Budget to Buenos Aires and beyond

Palermo district of Buenos Aires

LISA NAPOLI: This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media.
I'm Lisa Napoli, filling in for Tess Vigeland.

While she's on vacation this week, I've been hawking the Euro as it reached stratospheric highs against the dollar. Not happy news for people like me, who are headed across the pond later this summer.

I know, I know, summer is the worst time to go, if you're looking for a bargain airfare. If I'd just listened to my colleague, Marketplace's Stephen Hoffman, I could have saved a bundle.

STEPHEN HOFFMAN: My wife discovered this incredibly cheap flight from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. While we desperately wanted a vacation, we were still reeling from the cost of our wedding just last year. So we had to make a difficult decision: stay or go?

We used airline and credit card bonus miles to get an inexpensive fare, but what happens if you don't have miles to use? How do you vacation cheaply?

Tom Meyer from EuroCheapo.com says plan your arrival when most tourists are heading home. They even have a name for it:

TOM MEYER: "Shoulder season" is the period in between the high season and the low season. There are fewer tourists, there's better availability in the hotels. You know, if you go to Paris in August for instance, this is the peak season for tourists, but there are no French people around. But if you headed south, if you went to Rio for instance, it's winter there, but you can still go to the beaches.

So we went to Argentina in the off-peak season. We still needed to watch our spending though. But as it happened, $1 U.S. equalled 3 Argentine pesos. So just by going, we tripled our savings!

In fact, travel expert Pauline Frommer recommends that before you decide where you go, look for the places that will extend the life of your cash.

PAULINE FROMMER: It's very important to think about where the dollar is strongest, because you're going to be able to buy a heck of a lot more if you go to a country where the dollar is strong. For the most part, that's most of Asia, except for Japan and Korea, South and Central America and in many parts of the Caribbean as well.

CHRISTINA WISEMAN: That skyline right here wasn't here over a year ago.

That's Christina Wiseman, She runs a tour guide service called BA Local in Argentina. While some travel experts don't necessarily recommend using a tour guide, she arranged a lot of things that really helped our budget: an apartment to stay in instead of a hotel and a cell-phone rental instead of making upgrades to our own plan.

A good guide can help you avoid costly and boring tourist traps.

WISEMAN: We're in the Ricoletta cemetery in the neighborhood Ricoletta in Buenos Aires. There are 70 national monuments inside the cemetery, and most of the presidents are buried here as well.

HOFFMAN: Eva Peron? Is she buried here?

WISEMAN: Eva Peron is here as well.

So we got a little history lesson for nothing - the cemetery visit, it was free. But there are those times when even the most frugal person will have to part with their green.

MRS. HOFFMAN: Shoe store alert, shoe store alert . . .

If you need to do a little buying, check out stores that participate in a program called Tax-Free Shopping. Again, Pauline Frommer:

FROMMER: Unlike in the United States, where taxes are added at the cash register, in many countries the tax is included in the price of the goods. But foreigners, those who are visiting the country and staying usually less than six months, aren't required to pay that tax.

Look for stores that have a sign posted or ask the clerk before you buy anything. Next, all you have to do is fill out a short form and then wade through a specially-marked line at the country's airport to get the final authorization.

HOFFMAN: What's the amount on my credit card?

AIRPORT CLERK: 164 pesos.

HOFFMAN: And how much of that in dollars?

AIRPORT CLERK: I don't know . . . $55.

Fifty-five bucks is no laughing matter. That's how much I saved by participating in the program. I got the refund within a couple of weeks, but it's already going for our next vacation. Who knows where?

I'm Stephen Hoffman for Marketplace Money.

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