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Follow the Dollar

Budget Travel Alternatives to High-Priced Western Europe

Poland offers a worthy travel alternative to more expensive European countries.

Logically, travelers assume, prices in tiny out-of-the-way rural locations will be less than in big cities. Perhaps dramatically less.

Not always a valid assumption, we discovered. Perhaps $51.86 for two small pots of coffee (four cups), two very small pieces of chocolate cake, and one medium chunk of Black Forest torte shared by two would have cost even more in Copenhagen. But we were in Schackenborg, Denmark.

American tourists in Europe are finding that their expenses exceed even a generous budget. And it isn’t just the high-priced euro. At €42.20, our afternoon coffee wouldn’t have made economic sense—by American standards anyway—even at 1999 lows of 92 cents to the euro.

Fortunately, there are still places where an American couple on a $60 to $100 per day budget can find interest and excitement. Ecuador, Panama, Argentina, and Poland all easily meet these criteria.


Start with Ecuador: lots of interesting museums, parks, nature preserves, animals, birds, dramatic scenery, volcanoes, native crafts, good roads, and inexpensive car rentals as well as rock-bottom prices for trips to the famous Galapagos Islands. As an added bonus, Ecuadorians use American dollars as their national currency.

Begin your Ecuadorian adventure by calling the Amazonas Inn in Quito (011-593-2-222-5723 from the U.S.) or email Jeannette LeMarie at Her few incredibly clean and basic rooms border the important Avenida Amazonas and rent for $10 per person per night. A minimum of a dozen somewhat similar centrally located hotels lie within 100 yards of the Amazonas Inn. Charges for these run from $5 to $12 per person per night. An airport taxi to the Amazonas Inn costs a flat $6.

On Avenida Amazonas are dozens of travel shops. Every day some of them will post last-minute 3- to 5-day Galapagos specials costing between $430 and $510 each not including airfare. The same tour booked in the U.S. costs from $1,450 to $2,250. And if you wish to tour the upper Amazon basin or the volcanic highlands, rental cars are available at any of the four agencies two blocks down on Amazonas.

Meals in the scores of restaurants run from $1 for a bowl of chunky, meaty soup to $2 for roasted chicken. An Ecuadorian steak costs about $3.75. Wine too is very inexpensive.


Visitors to Panama who plan to be in Panama City on the one Saturday a month when tour boats transit the entire canal can experience this 51-mile wonder.

Panama has fantastic nature reserves, a world-class zoo, native markets, and a historic railroad from Panama City to Colón. Prices are reasonable to very low. Like Ecuador, Panama uses U.S. dollars as its national currency.

You can choose to stay in the fairly new, clean, neat, and centrally located but basic California Hotel on Apd O - Zone 5 where doubles spanning three days or more are reduced to $20 per night if you ask for a discount. Taxi from the airport is a steep $25. For reservations dial 011-507-263-7736 or email

Jacobo Ortega at Experience Panama Tours (011-507-211-4692 through 4695) answers questions in English regarding canal tours and bookings, or email him at The cost for a full day’s transit is $162.50 per person, which includes breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. Folks transiting the canal seem not to touch the massive, groaning buffet because there are too many interesting sights and sounds topside: massive locks, beautiful lakes, jungly hills, aquatic birds, and crocodiles. Travel back to Panama City from Colón by the historic train.

In restaurants expect to pay from one-third to one-half U.S. prices for similar fare. Taxis at $10 per hour are best booked at the hotel. Use these for inexpensive local and even intercity tours.


Argentina has not traditionally been thought of as an inviting destination by North Americans: far too expensive and too far from home for all but very intrepid travelers.

All of this changed with blinding speed in January 2002 when the Argentine peso was devalued from one-to-one to one-to-three against the dollar. Basic, rural hotel rooms fell from $30 per night to $10. Delightful new A-frame cabañas in the resort city of Puerto Madryn now cost about $15.50 per night. Thick steak dinners for two, including wine, vegetables, and salad, might cost $10.

Argentina features beautiful scenery, wine-country tours, world-class museums, fishing, hunting, incredible fossil and dinosaur displays.

While Argentina was once too vast and too expensive to explore, visitors now stay several weeks, spending less than they would for one day in London.

Start an Argentine adventure by booking a Buenos Aires hotel using Expedia, Travelocity, or The cost will be about $30 per night for a double including a sumptuous breakfast. We booked at the Bisonti Palace.

Use the first few days to explore the city and arrange for a rental car. Then tour the sparsely populated countryside, staying in some of the thousands of hotels and motels up and down the highway.

Including lodging, fuel, car rental, and food, a total budget of $100 per day per couple is easy to maintain, even if you include the delightful Argentine wine.


Poland is not just an alternative for travelers who can’t afford France or Germany. Travel in Poland is inexpensive, but its vast collection of old cities, quaint rural villages, museums, majestic cathedrals, parks, monuments, and memorials make it enough to occupy curious visitors for a month or more.

Fly into Warsaw and rent a car. Auto Europe (800-223-5555) or Europe by Car (800-223-1516) will meet any U.S. car rental prices provided bookings are done in advance in the U.S.

Napoleon called England a nation of shopkeepers. Poland seems to be a nation of hotelkeepers. On any major road out of Warsaw there are at least six roadside motels and hotels from which to choose.

Expect to pay from $23 to $30 per night including breakfast for a double. German gasoline is about $6.20 a gallon. In Poland, it’s a more affordable $4 a gallon. Frugal travelers stay in Poland at inexpensive hotels and, fueled with relatively inexpensive Polish gasoline, pop across the border for day trips to nearby Berlin or Dresden.

Huge meals run from $3 to $4 in Poland. Travelers easily make it on under $6 each per day for food. Portions are large, so it may make sense for two people to split a dinner.

Museums in every city are numerous and fascinating. Entrance fees in Gdaňsk include a free ferry ride from one museum building to another through their harbor system.

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