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Near or far, travel for seniors is more accessible, affordable

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China. Morocco. Ireland. Brazil. What's your dream vacation? With the advent of online discount travel sites, no-frills flying, and specialized cruise, resort and tour packages, the rest of the world is more accessible (and more affordable) than ever before. For much less than you might imagine, that place you've always dreamt of going is now at your fingertips. International travel not what you had in mind? Plenty of other options are available, including day trips, camping, and -- due in part to San Diego's great location and climate -- vacationing in your own backyard. This article will discuss some of the numerous choices you have in travel and destinations, regardless of your budget or schedule.

Local travel If you've always wanted to travel to Europe, but have neither the time nor money to commit to it, you don't have to. San Diego is rife with exciting and flavorful culture, not the least of which is in its restaurants, museums, fairs and music. For a day full of the sights and sounds of the Old World and beyond, you can begin with a tour of Balboa Park's House of Pacific Relations, a "world village" with representatives from over 30 countries, and partake of their food and entertainment, with bits of history and folklore thrown in. Or you can view artwork at one of the park's museums, which house collections and exhibits from wide-ranging eras, styles and countries. Catch an opera of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" at the San Diego Opera, or a show at one of the city's Tony Award-winning theaters. Have dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter at Caf? Sevilla, for a taste of Spanish tapas and an exhibition of dramatic flamenco dancing, or at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe for a French gourmet dining experience. Longing for something more exotic? Local Filipino, Hawaiian and Polynesian dance groups give performances periodically throughout the county, with some even giving free lessons. Visit the Persian Cultural Center of San Diego, view the Japanese Friendship Bell on Shelter Island, or experience authentic Thai and Indian cuisine at one of the city's great eateries. With a little help from local activity and dining guides, you won't ever be at a loss for things to experience. From Chicano Park under the Coronado Bridge, to Little Italy, wine tasting in Temecula, resorts and the Carlsbad Flower Fields in North County, camping along the coast, the History of the Americas Museum in East County, to Korean and Chinese cuisine enclaves in Kearny Mesa, there is a wealth of "backyard vacationing" to do for very little money -- and without the baggage check, in-flight movie, or scramble to renew your visa. Traveling locally also has the added benefit of public transportation (day passes are available for purchase) on city buses, trolleys, trams and guided tours.

Day trips and nationwide travel If you absolutely must get out of San Diego, but don't have a lot of time to stay out, a day trip to nearby Tijuana or Rosarito in Mexico may be the answer. Admission is free and the margaritas and carnitas sold at popular caf?s and restaurants are nearly that. You get the most bang for your buck (or peso) at affordable taquerias, souvenir shops, and guided walking, bus and boat tours. If you'd rather stay north of the border, South Orange County has a lot to offer beyond their famous cliff swallows in San Juan Capistrano. You can soak up the sun and scenery in this picturesque city, do some shopping at the local farmers' market, or watch boats from Dana Point Harbor or San Clemente Pier. Those not content to just watch can take a ferry to nearby Catalina Island. Have a few more days to spare? Why not rent an RV or motorhome and see the country? Renting a vehicle allows travelers to set their own pace and to see what they want to see without being confined by the itinerary of a tour group. And spending nights at campgrounds (choosing from coastal, desert and other locations) can cut costs and provide a relaxing alternative to booking a hotel. If driving cross-country doesn't appeal, airline pilots, train engineers and bus drivers will do it for you. Some travel agencies offer discount packages for people 55 and older and can point you in the direction of yet more discounts from hotels, parks, museums and restaurants. Experience the Cajun charm of New Orleans. Explore -- and taste -- California's vast wine country. Watch the sunset from Crater Lake. Brave a Coney Island roller coaster (or hot dog). Learn how to Kentucky Waltz in Louisville. And there is, of course, always Las Vegas, whose mention universally conjures images of bright neon lights, packed casinos and a sea of tourists. But if you don't want to deal with the year-round crowds or the hassles of navigating through hundreds of hotels and casinos in a large city, you might want to consider local casinos like Barona, Viejas, Golden Acorn and Pauma. The thrill of Texas Hold 'Em and the jingle of slot machines are yours without the crowds, the travel time or the necessity of spending the night in a hotel. Local casinos also offer buffet-style meals, restaurant dining and great shopping. Many charter bus and shuttle companies will also gladly organize a day trip package for you.

International travel And, finally, the stuff of fantasies. International travel and all that it entails. The hassles of planning, financing and executing a trip across the globe can be maddening and, often times, unnecessary. Literally hundreds of travel agencies, travel agents, travel groups, travel Web sites, and travel hotlines exist to help make your trip run smoothly from conception to extra pillows on the return flight. By using these resources, you could save yourself substantial sums of money that might otherwise be spent on more pleasurable things. Some, however, still prefer to go it alone and manage to do it well. Whatever you choose, you can rest assured that your options are wide-ranging, varied and numerous. A few options to consider:

? Cruises Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity and Holland America make stops in San Diego. Cruises to the Bahamas generally leave from the eastern ports. You can arrive in Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean, or even Panama and Europe -- and all ports in between -- in style and comfort. Though cruises can be pricey, many lines do offer special senior-focused packages and discounts. For women traveling alone, some ships offer gentlemen hosts to provide dance and meal partners. Dinners, theme nights, dancing, shopping (onboard and off), and sightseeing ensure plenty of activity on the high seas.

? U.S. territories and English-speaking countries You may be tantalized by the idea of international travel, but a little wary about cultural and language differences. For those not quite ready to completely immerse themselves in a foreign country, there are the U.S. territories. While still archetypal island paradises, these locations (namely, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix) provide the requisite history, culture, exotic tastes and laidback lifestyle of island living, but the merchants take U.S. dollars and most everyone speaks English. Additionally, U.S. citizens do not need a passport or visa to visit these places. The natives are U.S. citizens, too. Or you might want to visit places like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. The language might sound the same, but the experiences will be vastly different. English is also widely spoken in some Central American countries, like Belize and Costa Rica.

? The whole she-bang For the truly adventurous, the entire world is your oyster. Now global travel doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to accomplish. Neither does it have to be a by-rote ordeal, with tour buses, crowded tourist attractions and a lot of spending but no real experience. Programs like ElderTreks provide small group programs for people 50 and older in over 50 countries. They will help you plan an Antarctic odyssey, a Kenya safari, or a Patagonian exploration. ElderHostel is a nonprofit educational travel program that allows older adults to explore new places while augmenting their trip with classroom experience. Programs last for a few days to a couple of weeks and are offered in many countries, with some programs classified as "intergenerational" (you can bring the grandchildren). For single or widowed women who want to travel, but are anxious about the prospect of venturing out alone, there are companies like Gusty Women Travel, which specialize in guided and escorted tours for women traveling by themselves. You can shop for antiques in Paris and London or hike and meditate in Sedona with other women who share your interests. Many airlines, like Hawaiian Air and Alaska Airlines, also offer special senior fares to popular destinations or as a general rule. Many travel agencies, agents, Web sites, and programs are available to help you plan your dream vacation, whatever and wherever it is. Just keep in mind that your options are boundless and that if you take advantage of the many resources available to you, travel anywhere -- from your own backyard to the streets of Bangkok -- can be affordable, accessible and enjoyable.

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