Friday, April 27, 2007

Travel options

For many years I was addicted to foreign travel. A half-century ago, Europe was the only option for culture vultures like myself. The exchange rate for most countries was so favorable that we academics could go there and just stay the entire summer. I remember one August in London (of all places!) when I said "I'm bored; I want to go home." But I couldn't leave until the date of my charter flight. By the early seventies, though, the exchange rate was becoming less favorable. The Deutschmark had originally traded at a ratio of 4.2 to the dollar, making things incredibly cheap. But then it lost more than half its value, plunging to 2 to 1.

Then I hit upon a new strategy. I would limit European visits to carefully planned "surgical strikes," no more than 21 days at a time. I would then alternate trips to Europe with visits to cheap third-world countries. I became fascinated by pre-Columbian archaeology, so that I visited all the leading countries, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. I stayed in whatever hotels I wished to and in general enjoyed gracious living.

Then in the mid-eighties the dollar soared again. It was off to France, over and over again. A decade later things changed again, so I became more choosy. Now, it looks as if Europe is pricing itself out of the market again. But never say never.

I forgot to note that beginning in the seventies I sought another type of balance, I would travel in the US. Eventually I visited every state except Alaska. These trips were very useful in combatting the onset of Gothamite chauvinism.

I suppose that there are two lessons. 1) If the opportunity beckons, take it. It may be a while, if ever, before the stars are favorable again. 2) In travel, as in all else in this capitalist world, it is essential to do an ongoing cost-benefit analysis.



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