Image: Kepler Track, New Zealand
In New Zealand and Australia, deals on dining, tours, hotels and transportation can be found at discounted rates. The airlines are also struggling to fill seats, so it is easier to find a flight or package deal.
updated 11/21/2008 3:21:26 PM ET 2008-11-21T20:21:26

“I’ve lost a third of my savings,” seems to be the refrain—or gasp—when Americans take a look at their latest 401K or IRA statement through the end of October. Some have done a tad better, some worse, but with every sector in decline, it has been hard for anyone to look like a smart investor this year.

There’s a counterbalance to that though for travelers: the dollar is way up against foreign currencies. In many cases, the dollar has risen as much as the stock market has declined as global investors rush to U.S. Treasury bonds for safety.

So which countries are in this one-third club? Which currencies are down by 33 percent or more on the year?

Surprisingly, most are not obscure developing nations with a weak tourism infrastructure. Sure, you can get a lot more bang for your buck in Lesotho, Namibia, or Swaziland, but if a currency falls in the dunes and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? This time around, some of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world are on the clearance rack.

Deal of a decade in Australia and New Zealand
As of this week—and things could change fast of course—both the Australian and New Zealand dollars are down by around 32 percent against the U.S. dollar. In real terms, that means the restaurant meal that was $30 earlier this year is now $20. The same goes for tours booked locally, hotels priced in local currency, taxi rides, and internal transportation. On top of that, the airlines are struggling to fill seats, so it is easier than it has been in ages to find a flight or package deal as well.

Europe on sale
I mentioned in an earlier column that Iceland is a screaming bargain right now after their dramatic currency fall, but a few other European countries have also joined the one-third club. After spending the last few years trading at or above $2, the British pound sterling is now worth a shade less than $1.50. The $80-plus taxi ride of a few months ago is now $60 and a single subway ticket now costs $6 instead of more than $8. Slideshow: Awesome Australia

After flying high over the past couple years, the Turkish lira has also come down to Earth. That currency is down 38 percent on the year, making museum admissions, local meals, pansiyon hotels, and local transportation much more affordable. Don’t expect such dramatic relief from hotel chains and carpet dealers though: they set their prices in euros, which means a drop closer to 15 percent.

Skip Japan, head to Korea
The Japanese yen is the strongest currency on the planet right now, making the world’s most expensive destination even pricier. A short flight away sits South Korea though, a country that has a lot to offer at a fraction of the price. While prices in South Korea are typically close to what they are in the U.S., this year is different. The value of the Korean won has dropped in half. If you’re up for unusual ski resorts (lots of communal hot tubs and bulgogi lunches in the lodge) or seeing Buddhist temples in a magical snowy landscape, you can find low-season flight prices over the next few months as well.

There are a few other destinations scattered around the globe where your travel funds will stretch much more than they would have a few months or a year ago. In many cases the difference isn’t enough to get excited about, but other members either in or flirting with the one-third club include enticing destinations such as South Africa, Chile, and Botswana. Destinations where the dollar is up at least 20 percent since January include India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Hungary, Norway, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada.

So if you still have money left to spend and you want to see an instant 20-33 percent return, head abroad for that big, long vacation you’ve been talking about for years. Or leave the awful job market behind and go vagabonding around the world on the cheap. You’ll probably burn through less money than you would staying home paying bills and you’ll definitely have a lot more fun.

Tim Leffel is author of the books "Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune" and "The World's Cheapest Destinations". He also edits the award-winning narrative Web 'zine Perceptive Travel.

Photos: Explore New Zealand

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  1. Kepler Track

    The 60 kilometer Kepler Track rewards serious hikers with full-strength high country scenery. The track leads to views of lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, the alpine grasslands of Jackson Peaks and spectacular U-shaped glacial valleys. Department of Conservation huts provide accommodation during the 4 day walk. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Water sport paradise

    With more than 15,000 kilometers of coastline, New Zealand is a water sport paradise. Sailing, swimming, diving and fishing are just some of the options for marine recreation. Or you could test yourself with one of the more extreme sports, like kite surfing and wave jumping. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Poor Knights

    The fish of the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve are famous for their friendly nature, and some of the subtropical species are found nowhere else in New Zealand. Spotted Black Groper, Mosaic Moray and Lord Howe Island Coralfish are a few of the local stars. Squadrons of stingrays can also be seen during the warmer months. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Milford Sound

    A couple paddles their kayaks while flanked by a dolphin in New Zealand's Milford Sound in the country's stunning fiordland. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. That's our bird!

    Unique to New Zealand, there are five kinds of kiwi - three closely related Brown kiwis, the Little Spotted Kiwi and the Great Spotted Kiwi. Nocturnal and flightless, the kiwi’s long slender bill has nostrils at the lower end, so that it can detect worms, insects and grubs. Despite its awkward appearance, a kiwi can outrun a human. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mount Cook National Park

    Glaciers cover 40 percent of Mount Cook - or Aoraki National Park, as it is also known - and is New Zealand's top spot for spectacular alpine scenery, and is the country's highest mountain. All but one of its 29 peaks is over 3,000 meters, so the park has become New Zealand's mountain climbing mecca. Non-climbers can enjoy a selection of challenging alpine walks - from the one hour Red Tarns stair-climb to the relatively flat hike to Kea Point. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Preserving culture

    The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington, preserves and presents the taonga (treasures) of New Zealand's people. Spectacular long-term exhibitions are enhanced by diverse short-term exhibitions and a captivating events program - performances, talks, lectures, entertainment and more. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Maori men

    Ethnic Maori men from Gisborne, New Zealand, take positions on the beach after the arrival by boat of elders from Cook Island, Wednesday, December 29, 1999, to join in Gisborne's millennium celebrations. History has been harsh to the indigenous Maori and Moriori of New Zealand, but their resurgent cultures were at center stage when the country became the first major nation to enter the new millennium. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pure Middle-earth

    The fast running rivers of the Mount Aspiring National Park can be negotiated by jet boat and kayak, allowing visitors to discover the locations for the 'Lord of the Rings' Isengard, Lothlorien and Amon Hen. With not a manmade structure in sight in this remote wilderness, it’s easy to imagine yourself in 'Middle-earth'. ( Back to slideshow navigation
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