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Getaways: Hot Picks for 2008 Overseas Travel

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0219homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, Feb. 19, 2008-(MCT)-No matter where you call home, as February drones on, you may be getting that inevitable “I need to get away” itch. To feed your imagination, here are some of this year’s picks for overseas adventures:

ARGENTINA: Turn winter on its head with a summer visit in February (the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere). Or ski in August. Argentina is the most “European” of the South American countries. Check out Bariloche, a winter resort town that’s a little slice of Switzerland. Buenos Aires is a hot spot if you like big cities.

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Development continues across the region, with the type of travelers changing as Western lodgings (and prices) spread across the region. Vietnam is the new Thailand. Cambodia is the new Vietnam. Laos is the new Cambodia. Just chose your grit comfort level. Vietnam is now an upscale vacation destination, with luxury hotels in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and plush beach resorts in Da Nang. Golf has become a growing part of the tourism industry. Cambodia is good for backpackers, but four- and five-star hotels are starting to bloom in the Siem Reap Province.

Cambodia is seeing an upgrade in hotels and restaurants, though renovations at the famed Angkor Wat temple complex are controversial. Laos is still best for experienced backpackers.

BULGARIA: Believe it or not, it’s the hot spot of the moment in Europe as the crowds that once played in Prague and Budapest are priced out and seek new haunts. Romania is attractive to some, while the Baltic republics are farther along in tourism development and areas like the Ukraine and Serbia have lingering economic or political issues. The further east you go, the more bumpy (but perhaps interesting) the trip. Check out Beachbulgaria.com which offers info on many Black Sea resorts.

AUSTRALIA: The dollar is getting weak even in the traditionally bargain-friendly land down under. Best bet is to get away from the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne, where prices are the highest. Our summer (their winter) is an especially great time for visiting the north and center of the country. The Great Barrier Reef is in prime season. Box jellyfish, which sting many vacationers in the summer, are gone during the winter. Meanwhile, the usually baking temperatures of the interior have cooled. Try offbeat towns like Silverton, Kalgoorlie, Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge for a taste of outback life. Rent a four-wheeler and drive part of the Mereenie Loop Road from Alice Springs to Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). The road is a great adventure littered with wrecked vehicles and hubcaps hung in trees. Relatively frequent traffic along the road ensures visitors won’t get stranded. If you are looking for luxury, try the Ghan or Indian-Pacific train routes. The main downside to Australia is the expensive plane tickets. A one-way ticket runs more than $1,000.

GENERAL TIPS:
Check out booking engines like kayak.com to compare plane and hotel prices. The site skims from many traveling Websites, including major sites like expedia.com and cheaptickets.com

Check for travel warnings on the U.S. State Department Website as well as the Australian government (www.smartraveller.gov.au) and British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.uk.gov/travel)

A couple of my favorite Websites for trading information about travel are vagablogging.net and worldhum.com. They have good message boards about even the most obscure destinations. But be careful when using travel message boards; some posters tend to exaggerate to “show their bravado” and may try to tell you that a place is all right for travel though you might be uncomfortable. The further off the beaten track, the better to consider traveling with a friend or even a group.

Go anyway: Prognosticators are often wrong, but the general consensus is that a weak dollar and high gas prices will be sticking around for awhile.

A “wait `til next year” attitude probably isn’t going to save you any money. Go now and just shorten your trip by a day or two to make up for the difference. Or just figure you’ll deal with the credit card bills when you get home.

© 2008, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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