Many people start planning their summer vacations before Christmas. For those who don't, we offer the annual Footnotes Summer Vacation Guide.
* The concept of paid vacations is relatively new. Prior to the 20th century, vacations were strictly for the wealthy and the social elite. Currently on his Website, www.frommers.com, travel maven Arthur Frommer rants about the "scandal" of American vacation time.
In other prosperous developed nations, such as France, Germany and Austria, employees are guaranteed by law five weeks' paid vacation. Australians get six weeks. Even Brits get four. Most Americans can look forward to only two weeks, if they're lucky. This short-sighted and ill-advised policy leads to a stunted quality of life and a stunted commercial travel industry, Frommer says.
* Not sure of where you want to go? Amtrak offers its "Explore America" program, a 45-day travel pass that allows the traveler only three stops along the way.
Prices range from $229 to $419. If Canada is part of your travel plans, Amtrak's North America Rail Pass offers unlimited travel for 15- or 30-day periods. But your trip must include travel in both Canada and the United States.
Prices range from $275 to $656. Call (800) USA-RAIL or check out www.amtrak.com. Greyhound Bus offers its Ameripass program that features unlimited travel for 7- to 60-day periods. Prices range from $104.50 to $569. Call (800) 229-9424.
* Home exchanges are easier than ever because of the Internet. Exchanging homes with someone in a place you want to visit is a concept that provides travelers with a low-cost alternative to hotels or rentals.
The Internet has many exchange services, including Latitudes Home Exchange, www.home-swap.com; HomeLink International, www.swapnow.com; Trading-Homes.com, www.trading-homes.com; Apollo Home Exchange, www.sima.dk/haneys/; and International Home Exchange Network, www.homexchange.com.