Q My friends and I want to take a vacation the summer before college (we will be 18). All we want is to have a great time together in a different country.

Margaux Thieme-Burdette

Potomac Falls

A A pre-college summer fling should be wild and carefree -- but it shouldn't require a student loan. "The biggest problem is doing it this summer," says Randy Baker, a D.C. travel consultant at STA Travel (800-781-4040, www.statravel.com), a student travel agency. "Summer in Europe is usually busy, but it's really busy this year."

The most prohibitive cost will be the flight. Fares from D.C. to London, one of the less pricey European cities to fly into, start at about $850 round trip. However, once overseas, you can find ways to minimize costs, such as country-hopping via low-fare carriers (i.e., Ryanair has special Web fares from London to Dublin for $1.80 one way) or by train. Eurail (www.eurail.com or www.raileurope.com), for example, discounts passes for travelers under age 26; a 15-day youth pass with access to 17 countries is $382.

For accommodations, upgrade from hostels to budget hotels without going broke. BootsnAll Travel (www.bootsnall.com), a Web site for independent budget travelers, is a great resource for budget lodging. And for attractions, cut costs with a cultural city pass, such as the $25 Paris Museum Pass. The $22 International Student ID Card, available through STA Travel, provides further discounts.

For packages, consider a tour group that caters to the young or the adventurous. Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com), for example, has an eight-day Crete trip, including cliff hikes, for $875 per person double, land only (12 person max). Contiki (866-CONTIKI, www.contiki.com) has an age limit of 35, so many of its trips have a senior week feel.

Finally, don't ignore our neighbors up north and down south. Gap Adventures (800-465-5600, www.gapadventures.com) has a Costa Rica flexi pass (from $561 per person double) including hotels, shuttle transport and itinerary help. And Quebec is as foreign as France, but is only 11/2 hours (and less than $300) away by plane. Info: Quebec Ministry of Tourism, 877-BONJOUR, www.bonjourquebec.com.

I am interested in cooking classes on a cruise. Any suggestions?

Joyce Heise

New Manchester, W.Va.

Cruises are no longer just about sunburns and frozen daiquiri hangovers. On theme cruises, passengers can learn about jazz, antiques or golf, or meet with baseball stars or rejects from "The Apprentice." A culinary cruise falls within this special category, and, says Phil Ellison, marketing director of the Culinary Business Academy in New Mexico, "if you are a foodie, you should jump on it."

Cooking cruises differ from culinary institute "vacations," which are intensive and expensive, and culinary land tours, which mix day trips to markets, wineries, etc., with in-kitchen classes. On the cruises, cooking lessons are taught by guest chefs in a symposium-like setting, with a few demos and special menus, but no real opportunity to create that perfect tiramisu. Most major cruise lines offer a special food and wine trip at least once a year, if not more.

Crystal Cruises (800-804-1500, www.crystalcruises.com), for example, will sail between New York and Montreal with California chef Celestino Drago and a wine expert. The 11-day September cruise starts at $3,295 per person double. Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (877-505-5370, www.rssc.com) has an array of trips, such as a Cordon Bleu workshop (Dover to Monte Carlo, Madeira to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and the James Beard Celebrity Chef's Tour (Singapore to Sydney). For other options, check with the Cruise Lines International Association, which has a Special Interest Guide on its Web site (www.cruising.org), or a cruise specialist, such as Cruise Planners of Ashburn, Va. (866-786-7926, www.storybookcruises.com).

Do you know of any companies offering tours of New York City that include bus, hotel and tours?

Fred Ledford

Haymarket, Va.

For bus tours, the big name in the Big Apple is Gray Line New York (800-669-0051, www.coachusa.com). The company offers four 21/2-hour bus rides -- uptown, downtown, Brooklyn and a night tour -- in a double-decker bus, as well as admission to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building's observation deck. The company can also tack on lodging. New York City Vacation Packages offers the same trip for $509 for two nights for two people as well as other packages that include Broadway shows, museums and more. Info: 888-692-8701, www.nyctourist.com. For other tour options: NYC & Company, 212-484-1200, www.nycvisit.com.

If you're looking for bus tours that originate in Washington, that's tougher. Most trips, such as Smithsonian Journeys, require travelers to find their own ride to Manhattan, then start the trip once everyone has gathered in NYC.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com), fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071).