Sometimes it’s hard being a Canadian. Mostly it’s in winter, when the icy winds start to blow and you really want to go somewhere warm. And this winter is going to be particularly hard on Canadians, for one reason: our beloved loonie. The Canadian dollar has hit the skids, and that means a winter escape in places like the U.S. will be even more expensive than usual. Is there any place where the Canadian dollar still buys as much as it used to? Happily, the answer is yes.
First, the bad news. As I write this, the Canadian dollar is worth about 76 cents U.S. Last October, it was worth 88 cents – and 96 cents a year before that. To put it another way, the U.S. dollar that cost $1.03 Canadian in October, 2013 is now setting you back about $1.32. (Note: these are currency market rates — you’ll likely pay more at the exchange counter.)
The U.S. is not a cheap destination to begin with, and adding 30 percent to every price tag makes travelling to places like Florida and California an expensive proposition this winter. But the problem doesn’t end there.
Parts of the Caribbean, like the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, use the U.S. dollar as their currency. So do Panama and Ecuador, in Latin America. As well, places such as the Bahamas, Hong Kong and even Cuba peg their currencies to the greenback: when it goes up, so do they. Most cruises are priced in U.S. dollars, too. So just avoiding travel to the United States won’t necessarily help you escape the pain.
What about Europe? While the Christmas markets may be aglow this winter, the currency markets won’t be as welcoming. The Canadian dollar went into a swoon against the euro this summer, and still hasn’t recovered. If you spent April in Paris, one euro cost you about $1.31. Today it would be $1.45, not far from a five-year high.
As for Britain, it takes more than two loonies to buy one British pound this week. Last October it cost about $1.80, and in mid-2013, $1.60. You’ll need a couple of pints to dull the pain – if you can afford them.
So, bad tidings all over. But don’t worry: here are five places Canadians can travel this winter where the loonie is still flying high. Read on.
Australia and New Zealand
If you’ve dreamed of spending the winter Down Under, this might be the year. The Aussie dollar has been hit by bad news from China, and that’s good news for Canadians. In early 2014 it was worth more than $1 Canadian; this week, it will cost you only 93 cents. That may ease the pain of that long flight to get there.
The New Zealand dollar isn’t cheap, but it’s back down from its highs of the past two years, at 89 cents Canadian. And with all that natural beauty, plus the Maori culture and that amazing bird life, it’s still a good buy.
How about an African safari? The South African rand started the decade around 15 cents Canadian. This fall it’s just under 10 cents, and hitting new lows — it might be even cheaper by the time you get there. Could be your chance for a bucket list trip.
There is one place in Europe that still offers good value for your loonie. Turkey is a fascinating place, full of natural wonders and amazing history (read my look at the best sights of Istanbul). And its winters are mild, compared to ours. The best news: the Turkish lira is at a 10-year low. It was once worth almost $1 Canadian; today, 45 cents.
If you fancy South America, try Brazil. Beaches, samba music, the Amazon: there’s lots to see and do. And Brazil’s currency, the real, has dropped by almost half in the past four years — it’s still plunging. Or how about Argentina, whose peso has had a similar slide? The country’s historically high inflation has pushed prices up, but it’s still an affordable place.
And the winner
Those are some pretty good bargains. But to me, the winner for best travel value is still Mexico. While the loonie has weakened against the U.S. dollar, the Mexican peso has suffered even worse, and Canadians are the beneficiaries. While you got about 12 pesos to the loonie last winter, you’re getting about 12.5 at time of writing — about a 4-percent increase.
That’s not a big gain, but it’s a lot better than a loss, and Mexico is one of the favourite destinations for Canadian snowbirds. It’s an affordable flight, and Mexican prices are still pretty stable – cheap, in some parts of the country. With those extra pesos in your pocket, you can have a few more margaritas this year.
Finally, there are other ways to tackle the currency crunch. Some Canadian travel companies buy package vacations and cruises in advance, in some cases at better exchange rates than we’re seeing right now. Surf the web, or go to your neighbourhood travel agent, and you may find deals that let you forget about the weak loonie. All-inclusive packages are especially attractive since you don’t have to spend much money when you’re there.
And if you travel to the United States regularly, it’s always a good idea to keep a U.S. dollar account, either in your regular bank or in an American branch. That way you’ll have some travelling money ready to go without worrying about the exchange rates. It saves paying a lot of commissions when you change your dollars, too.
So, maybe it’s not so hard being a Canadian, even when the loonie goes for a dive. There’s always somewhere we can go. And when you do, have a margarita for me …
“Koala climbing tree” by Diliff – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons