It doesn't take many gray, rainy days in autumn to bring dreams of warm sand between your toes and the perfect wave. But surfing this time of year isn't just an idle fantasy -- fall and winter make for some of the best surfing around the world.

A variety of surf camps offer the chance to get your feet wet in a group setting. They are often a great choice for beginners. But if camp isn't your scene, you have two choices: Go with a packager, or do it yourself.

Surf Packages

Packagers offer a variety of options to suit any budget, whether you've got only a few coins to rub together or a trust fund to fritter away. Check out online resources such as

isurfing.com for more information and links to reputable tour operators.

Most surfing vacation packagers assume that you'll bring your own surfboard with you. That means you need to double-check the

airline baggage restrictions for surfboards before showing up at the airport.

Bryan Pohlman, a travel consultant with Quiksilver Travel and an avid surfer for the past 25 years, notes that some of the cheapest surfing packages available are for trips to Peru. "On a package, you can probably pay as little as $30 to $40 a day for accommodations and three meals," he says.

Alternatively, consider a trip to an up-and-coming destination, such as Nicaragua, or maybe the tried and true destinations of Hawaii or the Caribbean. You can get a week in

Costa Rica for $763 per person including roundtrip airfare, or spend as much as $1,000 per person for a week in

Nicaragua, not including airfare.

If money's no object, consider renting a yacht with a professional guide to take you and your closest friends to some of the world's best breaks. The

Haumana, a 120-foot powered catamaran with a staff of 16, offers access to fantastic surfing in Tahiti with a surf guide and jet ski tow-in. For about $10,000 each, you and seven friends can have your run of the yacht for a week.

Do-It-Yourself

You can save money by mapping out your own surfing tour, perhaps renting a place on a coast with good breaks. Bear in mind that flying halfway around the world, then traveling by boat to a popular beach break in Indonesia, for example, will cost a lot more than traveling to, say, Central America. By the same token, you can save a bundle if you're willing to settle for accommodations that are less than posh.

For example, Mar del Plata is the most important seaside resort in Argentina, but there are cheap rooms and beds available for $20 a night at spots like the

Hostel Playa Grande.

Even closer to home, Florida and California also offer great surfing. Get in touch with some

local surf shops for information about conditions and equipment rentals as well as accommodations.

If you've got a bit more cash to spare, consider heading to a major international surfing Mecca like Hawaii, Costa Rica, Tahiti, New Zealand or Indonesia. Web sites like

surfline.com and

surfing-waves.com offer up-to-date reports and forecasts for the best surfing around the world. They also offer local information on places to stay, where to eat and when to surf a given destination.

One last thing: Whether you're a humble beach bum on a seven-day budget surf vacation or trust fund playboy on a tour of the world's best breaks, remember to observe surf etiquette -- no littering, no whining and absolutely no dropping in on someone else's wave.

Peter McDougall is a freelance writer who lives in Freeport, Maine, with his wife and their dog.