March Break and Easter are officially in our rear-view mirror. Time to start planing that summer vacation.
If you're thinking of a trip to the United States, brace yourself for sticker shock at your nearest bank. The loonie is still hovering around 80 cents U.S., and I recently paid almost $130 Canadian for $100 of greenbacks.
With that in mind, here are a few overseas spots that might prove better value.
Flights to Asia are not cheap, but I found some online the other day for about $1,600. That's still a lot, I know, but once you're in Hanoi or Saigon (or Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, for that matter) you can find amazing deals. I stayed a couple years ago at the Metropole in Hanoi, a handsome old property where the likes of Somerset Maugham and Jane Fonda used to hang out. It's a fabulous hotel, and rooms in July are going for about $200 a night. That's half what you might pay for a night in New York, so if you were to stay in Manhattan five nights the total cost of the trip would be about even. I found other five-star Hanoi properties for $150 a night, and, of course, many cheap and cheerful options abound. And don't forget the food: You can eat like a king for just dollars a day.
My nephew recently booked a flight to Auckland from Toronto for $1,600 – not bad. And New Zealand is a truly fantastic destination. It's also cheaper in June or July as it's during their winter. The South Island will be cold and snowy in July, but Auckland temperatures should be around 14 degrees, with warmer temps further north. I found a room at the gleaming Sofitel Hotel on the harbour in Auckland for $201 a night in July, and a Best Western downtown for $89 a night. If you go, try a day trip or an overnight stay on nearby Waiheke Island, home to glorious olive orchards and fantastic wineries. Peacock Sky is a hilltop winery run by a fellow from England and a woman from Montreal. They met at the Holiday Inn next to Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre many years ago, fell in love and are still going strong.
Last month I visited Lisbon and the Azores for the first time: I loved both destinations – and found them cheaper than I expected. You can get good hotel rooms in Lisbon for less than $100 a night. You'll likely pay less than $1 for a fine cup of espresso, a decent bottle of wine can be had for $5 (the really good stuff is $10 and up) and restaurants are quite reasonable. Lisbon remains one of the cheaper entry points to Europe; a gentleman on my flight home had paid just $475 for his return ticket during March break. In the Azores, a less than six-hour flight from Toronto, I fell in love with the mountain and oceanfront scenery. You'll find rooms at decent hotels for less than $100 a night. Or splurge at the wonderful Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in the town of Furnas on lovely Sao Miguel, which sits in the crater of an old volcano and has the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. Rooms in July start around $200 a night.
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