MONEY Travel

How to Make the Most of the Strong Dollar on Your Summer Vacation

Rock of Cashel, Cashel County, Tipperary, Ireland
Patrick Swan—age fotostock Rock of Cashel, Cashel County, Tipperary, Ireland

Your money will go further in Europe, Canada—even Japan. Here's how to take full advantage of today's Superdollar.

Jane McManus can hardly believe her luck. The New York-based sportswriter for ESPN.com is planning a summer vacation with her family in Ireland.

Following the strength of the U.S. dollar, McManus upgraded their travel plans, reserving a swankier hotel room in Dublin and booking a couple of days at an actual 13th-century castle. The overall cost will be about 30% less than last summer’s vacation to Italy when the dollar was much weaker, McManus estimates.

“Wow, it’s so different,” she marvels.

With the Superdollar near parity with the euro, airfares to Paris are down 14% from a year ago, according to popular travel site Orbitz. Hotel rates have sunk 10% from last year.

London, Rome, and Barcelona are among other popular locales with cheaper hotels and airfares than last year, according to Orbitz data. Travel expert Brian Kelly, known as The Points Guy, also singles out Japan, thanks to the weak yen; Finland, the only Scandinavian country to use the euro; and South Africa, whose currency has sunk by almost half over the last few years.

You do not have to leave North America to feel the impact. Next-door neighbor Canada’s currency has slumped to around 80¢ on the dollar.

As a result, travel trends are already shifting: International air traffic for U.S. citizens in January was up 7.2% over the previous year, according to the National Travel & Tourism Office.

Of course, it is still only March. Currency markets are famously volatile and could turn at any moment. That is why some travelers are wondering how to lock in these favorable exchange rates, and make sure that they are able to see Europe or Canada or Mexico on the cheap.

Your Best Currency Moves

One easy move is to prepay at current rates—not just buying your flights as soon as possible, but hotel rooms and excursions as well.

“Hotels that used to be $160 a night in U.S. dollars are now $130,” says Carl O’Donnell, 23, a New York-based reporter for Mergermarket who is planning a summer jaunt with his girlfriend to historic French-Canadian Quebec City. He is thinking about locking in some prices now.

O’Donnell is tacking on additional days to their trip, and adding pricey excursions like boat rides through fjords in the Quebec countryside. “It feels great to be getting a big discount,” he says.

You can even hedge your cash needs with a foreign-currency bank account. Florida-based EverBank offers a variety, ranging from the Indian rupee to the Chinese renminbi, that you buy at today’s rates to hold and spend later.

“Usually, most of our clients are investors,” says Chris Gaffney, president of world markets for EverBank. “But recently, with the euro hitting multi-year lows, we have seen more people coming to us to lock in travel-related expenses.”

EverBank’s foreign-currency deposit accounts do not charge monthly fees, but do require a $2,500 minimum. Before you depart, Gaffney suggests buying a bank draft, or having the money wired overseas, so you do not have to convert cash back and forth (and get hit with fees both ways).

Another way to hedge your bets is to secure some traveler’s checks now, or load some money onto a prepaid card like the Travelex Cash Passport. (That does come, though, with a card-purchase fee and foreign ATM withdrawal fees at about $2.50 a pop.)

You can even buy a few euros at your local bank to spend later, although you have no consumer protections if that cash gets lost or stolen.

Superdollar savings can be significant. If you had planned a summer trip to Europe that was going to set you back 7,500 euros, and the euro drops from nearly $1.40 to $1.07 (as it has in the past 12 months), you are talking about more than $2,000 in your pocket.

Do not blow any exchange-rate windfall by using the wrong credit card, though.

With every $100 trinket you buy, you might be getting knocked another $2 or $3 for foreign transaction fees without even realizing it. One card Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com., likes: Barclay’s Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which has no foreign transaction fees.

TIME astronomy

Watch the Solar Eclipse

See the moon block out the sun

Lucky skywatchers were able to spot Friday’s solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, plunging parts of the world into darkness.

The best place to see the eclipse was in the Faroe Islands, 200 miles off the coast of Scotland, and in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, which was set to experience a total eclipse, reports the Guardian.

Starting in Greenland at sunrise, the eclipse moved in a semicircle northeast, passing over Iceland, and reached the U.K. at around 8:45 a.m. local time. But most of the solar eclipse was expected to go unseen as it crossed over the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Weather permitting, residents in Europe and northern Africa, western Asia and parts of the Middle East were able to enjoy a partial eclipse to varying degrees. St. John’s in Newfoundland Canada was expected to see a small part of the eclipse but the rest of North America won’t be able to experience it.

A solar eclipse can only happen when there is new moon, and Friday’s is set to be a supermoon, meaning the moon is the closest point to the earth in its orbit, making it appear much larger.

To complete the trio of celestial events, Friday also marks the spring equinox, the time of year when day and night are of equal length.

If you are lucky enough to observe the full or partial eclipse, experts advise not to look directly at the sun, especially when taking photographs or selfies.

[Guardian]

Read next: See the Best Solar Eclipse Pictures

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Germany

Police Cars Set Afire at Anti-Austerity Protest in Frankfurt

GERMANY-EU-EUROZONE-BANK-ECB
Odd Andersen—AFP/Getty Images Riot police form a cordon as a police car burns on the opening day of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt on March 18, 2015

Anti-austerity protesters attempted to blockade the inauguration ceremony for the European Central Bank, and demonstrators set at least two police cars on fire

(FRANKFURT) — Demonstrators set at least two police cars on fire Wednesday as authorities confronted left-wing anti-austerity protesters trying to blockade the inauguration ceremony for the European Central Bank’s new headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

Police said one officer was injured by stones thrown by demonstrators near the city’s Alte Oper opera house.

Police put up barricades and barbed wire around the ECB headquarters as they braced for demonstrations against government austerity measures and capitalism. Protesters targeted the ECB because of the bank’s role in supervising efforts to restrain spending and reduce debt in financially troubled countries such as Greece.

The Blockupy alliance says activists plan to try to blockade the new headquarters of the ECB ahead of a ceremony Wednesday inaugurating the building, and to disrupt what they term capitalist business as usual.

Some 10,000 people were expected for a rally in Frankfurt’s main square, the Roemerberg. Organizers have chartered a special train bringing demonstrators from Berlin and are busing in others from around Germany and other European countries.

Frankfurt police say most demonstrators are expected to be peaceful, but that violence-prone elements could use the crowds as cover.

The ECB, along with the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, is part of the so-called “troika” that monitors compliance with the conditions of bailout loans for Greece and other financially troubled countries in Europe. Those conditions include spending cuts and reducing deficits, moves that are aimed at reducing debt but have also been blamed for high unemployment and slow growth.

Greece’s new left-wing government blames such policies for a “humanitarian crisis” leading to poverty for pensioners and the unemployed.

ECB President Mario Draghi has called for more spending by governments that are in good financial shape such as Germany — a call that has been mostly ignored by elected officials.

The ECB says it plans to be “fully operational” during the protest, although some employees may work from home.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?

By Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic

2. The divorce rate is falling. Here’s why that’s bad news for some Americans.

By Sharadha Bain in the Washington Post

3. Across the planet, cost and class determine who lives and who dies.

By Paul Farmer in the London Review of Books

4. The U.S. should consider joining — rather than containing — the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

By Elizabeth C. Economy in Asia Unbound

5. Trade unions in Cleveland will launch a “pre-apprentice” program to prepare high school kids for construction jobs.

By Patrick O’Donnell in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME russia

Putin Puts Russia’s Northern Fleet on ‘Full Alert’ in Response to NATO Drills

Putin has finally re-emerged into the public eye after ten days

Russian President Vladimir Putin put the nation’s northern fleet on full alert in the Arctic Ocean this week, as animosity between the Kremlin and NATO continues to simmer.

The order, which was handed down early Monday, allows for the mobilization of 38,000 military personnel, 3,360 pieces of equipment, 41 ships, 15 submarines and 110 airplanes, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

“New challenges and threats of military security demand the further heightening of military capabilities of the armed forces and special attention will be paid to the state of the newly formed strategic merging [of forces] in the North,” said Shoigu, according to state media outlet Sputnik.

The mobilization of the Russian fleet appears to have been triggered by ongoing NATO-led military drills across northern and eastern European, including maritime exercises in the Black Sea.

On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov accused NATO of conducting operations that were effectively undermining one of the world’s most stable regions.

“Such NATO actions lead to destabilization of the situation and increasing tensions in northeastern Europe,” Meshkov added, according to the Russia’s TASS news agency.

However, NATO has argued that Russia has continually stoked hostilities throughout the region by annexing the Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine and repeatedly violating European airspace.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu tells TIME that Russian snap exercises were a “serious concern” and completely out of proportion with the bloc’s drills.

By comparison, NATO only had 1,200 sailors onboard six ships in the Black Sea, she says, while ally Norway is conduting parallel national drills involving 5,000 troops.

“Russia has conducted about a dozen snap exercises over the past two years,” adds Lungescu. “Russia’s takeover of Crimea was done under the guise of a snap exercise. Russia’s snap exercises run counter to the spirit of the Vienna Document on confidence and security-building measures.”

Earlier this week, Putin admitted during a documentary broadcasted on Sunday that he considered putting the nation’s nuclear capabilities on alert to prevent outside agents from interfering with the Kremlin’s forced annexation of the Crimea peninsula last March.

Read next: Vladimir Putin Admits to Weighing Nuclear Option During Crimea Conflict

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME energy

Europe Turns To Turkey As Alternative To Russian Energy

Fuel Prices At Russian Gas Stations As Oil Price Drops
Bloomberg—Getty Images An OAO Rosneft gas station near the Ostankino TV tower displaying the colors of the Russian national flag in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 2, 2014.

Despite its wealth of oil and gas, Russia isn’t the only source capable of meeting Europe’s needs

The European Commission (EC) plans to tighten its relations with several nations, including Turkey, as a part of the Continent’s effort to lessen its dependence on Russian for its energy security.

In a statement on March 11, the EC said it “intends to strengthen EU-Turkey energy relations by establishing a strategic energy partnership” because “[a] stronger and more united EU can engage more constructively with its partners, to their mutual benefit.”

Two weeks earlier at EC headquarters in Brussels, the commission unveiled its Energy Union Package seeking greater coordination among the European Union’s member states to permit a free exchange of energy from one to another to ensure a secure supply for all citizens of the EU.

Read more: Azerbaijan Eyeing Gas Opportunity In Europe

At that time, the EC specifically spoke of its goal to reduce its reliance on energy from Russia, which has been hit by EU and US sanctions for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. EU customers get about one-third of their gas supplies from Russia, and half of that flows through pipelines in Ukraine.

“As part of a revitalized European energy and climate diplomacy,” the March 11 statement said, “the EU will use all its foreign policy instruments to establish strategic energy partnerships with increasingly important producing and transit countries or regions such as Algeria and Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the Middle East, Africa and other potential suppliers.”

Turkey is the key, however, according to Marco Giuli, who studies energy issues at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank. “European policymakers have been trying to find a more diverse gas supplier since the ’90s,” he told the International Business Times, “but right now there is more intense momentum for that to happen. To Eastern Europe especially, it’s absolutely critical.”

Read more: This Is Why The EU Energy Union Will Fail

In fact, despite its wealth of oil and gas, Russia isn’t the only source capable of meeting Europe’s needs. There are generous deposits of the two fuels northeast of Turkey in the Caspian Sea basin and beyond. And coincidentally they provide a kind of balance between supply and demand.

These regions hold about 65 percent of the world’s total known oil and gas reserves, and countries west of Turkey consume 65 percent of the world’s oil and gas. Turkey’s geographical position, combined with its political and military ties to the West, makes it the obvious choice for a stable energy channel.

If the EC’s plans bear fruit, Turkey would become a major transit country for energy because it already is about to begin building the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, which is part of the region’s Southern Gas Corridor. That pathway would carry gas from Azerbaijan in the east to Greece in the west, and eventually to Albania and Italy.

Read more: Europe Overtakes Asia As LNG’s Hottest Market

This role may lead Turkey to formally join the Energy Community, which was created in 2005 to extend the EU’s energy market to countries in Southeastern Europe and beyond that aren’t EU members. Turkey has limited its association with the community to observer status because of its concerns about the group’s policies on regulations, competition and trade.

The membership in the Energy Community now includes Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine. Like Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Norway are observers.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

More from Oilprice.com:

MONEY Travel

Europe Just Got Even Cheaper for U.S. Travelers

The greenback is on a roll, gaining superstrength against the euro and other continental currencies. Go this spring to cash in on the mighty dollar.

On Wednesday, the euro hit a near 12-year low against the dollar. While there is a downside to the so-called “currency wars,” one immediate consequence for American travelers is that visiting Europe just got a little cheaper.

If you’re planning a getaway this spring, here are three destinations that offer great bang for the buck. Of course, even with a strong dollar, savvy travelers can make the most of the exchange rate with these smart moves:

Stick with the local currency. Refuse offers to pay in dollars when you use your credit card, says Matt Schulz of CreditCards.com. Those transactions rarely give you the best rate.

Skip foreign fees. Choose a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard from Barclaycard are good options.

Find a partner. Seek out your bank’s international partners, where you’ll pay fewer fees to use your ATM card. Say you use Bank of America. Try BNP Paribas or Deutsche Bank.

  • Krakow

    St. Mary's Church at Main market square in the old town of Krakow in Poland.
    Peter Probst—Alamy St. Mary's Church at Main market square in the old town of Krakow.

    Poland isn’t part of the eurozone, but Kraków is still a good deal, coming in at No. 4 on the website Price of Travel’s 2015 ranking of affordable continental cities. This spring, though, U.S. visitors will find even better prices, with the dollar up 20% or so against the zloty over the past 12 months. Rooms at the Hotel Gródek in the charming old town start at $132 in April, down $167 from a year ago. Plus, you’ll slice a few dollars off the city’s already reasonable activities, like Chopin concerts at the Bonerowski Palace ($15, vs. $18 in 2014).

  • Paris

    View of the Louvre pyramid from inside the Louvre museum in Paris, France.
    Chris Sorensen—Gallery Stock View of the Louvre pyramid from inside the Louvre museum in Paris.

    Even the notoriously expensive City of Light is now more affordable thanks to the strong dollar, says Ellison Poe of Poe Travel. Take the Hôtel Luxembourg Parc in the central Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. Rooms for April cost $293, vs. $357 a year ago. Still too pricey? Try the outer 10th and 11th arrondissements, hot areas for up-and-coming hotels and restaurants. At Generator Paris, a new, design-centric hostel in the 10th, private rooms are $55 this spring (an identically priced room would have cost $68 last April). Use your savings to splurge on an elegant meal, like the $62 tasting menu at the trendy Bones eatery.

  • Athens

    Athens, Greece. The Parthenon on the Acropolis.
    Ken Welsh—Getty Images The Parthenon on the Acropolis.

    In general, the currency swings haven’t done much to make flights more affordable. Fares to Greece, however, have been reasonable lately, as airlines offer bargains to lure travelers during the spring shoulder season. “I see deals like $800 flights on Turkish Airlines from New York or $900 KLM tickets from LAX,” says Jeff Klee of CheapAir.com. For a hotel, try Athens Gate, overlooking the Temple of Olympian Zeus, says Mina Agnos of Travelive. Rooms start at $148 in April (vs. $206 in 2014).

TIME portfolio

Broken Dreams: The Aftermath of 25 Years of Democracy in Bulgaria

For Bulgaria, democracy doesn't necessarily mean prosperity, finds photographer Yana Paskova

Talking politics has always been a part of Yana Paskova’s life. She remembers her family discussing the state of her home country, Bulgaria, on countless occasions during her youth. But the political was also personal: the grandfather had been sent to a political prisoner camp in the 1950s because he didn’t belong to the communist party.

At that time, Bulgaria, known as the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, was part of the Soviet Union’s Eastern Bloc.

“My grandpa spent five years in this camp. He survived and this shaped the rest of his life,” says Paskova, whose own life would also be marked by the event: after the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, her family was granted political asylum in the U.S.

Now, 25 years later, the New York-based photographer has turned her lens on her home country to examine its current political standing. “During my yearly trips to reconnect with my family and the homeland, it pained me to note a weariness, hopelessness and ennui, so standard in the Bulgarian passerby that it becomes routine,” says Paskova, who received funding from the Pulitzer Center to finance her work. “Of course, as a Bulgarian that loves her country, I hoped I’d find a bit more hope and a bit more faith in democracy, and find that the country was working better, but, unfortunately, almost every single person I talked to communicated to me a lack of hope in political leadership and democracy.”

This bleak assessment was particularly apparent when Paskova followed a local political activist who had organized a protest. “No one showed up,” she says. “The conversation I had with him was very revealing. We talked about how democracy is a habit that needs to be exercised, but I don’t think many Bulgarians [are encouraged] to do so, especially when they’ve seen so much corruption, even after the fall of communism.”

For a few years, after Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union in 2007, there was hope for positive change. “[Being in the E.U.] has certainly made trading of goods easier, attracted more investors and brought diversity to the country,” but, she adds, Bulgaria is still plagued by “country-wide corruption, which a recent study by the Sofia-based think tank [Center for the Study of Democracy] found to be at its highest in 15 years, across civil and political sectors.”

“Communism didn’t die in 1989: it lives in people’s minds, surviving political factions and visual remnants across the nation,” she says.

And yet, Paskova remains optimistic: “My hope is in those inside and outside of our country who have the patience and passion to continue rekindling Bulgaria’s democracy.”

Yana Paskova is a New York-based Bulgarian freelance photographer.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.

TIME europe

Huge Numbers of Europeans Will Die From Air Pollution in the Next 20 Years

Eiffel Tower in a thick smog in Paris, France on January 6, 2015.
Apaydin Alain—Sipa USA/AP Eiffel Tower in a thick smog in Paris, France on January 6, 2015.

Europe is failing on a range of environmental indicators from air to water and biodiversity

Hundreds of thousands of people in the E.U. — perhaps millions, if present trends continue — will suffer premature death in the next two decades because of toxic air, a new report says.

Tuesday’s State of the Environment Report for 2015, from the European Environment Agency (EEA) blames governments for inaction and says that in 2011 alone — the most recent year for which there is a reliable tally — over 400,000 Europeans died prematurely from air pollution.

Europe’s environmental performance also lags behind in areas like urbanization, biodiversity loss, intensive farming and maintenance of inland freshwater systems, the Guardian reports.

“Our analysis shows that European policies have successfully tackled many environmental challenges over the years. But it also shows that we continue to harm the natural systems that sustain our prosperity,” EEA’s executive director Hans Bruyninckx told the Guardian.

[The Guardian]

TIME Greece

Violence Erupts in Greece Ahead of German Vote on Bailout

Minor clashes in Athens
ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU—EPA Riot policemen try to avoid a molotov cocktail during clashes after the end of an antigovernment protest called by leftist groups in Athens on Feb. 26, 2015

Protesters clashed with police, throwing stones and setting cars on fire

Violence broke out in Greece’s capital, Athens, on Thursday for the first time since the new government came to power a month ago, and one day before Germany is set to vote on whether to extend the European bailout of the debt-ridden country.

Around 50 of the 450 protesters that took to the streets on Friday clashed with riot police, throwing stones and petrol bombs and burning vehicles, the BBC reports.

The outrage is directed toward new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power promising to end austerity measures imposed on the country because of its spiraling debt. Tsipras is now defending a four-month financial-aid extension on the condition of government reforms, causing dissent even within his own Syriza party.

Although the bailout extension has been approved by the euro zone’s Finance Ministers, it will only go into effect following votes from the parliaments of several European nations.

[BBC]

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