smart spending

5 offbeat paths to foreign travel deals

  Agritourism: Work on a farm in return for room and board.
  Volunteer travel: Immerse yourself in a new culture with most expenses paid.
  Home swaps: All the comforts of home at no cost to you.
  Hospitality networks: Share your life experiences with hosts in 125 countries.
  Ambassador programs: Professional and educational exchanges plus travel.

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Citizen ambassador programs
Professional and educational exchanges plus travel.
Sample organization:People to People.
Where: Worldwide.

   How it works:
In addition to its well-known student ambassador programs, this organization provides ways for people in specific fields such as law, medicine, nursing and education to link up with their counterparts in other countries. (Programs known as "missions of understanding" are open to anyone who is interested in learning about another country.) Delegations of 20 to 40 people spend a week to 10 days in a country to discuss their day jobs and learn more about how those same jobs are done in other countries.

   Benefits:
Many of the programs qualify for ongoing education credits -- and the locale beats a cramped hotel conference room any day. Thanks to the program's long history and reputation, it can occasionally book activities that you won't be able to find elsewhere, such as gorilla tracking in Rwanda. Top-notch accommodations ensure that travelers will be comfortable and safe no matter where their destination.

   Drawbacks:
Up to 60 percent of your time is filled with meetings, lectures and discussions. You'll need to check with the organization to see if your tour will meet minimum work guidelines for the write off, which requires 40 hours of work each week to meet IRS regulations; extended tours usually do not qualify for the deduction.

   Costs:
A typical tour will cost about $5,000, but employers often subsidize that cost. In some cases, the trip is tax-deductible.

   Other notes:
Though the programs will accept adults of any age, most participants are 50 or older and quite well-traveled, according to Meredith Blanka, People to People's vice president of marketing. "They've generally done traditional trips before, and they're looking to do more, see more and give back at this point in their lives," she says.

   Also check:
Sister Cities International is an organization that links U.S. cities with other cities in around the world to help residents develop business partnerships, explore other cultures and link similar organizations from different countries together.

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