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Which Travel Destinations from the US are Less Expensive - Europe or Asia

Updated on October 29, 2011

Which Travel Destinations from the US are Less Expensive - Europe or Asia

February 3, 2010

It is difficult to answer the question Which travel destinations are cheaper from the U.S., is it Asia or Europe? because there are a number of factors involved.

The first is how are you going to travel to Europe or Asia? Given that the United States is separated from each by oceans, you will have to travel by either airplane or ship. A ship will obviously take longer but, prices of the two may not be that much different.

The next major factor to consider is the cost of food and lodging at your destination. Obviously these costs will vary widely depending upon whether you stay in a luxury resort, an inexpensive hotel, a youth hostel or something in between,I t will also generally vary depending upon whether you stay in major cities or smaller cities or towns.

Red Square in Moscow with St. Basil's Cathedral in background
Red Square in Moscow with St. Basil's Cathedral in background | Source

Then there is the cost of living which also varies from country to country within both Europe and Asia and this will impact your lodging and food costs no matter which class of accommodation you choose.

Another factor is the cost of travel within the country. Here we are talking both within the U.S. where, unless you live in a major city with air or sea departures abroad, you will need transportation from your home to a city where planes or ships depart as well as the cost of traveling within Europe or Asia if you want to travel beyond the city of entry.

Exchange rates must also be considered as, once you are in a nation in Europe or Asia you will have to pay your way with their currency and the value of that currency in terms of the U.S. dollar can change between the time you start planning your trip and the time you are actually there.

Finally, there are seasonal considerations as travel costs change noticeably depending upon the season.

The last time I went to Russia, I traveled in late June and round trip airfare from Los Angeles ranged from a low of about $1,200 to a high of about $3,000 or more depending upon the airline, travel class and how far in advance the reservation was made.

Checking recently (February) for this Hub the cost of a round trip flight to Moscow from Los Angeles was as low as $560. Of course, as both Napoleon and Hitler learned to their dismay, the Russian winters are terrible so summer is the best time to vacation in that country.

Supply & Demand is the Ultimate Determinant

Ultimately, it boils down to supply and demand with costs for transportation, lodging and food, being determined by the available supply relative to the level of demand for that destination. This is why visiting a place like Moscow in the summertime costs considerably more than in winter.

Summer is the traditional time for people to take vacations so there will be more people traveling then.

There is also a large Russian population in the U.S. and these people want to visit friends and family back in Russia when the weather is nice and the people they are visiting are also on vacation. In winter people generally only travel from the U.S. to Russia when they have work or personal business there so the demand for transportation and lodging is much lower in winter than in summer.

A Quick Cost Comparison

To get some idea of relative costs between European and Asian destinations from the U.S. I picked a large city destination on each continent and checked prices for round trip airfare and combination air and hotel packages (which are often a better deal if you plan to stay in one city abroad).

I choose London and Tokyo as both are major cities and both have similar weather in February. I used, a website I have used in the past for my travel, and for each I used the same one week period leaving in midweek at the end of February and returning a week later at the beginning of March.

I choose my departure date a little over 21 days from the date of this writing as by making reservations 21 days or more in advance usually results in a lower airfare as does traveling in mid-week rather than on weekends.

Since these price checks were made for February, they are probably lower than similar reservations made in summer and, because the economy and other conditions change, the rates given here could be higher or lower a year from now. Despite these caveats, the relative differences in prices between European and Asian destinations can be expected to remain about the same for the foreseeable future.

Lowest Cost of Flights and Flights + Hotel From U.S. to London

Round Trip Airfare Only
Round Trip Air & Hotel
New York Kennedy (JFK)
London Heathrow (LHR)
Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
London Heathrow (LHR)
Los Angeles (LAX)
London Heathrow (LHR)

Lowest Cost of Flights and Flights + Hotel From U.S. to Tokyo

Departure City
Arrival City
Round Trip Airfare Only
Round Trip Airfare & Hotel
New York Kennedy (JFK)
Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT)
Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT)
Los Angeles (LAX)
Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT)
Two Cruise Ships docked in Miami Florida
Two Cruise Ships docked in Miami Florida | Source
Welcome Aboard food sculpture on Royal Caribbean ship Jewel of the Seas
Welcome Aboard food sculpture on Royal Caribbean ship Jewel of the Seas | Source

Traveling by Ship as an Alternative

This brings us to traveling by ship rather than by plane. When going to Europe or especially Asia, it will take much longer to go by ship. While cruise ships will take a person from one place to another where they will drop the passenger off, cruise ships are in the business of cruising and returning their passengers to the same place they started.

So, I wasn't able to quickly find prices for simply transporting a person from one point to another and dropping them off.

However, I did find some price information for passenger travel on freight ships. These used to be called tramp steamers which, from what I have heard, was an appropriate description in some cases while in other cases they provided decent accommodations that cost considerably less than regular passenger liners.

While prices vary depending upon season and route, the information I found implied that $100 per day was a good estimate of the fares charged. So a five to seven day sailing to Europe would cost roughly $500 to $700 while a longer fifteen to eighteen day sailing to Japan would be around $1,500 to $1,800 both of which are close to the airfares shown above.

These freighters are container ships but, from the cabin pictures on some of the websites I looked at, the cabins are as good as the cabins I have had on cruise ships. Like cruise ships, meals are included in the fare.

Of course, the other amenities offered by cruise ships are lacking as most of the space on the ship is filled with shipping containers. Crews are also very small and I have been told that a standard size container ship can be operated by as few as twelve crew members.

Interior Cabin for Two on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Sea

Double bed in cabin on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' cruise ship "Jewel of the Seas"
Double bed in cabin on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' cruise ship "Jewel of the Seas" | Source
TV and work station in cabin on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' cruise ship "Jewel of the Seas"
TV and work station in cabin on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' cruise ship "Jewel of the Seas" | Source
View of interior of cabin on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' cruise ship "Jewel of the Seas"
View of interior of cabin on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' cruise ship "Jewel of the Seas" | Source

Basic Cost of Cruising Can be Low

I indicated above that, in addition to the cost of transportation to Europe or Asia, you also have to consider the cost of food, lodging and transportation within the country. These can add up.

One option, if you want to see more than one place on your trip, is a cruise on a cruise ship as an alternative to driving or taking a train and staying in hotels.  In addition to sea going cruises there are also river cruises available on many of the major rivers in Europe and I suspect Asia as well.

Cruises can be very expensive. However, if you are somewhat flexible in both where you want to go in general and when you can go you can often find some excellent deals. And, you can, with the exception of tips for you stateroom attendants and dining staff which are optional and don't amount to a large expense even when giving the recommended amount, take a seven, ten or more day cruise without paying one cent more than the fare and tips as everything is included in your fare.

Of course the shipping line will provide you with the opportunity to spend thousands more buying expensive jewelry, flowers, alcohol, fine art, side trip excursions, gambling, etc. However, your base fare generally includes your room which is cleaned daily, meals (including all you can eat dining rooms open 24/7, live Las Vegas style entertainment nightly, movie theater, swimming pools, fitness center, etc.

My wife and I recently took a nine day Caribbean cruise which came to $675 each. We did have an inside cabin but the cabin, while smaller, was comparable to what you would find at a Holiday Inn (with the exception that they charged fifty-five cents a minute for Internet).

We did travel in January when a lot of people don't vacation and the economy is in a recession (however, the ship was full with about half the passengers from the U.S. and the rest from Europe and Asia) and these probably had some effect on the price. However, when you consider that a room for two at a Motel 6 goes for $75 or more per night, this was not that expensive

Some Final Thoughts

With some searching on the Internet or working with a good travel agent and being flexible as to where you are willing to go and when you can go you can probably find some very good fly and cruise packages  - packages are usually cheaper than buying each piece separately because travel companies are often able to purchase large blocks of airline seats, cruise ship cabins, hotel rooms, etc. well in advance from the airlines, hotels, cruise lines, etc. and then package and resell them to travelers at a profit.  Airlines, hotels, etc. are willing to do this because, even at a discount, they have guaranteed revenue locked in and, with many of their operating costs covered with the sale, stand to make a nice profit on selling the remaining seats, rooms, etc.  
Also, and this is where flexibility comes in, as the deadline for departure nears the travel company risks losing money on any airline seats, rooms, etc. that it has paid for but not sold so they will very often sell them at a deep discount simply to recover all or most of what they paid (and make their profit off the ones sold earlier at their regular price).  .
I have included some links below to help you get started planning a trip.  Again, if you are flexible and willing to invest some time shopping around you can probably put together a nice vacation in Europe or Asia without spending a fortune.

Two Container Ships docked in Puerto Limon in Costa Rica
Two Container Ships docked in Puerto Limon in Costa Rica
Container ship in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
Container ship in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica | Source

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