Longing for an out-of-country excursion but feeling a little poor because you have only dollars in your pocket? Relax. Even with the fast-eroding value of the dollar against other currencies, you still can find international destinations where your buck goes a long way.
And you won't have to forgo choice sightseeing or comfort. All you need is a little latitude -- and longitude -- in selecting your next vacation spot.
FOR THE RECORD:
Travel agency: An article in the Dec. 2 Travel section about international destinations where the U.S. dollar goes further included a reference to Production Travel & Tours, saying it was located in Glendale. The company is in Toluca Lake and uses a North Hollywood mailing address. —
Last year I wanted to take one long trip before I had to ease into professional life. Like many new college grads, I had little money. And even though I'm an Anglophile, the exchange rate ($1.88 to the pound in May 2006, when I traveled), would have pummeled my savings. (The rate is even worse these days: $2.06 to the pound.) Besides, my checking account still harbored a painful dent from two months I spent in London two summers ago.
I hadn't seen enough of mainland Europe either, but I couldn't deal with the drooping dollar. I needed a destination where I could spend a month comfortably for less than $2,000.
On the recommendation of a friend, I went to Vietnam, a country where I spent the first three years of my life but that I regarded with caution because it is developing and off most Western travelers' radar.
But at the end of my five weeks there, I didn't want to leave. It was the best vacation I've had -- and the most cost-efficient too.
On average, I spent $30 a day (or less) there, and I wasn't living like a backpacker. In Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, my room at the centrally located Asia Hotel had a private bathroom, air-conditioning, cable TV and maid service -- for $12 a night. I spent $3 or $4 on nice dinners. I walked out of one restaurant because the entrees were more than $5.
Entertainment was inexpensive too. At Nha Trang, a beautiful coastal city in southern Vietnam, I went on a half-day cruise for about $10. Our boat made several stops and included a tasty lunch.
Access to many of Vietnam's most alluring locales, such as its pristine beaches and Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is free.
Though Vietnam remains a poor country, it is fairly safe and its people are friendly. Taxi drivers and shopkeepers may overcharge you, but those are the chief nuisances you'll encounter.
Travelers will find other nations that offer adventure and world-class sightseeing on a budget, though some may be undeveloped and lack the extensive tourist infrastructure of more modern nations. Explore and stay within budget, but not at the risk of your safety. Careful research and planning should help you craft a safe, memorable trip. Check the U.S. State Department, www.travel.state.gov, for travel advisories before you go. Read the department's consular information sheets.
Here are five countries where tourism has yet to reach critical mass but where travelers will feel safe and find their trip well worthwhile.
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa, Morocco has an eclectic identity that has been shaped by its location and long history. This Arab nation has many European influences because it's so close to the Continent. Arabic is the official language, but French is spoken widely. Though it's a developing nation, Morocco has easily accessible transportation and a range of lodging and eating options to fit many budgets. With a dollar worth almost 8 Moroccan dirhams, you can easily buy meals for less than $5. Many cafes offer breakfast for about a buck.
In Tangier, you can stay at the Hotel El Muniria, whose former guests include Beat writers Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac. A room for two there goes for less than $30 a night. You'll find comparable rates throughout the country, though the accommodations may be modest.
While in Morocco, visit one of the omnipresent markets or bazaars that often serve as hubs for everyday life. Morocco's rugged yet scenic landscape has made it an increasingly popular destination for adventurer travelers. You can hike the High Atlas Mountains or tour the starkly beautiful dunes at the start of the Sahara.
In Africa, Dave Herbert, managing director and founder of the tour company African Travel Inc., recommends traveling in groups.
Countries where dollars go the distance
Its value has declined in some places, but in these interesting nations the dollar can still stake you to a great vacation.
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