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Give the gift of travel this holiday season | Column

By JERRY VAUGHN, Travel Talk

Not sure what to buy for friends and family this year? Consider the gift of travel.

It's perfect for travel enthusiasts, and finding something of real value, particularly now, doesn't mean busting the bank. Few gifts are more appreciated than a trip, but there are some pitfalls to surprising someone special with a travel gift.

Here are some basic rules you might consider to ensure your gift achieves its maximum value to the person receiving it. These tips on vacation gift giving etiquette can save you a lot of grief and avoid hurt feelings.

1. Be sensitive to the recipient's situation. Just because you have deep pockets doesn't mean your recipient does. Giving too generously can make someone of lesser means feel uncomfortable as they might not be able to reciprocate.

2. Give with flexibility in mind. If you're buying someone a trip, such as a package tour, make sure the dates are flexible. It makes no sense to give a present that can only be used during a certain week since it may conflict with the recipient's schedule. The fewer restrictions with your gift, the better.

One option is to purchase a travel gift certificate in a denomination of your choosing. That way, the recipient can apply the certificate to the trip of their choice at the time that works for them. One caution on this method however. Make sure you are dealing with a licensed seller of travel through the State of Washington and one that complies with the "trust account provision" to ensure the money is there for the recipient when they are ready to use it.

3. Knowledge is power. Tailor your vacation gift to a person's lifestyle. Don't, for example, spring for a three-week trip to Vietnam for a working professional. Most of us don't have the luxury to take off that length of time. Even if they could, while you may have an interest in Vietnam, it is an exotic location that may be of no interest to the recipient. If you know someone gets seasick, giving the gift of a cruise — no matter how nice — is illogical. It pays to know something about the person for whom you're buying.

4. Do your homework. It's tacky to buy only part of a vacation gift, such as a hotel room in Paris for three nights. This forces the recipient to pay for airfare, meals and other incidentals that can add up to thousands of dollars. It's a different story if you know the recipient already has a trip to Paris booked and you pick up some of the cost of an already planned trip — it's a gesture that will be highly appreciated. So it pays to know the recipient's travel plans before you buy.

The gift of a whirlwind trip to Paris sounds great, but what if the recipient can't even go? Do whatever you can first to be sure the recipient wants to go, can go, and can afford to go. You can do this by clandestine inquiries to co-workers, if possible, to find out whether the person can get time off. You can also drop hints around the recipient, such as noting that there is a great deal on airfare, and see what response you get. Even if you buy the airfare and pay for lodging, keep in mind that you are committing the recipient to spending money — and they might not have the spare cash. If you will be traveling with the recipient, you can also offer to pay for meals and a few souvenirs. If you won't and know money is tight, provide some cash or find any items you can purchase ahead of time. For instance, many cities have tourism cards that cover entry fees to several attractions or unlimited rides on public transport.

5. Don't make irreversible commitments. Even if you are 99 percent sure that the recipient can get time off and is dying to go on this trip, cover yourself. Don't book non-refundable airfare, and be sure to check cancellation policies for hotel bookings. That doesn't mean the gift isn't a gift. You can even reserve seats on a plane online the day before giving the gift, and print the confirmation. Then, if the person says yes, go ahead and book it. Consider buying trip protection insurance with the business reasons option to cover your investment.

6. Package it right. The gift of travel can be a bit intangible, so that presents a challenge when deciding what to wrap. Let yourself be creative. A nicely done travel gift certificate in a seasonal presentation folder with brochure and appropriately wrapped can be a nice surprise. You might also want to pair it with destination guidebooks, pieces of luggage or other items that would generate excitement and enthusiasm for the trip.

Federal Way resident Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations. Contact: jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com

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