Europe may be reeling from financial woes, but travel there can still be pricey and out of reach for many American travelers.
Despite the economic downturn and the euro's recent slide, travelers to many European cities are paying 11% more for hotels this year compared with last year, says Victor Owens, vice president of marketing for Hotels.com. A night in Rome is 6% pricier, at an average $187, while London is 3% pricier at $177. Even at shoulder-season prices, airfare is still $600 to $700 on average -- and that's if you're flexible on your dates and manage to snag a fare sale, says George Hobica, the founder of price-tracking site AirfareWatchdog.com.
Staying stateside is, of course, substantially cheaper -- the average U.S. traveler pays $119 per night on domestic trips compared to $171 on international ones, reports Hotels.com. And travelers yearning for the feel of a trip abroad can still enjoy some international flavor. More U.S. hotels are catering to their international guests with amenities like English afternoon teas, experts say, and the country's melting-pot history means there are still plenty of cities that hearken back to their European roots.
Here are five domestic travel destinations travel experts say can provide a European feel -- without the impact of exchange fees and international airfare on your wallet:
Instead of: Switzerland
Head to: Vail, Colo.
Mountain lodges in the resort town have a similar feel to those of Swiss resorts, says Gabe Saglie, a senior editor at deal site Travelzoo. Temperatures can get cold enough in October to warrant bulky sweaters and some hot cocoa by the fire, but it's usually too early for substantial snowfall -- or skiing. Alpine hiking ends in Switzerland by mid-September, but Vail travelers can still take advantage of high-elevation mountain trails in October. (There's also the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad for non-hikers.)
Switzerland has the distinction of holding the No. 1 spot on Hotels.com's list of expensive countries, with the average room costing $239 per night -- an 18% jump from last year. Vail's peak-season rates can top that, but before ski season starts in November, travelers typically pay less than $150 per night. Vail Travel has October deals including 25% off a four-night stay at four-star Sebastian Vale, which drops the nightly room rate to as low as $105. Another offer for 30% off at Christiana at Vail results in room rates as cheap as $110 for a lodge room.
Instead of: Bath, England
Head to: Alexandria, Va.
Getting a British afternoon tea in the city's Old Town neighborhood is easy, thanks to a plethora of tea shops, says Taylor Cole, a spokeswoman for Hotels.com. Brick-paved streets, colonial architecture and mom-and-pop bed and breakfasts serving full English breakfasts complete the quaint ambiance, she says. Visitors who want even more of a Colonial British feel might make the three-hour drive to Williamsburg; for more modern culture, Washington, D.C., is a short Metro ride away.
Because it's so close to the nation's capital, Alexandria's hotel rates tend to hew closely to those of metro D.C, according to Smith Travel Research. That's currently an average $162, which Hotels.com says is up 2% from last year. Although Old Town has the small-town charm, rates there can be $15 to $25 more expensive per night. Travelers might want to look for one of the larger, European-style hotels in other neighborhoods, Cole says. The four-star Westin Alexandria recently tweeted an offer for 20% off a weekend stay of two nights or more, bringing rates as low as $103. On Orbtiz.com, another four-star property, Sheraton Suites in Old Town, has deals of up to 35% off, with rooms starting at $95 per night.
Instead of: Tuscany
Head to: Northern California wine country
Rolling hills interspersed with little towns, boutique wineries and amazing restaurants fuel a culinary drive similar to the one that sends foodies to Tuscany region of Italy, Saglie says. Harvest season yields plenty of extra wine deals and events like grape stomping and wine pairings, (a handful of which specify pizza or pasta). Of course, Italian grapes aren't as common in Napa or Sonoma as French ones, he says, but you can find enough Sangiovese and Nebbiolo wines to carry the theme.
Room rates are inching higher -- Sonoma, for example, averages $125, up 10% from last year, according to Smith Travel Research. But that's still 7% less than the area's peak of $135 in 2007. Harvest time often brings plenty of deals in Sonoma and Napa, too, as properties compete for visitors. Travelzoo has 60%-off a normally $300 wine tasting package including a night at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa and wine tastings for two at three nearby wineries. Priceline.com offers 39% off at four-star Avia Napa for select dates in October, knocking the rates as low as $169 from the regular starting price of $275 .
Instead of: Paris
Head to: New Orleans
"If you can't afford to go to France, why not go to the French Quarter?" says Cole. True, it's more French Creole than "gay Paree," but the neighborhood's cobblestone streets, wrought-iron railings and outdoor caf s serving coffee and beignets are just as charming, she says. Jazz clubs offer nightly entertainment, and visitors interested in a quick detour to Germany can enjoy the city's version of Oktoberfest during weekends in October.
Hotel prices have been rebounding as the city continues to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Smith Travel Research puts the average rate so far this year at $132, up 14% from last year -- but roughly the same as travelers paid pre-Katrina in 2004. On Hotels.com, three-star Hotel St. Marie in the French Quarter is offering 30% off bookings before Dec. 28, with rates starting at $99 instead of the usual $141. Orbitz has 20% off the five-star Royal Sonesta New Orleans, also in the French Quarter, for revised rates as low as $199.
Instead of: A whirlwind European tour
Head to: Las Vegas
Instead of signing up for a 10-cities-in-six-days type of tour, consider Las Vegas: It's a fraction of the price, and you might actually get a better sense of place than on a tour that has you practically jogging up the Eiffel Tower to make your next stop. The ding-ding of slot machines is hard to ignore, true, but casinos take pains to carry their theme through architecture, d cor, food and activities. "There are so many of these themed resorts that make you feel like you're in Europe," Saglie says. A tourist could trek to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas, take a gondola ride in The Venetian and lounge in the Roman baths at Caesars Palace -- all in the same day and without the hassle of European carriers' per-pound baggage charges.
Las Vegas is still adding new hotel rooms, a supply imbalance that means you can often stay at a three- or four-star property for less than $100 per night, according to Hotels.com. Travelzoo has rooms for as little as $24 -- as much as 75% off regular rates -- at the MGM properties, including Circus Circus and Luxor through early February. Stay three nights, and you'll also get two free tickets (worth up to $200) to your choice of eight shows, including "Criss Angel Believe" and "The Lion King." United Airlines has fall deals for a flight and three nights' hotel for as little as $306.