Talk about Travel

Oct 17, 2011

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 go to the Caribbean: to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica and to the Bahamas for a family vacation.

Hello chatteratti.  Hope you had a glorious weekend and that you spent part of it thinking of travel questions for today's chat.

In honor of  Sunday's sunny Carib issue, our question-topic of the day is the Caribbean. Share with us your favorite island and why; or conversely the island that you found to be overhyped and overtouristed.

Last week, in your otherwise excellent article on traveling to Beijing, the "getting there" section recommended that readers change planes in Canada to get there. Good grief, why take the risk when there is a United non-stop from Dulles. It may cost a little more than changing planes elsewhere, but the peace of mind in not missing a connection is well worth it. Changing planes in order to save a few dollars over a non-stop is "penny wise, pound foolish." This week's Going Our Way section clearly recognized this in emphasizing Caribbean destinations with non-stop flights, so I hope that's the future trend in recommendations.

You make a great point. Nonstop is the way to go, even if it costs a little more. When I flew to Beijing in the spring, I took that United flight. It was nice knowing that I didn't have to rouse myself to catch a connection.

I liked the various articles on the Caribbean, but nowhere was there a sidebar about pricing! How much did that week at the all-inclusive in Jamaica cost? What do you have to spend to rent a 4-bedroom house on Abacos? That's basic information, and made the articles pretty worthless in terms of vacation planning.

I'm sorry you missed those boxes, but the sidebars were there in both print and on the web. If you look at the Jamaica and Abacos stories, each has our details boxes embedded pretty high up in the story in italics, starting with "Where to go and what to know."

To add to the continuing discussion about the use of US credit cards in Europe - my husband and I just got back from 2 weeks in Belgium and Holland, and had no problems anywhere, except at train stations in Holland. They have signs at all the ticket machines and counters saying they'll only accept cards with the chip/pin system. We did get a "cash passport" with a chip and pin at the airport, before we left - it was useful, but the exchange rate and fees made it a terrible deal.

Thanks for the report.

Hello fellow travellers, I recently travelled to the beautiful city of Marrakesh and I have to admit I suffered a huge culture shock when I first arrived, but after a few days its not too difficult to become accustomed! I just wanted to recommend a Riad I stayed in, which was located in the heart of the Old Medina, near the famous Jemaa El Fna. It was called Riad Magellan, and was owned by a really friendly Frenchman by the name of Philippe. The service was unbelievable, all the staff did their best to ensure that my stay was perfect. As soon as I entered the Riad I was greeted politely and offered some beautiful sweet Moroccan mint tea. The riad had six bedrooms and lots of different places to wind down after a long hot day of exploring the old city. They do serve alcohol, and the food was exceptional. The breakfast they served me was fit for a king! Shokran Marrakesh!

Appreciate the tip, thanks!

Wife and I have reservations at Volt at the end of this month, and we don't want to have to make the drive back to DC after dinner and/or I would at least like the option to enjoy wine with dinner. Any recommendations for places to stay in Frederick, MD, or places to avoid? Thanks!

This came up a few months ago, and one chatter said they liked the Hollerstown Hill B&B. Anyone else have Frederick places to recommend?

I'm submitting this on behalf of my sister who had an odd experiience with Hertz in las Vegas recently. When she went to rent the car, she declined the car insurance in favor of her own insurance policy. She was informed by the rental agent that if the car were damaged somehow, while her insurance would cover the damage, she would be responsible for the daily rate while the car was out of service for repair. Is this common (or legal) or was it just a scam to get her to buy their insurance, which she did.?

Most auto insurance policies do not pay for rental car company's "loss of use" when the car is in the shop. I don't think your sister was scammed. It's important to talk to your auto insurance provider and your credit card issuer before declining car rental insurance to make sure you are covered for such items as this. 

Greetings Travel Crew! I will be traveling to Los Angeles and Southern California with two friends for the week in between Christmas and New Years. We've all been to L.A. before but will rent a car this time and will be able to travel further out. We'll be staying in Orange County, with a night in Palm Springs (with a visit to Joshua Tree). We will go to Disneyland and will go to an L.A. Kings game on NYE, but what else should be do? I'd love to see some historic houses/sites but it seems there aren't a lot of options for that. Love to hear your--or other chatters--suggestions! Thanks!

Los Angeles has a few historic houses, such as Hollyhock House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Heritage Square Museum. And the Getty Museums are great: I'm partial to the one in Malibu. There are also a couple of historic missions within striking distance: Mission San Fernando  and Mission San Gabriel

Two weeks ago you got a question about fun things to do in Palm Springs - I just got back from my first visit there last night - can I make some suggestions? First, we did an awe-inspiring tour of Joshua Tree Park. You can go with a tour operator - I loved ours - Elite Land Tours. Second, a fabulous fellow named Robert Imber gives great tours of the modern architecture of the city, which is incredible. Look up "PS Modern Tours." I wish I were going back out in February when they have a 10 day Modernism festival. Lastly, every Thursday night they close down the main drag for Village Fest with arts and crafts for sale and performers and all kinds of food. Lots of fun. The city is great!

Thanks for sharing!

I'm landing in India on December 27 and my passport expires on May 29, 2012. The visa I'm getting is for six months, although I'll be back sometime in January. Should I renew my passport? Will I even have time at this point? If I do will it change my passport number which means I'd have to pay to have it changed on my plane ticket? Gah.

Typically, your passport should have a cushion of six months before it expires. So you are right on the edge. To be safe,  I would renew it.

You have more than enough time. The State Dept. says its processing time is 4 to 6 weeks, but it could very well be less. And you receive the same number, so no need to making any changes to your tickets or plans.

Also forgot - October is Spa Month there, so great deals on massages etc.

Hi travel crew, Am looking to fly Boston-DC during Thanksgiving weekend and almost spit coffee on my monitor when I saw the current prices for my preferred times (not 6am flights) were close to $500. What the what?!? I know demand/prices shoot up for Thanksigiving weekend, but that seems especially crazy.

Is this your first year looking at this fare? I've been flying that route for five years now, going either to Boston or Portland (ME), and I've seen it get even higher than that. A horrible weekend for flying, in many ways. It was so high a couple years ago that I took three buses to get to my sister's in southern Maine! Vowed never to do that again, but it was cheap.

Just to add, you might want to book, like, now. I did a quick Kayak search and unless I'm doing something totally wrong, there are some CHEAP flights out there, less than $200 round-trip. (Examples: 11/22-11/25 from DCA at a reasonable 10:30 a.m. departure, $159, on US Airways; 11/22-11/25 from BWI also around 10:30 a.m., $168, on Air Tran.) Play around with their flexible tools. A lot of competition on that route!

I'm thinking of going to Puerto Rico in mid-January to relax on the beach, find good hole in the wall places to eat, and watch some winter league beisbol game featuring present and future Nats. Should I base myself in San Juan or elsewhere?

Yes, you should.

You change planes because many people go insane if they're stuck in the same airplane for 18 hours. There's a huge difference between flying DC to the Caribbean and DC to Beijing.

It all depends on the traveler, I think. I would much rather just get there. When I have had layovers on long flights, I just ended up floating around the airport so exhausted and then am even more spent when I finally get to my final destination.

Hi Travel Gurus! Through good fortune I'm meeting my girlfriend in Vegas in early November. We plan on spending most of time camping and climbing in Red Rocks and culminating the week in a friend's time share. As we both live frugally and have never been to Vegas we have two questions. First, it seems that we can get a hotel room for a few more dollars a night then paying the camping fee (~$20 v $15). What experience do you or the readers have staying in Vegas for under $30 per night? Second, for any non-active days what can be done in Vegas for free? We're not dirtbag climbers but wouldn't want to pass up something worth seeing either if the price is right. thanks!

The reason hotel rooms in Vegas are so cheap is that they operate as so-called loss leaders for the casinos. That is, the hotels lose money on the rooms themselves, but more than make up for it with the money those guests spend in the casinos. I've spent $70 or $80 a night for perfectly fine, decent-sized rooms on the Strip. Now, keep in mind that hotel prices in Vegas are VERY volatile, depending on what else is going on in town, conferences and the like, so if you find something you like, book it. If you don't mind the family-focused atmosphere, you might try Excalibur for very cheap rooms, around $40 I think.

As for under $30, I can't promise anything, but maybe chatters know better.

As for free things to do, Vegas is full of them: lions at MGM Grand, exotic birds in Flamingo, the fountains and gardens at the Bellagio, pirate show at Treasure Island, the cheesy light show at Fremont Street, and on and on. The best thing to do for free, though, is just sit back and watch the parade of humanity.

Ok I know it's mid oct but like any wise person I'm trying to plan Christmas vacation! I've since sep visited every website there is and the bottom line is whatever deals/ packages/ fare sales / 70% offs they advertise , these are all gimmicks. The moment u enter 2 adults 2 kids u enter how old kids are, enter travel dates and wait for the magic moment the screen shows options to book flights and enter secret code for price slash etc. After being cross eyed for several minutes choose depart and coming back flight options making sure you r not stuck in a 8 hr lay over the price comes back to be $1500 pp instead of advertised $599 pp! What am I missing?

I don't think you're missing anything. And I think this experience is all too common on some discount travel sites. I usually do much better pricing out components separately. In other words, going straight to the airline for air tickets and to the hotel for accommodations. That said, some companies, such as Apple Vacations, Vacation Express and Liberty Travel, do sometimes receive small discounts from the airlines and hotels to put together packages. But Christmas is the peak of peak season, and very few hotels or airlines are discounting. 

Some months ago I sent in a half joke but half serious comment about why it is everytime I fly across country I get seated next to the heaviest person on the flight. Strangely, this has happened a few more times. A mathetician friend of mine noted that the number of people on an aircraft and the numbers of times I have flown would make the odds of this happening by chanceso incredibly large that it is more likely could not happen by chance. Indeed, I realized that everytime this has happened, my seat had been changed by the airlines and it only happens when I fly ouf of a particular airline from a particular city. Of course, it sounds paranoid to state this, yet the mathematical odds tell me if is more likely I must have a prankster in this city or someone who doesn't like me than this keeps happening by chance. I flew one more time, and sure enough, my seat was changed from an aisle seat to a window seat with the largest personon the flight sitting in the middle seat next to me. The next time I flew out of this city, I actually mentioned this in the special requests section. I am sure whoever read this assumes I am crazy, but at least this time, for the first time, my seat was not changed and I have broken an incredible streak of this happening to me. And that is my bizarre travel story.

Honestly, I don't know where to start with this, except to say that I think you might perhaps have just a teensy bit too much time on your hands and might look into taking up a hobby. Something calming, like knitting, perhaps -- although you can't take those needles on the plane, can you? How bout Sudoku?

Traveler going to India:  I made a mistake! You do get a new passport number. But simply call the airline with the new number. Apologies.

love your chats! I've learned so much!!!! Am finally getting a handle on the new point system for Southwest...I only fly a couple of times per year. Want to save enough points to visit my SIL in Santa Fe next year. Is it ever possible to use a combination of points and dollars to get a ticket? Otherwise it'll take me years to save up.... also, suggestions for the best time of year to visit Santa Fe? (I hate cold weather.) Thanks!

Yes, you can buy Southwest points. I was playing around with it last night, actually. It looks like you can go into your Rapid Rewards account, and start booking your flight through there with your points and pay for the difference at the end.

About Santa Fe, it's chilly when you would expect it to be, November through February or so. But I bet your sister-in-law could guide you!

and it took about two weeks. Surprisingly fast.

Three cheers for the State Dept.

It is most certainly NOT true that your new passport will have the same number as your old one.

You are right; I am wrong. I corrected myself about a minute ago.

I had no idea Christopher was so cute until I checked out his blog! I just wanted to pass along my thanks for the work he does on the behalf of travelers around the world!

As his modeling agent and spokeswoman, I will relay the message and say on his behalf, Thanks!

Just throwing this out for ideas. I need to use some vacation time, so I want to take a 7-12 day vacation before the end of the year. Where would you go? I think given the time consideration, I want to limit myself to the Americas, Europe, or northern Africa. I am a woman who will be travelling alone (but I am comfortable with that); I am pretty cheap so someplace not too expensive (or at least a place where I can choose to get by on the cheap; I hope to use ff miles for the ticket, so that is not a consideration); I have travelled a fair bit (recent trips: Italy, France, Switzerland, Costa Rica, China, Montana); I like nature, cities, easy hiking, museums, and culture (a mix would be great); I love to use various transportation modes (though prefer not to rent a car). I'm considering Spain, Croatia, Egypt, Turkey, Argentina. Any ideas are most welcome. Thanks!

Any of the countries you're considering would be wonderful, though not sure about a woman traveling alone someplace like Egypt. Nevertheless, we did do this story on Egypt earlier this year, and it sounds as though it would not only be a great experience, but also a bargain. People rave about Turkey also (look for our upcoming story on Cappadocia, Oct. 30), though I've never been (yet). Croatia is spectacular, too. So hard to choose! Chatters, what do you recommend?

We're headed to Nashville 11/9-12, staying at the Hutton, which looks to be right smack between Vandy and the downtown area. The question is: are cabs pretty readily available throughout the city or would we do better renting a car? We are planning to go to the Grand Ole Opry, RCA Studios, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and perhaps one or two must-see sights all within Nashville. No day trips to Dollywood for example (yes, that's a bummer). Thanks!

There are a half-dozen cab companies in Nashville, so I think you'd probably be fine with access, but expense might be another question. Nashville's cabs are $3 for pickup, and then $2 a mile, plus $1 for each passenger, so that means that your trip from the Hutton to the Grand Ole Opry is going to clock in at about $30 with tip, if my calculations are correct. Each way. And the airport is $25 each way. The shorter trips, to RCA and Hall of Fame, would probably be about $10 each way with tip. So right there, you're talking about $100 for just those destinations. A car, meanwhile, looks like it would be about $60 a day including fees, but gas and any parking charges would be extra.

I'm heading to Tucson this weekend for a wedding. Any suggestions on what to do during the day or what to see? Museums and Arts or a tour of the town? And any restaurants to recommend for lunch on Friday and Saturday?

I haven't been to Tucson, but if I were going this weekend, I'd do a mission tour, because I love that aesthetic and find them fascinating: Check out this suggested itinerary. The other thing high on my list would be a visit to the renowned Center for Creative Photography at the university.

I'll leave the restaurant idea to chatters, cause I have no direct experience...

No Gridlock today? Do any of the travel gurus know about a drive up to NJ? Will be going up on a Saturday and back on Monday. Anything to watch out for? Construction along the way?

I'd go ahead and look at this page about I-95. And probably the New Jersey Turnpike.

I actually disagree somewhat with respect to non-stop flights. Obviously some places are not reachable by a non-stop. But being cooped up in a plane for over 10 hours can be pretty tough, especially if you're in coach. As long as the connection is long enough I find that it can actually be nice to get off and stretch out a little bit. I took the 18 hour non-stop that used to exist from JFK-BKK a few years ago. That is just a long time to be in the air. And since I left from DC it required a connection anyway. So ultimately it probably would have been smarter to take a route that breaks the trip up. This year I am headed to SE Asia via Chicago and Tokyo on the outbound and Tokyo and Toronto on the return. Partly these connections are the result of flights having available award seats in F class. But even if I was paying I would have to connect somewhere.

Thanks for your take. I gotta say, I feel like we'd be dinged no matter how we set up those boxes -- some people want most direct, some people want cheapest. Sometimes we just can't win!

I just flew and checked luggage. (It's been about 10 months since I checked luggage last.) $25 a bag, each way, on United. Did you do a piece recently on this that I missed? Because that price is insane. Thanks!

Well, we've been dealing with checked luggage fees for a while now, so it's not that new. We had a story last year that might inform you a bit. Southwest still lets you have two free checked bags, and on JetBlue you get one.

St. Martin (just the French side), the Dutch side is just like any other island. The French side is quiet, rustic, relaxing and the food is fantastic. We went in the off-season and were able to stay in a small hotel right on the beach. It was exactly the vacation we needed.

Glad you made the distinction. (Though crime is pretty bad on both sides;  I had all of my bags stolen on the French side.)

I think that technically the rental company has to prove that the rest of their cars were all rented in order to be able to charge you for loss of use. Amex has an insurance program for rental cars that covers for loss of use. It costs $25 per rental (not per day) which makes it a much better value than the ripoff rates the rental companies charge.

That's not how car rental companies see it, unfortunately. Here's a Q&A I recently did with the VP of loss control at Enterprise. As you can see, the only proof they think they need is that the car was in the shop.

I dont know what fees are attached but many of the banks here do offer credit/debit cards with a chip/pin. Before you travel to europe look into getting one.

Great point.

Was that : "Yes, I should base myself in San Juan" or "Yes, I should base myself elswhere"?

Yes, San Juan!

Anyone been? We're going for a wedding over Veteran's Day and I'd love recommendations on things to do besides water sports and places to eat! Also, regarding the Caribbean - I really disliked the Bahamas. Atlantis is too touristy for my tastes, the food is overpriced, and elsewhere on the island, I was unable to find good cheap local food without venturing into some sketchy looking areas. I'm sure others have had better luck but I'll likely not go back given other options in the area.

Never been .  .chatters can you help?

Re: the Bahams. I agree with you in part. I took the bus around Nassau and had such a blast seeing other parts of the island and chatting up the locals. There are also outlier islands that are much more true to the Caribbean vibe than the ones on the cruise ship route.

I just looked on kayak... You can find cheaper options if you return on Saturday or fly out Tuesday night or you are willing to fly not providence

Yup, that was the time-frame I was targeting too.

Yeah, it's that Sunday return that really gets you...

Actually you can take them on! I usually knit on planes and while I've gotten a few jokes from other passengers I don't think any of them actually felt threatened.

Good to know -- although I think perhaps this particular flyer should NOT be in possession of them...

I have airfare booked to Jamaica but no hotels yet. Beyond the Riu mentioned in this week's article, where else should I consider?

It all depends on where on the island you want to stay and the kind of lodging you prefer.

Most people congregate around Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay; however, a few years ago I ventured east and stayed at the Strawberry Fields Forever and Zion Country Beach Cabins --the anti-all-inclusive experience.

For more touristy digs, Iberostar gets high praise, as does Goldeneye Resort, Jake's and Half Moon in MoBay.

I had to go through Travel Chat withdrawal because of Columbus Day? wow. Anyway, I will forgive & forget and pipe in my two cents worth about the Caribbean. I've been to many places there but found, in spite of the island's inherent beauty, Jamaica drove me crazy! It seemed every time I turned around, someone was holding a hand out to me seeking a tip. I loved the flora, the mountains, the beaches, but I really disliked the beggar attitude. It's really a shame because I tip generously on my own but when people tell me I need to, it just turns me off!

Wow, so sorry you missed us on Columbus Day, but even Travel Chat needs a day off now and then. Hope you're over the DTs by now. :-)

And sorry about your Jamaica experience, too. I agree, it's hard to feel generous when you're being importuned at every turn.

Hope this question isn't too broad: I'm trying to figure out where my husband and I should take our big vacation next year. We met our goal this year of leaving North America by taking a wonderful trip to Ireland, and we loved it. I'd really like to keep this going but I'm not sure what places to look at next. Ultimately, my husband and I would love to go to France or Italy, but I don't know if we'll be able to afford it next year. We both see a beach as part of our next trip, and I love historical ruins. We both enjoy things like wineries and breweries and stunning sites. He likes being active, whether its playing golf or playing beach volley ball. I've been toying with Costa Rica, but I'm feeling more something in Europe. Do you think maybe one of the Eastern European countries could work for us? I guess I'm looking for a good bargain - we can probably spend a couple thousand on airfare and lodging, but then we'll need to also go somewhere friendly to the dollar. I loved Ireland, but man could the food get pricey quick! Thanks for any help.

I'm not totally sure about it price-wise, but Slovenia is striking me as a good option. (And here's their tourism site.)

Hi, Travel Crew! I thought that you would appreciate some feedback about my use of Viator's services in Barcelona last month. The three tours I bought from them online--a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, a full city tour and an excursion of Sitges and the Freixenet Cava Cellars--demonstrated that Viator is a terrific tour company. I enjoyed every one of the tours I participated with them. They clearly are a great alternative to Grey Line tours I've usually had in European cities, and I plan to use them again next year.

We do appreciate the feedback. Thank you!

Hi- I am hoping you can answer a question that I have found confusing. I am hoping to buy an economy ticket on United and then use miles to upgrade to business class. However, the ability to do this--and whether I'll have a co-pay or not-- is unclear to me. Based on United's mileage award chart, it looks as if any purchased ticket can be upgraded with miles (assuming there is a seat available) but that different booking codes will dictate different mileage requirements and possibly a co-pay. However, when I went to book my ticket through the United website and selected the option to show me only flights for which upgrades are available, the costs of the flights were over $1,000 more than the original flights I had selected. However, the original flights, which were booking code Y, were also eligible for an upgrade according to the chart. Help! Can you clarify? Thank you!

Now that's what I call a question! I don't have an exact answer, but I can tell you who would. Either Tim Winship, who has an excellent site called Frequentflier.com, or Randy Petersen of InsideFlyer fame, would be able to tell you what's up with your ticket, or would have resources on their websites to help you answer this highly technical query. 

  • Bradbury Building (famous for its wroght-iron staircases, and featured in "Blade Runner").
  • Angels Flight vernicular railway.
  • Millennium Biltmore Hotel (where the Academy Awards ceremonies ook palce for a time in the 1930s).
  • Getty Villa museum in Malibu (not the newer, bigger Getty Center). Okay, a recreation of a Roman villa, but still interesting with good exhibits.
  • Any of the local Spanish missions (e.g., San Fernando)
  • Union Station (Amtrak station).

There are books, and even special tours, of L.A. architecture.

Thanks!

We're considering heading up to NYC for Christmas this year. If we go, we will either drive or take the train. The factors would be cost, a very active toddler, and time. If we can leave from the DC area anytime Friday and need to come back Monday (be back in the office Tuesday), which would you recommend and why? Also, if we drive, when are we most likely to see the least crowded roads? Thanks!

It would definitely be cheaper to drive than to take the train, which is not cheap by any means, anymore. The roads would probably be least crowded overnight, or late at night, but don't know how you'd feel about driving then. Chatters, your thoughts?

hi guys! love your chats. hoping you could provide some thoughts on good destinations for a bachelorette party in late february. the bride to be would like a location with a beach, some activity (hiking or such?), some nightlife while at the same time finding a spot with reasonable flights / hotels (guests will be flying in from new york / chicago / pittsburgh). she's thinking florida or carribbean, but struggling to come up with an actual city destination. only stipulation is no on miami. any help would be greatly appreciated!

I would recommend Key West,  the St. Petersburg/Tampa area, San Juan (Puerto Rico) or the Gulf Islands of Florida (you'd fly into Sarasota). You might also consider New Orleans.  

I'm an older traveler with mobility problems that cause me to walk v-e-r-y slowly, such that I to need to be wheel-chaired through airports and up to the airplane doorway. I recently flew PIT-IAD-Providence and back on United Express (run by Colgan), which flies Dash Q-400 prop planes and don't have jetways to use in boarding (Gates A1 and A2 at IAD). Instead passengers must walk down two flights of stairs, partway across the tarmac, then up a flight of stairs onto the plane; I can barely manage to walk slowly up the stairs onto the plane, but not do the other things. Only on my flight from PIT to IAD was I boarded first, along with members of the military and favored-customers of the airline. On the other three flights, including both from IAD, my husband went 3-4 times to the desk PRIOR to boarding to request a wheelchair and attendant return to assist me, before one arrived, by which time the regular coach passengers were already boarding. By the time the attendant wheeled me to the bottom of the plane staircase, I was in the middle of the crush of coach passengers, which was difficult for me (due to the ones already on the plane holding up the line while they stowed their overhead bags and got seated) and surely annoying for the folks behind me who had to wait for an incredibly slow passenger (me) to climb the steps onto the plane, then slowly make my way down the aisle to my seat. What I want to know is this: Is there a rule requiring airlines to pre-board mobility-impaired passengers, or is that merely a courtesy that I've been lucky enough to have received before? Is there someone to whom I can write a complaint re this practice, because I really don't want to have to go through it again. Thank you for any advice or help you can offer.

There's no rule I'm aware of that requires airlines to board a mobility-impaired passenger early, but it makes sense to do so. You should be able to contact the airline before your flight to make special arrangements. This page might also be helpful if you're flying on United.

Won't the airline charge me to make a change to my passport number? They would charge me if I accidentally spelled my name wrong!

That's an interesting problem that I haven't come across yet. I'm familiary with most airline name change policies, and from what I can tell they don't apply to passport numbers. So I would be surprised if they charged your to change your passport number. If they do, please contact me and I'll look into it. They really shouldn't.

A little off-subject, but the need is fairly immediate, and that is how easy (or difficult) is it to get around in Budapest and prague, speaking English (and maybe a little german)?

I speak neither Hungarian nor Czech (although I do speak Polish, which is close enough so I could decipher signs and things) and had no real problem in either city. German works in Prague, for sure. But I think you can manage even with just English. Chatters, agree or disagree?

My favorite island is right in DC. Theodore Roosevelt Island has been my favorite since I attended a National Park Service-sponsored junior ranger program there growing up. As one child of many in a large family, our big -- and only -- vacation spot was New Jersey. (Loved it though! Therefore, while Theodore Roosevelt Island is always nice, it felt extra special with an eight-year-old's imagination. I've become an avid traveler since college but no island has topped that one. I haven't been back to TR Island in a few years but I hope to go soon. Random tidbit: It actually was the setting for a DC band's music video in the past few years and was quite a delight to see again, just as I had remembered!

I was thinking warm weather destinations, but I love how you think of out of the box.  I'd add to that list Governor's Island.

I will be celebrating a painfully big milemark birthday at the end of April and am trying to think just how I want to celebrate with friends and family. We have discussed cruises, but I've done that several times before and not sure I want redundancy. Do you know if it's possible to arrange group travel to specific destinations for people coming from various parts of the country? Trying to keep the cost down to $1000 per person or less - any ideas?

A good travel agent should be able to help you with group travel and get you something within your budget. Without knowing anything else, I think it would be hard to recommend places. What do you have in mind?

About five years ago we went to the Divi all inclusive in Aruba. Its not near all the tall hotels and the beach is stunning. Only people staying at the Divi were at the beach and the all included bars and snack areas. You could allow your older children to wander a bit. My ten year old (at the time) son was allowed to order non alcholic drinks at the bar and even sit at the bar, have a drink and a snack and watch the televison with his older brother. One night, after we turned out the lights in our room, we could all hear the young man's stomach churning. You know, those non alcoholic pina coladas ar pretty good. Our ten year old estimated that he had drunk at least twelve that day. We did tip the bar tender on our way out to go home.

Cute -- he's binging already. Start 'em young! (Kidding -- sounds fun...)

Your friendly fan of the Azores here! Obviously I like the entire Portuguese archipelago (9 islands in the mid-Atlantic), but I'd have to say that a couple of the smaller islands hold a special place in my heart: Sao Jorge (in the central group) and Flores (in the western group), because of their spectacular scenery -- cliffs, waterfalls, mountains, lakes, sparse population (although nice hotels are available), a low-key environment, fresh local food. The unspoiled nature of the entire chain is something I simply couldn't have imagined till I saw it.

You sold me on the Azores -- not that I was a hard sell.

Nashville...I have traveled there over 50 times n the last 15 years. The hotel will likely charge for parking. I'd suggest using cabs. Also the hotel is n walking distance of downtown and Nashville. It's about 10 blocks from from downtown. Take sMe time to explore Vanderbilt and centennial park. Santa fe....December through February period could be in the 30 s and snow or it can be in the 70s. Look right before you pack.

Thanks on both!

Water slide that goes through a shark-filled aquarium into a swimming pool: Golden Nugget downtown, next to "Fremont Street Experience." Free to look at, not use, unless you stay there.

Yep, another one.

Randomness doesn't mean that when you flip a penny repeatedly it alternately comes up heads, then tail, then heads, then tails... It just means that taken over a large number of tosses you'll get a total of roughly half heads and half tails. However, randomness also means that you can get heads or tails several times in a row (without the coin having been tampered with). If the chatter thinks s/he's been seated next to the largest passenger more than average, it's probably just coincidence due to randomness.

Of course -- thanks for the voice of reason.

The airlines make a change regardless of what you've planned. A few years ago I went from Boston to Tokyo via Detroitt, and planned to return from Nagasaki, to Tokyo, to Detroit, to Boston. (It was a great deal.) The flights to Japan went as planned. On arrival at the airport in Nagasaki, the airline made a change...they booked us directly from Nagasaki to Detroit. Personally I preferred the longer flight with fewer stops, but people have other preferences.

I went to high school in Brussels, Belgium and next summer will return for a reunion. We are planning to bring our three-year old, so I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for doing a long flight with small children. He's a good traveller and thus far, has slept for most of our flights when travelling. And a related question: when should I start tracking air fares to Brussels?

It isn't too soon to start tracking fares through a site like Yapta. And at the risk of repeating myself: If you can afford to buy something, go for it!

I've flown with a three-year-old many times, and as long as you remember the snacks, entertainment (iPod or similar device) and mind the ears (they can cause a lot of grief during takeoff and landing) you should be good to go.

Hi, I've been craving New Haven pizza, and was thinking about taking a trip up to CT. Besides going up to get the pizza, is there anything else worth seeing/eating up there? I'll be coming from Philadelphia and I'd likely go this Friday. Thanks!

I have to admit that I have NEVER had a non-pizza meal in New Haven. If you're just there for a short time, why would you? Having said that, I do have friends who live there and they say good things about some other places, like Oaxaca and Ibiza. As for things to see, the Yale campus is stunning...

Second the comments re Joshua Tree Park, but would like to recommend that for the greatest impact, tourists might enjoy going during the brief period in the spring when the Joshua trees are in bloom, as far as the eye can see. I'm sure you can find an article online that lists the window of dates for the flowering.

The National Park Service has the answer:

Wildflower season usually begins with the large, cream-colored blooms of the Joshua trees in late February, followed by colorful annuals at the lower elevations around the south boundary of the park. Sometime in March, the bloom will follow rising temperatures into the higher elevations of the park. Cacti usually wait until April or May to produce their bright, waxy flowers.

I got a good chuckle from the post from the person who thinks someone (the fat community?) has targeted him/her. But he/she does make me wonder why the airline is changing their seat assignment so much. I do not think I have ever had my seat assignment changed by the airline and the instances where it has happenned to others (that I am aware of) have only been with a change in equiment. Now if you do not get a seat assignment when you buy your ticket then I think you almost are guarateed to have the airline assign you to a crappy seat. Are you aware of airlines changing seat assignments in the way (and frequency) that this poster reports?

I always assign my seat when I book and have never had it changed. But you are right: When I can't assign it myself, the gate agent always seems to stick me in a middle seat. But if possible, I sneak to an open aisle seat right before the doors close.

good day all, i am looking at an 11d stretch off during the holidays and don't celebrate traditionally. with that kind of time off i was looking at a great adventure trip to argentina or the uae but flights are crazy expensive ($2K+) so any other ideas of where to go in the world during that time that may be more cost friendly? i am open to ideas/locations! thanks!

If you're really up for anything, look at the Kayak Explore tool. You can see fares found by other users and see where it takes you, based on month, budget and a few other fields.

Thanks Chris. That was a very enlightening interview, at least it is with respect to the attitude of the industry. Why don't they charge more reasonable insurance fees? Surely they would get a lot more people signing up if the cost wasn't so staggering.

I believe "optinal" insurance is a major source of the industry's profits (although car rental industry representatives deny it). Personally, I don't understand why insurance isn't included in the price of every rental. I mean, car insurance is required in many states -- why not on rental cars?

My frustration stems from the fact that when I booked our flights online, I did indeed make special arrangements -- I checked the box requesting wheelchair service (physically able to climb a flight of stairs)! Is there anything further I should or could have done?

The day before your departure, call the airline and confirm your special arrangements. Sometimes they need a little nudge.

We've got great museums in New Haven too, as well as easy access to a beautiful shoreline nearby. Great theater and culture as well. More than enough for a weekend.

Yes, the Yale Center for British Art is lovely -- and the Peabody, Knights of Columbus are great. Lots to do, it's true. Between slices.

 

And we're having a citywide open studios for artists all over town this coming weekend, fyi.

Nice! Good to know -- thanks!

Technically, whether to allow knitting needles or crochet hooks is at the discretion of the TSA agent. I've been told to discard aluminum knitting needles, but my wood and bamboo ones were fine. I would caution against using double-pointed needles (DPN) because most agents won't know that they're for knitting and will think they're a weapon.

I'd take a printout from the web site that I quoted, and flash it at the agent.

Used to be that you could take plastic knitting needles onto a plane, but not metal ones. Has that changed?

I love the directions this chat heads in sometimes. The TSA doesn't distinguish between types of needles, saying the following:

Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage.

Items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside which cannot go through the checkpoint and must go in your checked baggage.

Solo female traveler should consider Prague - I just had a great trip there and would recommend it over Paris as a compact, affordable and fascinating destination for first-time Europe travelers. On another note, just spent 2 weeks in Germany and Czech Republic and only had troulbe with US credit cards in a supermarket in Germany.

Yes, Prague is a fantastic city, solo or not!

The biggest cost factor would be the hotel. Even the Holiday Inn in Koreatown can run $500-600 in December. I used that as an example because that was the cheapest hotel I found one year. So book that first and see how much the charge for parking, which could really eat into the savings you get over taking the train. It's pretty easy to do an actual comparison of gas + tolls + parking v train fares.

Good point! You might find cheaper lodging in Queens or Brooklyn, or consider using AirBnB or Craig's List.

My mom worked as a travel agent when they still could have a career. She would not recommend Jamaica nor DR unless you were staying t an all inclusive. In Jamaica if you appear to be an American you get hardware by the locals looking for handouts.

I don't fully agree with that. I drove around Jamaica and stayed at alternative lodgings and never felt uncomfortable. You need to be wise, of course, and cautious, and I went nowhere near Kingston. It all depends on the type of traveler. But please thank Mom for us.

Even though you couldn't give me a specific answer, I appreciate your response and willingness to point me in the right direction. This is a great chat--I read it every week and find you guys to be so helpful. So I just wanted to say thanks! I'll let you know what I find out if you're interested!

Thanks. Please do let us know what you find out.

We just flew out of Providence (T.F. Green Airport) this Saturday evening, and were surprised that a good many of the eateries there closed by 6 PM. As we were taking a flight without meal service, we would've been in trouble had we not brought along a bit of our own food, and then bought a little fresh food there just before the places closed. So plan ahead!

Yeah, that can be a problem at smaller airports with limited dining options. I've been there!

Most banks and credit cards do not have the chip/pin, actually. Chase just offered one starting this June, and it has an annual fee of $95. Not worth it for me. I always pay with cash, using the ATM at the airport.

Right.

Driving IN NYC is a nightmare and parking is very expensive. I don't know about taking a toddler on the Megabus, or the Chinatown buses, but that's another option that would be cheaper than Amtrak.

I don't know, I've never found the driving to be that horrendous, although basically we park the car and don't use while in town. I agree that parking is expensive. I certainly wouldn't take a toddler on any Chinatown bus, and even Megabus or Boltbus would be a strain with a little one, I think, as you can't really move around much. In  that regard, the train's a better option.

hi, Travelers. Q for you: any suggestion on how to get decent airfare to fort lauderdale, from DC, NY or Boston? I'm taking my nephew on a cruise.....which was reasonable.....but am stunned by the airfare. Is this something I should wait on?

In addition to the big online agencies, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, try Kayak and Google Flights. Also, you can track your fare on Yapta. If you see a fare you can afford, I would buy it now. Good luck!

Hi, To the solo woman traveler. I went to Egypt last year and wished I was on a tour. I have visited about 45 countries and maybe 10 solo. Egypt is the hassle capital of the world. Every day was a challenge to not get sexually harassed. I dressed with all skin covered all the time and a hat. It is constant and far more annoying for a single woman. Jordan is great and no hassles.

Thanks for the woman a woman advice.

I've never had an issue with taking my knitting needles on. I did take a cast iron frying pan in my carry on bag and a TSA agent remarked "you could probably use that as a weapon" then told me and my frying pan to have a nice flight.

Thanks everyone for the inspiring hour.  If only I could figure out how to make my desk fly and I'd be off to . . .  India, the Azores, the Caribbean, Nashville, Boston . . .

For today's prize, the winner is Roosevelt Island. I totally fell for your story, even though the island is nowhere near the Caribbean Sea. Please send me your address at sachsa@washpost.com.

See y'all next Monday.

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The Washington Post Travel section is your source for narrative tales and practical advice about journeys far and wide -- from weekend trips to the Eastern Shore, to two-week jaunts to the Far East -- plus consumer news, penny-pinching strategies and deals galore.
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