Twenty-five British pounds apiece for a round-trip shuttle train between London and Heathrow Airport didn't sound so bad at the time.
Then Richard Johnson returned home to Santa Monica and opened the credit-card bill from the Thanksgiving getaway with his wife, Joyce, and realized that 50 pounds translated into $97 for two Heathrow Express tickets.
"It turned into an expensive 15-minute trip," Richard Johnson said. Now, he said, "you can pretty much take prices here and double them in England."
With the U.S. dollar recently trading at 53 cents to the British pound, that's just about right.
The long slide of the U.S. dollar, which buys nearly 25% less in Western Europe than it did two years ago, isn't expected to end soon, so penny-pinching vacationers may need to make a substantial shift in their thinking. In late December, the euro was worth more than $1.34.
And currency experts say we can expect higher prices in many, if not most, corners of the globe this year.
For Americans, the cheapest choice is to stay closer to home. But what fun is that if your heart is set on distant shores?
That leaves frugal wannabe wanderers with two options: Lower their standards or seek less expensive alternative destinations.
Arthur Frommer, the budget travel guru who has seen plenty of ups and downs in the dollar since starting his "Europe on $5 a Day" guidebooks in the 1950s, favors the first path.
"It is not a question of where do we go, but how do we tour," he said. "When currencies turn sour, you simply drop your insistence on a certain category of accommodations and meals."
You'll need to go down two hotel categories, from deluxe to tourist class or from first-class to guesthouses, to offset the dollar's fall in Western Europe, he said, adding: "I would have said 'one category' two months ago."
Some travelers have devised other ways to stretch a dollar. On a May trip to Spain, Carl Cade of Los Angeles booked some time in nearby Morocco, where he stayed in what he called a "three-star hotel" for $35 a night. He figures he spent about $3,000 in his 2 1/2 weeks.
Cade, who works for a nonprofit, plans to tour Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia and Montenegro in spring and maybe add Budapest, Hungary, and Venice, Italy, "if I have the time and the money."
"The price of the euro is definitely tilting me toward places that are off the beaten path," he said.
Globe-trotting John DiScala, who runs www.johnnyjet.com, a travel information website, shunned Europe last year. Instead, he headed for Southeast Asia: "In Bangkok, you take a taxi for 20 minutes and it costs like $2."
When it comes to thrifty alternatives to Western Europe, there's good and bad news.
The bad news is that a partial list of countries where the dollar gained value between Dec. 14, 2003, and Dec. 14, 2004, looks like the "Tour de Travel Warning." Indonesia (up nearly 10%), Kenya (about 6%) and Pakistan (about 4%) were, as of late last month, nations that the State Department urged Americans to avoid. Besides terrorist activity, Indonesia is also suffering the double whammy of the earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands.
Venezuela (up about 20%) wasn't on the warning list, but the State Department noted that its capital, Caracas, "has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America" and described its airport as "dangerous."
The good news is that some thrifty destinations hold more promise for tourists.
* Eastern Europe: The dollar has lost 12% or more against some currencies here in the last year, but Eastern Europe is still a better deal than Western Europe, said Steve Loucks, spokesman for Minneapolis-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, an international network of travel agencies. That's partly because prices started out lower in those countries.
A hotel room in Paris that commands $179 per night might cost half that in Budapest, according to Runzheimer's Travel Management Network, a Web-based resource in Rochester, Wis., that benchmarks travel costs.
In Budapest and Prague in the Czech Republic, "you have fairy-tale settings that survived war after war," Loucks said.
"We're getting a lot of requests for Romania and Bulgaria," said Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent Inc. in Oakbrook, Ill. The charms for clients of this luxury adventure company, she said, include recently restored historic sites.
* Mexico and the Caribbean: "There's so much bang for your buck in Mexico," Loucks said. The dollar held steady against the peso last year, after gaining about 10% on it the year before.
Loucks said Carlson-Wagonlit agents had been booking more vacations to Mexico and, to a lesser degree, the Caribbean.
"In Jamaica and Barbados," Frommer said, "the dollar -- for some strange reason -- has improved in value against the local currency."