Hi! My (relatively healthy) sister and I are heading to Italy in the spring. Part of the trip will be on our own, part will be with a tour operator. Do you recommend buying trip insurance? If so, how much coverage is enough? Thanks!
It depends how much money you've spent on your trip (typically, anything about $10,000 should be insured) and your overall risk tolerance. I'm working on a series of free travel ebooks, and one of them is on travel insurance. The first section may help you decided if you need insurance. If you have any other questions, please email me, and I'll do my best to help.
My wife and I are traveling to Paris in mid-July. She'll be in business meetings for at least one of the four days we'll be there. We'd like to spend four additional nights to see more of France. I was considering taking the TGV to Strasbourg, renting a car there and touring the Alsace wineries and castles. We'd return the car at Strasbourg and take the TGV back to Paris and Charles DeGaulle airport. Have any of you taken this trip and can you offer any advice/suggestions for us? Thanks! John in Roanoke
I've been to Alsace and Strasbourg, but coming from Germany, not France. And driving. Alsace is beautiful and Strasbourg is charming. Your plan sounds like a perfectly good one to me, though. The trains from Paris to Strasbourg appear to run quite frequently, and the trip is under 3 hours. I say go for it. Chatters, has anyone done this? Please chime in, if so!
A fascinating and useful read. But -- What process do imported cheeses and meats go through that makes them safe/r than what I might buy abroad? Also, how does a dairy product (cheese, yogurt) present a "threat" to anyone but the person who's going to eat it? Thanks!
So glad you enjoyed the piece. The concern is not so much your digestion (but Customs does care!) but that the food item does not harbor a bacteria or pest that could threaten the overall health of our country. The cheese, meat, etc., must be properly cooked and processed, which varies per item. For example, hermitacally sealed canned pork is okay; raw cheese, not. For more details, including specific foods, contact the USDA.
Would love to go to a Hot Spring, not a spa, within 2 or 3 hours of DC. We already went to Berkeley Springs Roman Bath, and it was ok (the water didnt feel like 100 degrees more like 80). Any suggestion?
Is it only "meat candy" (whatever that is) that can be dangerous? Or should we avoid all Chinese candy abroad, and maybe even in DC's Chinatown? I love the amazing ginger candy ....
Customs inspectors are suspect of candies from China simply because they often include meat ingredients. But if you can read the ingredients on your yummy ginger candies and don't see anything suspect, then they are certainly permitted into the country.
We're planning to go to Europe this summer. Is there a website or article you can recommend that details options for cell phones over there? Also, do we need to get a different kind of credit card (because of the chip issue)? The last time I was in Europe was pre-cell phones and I didn't even know the word for ATM in French ("dispenseur d'argent," should any of you need to know). It's a whole new travel world these days. Thanks much.
The chip-and-pin thing has come up a lot here lately. We've had people report back that they got along fine without a chip card, others who have decided to get a preloaded card with some money on it for when nothing else will work. It really depends on what you'll be doing. American credit cards and banks are beginning to incorporate chip-and-pin technology for some customers. They include Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, among others.
I don't own a smart phone. Need your expert advice on what to do about cell phones in india during a 5 day trip there. Thanks!
See the answer above on cellphones abroad.
My family is taking a trip to Europe this summer: Paris, Florence, Rome. We are flying to Paris and back from Rome. Having trouble figuring out a cost-effective way to get from Paris to Florence. Air France/Alitalia want $700 per ticket for a flight; the European discount airlines don't go to Florence from Paris (but do fly into Pisa, whch might be an option). TGV and then rent a car? Its me, the Lovely Wife, and 3 teens. Help!
Pisa is definitely an option for Florence. Lots of airlines use Pisa, and there's a train directly from the airport to Florence. It runs fairly frequently, at least a half-dozen times a day, and the trip is an hour or less. I'm finding plenty of fairly cheap flights into Pisa, as low as $79 one way, and you should absolutely consider that. The train from Paris would take forever, 13 hours or more. You could do a night train, but still a quick flight would be highly preferable, no?
Travel goes to Real Wheels, Traffic goes to Florida ...
Aack! I just alerted the people who control that. Thanks for the notice.
Earlier this month, there was a great deal of comment and question about the costs of manual vs automatic transmission rental cars. Something not brought up was the size of the cars and the amount of luggage they can carry. Look at Minis, Smart Cars, and Fiat 500s for an idea of the size of the cheapest rentals. Also to be remembered that in the UK, the gear shift will be in your left hand--in the middle of the car. When we drive on the left (as here and most of Europe), the gear shift is in your right hand. You will not be hard wired to shift with your left, even if you learn how to drive a manual here.
Thank you. That's great advice. I'm working on a related column. Knowing how to drive a standard-transmission vehicle is definitely a useful skill.
My fiance and I are looking into getting married destination style...however we are a little overwhelmed with how to begin planning. We definitely want something beachy and not super expensive, probably the Caribbean or Mexico - and are willing to go off-season (not even sure when that is). Do you have any tips, recommendations or resources? Any personal favorites? Thanks so much!!
OK, I know you didn't ask this, but make sure your guests are on board before you plan a destination wedding. We went to one this summer for a close relative, and it cost us a fortune. Don't get me wrong, we made the best of it and enjoyed Punta Cana, but airfare alone for our family of four cost $3,800. Now, to answer your question, I'd probably read through all the Web sites that specialize in destination weddings -- The Knot and Wedding Channel have special sections, for example -- and I'd consult with a travel agent who specializes in destination weddings (again, The Knot has a special section listing these agents, but I'd also start by asking friends/colleagues). And best wishes!
My husband and I usually go on at least one big trip a year - something usually at least nine days if not longer. I love doing this because I really get to disconnect from life back at home and immerse myself somewhere else. However, because of some major home fixes we had to make, our budget has been severely cut this year. We could still do a road trip somewhere in central or eastern America, but to be truthful, we've already been most everywhere we want to go OR the location we want to visit doesn't have enough to keep us for more than four days. There are a few ideas, like doing Disney World (husband gets a 20 percent discount on tickets) but really none of the ideas excite me very much and I just get depressed thinking about where I really want to go: Italy, Brazil, France, England, Egypt, Greece, India. Basically anywhere other than North America. So I'm thinking maybe ditching the long trip this year, do a few shorter and cheaper trips and then focus on saving money to do a really awesome trip this year. My only concern is that I'm going to get antsy, so I need to get as much out of these short trips as I can. Any tips on how to make the most of those short trips or suggestions on places we can go that provide a lot of things to do for a married couple in their late 20s but that won't cost a lot? Right now I've got a trip to Milwaukee planned and am considering the Red River Gorge area in Kentucky. I need to feel like I'm still getting away from home this year or else I'll go crazy! (We live in Chicago, btw, and have already been to D.C., St. Louis, Charleston, New Orleans, Smoky Mountains and Minneapolis . We like touring old houses, interesting museums, breweries and wineries, beaches, kayaking, etc. Basically we're fairly active.)
One of my most memorable trips was in North America but felt like Europe. Flew to Quebec City, stayed there for a few days and then drove around the Gaspe Peninsula, where in some places we could not find a soul who spoke English. There was kayaking, whaling, hiking, beautiful parks and preserves, bird sanctuaries, and for a city fix there was Quebec. It's a getaway, but not far away.
Do you or any readers have experience with Tauck? We've used Globus before and want to know if the extra $$ is worth it.
The company has a good very reputation, but I don't have first-hand experience with them.
Chatters, have you traveled with Tauck?
We'd like to go to CR for 7-10 days in June, but it seems hard logistically - we want to do some learning to surf, and some rain forest/hiking. What's the best way to plan our trip? From what I've heard, I'm not enthusiastic about driving ourselves for hours from place to place. Also - hotel recs? In the 200-300/night range?
Hello - Hoping you or your chatters can help. 3 of us (women in late 20s) are heading to Paris and we need help with hotels. Are there any hotels that you can recommend that are moderately priced, and fun for 3 gals traveling together? Thanks!
I don't off the top of my head.
Chatters, can you help?
I was scheduled to depart on a Continental Airline last night headed for Paris at 10 pm. At 5pm, just as the first Continental plane was leaving last night, I received a recorded message that the 10pm plane was cancelled-no reason given. I called the airline and was told I had to call United Airlines. I called United and was told that the 10pm could not depart for "servicing" reasons. I have two questions: Does Continental not have enough planes in its fleet to put another one in service for that flight or was the problem probably not enough passengers on the 10pm flight to bother flying over the Atlantic? Second question: am I entitled to an upgrade (or some other benefit) because the airline cancelled my flight at the last minute?
United Airlines acquired Continental Airlines and is in the process of integrating both airlines. "Servicing" falls under the same category as a mechanical delay. Your rights are spelled out in United's contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline. United would be required to pay for your accommodations, offer you meal vouchers and transportation to and from the hotel, but alas, no upgrade. It wouldn't hurt to ask, though.
Hi crew, My husband just got invited to interview for a job in Paris in May and we decided to make a mini vacation out of it. Will tickets be cheaper in certain weeks of May or will the prices be pretty constant? They will only reimburse the cost of his ticket. Thanks!
Early May is much cheaper than late May. I'm seeing nonstop flights for less than $800 in early May. Grab it.
I am wondering if there are any MODERATE priced trips to CHina which include a couple days at Chengdu's Panda Center.. the National Geographic trip which is fabulous is really expensive. Are there other options? thanks
China Highlights has a slew of panda tours for a range of budgets. Windhorse Tour also has a day of volunteering at the center for a reasonable amount (the price drops if you have more people going). You can also go on your own; take a taxi from the city center or bus No. 902 from Xinnanmen Tourism Coach Center.
Thanks for the Laos article. I spend a lot of time in Thailand and they celebrate the new year at the same time. It's a bit of a shame that what was once a meaningful ceremony about rebirth and cleansing has been turned into a water bazooka free for all. I had been under the impression that things in Luang Prabang were more along the lines of what it used to be. But I guess "progress' has caught up to them as well.
PLEASE do not foist one of these on your guests. You're asking them to spend their time and money on a vacation that you, not they, chose. Plus no one wants to join a newly-married couple on what is effectively their honeymoon (and you won't want to see any of them either).
Oh, dear. This always starts a cascade of opinions. Andrea even wrote a story about destination weddings.
I returned to the states from a month in Amsterdam, for work. I was flying through NY. I put maybe $100 down as stuff I bought. And the customs guy asked: really? only $100? I answered: I was there for work, I really didn't have time to go shopping. He let me through, but he sounded like he really did think I was lying...
I was lucky enough to study abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland during college. After a year of enjoying the local food & beverages (haggis! whisky!) I wanted to bring home a little something to give my parents, so without even thinking about it I packed a bottle of expensive single-malt in my suitcase. When I went through customs in Newark NJ I declared the scotch; a very sceptical customs agent looked at my declarations form, looked at me, and sharply asked "How old are you??" Now, after a year away from the drinking age laws of the US I had to think for a moment before answering "Uh....21!" She paused a long moment and then allowed me to continue without checking my i.d. The funny part? I had actually just turned 22 the month before, but was so flustered by the question that I forgot my own age!
My sister and I stayed in a delightful hostel in Monmartre (sp?) a few years ago; I can't remember the name, unfortunately. Hostels can be a great, inexpensive place to stay in a city. Use sites like hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com and make sure you read the reviews. Almost all hostels have all-female rooms, and many will have them for 3 or 4 people, but cost you a fraction of a hotel.
Yes, good idea, thanks!
As soon as I walked into a cigar shop in Milan everyone behind the counter seemed to know what I was looking for. Knowing nothing about cigars (especially the good ones rolled on that island 90 miles south of us) I purchased a relatively expensive box. My Italian friend seemed to think it was hilarious that I, a FEMALE, was going to smoke one. Apparently, cigars (at least in the mid 90's), was solely the domain of the males of the species. I have to admit that the cigar was really quite good (and much better than stinky cigarettes). Now, how to get them home to the salivating men who had requested them? As I was only in my early 20's I was really quite nervous (you would have thought that I'd have thought of this problem before buying the contraband). In the end, I ended up sealing the box in a couple of ziploc bags and them burying the thing in the middle of a pile of my dirty unmentionables (not to be gross, but DIRTY unmentionables). I figure if the customs people were so determined that they would go rifling through the dirty underwear pile of a chick who'd been backpacking through Italy for the last three weeks, then they deserved the contraband. In the end, not even a cursory glance at my beat-up green backpack. I tried the dirty underwear thing again a few years ago as I was coming off of a Caribbean cruise, everything went well again (except for my law-abiding sister who looked like she was about to have a heart attack at the thought of "smuggling" these leaves for her husband-I made sure that she went through customs way on the other side of the hall from me).
The dirty underwear strategy... We will take that under advisement.
Not sure when the 3 ladies are traveling - but the Hotel Grand Ecoles is in the Latin Quartier at a very reasonable price, close to the Metro and in a lovely, setback courtyard. They have rooms with 3 beds as well.
Early last May we stayed at the Hotel La Louisiane in the 6th Arrondissement (heart of the Left Bank and Latin Quarter, near Boulevard St. Germain and the Seine River). Then we stayed at the Hotel Bellevue et Chariot d'Or (quite a mouthful!), in the 3rd Arrondissement on the Right Bank, and handy to public transporation (RER, Metro). One bit of advice: Neither hotel seems to have air-conditioning, so I'd recommend against staying there in summer if you mind the heat (as I do).
I JUST got home from a getaway with mom and sister-in-law - just the girls! We stayed at the Hotel Normandy. Great location, easy to Metro or walk a LOT of places, and the triple room we had was huge. Truly - huge. The OP may want to explore this!
You all are awesome. Paris traveler, hope you're taking notes!
I had a Customs agent laughing hysterically at the fact that all I was declaring on a trip from the UK was "gummies". I explained that European gummy bears are far superior, and I'd only been gone a day and hadn't had time to get anything else for my husband.
When I was 14, I spent a summer abroad and, on my return, I brought along a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers for my mother. I was pleased that I'd gotten her something so lovely and, for my budget, expensive. Obviously, no-one told me not to get them, or stopped me from taking them on board, or off the plane. All the way back to the States, I inhaled the wonderful perfume of the blossoms, and smiled at their beauty and the thought of how much my mother would enjoy them. When I got to US customs, the inspector proceeded to pluck off the petals in the course of inspecting the plants. So, by the time I was sent on my way, my beautiful, lavish, sweet-smelling gift for my beloved mother had been reduced to some scraggly, ugly stems, and I had been reduced to tears. This was the middle of last century. I guess nowadays I wouldn't even get the stems back.
My sister and I want to do a spa weekend in Las Vegas in June. When would be a good time to check into deals and are there particular properties we should check out? I did a spa weekend with some girlfriends at Bellagio several years ago and their spa was wonderful and the overall cost was reasonable, especially for Bellagio. We would preferably like to stay on the strip as we both enjoy gaming as well. Any recommendations about places and time frames would be appreciated. Thanks!
All of the major casino resorts have spas. My favorite is Venetian's CanyonRanch. Though your muscles will also rejoice at Qua Baths at Caesars, Spa Mandalay and the Spas at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, among others.
You might want to check the resorts for special spa packages, since Vegas does not really have an off-season (basically, whenever there are no conferences in town, a rarity). For example, here is a GF getaway spa package the Venetian.
No question, just a comment. I enjoyed this weekend's article about Customs. In addition to your straight travel articles, please do more in-depth reporting like this one. Thanks.
Glad you liked the article, and we definitely plan to do more of that kind, so keep your eyes peeled!
So Spirit has some great fares to Jamaica (even once I factor in the carry on bag fees), but I'm a little leery of traveling with them. For one thing, there is only one flight listed on their website for the days I'm traveling, but other sites such as Travelocity and Orbitz are showing multiple flights. Should I only trust what I see on Spirit's site? And what are your thoughts about the reliability of the airline overall.
I would be more inclined to trust what is on the airline's own website. But without pulling up your departure city, I wouldn't be able to give you a more informed decision. What do you need to know about Spirit? Be very careful about fees and extras. The airline has a well-earned reputation for charging you for anything that isn't bolted down, including carry-on bags and boarding passes. Do not expect a full-service airline experience.
We'd like to get out of DC for the last week of March with our three teenagers. We're mindful of the budget, but could swing a reasonably priced flight (does such a thing exist?) We've thought about Nashville, Canada, San Francisco. We like national parks, cities, exploring quirky neighborhoods, trying ethnic food. We don't like theme parks and gift shops. Any advice?
You won't find reasonably priced flights to Canada, so I'd nix that. Nashville is quirky and fun, but nonstop flights are typically expensive -- it's often cheaper to fly to San Francisco, but you'll likely spend more on accommodations there. How about New York City or Boston? Or maybe even Chicago? They're all relatively easy/cheap to get to, and all offer great food and neighborhoods. Lodging will be pricey in any of those cities, but, for example, you could take the bus to New York and travel by subway, saving enough to pay for a nice hotel.
Thanks for an interesting article on the customs process at Dulles. I travel internationally frequently, but have never re-entered the US through Dulles. (I usually arrive via Boston Logan, at times LAX, JFK, and Miami.) I never list every single item...am more likely to write 'clothing and sundries' or 'housewares, textiles, and sundries' (sundries covering the tube of toothpaste, etc.,) and a dollar amount. And while I almost never exceed the dollar amount we can legally bring in without paying duty, and don't bring in contraband, I've never, ever had a problem with customs. They rarely even ask me a question, and I can't remember being asked to show the goods. So I was surprised to see the instructions to list every single item individually. Is Dulles unique in this regard? Or will other airport customs soon be requiring a more detailed accounting?
This is the universal rule for Customs, not site-specific. The intent of the article was to make travelers aware of the regulations (especially when it comes to food and wildlife). However, I completely understand, as do Customs inspectors, that many folks generalize their purchases rather than list them one by one, T-shirt by mug.
My great-aunt came back from New Zealand with sheepskin rugs for all of her nieces/nephews. Upon reaching customs the agent wasn't sure what to charge her and ended up charging her the "Wig tax" they'd normally charge for hairpieces.
So funny. Did your aunt have to wear the rugs on her head and pose for the agents?
Coming back from England, I was seated across the aisle from Jack Klugman, the actor. I only had carry on and was the first to Customs. The agent asked me to open by bag, which mostly contained dirty laundry. I looked right at him and said, "That's Jack Klugman behind me." He said, "Zip up you bags and have a good day."
Hi We're planning a honeymoon to Eastern Canada - Halifax, Quebec City, Prince Edward Island, etc. for early September. Any suggestions on must-sees? Also, do chatters think it will be cold by the week after Labor Day. Non-relatedly we spent the weekend in Boston and loved the newly renovated Isabeela Gardner museum.
That sounds lovely. I think the weather will be splendid. In Quebec, the average high is 64, low 45 in September. In Quebec, you should check out the Citadelle and the Musee de la Civilisation and Place Royale. Get out of the city and head to Montmorency Falls and the Ile d'Orleans.
In PEI, the big must-see is, of course, the Anne of Green Gables House.
Other suggestions for these lovebirds?
Okay, not snakes but snakeskins, maybe. Anyway, a friend and I who traveled in Central America a lot in the 1970s and 80s were talking about how those airlines would send someone through the cabin spraying some aerosol bug spray (!!) before we were allowed to deplane. We still wonder how unhealthy that was for us! No idea if it still happens. I assume US authorities either think that's ineffective, or too dangerous to passengers' health ... Some C.A. airlines also made you step into a box of who-knows-what at the bottom of the stairs, which my friend thinks was something that killed livestock disease on shoes.
Several years ago my boss gave me extra time off for a big vacation in Norway. I purchased a gift of reindeer stick as a gift. I thought since it was a cured/cooked product, sealed in plastic I would be ok. Nope, taken from me a Dulles. My boss got a big verbal thank you but I'm sure he would have enjoyed the jerky stick.
Wow, it's all about Paris today, no? It wasn't clear from the question whether the three friends want to share one room, two, or each her own. Last summer I looked and looked for a suite for three of us and did not have any luck. We ended up in two rooms at a hotel we really liked, Le Relais du Marais, in the third, I think. It was inexpensive by Paris standards, but what was so nice about it was the staff. Also convenient to get to from the airport.
Yes, we often find that the questions tend to develop a theme from week to week, and this week it seems to be Paris. Thanks for the hotel input!
Oh, please. That's the first place Customs looks -- especially for drugs. And yes, they've figured out the cigars or drugs in the tampon tubes strategy, too. Folks, they do this for a living, you're not going to fool them or their dogs.
In 1997, when travel was still easy and a lot more fun, we took a 12-day Caribbean cruise. Of course, I took full advantage (~$400 worth) of the large cigar store on Grand Cayman. Wife (6-months pregnant) had me bury the two boxes in her carry-on, mingled with her dirty 'laundry'. In her exact words, "No customs agent in his right mind will screw with a pregnant woman." Walked right through with no problem!
These hotel recs are amazing. Thanks to all the chatters!
When I drove from Canada back into the US last summer, I had a mint plant from my sister-in-law's garden. That threw the inspector for a bit of a loop. He kept asking, "Is it in soil?" Finally he examined it, looked up something on his computer, and then let me keep it. We enjoyed fresh mint all summer long.
Could you tell me what a good price would be for DC to Seattle in May, Memorial Day weekend included? I've never priced airfares to Seattle before so I have no idea what a good deal is, especially since airfare can get so pricey these days.
For late May, I am finding conencting flights for about $400 on United -- a very good fare. (Nonstop are about $150 more.) You might end up paying a tad more because of the holiday, but if possible, leave a few days before and after the holiday and you can save some money.
For the person who asked about onsite dining options at Disney last week, I'd highly recommend making reservations for the Flying Fish (absolutely fantastic both times I've been in the past 1.5 years, and not just by Disney standards) and Jiko for nicer dinners. California Grill has a great view, is fun for the fireworks, and has good but not outstanding food. At Epcot, we like Les Chefs de France, Tangierine Cafe (counter service), and La Cava del Tequila. At Hollywood Studios, the 50s Prime Time Cafe is lots of fun - food is pretty basic American, but good - be warned that the portions are HUGE! Kona Cafe is a fun breakfast option but we were less impressed with dinner. If you haven't found it already, disboards.com has a great restaurant review section to help with choices and allears.net has menus for most restaurants.
Thanks for following up.
I went to India and Nepal for almost a month and used skype in my Itouch, I was surprised that even a remote places there was sometimes WiFi available so I was able to communicate very often and only for a couple of $.
Great tip! Thanks.
Three of us have decided a river-boat trip through the French wine country would be just the thing for this spring (April-very early June). I know the biggest cruise line doing that is Viking River Cruises, but they are totally sold out for that time period. Do you--or chatters--know other companies we could check out? We'd prefer to travel through the Burgundy region, but are flexible on where in France we go as long as it's down a river.
You can buy a cheap pre-loaded phone there. A colleague got one for about $50 in Mumbai and was even able to sell it back before he left.
A poster asks "Will tickets be cheaper in certain weeks of May or will the prices be pretty constant?" Well, you must have internet access or you wouldn't have posted the question onto this chat. So why not just go onto the airlines' websites and check the prices yourself?
We often feel as if we're answering the same question over and over, but we believe in being polite. :-)
Will be headed there for a week on March 9 and need some help with some questions: First, what do you advise in the way of getting pesos - ATMs there or exchange here first and how necessary is it? Secondly, transportation to resort from Cancun Airport - taxi or should we reserve a van thru the internet? Any experiences to relate, especially with costs? Finally, thinking of a day trip from the resort to Tulum and saw a tour for $107 US. Worthwhile or should we hire a driver? Thanks!
If you use your credit card to pay for big-ticket items, such as tours, you won't need pesos. Most everyone takes dollars. I'd go through the resort to arrange transport. I would not go on an organized tour to Tulum - takes all day. Instead, I'd take a taxi there early in the morning and then go at my own pace. If you go via taxi, you will get a more favorable rate by paying with pesos - should cost about $35 each way. Then you can hire a tour guide, which should cost about $20 per person.
I've gone to Tulum both ways, via cab and bus tour. It's true that the bus trip takes all day, but on the other hand there are refreshments on the bus, you get to meet some nice fellow travelers and the bus usually stops in a small village where you can walk around and see the sights. To get back and forth fast, though, a cab is just the ticket.
I am interested in doing volunteer travel, perhaps to Peru or Central America. Do you have any suggestions for organizations? I would probably go for 2 weeks and will have a very small budget. Thanks
I recently booked a vacation condo with paypal. is this more secure than wiring money? I spoke to the owner over the phone and everything seemed legit. Is there anything else I can do to protect myself?
Paypal offers a service called Purchase Protection, which can help protect you from a fraudulent transaction, but if you want to be more secure, you can insist on using a credit card. Credit card transactions can be disputed, so if the rental doesn't exist, you wouln't lose your payment. But as I mentioned in the story, never, ever wire money.
Two customs anecdotes for you... I've brought a variety of things back through customs over the years, but nothing illegal. One time, the Duty Free in Heathrow was having a 2-for-1 sale on alcohol. I bought two bottles. When I arrived in the US, I declared that I had two liters, not just one, and the guy let me through. Another time, I brought back some Hangikjot (smoked lamb cold-cut) from Iceland. Despite the fact the meat was in a vacuum packed container, the first Customs guy gave me a hard time (it didn't say in English that it originated in Iceland, though the entire label was in Icelandic) and sent me to the side. Where the other two Customs guys said "it's from Iceland, we know it's safe." And then there was the time I came back from London and they manually searched every single bag of every single person on every single flight that came into BWI. But that story is for another time...
Not exactly the same itinerary but I took the TGV from Basel to Paris. Easy, easy, easy! Highly recommend. My experience was terrific.
Good to know, thanks!
No, my great aunt didn't have to pose. However, one of my older cousins used to put the sheepskin over himself and terrorize the younger cousins by pretending to be the big bad wolf and chasing them on all fours.
Why buy at all? Nearly everything that you can buy overseas is available somewhere in the US or the internet and is made in China anyway.
I have always declared everything. For a few years on my trips to SE Asia I would have a piece of jewelry made in Thailand. It was always over the exemption limit but I never got charged any duty. Maybe Thai jewelry is exempt? Or did they give me a break for telling them about it? I never know what do about food items like cookies or chocolates. I usually declare it and sometimes they will ask what food I have and then just wave me through.
There are many items exempt from extra taxes; not sure where Thailand jewelry falls but glad it worked out so well. For snack items that don't fit into a category, just declare "food" on your form and tell the officers what's in the bag.
My mom is visiting my area and last week she fell and broke her pelvis. She is now in a care facility where she will be for several weeks until she can get up and move on her own. She was due to fly home next week, but clearly will be unable to make it. Any suggestions or expectations on working with the airline? She was on a frequent flyer ticket through United.
Let United know as soon as possible about your mother's condition. The airline will offer her a flight credit, which she can use to book her return flight (minus a change fee and fare differential). Also, if there's a compelling medical reason for the change, I have seen airlines waive the change fee.
I had that exact same experience. The airline did charge a change fee, but my mother got a flight credit and was able to book a return trip after convalescing, which as I recall took a couple of months.
My daughter once packed some pretty sharp scissors in a pencil case with some nubby crayons, glitter, and stickers. I thought she put it in her checked luggage, but she stuck it in her carry on. It was obviously a "let's keep the kids busy package," but still, I was really surprised that the TSA agent saw them, put them right back in the case, and let her take them on the plane!
My wife and I held a destination wedding last year. We wanted a place that was all-inclusive and relatively inexpensive. The Riviera Maya in Mexico fit the bill. We did a scouting trip earlier in the year and found a great place. And frankly, the wedding was cheaper than doing it here in DC.
I know that the wedding was cheaper, but not for the guests. That said, if the family/friends like the idea of vacationing in that destination, maybe it works.
Going on Tanzania safari in a month. What does one (woman) wear? Long pants, boots, crops, sandals? Help! Nancy
The outfitter should have a list of clothing suggestions, but I say: pants and shirts of varying lengths (it is hot), hat, and sneakers or hiking boots (skip the sandals for safari). For the most part, you will be in a sightseeing vehicle and only taking short walks. But you will want protection from the sun and bugs.
Recently, I came through customs at Dulles. Their computer system underwent a reboot (or something like that) that delayed everyone for maybe 5-10 minutes. There was an older couple where the man was impatient and IRATE that the lines weren't moving more quickly. He went and complained to someone and when that didn't help, went to find a supervisor. In the meantime, it was his turn to go to the agent and he was flitting around angrily trying to find someone who could do something about the wait time. When his wife finally got his attention and told him it was their turn, he continued complaining to the agent who was trying to process him! He was angry! He was now at the point where he could be processed but complaining so much that the agent couldn't even ask him the questions they need to ask so you can be on your way. The agent called the supervisor, who moved the couple away from the agent. The wife was obviously mortified at her husband's behavior. I saw them later waiting for their luggage and figured they should be thanking their lucky stars that they weren't arrested or detained much longer. Lesson: Don't give the customs agent a hard time! Answer the questions and be on your way. Delays happen...
He won't have a credit card. So do I get him the Euros here or give him cash to get the Euros over there? Not sure of the best way to handle the exchange without a credit card.
How about an ATM card? We found that getting cash at ATMs in Europe is the best bang for your buck.
in 1967, a friend and I spent the summer doing "Europe on $5.00 a day" (sometimes even less, depending on how much money we had left). Coming back through customs at JFK, I had a lot of books (for long train rides) and some purses from Spain to declare, but very little else. The inspectors were stopping a lot of college-age people to look through their luggage, but he let me pass, with the comment that "nice girls from Queens don't smuggle drugs".
Every time I squeak a Kinder Egg through by calling it a 'chocolate bar' I'm a happy camper! For the life of me I can't figure out why we have to be deprived of them when a hard candy is just as much of a choking hazard!
What's the realtionship between a visa (permission for an extended stay in an EU country) and a work permit (permission for a non-EU citizen to work)? Is your visa contigent on you having a work permit? Which do you normally acquire first? Thanks!
I'm planning a trip to China in September and I'm finding that everything is coming together nicely except the airfare. I'm assuming that flying in and out of Beijing will be the cheapest but I'm not sure what a good fare might be or how early to book or even how and when to look for sales.
What's the best protocol for dealing with Customs when bringing in a case of wine. I know the rules say two liters of alcohol per adult. So then what happens if I come back with 12 bottles, all carefully acquired during a trip in South Africa. Do I declare it? I how much will I end up paying, or will they confiscate it?
Declare the amount of wine and value; keep all receipts. Depending on the amount, you might need to pay an additional tax (varies per country and item). But Customs won't confiscate the bottles unless, of course, they are made of ostrich egg.
After returning from a long study abroad trip 5 days before my 21st birthday, I was pretty proud of myself for bringing in 3 bottles of wine. I was IDed several times (with my passport), declared everything, and was very happy they let me keep it even though I was still underage.
Looks like Customs needs to hire a bouncer, too!
When I entered Australia (after a 16 hour flight from LA to Sydney), the customs beagle got VERY excited about my bag. The handler kept asking me about produce (of which I had none), and then searched my bag. As near as we could tell, it was my pillow, filled with buckwheat hulls that set him off. They let me keep my pillow, but I didn't have time to get anything to eat before my connecting flight (after they'd misplaced my special meal for breakfast) and then they only served me salad and fruit on my two connecting flights (to Alice Springs and on to Darwin). So I went nearly 24 hours without protein, all because of a pillow.
So I've decided to visit Egypt in March and am seeing airfare at about $1k. Is that reasonable? It seems a little high to me.
Later this year I'll be spending a week of vacation on Block Island, and I'm planning to drive there from D.C., taking the ferry from Point Judith RI to the island. It looks to be about an 8-hour car trip, so I'm thinking it might be good to break up the drive and spend the night somewhere mid-way. Do you have a suggestion?
Are the luggage and carry on rules the same for the smaller, regional jets, as they are for the full size jets? I know that sometimes the regional jets make the passengers check their carry on bags at the gate due to space limits. I have a trip where I will likely need to check 2 bags and I don't want to discover at the last minute that they don't have room.
The luggage allowance (such as it is) is the same as on a larger aircraft operated by the same airline. But as a practical matter, your carry-on will probably be gate-checked if it won't fit in the overhead compartment, which is often the case. (The good news is, those bags are rarely lost because they go directly into the cargo hold.)
I've travelled to Latin America a few times, and at least three times have managed to re-enter with a few cigars. The first time I bought them, I was in the airport [in a South American capital] with an older priest who was a member of the Catholic religious order for whom I was employed. I told him I was anxious about having the cigars in my suitcase; he told me to not to worry, "and for God's sake," he said, "don't tell customs you have them!" I did go on one Latin American delegation with a young man (in his early 20s) who was grilled, in a frightening way, by Customs agents once we reentered the U.S. They scared the daylights out of him -- he had brought in nothing to worry about. *I* was the one strolling through with ease, on my way to baggage claim to get my suitcase with eight or 10 Cuban cigars ... I did feel a little bad for him, going through all that.
I am getting ready to celebrate (?) the 30th anniversary of my 29th birthday and I'm thinking of celebrating by taking my very first cruise. Just wondering if you had any suggestion, ideas, etc. for a cruise newbie. I don't like huge crowds and I'm really just looking to relax.
If you don't like crowds, I'd avoid the mainstream cruise lines. If your budget is big and you like luxury, look at Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, SeaDream or Crystal. If you like spending lots of time exploring during stops, look at American Cruise Lines or Blount Small Ship Adventures. I really enjoyed river cruising in Europe -- look at Avalon, Uniworld and Viking.
The traveler to India should know that, depending on where they are traveling, the country is notoriously difficult in relation to foreign cell phones and in quickly acquiring local phones. Blackberry's and internationally capable phones should work in major cities, but any time you get near a border or in an area with an ongoing political dispute (e.g., Sikkim, Assam), service gets dicey to non-existent.
OK, thanks for the advice!
This is more about what happened before customs, but here goes anyway. My husband, kids, and I were in Europe, where we sold a piece of property. After dividing up the money with other relatives, we still had about $20,000...in cash. Then we went camping, and every moment was spent anxiously keeping track of that money. Obviously, we couldn't leave it in the tent. There I'd be at the *beach* with my purse, and if I went in swimming I had to keep one eye on the poor child who had been charged with holding the money. When we got to customs in the US, they made a big deal of herding us off somewhere and making us wait for the agent. They asked a lot of questions and my husband was sure they were going to take it away from us for some arcane reason, and at that point I didn't even care!
I would push it a little later in September to when you can start to see some colors in the trees.
That's a thought.
My wife and I were flying back from Mexico through Houston's George Bush International Airport. We landed with almost 2 hours to get through the lines and make our flight. We had nothing to declare, but it still took nearly the full 2 hours just to get through the line. We eventually made it through, and ran furiously through the airport to catch our flight. Luckily our plane was going out of a gate very close to the gate we flew in on our way to Mexico, because we remebered passing a statue of Bush 42 with his aviator's jacket slung over his shoulder. We woudl have probably gotten lost had it not been for that statue. Also, out flight crew held the plane at the gate for us and a few others, including a disabled passenger, because of the delays in customs. Never again will we plan a trip that requires us to transfer in that airport from an international flight!
I am still wracked with guilt about how I filled out my Customs Declaration Form coming back from a trip to Ireland in '97. Among other things, we'd visited our relatives in Kenmare. I'd traveled internationally before and I filled out the form rather automatically. It wasn't until I'd turned in the form and was waiting for my continuing flight home on another airline that I remembered that we'd visited the relatives on their very small farm (8 cows and 5 chickens) and I hadn't thought to declare it.
I have a friend from france who tells me how she gets cheese through from customs, because we are so unsophisticated and she so misses the good cheeses. That was a while ago, so who knows if she can still do it.
I sneaked gouda cheese through Customs from Amsterdam to Paris and from Paris to the United States.
See, the comment by the poster who said that customs agent "laughed hysterically" at her gummies declaration is part of the reason people don't want to declare things. The inspectors should be a bit more clinical and not comment on what people buy or don't buy.
During a trip to Europe we picked up some dried sausage to take home, not realizing it was not allowed. When arriving in Customs, we were asked about whether we had any meat products. We said "no" but obviously were bad liers because next thing you know Customs was searching our bags for the item in question! We finally admitted that we had it; but then could not find it in our luggage. Sadly, the sausage was lost, and we learned that you can't lie to customs.
did a destination wedding in her place of choice. she had very few there (parents, siblings, maybe cousins?). They came back to where they live and did a reception there for those that didn't go (who, um, weren't invited). Another option, if you want to get married in a beautiful caribbean island...
That makes sense.
Unless your are planning a weddng where it's just a small group of family/friends don't do it. Instead plan your honeymoon at this location. I group destination weddings into two categories...... First are the ones the poster suggested of doing it at some tropical location. The second....this is done for logistical reasons when family and friends are scattered across a multistate region or cross country. The bride and groom pick a loation that is easiest for all to come to. You may have met in DC but she is from Boston, he is from Pittsburgh so they decide to have it someplace in between where both sides can drive to. My cousin did this. He is from Dallas, where he met her, and her family is from rural Kansas. They did their wedding in Oklahoma City which was a 3-4 hr drive for her family and a plane flight to a major city for his family.
The definition of destination wedding is broad. The example of your cousin's situation isn't what I think of when someone says they are planning a destination wedding. Sounds as if he was just trying to accommodate everyone, a good thing.
A friend and I went to the Cayman Islands in 1994 and haven't been back since, but black coral was everywhere and we each bought several pieces. I just listed the items as jewelery and misc souvenirs and got through w/out an inspection. She made the mistake of identifying hers s "black coral" and everything was confiscated. (No, she did not rat me out.) She probably lost about $100 total and had to explain why she had not brought back souvenirs and/or buy new gifts for her friends. We've often wondered since how the Caymans could continually push black coral items on you when they had to know you could not take them through customs.
I was goign to check my laundry bag and carry on my 'carry on' bag, but they got switched and i checked the wrong bag. So the checked bag had the booze in it that was bringing back...I was sure it would break, but it didn't! I did get to hear my name called on the intercom, because they had a bag without proper identification on it.
Comment: When going through Customs at Dulles, try not to sweat profusely, because the Customs officers will think that if you appear nervous, you're hiding something. That was the case in 2010 when I returned from a European cruise, and I had to walk fast to not only get to the Men's room outside the Customs and Immigration queue area but also was sweating like a proverbial hog at the ICE booth. The ICE agent noticed the sweating and notified the Customs officers near the luggage carousels. They noticed the sweating, too, and asked me to open my luggage and look inside to see what I had in there. They also asked me why I was sweating so much: Answer: I sweat too much, whether I'm in a hot room, a warm place, a cool place, etc. I don't sweat because I'm nervous, but because I sweat a lot--just overactive sweat glands! Luckily, though, there was nothing in my luggage that warranted confiscation, and I was permitted to go on my way to Ground Transportation to get a taxi to go home. Suggestion to ICE and CBP officers: There's always a metabolical reason for sweating that has nothing to do with the need to smuggle in crap to foul-up the US. Another suggestion: When in doubt, ask the Customs officer whether it's allowed, and declare it on your form, just as Ms. Sachs suggested in her article.
I've been meaning to suggest that you invite someone from Customs to be a chat guest sometime. I've had only good experiences with Customs, like the time an agent saved me money by telling me that the didgeridoo and aboriginal paintings I was bringing back were duty-free "native art." I'll confess to a lump in my throat whenever an agent looks at my passport and says "Welcome home."
Great minds think alike (well partially alike; I am no Customs officials, only a wanna-be). I found the whole experience to be so pleasant and interesting, and the officers really seem to have fun with the returning Americans.
We once arrived, very early in the morning, from overseas with a lot of wine. When we went through passport control at Dulles the agent started yelling at us that it was too much....we calmly responded that we had done this before and had paid the duty. So, off we go to the customs agents. We tell them how much wine we had, what type, and where we had purchased it. They proceeded to look through all sorts of documents, but could not come up with a good answer. It seems that calculating the duty on wine is complicated, based on where it comes from, what type it is, etc. Finally, one of the agents just threw down the documents and told us to have a nice day.
Excellent that you knew how to handle your purchases -- and Customs. Cheers to you.
Coming back from a business trip in Paris to NYC about 20 years ago, I realized as I was riding to the airport that I needed to bring my then-husband a present. I had time to kill at CDG, so stopped into a gourmet food shop in the international terminal. My husband loved smoked sausages and cured meats, so I found a $50 gift basket of salamis, pate, etc. (and back then $50 was a lot more money). I was uncertain about bringing it into the US, however, so I asked the sales clerk if I'd have a problem with Customs. "Oh, not to worry," she assured me. "This is all shrink-wrapped and preserved, so you won't have any problem with it." Like a fool, I believe her and bought the basket. When I got to JFK and was asked about food products I was carrying, I was honest about the sausages and pate...only to have the Customs officer immediately take the entire basket away from, even the cheese that was included as part of it (and to this day I believe the cheese WAS legal). All the way home to Manhattan in the cab, I was picturing the Customs crew enjoying my basket of goodies at their midnight break...
Ouch that hurts, but good for you for being honest. And trust me: The officers were not dining on your basket of goodies. The incinerator, though, did enjoy the picnic.
Please, don't do it! Go there for your honeymoon. Truth is, your friends and family have other plans for their vacation time and money. We've attended TWO in the last year, and I am fed up!
I tried not to put it so bluntly (who knows, my niece may be reading this), but I'm with you.
I just took a quick look at the CPB website hoping for a list of prohibited items, but I only found government-ese. Is there a comprehensive list somewhere? Specifically, I was interested in what spices might be prohibited. I'm traveling to Morocco and I'd like to bring back saffron and a few other things. However, if they are going to get confiscated, I'll pass.
There is no comprehensive list, because so much can change per day or week (depending on the virus or diseasse du jour). Call the USDA hot line number for assistance on specific spices. From my understanding, dried herbs are on the yes list. But best to check first.
how flexible are you with airports? have you looked at southwest? Can you fly out of one and return to the other. If you have flexibility...Id suggest looking to the following weekends in early June where you can find cheaper airfare than the Memorial Day spike in airfare.
Great article - thanks. Couple questions - I thought I only had to write down what was purchased if the total amount was over the duty-free amount. Not true? - Do I have to declare boxed or a bar of chocolate? Thanks
Nope. They want to see everything that you brought from abroad, in case one of the items might be carrying a pest or includes an endangered species. They are checking for multiple reasons. (Short answer: Declare the chocos.)
Sorry, I was the OP on this. We can't book our tickets for another few weeks until hubby's interview is scheduled so I was asking more about whether there were holiday weekends we should avoid. We will look to travel in early May. Thanks!
Hey, airfares can be confusing. That's why we're here.
To the snarky person who posted about my post on Seattle airfares, I did not ask whether they were constant, or ask the Post to find an airfare for me. I asked what was considered a good price these days, since I haven't ever priced airfares on that route before. There is a website that tracks fares over time, but that doesn't tell you what's a good fare NOW, based on current fuel prices or route popularity or competition or whatever. I already looked up fares for the timeframe I want to go and actually found lower than what was noted in the response. I just wanted to know whether I should take the plunge or wait. Sometimes the staff here know about upcoming sales and whatnot that the average person might not. For the record, I am a very experienced traveller who has been to every continent and planned most of those trips myself, on the internet. But thanks for your condescending assumptions...
My fiance and I are researching our August 2012 honeymoon. Our top choice is Hawaii. What better time than January to start dreaming of a warm vacation, right? I was initially thinking we'd go with a major hotel chain, but I just started looking into condo rentals and there seem to be really great deals out there! For instance, a privately rented unit in a high rise comes in about $110 less per night than a similar hotel room in the same high rise. Do you have any insight into why condos seem to be significantly less expensive than hotels? Is there an obvious catch we're not aware of? Secondly, do any chatters have rental companies they'd recommend? vrbo.com is where we're started searching. Thanks for any insight you can provide!
Vacaton rentals can be a great deal, but as I note in this week's Navigator, there can also be risks. I have no problem recommending a condo in Hawaii -- there are actually some great units at reasonable prices -- but bear in mind that you're not getting a hotel. Some of the amenities may vary.
When you see the devastation that something like foot and mouth disease can cause to a country with largely agriculture-based economy, it makes sense not allow any products that could potentially carry such diseases into another country. Prevention is way better than trying to control and eradicate, afterwards. BTW, what is the position on bringing packets of flower seeds from Europe into the US?
Great point! My understanding is that packets of seeds are not allowed, because of the threat of pests and invasive species. But there might be exemptions. Best to check with USDA.
The person who wrote in about their mother should certainly contact whichever airline the frequent flier ticket was booked through...presumably UA in this case. Contact the Mileage Plus desk. Making a change should be easily done with a change fee. ALthough United allows one way awards so you might get them to just refund the mileage to your account and then hope there are open award seats when you want to return. Or if you know when she will be better they can probably force a seat open for you.
So many delicious things from regular groceries in Europe. Can I bring: soft cheese? Chocolate? Bread?
Yes and yes for the last two, unless they are made with beef (you never know); probably not on the first.
Hi there! My friend and I (both early 30s and female) want to travel for a short trip to somewhere in Florida. Requirements are simple: nice beaches and warm water! Trip is planned for mid- to late-April. I'm interested in the Gulf side, but really don't know much about where to start looking... Thanks!
I actually think this chat is a great resource for these types of questions. You all provide broad and deep knowledge that most of use don't have. For example, say the writer prefers late May and sees a good fare, maybe even less than she's seeing for earlier in May. Without the benefit of the chat, she might wait a while and watch the fares. But knowing you said late May is generally more expensive, she'd know to grab it. So I say please keep answering such questions!
Several people from my office went to the Dominican Republic for a few days to oversee the closing of a branch office there. It was all work -- we never even got to the beach or a nightclub and I don't remember even having a chance to look for trinkets at the hotel or airport. We went down together and flew back together. I guess I must look suspicious -- The customs inspector didn't believe I had nothing to declare and took every article of clothing out of my bag to inspect, even the baggie of used underwear, looking at me as she lifted each piece as if to say, "Aha!" The oddest moment came when she took my tiny coin-purse from my handbag and sneeringly asked, "What's in here? A mango?" as she unzipped it. Wow. No-one treated me like that all the years I was a sandal-wearing, scraggly-haired, back-packing young person -- only once I became a designer-suit-wearing, middle-aged bureaucrat. I still wonder what that was about -- I don't think of the Dominican Republic as a drug country, but maybe I'm wrong.
I get that Customs doesn't allow FOOD into the US. But what about commercially-packaged dry garden SEEDS, in order to grow unusual vegetable varieties not widely available here?
The risk is that those seeds could turn into a plant that could threaten our flora and fauna. Again, check before you start planting.