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MORE FOR YOUR MONEY : AND CLOSER TO HOME . . .

The world at your doorstep

October 26, 2008|Times Travel staff

Afraid to splurge? Even if you can't take your dream trip abroad, there are alternatives that offer foreign flair right here on U.S. soil. These options aren't the real thing, of course. But they can be a real deal:

THE REAL THING

East Africa

In Kenya, view lions, leopards, elephants and other wildlife at game reserves. In Ethiopia, tour natural wonders and ancient ruins and partake of a traditional dinner and coffee ceremony. African Travel Inc. is offering a 12-day tour ( www.africantravelinc.com). Abercrombie & Kent offers an Ethiopian tour, ( www.abercrombiekent.com).

THE SUBSTITUTE

San Diego or L.A.

Wake up to breakfast with giraffes, lions, impala and other beasts on a man-made savanna at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park sleepover in Escondido. Or shop for silver jewelry and hand-embroidered dresses in the Little Ethiopia area of Los Angeles (South Fairfax Avenue between Olympic and Pico boulevards).

The difference: Well, about $11,000 if you do both tours, and travel from LAX to both African destinations. The zoo's Roar & Snore program starts at only $109 (adult). Add about $40 for gas. Entrees at Meals by Genet, 1053 S. Fairfax Ave., in Little Ethiopia start at about $10.

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THE REAL THING

Denmark

Strolling Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard in Copenhagen during the holidays will do the spirit good. The very artsy, very fashionable city even offers a free winter session at the famed Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Check out 700 years of cultural treasures at the National Gallery.

THE SUBSTITUTE

Solvang, Calif.

The little town, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is Denmark Light. Still, a full slate of fall and winter activities promises to lighten your mood. WinterFest kicks off with a tree lighting Dec. 5 and a Christmas parade Dec. 6, both events hosted by U.S. Olympic volleyball gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser.

The difference: The airfare is the real deal breaker here, with round-trip airfare from LAX setting you back about $1,000. The well-located Axel Hotel Guldsmeden offers rooms for about $200. Meanwhile, the very Danish Solvang Gardens Lodge starts around $119.

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THE REAL THING

Hong Kong

The trip across the harbor in the Star Ferry at night is dazzling. The tram to Victoria Peak offers one of the great urban views of all time. Big-name designers compete with antique dealers and food carts for your money. Be sure to sample the street markets at Kowloon.

THE SUBSTITUTE

San Francisco's Chinatown

Learn and understand the California-China connection, with strolls along Stockton Street. Portsmouth Square was the center of immigrant civilization when Chinese first arrived in San Francisco and remains a hub today. A less congested option is Willie "Woo Woo" Wong Playground, on Sacramento Street near Grant Avenue.

The difference: Well, the Hong Kong trip may impress your neighbors more. But when it comes to your pocketbook, Chinatown wins the duel. Restricted round-trip airfares from LAX to Hong Kong start at $1,034. Doubles start at $425 at Hong Kong's well-regarded Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Meanwhile, airfare from LAX to San Francisco, $138. Double rooms at San Francisco's hip Hotel Triton start at $229.

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THE REAL THING

Paris

A shopping trip to Paris, based at the ultra-luxe Hotel Plaza Athenee, is the elixir of life for anyone who adores fashion. At the Plaza Athenee, you'll be right on Avenue Montaigne, site of many of the city's elite shops. The nearly 100-year-old hotel was recently renovated.

THE SUBSTITUTE

Paris Las Vegas

This hotel-casino's central Strip location and link to the monorail make it a shopper's delight, whether you're looking to browse the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian or the Forum Shops at Caesars.

The difference: Sure, the Vegas Strip is 5,500 miles from the Champs-Elysees and the Vegas Eiffel Tower is only half the size of the real thing. But double rooms at the Plaza Athenee start at $880 per night; and you can add $500 to $1,000 for airfare. Airfare from LAX to Las Vegas begins at $138. Double rooms at Paris Las Vegas start at $90 and deals are getting better all the time.

-- Times Travel staff

Notes: Airfares for randomly selected dates include taxes and fees but some surcharges may apply.

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