Mighty pound gives us the world for Christmas

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The Independent Online
Leave it to the business community to worry about the strength of the pound this winter: for every British Christmas shopper with a valid passport it is simply bonanza time. After years of waiting, the figures show it may now actually make a lot of sense to go abroad to buy your presents. The combination of bargain flights, affordable accommodation and favourable exchange rates means that many destinations are worth considering. Here are a few of the places where savings can be made.

France

Cross-Channel carriers are gearing up for something of a pre-Christmas rush, with Stena Line adding a four-times daily fast ferry to its Dover- Calais service, which will whisk customers across the Channel in 45 minutes. Day-trips will cost a mere pounds 25 for four passengers and a car, a sum you instantly recoup with a couple of crates of duty-free Smirnoff. With the pound now buying 20 per cent more French francs than last year, British tourists would love nothing better than to return to their favourite foreign country. Just as long as the French truck drivers behave themselves.

Germany

Not renowned as a cheap destination for tourists, Germany this year looks like a bargain, withnearly three marks to the pound. Germany's cities play to our fantasies of what Christmas should be, with festive markets, fir trees and a higher probability of snow. You come to these markets to drink gluhwein rather than shop - though down jackets, woolly socks and jumpers make good souvenirs. Short breaks to the more famous Christmas markets, including Lubeck, Cologne and Nuremberg, can be found from under pounds 300.

Dubai

This little patch of desert on the edge of the Arabian peninsular is essentially a huge duty-free shopping depot, good for shopping all year round, not just at Christmas, and not just when the pound is strong. Off- licences here are among the biggest in the world with hundreds of whisky brands you never knew existed. Apart from booze, electronic goods and cameras are cheap. What's more, you can enjoy a serious dose of winter sunshine after you've finished shopping.

US

One currency the pound has not been appreciating against this year is the US dollar, but that will not stop people from flying west to do their Christmas shopping. Manhattan is the main draw - the only snag is that there are very few short-break deals to New York still available before Christmas. Virgin Holidays, for example, says its seasonal shopping package to the Big Apple is virtually sold out, and recommends that people take a three-night break in Washington instead; until 10 December these are available for just over pounds 300. Once in the US you'll find most things between 30 and 50 per cent cheaper than in the UK, especially designer clothes, CDs and electronic goods.

Hong Kong

The former British colony is no longer a cheap place to shop, but nowhere else on earth can offer such a variety of goods in such a small area. The falling cost of accommodation is producing some unbelievably cheap deals. British Airways holidays, for example, has three nights in HK for pounds 299, including scheduled BA flights, if you travel before the end of this month. Thank the collapse in tourism to HK since the hand-over to China.

Thailand

The woes that have befallen south-east Asia this year are good news for one small set of people - namely foreign bargain hunters. What with the Thai Baat losing 40 per cent of its value, and smog from Indonesian forest fires blotting out the sunshine, Thailand has suddenly become alarmingly cheap. All those five-star hotels painstakingly constructed over the past 10 years are crying out for your custom. If you are interested in textiles of silk or cotton, gems and ornaments, this is where to pick them up for next to nothing.

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