Not a Travel Hacker? Vacation Where and When Your Dollar Goes the Furthest

PT Money at the Taj Mahal

Cheesy photo at the Taj Mahal (2008)

Do you love to travel? I do.

I’ve had the luxury of traveling a lot in my former work career. I really enjoyed getting to see the world on someone else’s dime.

Now that I’ve changed career paths, I don’t get that benefit.

I’ve recently jumped head first into the travel hacking scene. But I know that isn’t for everyone.

When I take a trip without points, it pains me a little to know I’m paying for everything. So when I think about traveling overseas without points these days, my more practical side takes over and my thoughts quickly turn to places I know that my US dollar might go a bit further.

What Will a Dollar Get Me?

Traditional “more-bang-for-your-buck” spots for US tourists have been places like Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina, Mexico and other Central American spots, as well as Eastern European locales like Hungary and The Netherlands.

To get an exact calculation of how far your dollar would go, by country, you’d have to start factoring in historical foreign exchange rates, varying degrees on inflation, purchasing power parity theory, and a whole bunch of other statistics.

A more practical way might be to compare hotel ratings and prices. After all, the hotel room is likely going to be your biggest expense. Hotels.com has taken a lot of the guess work out of it for you by providing the Hotel Price Index. Some of the least expensive cities to book a hotel include: Mexico City, Prague, Bangkok, and Beijing.

Food is another big expense. Check out the Big Mac Index to see how food prices might vary from country to country. As of January 2012, the most affordable Big Macs could be had in places like Hong Kong, China, South Africa, and Malaysia.

While we’re on the subject of currency conversion, remember to exchange a bit of currency here in the States before you leave for your trip to make it more convenient when you land. However, do most of your converting on location as that’s where it will be the least expensive to convert.

Consider the Time of Year

Another thing to consider is the timing of your trip. Because of weather, traditional tourist seasons, and holidays, some places are going to be really expensive at certain times of the year. If you can avoid those peak times, or at least hit them on the very front or back-end, you’ll end up seeing some savings.

This cheapest time to visit list from About.com will give you some good ideas. For example, it’s apparently cheapest to visit Hawaii in May. Make sure you find out why it’s cheap to travel during that time though. You don’t want the thing keeping others away to be a deal breaker for you as well. A site like besttimetovisit.com will help you avoid visiting during a really bad time of the year.

Try Local When You’re There

One final consideration is to try and get away from the touristy, big resort areas when you’re there. Local spots are likely going to have more reasonable pricing and will give you a more authentic experience. Again though, use a bit of caution and check the State Department’s Travel site for information on any travel warnings.

Where do you travel to make your dollar go further?

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Last Edited: March 21, 2014 @ 1:19 pm
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a husband and father of two. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.

Comments

  1. India is a funny place for comparing hotel costs.  I was there for work, and they put me up in the Hyatt in New Delhi for over $400/night!  I had to follow company policy, but it pained me to know that there was no way the hotel was “worth” that much.  (I also got to see the Taj Mahal – and brought back a case of dysentery, but still loads of fun!)

  2. moneyretire says:

    I am dealing with a lot of debt so I am enjoying a staycation this week.  There will be time for vacations in the future when my HELOC is gone.  

    I travel vicariously through others and like to read a lot about travel.

  3. HullFinancial says:

    I like to use Numbeo (http://www.numbeo.com) to get an idea of how much food and lodging will cost in different places, particularly if you’re planning on doing longer-term travel.

  4. I travel with points every time I can and learned how to maximize point accruals. I’ll get points using my credit card, my rewards number and sometimes even a websites own rewards system.

  5. brokeandbeau says:

    I’ve never heard of the Big Mac Index, how funny.  I have been fortunate enough to travel quite extensively with work- mostly Asia, North and South America.  I’m going to Europe next week super cheap through a combination of travel hacking and visiting my boyfriend who is there with work (so no hotel expenses).

  6. I love travelling.  Singapore is on my travel to do list.  I really hope to get there someday.

  7. Hi Philip

    I get your hotel and Mac index but that is if you were to stay in an international hotel and eat at McDonalds. I don’t know you but McDonalds would be the last place I go abroad. Anything that works with foreign capital or exported are similar price wherever you go. So, you need to find local hotels, food and drinks. For example, I stayed in a nice small hotel in Prague just over the bridge for about $20 a night for a family room, including breakfast. Food would be expensive if you were to eat on tourist locations as well. You need to find nice side street. For example, in Venice I spent $120 for a meal in a restaurant near the center. The next day, I learned my lessons and ate in a nice Chinese restaurant for $15 for three. Check the prices before you walk in. 

    Also, Coca Cola would be about the same price wherever you go. But local soda would be only 20% of Coca Cola. 

    Another thing to mention is that you don’t redeem your hotel points in a cheap city. You redeem them in cities like Zurich.