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Top 10 Places to Stretch Your Dollar This Summer

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If Bernie Madoff didn't waltz off with your money, and you can afford a trip this summer, start packing.

I asked Tom Parsons founder of Best Fares (www.bestfares.com ) and Anne Banas, executive editor of Smarter Travel (www.smartertravel.com) for their favorite bargain destinations to compile this list.

No matter how far your buck stretches, I would caution against visiting any destination listed under the U.S. Department of State's Travel Warnings (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis_pa_tw_1168.html). Zimbabwe isn't on this list, but the State Department cautions travelers due to the new government's fragile condition. So despite $1 USD equaling $375 Zimbabwe dollars, Zimbabwe's not on this list.

Parsons reports some amazing hotel/flight packages to Cancun, Mexico. I reluctantly left Mexico off this list due to recent reports of the drug wars spilling into Guatamala. If you carefully research the safety of a Mexican destination before traveling, however, your biggest bargains may be south of the border.

1. Sydney, Australia. Airfares have seldom been so low (http://www.australia.com/index.aspx). Qantas and V Australia have round trip flights as low as $560 from LAX and $720 from JFK. The deals may get sweeter when Delta starts service to Sydney on 7/1/09. Many 4-star Sydney hotels offer a third night free when visitors book a two night stay. 1 U.S. dollar (USD) = $1.27 Australian dollars. Excellent government tourism sites include: http://www.visitnsw.com (New South Wales includes Sydney), http://en.travelnt.com (the Northern Territory includes Alice Springs (aboriginal art tours)) and http://www.visit-queensland.com (Queensland includes Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef). Although it's winter down under, a recent ten day forecast showed temperatures in Sydney ranging from 47 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, which sure beats the heat of Dallas in July.

2. USA. Explore a national park. Recently, Jane Engle of the LA Times reported that Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and 144 other national parks are offering free admission over three weekends this summer: June 20-21, July 18-19 and August 15-16. Some national parks don't even charge an entrance fee (www.nps.gov).

3. Hawaii. Although many U.S. destinations offer bargains, Hawaiian hotels are offering incredible deals, including a fourth or fifth night free. Banas says Pleasant Holidays has some great family packages. Traveling solo, I often use Priceline to book my hotel stay, since most packages require double occupancy. Recently, I "won" a room at the Maui Prince in Makena (South Maui) for $110/night. At www.biddingfortravel.com, winning bids for Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai and Maui range from $100-$160/nt. for 4-star hotels/resorts. Airfare is higher for summer, so you may want to use www.yapta.com or www.bing.com/travel/ (formerly farecast.com) to find a bargain fare or use airline mileage if you have enough for Hawaii.

4. The Carribean. Parsons found great deals to Grand Cayman with airfare and five nights for four people at an all suite hotel for $539 per person (traveling Monday-Thursday). Banas likes deals in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (currency is USD), while I favor Belize and Bonaire. $1 USD = .81 Cayman Dollars, $1.99 Belizean dollars or $1.78 Guilders in Bonaire. If the June - October hurricane season worries you, however, you may prefer to visit during peak season. I've visited both Belize and Bonaire during hurricane season without any significant problem. My return flight from Bonaire was delayed one day by Hurricane Dean in 2007.

5. Costa Rica. With $576.70 Costa Rican Colon for a single dollar, there are many great deals. If you've ever longed to zipline or trek through a rain forest, Costa Rica offers many great eco adventures. Considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, Costa Rica has 20 natural parks, 8 biological reserves and more. In Tortuguero National Park, sea turtles nest and crocodiles, manatees and otters swim in natural canals. See: http://www.microsites.visitcostarica.com/.

6. Europe. 1 dollar currently equals $.72 Euros -- which is stronger than last summer. Lufthansa and Air France have round trip airfare as low as $500 from many U.S. cities. Parsons recommends Germany as a gateway to Europe because there are so many flight deals into Frankfurt, Munich, etc. From Germany, you can explore Europe by car or train with a Eurail pass (http://www.eurail.com/ ). Banas likes London as a gateway to Europe and has been finding some great flight deals into Heathrow as well as outlying airports like Manchester and Birmingham.

7. South America. Argentina, Brazil or Peru. There are cheap fares from California to Argentina, but New Yorkers will find cheaper fares to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Banas pointed out that there are cheaper fares to Lima, Peru, from Ft. Lauderdale, on low-cost Spirit Airlines. Our dollar stretches well in South America. $1 USD = $3.75 Argentine pesos, $1.97 Brazil Reais and $2.98 Peru Nuevos Soles.

8. Reykjavik, Iceland. Banas last visited Reykjavik in 2001. With $1 USD = 127.48 Iceland Kronos, despite it being high season, Iceland offers great value. Banas described Reykjavik as very hip and trendy, plus you can opt for spa treatments at a nearby geothermal field with steamy waters rich in therapeutic minerals. Iceland Air departs from Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Orlando and Seattle (as of 7/23/09): http://www.icelandair.com/.

9. New Zealand. Airfares on Qantas and Air New Zealand are lower for the off season (New Zealand's winter). $1 USD to 1.61 New Zealand dollars means more bungy (jumps) for your buck. There are great lodging deals including backpacker inns, farm stays and camping. A great place to start considering New Zealand are its tourism websites: http://www.newzealand.com/travel/USA/

10. USA. Orlando (http://www.orlandoinfo.com/ ), Washington, D.C. (http://www.washington.org/), New York City (http://nycgo.com/ ) and Los Angeles (http://discoverlosangeles.com/ ). Tom Parsons has found some great getaway deals for families to Orlando, Florida and Washington, D.C. There are also airfare and hotel deals in both New York and Los Angeles. As an L.A. resident, it's the Tony award winning hippies of "Hair" that are luring me to Broadway.

If your international dream destination isn't listed, it still may be on sale. Go to a currency conversion site to see how far a dollar goes. I used http://www.xe.com/ucc/.