At Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris(Courtesy Nina Willdorf)
Earlier this spring, my husband and I were invited to a backyard wedding outside of Paris. We embraced the chance to make a European summer vacation out of it—until we started searching for flights. After losing countless hours toggling between the pages of itasoftware.com and every online travel agency imaginable, I settled on a fare that we could stomach—albeit at the same price I paid to get to Tokyo a year earlier.
Overpaying did have one pleasant side effect: It forced us to seek out good deals even more aggressively than we would have otherwise. Instead of a hotel, we rented an adorable apartment in the Marais through vrbo.com. We cooked each night, picking up warm baguettes from a local boulangerie. And we passed a pretty great afternoon snagging designer clothes for 50 percent off at the A.P.C. Surplus store (011-33/1-42-62-10-88, apc.fr).
As rewarding as it was researching our own deals, sometimes it's awfully nice when someone else just tells you where to find them. In this issue, we've done just that. Our package of 40 affordable finds across Europe can serve as your guide and save you all sorts of money, not to mention time-consuming legwork.
Even if Europe isn't on your to-do list (though the dollar won't be this strong forever!), I can guarantee you'll get value out of our fifth-annual Coolest Small Towns in America feature. This reader-generated list of 10 hometown escapes is a boisterous celebration of simple pleasures in small places. Ely, Minn.—2010's number one spot, which picked up 118,899 votes out of the nearly 440,000 overall—may not earn you a passport stamp, but there's no question that it'll be a memory no less exciting, and this one in our very own backyard.