With the dollar gaining value and airfares continuing their slide, 2006 should be a great year to indulge your travel bug. Here are five ideas to get you packing.
Head to the slopes. This winter's record cold has been a bonanza for ski bunnies -- and ski resorts -- across North America. Resorts in Vail, Aspen and Whistler, British Columbia (the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics), have some fairly good deals. For example, you can spend four nights at the world-class Four Seasons Resort in Whistler for the price of three nights through April 30.
Be an Olympian. This year's Winter Olympics in the mountains of Torino, Italy, are sure to stir up interest in this beautiful Alpine region along the Italian and French border. You don't even have to ski: The blend of joie de vivre and abbondanza! is reason enough to go. The trick is to watch the Olympics in the comfort of your warm home, then head out after the crowds have gone. That way, you'll find great hotel rooms at discounted prices but still experience some of the fanfare and all of the hospitality that is being mounted for this event.
Beat the cold. Scientific fact: It's summer in the Southern Hemisphere. South America offers a wonderful range of beaches, and the culture is warm, too. I particularly enjoy the Four Seasons Resort in Carmelo, Uruguay, a wonderful, low-key resort offering great value where you can get one on my favorite spa treatments, the “Carmelo Relaxation", an 80 minute massage for $120 U.S.
Tour Europe. The dollar has been gaining some strength against the euro, so what was prohibitively costly last year has become more affordable. This is especially true of airfares. Unable to make a profit on domestic routes, airlines have shifted their assets to trans-Atlantic routes, making for some great bargains. For example, round-trip fares from New York to Europe can be had for as little as $399.
For a real cultural treat, head to Budapest. This wonderful Hungarian city on the Danube offers the culture of Prague without the commercialization. Delta Air Lines is offering direct service from JFK to Budapest beginning May 8, 2006.
Go exotic. While you're daydreaming, dream about out-of-way places like the Middle East, where you can explore the origins of civilizations (tell your boss you're on an educational sabbatical). You can climb the pyramids, enjoy the beauty of the Nile or enjoy ultimate luxury at the world-renowned Burj Al Arab, in Dubai, the world's only 7-star hotel.
It doesn't matter what path you choose for 2006; just put on those traveling shoes. Sure, the number of travelers is expected to be at an all-time high, but that can mean great travel opportunities. So think big, look wide, plan ahead and enjoy yourself.
Here's to a great year of travel.

Joel Widzer