The world's an ever-changing place, and that change affects how far your dollar will go on vacation. Lonely Planet's U.S. editor, Robert Reid, contributed to the publisher's newly-released Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011. He visited WalletPop to count down his picks for the places that have developed into the best-value travel destinations for 2011.
One of its principal draws: in-home language schools that cost just $125/week. You stay with a family who teaches you about the country, supplies room and board, and facilitates your Spanish lessons for a few hours a day. All for a mere $20 a night.
Contrary to popular belief, Japan can be done inexpensively. Guesthouses cost just $40 (find some using Robert's tip at this website). For more advice, click here for our "Go for Less" video podcast about Tokyo with his colleague, the author of Lonely Planet Tokyo. The clip playing behind Reid can be watched in full here.
The most controversial choice on Reid's list, Thailand's western neighbor is still politically troubled, and many people think that because the ruling anti-democracy regime stands to gain from tourism money, it's best not to visit. Still, there have been some changes, including the release of pro-democracy Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, and the lifting of a suggested travel boycott by her own opposition party, the National League for Democracy. So few tourism inroads have been made that even though the clouds appear to be lifting somewhat, the country remains untrammeled and rich with bargains, with hotels for the independent traveler coming at at just $10 or $15 a night, and bike rentals for just $1.
The dong is down 10% since 2009. One of the other new developments is that it's now safe for the independent traveler to set off on their own, away from the more expensive path beaten by package tourists. It's now cheap and easy to hit lesser-visited beach islands such as Con Dao and Phu Quoc.
The Black Sea coast is well-developed for beach tourism for Central Europeans, but few Americans go. Bulgaria's currency is down on the dollar by 9% in the last year, making its vacationlands even more of a value for the Western dollar. Gas is expensive, but the road trips are sensational, taking in mountains (with some of Europe's cheapest skiing), tavern B&Bs, and empty beaches. You can rent a car for about $20 a day in the ancient capital Veliko Tarnovo.
The Greek coast doesn't stop at its northwest border -- it continues into Albania, less than 50 miles across the water from the boot of Italy, which has a currency that's down by 11% against our dollar over last year. The Italians have already discovered Albania for its value and its sunny Adriatic coastline -- the same as Croatia's -- but Americans haven't. A 45-minute hydrofoil from Corfu, Greece, can take you there.
Poor Argentina just can't get back in the saddle. The peso, the victim of a spectacular meltdown a decade ago, has gone down against our dollar by 18% in last two years. In the 1990s, its prices were on par with New York City, but now, it's decidedly budget, and you can get there without jet lag. (Click here for our "Go for Less" video podcast about its capital, Buenos Aires, with the author of Frommer's Buenos Aires.)
The locale for the recent season of Survivor has made sure the American market was reacquainted with this country's beach-and-jungle pleasures. As a relatively undiscovered tourism destination, it's very cheap and laid back, with colonial-era B&Bs for $15, and surf lessons along its Pacific Coast for a few bucks a day.
2. Las Vegas
Specifically, leaving Las Vegas. It's true that the glut of newly-constructed hotel rooms, combined diminished free spending by gamblers, have created some of the best bargains the city has seen. The opening of the City Center complex in late 2009 created a ceiling for prices, since its rooms (in the Aria, the Vdara and the Mandarin Oriental) are top-of-the-line for The Strip, so low level rooms are cheaper than ever. (The Flamingo for $38, Circus Circus for just $18) But Reid most strongly suggests using the city as an air gateway, since so many flights go there affordably and its rental cars are among the cheapest in America. Use Vegas to explore the other uniquely American natural wonders nearby, including Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Brice Canyon -- which can all be entered for $80 with an annual National Parks pass.
1. Washington, DC
Free museums packed with the most priceless artifacts of our nation's heritage and a top-of-the-line public transportation network top the list of reasons why DC is the leading value destinations for Americans. The relative low expense of getting there just makes it sweeter.
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