The economy is in meltdown, consumer spending is dwindling and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is seriously considering priming the monetary system with change he found inside his sofa. That just means you need a vacation more than ever and the good news about the bad news is that the financial crisis has made some typically pricey destinations suddenly affordable.
Thank the 98-lb. weakling the U.S. dollar which, over the past several years, has made foreign travel outrageously expensive for Americans. Today, given the financial crisis, investors see the U.S. as safer than other markets even though the downturn is largely the responsibility of Americans and are flocking to the dollar. (Apparently there's no financial penalty for irony.)
For Americans, that means many foreign destinations have effectively become 25%, 30% even 50% cheaper than they were just a few months ago. You may feel a bit like a financial vulture visiting these countries but, hey, this may be the dawn of Depression 2.0. No one's turning down cash these days not even from ugly Americans.
Drop in currency value since a year ago: 51%
No developed country has suffered as much from the credit crunch as Iceland, which has seen its banking system and its currency, the kronur, all but collapse. The silver lining in an Arctic cloud: what was once one of the most expensive, if memorable, destinations in Europe has suddenly gone budget. Icelandair flights from New York City start at $500 round-trip, and decent hotels in the hip capital of Reykjavik like the Centerhotel Thingholt are as low as $60 a night. Sure, if you go in the late fall or winter you'll get only about five hours of sunlight a day but Icelanders know how to make those hours count. Move fast tourist agencies are reporting a huge spike in visitors to Iceland.
Drop in currency value since a year ago: 21%
If Canadians didn't want us to make fun of their traditionally weak currency, why did they call it the loonie? A year ago, the joke was on us a Canadian dollar was actually worth more than its American counterpart. Fortunately, economic catastrophe has reasserted the natural order of U.S.-Canadian relations. From the cosmopolitan charm of Montreal to the amazing skiing of Whistler (and, in between, Saskatchewan), America's neighbor to the north is a great place to spend strengthening greenbacks. Bonus: Global warming will make those biting Canadian winters just a little bit more endurable.
Drop in currency value since a year ago: 28%
The Aussies' unoriginally named currency almost managed parity with the American dollar in recent years. Not anymore. The Down Under dollar now gets you only about 66 cents. But that opens the Land of Thunder's many delights to the American budget traveler once, of course, you mortgage your devalued home for a plane ticket. Round-trip tickets from New York City to Sydney are going for about $1,400. On the upside, when it's winter in the North, it's summer over there. (Except financially then it's winter everywhere.)
Drop in currency value since a year ago: 23%
Admittedly, it's difficult to put England on any kind of budget-travel list, given that a brief, one-way trip on the 145-year-old London Underground will still run you more than $6. But compared with a year ago, when you needed more than $2 to buy a single coin with the Queen of England's face on it, Britain has gotten considerably cheaper relatively. Book a spin on a "champagne flight" on the London Eye the giant Ferris wheel (and millennial white elephant) on the banks of the Thames for a mere $692. Or don't. (See 10 things to do in London.)
Drop in currency value since a year ago: 30%
For South Koreans, the current economic meltdown has a sickening familiarity. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the South Korean won lost 52% of its value against the dollar. Things haven't gotten that bad yet in 2008, but there are still plenty of sudden bargains in the Land of Morning Calm, long an unjustly ignored travel destination. Bewildering Seoul boasts dramatic mountains, spicy street food and gorgeous royal palaces. Beyond the capital where almost half the country lives South Korea has arty port cities like Busan and cultural centers like Gwangju. And anywhere in the country you can get soju the potent rice wine that will enable you to forget the recession, along with everything else. (See 10 things to do in Seoul.)