Oh, the places you’ll go—with a strong dollar in tow

Tourists at the Atomic Bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park in Japan. With the Japanese yen at one of its weakest points in decades, American tourists can buy more with their dollar.
Tourists at the Atomic Bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park in Japan. With the Japanese yen at one of its weakest points in decades, American tourists can buy more with their dollar.


Take an inflation vacation in the countries where the dollar goes farthest like Argentina, Hungary and Japan.

With the dollar on the rise, American tourists can outspend the locals in some of the world’s top travel spots.

Visitors to Asia, South America and Eastern Europe are upgrading their accommodations and enjoying fine dining at prices that can’t be matched back home. The strong dollar, bolstered by high interest rates and a strong economy, allows those who normally scour for budget deals to feel rich enough to reserve tables at Michelin-recommended restaurants.

On a trip to Argentina in February, Cecile Blot, 44, was surprised by how cheap it was to dine out. She had dinner with her mother at a Buenos Aires restaurant where they ordered several appetizers, a steak, ribs, dessert and a bottle of wine for around $60.

“It was all wonderful and in a very chic little restaurant in one of the most high-end neighborhoods in Buenos Aires," Blot said. “And very affordable."

Overall, the WSJ Dollar Index has risen about 4% this year, with the dollar up about 2% against the euro and more than 11% higher than the Japanese yen. This means the dollar goes particularly far in Japan, where the yen is at its weakest in decades, and in Argentina, where the peso is near a record low. Other popular tourist stops where the dollar can buy more this year are Hungary, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil and Canada.

Americans won’t get the same bang for their buck in much of Europe this summer, said Steven Carvell, a professor at Cornell University’s school of hotel administration. Tourists on postpandemic splurges drove up prices, and the Paris Olympics is further inflating prices in France and surrounding countries, he said.

“The demand in Europe has skyrocketed," he said. Tour operators “price that in and they know that Americans are not as sensitive to the price."

Japan’s peak season, off-peak pricing

Kai Heiser, 20, typically stays at budget-friendly hostels on trips abroad. But for his nearly monthlong vacation in Japan in April—the famed cherry-blossom season—he sought out options with higher ratings because spending a few more dollars could deliver a big step up in comfort.

“The cost was an afterthought," said Heiser, who lives in California.

Almost 800,000 Americans traveled to Japan during the first four months of the year, beating last year’s record, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. In April, nearly 230,000 people traveled from the U.S. to Japan, making up 7.5% of all tourists. The value of the dollar in Japan has risen more than 10% in the past year, where it is now worth about 156 yen.

American tourists spend around $2,100 on average when visiting Japan and stay for more than nine days, according to JNTO.

Heiser said he spent around $2,500 during his trip. The stronger dollar meant he was able to explore Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to his heart’s content, as entry fees were typically no more than $5, he said.

In Hungary, Michelin status without sticker shock

Jacqlyn Schneider, 43, visited wine bars, hole-in-the-wall pubs and top-rated dining spots during her trip to Budapest. What stood out to her most was the bill at the end of each meal.

Schneider dined with her sister at the Felix Kitchen & Bar, a Michelin-recommended restaurant known for its castle-like facade and location by the Danube River.

“I think the meal was half the cost of what a similar experience would be here," said the Washington, D.C., resident.

A dollar is worth almost 360 Hungarian forints, down from its 2022 peak but still up more than 20% since 2019. And the tourism industry is still recovering from the pandemic, meaning prices have remained subdued. About 12 million fewer travelers visited in 2023 than in 2019, according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office.

Budapest is known for its bathhouses, but Schneider said the prices didn’t reflect their popularity. She paid $35 for a day of whirlpools, saunas and massages.

“In the U.S., you have to buy, like, the $200 massage in order to get time in the whirlpool," she said.

A weak local currency against the dollar allows her to mix budget-conscious adventures with a splurge or two, she said. Since her trip to Budapest in March 2023, she now factors exchange rates into her vacation itineraries, including on a more recent trip to Japan.

“For me, the exchange rate isn’t the determining factor on whether I decide to visit a place, but it definitely plays a role in how I plan my visit," she said.

A dollar’s tour of hyperinflation Argentina

Blot was on her way to Antarctica when she passed through Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, South America’s southernmost city. Along with inexpensive steak dinners, she did a tango tour in the capital and explored Tierra del Fuego National Park in the south.

While food and shopping prices were low, the tour and her hotels were closer to U.S. prices because she booked them through an American travel agent while still at home, she said. Big-brand hotels like the Four Seasons were the most expensive, but Blot found a better deal at a smaller boutique hotel.

Argentina is among the top countries where the dollar has strengthened the most over the past five years. The dollar’s value has risen roughly 330% in the past year alone and is worth more than 889 Argentine pesos. In May 2019, the dollar was worth around 44 pesos.

Triple-digit inflation has eroded the value of the peso, but for Americans that means the dollar is in high demand. Nights booked by Americans increased by nearly 40% in the first three months of 2024 compared with the same period last year, Airbnb spokesperson Samuel Randall said.

Paying cash dollars in Argentina is often the best way to save, as many vendors don’t accept credit cards and the peso is weakening rapidly. When Blot got in an Uber from the airport, her driver asked her to cancel the trip. She paid with a $20 bill instead of using pesos through the app and spending the equivalent of around $35.

“He wanted actual dollars in hand," Blot said. “Because inflation is so high, they don’t want their own currency. They want dollars."

Her all-amenities boat cruise to Antarctica was the only place no one was clamoring for the dollar.

“There’s no towns or ports," said Blot. “There’s no money to spend in Antarctica."

Write to Katherine Hamilton at katherine.hamilton@wsj.com

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