This was the summer Nick Torres was going to finally backpack through Europe. After years of scrimping and saving, the 25-year-old Brigham Young University graduate had bought a backpack and a stack of guidebooks and, last Christmas, persuaded two of his younger sisters to travel with him. They spent the winter creating a dream itinerary that included touring the Louvre in Paris and the beaches of Barcelona.
But when it came time to purchase their tickets this spring, the Torres trio hit a very expensive roadblock. "As we started to add up the figures, it became harder and harder to rationalize the trip," says Nick. "You just assume that if you work hard and save your money, it should be enough. But it just wasn't, especially with the decline of the dollar … We considered taking out a loan, but how much can you enjoy a vacation if you have debt hanging over your head?"
The good old days of Arthur Frommer's "Europe on $5 a Day" are long gone. With exchange rates this month reaching a high of $1.59 to the euro, American travelers are paying more than 50 percent more for hotels, food and other expenses throughout Europe. That's if they can even afford to get there. Depending on the destination, international travel tickets are as much as $350 more expensive than last year, according Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, a discount travel site. The reason for the rising ticket prices: fuel surcharges and international travel taxes, both of which have increased this year.
That may explain why STA Travel—the largest student and youth travel organization in the world—has seen an initial 20 percent decrease in students traveling to Europe. "There is no doubt that the impact of the economy, fuel prices and exchange rates have affected travel," says Kristen Celko, vice president of marketing and e-commerce for STA Travel North America.
Not all would-be backpackers are staying home. "The interesting thing about the student market, though, is that they have a finite time to travel before they have to work," says Celko. "So they're usually resilient in [traveling anyway]." So where are kids going? STA Travel has seen a modest increase in students traveling to Latin and South America, Asia and Australia. According to Celko, while it's not necessarily cheaper to get those destinations, the dollar goes much farther once they arrive. Still, it's far from free. "I've heard about little deals here and there, but that doesn't even begin to cover the expenses once you get there," said 23-year-old nursing student Maggie Payne, referring to the costs of food, souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses. "And then there's entertainment, which is the point of traveling" she says. "That all really adds up, as well."
Of course, not going has its own, intangible cost. The college years are when most people are embracing the world around them, says David Diamond, the president and cofounder of Global Student Experience, a study abroad program. "As nationalization and globalization increases, it's more important that the U.S. citizens are able to develop a sense of cultural awareness," says Diamond. "This awareness comes to life when you're able to live in the culture, even if it's for a short time. It truly opens your eyes to what you don't realize, know or understand."
The Torres siblings will have to wait to for their overseas adventure. Nick has a summer job at camera shop in Orem, Utah, and then plans to head to law school in the fall. "It is such a huge disappointment to not be able to go, but I guess we'll just have to wait and hope that next summer the prices will be more reasonable," Nick said. "Until then, working here will have to do."