By Joanne Lewis

I truly believe that travel provides some of the greatest experiences a person can have, and that there is no substitute for first hand experience of foreign countries and cultures or for the memories you will bring back with you. Far too many people believe that travel to other countries is beyond their reach, that it is too expensive or requires too much planning. In the past this may have been true, but now the internet enables even the inexperienced traveler the opportunity to find the best deals, whether you are planning a long time in advance or at the last minute.

There are many web sites to help you find the best prices on flights, hotel rooms, car rentals and other travel needs, but I particularly like www., which is a travel search engine that checks all the other travel search engines, then shows you the results from all of them. It is a good idea also once you have found a flight or hotel, to contact the airline or hotel directly – although unlikely, it is possible they may offer you a better deal, for instance if you have a AAA membership. If you are adventurous but short on cash and believe a far-afield visit is too costly, then do some research on the relative cost of goods and services in different countries.

For instance, the cost of spending a week in Venice, Italy would be significantly higher than spending a week in Prague, Czech Republic. The prices of flights would be similar, but the cost of eating, drinking, buying souvenirs and services are vastly different due to relative currency and cost-of-living values. The same would be true if you compare the costs of vacationing in Japan (very expensive) and Thailand (very cheap).

If you are adventurous, don’t mind missing a few home comforts and believe your money is better spent on a longer flight than fancier meals and hotel rooms, then world travel is easily within your budget. Traveling long distance is not for everyone though. If you are someone who prefers to stay closer to home, it is still important to take the chance to get away from it all every now and then. A change of scenery and break from your routine provides a great rest from everyday life, and in L.A. we are fortunate to be close enough to other major cities like San Diego, San Francisco and Las Vegas, giving us many choices for a weekend away.

With gas prices rising you may want a shorter drive. Some closer by weekend getaway spots I recommend are Morro Bay, a small coastal town north on the 101 Freeway; Palm Springs before it gets too hot; and San Juan Capistrano, between L.A. and San Diego, with its beautiful Mission famous for the swallows who return there annually. A useful tip to save money while on vacation is to book accommodations with kitchen facilities. Unless you want to eat out for every meal, you can save a lot of money by buying food at a supermarket to make some or most of your meals for yourself.

If you are traveling with young children who do not appreciate the overpriced restaurant meals you buy them, this approach can save a lot of money that can be put towards activities they will enjoy instead. I recommend Extended Stay Hotels ( They have locations all over the United States, and for the same price as a regular hotel room also provide you with a private kitchen, laundry facilities, and are pet friendly. Everybody should make travel of some kind a priority in their life. Every place I have been on the Earth was nothing like I imagined it would be before seeing it for myself.

There is no substitute for experiencing other places for yourself. Television and books can not come close to showing you the people, places and things in the world you would like to see – you have to experience them yourself with your own senses to appreciate the variety this world has to offer. With some thought and planning, travel of any kind is not too expensive, and it is not scary – take a vacation and find out that the benefits of travel far outweigh any trepidation you may have.

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