It's no secret that Europe is getting seriously overpriced for those of us traveling on the struggling US dollar. Heck, even the Swiss franc is nearly 1-to-1 with the dollar these days -- and the Danish krone is bullying up on us with even more hostility than the euro.
While there are ways to squeeze the most out of your money when traveling on the Continent, the fact remains that a vacation in England, France or Italy is going to put a far more serious dent in your travel budget this summer than it would have as recently as a year or 2 ago.
The good news?
Europe, for all its allure, is only a small swath of a planet that's positively brimming with budget travel destinations -- of course, some are admittedly far-flung, but others lie hearteningly closer to home.
So, in the interest of saving cash on international travels while keeping your wanderlust alive, start thinking about destinations that are still happily affordable for American travelers.
And remember -- even if the initial outlay of cash for a plane ticket to reach some of our favorite budget travel destinations gives you sticker shock, once you land, you'll be rewarded with an exchange rate that's actually to your advantage.
Here are a few ideas of where to go when it comes to keeping your travel expenses to a relative minimum.
The dollar has been bouncing up and down against the South African rand as of late, but you'll still get far more mileage out of your greenbacks in Cape Town than Copenhagen. Tipping your glass in South Africa's wine country remains a veritable bargain compared to equivalent tours in Napa or Bordeaux. By doing some savvy research before setting off, you're sure to get more for your money all around. Opt to scope the animals at Djuma Game Reserve -- a state-run park in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. The nightly rate is significantly cheaper than private resorts with no sacrifice to your chances of spotting the Big 5. Also check out the South African Airways Vacations website for packages that include airfare, meals, luxury lodging and game drives -- oftentimes, booking the whole shebang at once saves you more overall.
Buzzing Buenos Aires -- where an artsy and bohemian Latin lifestyle meets Euro chic in 1 of the world's most cosmopolitan cities -- has been the word on budget-traveling tongues for a few years now, and for good reason. While the peso is on the rebound, dollars are still worth their salt throughout Argentina. You can have an indulgent night on the town for a fraction of what you'd shell out in London or New York. Carry on the evening by checking out a tango show in the barrio of La Boca and hitting the club scene till the break of day. Getting beyond Buenor Aires, there are wine-centric retreats to be had in the Mendoza wine region and more athletic adventures (hiking, kayaking, fly fishing) in Argentina's piece of Patagonia. From crystal lakes and mountain views that conjure Switzerland to a wine scene that rivals Spain's, basically everything to be loved about Europe can be found in Argentina -- and for far less fiscal damage.
Neighboring Argentina, Uruguay is another appealing South American destination if you're looking to experience the feel of a European country in Latin America with the thrill of not having to get fleeced in euros. Stroll the Ciudad Vieja (Old City) in the capital, Montevideo, admiring 18th-century facades and the lively street cafés. Then venture away from the masses to experience Uruguay's other highlights. From the tiny fishing village turned hippie beach town of Punta del Diablo to glitzy Punta del Este, where South America's beautiful people come to get rid of their tan lines and ogle the super-yacht set, your hard-earned dollar still goes far against the Uruguayan peso.
Quebec City, Canada
The dollar has been hitting head to head against the loonie (that would be the Canadian dollar) these days -- not exactly stellar news, but at least we're on pretty equal footing in Canada and not drowning our currency sorrows in the trenches à la Europe. And no place in North America conjures the Old World quite like Quebec City. Ladies traveling solo or with friends can consider booking a Gutsy Women tour to enjoy World Heritage sites, castles and gastronomy with French Canadian cooking classes built into the itinerary. Aside from airline tickets being cheaper to Canada from the States than they are to France, your dollars will stretch too when it comes to dining out, shopping and transportation.
Despite the Caribbean's proximity to the mainland, things can cost a pretty penny in the islands. So why not stay on dollar-friendly US soil by hopping a budget airline (Spirit Airlines and Jet Blue have regular flights from New York and Florida) to Puerto Rico, one of the Caribbean's best values. That's not to say that prices aren't steep around San Juan, the capital, where 5-star resorts and fancy restaurants abound. But elsewhere on the island, you can find charming guesthouses and beach bungalows -- such as the rainbow-colored wooden abodes fronting the beach at Parador Villas del Mar Hau on Puerto Rico's North coast -- for very affordable rates. And because it doesn't get taxed the same as on the mainland, gas is cheaper in Puerto Rico, making exploring the island with a rental car a wallet-friendly way to get around.