Last week's answer
In 1869, a fruit merchant and an icebox manufacturer created me as a food-canning concern. In 1897, one of my chemists invented condensed soup. In 1904, I introduced pork and beans. Millions, including even Andy Warhol, have enjoyed my products. Each year, Americans slurp some 2.5 billion bowls of my chicken noodle, cream of mushroom and tomato soups. My brand names include Pepperidge Farm, Franco-American, V8, Swanson, Pace, Prego and Godiva. I'm based in New Jersey, but I'm very international. My watercress and duck-gizzard soup is hot in China. I rake in more than $6 billion annually. Who am I? (Answer: Campbell Soup)
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With the United States and other nations shaken since Sept. 11, there are suddenly many travel bargains to be found. Consider taking a trip to see another part of the country or world. (If you'd like to give New York City some business, click over to www.nycvisit.com.) Just remember that travel is a financial undertaking. If you spend a little time looking around and learning, you'll likely save a lot of money next time you want to gallivant.
Here are some tips for would-be wanderers:
Take advantage of online resources. You can comparison shop and make reservations at sites such as: www.travelocity.com, www.expedia.com, www.sidestep.com, www.qixo.com and www.orbitz.com. (You also can make reservations through Web sites of airlines and hotel chains.) You'll find handy facts at these travel-guide Web sites: www.lonelyplanet.com, www.roughguides.com, www.fodors.com, www.frommers.com. Other handy sites include www.cruise.com, www.amtrak.com, http://travel.yahoo.com and www.last minutetravel.com.
Gather many valuable pieces of advice at Web sites such as www.tips4trips.com and http://home.netcom.com/~rcowen. (Examples: Earlier airline flights are less likely to be delayed, and hotel rooms above the first floor tend to be safer.)
Consider using a travel agent, too. If you're too busy to do much research or have some specialized needs, travel agents can be particularly useful.
Take advantage of group discounts. You may be a member of a discounted group and not even know it. Many airlines, hotel chains and car rental agencies offer reduced rates to special groups. Senior citizens, for starters, get some discounts, as do members of AARP (www.aarp.org), which you must be 50 to join, and AAA (www.aaa.com). Discounts are often available for young people and students (visit www.counciltravel.com and www.sta-travel.com for some leads).
You may also qualify for some discounts through your employer or a professional or social organization. Even membership in a warehouse club such as Costco or B.J.'s can present you with some special deals.
Look before you leap. The world is not a uniformly friendly place to all travelers. Get the latest in travel advisories from the State Department at www.travel.state.gov.
It can go even lower
A few years ago, some fellow employees received a fax about a sure bet. They bought the stock for $3.75 a share, and it quickly tumbled down to $0.75 per share.
They told me about it and I bought some, figuring it couldn't go any lower. It did! It fell and fell, and it now trades for less than a penny per share. This was my first time in the market. Soon after I bought the stock, I read my first investment book, one by Peter Lynch. Boy, did he blast me. Just because someone bought a stock at $50, it does not make it a steal later at $5. I am now doing well with the stocks I have purchased (I studied these companies first). S. Lahmeyer, Inola, Okla.
The Fool Responds: A little knowledge is a wonderful thing, isn't it? Sadly, not enough people realize that penny stocks are trading for pennies for a reason and that they only seem "cheap" and can become much cheaper. You were smart to begin learning more. Peter Lynch's books are great.
New Year's Eve rang in the age of the euro, the new official currency of 12 European nations and some 305 million people. The conversion is a massive operation. The European Central Bank has minted 649 billion euros, or about $584 billion (one euro equals about 90 cents at the present exchange rate).
It's a historic moment, filled with great economic possibility and fraught with anxiety. No longer will all that money need to be converted between nations. Companies should become more efficient, as consumers will more easily be able to compare the price of goods across borders. Investors also will be able to compare corporate profits in the same currency. More investment money should go to the most deserving companies, regardless of political boundaries.
But it's not likely to be all smooth sailing. Between countries, there are still variations in accounting standards, taxes and social security laws. Stock market regulations are not synchronized (with the exception of the merged French, Belgian and Dutch exchanges), and at present Britain, Denmark and Sweden are not even switching over to the euro. A bit of inflation may also ensue, as businesses round up prices to the nearest euro.
The last time Europe had a single currency was during Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire in A.D. 794. The euro has a fighting chance, though. It could be another step toward an economically vital super-state in Europe.