Economic crisis: best time to travel

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Pack your bags, Americans, it's time to head to Europe.

Major airlines--Continental, American, Lufthansa and Alitalia, to name a few--have slashed their prices on travel from Newark airport in New Jersey to Europe for travel in late March to early April. Normally, travel in April (especially during school break) catapults as the weather gets warmer, but hey, airlines need to make money, too. After all, the fear of bankruptcy looms.

There's no better time to travel than in a recession (given that you have some money to spend, of course) because guess what? America's not the only country experiencing economic hardships! (Ahem, Iceland.) For example, you can fly to London from Newark for under $200 each way, and what a better time to fly than when the British pound is near its 23-year-low?

Now, you have the opportunity to trek to Europe and spend the same amount as you would on a cross-country trip in the United States (flight, meals and accommodations included).

Some sample one-way fares from Newark airport, taken from Travelzoo.com, are below. (Expect to pay around $350-$480 for a round-trip after taxes and fees.)

- Dublin ... $137
- London ... $149
- Paris ... $149
- Rome ... $149
- Barcelona ... $149
- Amsterdam ... $149
- Lisbon ... $149
- Stockholm ... $149

While planning for my spring getaway, I stumbled upon a dilemma: Do I fly to Arizona to walk the trails of the Petrified Forest National Park or roam the halls of the Vatican palaces in Italy? Both flights cost under $400! (And the euro did dive to $1.29 recently...) But lodging, meals, admission fees (and rental car) in Phoenix would mirror what I'd be spending in Rome, so I decided to take advantage of the tumbling euro, and booked a trip to Italy.

What many tourists overlook is that they can save hundreds of dollars by choosing to rent apartments throughout their stay rather than booking a hotel. When I got an excellent deal on airline fare to celebrate the new year in Paris, I quickly regretted the purchase when I saw that I'd be paying over $200 a night for a decent hotel. But a friend of mine who sublets her Lyon pied-à-terre to tourists in the fall and winter months reminded me that there are others like her, so for the next week, I searched on Craigslist for the most convenient, most comfortable and reasonably-priced apartments. I sent more than 50 e-mails to various apartment owners and used TripAdvisor to check out questionable renting agencies. After much back-and-forth between renters, I found the perfect studio in Montmartre , which I now call my Parisian home. Its owners were incredibly hospitable, generous, and the apartment: superb! I paid only 350 euros ($451 using current exchange rate) for six nights and couldn't have been happier.

I highly recommend renting apartments for short stays over paying exorbitant rates on four-star hotels in Europe. (Keep in mind, a four-star European hotel is similar to a three-star hotel in the States.) If you are not comfortable renting an apartment from the owner directly, try one of these tested and highly recommended agencies, which offer exceptional deals on apartment rentals:

1.www.venere.com
2.www.interhome.com
3.www.holiday-rentals.co.uk
4.www.rentalo.com
5.www.parisstay.com
6.www.romeur.com
7.www.friendlyrentals.com
8.www.travelingtolisbon.com
9.www.ellisapartments.com
10.www.amistad.nl

So if you're contemplating your family's next vacation, take this opportunity and head to Europe! Right now is the time when your vulnerable dollar bill will buy you an extravagant breakfast for two in Romania or admission to the entrancing Aivazovsky art gallery in the Ukraine.

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