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Travel

Vacations Abroad for Less

Here are five getaways that won't break the bank.

Everyone knows it’s getting more expensive to travel abroad. But instead of cutting your trip altogether, try cutting costs by vacationing to these more affordable international destinations.

Mexico

Travel to neighboring Mexico avoids one of the biggest problems of vacationing abroad: the weakening dollar. As of June 2008, the exchange rate yields a whopping 10 pesos for every U.S. dollar. (Though as a “wealthy” American tourist, be ready to face aggressive solicitors and barter down hiked prices.)

In early June, a flight from Washington, D.C., to Puerto Vallarta, departing August 15 and returning August 24, listed for a reasonable $452 per person.

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Once there, Carl Schwartz of CheapFlights.com recommends relaxing on the idyllic beaches of Zihuatanejo (where Morgan Freeman’s and Tim Robbins’s characters find their paradise at the end of Shawshank Redemption).

You’ll find this "kind of sleepy fishing village," says Schwartz, about an hour away from the nightlife of Puerto Vallarta. Rates at Hotel Brisas del Mar -- rated third most popular among TripAdvisor reviewers -- begin at $102 per night for two guests, but watch out for additional taxes and fees.

Or if you’d prefer a more beaten path, Kayak.com listed a flight to Cancun for $499. Staying at the five-star Le Méridien Resort and Spa starts at $158 per night for two people. And while you’re there, you must make an excursion to the Mayan ruins in Tulum. This priceless experience will cost you only a $5 bus trip.

Canada

Visiting Canada can save you on fuel surcharges that many airlines now add to ticket prices, based on the number of air miles you’re flying. Although the U.S. dollar is weakened against Canadian currency, you can skip the exchange and use the greenback just about everywhere.

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For a European experience without leaving the continent, try Quebec City, North America’s first French settlement. In celebration of its 400th birthday, the region is hopping with festivals and excitement.

A direct flight from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Quebec City will cost $558 in mid August. A hotel stay at three-star Times Hotel and Suites runs for about $145 per night. Also three stars, the more popular Hotel Sepia costs about $50 more each night.

Puerto Rico

Still technically part of the states, Puerto Rico affords you an overseas trip plus the relative ease of domestic travel. A flight from Boston’s Logan airport to San Juan costs only $347 for the mid August dates.

For another $60, catch a connecting flight to Isla Culebra (or sight-see in a taxi down the coast to Fajardo for $75 and hop on the $2.25 ferry). In Culebra, you can indulge your inner beach bum on Flamenco Beach, rated one of the best in the world by the Travel Channel. Camping is about $20 for six people. Or, "you can have a half-mile beach to yourself if you want," says Schwartz. Accommodations range from small $40 rooms to $150 guest houses.

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Other activities besides relaxing include boating, snorkeling, fishing and visiting the National Wildlife Refuge.

Panama

If you’ve been dreaming of Fiji’s huts over the water but can’t afford airfare over $1,500, consider Central America’s Panama. "You’ll get everything you want and you’re not gonna pay nearly as much," says Schwartz. Plus there’s no need to bother with exchange rates –- the U.S. dollar is widely accepted throughout the country.

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"People just don’t think to go because it doesn’t have that sexy appeal."But Panama is about to get a whole lot sexier. In 2010, a gated, five-star Nikki Beach Resort opens on Playa Blanca. So, you might want to get your visit in before costs go up and tabloid divas and dogs descend with paparazzi in tow, taking over the beautiful 1,500-mile coastline.

The $362 flight we found in early June from Chicago to Panama City in mid August will bring you straight over the famous canal for a one-of-a-kind welcoming (and departing) view. And the local four-star Sheraton starts at $210 per night for two guests. Or try La Estancia, a bed and breakfast with rooms starting at $65 a night, voted second most popular by TripAdvisor users.

Ireland

If you have your heart set on a European vacation despite the U.S. dollar cowering before the Euro, the Emerald Isle is one of the more affordable options.

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“Something I love about Ireland is you can get a little bit of everything,” says Schwartz. Take in the rolling green countryside, stroll through burgeoning cities, chill on beautiful beaches, or explore history with castle tours. Wherever you go, be sure to grab a pint (or several) of Murphy’s at any of the innumerable pubs dotting the land.

From Los Angeles, flights to Cork, Shannon, or Dublin cost about the same as the mid August $1,200 fare we found in early June to London’s Heathrow. Flights in mid October, after the peak season, are far more attractive, dropping below $900.

Once you arrive in Ireland, the stay should be less expensive than in England. Rates at the three-star Best Western Ambassador in Cork start at $157 per night for two people. Or upgrade to the five-star Hayfield Manor, starting at $297 per night. Also in October, you can catch the Cork International Film Festival or the Cork Jazz Festival.

Before traveling abroad, please visit the State Department’s Web site for a list of current travel alerts.

ALSO SEE: Penny Pincher Vacations and Travel Tips

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