Can't afford Switzerland? Oh yes, you can. If you can find between $1,000 and Switzerland for a week to 10 days, depending on how much you eat. Here's how:
Shop for air fares. Your travel agent can give you details about Belair, Travac, and Capitol services to Zurich. Dates of travel will probably be the determining factor for which service you fly, since none of these flights operate daily.
My recent flight on Capitol's DC stretch-8 offered a few surprises, most of them pleasant ones. The in-flight service was excellent, and the plane interior was comfortable. The crew was enthusiastic. The food -- especially on the New York-to-Zurich flight -- was exceptional, and the departure gift of a cosmetic case with toothbrush, face cloth, and other small items plus slipper socks to wear in flight was a pleasant surprise for a bargain-rate flight.
A not so pleasant surprise was the two-hour delay on departure from New York's Kennedy Airport and the previously unannounced stop in Brussels, which meant that the arrival in Zurich was almost four hours later than I'd expected. (Capitol consolidated its Brussels and Zurich flights for some of the winter departures, but summer schedules are expected to be direct, nonstop.)
The best part of the flight was the $502 round-trip fare, compared with Swissair's $600 Monday-to-Thursday, 7-day minimum, 3-month maximum round-trip fare.
The air fare is the biggest chunk of your travel expenses; lodgings are next. It's possible to find clean, neat, and homey inns where costs can be modest and comforts priceless; and Interhome, a company specializing in rental of apartments, villas, and hotels, lists over 200 hotels and 2,500 apartments in Switzerland, where you can have a room for the equivalent of $16 per person with breakfast and two sharing. (Interhome has offices in White Plains, N.Y.)
Generally, a room in the city will be top dollar, even for a small place, but in Zurich I lodged at the Alexander for 100 Swiss francs for two (under $60 at the current rate of exchange), and was within walking distance of ''everything.'' In Geneva, Le Chandelier (on a historic street in the old town) cost 110 francs for two. And in Bern, the country's capital, the Goldener Adler costs 80 to 95 francs (about $45) for two and is conveniently situated on the main arcaded street.
For carefree travel, you can't beat the Swiss Holiday Card, a plastic ticket that is more valuable (in my opinion) than a Swiss bank account. The Swiss Holiday Card is issued in 4-day, 8-day, 15-day, and one-month versions, first and second class.
Although the luxury of first-class travel gives you more space (and perhaps a little more stuffing in the comfortable seats), second class is aboard the same train, and very clean and comfortable. Cost for the 4-day card is $56 second, $ 77 first; the 8-day is $71 and $103; the 15-day is $93 and $129. Tickets (and details) can be obtained through your travel agent, through the Swiss National Tourist Office at 608 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10020, or on the spot (in Swiss francs) when you arrive in Switzerland.
What about meals? Of course you can easily part with the equivalent of $25 for a multicourse, memorable meal with second servings of the main course that is a standard practice in most Swiss restaurants. And you should do that, at least once. But it is possible to eat well (not skimping) for less than $20 a day. Breakfast of fresh breads, jams, butter, and a hot drink is included in your room rate (unless you insist on juice, eggs, and cereal).
Swiss cities, towns, and villages are freckled with food stores with mouthwatering displays. Many of the shops, and certainly the konditorei (confection shops), have at least a few tables where you can sit to enjoy the open-faced sandwiches or pastries you have purchased for a couple of dollars.
For the big meal of the day, many restaurants offer a ''menu.'' In Swiss parlance, the ''menu'' is the chef's special or the meal of the day. (When you want to see a menu as we know it, ask for the ''karte.'') The chef's special usually runs from 8.50 francs, without soup and dessert, to 16 francs with everything. That means from about $5 to $10 for a hearty and filling meal. Inexpensive omelets and spaghetti are often available.
Quality counts in this country, and you can count on getting your money's worth -- even if you are counting coins.