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If you absolutely must take your vacation during the summer months, then you'll no doubt be aware that you will always be paying top dollar for the privilege of joining the throngs of tourists who make their way across the Atlantic to Europe during the peak season. This summer of course will be the worst yet for U.S. travelers with the shrinking dollar and the mighty Euro packing a punch. Apart from the outrageous airfares, you also have to contend with over crowding, excessive waits in lines at cultural institutions, exorbitant hotel prices, minimum stay requirements, and in some cities, a percentage of retailers and restaurateurs closing down for a month or two so they can take their vacations. The solution of course is to avoid traveling during the peak months or perhaps to look at alternate destinations. If the above factors don't help to determine your decision, perhaps a comparison of airfare and accommodation discounts might.

What if you could capture the romance of Paris, the medieval charm of Spain or the white-washed villas of the Greek Isles without actually heading to Europe? If you are prepared to look a little closer to home or at least to venture south rather than east, you're likely to save a few dollars and still have a rich travel experience. Here are a few options that may entice you to give your European sojourn a second thought.

Paris may be the quintessential city for love and passion on the European continent, but Buenos Aires serves up a fiery alternative where you can spend those dollars you'll be saving on some tantalizing additions like Tango lessons. Whereas an economy class round-trip flight to Paris mid summer will generally cost upwards of $1,100, a flight to Buenos Aires this summer starts from approximately $860 on Taca International Airlines (www.taca.com) out of Miami. Although the airfare saving is not particularly large, accommodation savings can be sizeable both price and quality wise. A centrally located but basic three-star hotel in Paris in August will conservatively cost between $200 and $300 a night -- that is if you can find availability as many properties are already sold out. Comparatively, in Buenos Aires you can stay at a funky boutique hotel like Design Suites and Towers (www.tablethotels.com/Design-Suites-Towers-Hotel/) for $150 a night. The hotel's suites are spacious, complete with a living/dining room, Internet access, espresso machines, kitchenettes, in-room jacuzzi, indoor swimming pool and access to a fitness center around the corner. Or for $145 per night, you can bed down at the equally chic ultra-modern Buenos Aires cE, Design Hotel (www.designce.com) with architecturally stunning rooms featuring full-length windows, flat-screen televisions and unsurpassed city views.

The image of white-washed villas draped in purple bougainvilleas isn't a purely Greek Island phenomenon. You can find many of the charms and architectural features rather close to home in the Pacific beach town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Its mix of cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings and the occasional donkey give it a village atmosphere even though it is actually a major resort destination. Unlike the Yucat&n coast though, Puerto Vallarta's scale seems more in line with its European counterparts and although there are a few larger hotel properties, you never feel that you are in a high rise haven. Summer flights to Santorini or Mykonos will currently set you back in the range of $1,500 to $1,800 flying with Greece's national carrier Olympic Airlines (www.olympicairlines.com) from New York. Fly to Puerto Vallarta this August with Mexicana (www.mexicana.com) and your airfare will be less than half, starting at approximately $520 including taxes from New York. A two-star hotel like Hotel Adonis (www.mykonosadonis.gr) in Mykonos is priced at a massive $330 per night including breakfast for a double room during the months of July and August. For $70 less a night, you can stay in the lap of luxury at Puerto Vallarta's most sought after five-star boutique hotel Hacienda San Angel (www.haciendasanangel.com). Located in historic town center, these series of white washed villas are filled with exquisite antique furniture and Mexican art, three swimming pools, a rooftop Jacuzzi, complimentary continental breakfast served in your guest suite daily and free afternoon cocktails and snacks with musicians playing romantic Mexican tunes.

The Spanish influence in the New World is obvious in so many beautifully designed cities across the Caribbean, Central and South America. Take a trip back to 16th century Spain with a visit to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and have the added bonus of stunning beaches. Walk along cobblestone streets, visit historic Spanish forts and practice speaking Spanish. You won't need a passport and there's no currency conversion to deal with. Again out of New York, an airfare to Barcelona this August would set you back close to $1,200 flying Delta (www.delta.com). You can pick up a far to San Juan during the same period from only $307 on American Airlines (www.aa.com) -- including all taxes. A three-star centrally located Barcelona hotel like Hotel H10 Catalunya Plaza (www.h10hotels.com) is quite basic but it is priced from approximately $200 per night for a standard double room in August. For considerably less you can take you pick of up-market San Juan properties. The Normandie Hotel (www.normandiepr.com), located between Condado Beach and Old San Juan is an immaculately restored classic Art Deco boutique property and a king room here in August will only set you back $135 a night. Combine your classic old Spanish style getaway with the beach. $142 a night will get you a deluxe room at the very cool and chic San Juan Water and Beach Club (www.waterbeachclubhotel.com) in Isla Verde.

Obviously restaurant and public transportation costs in these alternate destinations will also be considerably lower. As will shopping in general. Ultimately though, if your heart is still set on a European vacation, you'll just have to bear the cost and the crowds this summer,

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