Talk about Travel

Jan 03, 2012

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service. This week we explore two unexpected winter destinations, the Grand Canyon and Napa.

Hello, hello. Welcome back to Talk About Travel. We missed you during our brief hiatus. This week we were back with some great winter destination stories, including the Grand Canyon (don't miss the photo gallery) and Napa. Like everyone else, we can't ignore the fact that it's a new year, so tell us about your 2012 travel resolutions -- places you want to go, things you want to do, overall goals. Best answer gets the prize.

Now let's start chatting!

 

Hi guys, am planning a trip to England and am wondering about renting a car. How hard is it to drive in England as an American driver? Also is it difficult to rent cars that have automatic transmission? Will be driving in February so there is a possibility of snow. Thanks!

Here's K.C. Summers's account of driving in Ireland from a while ago. It'll definitely be more expensive to get an automatic transmission, but I'm not sure about more difficult. Anyone with left-side driving experience want to chime in?

A dear friend is getting married in Switzerland this spring. My husband and I would love to go, but we have no childcare options available for our 4 year old. Are we crazy to contemplate taking a preschooler on a five-day trip (including two days of travel) to Europe? (My husband cannot be away from the office for a longer jaunt at that time of year so we can't stretch the trip out any more than that.) I'm worried that the whole experience would be miserable due to the jet lag's effect on our child in such a short span of time. Any advice or insight is appreciated -- thanks!

No, I don't think it's a bad idea. We've done it, and oddly, our son (who was 18 months old at the time) adjusted to the time difference faster than the adults. The best argument I've heard against taking a very young child on a trip like this is that he or she won't remember it. I don't buy it. Your child will have memories of your Europe trip, and you'll have the pictures to prove it. I say: Go for it!

Hi there! Planning a week long trip to London in mid-late April (dates are flexible). When's the best time to buy a plane ticket (flying from DC) - should I wait a few more weeks to see if prices go down? And what's a good price to aim for? Thanks for your help!

There is no best time to buy an air ticket. It's more a matter of watching and then striking when a sale is launched. London is usually fairly reasonable because there's competition. Three airlines -- United, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic -- fly nonstop. A fare of around $750 for a nonstop including taxes would be good. Remember, Easter is April 8, which means kids are off from school and families are on the move. That could mean higher fares. 

Have you looked at air fares from DC to Montreal or Toronto? They're outrageous, so much so I've complained to the Canadian government. You can fly cheaper to California or even Europe. What gives?

Flights to Canada have historically been on the pricey side, for a number of reasons, including competition -- or lack thereof -- taxes and various mandatory surcharges. I wish I could give you some hope that they would be reduced at some point in the near future, but I can't. Your best bet is to monitor fares through a site like Yapta and to book when you can afford a ticket.

To actually use all my vacation days. For someone who loves to travel, I have way too much time unused. :)

Hear, hear!

My 2012 travel goal is to plan a major trip to a new continent where I don't speak the language or know anyone. It looks like it is going to happen too-- we booked the trip and leave for Buenos Aires and Chile in 6 weeks! Then after a trip booked for 2013 I will hit all of the inhabited continents by my 30th birthday.

Planning a trip in late Sept - early October to Hawaii. What is the best way to plan 25 year wedding anniversary?

Depends so much on your type of traveling. Do you want to hike/bike or is golfing more your thing or just sitting on the beach? Each island has a different personality. And each island offers different types of accommodations, experiences and price points. I'd probably first spend some time exploring Hawaii's tourism Web site, which is quite good. 

Bowietian looking to spend romantic weekend getaway in late March with spouse of 21 years. destination: anywhere from 20 - 200 miles from Bowie, amenities: nice room, spa and pool. have checked many places online, would love suggestions from your experiences. Thanks, Bowietian

Get thee to Keswick Hall.

I made reservations through Travelocity for three rooms at a Richmond, VA. Embassy Suites for the Tuesday night after Christmas. The rooms were to be used follwing a day of Skiing at Wintergreen. On Christmas day we decided to cancel the upcoming ski trip due the melting conditions and rain predicted for Tuesday. I knew about the no refund policy when I made the reservation (all signs looked good for the weather at the time). However, I was hoping for at least a partial credit. Travelocity contacted the hotel on our behalf and was told "no". I contacted the hotel directly and was told they "couldn't" make any sort of refund or isssue a credit even if they wanted to. Do I have any options or I am really out $325? We had stayed at that hotel on two other ski trips.

You're probably out the $325. You might -- and I stress might -- be able to finaigle a discount off a future stay by writing a brief and polite email to the hotel, reminding them that you are a frequent guest. But it's really up to the property.

The worst part of it for me in New Zealand was trying to not freak out every time I forgot and thought that nobody was driving the car in front of me :) Just take it slow so you take the time to think about what you are doing.

Hi Travel Crew and chatters! Headed to Kerala in a few weeks for about 4 days, wanting to see Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Kovalam. Any insights on things to do besides backwater canals and tea plantations? Not interested in beaches. Thanks!

Definitely throwing this one out to the audience. Anyone?

I hate $50 bills, but that is besides the points. Every now in life we get stuck with them. Anyway, I caution people to be careful with a $50 in Penn Station New York. I was obviously buying to go lunch and then run and catch my train in a long line at a restaurant in Penn Station. The bill came to $9.10. I gave the cashier $50.10. The woman gave me $11 change. What I said I gave her a $50, not a $20, she held up the $50 and said she knows, and that she gave me change for a $50. I pointed out that all I got back was $11. At that point, a man who worked behind with her came up and told me the line had to keep moving and to leave. Well, I got ripped off. I send this as a warning. Maybe the woman made an honest mistake, yet I have my suspicions. When the line is long and people are in a hurry, watch that you aren't ripped off.

If it was all on the up-and-up, I'm surprised that the clerk didn't ask for your contact info and offer to send you the difference if, at the end of the day, they had an extra $30 in the register. When I worked as a cashier, that's how we handled this sort of situation. Did you consider standing your ground and calling the police?  

Several years ago, i made a resolution that every year I would travel to someplace new. One trip to somewhere in the United States and hopefully one trip out of the country. Last year, it was Park City, Utah for a weekend of skiing, and a week at the beach in Barbados. This year no trips on the horizon as skiing is out for me this winter which kills me as my friends are going to Whistler in February, but I'm bound and determined to go somewhere this year and make it to someplace new.

for your chatters with the england / london questions: renting an automatic is much more expensive than manual (like 2-3x more). driving on the left is challenging, though something you can get used to after a couple of days (and potentially a few near-misses). it's very stressful to drive in london, but much less crazy in the countryside. if you are in an area where it snows (up north, scotland), know that it is not handled nearly as well as in the States (read: no snow tires on cars, roads are not plowed in a timely manner), so be mindful of that. good luck!

Thanks for the insight.

Hi Travel team! My son is about to turn 1, and my husband and I want to spend our first weekend away without the little guy. We're thinking 2 nights in March, within a 2 hour drive from DC. We like to hike and eat and drink wine, but we are mostly interested in sleeping past 7am and just relaxing in a quiet location. We're hoping to come in under $1000 for hotel and food. Any suggestions?

A couple of places that come to mind are St. Michaels on Maryland's Eastern Shore and Staunton, Va. Any other ideas chatters? 

For the writer wanting automatic transmission in England. A few lessons on driving a stick shift in the US may be far cheaper than paying a premium for an automatic transmission. Honestly, I learned to do it very fast as an adult when I purchased a car with a standard transmission, and it gives me so much more flexibility when traveling and renting cars. I think everyone should learn to drive a stick...you never know when you'll need it.

I thought that the travel section had a spot that listed articles for a particular travel destination. I can't seem to find it!

Ah, yes. We're working on trying to bring those archives back up to speed. What destination are you trying to find? States can be found here and countries here (though we've had a spot of trouble with Europe and South America on that map).

My 2012 Travel Resolution is to go on a relaxing vacation without my adorable children and spend quality time with my husband. Of course, it has to be a good deal too!

I usually am a last minute traveler which is fun but I feel I miss out. This year I have started plans for 2 trips. One to Borneo in april and a Volunteer trip to Peru in October. I have never been to either place and am so excited that I can look forward to and prepare for these adventures during the brutal winter.

I went to grad school in Toronto, but am from Washington DC. In the past I have either flown to Buffalo and rented a car or taken the MegaBus. It is much cheaper, if you can afford to add two hours onto travel time!

A few years ago, I took my teenage son on a week-long trip to Ireland. I'm a life-long stick-shift driver, so it wasn't too terrible shifting with my left hand. Driving on the left was manageable out in the country, but an absolute nightmare in the city (Dublin), and at traffic circles everywhere in the country. Having my son as co-pilot saved us from many potential accidents. because I was always looking the wrong way to look for oncoming traffic.

Can you send me a few details of your trip? I think this might make a great column in the near future. The whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing has always intrigued me. Here's my email address. And by the way, if there's anyone else who has a story to tell about renting a car in the UK or Bermuda or anywhere else they drive on the left side -- please send it to me.

We would like to celebrate our ten year anniversary in 2012 with a vacation. Could you please suggest some affordable destinations for spring break week (~April 1-8) that are affordable, fun, not too cold, and not too crowded? Where is warm and off-peak that week? We are in our early 40s and like to eat fun food, see the sites, and perhaps bike some easy routes. One of us has already been to Vietnam, Scandinavia, South America, and Africa and we loved Tortola (in the off season) for our honeymoon. We thought Italy or Ireland might be fun, but are open to anything except perhaps Mexico.

Hm, I don't think Ireland would be warm, but I like your Italy suggestion. Look into the Maremma region.

I want to try surfing and am looking into Surf Camps in Costa Rica for a week in February or March. Have you ever been? If so, are there any camps you would recommend?

Chatters?

Jetsetter travel is having a sale for Keswick Hall at the moment. (Jetsetter.com). My resolution this year is to make my travel money go further!

Indeed they are! I might finally have to go now.

Looking to travel to Asheville NC next month and am debating whether to fly into Asheville aiport (the Charlotte-Asheville leg adds $200) or fly into Charlotte and rent a car and make the drive along 74 or I-40. Thoughts?

Asheville is not around the corner from Charlotte -- it's about the same distance as Washington is from Wilmington, Del., and weather can sometimes get iffy. I'd pay the extra money. But if money is tight, you like driving, and you're not afraid of a little snow and ice, go for it. 

I really want to achieve premier status on one of my two frequent flier programs. I think my January trip to Shanghai should help me on my Delta miles! :)

I've driven on the left in the USVI and it wasn't too bad once I got used to it- the turns are the worst part! They drive America-style cars though (driver on the left, rather than the right as in Britain). Also, we were in Europe last year and found that it would be much more expensive to rent a car with automatic transmission. We looked into taking lessons to learn how to drive manual as neither of us knew how, but we couldn't find anyone! Many driving schools simply do not have manual cars anymore. We ended up just relying on trains/buses, but if anyone knows a place in the DC area where one can take lessons, I'd love to know.

Well, sure, of course it's useful to learn to use a stick, and US lessons may be cheaper than paying for an automatic, but using a US/left seat stick is completely different than using a foreign/right seat stick. I've tried, and it's HARD. I gave up.

I drove around Ireland a few years ago and was happy I decided to get an automatic. The roads were quite narrow, the signs are different and you are on the opposite side, so adding an opposite side stick shift to the mix would have put a damper on the trip

My resolution is to begin saving for my 40th birthday trip: Antarctica, the only continent I have not been to. Planning to go with one of my best friends; her and I have traveled together to the other continents.

That's quite a resolution. I'm sure you'll have better luck than him, but you should check out this article from today's Health & Science section about Robert F. Scott's expedition in Antarctica.

Do you think it's a bad idea to consider visiting London this year shortly _after_ the Olympics (probably mid-September)? Will the city still be so discombobulated from hosting that it could adversely affect my visit?

On the contrary. I would think it'd be a fine time to go and take advantage of the infrastructure they would have put in place for the games.

my girlfriends and i have been to witches rock surf camp in tamarindo - so fantastic, we went twice! great instructors and the location is great for beginners (easy breaks, warm water, etc.). it's a roughly 1.5-2 hour drive from either liberia or san jose and tamarindo is a fairly active town. the last time we were there, there were quite a few kiddies on college spring breaker, but they were generally well behaved, and easily avoided. bonus - the surf camp also has a great restuarant / bar on the beach that is perfect for sunset drinks and nachos :-)

You all are awesome. Thanks!

I've recently progressed (regressed?) from a cane to a spiffy folding waler w/a seat. It folds up very nicely but I'm not sure it will fit ij an overhead bin. Can flight personnel store it at the front of the plane? If I have t o check it I'll have to use a wheelchair, which I would prefer to avoid. Thanks.

I would contact your airline directly to find out what the procedure is for storing a walker. (For example, here's Delta's contact information for travelers with disabilities.) It's highly unlikely that your walker will be gate-checked. If it folds, a flight attendant will probably help you find a place to stow it and reunite you with it when everyone deplanes. But it's worth checking before you leave.

My new year's travel resolution was going to be learning how to drive manual for an upcoming 2 week trip to Europe, but I can't find any driving schools in the DC area that offer lessons! I don't know anyone with a manual car and none of the rental agencies even rent them anymore. It would save a ton of money not having to rent an automatic car, and since the trip is for our wedding, the cost savings would certainly help!

Anyone who previously chimed in on driving abroad have a place to recommend for this person wanting a lesson on driving a stick shift?

This only works if you have more than one driver (in this case I was the back-up driver), but when a group of friends and I were driving around Scotland, I sat in the back seat behind the driver as much as possible. I got used to being on that side of the car and used to which way the traffic was coming from, so that when it was my turn to drive I think it made the transition much easier. Also, having navigator in the passenger seat to help you get through the traffic circles is a BIG help.

I didn't have a bucket list until recently. And it isn't a long one, but it's relevant to what makes me happy. My list involves traveling to see all the greatest trees in the world. I have seen so many lovely ones already, but I think I can start with ones that are close by. Since I live in CA, I can start with the Lone Cypress and Giant Sequoias, as well as the bristlecone pines AKA Methuselah trees in the White Mountains. I hope to see the Baobab trees in Madagascar someday and visit the sculpture commemorating the Lonely Tree of Tenere in the Sahara. I better get started!

Every few years, my college roommates have gotten together at one of the parent's condo in Ft. Myers Florida. This year, the parent has sold the condo and is in the process of upgrading to a house (I think) so the condo is a no go. Several of us are still thinking of getting together and want to rent a condo for the weekend in Florida. We aren't particular on location, just want the opportunity to spend some time together, and be able to go out to a casual dinner every night, and visit the beach but perfectly content to spend the weekend by the pool. Any suggestions on where to look and how to find a condo just for a long weekend?

Florida is a big state with lots of different options. If you enjoyed Fort Myers, you may just want to stick with that area, perhaps branching out and trying Sanibel Island or Bonita Springs. Or you could go to the other coast, and give West Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale a chance. Take a look at prices/options at rent-by-owner sites such as Homeaway or VRBO

I'm heading to Sri Lanka for a wedding in February. I have a couple of extra days to spend there. Any can't miss sites you would recommend? We'll be in Galle and Colombo, but I'm willing to travel. THANKS!

Another one for the peanuts to weigh in on.

(or "Intent" as my yoga instructor calls it): To be more patient with my traveling companion when she wants to take yet another picture and buy another gift for her friend's friend. And to believe her when she says, "you can go off and do this on your own, my feelings won't be hurt." We're going to Greece in September.

With the excellent public transportation, you absolutely don't need a car in most major European cities, including London. Furthermore, driving in London is not only challenging, but very expensive. They use a system called 'congestion pricing' to try to discourage people from driving into central London. I'd say you don't need a car in any major European city, so skip it for that part of your trip and only get a car for traveling outside of big cities.

I'll second that. I grew up in Europe, and we took the train everywhere. It's often the best way to get there. 

I'm planning a solo trip for this winter/spring to go to the Caribbean. The only resorts I can find that are geared towards solo travelers are Club Med Turks & Caicos and La Source in Grenada. La Source looks amazing, but it is a little out of my price range (I'd like to keep it a max of $2,000 for the resort for seven days). Club Med Turks and Caicos looks okay, but I've read some really positive and very negative reviews and I'm not sure what to believe. Do you have any suggestions on good resorts in the Caribbean or Latin America that are geared towards solo travelers or at least are friendly towards solo travelers? I'm interested in relaxing at the beach, trying scuba diving, and trying any other adventures the resort and/or island has to offer. I would prefer an all inclusive resort, but am open to other suggestions.

Most all-inclusives are geared to either couples or families. And most charge a single supplement. I'd be more likely to go to a boutique hotel. Maybe something like the Rockhouse Hotel in Negril, Jamaica? Any chatters have an idea? 

I thought it was pretty easy in Australia. It felt natural for the driver to be in the middle of the road, just like we are here. (I think I'd have a problem in places that use US cars). But, my friend just couldn't do it. When she was driving (long stretches on uninhabited roads), it felt SO WRONG to be the passenger in the center of the road when she'd start off in the wrong lane.

Previous poster here. I had learned from a DC driving school back in the early 90's....I just looked up 'driving schools' in the yellow pages and found someone easily. It sounds like it's gotten harder. But that was just for an initial lesson. My best teacher was a distant cousin, who talked me through shifting on hills and all the other hard stuff in an afternoon. Find a friend or relative who drives an automatic and see if they'll teach you on their car.

The reader planning their 25 year anniversary might want to consider somewhere else. A serial documentary on CBS on Monday nights seems to always show at least one murder a week in Hawaii.

HA.

Have you, or any of the chatters, every done one of those u-drive-u vacations in Ireland? They sound awesome, but wonder if the reality is a bit different. Thanks!

Testimonials, anyone?

One thing I cannot stress enough - if traveling through the UK, if you don't already have one equipped with overseas maps, RENT a GPS!!! We traveled the very windy, twisty back roads of Ireland in fall 2010 and rented a GPS for the trip, and believe me - it saved quite a few in-car arguments along the way. For the record, we spent the money to get an automatic transmission for our rental. I know it was much more expensive, but I found it pretty easy to adjust to the left side after a day or so.

I stopped going to Canada 5 or 6 years ago when the fares jumped to ridiculous levels. $500+ for a one hour flight to Toronto is insane. It used to cost less than $200 (non-stop on AC) and I thought nothing of going up there for a weekend. I think there must have been a massive tax introduced some time around 2006.

We drove this summer, which was perfect for us. If you have a family, those fares are unaffordable.

Where should I stay for the most bang for my buck at the various Disney resorts in Orlando? Early Feb, 4 adults, 2 kids (age 4 and 1). Most likely spending most of our time at Disney World, not the other theme parks.

Look into the value resorts. There are often nicely priced packages where you stay at one of those.

I've never driven in the righthand seat, so can't weigh in on that, but I will weigh in that it's really great to have a stick when your teen is learning to drive. First, s/he learns that skill, and second, you can be pretty sure that s/he isn't going to be lending your car to her/his friends, since no one else can drive stick! Plus, it makes him/her cool among the teens. FTR, when my son was taking driver's ed, they had a special stick class. He didn't have to take it, of course, having learned from me, but it was offered. This is in Boston, so unfortunately not relevant to the chatter who is looking for lessons in DC.

I am still amazed that I survived being a passenger in a rental car in Cyprus. The driver did not know how to 1) drive a manual car 2) drive on the left hand side of the road or 3) drive on switchback roads. I was shocked that we avoided an accident/driving off a cliff/someone throwing up in the back seat. I was so shaken that despite really wanting to go to Northern Cyprus the next day, I turned down the offer for a ride.

Yikes.

Posting early b/c I'll miss the chat: I'm 33, in grad school in NYC, need help narrowing down places to consider for Spring Break, March 11-18; I might be able to leave the evening of the 8th so I can be back in New York for St. Patrick's Day. I never did a typical, raucous spring break as an undergrad, and basically want to spend the days at the beach/pool and nights out dancing (either to American Top 40/hip-hop or Latin - on my two deployments to Iraq I got pretty good at salsa, bachata and merengue); would rather be around some other people in their early 30s, late 20s. Any ideas?

With those dance moves, have you considered jetting over to Spain? Maybe Barcelona or Madrid?

Heading to Italy for the first time ever next weekend for a week! Doing Rome, Florence and finishing in Venice. I think I'm good for stuff to do in Rome and Venice, but we are spending the bulk of time in Florence - what should I see, and more importantly, where should I eat?

Re: restaurants, I'm going to steal from Tom Sietsema's chat here: " My tried-and-true source for all things Italian is Faith Willinger, an American who lives in Florence and has written several fine guides to her adopted country’s restaurants and markets. I’ve seen her “Eating in Italy” in numerous bookstores. " 

And if you haven't been to Florence, you will never be bored. Its Piazza della Signoria, the Cathedral, the Baptistry of St. John the Baptist, the Paluzzo Vecchio, etc., will keep you occupied. 

Agreed that you don't need a car IN cities and between major cities, but it can be very useful for seeing the countryside. We ran into this on a recent trip to Czech Rep.- for many smaller towns, there's only one line in, so you'd have to backtrack to the major city again to move onto the next site. Castles/landmarks that were quite close together in distance required a LONG tralvel time by public transportation. We could have covered a lot more ground by renting a car for a couple days. That said, the train system was excellent.

I did this in Australia. I did get an automatic, even though I had a stick at home, because I figured I would get confused trying to remember to stay on the left and deal with shifting. It was only slightly more expensive there though (back in 2003 when I took this trip). I drove in the country and it was fairly easy, although I did forget several times that I was supposed to stay on the left. Luckily the roads were pretty empty. Basically you have to constantly pay attention to what you're doing and not give in to the usual distractions like changing radio stations or CDs or whatever.

Great advice. Thanks for sharing your story.

When we were 22, my best friend and I took a 3 week trip to the UK. We rented a car for 10 days in Ireland. It wasn't hard to drive in the country (save for the time I almost ran into a horse), but it was tricky to drive in Dublin. We tackled it by having the driver who only concentrated on drivingand one navigator who's responsibility was to give the commands. We also planned the route before we got into a car and also planned a secondary route since Dublin has many one way streets. We made it without any damage to the car. :)

I'm lucky enough to be traveling to Japan for the first time this summer and am super-excited! I'm doing a decent amount of research but am curious, does the Flight Crew have any "favorites" to recommend that might be a bit off the beaten path? Thanks so much & happy 2012!

Here's a recent article we had on Japan. I also enjoyed this story about Nara by Pico Iyer in December's Conde Nast Traveler.

Flying is super expensive, but flying into Burlington and driving to Montreal or from Buffalo to Toronto is much more reasonable and easy. Flights to Buffalo are normally around $200 and it is an easy 1 1/2 drive.

Yeah, I did this when I went to Quebec this summer. Very easy and even with the price of the rental car and parking, we still saved money over flying directly into Canada. Plus got to see some nice scenery.

I'm looking to book a trip to Disney World through JetBlue, and I was wondering if anyone has had any experience booking through them (or through another airline) for this type of trip. Anything I need to know/do before I hit "buy"? The price they're quoting for air, room and car is way less than if I do it a la cart. Thoughts?

Most airlines offer vacation packages, and you can sometimes save money this way. Just make sure all taxes/fees are included in the final price. 

Hi there. I am looking at flights from LAX to Norfolk in the beginning of April. Is $370-385 a good price? Should I buy now or wait for a sale? Also, is Norfolk the best airport to fly into if I am headed to the OBX? Thank you!

Yes, that's a good price. And yes, Norfolk is the most convenient major airport. 

Another benefit to teaching teenagers to drive standard...at some point they may be with a friend who has had too much to drink, and need to drive the friend's car. IF it's a standard, they'd better know how.

My mom has flown twice on Delta with hers and it's been gate checked every time. She wheels it right down to the airplane door and leaves it there with the strollers and car seats. I have no idea whether they'd fit into an overhead bin, but I'm not liking the odds (and forget it on the smaller planes). When gate checking, don't be surprised if it comes out with some paint scrapes.

Just wanted to let your readers know that we traveled up to Vermont on Christmas Eve- NJT, GW Bridge, etc. and it felt like we were the only ones on the road. We made the trip in record time. Happy New Year

That's a nice feeling. Glad the trip was smooth!

I wanted to report back. I had asked about ways to secure a cheaper rental car from Miami Int'l Airport over Xmas -- rates were $700 a week! You suggested looking into locations a few miles from the airport. We rented from an Enterprise 6 miles from the airport ($15 cab ride) and saved hundreds of dollars! The weekly rental was $250, so even with the $30 plus cab fares, it was still so much cheaper. And very easy -- I highly recommend it to others. In any event, I would not have thought to do this so THANKS Flight Crew! And happy new year...

Great! Sometimes we know what we're talking about. :)

As usual, my to-do list for 2012 doesn't have anything to do with losing weight or improving my career standing, but rather is a list of places I'd like to go that would take longer than a year itself if only I didn't have to earn a living. I could use some help with one element of it, if you can offer your expansive expertise: I would like to go to (Spanish) language school. Might you or your chatters have any specific recommendations? Am thinking Havana, Lima, or Buenos Aires, in particular. Thanks much!

Hey, can you shoot us an e-mail to travel@washpost.com? I think one of our freelancers had a Buenos Aires language school to recommend. I'll see if I can get the name from her.

Do you have any recommendations for getting rid of a timeshare? It is so hard to distinguish reputable companies from scams. We are at a point where we would just like to hand it back to the seller just to get out from under the mortgage. Thanks and happy new year!

I don't think most sellers will take them back. The Federal Trade Commission discusses selling timeshares on its Web site. You might also want to contact the American Resort Development Association

My travel resolution this year is to take more spur-of-the-moment, weekend trips with my husband. Money is generally tight because I am a grad student, and we are both extremely busy- but we have lots of friends and family in nearby cities and would both benefit from more time away from the grind here in DC. Right now the plan is West Virginia for some skiing, NYC for a friend's off-Broadway show, Fallingwater in the late spring/summer, and whitewater rafting in the fall. Yay minitrips!

I am a big fan of these kinds of trips. Have fun.

There's lots to see within Florence, but I also loved my day trips from there to Lucca and Fiesole (you can walk here or back or take a loca bus). have a great time!

My sister and I vacationed in Ireland earlier this year and we adapted quite well to driving on the opposite side of the road. Whoever was in the passenger seat was responsible for map-reading, giving clear directions at traffic circles (exit at 10:00, etc), and providing the driver with warnings when necessary. There was really only one time when we screwed up and almost turned into the lane of oncoming traffic. Overall, it was much less stressful than expected and turned out to be quite fun!

I'm sensing a theme here: Best not to do it alone.

To finally see the sights in DC - I've lived here for over a decade and never seen the White House!

Amen to that. I did some sightseeing yesterday here too. Fun -- if not FREEZING.

Try Porter Airlines. We just got direct a route here from Burlington VT for the ski season. It is only 2 flights weekly, but they are round trip flights, so we're hoping to have our own long weekend in Toronto while they all come here to ski. win-win!

Partner has a conference in LA in early March and suggests we make it an end-of-winter get-away. I love California but the thought of LA--driving, celebrity overkill, blah, blah--does NOT resonate at all. We've done Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, loved biking, picnicking, and seeking out great local restaurants. Any thoughts on other near-LA-but-not-LA experiences??? We also love small towns that are good for walking.

I'm a fan of Laguna Beach. It's in Orange County south of Los Angeles, about an hour from LAX. Great art galleries, shopping, restaurants and hotels. 

I'm hoping to head to Rome the last 10 or so days of May (19-28/29) with my husband and when I looked a few months ago the tickets were around $875 a piece but we unfortunately weren't able to book due to unknown circumstances. Of course now that we know we can make the trip the tickets are hovering around $1200. Any ideas if they'll be heading back down in price?

I am not going to say "I told you so," but that's one of our mantras - buy fast when the price goes low. Airfares are so volatile. I've walked away from my computer to make a sandwich, only to come back to a higher fare. I'd be surprised if the fare went much lower than $1,200, especially since the Memorial Day weekend is involved. You'll take a chance waiting. Yes, there could be a sudden sale, but fares could just as easily go up. You could try fake booking to see how many seats are available. I looked at some United flights, and it seems as if there are still lots of open seats on flights between IAD and FCO around those dates, so there could very well be a sale. 

Happy New Year! My husband and I are looking for a fun place to go in the mountains over the MLK holiday. We'd like to stay within about 3 hours driving distance of DC, and we'd like to get out of VA (we've done Charlottesville many times). We'd like to bring our dog, and I'm pregnant, so vineyards can't be the focus (sadly). Any ideas? Thanks so much!

See if the Savage River Lodge has availability. My husband and I had a great time there with our pooches.

There look to be tons of them - hard to believe there isn't one that teaches manual. 

Sounds like this person did not count their money before putting it (or starting to put it) in their purse/pocket. If the money was still out and in their hand, their should be no question about the change, given that the cashier did not dispute getting a $50 bill. If you count her money into you purse then you cannot then cannot prove you go tthe wrong change. I suggest this person and others be more cautious in the future. This is something related to travel. I was in Barcelona a few months ago and saw some very aggressive pickpocket targeting. In one case a woman in a group had her purse on her outside shoulder and was beign followed. I called out to her and her party yelled at the prospective thief, but she also should have been mroe careful herself.

Even if you're careful, you can get ripped off.  In this case, it sounds as if this person did count the change, but did not want to make a scene. When people are hurrying you along, and you don't like confrontation, it's easier to be hussled.  

Any tips on when to purchase for this? I know it's way more expensive to go then, but my husband's a school teacher, so what can we do?!

The sooner, the better. Most cruises over Christmas sell out. You can sometimes get deals if you book/pay in advance.  

My fiance and I are spending our honeymoon in Dominica in the West Indies. There are no direct flights from NY/DC to Dominica, so we are connecting through Barbados. Would it be fun to spend one night in Barbados on the way to Dominica? If so, are there good resorts that are convenient to the airport that would be appropriate for a one night stay? Thanks!!

I've not been to Barbados, but if it doesn't cost more in airfare to stay overnight and you have the time, it always makes sense to me to see something new. As for hotels, I've heard good things about the Crane, although it may be pricey. 

Hoping this isn't too late! I vacationed in Ireland earlier this year on a package deal, which included an automatic rental, 3 nights in hotels, and 4 nights in B&Bs which we picked each day depending on where we ended up. It was fantastic! It gave us the flexibility we wanted to be able to see a lot of different areas and to not be locked into anything other than the first two nights and the last night in hotels. We used a travel agent in Old Town and she was great! (Denise at Isle Inn Tours, if you want to print this.)

About 6 years ago, my family (mother, father, sister and brother and I) travelled to Ireland to visit family. We also rented a stick shift and had my sister drive as she was left handed and it was completely natural and easy for her and my brother was in the front passenger seat as the navigator and sign reader to help her out. We got through many circles by him telling her exit at noon, 3, 6 or 9 and made it through a 2 week vacation with no problems.

The Azores Islands, west of Portugal in the Atlantic? It's partially off-season there still, and SATA (the Azores airline) offers package deals.

Going to Vegas for my 30th birthday with my husband in April. This will be my first time leaving my 1 year old twins, so the goal of the trip is really relaxation and quality time with the hubby (mixed with amazing meals, a few shows, etc). I have stayed at the Belaggio a few times, and I am thinking Ventetian or Palazzo, which do you prefer? Wynn seems too far even though it is next door, so that is currently not an option.

If you want  to splurge, also take a look at the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental

Chris, I've been waiting forever for someone to do an article on folks from US renting a car - in Ireland, in particular. All manner of hassles with driving the 'wrong side'; with roundabouts; the cost of automatics versus manual; the well-nigh impossibility of getting a quote that compares apples with apples (on account of US credit cards - for the most part - not covering insurance; the various insurances - CDW regular insurance quoted but not mentioning that there can be a huge deductible, which is partly or fully covered, when you buy additional Super/Excess CDW insurance. Regular insurance (CDW) does not cover windows, undercarriage or wheels, in most cases. Virtually everything you say about car rental in Ireland has to be qualified by 'It depends....' Returning car with tank empty versus tank full - technically impossible to do either. Virtually impossible or/and cost prohibitive to rent a car in UK mainland (England, Scotland, Wales) and take it to Ireland by ferry. Extra charges for driving to Northern Ireland and/or returning at different airport anywhere on the island of Ireland. Acres of coverage on these topics on Trip Advisor, Ireland. (I can email links to you on your web site, if you wish). Absolutely, NOT a good idea to drive in Dublin and no need to do it, either. Streets are from another era and one-way system is complicated; not to mention, the virtual impossibility of locating the actual street name. Public transport not bad and the city centre is very walkable. Recent 'integrated ticket' of the various means of public transport not perfect, but, a big improvement. (Dublin Bus; Luas tram system; DART light rail (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) are some of the means you can use to get about the whole of Greater Dublin, not just city centre. Save yourselves some money by renting car only when ready to leave Dublin. Good access to main in routes countrywide, from Dublin Airport, even if it means going back there to pick up vehicle, once you are ready to leave the city. Ditto with returning car early, if you spending time in Dublin after visiting outside the capital. Can't wait for your proposed article, Chris! Happy New Year to you, your colleagues and to all the chatters.

Thanks for joining us this post-holiday afternoon. Enjoyed all your tips and stories about driving on the "wrong side" but also your resolutions. The winner of the prize this week is the traveler looking to take mini-trips with her husband. Please send your info to travel@washpost.com. We'll be back in our regular Monday slot next week.

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