For those of us old enough to remember traveling with guidebooks like ''Europe on $25 a Day," a European vacation in recent years often has been an exercise in coping with sticker shock. Over a period of five years, the dollar declined by about 40 percent against the euro, bottoming out last December when the euro equaled $1.40.
Happily, in recent months the euro has weakened and is now worth about $1.21, a drop of more than 10 percent. This means better bang for the traveler's buck, though not an ear-splitting bang.
Budget-conscious travelers are still well advised to plan a European trip carefully, ferreting out bargains and developing money-saving strategies. A bargain, of course, isn't necessarily synonymous with cheap; it can also be something that's still expensive but nowhere near as costly as it usually is.
Consider Harrods. The annual summer sale of the famous and famously pricey London department store (www.harrods.com) is now in progress, with many items, such as designer wear by Prada,
(Even if you still can't afford to buy anything, a visit at any time to the vast emporium -- 25 acres of shopping space, including opulent food halls and an enormous wine cellar -- is a memorable London experience.)
Although the term ''package" sounds constrictive, some travel packages combine good value with the freedom to plan your own itinerary and select your own accommodation -- quite different from guided tours, in other words.
Ireland, once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe and an inexpensive place to visit, today has a thriving economy and is one of the Continent's more expensive countries. The right package, however, can make an Irish vacation affordable.
Brian Moore International Tours (www.bmit.com, 800-982-2299), one of several Bay State operators specializing in travel to Ireland and Britain, offers traditional guided bus tours and packages for independent travelers.
One popular land package, priced this summer from $419, includes six nights' bed-and-breakfast accommodation -- with the customary full and high-cholesterol Irish breakfast -- and seven days' use of a rental car with unlimited mileage. Participants plan their own itineraries and have more than 2,800 approved bed-and-breakfasts around the country to choose from. There is also an option to upgrade, for an extra charge, and spend a night at a deluxe hotel, such as five-star Dromoland Castle in County Clare.
Another variation on the independent package idea is having a vacation rental, an apartment or cottage that you can use as a base, along with transportation and someone you can turn to locally for advice and support. That's been the formula for the ''Untour" packages offered by Idyll, Inc. of Media, Pa., (www.untours.com, 888-868-6871) for 30 years.
Initially catering mainly to academics (budget-minded but knowledgeable travelers who didn't want to be led by the hand) and operating only in Switzerland, Idyll, Inc. now offers 18 Untours in 10 European countries.
The Untour packages always include air fare from East Coast gateways (Boston among them), two weeks in a furnished apartment, an orientation session, transportation (rental car, train or bus, and subway pass), and the services of a local representative for advice and assistance.
This summer, an Untour in Italy's Tuscany region, based in Pisa and including a car, is $2,499 per person for two people. The Untour to Prague in the Czech Republic, which includes a pass for the local public transportation system, is $2,099 per person for a couple.
Driving long distances in a foreign country, even on the right side of the road, can be stressful and tiring. With gasoline prices in Europe usually about twice what they are in this country (typically about $5 a gallon or more) it also can be very expensive.
A solution is to do what savvy Europeans do: Cover long distances by train and pick up a rental car, commonly available at railway stations, for short-distance driving. Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com, 888-382-7245) has a Select Pass Drive package, good for three days unlimited first-class travel within two months, plus two days' car rental with unlimited mileage.
The passes can be used on the rail systems of up to five bordering countries of the 23 that Rail Europe represents. A pass for two people traveling in three countries and using a compact car, for example, would be $640.
William A. Davis is a freelance writer in Cambridge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Going Strong, his column on senior travel, appears the first Sunday of every month.