By Travel columnist
updated 5/1/2006 12:05:53 PM ET 2006-05-01T16:05:53

Every year at about this time, the travel industry’s talking heads pull out their polyester suits and go on TV to dish out the same tired advice about summer travel.

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Check the pressure of your car’s tires. Shop around for the best deals. Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant.

Yawn.

So this year, I’m leaving my suit in the closet and sparing you a TV appearance. Instead, I thought I’d give you some tips on summer travel I guarantee you won’t find anywhere else.

Plan a dollar-smart vacation. No one I know wants to pay a premium to travel. But that’s exactly what can happen if you go somewhere with an unfavorable exchange rate. Heading to Europe when the euro is trading 30 points over the dollar means that everything from transportation to lodging to food will automatically cost you more. Save yourself the trouble.

Look for alternatives. A weak dollar will suck the fun right out of your vacation. But a strong dollar will enhance your spending power (and who knows, maybe your enjoyment?). So if you had your heart set on a European experience, but the dollar is too weak to get you into nothing more than a pension, think globally. Try Sao Paulo, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires. They’re charming, fashionable and cheap.

Forget about finding the lowest rate. Looking for rock-bottom travel prices is like trying to pick a stock at its absolute lowest price. If we could all do that, we’d be rich. Using my first two tips will save you more money than any amount of time spent on the Internet searching for the lowest fare, price or rate. Instead, choose your destinations carefully and seek the best value for your dollars. Not the lowest price.

Cheap gas? No worries. Just like the last tip on penny-pinching your travel dollar, trying to find a gas station offering gas at a few cents cheaper than your current location is not worth it. Consider that the average car holds 15 to 20 gallons of gas; if you save 5 cents a gallon you’ll only save $1. Even with a SUV holding 40 gallons of gas you’ll only save $2 per tank. The extra $1 to $2 spent for convenience will seem awfully cheap if you’re stuck in the Arizona dessert waiting for a tow truck (been there).

Avoid all the crowds. The biggest truism in travel is, when traveling with crowds you’re bound to pay high prices. Hold off on your summer travels until the fall, and you reap lower prices and will have the place all to yourself, making your travels more enjoyable.

Think local. We often think that our travels must involve a long journey to make it a real vacation. In the process, we overlook many excellent destinations that offer a great family experience with value prices. The U.S. National Park system offers wonderful locations and value. If you live in the West, you can easily head to Vancouver, B.C. and enjoy a favorable exchange rate. East Coasters can plot a course for one of the many small beach cities or mountain towns often overlooked by the tourist crowd for a reprieve from the humidity and heat of the cities. In the Midwest, check out the luxurious lake chalets, which often offer great rental deals.

The key to your summer travel planning is to remain flexible. If it is not a good time to visit your first-choice destination, keep in mind that the value of the dollar changes from year to year, and this year’s “in” spot with bloated prices might be next year’s value of the century.

Have patience and carefully use the above advice to assure you get maximum reward for your summer travels.

Joel Widzer is an expert on loyalty and frequent flier programs. He is the author of "The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel," a guidebook on traveling in high style at budget-friendly prices. E-mail him or visit his Web site. Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting Widzer's forum.

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