5 sweet international destinations where strong dollars mean cheaper vacations

January 24, 2015, 2:00 PM UTC
A tourist stands in front of the temple of the Parthenon at the the Acropolis hill in Athens
A tourist stands in front of the temple of the Parthenon at the the Acropolis hill in Athens July 4, 2013. Greek tourism revenues are expected to bounce back this year to pre-crisis levels, the industry said. The Mediterranean country has pinned its hopes on its sun-drenched beaches and ancient monuments to pull itself out of a deep recession. Tourism is the Greek economy's biggest cash-earner, accounting for about 17 percent of output. REUTERS/John Kolesidis (GREECE - Tags: TRAVEL BUSINESS) - RTX11CPH
Photograph by John Kolesidis — Reuters

A swanky room overlooking a sunny piazza in Rome costs a lot less this year. So does sipping espresso, nibbling on croissants, and dinning on steak frites in Parisian cafes.

Favorable currency exchange rates are making overseas travel far more affordable for Americans. Depending on the country, hotels, restaurants and shopping may be anywhere from 15% to 50% cheaper now than this time last year.

You can thank sputtering overseas economies for the more tourist-friendly prices. In the ever-changing currency markets, the U.S. dollar is once again in demand.

Of course, it’s welcome news for anyone who is planning an overseas trip. Some people who’ve been unable to afford international travel may finally be able take that dream vacation.

“It definitely has an impact, and yes, it does encourage people who are on the fence,” said Andi McClure-Mysza, co-president of Montrose Travel, a travel agency in Montrose, Calif., near Los Angeles, that books more than $280 million in travel annually.

Customers routinely bring up exchange rates in planning their trips and deciding where to go, she said. Getting a $5,000 vacation for $4,000, when taking into account potential savings, can be a powerful lure. Currency rates don’t affect airline ticket prices, which happen to be relatively high at the moment. But they can mean savings on what visitors spend their money on after arriving.

Keep in mind that package tours don’t necessarily take fluctuations in currencies into account. It depends on the operator and the contracts it cuts with hotel, restaurants and ground transportation suppliers.

Through the first 10 months of 2014, U.S. citizens made 57 million international trips, or 9.6% more than during the same period a year earlier. A buzzing U.S. economy – and those exchange rates – means more growth is likely in 2015.

Here are a few destinations where exchange rates will make your dollars stretch a lot further.

Euro-bargain or bust

Scenic European cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam and Paris are more affordable than they have been in a long time. The exchange rate for the euro, used in 19 countries, is better than it has been in more than a decade. You may finally feel comfortable splurging on that gourmet French dinner, Italian shoes, or sea view hotel on Santorini. But even with euros going for 18% less than a year ago, European hotels, meals and museums can still be pricy. Staying at local B&Bs rather than big chains, and eating at neighborhood restaurants can go a long way in saving money beyond the savings from the exchange rate.

An excuse to finally visit Australia

Toasting on an Australian beach sounds heavenly for anyone stuck in a chilly U.S. winter. This year, making good on that dream will cost a lot less. Australian dollars are at a six year-low against U.S. dollars. Like with many countries that export natural resources, Australia's currency has lost considerable value since the summer when oil prices started sliding. That means you can sight-see around Sydney, visit the Outback  and cuddle a koala for a lot less cash. The downside? Flying half-way around the world isn't cheap. Fares start at $1,200 from the West Coast.

From Russia with love

Visting St. Petersburg's palaces and Moscow's Red Square is more affordable than it has been in years because of the collapse of the Russian ruble. U.S. dollars go 50% further than they did just a year ago. Not long ago, Russia was flying high from oil profits. But the economy took a huge hit when Western countries imposed a trade embargo following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The country suffered an even bigger setback from slumping oil prices. You can expect to see plenty of fascinating history and thinner crowds than usual (invading a neighbor tends to scare off tourists). But visiting also involves some considerable inconveniences like a complex visa requirement and some potential anti-American sentiment.

Canada calling

Old Quebec City

Stunning mountain peaks, cosmopolitan cities, and great skiing are just some of the reasons to visit Canada. This year, you can add another reason: The best exchange rates in six years. Canadian dollars are 15% cheaper than this time last year, creating a great excuse to travel just across the border. Unlike some vacation destinations abroad, a long flight isn't required. Driving is even a possibility, making the trip that much cheaper.

Meandering in Morocco, for less

The old medina in Marrakech

Other than the flight, visiting Morocco's ancient medinas has always been relatively inexpensive. Now, with the strong U.S. dollar, it's even more so. You can get 20% more bang for your buck than a year ago. Charming bed and breakfasts in restored riyads can cost less than $100 a night. Street food, if you dare, can cost the equivalent of just a few dollars. Visiting is a riot of spicy smells, crowded souks, and twisting alleys. It's truly an adventure for people who aren't so finicky about dust, donkeys and delays.