Here's a scene I've seen repeated dozens of times around New England. It's late Saturday afternoon, maybe early in July. A young (or not-so-young) couple has driven up from the city by car or motorcycle, "just for the day," in sparkling clear weather. But something magical has happened. They've fallen in love with each other all over again and with the quaint lovely New England-ness of (insert town name here). They've decided to stay for the night in a feather bed, eat a nice meal, and maybe watch the sun set over the (ocean/mountains/lake) and head home tomorrow morning, fully assured that all is right with the world.
Except that here they stand, before a tourist information center staff member, looking despondent (or even desperate) as the staffer holds a phone in one hand, waiting for an answer.
"Isn't there anything cheaper?" pleads one of the lovebirds. "No, and that's a good price," responds the person behind the desk as kindly as possible. "You won't find anything better. Now, do you want me to book it, or not?"
Yes, travelers are in for a little sticker shock in New England, at least during peak travel seasons. In midsummer, there's simply no such thing as a cheap motel room in places like Winnipesaukee, Portland, Portsmouth, southwestern Vermont, Camden, or Bar Harbor. Even no-frills mom-and-pop motels can and do sometimes happily charge $100 a night or more for a bed that could fairly be described as a notch above car-camping. Blander-than-bland chain hotels demand even more.
To be fair, innkeepers in some of these tourist areas must reap nearly all their annual profits in what amounts to just a 2- or 3-month season.
Anyhow, take heart. Except during peak foliage season and holidays, the cost of rooms, meals, and day-to-day expenses is generally a lot less here than you'd pay in a major non-New England city. You can find excellent entrees at upscale, creative restaurants for around $20, comparing favorably with similar dishes at big-city restaurants that would top $30.
Still, lodging here is more expensive than in almost any other rural part of the United States, and planning can prove tricky for budget travelers.
So you'll need money to enjoy yourself here. It's always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, and traveler's checks. You should also exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel before you leave home, or withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM.
Foreign travelers will want to note that the most common bills in the U.S. are the $1 (known as a dollar or a "buck"), $5, $10, and $20 denominations. There are also $2 bills (seldom encountered), $50 bills, and $100 bills -- these last two not usually welcome as payment for small purchases.
Coins come in seven denominations: 1¢ (1 cent, or a penny); 5¢ (5 cents, or a nickel); 10¢ (10 cents, or a dime); 25¢ (25 cents, or a quarter); 50¢ (50 cents, or a half-dollar); the gold-colored Sacagawea coin, worth $1; the gold-colored presidential coins, also worth $1; and the rare silver dollar.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), also sometimes known as a "cash machine." ATMs are easy to locate in cities, towns, and regions that cater to tourists. To find one, check the back of your card to determine what networks it "belongs" to. The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the country; you can find them even in remote regions of New Hampshire.
Credit cards are the most widely used form of payment in the United States: Visa (Barclaycard in Britain), MasterCard (EuroCard in Europe, Access in Britain, Chargex in Canada), American Express, Diners Club, and Discover. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.