The checks are in the mail -- and in some bank accounts. The Department of the Treasury has signed those little slips of paper designed to give many of us a piece of the $168-billion stimulus package that is supposed to kick-start our flagging economy.


Which is good news for any traveler eager to help the patriotic cause and have some fun too. In polls and surveys, at least 1 in 5 Americans say they are likely to spend some or part of their rebate for vacations or travel.

This infusion of cash is good news for the travel industry, which still reeling from high gas prices, airline bankruptcies, canceled flights and the dollar's nose-dive. As the checks start landing in mailboxes, players in the travel world -- American Express, Expedia, the Auto Club of Southern California and others -- have begun offering special deals for that extra cash (generally, $600 for individuals, $1,200 for couples, plus an extra $300 for every child younger than 17).

Experts think the money will help the economy if it's spent on American soil. Given the patriotic possibilities of such largesse, we have ranked a few destinations that will not only help the economy but also deliver on the thrill quotient.

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Tempted to spend the money on a vacation in Mexico, Canada or Europe? Don't. In this case, it's America: Love it, don't leave it.

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Don't think of the stimulus check as found money. It's tax dollars that you worked hard for and that the IRS siphoned away -- until now. So spend it wisely -- and think of your neighbors. You won't spread the love around if you drop your money on the craps tables in Las Vegas. But if you're adamant about a road trip to Vegas, the Automobile Club of Southern California offers a "Rat Pack" package that includes a two-night hotel stay at the Luxor Las Vegas or the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino, plus admission to "The Rat Pack Is Back" tribute show at the Plaza Hotel and Casino. The package starts at about $438 per person. Details: www.aaa-calif.com.

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Visit Austin, Texas, and you'll have a chance to support two of America's greatest innovations: rock 'n' roll and the blues. For less than $500 each, including hotel and airfare from LAX, a family of three can spend a weekend in the live-music capital of America. Your little tax deductions, uh, children, can enjoy the miniature train rides at Zilker Metropolitan Park (only $1.75 a ride), or you can visit the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the nightly flight of more than a million Mexican free-tail bats that have made a home of the bridge. (For more ideas, go to www.austintexas.org.) And the music scene in Austin is as hot as a Texas barbecue. Don't miss the nightly blues and rock shows at Cheatham Street Warehouse, a venue that helped launch the careers of such legends as Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Strait and "Little" Charlie Sexton. Details: www.cheathamstreet.com.

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Take a lesson from Capt. John Smith, the English sailor who, after braving the Atlantic, stepped ashore at Virginia Beach, Va., on April 26, 1607, and ventured north to help colonize Jamestown, one of the first settlements in America. Explore those Old Dominion beaches under an incentive package offered by the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. The packages, which begin at about $300 per couple and go upward to $1,200 for two, include a two-night stay at one of 25 participating hotels and other niceties such as tickets to the Virginia Zoo, a bottle of Champagne, passes to a dolphin-watching cruise or movie tickets. Airfare is not included. The amenities package varies with the hotels. Details: www.vbfun.com.

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Support another great American tradition by riding a Harley. Wrap your fingers around the throttle of one of these fat, American-made hogs under another stimulus deal offered by the Automobile Club. For about $400, you get the keys to a Fat Boy, a Heritage Softail Classic, a Dyna Wide Glide, a Road King or an Electra Glide for a weekend spin in one of several cities, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles or San Diego. For those two days, you can ride your Harley until the wheels fall off. The package includes a two-night stay at a hotel, plus motorcycle saddle bags and helmets. Details: www.aaa-calif.com.

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Combine your patriotic duty with good times by spending your refund money where it's needed most: New Orleans, the site of the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. For about $1,200, a joint-filing couple can fly from LAX to New Orleans, stay at a hotel for two nights and rent a car to explore recovery efforts in Plaquemines and neighboring St. Bernard parishes and still have money for a swamp tour. For about $100 per person, swamp tour operators will pick you up from most downtown hotels, drive you to the Cajun village of Lafitte and strap you into a marsh-skimming airboat. Details: www.buyneworleanstours.com.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Write to travel@latimes.com to tell us how you'll spend your tax rebate.