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Best Value Destinations for 2015

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Even if budget isn’t the sole consideration when you’re planning a trip, knowing you’re saving money because of a favorable exchange rate almost feels like you’re winning the lottery. The U.S. dollar is currently experiencing a growth period at the same time as some other countries are slumping into recessions, and while we wouldn’t wish a recession on anyone—not really—one country’s economic downturn can be another country’s invitation to travel.

Currency values fluctuate all the time, so TPG Contributor Jessica Spiegel cautions you to double-check rates before you hop on a plane—but for now, here are seven places she feels provide a great value for U.S. travelers in 2015.

Giraffes on safari in Kruger Park South Africa - Courtesy of Shutterstock
Giraffes on safari in Kruger Park South Africa – Courtesy of Shutterstock

South Africa
USD $1 = ZAR 11.68

It’s long been possible to enjoy some of South Africa’s bucket-list-worthy attractions without a Trump-sized bank account, but the current exchange rate (the rand has decreased nearly 45% in value against the dollar since 2012) makes the country even more affordable. You can splurge without feeling like you’re blowing your budget—spend more days on safari (or upgrade to a plusher game lodge) or dine in The Tasting Room, one of the world’s top restaurants, in the Western Cape wine country—or use that extra budgetary leeway to extend your whole vacation.

Perhaps it’s the dream of a safari that has South Africa on most travel wish lists, but there’s more to the country than wildlife reserves. Foodies will be thrilled by the diversity of cuisines (rivalled only by the number of official languages), and oenophiles will want to try the country’s signature grape, pinotage. Cape Town is set to unveil a reinvigorated downtown area in 2015, reminiscent of its curated World Cup “Fan Walk,” to highlight the cultural heart of the city. And bonus, 26 Protea Hotels properties throughout the country have just joined Mariott Rewards.

2015 also marks the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the beginning of the end of apartheid, a true turning point in the history of South Africa.

For more on what to do in South Africa, see our previous posts on Cape Town (including Cape Town as Destination of the Week) and Savanna Lodge in Sabi Sands.

Kifune Shrine, Kyoto - Courtesy of Japan Tourism
Kifune Shrine, Kyoto – Courtesy of Japan Tourism

Japan
USD $1 = ¥119.44

Japan is almost always on the list of countries that are expensive to visit, but the country is in the midst of a recession (it’s official, as of late 2014) that has the yen at a seven-year low against the U.S. dollar. That makes 2015 an ideal year to visit.

Starwood’s first Luxury Collection hotel in Japan opens in March of 2015 in the city of Kyoto, already appealing with its 17 UNESCO sites and thousands of shrines. By contrast, massive Tokyo is full of energy at all hours and offers the kind of off-the-wall attractions for which modern Japanese culture is famous. The bullet trains were already a bargain for getting around the country, and now they’re even cheaper. Though they’re still five years away, preparations for the 2020 Olympics are well underway in Tokyo, too.

ANA begins flights from Houston to Narita this summer, making it even easier for Star Alliance members to get to Japan from the U.S., and there’s a new international terminal in Okinawa luring visitors to see the island’s gorgeous beaches and jungles.

For more on what to do in Japan, see The Points Guy’s own previous posts on Kyoto and Tokyo, including Tokyo as Destination of the Week.

Kemi SnowCastle - Courtesy of Visit Finland
Kemi SnowCastle – Courtesy of Visit Finland

Finland
USD $1 = €0.88

Savvy travelers who have been watching the news know the drill by now—the U.S. dollar is at an 11-year high against the euro, which means everyone is looking at a European trip in 2015. You’ll save anywhere you go in Europe, but this might be the perfect time to visit places that are traditionally more expensive than even their costly Euro-counterparts.

Scandinavia is notoriously expensive, but only Finland is on the euro, so your dollar will feel like it’s going even further than usual. Outdoorsy travelers might appreciate Finland’s cold winters, when you can go skiing followed (naturally) by a visit to a sauna. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the Northern Lights—particularly if you’re willing to go as far north as Lapland, where the lights can be seen reliably in fall, winter, and spring. Winter visitors can also take a trip to see the world’s largest snow fort in Kemi, which is rebuilt every year and includes a 21-room snow hotel and restaurant. 2015 is the Kemi SnowCastle’s 20th anniversary.

Oneworld’s Finnair begins serving two new U.S. destinations in 2015—Chicago and Miami—with flights to Helsinki.

Cabo Polonio, Uruguay - Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Cabo Polonio, Uruguay – Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Uruguay
USD $1 = UYU 24.48

Argentina is routinely budget-friendly for U.S. travelers, and Brazil is having a bit of a lull year between the World Cup and the Olympics, but why not look at the country sandwiched between those two for your next South American vacation? Uruguay’s exchange rate—more favorable for Americans than it has been for two years—is only one of the reasons to keep it on your radar.

Uruguay is relatively uncrowded, even in its dynamic capital of Montevideo, and receives fewer visitors than its neighbors. That’s the kind of descrpition that gives most travelers the itch to get somewhere before everyone else finds out about it. In 2013, The Economist named Uruguay its “Country of the Year,” the same year the government there legalized both marijuana and gay marriage. A year after implementing such progressive legislation, that same government was re-elected by a population that apparently likes the direction in which the country is moving. Chances are, if you like a laid-back culture, you’ll like Uruguay, too.

Note that while Uruguay doesn’t charge a reciprocity fee, there is a $31 departure tax you’ll have to pay when you leave the country.

Toronto - Courtesy of Canada Tourism
Toronto – Courtesy of Canada Tourism

Canada
USD $1 = CAD $1.26

Time was, U.S. travelers to Canada could always count on the U.S. dollar going further north of the border. Now that the two dollars are more or less of equal value, at least over the past several years, news of Canada’s dollar dropping to a five-year-low should be music to our ears.

No, Canada isn’t the bargain that some other destinations are, but there is so much to choose from in the vast land to our north—and if you’ve got a soft spot for poutine, hockey, or overwhelming niceness, then this is a great time to take advantage of a favorable exchange rate. Head into the far reaches of the northern parts of the country for excellent skiing, or wait until the snow clears to plan a serious hiking and camping trip.

If the great outdoors doesn’t speak to you, don’t worry—Canada is home to some of the most cosmopolitan and inviting cities you’ll find anywhere. In Toronto, you can visit the brand-new Aga Khan Museum, dedicated to Islamic art and culture. And Air Canada has launched a whole host of new routes from Toronto, including regular flights to Copenhagen, Seoul, and Zurich—with more on the way in 2015.

For more on what to do in Canada, see our previous posts on Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Whistler, and Halifax.

Budapest's Chain Bridge - Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Budapest’s Chain Bridge – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Hungary
USD $1 = Ft 273.63

Hungary has been a part of the European Union since 2004, but it’s not yet part of the eurozone. In Hungary, they’re still using their own currency—the forint—and although they’re eventually going to transition to the euro, the value of the U.S. dollar against the forint is better now than it’s been in a decade.

The capital city of Budapest is one of Europe’s hidden treasures, though it’s in plain sight. It’s a popular tourist destination for some, but nowhere near as crowded with visitors as the capitals of Western Europe. Even Prague, the off-beat darling of the 1990s, is teeming with travelers now. By contrast, Budapest still feels undiscovered—though that feeling can’t last, especially if there’s any movement toward adopting the euro.

Budapest is home to one of the top hotels in Marriott’s Autograph Collection, not to mention one of Europe’s best Christmas markets.

The famous Danube River cuts Budapest in two, with busy Pest on one side and old Buda on the other, and runs through Hungary into Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Croatia, among other countries. It’s the ideal spot for a river cruise, which has likely tempted anyone watching the commercials before Downton Abbey. And if you venture beyond the capital, you’ll find even fewer tourists crowding your experience.

For more on what to do in Hungary, see our previous posts on Budapest.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico - Photo by: Ryan Gargiulo
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Photo by: Ryan Gargiulo

Mexico
USD $1 = MXN $15.10

Even back in 2008 when you’d get just under 10 pesos to the U.S. dollar, Mexico was a good deal. The value of the dollar against the peso has increased by more than 52% since then, and Mexico today is a bargain.

Actually, let’s clarify that—the Mexico that exists away from the mega-popular beach resort cities is a bargain. Those resorts are cheaper than they were a few years ago, thanks to the exchange rate, but you can save a bundle if you travel inland. Head for the undiscovered gem of San Miguel de Allende or the historic bustle of Mexico City. Or, if the beach is your top to-do item, consider one of these coastal hotspots to visit in 2015.

Southwest is making it easier to reach Mexico these days, too, with four new routes to Mexico (Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Los Cabos) from Houston Hobby Airport.

For more on what to do in Mexico, see our previous posts on Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Riviera Maya.