A while back, I hung a magazine ad in my office that read: "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer."
I believe it's true, and the advertisement would still be posted had it not faded and crumpled off the wall.
Whether you choose to go to a local museum or take an international tour, travel opens our eyes, our hearts and minds. You gain an understanding of the past and an appreciation for different cultures. Perhaps you will connect with someone and create a lasting friendship or take on a new cause because you realize the urgent need.
The US dollar has strengthened and gas prices are at their lowest levels in four years. Yet, the Travel Industry Association predicts a 1.3 percent drop in 2009 leisure travel. If you can afford a vacation, 2009 will likely be a year of travel deals. Take advantage of this opportunity.
Last April, when I traveled in Italy, a euro cost about $1.60-$1.75. Currently a euro is valued at $1.36, meaning the dollar goes farther. (Universal Currency Converter: http://www.xe.com/ucc)
According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, travel to Europe by Americans was down 4.8 percent in the first eight months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. If prices fall and the dollar continues to gain, this may be the right time to plan a European trip.
The dollar is also doing better elsewhere. An Australian dollar costs just 67 cents in U.S. currency, down from nearly $1 this past summer, and Canadian dollars are worth just 80 (U.S.) cents now. Earlier in 2008, the Canadian dollar was worth more than a U.S. dollar.
If the recession is hitting you and your travel budget, look for free offerings. Most museums and some zoos open their doors a few hours every week. Visit the library to borrow guidebooks instead of buying them. Ask at the tourist information center for free walking tours; some are provided as printed handouts and others are guided.
Consider home exchange programs (www.homeexchange.com). If you are staying a few days or longer, investigate the possibility of renting an apartment. I almost did this in Rome (www.realrome.com) but decided too late. You must plan far ahead to snag the best locations and rates.
Vacation home rentals usually save over hotels or look for lodging with a kitchen or kitchenette because cooking in costs less. Use consumer reviewed websites like www.travelocity.com to get the honest scoop on what other travelers thought of their stays in bargain hotels.
In the past few years something called couch surfing has taken off. The website www.couchsurfing.com defines themselves as volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travelers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice. I worry about the safety issues, so have not participated and don't know anyone who has, but feel free to comment.
Drop down a notch, skip the taxi and try local restaurants or street food, i.e., the hot dog vendor. While I'm no longer up for youth hostels, my 2-star hotel in Rome was quite adequate for 5 days. Arthur Frommer (remember his book Europe on $5 a Day) recalled his best travel experiences happened when he spent the least. I recommend his current magazine: www.budgettravel.com.
A new slogan hanging on my wall reads: "There are places you leave. And places that never leave you." Get out there and travel in 2009.