There's been gloomy talk about the difficulty of affording a trip to Europe lately, thanks to the decline in the value of the dollar.
At about $1.35, the euro is up 30 percent against the dollar since 2003. Similarly, the British pound has climbed 20 percent to about $1.90.
And the dollar is not expected to rebound anytime soon.
"The U.S. needs to consume less and Asia and Europe need to consume more to lower the trade deficit," says Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at Bank of America. "The dollar will continue to weaken in 2005, though more so against Asia," where central bank intervention or fixed currencies have kept rates lower.
For the young backpacker, these economic forces do not spell the end to European treks. In fact, the weak dollar has given rise to some deals and potentially more inspiring, creative trips.
Airfares should remain as competitive as last year, with the deepest discounts again for travel through March, Europe's off-peak season, according to Bart Littlefield of StudentUniverse.com, which publishes discounted student fares.
A quick search on Student Universe, as well as STA Travel (www.statravel.com), another resource for youth and student travelers, brought up round-trip New York-to-Paris flights for around $400 in March, including taxes and fees.
In June, the fares jump to nearly $600 - though still cheaper than the $800 flights quoted through other Web searches.
Don't delay if you find a bargain. Airlines are expected to keep capacity lean, especially United and US Airways, which are in bankruptcy. If your travel plans aren't firm, look for "flexible fares" through STA Travel, which charges only $25 for date changes.
For travel within the continent, youth Eurailpasses, for those younger than 26, have dropped in price by as much as 7 percent for 2005 - the first cut in some 40 years. Prices are quoted in dollars at www.eurail.com.
If your itinerary includes only a few stops, European discount airlines, such as easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) offer one-way tickets between European cities for as little as 20 euros. Be prepared to pay cab fare, however, since these airlines generally fly to city outskirts.
With major transportation expenses covered upfront, only food, entertainment and accommodations remain open to the euro's fluctuations.
Sara Benson, an editor and author for Lonely Planet guidebooks, says you can mitigate these costs by heading to Prague, Budapest and other Eastern European cities where bargains are more easily found.
Or, in Western Europe you could stick to what Benson calls second-tier cities, such as Aix-en-Provence in France or Edinburgh in Scotland, which offer excellent sights, food and nightlife but are more affordable than Paris or London.
Hostels are available throughout the continent, and at 25 euros or so per night, still only cost you $34 with the exchange rate. With a Hostelling International card (www.hihostels.com, $28), you're eligible for reduced rates at member hostels.
The International Student ID Card or the International Youth Travel Card (www.statravel. com, $22) earn you discounts at museums, shops and restaurants - your university ID will not always be accepted.
E-mail Carolyn Bigda at yourmoneytribune.com.