As the dollar falters, travelers hunt for bargains

With the dollar wimping out against the euro and pound — and tumbling to a 31-year low against the Canadian dollar this week — where's a value-minded international traveler supposed to go?

Here's some advice from budget-travel experts on foreign destinations where your dollar still goes far:

• Cross the border to Mexico, but avoid the tourist traps, say Budget Travel magazine editor Erik Torkells and Tim Leffel, author of The World's Cheapest Destinations.

Torkells found a vacation house on a beach south of Puerto Vallarta that sleeps eight for about $100 a night. "Mexico's still a good deal if you go off the tourism grid," he says.

Leffel recommends going to the interior, such as the architecturally rich city of Mérida, where it's easy to find a hotel under $100 a night and you can stay in "a lot of Colonial (Mexican) mansions that have been fixed up."

• Suss out South America. Ecuador and Peru are among South American budget destinations, Leffel says. Argentina is still a steal ("dinner with wine is a third of what you'd pay back home," he says), though prices have crept up since its economy crumbled five years ago.

Torkells went to Buenos Aires last year, "and I was blown away by how far the dollar went. It has (great) shops and restaurants. In Europe, I don't take a taxi, but in Argentina they're cheap."

• Head for the countryside. Prices go down where the cows come home. Leffel likes Mikulov in the Czech Republic, where an inn room can be booked for $50-$75, lunch may be $4 and "a halfliter of beer was a dollar or less."

• Go east. The dollar has "lost ground against the Thai baht, but Thailand is still a deal — maybe the best place in the world if you want to stay in a five-star hotel for $200," Leffel says.

• Choose your destination wisely in Europe. Ines Pacheco, editor of Let's Go: Europe 2008, says Galicia in northern Spain and South Portugal villages are good bets, and that Eastern Europe — from Estonia to Slovakia to Slovenia — "is the big new budget spot." You can stay in B&Bs and eat well for $50 a day, she says.

Leffel likes prices in Romania, the Czech Republic and Hungary, whose currencies are not tied to the euro.

European cities tend to be costly, but deals can be found. Look at home stays, house swaps and apartment rentals, experts say. (Apartments with WiFi at Glasgow City Flats in Scotland start at about $140 nightly.)

• Check out packages. Funjet Vacations has one from Nov. 7 to Dec. 13 that includes airfare from Chicago, five nights at a Novotel in West London, breakfasts and taxes from $867 a person, double, depending on availability.

Have any budget travel tips or favorite bargain destinations? Share your recommendations below.

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