This feature originally appeared in the June 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.
When it comes to traveling on a budget, timing is everything. Not only can off-season treks cut down on airfare and lodging costs, but the power of the U.S. dollar across the globe can also dictate how much you’ll pay for a vacation. “This is a fantastic year to be traveling because the dollar is very strong,” says Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations (booklocker.com).
That means Americans can get more bang for their buck overseas than in previous years. For example, if a country’s currency takes a 25 percent dive against the U.S. dollar, dinner at a restaurant there that was $20 last year might now be only $15. Hotel rates would also be less expensive.
Another thing to keep in mind is that shelling out less for expenses during your stay gives you room to spend more money on flights. But you don’t always have to go on an international journey to score a deal.
Airfare has been on the decline, and in 2016, the average price of an economy airline ticket was at the lowest point in three years, according to the Expedia study New Heights for Air Travel. Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway or an adventure with your girls, we checked with trusted bloggers, travel experts and tourism professionals to get the scoop on which locations have the biggest bargains in 2017. Here’s the intel.
For those who enjoy a trip where they can stay close to nature, Seattle's beautiful mountains and harbor are must-sees, says Leslie E. Royal, who writes about discount travel in her book, Leslie's Lane The Book! Your One Stop Internet Resource Guide to Links for Jobs, Inspiration, Discounts, FREE Stuff, Scholarships, Travel & More!.
The most opportune time to hit the area is September through November, after the summer tourist season but before temperatures get too cold. Using Google flights, we found round-trip tickets from Phoenix to Seattle averaging $255.
To make your cash go further, pick up a CityPASS (citypass.com)—Seattle is one of the cities that sell this ticket, which lets you get up to 45 percent off on some of the most popular tourist attractions. "You can also take advantage of freebies like public concerts, festivals, art walks and museums," Royal says.
CURRENCY CONVERSION: $1 = 607.41 Central African CFA Franc
You'll spend the most traveling to Senegal, but once you get there, deals abound. We found flights from Miami as low as $971.
Senegal is the gem of West Africa, but you'll want to brush up on some French or Wolof, the native language, before you head there, suggests Cheraé Robinson, founder of Tastemakers Africa, an experiences marketplace that focuses on excursions to the continent.
In Dakar, the capital, dine on thieboudienne, the national dish (which consists of fish and rice), for less than $10 at lunchtime, or savor a beachside meal and plenty of mojitos at any of the restaurants in the swanky neighborhood of Almadies, Robinson says. Senegal also boasts some of the most original tapestries and artisanal goods in the world. "A handwoven basket like one you might find at West Elm or Crate & Barrel retails in the market at less than $20 versus $200 stateside," Robinson says.
If you venture beyond Dakar to the towns of Saly, Toubab Dialaw or Saint-Louis, you will snag even bigger buys and delight in an even more dynamic experience, Robinson adds.
If you want a place to visit this summer in the continental U.S., the nation's capital deserves a look, says Royal. The most favorable period for tourists is between July 15 and August 30 because Congress is typically out of session, which leads to lower hotel rates than other times of the year, Royal says. The District is also easy on the pocketbook because there is so much to do that is free, like visiting the Smithsonian museums.
We found round-trip flights from Los Angeles for as low as $287, with the average flight in the $300 to $400 range. One of the biggest tourist sites in D.C. since it opened last year has been the National Museum of African American History & Culture. A limited number of walk-up passes are available, so be sure to get tickets in advance. If you're interested in an escape with a Black history theme, head to nearby Baltimore, where you can see the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, and Annapolis, where you can check out the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial.
VARIOUS LOCATIONS IN ASIA
$1 = 13,299 Indonesian Rupiah
$1 = 34.55 Thai Baht
$1 = 22,696.32 Vietnamese Dong
The flights may be long, but your money stretches further in several places in Asia, says Tyra Hughley Smith, travel blogger and creator of barristourista.com. "Lately, Japan Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Chinese budget airlines have offered discount airfare hovering around $500 round-trip from major cities like Los Angeles to major cities like Bangkok, Thailand; Bali, Indonesia; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam," Smith says. A ticket from San Francisco to Indonesia averages from $1,000 to $1,100. That may be high, but you'll save money once you touch down.
Though Expedia has found the cheapest flights to be in January, there are some summer steals, Smith says. "Summertime is monsoon season in Thailand, but it's the dry season in neighboring countries, and prices are super low during this period."
You'll also relish the affordable amenities: Dine out or go to a luxury spa for mere pennies compared with the cost of the same services in the U.S., Smith says. Want to visit various locations? Flights are inexpensive on budget carriers like Air Asia, Smith advises.
What if someone paid you to vacation on an island? Technically that's what the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is doing as it celebrates its Centennial Commemoration this year. To entice folks to come to the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas or St. John, the USVI is giving $300 in spending credits that can be used in 2017 on tours and other activities. To claim your credits, book with one of the island's official travel partners, which can be found at visitusvi.com, by October 1. "They offer a number of hotels to stay at as part of the promotion," says Smith.
The crowds and hotel prices are at their lowest from mid-April to mid-December, according to Frommer's. And we found a $394 round-trip flight to St. Croix from Boston. Get a waterfront cottage for $100 or less per night with Airbnb, says Royal. Also use TripAdvisor to find low- or no-cost attractions like Estate Whim Plantation Museum and Fort Frederik.
CURRENCY CONVERSION: $1 = 0.80 British Pounds
If the Old World is on your bucket list, start packing your bags. "Europe is on sale this summer," says Maureen Thon, a spokeswoman for Expedia. For example, airfares between New York City's JFK Airport and London's Heathrow Airport dropped 25 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to Expedia.
The U.K. in particular is a good buy these days, says Trevor Saxty, president of adventure travel company Explore! – North America. The U.K.'s withdrawal from the European Union, dubbed Brexit, has not been kind to the British pound, which reached a three-decade low last October. It's good news for U.S. travelers, who will be able to take advantage of the cheaper food, entertainment and lodging. Though the average airline ticket from New York was around $900 this month, we found prices as low as $522. The best month to buy an economy ticket from North America to Europe is September, according to Expedia.
Besides seeing faves such as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, you can find free and low-cost activities like a walking tour and a Museum of London visit. You can also take a bus ride to other countries—the average ticket from London to Frankfurt, Germany, costs $79, according to travel search site Wanderu.