Talk about Travel

Oct 31, 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 unwind in otherworldly Cappadocia, feel the rhythm of Mali and explore Corolla in North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Good Monday, everyone! If you're anything like me, you probably relished the opportunity to hunker down at home Saturday with some good travel reading. In our section, that included Zofia's Impulsive Traveler on the Outer Banks, a story on music in Mali and fellow Post staffer Annie Gowen's account of her post-Iraq vacation in Cappadocia. What's your special vacation place to unwind? Or where would you like to go? Best answer gets the prize. 

Let's get started.

I would like to get away to someplace warm for President's day week. I am looking for a place that will have a beach but also cultural and other activities too, like hiking or kayaking. I would like to spend $1000 max and I will be traveling by myself, but am also open to joining a group trip. Any suggestions on places to go or tours that may fit the bill. Thanks

I am going to throw out some ideas, though they might or might not fit your budget depending on whether you can snag a good fare or not. Warmth is not also guaranteed, because of this wacky world.

Here are some ideas; hopefully one should stick!

Tampa/St. Petersburg

Key West

San Diego

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Florida's Gulf Islands

The Bahamas (look for an all-inclusive package)

When is the cheapest time of the year to fly to Japan? When is the best time of year to fly there? I presume they are not one and the same. Thank you!

Carol Sottili says:

High seasons are fairly typical -- New Year's Eve and summer. Also, there are holidays at end of April, beginning of May. January and February are cheaper, and it's cold.

Paris hotels, 3 stars, 5th arrondissement?

Ah, the Latin Quarter. Nice. Let's see: Here's where I'd be tempted to stay. Haven't stayed there, but good review on Frommer's.

Happy Halloween, Gurus. I hope you get lots of treats but no tricks! I have a somewhat complicated question due to extenuating circumstances. I have been out of work for 4 months. I live in another state but have been looking for jobs in the DC area as well as my home since my father and siblings live in MD & VA. I had an interview in MD on Friday so I chose to fly in rather than skype it, allowing me a chance to also visit with my family. I was able to book budget friendly flights by traveling to IAD last Thursday on JetBlue and from BWI next Wednesday on AirTran. However, on Saturday, my dad suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and is still in CCU. I would like to extend my stay so I can assist him but did not purchase travel insurance. Is there any way to avoid AirTran's $75 change fee with proof of my father's illness and hospitalization? Obviously, I am going to do what is best for my father but, due to my (lack of) work situation, the change fee seems rather excessive (especially since the flight was only $90). Thanks for any assistance you can offer.

Chris Elliott says:

I'm sorry to hear about your father. Airlines waive their fees on a case-by-case basis, and this certainly looks like a time where AirTran might consider helping you.

Try reaching out to one of these contacts at AirTran.

If that doesn't work, you could try appealing to a ticket agent directly, when you try to make your change. They often have the ability to bend a rule or two, depending on your circumstances.

I had been looking forward to your article on Cappadocia, because I was there in the spring, and I have to say I was disappointed in the article. It was very limited, focusing on one hotel and restaurant more than anything else. The area is so spectacular and amazing! There are also dozens of cave hotels, ranging from modest ones to some that are quite luxurious. The best thing to do there is to take a hot air balloon ride. The morning we did ours, there were perhaps 50 or 60 balloons up at the same time, and it was just incredible. If you're scheduling a trip to Turkey, try to squeeze in a short visit to Cappadocia.

So sorry our piece didn't work for you, but so much of travel is a personal odyssey, isn't it? I think that's what our reporter's story expressed, and I for one think she did it very nicely.

Hi Travelers, After traveling around Italy for a couple of weeks, we are taking the train back to Rome to fly out the next morning. Any suggestions for a hotel out close to the airport (FCO)? Ciao!

Chatters?

Hi, travel gurus! Do you know anywhere to find statistics about airport closures due to bad weather? I may have to fly to Michigan this winter, and a friend asked if the airport is likely to close if the weather is bad. I honestly don't know whether northern airports have more frequent closures, or if they are better-equipped to handle snow and ice. I noodled around on the FAA's website, but if the stats are there I can't find 'em. I also looked at the airport's FAQs (Grand Rapids) but didn't see any info there. Seems like the information has to be out there somewhere, though!

I think airports up north are much better at handling bad weather than cities not accustomed to snow, sleet, etc. The DOT has oodles of info on flight cancellations, delays, etc., though I don't think they track airport closures. Typically, a whole region will shut down, not just one airport, unless it's a smaller outpost.

I would just keep track of the weather as your departure nears. Then be ready to rebook if necessary.

Mom, Dad, and 7 year old son are looking to leave Chicago for a warmer place this December. We are choosing between Orlando Florida and San Antonio Texas. Orlando looks warmer and has a skadillion kid friendly things to do, but we don't do well in crowds. We're guessing San Antonio would be less crowded, but maybe not summery enough (although certainly warmer than Chicago!). Any ideas on how to make up our minds?

The weather in San Antonio in December will be pretty mild -- highs in the mid-60s and lows in the low to mid-40s. So I suppose it depends on how important warm-warmth is to you, in contrast to the crowds. Can I ask why you're not considering other locations in Florida, or is it all about the Mouse?

San Antonio certainly has fun things to do, too, such as the Alamo, the Natural Bridge Caverns (a half hour drive), the Riverwalk...

 

 

For the chatter who asked about airports near the Rome airport, here's a Hilton that's connected by a moving walkway. Can't get much closer than that. And here's a listing of others nearby.

Hi Travel Gurus! This weekend my husband is coming to town (we're currently long-distance) and I was thinking it might be fun to go visit some close-in Virginia wineries. Right now the plan is going to Pearmund Cellars and the Winery at La Grange, staying Saturday overnight at the Hampton Inn in Haymarket (at $136 per night). Is there a better option for an overnight with a hotel in a similar price range (sadly we can't afford some of the posher resorts I've found)? If we do go to Haymarket, do you have any suggestions for where we could get a great dinner in the area? Many thanks!

I'm going to suggest you push a little west to look for somewhere else to stay. The rooms at the Battletown Inn in Berryville are very affordable. You could have a nice dinner there or at the relatively close by Ashby Inn. You can visit Veramar Vineyard and others on the General's Wine & History Trail. (More wineries from our Going Out Guide.)

If the chatter stays in Haymarket, any suggestions for eats?

I am looking for help finding a nice place to stay in the Cinque Terre area. Preferable close to one of the train stations. Travelers are 60 yo and do not want to drag luggage up and down the hills to much. Thanks

We did a story in 2004 on the Cinque Terre that includes information on places to stay. At the very least it's a place to start.

And of course, we must ask the chatsters for their input. Anybody have recommendations?

I will be visiting Senegal this winter, and I have reservations at a guest house in Dakar. When I told the owner that I live in Baltimore, she wrote back "My parents are from Baltimore! Can you bring me some Utz potato chips and TastyCakes?" I assume I can take pre-packaged food in my suitcase, but how can I pack them so they don't get crushed?

What funny --and fun -- requests. Luckily, she did not ask for live crabs!

 Most likely you can bring them into the country, because they are not fresh produce. But check with Senegal customs or the consulate to be sure. Also, make sure you take in only the legal amount. They might have limits on quantity (not that you would bring in 1,000 boxes of TastyCakes).

For packing,  I would place the treats on top of my carry-on bag, or else carry them in a plastic bag and secure it to the handle of my carry-on.  Or, if you have space in your checked luggage, place them in a cooler or some other kind of inner case to protect them from crushing. Finally, you can stick them in a cardboard box and check the whole kaboodle.

We were thinking of going to Bethany Beach after school lets out - late June. I have been told that the ocean is still cold - really cold. Cold enough that teenage boys would dare each other to see how long they could stay in the ocean. This has put a damper on our plans. In late June how far south do we need to go to get ocean water that is comfortable to swim in? Are the Outer Banks far south enough? Myrtle Beach? Georgia? Florida?

Have a look at this very cool chart from NOAA about coastal water temperatures. I think that should give you some insight. In late June, the water temp in Lewes is around 69. Not so bad, I think. If I'm not mistaken, I think I've been in the water out that way in early June. Guess it just depends what you're comfortable with.

Do you have any websites to recommend for finding vacation packages for the last week of December/first week of January? Trying to see if we can find and afford a family trip for 8 adults to celebrate a milestone birthday. I know it's way late for holiday trip planning and that it's one of the most expensive times to travel, but am hoping you might know some sites that could find the best deals for 2 months from now. (We're thinking Puerto Rico, Mexico, other Caribbean -- somewhere warm and beachy). Thanks!

Carol Sottili says:

Try Vacation Express, Apple Vacations, Liberty Travel. Best deals will probably involve an all-inclusive, unless you don't eat or drink too much. Destinations known for all-inclusives include Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cancun area. Always compare package prices to the cost of buying components individually to make sure you are getting a deal. And read a recent column we published about traveling to the Caribbean.

Hello, smart Travel people! My husband and I are taking a trip to New Zealand in February: three days each in Auckland, Rotorua, and Queenstown. I'm usually the planner, but I'm going to be buried in work around the clock until about a week before we leave (hence the vacation). Are there any particular sorts of exciting adventures that I should find the time to schedule beforehand? (I'm definitely making arrangements to go Zorbing in Rotorua!) And should we plan to rent a car anywhere, or are these areas where we can get away without a car? Thanks!

You know, Lonely Planet just named NZ's Southern Lakes district -- the area around Queenstown -- one of its Top 10 regions to visit in 2012. So you're going to the right place! I gather there are all sorts of outdoor activities available there -- from snow skiing to water skiing and golf. Never having been myself, though, I can't make any recommendations. So let's throw it out to the chatters. Let's hear from you, guys!

My new husband and I have the week between Christmas and New Year's off. After the requisite family visits we were hoping to take a quick little romantic trip, just the two of us, somewhere nearby. Someplace like St. Michaels or Charlottesville. Not too far of a drive (weather), not too expensive (maybe $100 a night, plus food and stuff?). We enjoy good food and scenery/ambience, not really into spa stuff. Are there any local towns that are particularly nice to visit during the holidays? We don't want to arrive and find everything closed, if that makes sense. Thanks!

Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking Front Royal, Easton and Annapolis could be nice. Not sure about their particular holiday specifics, though. I also heartily endorse Charlottesville.

We are planning to drive to Maine this summer for a family vacation (we have teenagers). The plan is to go to Acadia National Park for a few days stopping in Newport for a day or two. We will have about 10 days and are looking for suggestions for other places to go to on the way their or back but especially for suggestions in Maine. Thanks

It's so gorgeous there. After a few days in the wild you might be interested in something slightly more urban, so I'd spend a few days in Portland and surrounds. Among many other things, there's great food (Fore Street, Duckfat, Micucci's, Hugo's, Cinque Terre), fun shopping (hit up Browne Trading for fab seafood-oriented products/picnic supplies and Sea Bags for sails turned into totes), art (Portland Museum of Art plus the Farnsworth in nearby Rockland if you're a Wyeth fan). And more. I've always wanted to stay on Peaks Island, right off Portland...

I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn by FCO and it was lovely. It's not especially Italian or anything, but it had cozy beds and quiet rooms and I slept like a log before my 24 hour flight home.

In a few months I will be in Africa, and the only airlines flying between different countries within Africa are local African airlines. I was searching for info about the safety of various airlines, and I found this list of "Airlines Banned by the EU". This might be helpful to others who will be off the beaten path.

Thanks.

Why stay near the airport when there is very reliable train service from Termini station in Rome that will get you to the airport? I'd recommend finding a hotel near the train station -- Via Veneto of "La Dolce Vita" fame a short taxicab ride away -- and enjoy walking around from your hotel to the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon, along with dinner, gelato and maybe a coffee at Caffe Greco.

Sounds much more romantic/nice than a Hilton at the airport, doesn't it? Still, I assumed the original chatter was too short on time. But thanks for the reminder of a different way at this.

Unfortunately, two cities suffered devastating floods and mudslides last week... super sad. I love love loved La Torretta, a B&B in Manarola. I would stay there every day for the rest of my life, if possible. Gorgeous rooms, gorgeous view and super friendly people. You do have to walk up the hill to get there, but it's worth it, I promise.

We were just there. Stayed at the Grand Colonnia (or something like that) in Monterosso. Great hotel, but it was a bit of a walk from the train station. No steep hills, but a bit of a walk. FYI- As I understand it, Cinque Terre was pretty much washed away by flash floods last week. :o(

I can't say that it will be much warmer in orlando than in SA. But both places will be fantastic and warm. If you're going the beginning of December, then Orlando won't be a problem with crowds. But closer to xmas, it will be. SA is the most visited city by other texans.

It'll be about 10 degrees warmer in Orlando in December than San Antonio -- highs in the mid-70s and lows in the low to mid 50s.

Bubble-wrap!

Then you can pop it when you're done with it!

Hi There! What are your thoughts on visiting Moab, Utah? Is June or July a good time to go? How long would you recommend staying? Thanks!

For some reason, I'm the weatherman today! Moab is gorgeous country, smack dab in the middle of some of the most breathtaking red rock scenery on the planet. But I would go in April-May or September-October, when high temps are in the 70s and 80s, rather than June or July, when it can hit the upper 90s. As far as how long you'd stay, that depends on how much you want to see/do, but there is no shortage of stuff: Arches and Canyonlands national parks, lots of hiking, biking, rafting possibilities.

Hi there! A friend and I want to go to the Caribbean for a long weekend in December or January. He wants to be able to rent a sunfish sailboat; I just want a place that is cheap and easy to get to. (And did I mention cheap?) It's been frustrating because a lot of the hotel web sites don't mention anything about being able to rent these sailboats either from them or a nearby service. Any suggestions?

Carol Sottili says:

Many all-inclusives have  small sailboats that you can take whenever you want for no extra charge. Not sure, however, how many of them are Sunfish rather than Hobie or another brand. I'd narrow down by price and then check via phone if you can't get info on the Web site. I recently stayed at the Majestic Elegance in the Dominican Republic, for example, and they had sailboats.

Thinking of Turkey, we followed a trail from the Black Sea to the spring bull wrestling festivals in the Kackar mountains following a trail mapped and then touted by the peripatetic tour operator, Kate Clow. She bases her trails on ancient paths - ours on Xenophon's rout route. Is there one through Capadocia, do you know?

Don't know. Chatters, do you?

Flights to Japan are outrageously high at the moment - about $1450 from JFK. It is odd considering they've lost business due to the tsunami and the fact that there is much competition on this route, which usually holds prices down.

Carol Sottili says:

Flights to Japan have been high for a quite a long time now. There are occasional sales, but they are few and far between. But look what has happened to Europe, too. Used to be able to go in winter to London not that long ago for $400 nonstop. Now you're lucky if you can find a connecting flight for $700.

Really?!? Travel is for seeing new places, meeting new people, having new experiences, learning about other cultures, etc. Travel is exciting! If I want to unwind, I just stay home.

To each his or her own. But we often get questions from people looking for a place where they can relax. And it's not like you can't do those other things on a slower-paced trip.

Regarding the comment on the 24th to the effect that it's not flooding in Bangkok: The worst is yet to hit on the 28th when it's high tide and the Cha Phraya will back up as will the khlongs emptying into it. It's now the 27th there so I would expect that most of BKK is already flooded, and what areas aren't yet, will be tomorrow and the next few days - most of the water from the north hasn't yet reached BKK, and they say this will last for another several weeks. I wouldn't trust the airport remaining dry; the added sandbags & dirt are known to leak. If any way possible I would recommend flying into another city such as Uta Pao, Krabi or elsewhere, Singapore might be the best connection point. And FYI, trains & buses above BKK have been stopped as have many domestic flights. But I understand it's still OK in the south, so from Singapore fly wherever you can into the south -- however, most hotels are probably booked with both tourists and Thais doing the same.

Thanks for the update.

I would also endorse C-ville particularly for multiple music venues/acts scheduled for First Night Virginia

I've flown to Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo for Christmas the last 6 years, and before that flew to Milwaukee every Christmas. Yes, those airports tend to be better equipped as their winters are longer, snowier and colder (and overall more predictable than ours in DC). However, winter in the Midwest is winter in the Midwest, so if a huge storm dumps a foot of snow on the area, the airports will probably be closed. That being said, however, they tend to get smaller amounts of snow -- just over longer periods of time, and thus are able to deal with it better. Plane deicing upon departure from the Midwest in winter is a reality and that can sometimes cause a back-up.

Hi! Is there any chance I could get a cheap (as in, $300 or less) flight to Montreal from DC this Thanksgiving? (I could travel between Tuesday evening - Sunday morning or less.) I booked a super cheap Amtrak ticket a few months ago but one unexplained time change by Amtrak (now leaving at 3:15 a.m., ugh!) and worries about the 14+ hour journey are making me reconsider. I realize such cheap last-minute stuff is especially rare on the busiest travel holiday of the year but I know you'd know for sure if I should keep looking or give up hope! P.S. Thanks for the interesting article on music in Mali; I hope to go one day!

My magic eight-ball says outlook is not good. You'd be hard-pressed to find a non-holiday week flight to Canada for that cheap. But keep an eye out for sales. You never know.

If you choose to talk to someone at AirTran, be sure to tell them that you are unemployed and were in the area for a job interview (in addition to the information about your dad). Tell as much of your story as possible--details are what help change people's minds. Plus, they may be sympathetic to someone who's looking for work.

Good advice.

Is there anything to do other than beaches? I'm not a lounger so spending more than 1 hour lying around is pretty boring.

Well, it is a beach place, but you don't have to just lie there. Check out this Web site for some other ideas, including kayaking and restaurant-hopping by boat. If you like sightseeing, you can also visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, which are right next to each other and are run together as a historical museum and botanical garden.  The Burroughs House is another historic property worth seeing. Or stroll the historic downtown. If you're more into sports, there's always golf, of course.  Chatters, any other suggestions?

Have any of you been to Tanzania? Any recommendations?

Not I, alas. Let's get the chatters in on this one.

We also had this story on seeing the country by rail.

I give up, what's "zorbing"?

It's rolling down a hill in a giant transparent plastic ball. Really. First started in Rotorua.

Try going on the Huka Jet boat...

Do not stay in Rotorua for 3 days unless you know people there. It will be warm in February, and due to the heat already in the ground due to the geothermal activity, the sulfuric odors from the hot springs will be inescapable. Spend more time in Queenstown, or go up to the Coromandel Peninsula!

I would like to take a trip to Machu Picchu. What is the weather like in February or March? Do you have any suggestions of tour companies that offer tours that a single 35 yr old female on a budget would appreciate.

Carol Sottili says:

February and March are in the rainy season, which runs from November through April. It won't be all that cold, but expect heavy downpours in the afternoon. Lots of outfitters accommodate single travelers, but I'm not personally familiar with any. Can our chatters help?

To celebrate our 30th birthdays this year my husband and I drove down to Rehoboth Beach and had ourselves such a relaxing trip. Between the great beer from Dogfish Head (we visited the pub 3 times in 2 days!) and restaurants with exceptional food it was exactly what we were looking for. I've been to a lot of great places in the past few years but I consider that one of the top spots I'd return to when I'm looking to relax. Plus it's a lot closer to home than Paris or Amsterdam...

Nice!

We are looking to rent a car from MIA December 22-28 and I was surprised to see prices of $100 day ($650 plus a week) for compact cars. Even Hotwire had similar prices. Is this just the going rate for rentals cars in Florida? We rented a car for a week from Portland Maine in August (so also high vacation season) and it was only $300 week. Any suggestions to save money or should I just recognize there's not a better alternative? Thanks!!

Ouch. Try expanding your search to off-airport locations. That can save you some money.

A couple of weeks I took a short tour of Iceland. It is beautiful and the people are very nice. The only problem we had is that we didn't have enough time! I would advise anyone going to take more time than flying out of Dulles on Sat night and returning on Tues. We thought we could fit in some short day trips when we arrived and before we left but things are far away so that didn't work. But do go - just go for more than 4 days (which ends up being 2.5).

Chris - What do you make of the Jetblue and AA tarmac strandings at Hartford on Saturday? Are the airlines likely to be fined for this? It is odd that they've still not found a way to deal with international arrivals who are diverted, always saying they can't let people off for immigration / customs reasons. Is there no way to handle this?

Chris says:

I'm very troubled by the weekend delays. There's absolutely no excuse for leaving passengers trapped on the plane, and the travelers who were stuck in Hartford have every reason to be upset at the way these incidents were handled. It was an absolute nightmare!

My concern is that these incidents will be used by some misguided consumer advocates to push for unnecessary laws. JetBlue and American already face possible DOT fines for the delay, but from what I know, there's plenty of blame to go around, from air traffic control, to the Hartford airport to power failures. None of those players would be punished.

Fact is, no law would have brought the planes back to the gate any faster. And the fact is also that even with these horrible weekend delays, tarmac delays are exceedingly rare events. We shouldn't allow talking heads on TV (or chatting in an online Q&A, for that matter) to distract us from the real problems facing all air travelers.

I spent Thanksgiving in San Antonio the last few years and would warn that in my experience, it's been on the chilly side of that temperature spectrum. Definitely a light coat during the daytime and something heavier at night. But don't let that dissuade you from going -- San Antonio is a lovely city and the Riverwalk is pretty around the holidays.

Yes -- Central Texas is not that warm in the winter, really...

Any suggestions for an interesting ski destination in the EST timezone within a short-ish flight from DC? Went to Breckenridge, Colorado last year and loved it, but with the distance from the Denver airport to Breckenridge, plus the time zone change, it felt like we spent forever just getting to and from our destination.

What about Stowe? Less than two-hour flight from IAD to BTV, and in January it looks pretty cheap -- in the low $200s on United and US Air. From there, it's a 45-minute drive to Stowe.

Hey Flight Crew! My dad is turning 60 next January and I want to do something really special to celebrate it...like a big family vacation somewhere beautiful. The only rub: several family members do not have passports, so we're limited to U.S. and U.S. territories. My dad has never been on an all-out, tropical vacation, so I was thinking Puerto Rico (USVI is a touch too pricey for me and the flights are ridic! Hawaii too, unfortunately.) or Florida Keys... do you have any suggestions? I was also considering a cruise but only if I can find a *really* nice one... I do not want to feel like I'm vacationing in someone's finished basement. We'd want to travel in early April. I know that's the worst time, price-wise, but that's the only timeframe that works for everyone. Thanks in advance!!

Carol Sottili says:

Family members could easily get passports by January. I'd recommend that. Puerto Rico is very nice, and there are lovely resorts, but if you have lots of people, it could get pricey. Most of the chains, including Marriott, Embassy Suites and Hilton, have well-regarded hotels on the beach in Puerto Rico. Cruises could work, especially if you're not big drinkers (food and entertainment are included, but regular lines do not include booze). I don't quite understand the "finished basement" reference: Most cruise lines offer nice cabins with balconies if you can't handle the inside cabin feel. There are luxury cruise lines, such as Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas, and some are all-inclusive, but I believe Silversea is the only one that does Caribbean cruises in April.

I schedule trips to popular national parks for unwinding. I like these more frequented parks for relaxation because there are typically enough services around that I am not likely to have to worry about extensive planning, but also enough nature and quiet available to get away from the crowds and relax. I particularly like Acadia for this, but have had similar experiences at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier etc.

Scary.

As an old surfer Bethany Beach really doesnt get to comfortable temps until the first week of July. Anything further North is even chillier. Ask anyone whoever did beach week after graduation. By the 15th of June Va Beach water temps are comfortable and so are the beaches in extreme Northern NC coast. Now I like 69 degree water temps but that can be chilly for most folks. My surfer friends and we are all AARP members still chase Noreasters in the Winter to surf in dry suits. West coast surfers think 69 degree water temps are like the jacuzzi. Now if you want cold and scary Mavericks when its at its biggest is awesome even from the shoreline but when you have your board pointed down and you take off it cant be beat!

I've been to NZ several times and I can't imagine trying to do it without a car. There are trains and buses and planes that get you to the major towns, but a lot of the best things to see and do are located outside of the towns. One of the places that I would definitely plan to get out of is Auckland. It's just not that interesting--lots of better places to see on the North Island than this city. Also, one activity that I would recommend in Rotorua is black water tubing. You enter a cave with your inner tube and tube on the underground river in the dark, wearing only a light on your helmet. You'll stop to see glow worms too which is a magical sight. Lots of fun!

Thanks for the advice!

Sure, we'd look at other Florida locations. I have just started looking over Miami and am considering the Keys. Air fare is just REALLY cheap Chicago to Orlando, don't know about other Florida towns.

Chris Elliott says:

If you're going to the Keys, you'll definitely want to fly into either Miami or Fort Lauderdale. I've found a lot of great fares into Fort Lauderdale in the past. I'm a little bit biased because I live in Orlando, but I can tell you there's plenty to do here besides visiting a theme park. I just spent a week in Anna Maria Island, near Bradenton, and am now in Palm Coast, just north of Daytona Beach. Both are excellent destinations with plenty of beaches and other recreational opportunities. I would say you can't go wrong with Miami or Orlando.

We are thinking of a similar trip next summer (with teenagers, no less!), but maybe doing a few days in Maine and a few days in Nova Scotia. Is that doable, and where specifically would you suggest we go in Nova Scotia to minimize driving?

Yep, that's doable -- but as for the other part of your question, once you're on Nova Scotia it's a bit late to think about minimizing driving! From, say, Bangor, it'll take you 8 hours just to get onto NS, so any driving you do once your there will be comparatively minimal. Know what I mean?  I think Cape Breton is pretty gorgeous -- but then again, that whole area is so beautiful you can't really go wrong. You could go into Halifax and tool around from there.

Are any tourist attractions open on Christmas Day in Prague?

Any chatters know the answer to this question?

I would like to visit the new art museum Crystal Bridges in Arkansas. What is the nearest airport with best flight connections to DC? I was hoping to go over Christmas week, but the fares seem to be ~$500. Are there things nearby worth seeing? There seem to be a lot of cool tree house B&Bs in Eureka Springs Arkansas that sadly don't allow kids. Any advice appreciated. Thanks.

On Kayak, I'm finding connecting flights to Bentonville, where the museum's located, on American from Reagan National for $469. Still too high? Don't think it's the easiest place to get to, alas. Let's ask the chatters for their advice, also on things to see and do.

I was in a similar situation once (father very ill, it was too soon for me to leave) and United waived the change fee. As with all such situations, however, my recommendation is: if the first rep you speak to seems unable or unwilling to help, hang up and call again to speak w/ another rep and/or ask to speak to supervisor. Also tell them you can fax them a doctor's note if they'd like proof.

Thanks.

I know some of your writers have talked about owning vacation homes. Do you all have any tips for someone who's thinking about buying a vacation home, especially for advice on renting it out when we're not using it? Thanks!

Carol Sottili says:

I think most owners of vacation homes who also rent them out either go through a property manager in the area where the home is located, or they do it themselves by advertising on the Web via companies such as Homeaway and VRBO. If you're going to rent a home that you stay in, be prepared for some disappointment. Even if you keep careful tabs on your clientele, there will be the occasional clunker who will put a hole in the wall, stain the carpets, etc. I think living close to the property (within four hours) is necessary in order to keep tabs on your investment. Also, you won't use the place if it's too far away. We always stayed in the Outer Banks during our annual vacations, but when it came time to buy, we needed a place that was closer to home, so chose Ocean City.

Tulum Yucatan - three hour flight to Merida, then a drive to the Mayan temple studded coast to kayak, hike, and eco-trek. Austin,TX is all that too, plus a river full of paddle-boarders, hip vibe, and bats.

I live in New England and have occasional business trips down to San Antonio. I personally cannot wait to experience 50 degree weather in January :)

Going next week... but only for 3 days. What would the previous poster list as the most important/best stuff to do in a short trip?

You still around, Iceland traveler?

Berryville sounds great. I knew I could count on you!!! :)

Hurray! Hope you have fun.

I'm planning a trip to Israel in March with a visit to Petra and Turkey (two weeks total). How many days would you allot to a visit to Capadoccia (which was already on the itinerary so I was pleased to see the story yesterday)?

I would think that's sort of up to you, but let's ask the chatters what they think.

Is January generally a quieter time in Florida than, say, February or March? Just seems with school vacation schedules that there should not be as many families there... If yes, does this also mean lower prices for hotel rooms?

Chris Elliott says:

January is slightly quieter than February or March, in my experience, but not by that much. The snowbirds start arriving after Thanksgiving and stay through Easter. The Martin Luther King weekend in January is insanely busy, particularly at the theme parks. But for sustained insanity -- and I say that with a great deal of affection for my home state -- you can't beat February and March, which are the traditional spring break months.

We (the extended family) took my dad to the Grand Canyon for his 80th birthday and we did it in January, too. He (and the rest of us) absolutely loved it. It was cold on the rim, but absolutely gorgeous down inside the canyon as we floated down the Colorado. We also visited Las Vegas and the Red Rock Canyon. It wasn't too strenuous for my 80-year-old dad, so I think the poster's 60-year-old dad would be fine.

Thanks!

Buy an appropriately sized tupperware/Rubbermaid box and pack the potato chips and tasty cakes. They should make the trip relatively unscathed.

Further to the earlier comment, turns out most of Bangkok came through the high tides unscathed by the floods. The areas right along the river have had some minor flooding with the high tides but when the tide went back out the water level dropped. Downtown areas have remained completely dry. Eyewitness reports are that the drive to and from the airport are uneventful save for the cars parked along the sides of the elevated highways.

Having lived in SA for several years, I have to say: go to Orlando. SA takes about one day to see everything; if you add in the Sea World (which a lot of people do go to but seriously, it's a landlocked city people - not the best introduction to oceanography), you can stretch it out for another day. Plus while SA will be warmer than Chicago, it has been known to have ice storms in the winter.

Another vote!

I live in Maryland, and while I love my hometown, I must drive everywhere. We travel to lots of places, but my favorite place to really unwind is Alexandria VA. It's only an hour's drive away. Then we arrive and park the car, never to be used again until we leave. Lots of great restaurants and cuisines to choose from in Old Town. Or, if we desire, hop on the metro and into DC, whether for museums, theatre, and history. It's great! And I don't worry if I just put my feet up for a while, because I know I'll be back again!

Realizing you don't have a crystal ball, any suggestions on a good time to buy a flight to Eastern Europe for next July?

Right. We don't have a crystal ball. I'll just repeat what Chris always tells folks -- buy when you find a price that you can afford.

Carol Sottili says:

This answer doesn't change -- start checking as soon as you know your travel dates on sites such as Kayak and Bing Travel. Figure out which airlines fly your route, and start checking them regularly. Familiarize yourself with the going rate, and when a sale hits, buy right away.

Auckland is fairly boring, to be honest. I would definitely not spend three full days there. Can you get to Dunedin instead? It's unbelievably gorgeous and lots of outdoor things to do there.

I did this trip last year. Almost everything was open on Christmas Day, but not on Christmas Eve, when they traditionally celebrate Christmas.

I knew someone would come through. Thanks!

I know this is a frequently asked chat question, but I can't seem to figure out how to search the chat archives! I'm wanting to go to an all-inclusive with my spouse somewhere warm in January. Willing to go anywhere other than Cancun / Mayan Riveria -- which I love, just have been there many times. Budget of $3000 for 4-5 nights with air. Ideally would be of moderate to deluxe quality and adults-only (meaning lack of children, not nudist/Hedonism).

Carol Sottili says:

There are so many all-inclusives that fit the bill. You could narrow it down by first figuring out where you want to go. Since you're tired of Mexico, the other big all-inclusive island destinations are the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Or you could start by looking at all-inclusives that specialize in adults, such as Sandals, for a map of their locations. I've only stayed at family-oriented all-inclusives, but even those often have adults-only pools and restaurants. I'd also take a look at the Web site WhereToStay.

I unwind best in familiar locations - even Mexico City, if I stay at the same hotel, eat in the same restaurants, etc. I have a similar connection to Acapulco and Playa del Carmen. One of the most relaxing places is Ixtapan de la Sal in the state of Mexico. Fly to Toluca (TLC) ! and hop on a bus to this small spa town. They have a Marriott, but I stayed at locally owned spot. There are hot springs to soak in - the cheap municipal bath and pool; and high- end spas too. Also there is the excellent Teotenango archaeolgical site and museum right out of the town. You will have the mountain-top park all to yourself, and the museum is full of artifacts excavated on site. Oh - and I didn't have a bad meal.

Having just visited Iceland, it seems as though it's only a matter of time before another (bigger) volcanic eruption. I'm planning a trip to London in March, and another trip to Europe in late summer and was hoping that you had some advice about travel insurance that would cover trip cancellation in case of a volcanic eruption. Is it something that would be considered a natural disaster, or is it an "Act of God"?

Chris Elliott says:

Your safest bet is to get a "cancel for any reason" policy, which is more expensive (more than 10 percent of the value of your trip, usually) but allows you to cancel for any reason, as opposed to being bound to a covered reason.

If you send me an email (elliottc@gmail.com) I'd be happy to send you my ebook that explains the difference between cancel for any reason and regular travel insurance.

I did the glacier walk with mountainguides.is which included stops at two gorgeous waterfalls and amazing view. It was awesome! We saw over a dozen rainbows and beautiful scenery. Now is also a good time of year for the Northern Lights, but check with tour operators re: if they are running it, because it's based on the weather. If you see it, you'll be very lucky, but worth a try. Also, the Blue Lagoon is a must for a relaxing day (albeit pricey).

The day trip to Milford Sound is long but incredibly beautiful. Don't try to drive it on your own as the roads are narrow. You go through rainforest, alps (with the alipine Kea parrots), and fjords. Optional flight back is a couple of hundred bucks and saves about 4 hours travel time. Also consider a visit to one of the glaciers.

we went to disney in Jan and it was fantastic. arrived on jan 1, and it was great, and completely not crowded.

Could you please provide me with some recommendations for a local resort or spa, within reasonable driving distance from DC, where I can relax and see some fall foliage during the upcoming three-day weekend? I'm a mid-50s woman who values peace and quiet, if that helps. Thank you.

You don't mention cost, so hoping that you intend to splurge, I'll tell you that I loved the Inn at Willow Grove, while a colleague here sings the praises of the  Poplar Springs Inn and Spa, both in Virginia. There are also, of course, the Homestead and the Greenbrier.  Welcome other thoughts, chatters!

Well, thanks for joining us. Today's winner is the traveler who likes to go to national parks to unwind. Please send your mailing address to travel@washpost.com, and we'll get you your prize.

Have a fun, safe Halloween. Come back next week!

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