Bienvenidos a Mexico! Au Revoir France! Why You Should Cancel Your European Vacation

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Gearing up for your summer vacation? Forget flying to France for fancy freedom fries, head south of the border for peso-affordable papas fritas!

Last week the U.S. dollar traded at a record low against the euro. The exchange rate is approaching two dollars to one euro, a disparity that means things will cost you twice as much over there on your European vacation. “I’m hearing a lot of, ‘I want to go to Italy this summer but with the cost of the euro, what are my alternatives?'” says Anne Banas, the executive editor of SmarterTravel.com.

Consider Mexico, Central and South America as more affordable options. “The advantage for Central and South American is that their economies are universally tied to the dollar,” says Tim Leffel, the author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. “You can get the same for your money there as you could three years ago, which is a stark contrast to Europe.” In fact, Panama and Ecuador officially use the U.S. dollar as their currency so there is no need to exchange your money. Argentina, Belize, Honduras and Mexico “trade in such a narrow band that they almost haven’t changed [their exchange rate] in the last four years,” adds Leffel.

Getting there is now easier, too. Budget carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines (FRNT) recently added new routes from the U.S. to Central America, from Ft. Lauderdale and Denver to San Jose, Costa Rica; Panama City, Panama; and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. To keep the costs of airfare down further take advantage of frequent flier miles. “It’s only 45,000 miles roundtrip to South America and 35,000 miles in Central American and Mexico,” says Leffel. “Kayak (TWX) is a really good site to use and consider flying airlines like LAN (LFL) , TACA and Copa (CPA) which are a lot cheaper than Delta (DAL) and Continental (CAL).” If you are going to use your miles though and know your vacation dates a year in advance, an insider tip is to start booking now, says Banas. “[The miles are] getting harder to use now with overbooking. The best time is 330 days before your trip because that’s when airlines start loading award seats into their reservation system.” Remember, summer isn’t Latin America’s high season, so these aren’t peak travel times like it is for Europe. Christmas through March is Latin America’s high season.

Cheap airfare isn’t the only place where you can save. Instead of booking major chain hotels such as Hilton (HLT) or Hyatt, consider the independent hotels in Latin America, says Leffel. “There are amazing colonial mansions that offer incredible deals. In Mexico I use MexicoBoutique.com for midrange and higher hotels,” he says, adding: “Look in your guide books because not everything is on the internet.”

And those who had high hopes of visiting the Louvre in Paris, eating gelato in a Florence piazza, or watching the changing of the guards outside of Buckingham Palace in London, chin up. “Buenos Aires truly feels like a European city and it’s a fourth of the price of Europe,” says Leffel. So no sour grapes about a missed chance to tour the Bordeaux and Chianti vineyards! Chile’s Central Valley and southern region and Mendoza, Argentina offer astonishing alternative wine districts for less dough. (Not to mention, the snow-tipped Andes mountain backdrop thrown in for no extra charge.)

 

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