updated 5/20/2005 1:18:47 PM ET 2005-05-20T17:18:47

Don't be ashamed. Everyone does it this time of year. You know what we're talking about: checking the weather forecast in St. Tropez more often than you check the stock price of your own company. Keeping an eye on flight availability to Turkey in July. Fantasizing about swinging those new custom-built golf clubs off Shinnecock.

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Even though they may seem as far away as U.S. Airways' financial solvency, now is the time to begin planning your July or August holidays. The weeks on the calendar are slipping away until you can enjoy your sacred stretch of summer vacation, days unbracketed by the bonds of Friday and Monday. Sure, you may already own a house in the Hamptons, Mount Desert or Catalina, but after a while you usually find yourself getting itchy. You want to go somewhere special. Somewhere redolent of new smells, different faces, exotic scenery and tastes of the beguilingly unfamiliar.

The only question, of course, is where. While many people enjoy returning to a well-loved resort, the allure of the new is always strong. Have you always wondered what the sunset looks like over the Aegean, or if the Dalmatian coastline is as beautiful as you always heard it was? Or maybe you miss the Bellinis served poolside at Venice's Hotel Cipriani and just want to go back there? Wherever you decide to go, it's time to make up your mind and book those reservations.

The reason why is that the best resorts and hotels are already beginning to fill up for the summer high season. "It's the end of the winter. People want to know that they are going somewhere this summer--that they're all set," says Lizet Gediciyan, the owner of Travelcraft, a Manhattan-based travel agency, who is seeing plenty of early-bird summer travelers. "It's early enough so that people can get hotel reservations where they want to stay, and it's early enough to find decent deals on the airlines. The sooner you make your reservations the better," she explains.

These days even the richest travelers grumble about unfavorable exchange rates, however, often choosing to pursue trips to countries where their dollars will go farther. The resort areas of Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey are popular with people who hate the idea of paying nearly double today for what a European holiday cost only a few years ago. (Portugal, Greece and Spain are also still considered relatively good value despite their membership in the European Union.)

(To see the complete list of 17 luxury summer resorts recommended by, click here.)

If you aren't the type who likes to lounge on the beach, book a trip to Chile's Hotel Salto Chico for a little summer glacier hiking in the Patagonia mountains. For a less-conventional European holiday, we recommend Hungary's Hotel Gellert, a grand Art Nouveau spa that has been returned to its former glory. Closer to home are such longtime favorites as the sublime Auberge de Soleil in Napa, and the Wauwinet in Nantucket.

Just because you aren't wrestling with the euro, don't expect the dollar to necessarily shelter you from high prices. As Suzanne Cook of the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America warns, "If people want to travel this summer, they better be making those plans and getting those tickets now. If the demand is there and seats are cut--many airlines are cutting seats by up to 10%--you may not get a seat, or may have to pay a higher price for it."

Cook predicts a healthy summer travel season anyway, especially because TIAA's quarterly traveler sentiment index reflects positive feelings among Americans about their ability to travel. "Consumers are confident," Cook explains. "They feel they have time to travel and feel better about their own personal finances." Americans are expected to take 223 million leisure trips this spring, nearly 7% more than spring 2003 and almost 10% more than spring 2000.

So, stop checking the weather forecasts and start booking your trip.

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