The major news in travel continues to be the amazing strength of the U.S. dollar, which makes travel cheaper for the American tourist. And that strength continues despite unusual volatility in the currency markets. Last week, the European Euro sold for as little as $1.05, and then it rallied to a level of $1.09, but as of this past weekend, it had fallen again to a rate of only $1.06.
What all this means is that the European currency is really selling at a level of almost par to the U.S. Dollar. Increasingly, one Euro equals one Dollar. And at that rate of exchange, prices in Europe have become far more moderate for the American traveler, so that this is an excellent time for travel to almost any country in western Europe.
The cost of oil continues to decline, and is presently selling for only $38 a barrel—it has broken through the $40 level. And this means that aviation fuel is costing less to the airlines, and thus air tickets are under some pressure downwards. There are occasional bargains available for trans-Atlantic flights, and there are some airlines—I'm thinking of Norwegian Air and of the Icelandic airline called WOW airline—that are consistently offering low-priced air tickets from the U.S. to Europe.
The only thing that could be holding back increased travel to Europe is the fear that many travelers have about the possibility of terrorism in Europe. I might point out that safety conditions in the U.S. are currently far worse than in Europe. There isn't a day that goes by that some mass shooting of at least four persons at a time takes place in the United States, and the number of fatalities from gun violence is, of course, far higher than in Europe.
Just this past weekend, the New York Times took notice of that situation and placed on its front page an unprecedented editorial—the first such front-page editorial the Times has run in 100 years—-an editorial demanding that the ownership of assault weapons, guns that spew dozens of bullets in a single minute—that ownership of such weapons should be made totally illegal for anyone other than the police and the military.
According to people who live in Australia and other parts of the world, the thought of traveling within the United States is regarded by them as so dangerous that they are warning against such travel. What a horrifying state we've been brought to in the world of travel, resulting from the widespread sale of assault weapons our own country.
Let's move to happier thoughts. At ski resorts in both the western states and in New England, the snow conditions this year have been so good that the season for widespread skiing has been advanced by several weeks, and all the famous ski resorts have more than enough snow coverage as to make skiing an exciting sport. So if you are a skier, you might want to consider an immediate trip.
As we approach Christmas, and the week in which Christmas occurs, it's helpful to keep in mind that this is the best time of the year for a visit to Las Vegas. For psychological reasons that we all will understand, most people feel uneasy, they feel guilty about being in Las Vegas on Christmas Day or on the several days just before or just after Christmas.
The result of that is that all the hotels of Vegas are only lightly booked on Christmas or on dates leading up to and just after Christmas. In fact, some of them are nearly empty. So if you want to experience the attractions of Las Vegas when they are not surrounded by crowds, and when they are low-priced, now is the time to go. You can bargain with hotels and bring down the rates considerably by insisting that you won't book unless they give you a low room rate.
Now mind you, I'm not advocating travel to Las Vegas. In fact, I recently learned of additional reasons NOT to go there: Travel Weekly magazine reported that Las Vegas has recently sprouted more gun ranges—attractions in which people pay money to fire assault weapons at various targets. One such gun range is apparently for recently divorced people; You get to fire bullets at images of your former married life. Those exhibits create a new low in the culture of Vegas, but there are Americans who nevertheless regard Vegas as the country's top attraction.
Instead of traveling to Vegas, you might consider a visit to Canada—to those great cities of Montreal or Quebec, to Toronto and Vancouver. Residents of the U.S. should bear in mind that the U.S. Dollar now buys $1.35 Canadian, and therefore everything in Canada is now 35 percent less in cost than it was just a short time ago. If you've never experienced Canada, you really should consider going.
But the main question in travel remains whether to continue to travel internationally, to places where terrorism has occurred. I dealt with that question some fourteen years ago, just after the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, when many Americans were too frightened to continue traveling. And I wrote the following at that time:
"Travel has become a part of our lives—and equally important it is now recognized as an essential part of a civilized life. It is vital to our intellectual growth, our understanding of the world, our inner life. We simply will not permit crazed fanatics to stifle that part of our existence, and therefore we've gotten on with our lives and exercised our right to travel."
We must continue to travel to Paris and elsewhere, and by doing so we help to diminish the terrorists and their hopes.