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October 25, 2014

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The real vacation is off the tourist map

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Sam Morris

Rhonda Gianettoni and her son, Scotty, spent part of their Fiji vacation a year ago staying in a remote village. They will seek a similar experience in Costa Rica, they say.

A year ago Rhonda Gianettoni took her 9-year-old son to Fiji for their summer vacation.

For more than a week they frolicked at an island resort.

But they wanted a more authentic experience. So when a resort worker whom mother and son had befriended extended an invitation, they accepted — and spent the last four days of their vacation with the worker’s family in a nearby village.

In a hut, they slept on a bed of banana leaves. During the day, they explored villages off the beaten tourist path. The experience made their vacation more memorable.

It’s part of Gianettoni’s strategy: make the most of exotic summer vacations by living it up — and then living as the locals do for a more insightful experience.

Until that Fiji vacation, Gianettoni said, her son, Scotty, didn’t realize how fortunate he is.

“He thought that the way we lived was normal, and that everyone has all of this technology,” she said. “Now he knows how lucky we are.”

Gianettoni and her son moved to Las Vegas seven years ago from Bakersfield, Calif., to be closer to her parents, who lived here. She got an evening job as a food server at a hotel showroom. That job pays the bills. For vacation money, she got a lunchtime job at an upscale pizza restaurant.

With the two jobs, Gianettoni made $56,000 the year going into her Fiji vacation. But mom and son couldn’t afford a vacation this summer.

Because of the sour economy, her income — mostly tips — dipped to $41,000.

All eyes are on a spring vacation.

Europe was rejected because of the poor currency exchange rate. Gianettoni and Scotty scoured the maps and studied where they could get the most bang for their buck.

Destination: Costa Rica.

They’re looking forward to the rain forest, the national parks and the volcanoes. They’re shopping around for a nice resort. Then they’ll search for a place to stay where they can really experience Costa Rica.

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