerve with me – I just can’t imagine using the current exchange rate as a reason to decide to vacation somewhere. A good rate is nice, but there is so much more to consider.

      Thailand is moving up on my list of places to see – Brett has been several times (Pattaya) courtesy of the navy, but we’d both like to visit Bangkok. Ireland is on our list as well . . . . A good friend just got back from a vacation there and said it was the best place she’d visited in a long while.


  3. I saw a United deal (round trip from SFO to Bangkok for $499) – was almost tempted. I keep all of my personal travel domestic for now. We will do the big Dubai trip, but cost isn’t a factor. Well, it is of course, but is not influencing where we go. I don’t enjoy international travel right now, because I do so much of it for work. One day, the spark will come back & I will enjoy personal trips.

    Like you, it takes me a week to recover when I’m back, and that’s just no fun.


    1. For some reason Brett was not big on travel when he was in the navy (unless it was moving from duty station to duty station)😉. When the ship was home he wanted to be home. That’s one reason I loved our two Japan tours – it gave me the opportunity to get out and explore that country.

      We have seen some deals coming through for next year’s Japan trip, but I’m not ready to bite yet. I think they’re going to get better this summer, so I’m being patient. The one issue we’re dealing with this time is that we have to check into the hotel by 10:00 pm or we lose our reservation. The good deals (so far) seem to be arriving pretty late in the evening.

      Jet lag is my nemesis. It takes me at least a week, if not more when we come back from Japan. When we brought the girls homes from China, it took me (and them) nearly a month to recover from those trips. So, when we travel east one of these days to go to European destinations, we’re going to have to work in rest stops on the way so we’re not too exhausted when we arrive.


  4. Interesting information. I’ve never seen this chart before; thanks for sharing it. Being a South African living in America the US/S currency exchange has never been a factor for me. I have to see my family every year whether or not the dollar is in my favour.
    PS, I love your blog. Your love for Japan is infectious. I hope you one day you will make it to Botswana and South Africa.


    1. I thought the chart was interesting as well, but a strange way to pick a travel destination. For me, a good exchange rate is the icing on the cake once you get everything else planned. There are loads of ways to save when you travel that have nothing to do with the local exchange rate.

      I first went to Japan as an 18 year-old college student, and I fell in love. We were lucky to be able to do two tours there when Brett was in the navy, and my affection for the country and the culture grew. If we could, we would be living there now (they don’t have visas for retirees, and private school for the girls would be very expensive – you can’t just enroll your kids in the local public school). The language remains my nemesis though. I know enough to get around, but wish I could converse more.


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