Jan032017

Price of Travel Matters – Why Europe in 2017 is a bargain for Americans

As we were sitting in a pub in Bratislava, Slovakia two weeks ago drinking pints of beer for the big city price of 1.30€ per glass, Kelley sent out a tweet to her California winery drinking friends about the low price of wine at 1.50€/glass or 8€ per bottle in the pub . A quick text reply asked, “Is that a good price?”

The realization hit me that currency exchange and the comparative price of travel between different countries is not ingrained knowledge in the head of most Americans who deal exclusively in U.S. Dollars and may have never made a purchase in a foreign currency. It might take a couple minutes into a conversation for some American listeners to realize that the good value for our dollar buying Euros is not sex talk.

Price of Travel Matters – Why 2017 currency exchange rates make Europe a bargain for Americans

2008 was the first year I did not travel outside North America since 1996. One reason was my focus on building Loyalty Traveler blog and a general lack of money working full-time writing about travel for very little pay. Perhaps more importantly, the currency exchange rate for travel to much of Europe on the Euro currency on July 1, 2008 was $1.58 USD = 1.00€.

Traveling to places like Amsterdam, Paris and Dublin was simply too expensive for me and not a good value considering how low hotel prices were in the USA. The global economic recession from the bank failures hit the Euro hard too beginning in September 2008, to the degree that the USD to EUR exchange rate improved to $1.27 USD = 1.00€ by November 2008. But it was back up to $1.41 USD = 1.00€ for summer travel July 2009.

The recession kind of helped my blog get going as I focused my travel writing on all the fantastic luxury and upper upscale hotel bargains available around the USA with the combination of unprecedented low room rates and lucrative hotel promotions. Rather than flying on high priced airline tickets to foreign countries, I drove around the western USA taking advantage of the great travel value available for the US Dollar in the USA.

I ended up not traveling outside North America during the years 2008 to 2011. I spent five years exploring the USA in a way I had not done since the mid-1990s.

By 2012, I was ready to give Europe another try. The exchange rate was back down to $1.26 USD = 1.00€ when I traveled to Spain in September 2012. The exchange rate was $1.30 USD = 1.00€ in March 2013 when I spent one week in Berlin. Germany was affordable that trip since Berlin is known as a good place to find bargain food in markets and noodle shops and beer in the store is cheap. But I also experienced sticker shock that same trip with an American Airlines ticket that allowed me to make international transits with sightseeing time in Zurich, Switzerland; Oslo, Norway; Helsinki, Finland and London. Helsinki is on the EUR, but I had some shocking currency exchange rate revelations when I found myself in the other three countries with higher standards of living than USA and strong currencies relative to the US Dollar.

Loyalty Traveler – Hunger in Oslo. Prices? What Prices! (March 13, 2013).

Oslo was listed as the most expensive city worldwide for a tourist on many 2013 surveys. Using the Big Mac index, Oslo would set you back nearly $20 for a Big Mac and about $13 for a pint of beer in a pub.

Still, I returned to Norway in 2014 for a two-week trip. I had a fascination with Norway since 1969, when I was in 4th grade at a US Army base DOD school in Nelligan, West Germany. I carried a year-long crush on a Norwegian classmate. Kristina was a long-haired brunette, an exotic foreigner to my 9-year old experience and also the daughter of our elementary school’s Norwegian principal. I think the only grade school photo I still have to this day is my 4th grade class picture with Kristina and my best friend Mark.

Isn’t it curious what motivates us to choose the places we travel?

Floyen-view_thumb

Mount Floyen, Bergen, Norway September 2014

I did not drink any beer for two weeks in Norway. The price for a bottle of beer topped $5, even in markets.

Loyalty Traveler – Six days in Norway and $6 spent on food (Sep 9, 2014).

Nordic Choice Hotels, especially Clarion Collection brand hotels with complimentary breakfast and dinner kept me from starving in Norway for two weeks. My 13 hotel nights cost me around 200,000 Choice Privileges I had purchased for about $850 during the U.S. Travel Association’s Daily Getaways in 2014.

What a change over the past three years for Europe exchange rates

Now, for the mathematical portion of exchange rates and the price of travel in Europe.

Norway is an excellent example of how vastly stronger the US Dollar became in Europe since September 2014.

The exchange rate 27 months ago for Norwegian Krone on September 15, 2014 was

$1.00 USD = 6.40 NOK (Norway).

Some other currency exchange rates Sep 15, 2014:

$1.30 USD = 1.00€ (Euro countries = western Europe and Ireland, Finland, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)

$1.62 USD = 1 GBP (United Kingdom)

$1.07 USD = 1 CHF (Switzerland)

$1.00 USD = 3.25 PLN (Poland)

$1.00 USD = 7.11 SEK (Sweden)

$1.00 USD = 5.75 DKK (Denmark)

$1.00 USD = 21.28 CZK (Czech Republic)

$1.00 USD = 13 UAH (Ukraine) Ukraine’s currency had already devalued over 50% in 9 months from $1.00 USD = 8.33 UAH rate Jan 15, 2014 ).

$1.00 USD = 243 HUF (Hungary).

The main point of this post is to illustrate how Europe is such a bargain currently for Americans planning 2017 travel. While hotel rates are at record levels in the USA, the cost of most things in Europe has dropped significantly since 2014 due to the combination of low inflation the past few years and far higher value for US Dollars in currency exchange. Airfare deals to Europe from many cities across the USA are also at historical lows compared to rates of the past 15 years. The great value with low airfare to Europe and other places worldwide is one of the main reasons why I have shifted so much of Loyalty Traveler research and writing to airfare deals the past two years.

Since my trip to Norway in September 2014 I have traveled back to Norway and to Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, London, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland. Norway, Sweden and Switzerland still seem quite expensive to me, but nothing like I experienced traveling in these countries in 2013-14.

Denmark is surprisingly more affordable than Sweden and Norway, primarily due to cheaper food in grocery stores, availability of some dining options at prices under 10€ and real beer for less than 75 cents a bottle.

But the real joy for me over the past 18 months were my travels to Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia where eating out in restaurants and drinking in pubs tends to be less than half the price of eating in the USA. The high value of the US Dollar makes these places bargain destinations in Europe for the American traveler.

Currency exchange rates Jan 3, 2017 for EUR and some other European currencies:

$1.04 USD = 1.00€

The dollar is 20% stronger today than Sep 15, 2014. A 10€ meal cost $13.00 in September 2014 and today is $10.40 for the same meal, assuming the price of meals has not increased. I am not analyzing this article to the degree of looking up inflation rates in different places. But certainly any increase in meal prices is nowhere near 20% in most European cities in the past 27 months.

$1.23 USD = 1 GBP (United Kingdom) USD buys 24% more GBP.

$1.00 USD = 0.93 CHF (Switzerland) USD buys 9% more CHF.

$1.00 USD = 4.23 PLN (Poland) USD buys 30% more PLN.

$1.00 USD = 9.18 SEK (Sweden) USD buys 29% more SEK.

$1.00 USD = 8.66 NOK (Norway) USD buys 41% more NOK.

$1.00 USD = 7.15 DKK (Denmark) USD buys 24% more DKK.

$1.00 USD = 26.00 CZK (Czech Republic) USD buys 22% more CZK.

$1.00 USD = 297 HUF (Hungary) USD buys 22% more HUF.

$1.00 USD = 27 UAH (Ukraine) USD buys 108% more UAH. Ukraine’s currency has devalued from $1.00 USD buys 8.33 UAH in Jan 2014 to $1.00 USD buys 27 UAH in Jan 2017.

 

Summary:

Currency exchange rates are a significant factor affecting the price of travel in different places or even the same place over different years.

I experienced the effect of the changeover from Dutch Guilders to the Euro as an American traveler frequently in Amsterdam in 2001 and then after the Euro currency adoption Jan 1, 2002. I saw most items increase by 20% for me from one trip in December 2001 and two months later in Feb 2002. Currency exchange rates truly impact the price of travel.

Traditionally expensive countries like the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden are still expensive places by USA prices, but the gap has closed considerably in the past three years. Those $20 Big Mac burgers I saw in Oslo, Norway in 2013 were only about $7.00 in Sweden when I purchased burgers at a McDonald’s last week. Grocery store beer in London at 3 bottles of Stella Artois (2.0L) at 5 GBP, the equivalent volume of beer as a 6-pack in a USA store, dropped in cost from $8.10 USD in Sep 2014 to $6.15 USD today. That is actually a lower price now to buy Stella Artois in a London grocery store than the price I pay when buying a case of Stella at Costco in California (about $6.82 USD/2.0L).

In my recent analysis of the cost of beer and food in different European countries, I noticed the price of pub beer is higher in almost any country on the Euro currency. Portugal and the Baltic countries are  more affordable, but the real value to be found in 2017 are in the many European countries not using Euro currency like Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia.

Loyalty Traveler – Trip Report: Expatistan Cost of Travel Vienna, Bratislava, Krakow, Stockholm (Jan 1, 2017).

I think I’ll fall in love with Lviv, Ukraine

Ukraine has been on my mind lately since being in Poland for two trips in the past six months. I have my mind set on going to Lviv, Ukraine in 2017. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and celebrates 760 years in September 2017. Lviv was Poland’s 3rd largest city at the start of World War II and became part of Ukraine and the Soviet Union in the post-war realignment of political boundaries. I read a good travel blog post yesterday on Lviv by Kami, a Polish woman who documents her solo female travels on the blog mywanderlust.pl

I googled Lviv travel blog and quickly found several blogger trip reports about Lviv. Common to each of them are glowing reviews about the beauty of Lviv and how the Ukraine-Russia conflict is far away from the western cities of Ukraine. The country of Ukraine is 0.87 as large as Texas and even wider than Texas in west-east dimension. Lviv is 50 miles from the border of Poland and the Crimea, the area of Ukraine Russia annexed in 2014, is 750 miles from Lviv.

Google Maps Lviv

What really catches my eye is the average price of restaurant meals and a pint of beer in a pub ranges from 40 cents to 85 cents according to Numbeo.com data.

Numbeo.com Cost of Living Lviv, Ukraine Dec 2016 prices.

Numbeo Lviv Ukraine cost of living

An inexpensive restaurant meal averages $2.21 USD and average pint of beer in a pub is 53 cents. And I was blown away paying $4.70 last week for a deluxe bacon cheeseburger and beer in Krakow, Poland.

To get a sense of what Lviv looks like I checked out the Pharrell Williams inspired Lwów is also HAPPY on YouTube. Looks like I place I will be happy too.

Round trip flights between Warsaw and Lviv for under $100 on Ukraine Airlines.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. While I would not travel to Lviv, or anywhere for that matter, just to eat an inexpensive restaurant meal or a cheap glass of beer, you will find both – at good quality – there. It is a nice city, though without an abundance of attractions, and I enjoyed my short stay there.

  2. Great article! It was a pleasant change when the wife and I visited the UK late last year to see the USD-GBP improved so much from our last visit there in 2014. Most of our planned travel for this year is south of the equator but we may slip into Europe sometime during the year.

  3. This is great info. Thanks!

    Aside from a Western Med cruise, on which the price dropped way down, in late November 2009, we didn’t travel to Europe between spring 2007 and late November 2013. On our 4 recent European trips, we did go to Brussels, Amsterdam, Portugal, London twice and Dublin, but since our airfare was on miles, and our hotels were all covered by points (mostly Radisson 2nd night free deals), our costs were reasonable enough for our budget.

    We’re headed to Sicily and Rome in late April, and hope that the stronger dollar helps out, especially since we will have to rent a car to get around Sicily, something we haven’t done in Europe since 1999. I’m not sure what concerns me more – the exchange rate or the crazy Italian drivers!

    Happy New Year. (and I’ve decided your blog is my favorite because it’s always a fun, interesting read.)

  4. Nice that you are discovering the “best kept secret” of Central European phenomenal value! However, Central Europe = Slovakia, Czechia (as they call themselves now), Poland and Hungary differ substantially from the other countries on your list. They are safer (intentional homicide rates ~ 1/5 of our rates), and in general better developed. If you are up for more exploration, you can try the wonderful cities of Gdansk (where WW2 started and “Solidarity” trade union was born), Poznań and Wrocław (after WW2 the Red Army expelled Germans from Wrocław and ordered Poles from Lvov to move there). In many ways similar to Kraków, they are a bit less touristy and connected by fast and inexpensive bullet trains with Warsaw.

  5. @Marek – Considered booking a flight from Amsterdam to Kiev yesterday, but it looks like Sofia, Bulgaria wins out for my destination on my next trip to Europe in Feb-Mar. The ticketing I am considering is Sofia, Warsaw and Gdansk.

    Still want to go to Portugal, but it looks like Sofia-Warsaw works out better for my objective of earning Aegean Airlines elite status for 2017.

  6. @Marilyn B – Many of my family’s best travel stories are from road driving adventures with my Dad behind the wheel in Italy. There was the time my dad followed another driver guiding us to our hotel in Rome, which involved some sidewalks. There was a time when our car with U.S. Army plates wound up in the center of a Communist parade in a mountain town. We ran low on gas one winter trying to cross the Italian Alps when the road closed due to an avalanche and we could not run the car for heating purposes due to low fuel. And there was a time when my father decided he would avoid paying the high tolls of the expressways in Italy and drove the rural cliff roads along the coast pulling our pop-up trailer tent. At one point my mom made him stop, we all got out of the car and he had to turn around with the trailer on a narrow cliff edge road.

    I had enough car travel adventures as a child in Europe. I have never driven a car outside North America.

  7. @Ric Your reply to me gave me a great laugh, especially about following another car in Rome. We had to follow a man on a bicycle around one way streets to get to our hotel in Bruges. Hopefully no similar adventures are in the cards for us on our Sicily trip!

    This might be the last time we drive outside the US, esp. since we are in our late 60s and after 70, foreign car rentals can be an issue. We prefer city stays with some day trip excursions over driving anyway. And public transport is way cheaper than a car rental, even if I can use my corporate discount.

    Thanks again for the laughs. Looking forward to hearing about Sofia and Gdansk. A return trip to Poland to visit Poznan, Wroclaw, Torun and Gdansk is on my (ever expanding) list. I bookmark your posts on places I want to visit. Used your walking tour on the seacoast outside Dublin – was a great day. So thanks for that, too.

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