Want to travel? Follow the money!
If you want to see the world, it’s not enough just to keep tabs on airfares. You also need a grasp on costs in your destination country, because that’s going to determine how long your travel budget lasts. And that budget can start taking hits before you even get out of the airport.
You don’t need a degree from Harvard Business School, but you do need to know what your US dollar is worth “in country.” So tracking the ups and downs of the world’s currencies can help you decide not only where to go, but when.
Take Britain, the United Kingdom.
A lot of Americans always want to visit London, for lots of good reasons. It’s huge and it’s hopping 24/7. History that goes back to the Romans. Music. Theater. Nowadays, even food. It may be the most culturally diverse city on Earth. And it’s the world’s original English-speaking country, so no language barriers — more or less.
But for many Americans, visiting London or anywhere else in the UK has been a money problem, because the British pound has always been worth more than the US dollar. Sometimes a lot more. for much of our history, you needed more than $2 to equal a single pound.
That muffled scream of anguish you hear is coming from your wallet.
But currencies, influenced by everything from political events to climate change, rise and fall. And good economic news in one country can be chilling for another.
Even before Britain voted last year in favor of leaving the European Union, the value of the pound had dropped over the years to roughly US$1.50. Since Brexit, it’s down to $1.25.
For a lot of Britons, that’s bad news. But if you’ve been waiting for the right time to hit London, it’s great.
And if you’ve been thinking of crossing the English Channel to take in the rest of Europe, it’s even better.
Back in 2000, the euro, still relatively new, was worth about 95 US cents, which made a visit to Paris or Rome or Madrid pretty attractive. But as we got deeper into the decade, the euro got stronger and our dollar got weaker, until a single euro was worth more than $1.50, uncomfortably close to British pound territory.
Those 50 cents may not sound like much, but when you multiply them by every meal, every drink, every night out, every souvenir you buy — every day for five, ten or 14 days — trust me, they add up quick and heavy.
Today, a euro is worth only about five cents more than a dollar. If you were traveling in Europe back when the euro was at its height, your travel budget will definitely feel a lot stronger if you go back now.
This principal works all over the world. When I first hit Japan back in 1976 (yes, prehistoric times, I know), a dollar was worth almost 300 yen. You could a get a very nice room at a 5-star Tokyo hotel like the New Otani for 75 bucks a night. Happy days.
Five years ago, that same dollar was barely worth 80 yen, and that $75 room at the New Otani was going to cost you closer to $300 a night. Ouch.
And if the 45th President of the United States gets his way, that could get worse.
You see, Donald Trump has made it very clear he wants a weaker US dollar to help US companies trying to sell goods abroad. Not an entirely unreasonable attitude.
But if he gets his wish, it’s going to take a bite out of your travel budget. Because the weaker the dollar is against the rest of the world’s money, the less your dollar is worth when you leave home.
So unless you’re traveling on Trump change, it pays to know which way the world’s currency winds are blowing. It can help you decide which of the world’s great destinations to hit sooner, and which ones to visit later.
And the Web has lots of apps and programs designed to help you do that.
One favorite of mine — is XE.com. It can give you up-to-the-minute 4-1-1 on how your dollar stacks up in any country you’re visiting or plan to visit. And it works on your tablet or smartphone as well as a desktop, so you can take it anywhere you’ve got Internet access.
The best part: It’s free.
There are lots of others. Some, like XE, are free, others not. Some work only on Windows computers or Android devices, while others work across all platforms. Some are easy to read, use and understand, while others have more of a learning curve. When you find one you’re happy with, stick with it and make the most of it.
Your travel budget will thank you. Profusely.