And the dollar rallies!

If you’ve been in the EU or Japan any time in the last 18 months or so, you’ve probably walked away from a currency exchange or ATM scowling. With the American economy virtually in the dumpster, oil sky high and our trade deficit in the stratosphere (but coming down!), the value of the dollar has been plummeting like it’s out of style.

While few economists can agree on whether this recession will end (or even if it is a recession, proper), what they can observe is the state of the European economies — and apparently they’re not doing well either. While their struggle with the credit crunch and mortgage crises haven’t been as pronounced as the Americans’, the Europeans haven’t been immune to money problems of their own, most notably fuel and food prices.

So while we might be sinking further into the depths of the credit netherworld, at least the Europeans are right behind us — and so is their currency. Against the Euro, the US Dollar has spent the last month running for the trees, gaining about 8% in thirty days with Ben Bernanke cheering from the stands. That means when you slip a hundred dollar bill under the TravelEx exchange in Heathrow you’ll be getting $67 back instead of $62.

It’s not too late to book that Thanksgiving trip to Mallorca.

[image courtesy Yahoo finance]

Belize it or not: Top Surprizing Things About Belize

Greetings from Belize.

Those of you who have been to Belize before might not find these surprising, but this is my first time here and they surprised me. Here is a brief laundry list:

  • The U.S. Dollar is widely accepted. With the Belize Dollar pegged at 2:1 to the U.S. Dollar, it’s not surprising. Guess where you should be traveling when the U.S. Dollar is practically worthless? Where they accept dollars, of course! Although Belize is pretty expensive comparing to other Central American countries, the cheap dollar makes it affordable.
  • English is all you’ll ever need. While guidebook after guidebook tell you people speak Spanish or Creole, Belizeans almost universally speak perfect English. It’s the official language, don’t forget.
  • It’s not all jungle. While the UN pegs forest cover at 79% in Belize and the country itself claims to have 44% of its land under some legal land-protection regime, there are whole sections of the country that are open, rolling hills and farmland.
  • It’s not just the Blue Hole. There’s great diving all up and down the world’s second-largest barrier reef. The terrain is varied, and so is the wildlife. I can tell you that first hand, as I squeezed in 5 dives in 2 days off two different islands.
  • There’s a surprising level of development. Literacy is above 75% (depending on the source). The economy is rapidly growing. While the UN’s human development index generally puts the country at about number 80 of 177 countries studied (in terms of education, GDP per person, etc.), life expectancy here is in the top 40 worldwide.
  • The population density is one of the lowest in the world. With 300,000 or so people in an area the size of the state of New Jersey (which has almost 9 million folks), and 1/3 of people living in Belize City, it’s not surprising, really.
  • The rainy season (May-November) is quite pleasant here, especially if you stay in the north. We are in the middle of it right now. It rains about once a day, if that, for a while and then it’s sunny again. The benefit over the dry season? It’s cheaper and there are hardly any tourists.
  • People are really friendly, helpful and pleasant. The islands have a Caribbean feel, while the inland is more Spanish-influenced.

I give Belize two thumbs up.

The Israeli shekel: Giving the euro a run for its money

There’s been a lot of talk about the poor dollar to euro exchange rate, but it might not be the European currency that travelers should be concerned about. In fact, in terms of economic gains against global currencies, it looks like the Israeli shekel is currently the world’s strongest currency.

Since the beginning of 2008, the shekel has made significant gains against most of the world’s major currencies; 15% against the U.S. dollar, as well as just a little more against the British pound and the Canadian dollar, 8% against the Swedish kroner and 24% against the South African rand. And against the euro? The shekel has strengthened by 9% against the European currency. But even with a strong currency, Israel still hopes to attracts flocks of tourists, 2.8 million this year alone.

Big in Japan: Why it sucks to have US dollars

In case you haven’t heard, it seems as if the United States is rapidly sliding into a recession…

Then again, if you believe all of the buzz in the headlines as of recent, it seems that the US government is doing everything possible to prevent this from happening.

Of course, while the recent surge in the stock markets and the remarkable buyout of Bear Stearns are certainly good signs that things are returning to normal, not everyone (including myself) is convinced.

I should preface today’s posting by saying that I’m certainly not an economist!

(In fact, I didn’t even learn how to write a check as of recent, and am something of the black sheep in a family of bankers.)

But, one thing I do know is that American ex-pats here in Japan are feeling the crunch where it hurts the most, namely in their rapidly shrinking wallets.

The daily peaks and valleys of the Forex currency exchange market certainly aren’t the most fascinating of travel topics.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the US dollar is presently at a 12 and a 1/2 year low against the Japanese yen.

And this, my faithful audience, is why it sucks to have US dollars…

In one of my very first posts on Gadling, I tried to dispel the myth that Tokyo is a prohibitively expensive city to live in, and even went as far as to argue that it’s a bargain compared to most American and European cities.

One of the main reasons is that for the last decade or so, there has been a favorable dollar-yen exchange rate that has allowed Americans like myself to enjoy a higher standard of living here than in most other major cities.

Indeed, I have been able to maintain a fairly posh apartment in a ritzy area of Tokyo for less than US$1000 a month, and can eat out most nights of the week for less than US$10-15 a meal.

Of course, the sad reality of the failing US economy hit close to home last week when the dollar slid as much as 3.0 percent.

At its lowest point, it hovered below 96.00 yen, its lowest since 1995, bringing year-to-date losses to more than 13 percent.

To put things into perspective, a few months ago the US dollar was trading at about 115 yen, though today this seems like little more than a fond and distant memory.

Now, as I said at the beginning of this posting, I am certainly not an economist, but you don’t have to be good with numbers to realize that your bank account is dropping quicker than normal.

Of course, there are plenty of people out there who see financial trends better than I do, and there are talks of the dollar trading as low as 75 yen in the months ahead.

So, when you’re filing your taxes this season, and you happen to get that handy little $600 rebate check from the government, think twice about spending it at Applebee’s.

After all, there are warning signs that all is not well on the financial horizon, and I can assure you that I’m not the only one crying wolf out here in Asia.

** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **

Dollar: the not-so-universal travel currency

If the dollar continues its downward spiral this year, it may be necessary for people to switch from dollars to euros for their travel cash.

According to this NY Times article yesterday, many countries are no longer willing to take dollars instead of their currency as a way to get into museums, and pay for hotels and restaurants. While many countries in Latin America still happily accept the dollar because they currencies are either pegged to the dollar or it is the dollar, an increasing number of countries in Asia and Africa, for example, prefer the euro over the dollar.

The Taj Mahal, for example, no longer accepts dollars for the entrance fee. Tourists used to be able to pay $15 to get in. Now, they are required to only pay in rupees (750), which is actually $19. You would think they would just increase the entrance fee in dollars, but maybe they actually really don’t want dollars.