Tips for Traveling on a Weak U.S. Dollar in 2007

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The U.S. dollar hit record lows against the euro and pound sterling in 2006. This year it will take some creativity and contrarian thinking to travel well on a weak dollar.

The American dollar closed out 2006 in a bad spot, requiring $1.30 to buy one euro and close to $2 to purchase a British pound sterling. For Europeans traveling to the United States or Canada that's great news. For those going the other direction, it's big trouble. Americans and Canadians visiting Europe or a country that ties its currency to the euro are going to experience even worse sticker shock than they have in the past two years.

According to the author of the book "Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune," there are solutions that will minimize the pain for tourists, however. By using the right strategies and making good decisions, travelers can avoid paying inflated prices caused by currency shifts.

Visit Latin America.

For the most part, countries south of the border are a safe currency bet for U.S. and Canadian travelers. Most Latin American countries tie their currency to the dollar officially or in practice and three actually use the U.S. dollar as their own. There has been little to no loss of value in most areas of this vast region and many countries in Central and South America offer an excellent value at all budget levels.

Pick European destinations carefully.

Going to the most popular destinations in Europe can feel like a shopping trip to Tiffany's, with $100 taxi rides, $500 hotels, and routine restaurant lunches that can top $150. Those bent on traveling to Europe may want to expand their horizons and visit areas where demand has not driven prices to such lofty levels. Eastern Europe and Turkey are still far cheaper than Western Europe, especially outside the big cities. As prices in Portugal and rural Spain have stayed relatively stable, these destinations are now a good 30 to 40 percent less expensive than nations to the north.

Visit the home front surprises.

Few travelers talk for years about taking a vacation to Kansas City, Boise, or Austin, but with last-minute airfares so prevalent now, it makes sense to be flexible and look beyond the obvious. There is a very long list of places worth visiting across the U.S. and most of destinations are doing everything in their power to make your stay memorable, from new museums and performance halls to free seasonal outdoor concerts. Lodging prices can be half or less what they are in larger cities and most Americans and Canadians are within a few hours drive of a great destination they have never visited.

Be flexible on lodging.

The big corporate hotel chains have raised prices by double-digit percentages the past two years as increased occupancy has given them more pricing power. They're not winning the game all the time though, as anyone using Hotwire or Priceline regularly already knows. For last-minute plans where the area and star level matters more than specifics, these sites can save travelers some serious money. Plus options that are harder to find on the big hotel booking sites, such as bed-and-breakfasts and short-term rentals, have not seen as much of a price jump. For international travel, look beyond the U.S.-based booking sites and use ones that do a better job of covering the region you're visiting. Try Venere, Abaka, or EuroCheapo for Europe, Precision Reservations for Asia, or city-specific sites for these and other continents.

Tim Leffel is author of the book "Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune: The Contrarian Traveler's Guide to Getting More for Less." See details and access extensive travel resources at http://www.contrariantraveler.com/.

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TIM LEFFEL

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