Let the Good Times Roll

We may look back on these early days of 1998 as a "golden age" of travel to Europe. At least financially. In Gemütlichkeit's 11-plus years I can't recall a time when the elements of a low-cost European vacation were aligned as beautifully as they are right now.

Transatlantic winter airfares are as low as I've seen them. Today, on the Internet, for example, one could book a roundtrip for two persons from New York's JFK to Stuttgart for $506 on Delta. That's $253 per person.

Car rental rates have dropped slightly within the last few months and free upgrades in some categories are being offered. For example, one can book a compact Opel Corsa for $89 per week (not including tax) in Germany and be guaranteed an upgrade to a compact Opel Astra. Or book an Astra for $99 per week and get upgraded to a midsize Opel Vectra or Audi A4, cars which can handle four passengers and luggage. For two or four persons traveling together, that's dirt-cheap in-country transport.

The dollar fetches approximately 1.82 Deutsche Mark and 1.48 Swiss francs. It isn't so long ago that those numbers were 1.38 and 1.09 respectively.

By combining these elements with top value European self-catering accommodations (apartment or condo), one can devise a week's vacation for two persons for well under $2,000. Here's how:

First, choose a village in southern Bavaria that suits as a headquarters from which to see the region. Using the local tourist office, locate a one-week rental (this time of year, in non-ski towns, there is probably no need to even book ahead). Prices start at about $200 per week. Then purchase your air tickets, arrange for the car and away you go. The cost: air from the East Coast, $800; condo/apartment rental for a week, $250; VW Golf for a week including tax and airport pickup charges $115; fuel for 800 miles, $92. That's a total of $1257 and leaves $743 for meals and incidentals. The cost from other parts of the U.S. will be slightly more due to the higher airfare, but we are seeing ads on the West Coast for $400 roundtrip fares.

Now is the time. Don't wait. RHB

January 1998