Talk about Travel

Nov 26, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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.

Good afternoon, chatters! Welcome back. I hope everyone had a fun and filling Thanksgiving weekend, but also managed to steal a few minutes to check out our great ski issue with the fabulous pieces on Jackson Hole and Telluride, plus Becky's very fun day dogging the ski patrol at Wintergreen. And also, speaking of dogs, the Impulsive Traveler on mushing in Maine. That's something I definitely want to do one day! Let's keep the wintry theme going -- tell me about your funnest -- or funniest -- wintertime sports memory. Here's mine; I'm in Austria, I'm 19, and I'm going skiing even though I've never skied before in my life. In this little Austrian town, I take the rope tow to the top of the hill that's right at the edge of the village, look down, say "I can do this," and take off. Within a couple of turns, I'm heading straight for the rope tow and CAN'T STEER AWAY from it. So of course I do the only thing I can -- I fall down. Within seconds, a pair of 8-year-olds is at my side, asking if I'm okay and can they help me. I've twisted my ankle a bit, so I take off my skis, the little girl puts them over her shoulder and swooshes downhill without a care in the world, while I pick myself up and hobble down the rest of the way in complete ignominy. After that, I decide that maybe I should take a few lessons.
    I have another great one about tobogganing straight into a tree, but that's for another time. Let's hear your stories, and most delectable one wins a prize! Now on to your questions:

I am looking for ideas for a family spring break trip with a 12 year old girl. We travel a lot and are interested in trips where we're exposed to new cultures and places. We'd really love to go to the Galapagos, but it is way too expensive. We thought about Hawaii, but I fear the long flight might be too much for a week long trip. We also thought about Spain, but fear all the Easter closings. Any ideas would be most appreciated.

How about Puerto Rico? You can fly nonstop from D.C., and no passport required. I bet she'd also think Iceland was pretty cool. You can get there for less than $600 nonstop from Dulles on Icelandair.

I'm considering a trip to Monument Valley and Moab. Is there a site that rates guides such as 4 wheel drive tours, etc.

I don't know about Web sites that rate guides, but we ran a story on Monument Valley a couple of years ago that recommends at least one tour company, Navajo-run Trailhandler Tours. Chatters, let's hear your recommendations.

We would like to visit the area in Mexico this winter to see the gathering place for the Monarch butterflies. What is the best city to fly into, and do you recommend a tour ? Also is this area of Mexico a safe one to visit ?

Before you go, please see the new 3D film Flight of the Butterflies. It's an excellent documentary, with plenty of human emotion, about monarch migration. Here's a review I did of the film. If you're going it alone, best bet would be to fly into Morelia, although you could also fly into Mexico City. You'll want to go in January or February. The closest town to the largest sanctuary is Angangueo. Zitacuaro is a little farther away. You could rent a car and do it yourself, but you may feel safer going with a tour. Day and overnight trips are available from both Morelia and Mexico City, or you could go with an organized tour from the United States. Can't recommend specific tour guides -- can any chatters help? 

If we are flying and renting a car we have found the best prices by using the airline affiliated vacation site - like Delta Vacations. Same airline prices and we have always received amazing car rental deals by booking together. Just returned from a 10 day visit to the Big Island Hawaii and our 4 door Jeep rental was $36.00 total for the whole trip. Not daily, total for the 10 days. Saved us over $400. Only booked the air and car portion since we have a place to stay.

Wow, that's some savings!

I was studying in Nice and we took a weekend trip to Austria for skiing...we made a time to reconnect before the last way down the mountain (it was some ski lift of some sort) - and not surprisingly, since I wasn't as good a skier as the others, we got separated. I too stood at the bottom of the rope life! And it took about a zillion tries for me to get up it! I kept falling down. And people kept saying things (quite politely) in all sorts of languages. Eventually, I met up with some US soldier...and he took me out for chocolate and hot chocolate. It was great. (we met some great soldiers when we were out and about in Europe). He was just really sweet...and that was that.

Sweet story!

One December in the later 1980's was extremely cold. So cold that the rivers and creeks froze so solid that my brother and I were given the chore of breaking the ice so that the cattle could get to the water 6 inches below to drink. After breaking the ice, we got to play ice hocky, or a version of it with no skates, real puck or real sticks. We used a candy tin as the puck and dead limbs as the sticks. That was the only time I can ever recall having ice strong enough in Virginia to play on it.

Yes, probably doesn't happen so much these days!

would you get a travel card or oyster card (or neither) for a week's vacation in London? Intend to use the tube quite a bit. Is it like deciding between a smarttrip card and a 7-day paper card on Metro?

If you plan to buzz around by public transportation, definitely get an Oyster card.  It works on the Tube, buses, the light rail and more. I suggest preordering a Visitor Oyster Card, so you can just land in London and go, go, go. The card starts you off with 15 pounds of credit. Here is the info for ordering.

I just watched Ken Burns' Dust Bowl and was mesmerized by the beautiful flat lands of grass and flowers. I've lived my entire life in East Coast cities and spend most vacations in world cities or on beaches. I'd LOVE to spend a long weekend this spring on some serene wide open space. Do you know of any Inns in places like that, maybe Kansas or Oklahoma? What would be some ways to search for options - Trip Advisor? Thanks!

Have a look at this story about the Flint Hills in Kansas by Post writer Annie Gowen, and be sure to look at the accompanying details. She mentions the Cottage House Hotel Bed and Breakfast. Sounds nice! Trip Adivsor is also a good place to look. And chatters, do you have other recommendations? 

I'm going on a dream vacation to Italy next year. Our flight there leaves around 5 p.m. and then lands the next day. I would really like to be able to sleep on the flight there so I"m not jet-lagged when we land. However, we had the same type of flight when we went to Ireland a year ago, and despite my best laid plans, I think I slept for maybe 30 minutes total. The airline employees kept bothering me with food and drink I didn't want, they never turned the lights off, it was uncomfortable, etc. It ruined my first day there as I was fighting to keep my eyes open. So, I've been trying to look at things to help me sleep on a plan and had a few questions: 1) Are those neck pillows any good? I have a hard time getting comfortable enough to sleep because my head wants to fall to the side and that just hurts. 2) What about those noise cancelling or noise reducing headphones? I'm really not up for shelling out hundreds of dollars, as I wouldn't use these very often. But I would prefer some noise reducing over the full-on sound of an airplane, so are any of the budget headphones a decent option, even if they don't get rid of all the noise? 3) Any other tips?

Sleeping on a plane is possible, but it's becoming increasingly difficult as airlines remove legroom from the seats in the main cabin in order to add bigger business- and first-class seats. I would recommend the neck pillow. I prefer the inflatable variety, because it takes up less room in my luggage. If you like to sleep on your side or toss and turn, a noise-cancelling headset will do you no good. Use earplugs - they are cheaper. Also, don't forget the eyepatch. They like to turn the cabin lights on to wake everyone up before landing, and it's a terrible way to be woken up, in my opinion.

Also, be sure to check out the story Andrea did a couple of years ago, with helpful tips on catching at least a few ZZZs on that long, cramped flight.

Greetings! I am finally in the position to plan a trip to go with my husband and kids (4, 2, 9 months) to visit relatives in Hungary and Austria next year. We'd love to go during the peach or apricot harvest seasons, and will have plenty of things to keep us occupied no matter when we go or what the weather is like. Is it too far out to be scouting for reasonable airfare? What counts as "reasonable" anyway? I'm seeing from $800-$900 per ticket right now. Is there a company you would recommend for car rental in Austria? Will our car seats be usable? I'm so excited!

Many of my relatives live in Austria (mom is from there), and, if your experience visiting there is anything like mine, you are going to have a great time. $800 to $900 a ticket is a good deal. As for car rentals, I like Auto Europe, but you should check those prices against other rental agencies, such as Hertz. Your car seats should work fine in Europe. Enjoy!

I was skiing in Colorado for the first time and made it down the bunny slope a few times so I decided to try a harder slope. Got to the top of the hill and all of a sudden had horrible leg cramps. I sat down and waited for them to subside. Friends came by a couple of times asking if I was ok and after the third time by and I hadn't gotten up, they sent the ski patrol after me....The extremely handsome ski patrol guys strapped me to a toboggan and we went sailing down the mountain. The carried me into the exam room and, although I was feeling better, they gave me the most wonderful leg massage to ease my leg cramps then sat me by the fireplace with some hot chocolate....worth every bit of embarassment...

I'll bet it was! :-)

My mom is getting ready to move out of her apartment and live in an RV so that she can start traveling the country in retirement. Any idea of a gift that would be good for life on the road? It can't be big - they've sold off most of their stuff for this to happen. But maybe some gadget, maybe even an app? It's either this or get her a restaurant gift certificate for Christmas.

My first thought would be a GPS system if she doesn't have one already. Or a router that would enable her to have internet wherever she goes. An e-reader with 3G or 4G would let her get something to read at any time. And here's a good slideshow from tech guy Scott Tharler of Discovery News, whom I interviewed earlier this year.

Hello, do you think it is necessary to have a rental car for a Hawaii trip? I will be in the big island and Maui. I was thinking of just taking package day tour but heard a car is recommended.

Yes for both. I just returned from a multi-island trip to Hawaii, and a car was a must on the Big Island and Maui. A word of warning: In Maui, rental rates are very high. If you decide to rent, try an off-airport location.

We'll be getting some cash from a relative when we arrive in England next year for a vacation. We'd like to use it for trip expenses while we're over there but would prefer not to carry the cash around. The only option for a cash card we've heard about over there requires that the person be a UK resident (you buy them at the post office). My partner's a UK citizen but not a resident. Any ideas to avoid carrying a couple of thousand pounds around in cash?

I went all through the Terms and Conditions for the Thomas Cook Cash Passport and didn't see anything about a residency requirement. All they ask for is a valid picture ID, such as a passport or driver's license. If your partner's a UK citizen and has a UK passport, I'd think that would be all you'd need. But let's also reach out to the chatters for their input. Folks, anybody in the know on this?

I'm planning my trip to Spain and I'm looking at one itinerary that has me coming back from Madrid through Heathrow. I'm wondering if you think 1 hour and 35 minutes is long enough for the connection. I'd arrive at Heathrow from Madrid at 12:10 p.m. and leave Heathrow for D.C. at 1:45. Thanks!

I think you'll arrive in terminal 4 and depart from terminal 5. Heathrow Airport's official site says you should give yourself 105 minutes to make this connection. You have 95 minutes.  I'm guessing that the official times err on the side of leisure. I would feel comfortable with 95 minutes. 

My daughter is now on her own and starting to enjoy some world travel. What are some "must haves" or "really great to haves" that you would recommend for for Christmas gifts. A range of ideas would be much appreciated. Many thanks.

Even though everybody uses their iPhones these days, I still think a really good camera is a must-have for a serious traveler. I'd also recommend a good rollaboard carry-on, or, if she's the duffel type, a sturdy but lightweight bag that she can stuff into the overhead bins. My two cents. Chatters, what else?

The Austria Story made me remember one of my favorite trips ever! My friend and I decided on a whim to go to Munich for Thanksgiving weekend. We weren't there 2 hours before we met two US Army Soldiers in the Munich Hofbrauhaus. They were on their way to go skiing in Austria for the weekend on a little R&R. My friend and I changed their minds for them and the four of us had the best, most romantic weekend ever! It was a long time ago but considering how Thanksgiving just passed I think the timing is right to tell that story. Moral of the story, if you're afraid to do something on a whim, you will never know what you could have missed.

Well, not exactly a winter sports story, but memorable, I'm sure!

I'm 1400 miles away from reaching gold status on Star Alliance this year. I'm at a loss because a round trip flight to NYC or Boston would only be 1000 miles - and Chicago seems to be cutting it just short. I doubt I can convince anyone to join me on short notice - so I'd be traveling alone. Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Birmingham appear to be in my mileage range but I've been to all three within the last year or so - and one visit was enough this year! Any ideas on a quick, not-too-expensive weekend trip for a good, adventuresome solo female traveler? I considered the Caribbean, but would also be game for Iceland.

Boy, there are a lot of ways to go with this. For a city experience, think about Austin. But, hey, if you're game for Iceland, go for it. I haven't heard anyone complain about it yet.

We're skipping out on family fesitivities and heading to London for Christmas. How is London that time of year and is there anything that we shouldn't miss? We've never been before and we'll have 5 full days--should we stay in the city or plan a day trip to Stonehenge or the like?

If you've never been to London, you won't be bored during a five-day trip. But, if you want to do a day trip, don't go to Stonehenge. I'd instead recommend Oxford: It's closer and there's much more to see/do. London's tourism Web site has a special section about Christmas activities -- makes me want to go! 

We will be in Delray Beach for 10 days with extended family over the holidays, and are looking for a place to stay January 1 before flying out of FLL in the evening of the 2nd. Any ideas? We like old school Florida places, doesn't have to be in FLL, as long as we can get there by 6pm.

Hmm. Can't think of a specific place. Let's ask the chatters for help. Folks, any hotel recommendations for this person?

Yes to Puerto Rico! We just got back from there. 3 1/2 hour nonstop flight from National, old San Juan is beautiful, and there are plenty of jungles and beaches outside the city for either before or after the cultural enrichment part of the trip. Personally, I want to go back and visit Culebra Island for the snorkeling and beaches. Just remember most of the museums in Old San Juan are closed on Mondays, and frequently on Sundays as well.

OK, one endorsement for my Puerto Rico recommendation. Thanks!

My family stayed at Tatanka Ranch in OK  in 2009 and had a terrific time. Hanging out at the ranch was very peaceful, and there are wineries nearby if you'd like to strike out. It is also right off of Route 66, and we enjoyed stopping at interesting spots on the way to and from OKC.

Thanks!

This probably doesn't count, but basketball is a winter sport, so I'll try. In a mid-December business trip a few years ago, the Singapore Slingers were playing at home against the West Sydney Razorbacks (yes, Singapore had an entry in the Australian Basketball League, and, yes, it's named after a cocktail). Because a college alum was playing for West Sydney, I decided to cheer for them. Everyone else was cheering for the Slingers, including lots of drunk Australian expats who kept razzing a West Sydney player with the last name of Harvey ("Hah-VEEE!"). Singapore won in a walk, with the last basket being scored by a Singaporean benchwarmer at the buzzer. Definitely an interesting experience.

Interesting, yes. Still not sure it qualifies. :-)

Our family has just moved out here after spending a decade out west. Our favorite family vacations have always been hiking through the great National Parks out west (Yosemite, Zion, Arches, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, etc.) What are your favorites out here? My first impression is that East Coast mountains are only small hills compared to the Rockies, but I'm sure that your chatters have some great ideas for hiking out here. Thanks so much.

Growing up in Virginia, I have a heavy bias toward Shenandoah National Park. There are many great options here on the East Coast, but high up on my list would be Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Hudson River Valley (National Heritage Area) and New River Gorge (a National River). Other favorites?

I forget which Colorado mountain this was at, but they had some of those two-person chair lifts with the pole in the middle of the two seats. I was about 12 and skiing with my best friend. I went to grab the pole to sit down with my outside hand and ended up sitting on my friend on the chair lift! We both fell off and were dying of laughter (as two pre-teen girls often do). They had to stop the lift and help us both up from our tangle of skis and poles. The chair lift operators were not amused and I think my friend was mortified!

Still funny!

I'm biased to the National Mall. :)

As a travelling daughter myself, things I use when I travel--travel alarm clock (one with settings for more than one time zone is awesome for keeping in mind what time it is back home); headlamp (you never know when you'll need some light); adapter/converter (a good one she will be able to trust to not fry her electronics). From my experience, those have been awesome!

Good ideas! Especially the adapter/converter -- definitely need those everywhere.

I am seeing flights from DC to Salt Lake City in February starting around $450 roundtrip. Any reason to think that prices might come down between now and then?

Once upon a time, it was cheap to fly to SLC. I can easily remember $200 round-trip flights (and, no, dinosaurs did not roam the earth at that time). But $450 seems to be the going rate now for winter ski season travel. I'd start tracking it now and  hope for  sale. JetBlue sometimes has fares below $400, but the connections aren't great. I'd rather pay closer to $500 for nonstop flights at that time of year. 

I'm a newly divorced female at 31. I was accustomed to traveling with my husband and am now a little timid about traveling solo internationally. I have few single girlfriends with whom I could travel. Are there any tour companies that specifically cater to singles? Not looking for a meet-up but just one where I won't be the only single gal in a sea of couples. Google has provided a wide net but I'd really prefer any personal recommendations. Thank you!

Let's throw this out to the peanut gallery. Who has recommendations?

Any place with cheap airfare and beaches will likely have at least a few college aged spring breakers. Some people might be okay with it, but if you're not, keep it in mind so you're not suprised when you arrive!

Good point!

There's nothing to do in the area near Stonehenge (save for a nice cathedral), and Stonehenge itself isn't that impressive - what's cool about it is that people were able to build it without tools, not that it looks the way it does, if that makes sense. I'd recommend Greenwich, which has a fun vibe, a nice university, and a few really cool museums, including one where you can get your picture at 0 degrees longitude.

I'm with you on Stonehenge. Greenwich is another idea. But, again, if I have five days and I've never been to London, I'm staying put!

How does the TSA justify preferential treatment for the rich for airport screening--government-required screening (not a private service)? Airlines giving preferential treatment for first-class passengers is no issue because they are private entities offering different services at different prices. But TSA screening is required by the government for airport access. Why are first class passengers given expedited service?

You are probably referring to the TSA Precheck lines at the airport, which are open to members of many airlines' elite frequent fliers, although not exclusively. I agree with you. Do you ever wonder why these high-value customers got the first passes through security? Make them unhappy and the TSA's misguided screening protocols - which force us to either walk through an inadequately-tested full-body scanner or submit to an allegedly invasive pat-down -- could unravel. Think about it.

Just a reminder that, if you bring a cell phone, you can reprogram the time even if you don't use the phone (such as if it's without a SIM card, though things like the camera and notepad function are useful anyway, to say nothing of downloaded maps and music). Works as a perfect alarm.

Thanks!

Hi. I love food and would really enjoy taking a culinary vacation for up to 5 days or so. My significant other isn't as interested in this type of vacation so I would be traveling alone if I choose to do something like this. Do you have any idea where I can find good tour options for a solo traveler who loves food? Thanks!

We had this great story the other week on a food tour of Florence, if you're willing to venture that far. There's also Istanbul. Closer to home, you might have fun at Blackberry Farm or at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center (on my wish list). If you just want to go to a city with tons of great food, consider Charleston.

When I was in Vermont a while ago, I heard about  Creative Culinary Tours, which offers group or individual food-centric tours in New England. I don't have any direct experience with the company, but if you'd like to stay in the States, it might be a good option to check out. For a broader scope, About.com has a culinary travel page with a lot of info that looks like it'd be helpful to you in your quest.

Trying a Morocco question again... I will be in Fez around New Years, any advice on places to stay. What are some things I shouldn't miss? Thinking of maybe doing a tour one day, do you know of any good tours? Please throw out to chatters if you don't know. Thanks-

Definitely visit the Medina in the Old City, but I recommend hiring a guide. The maze of shops and souks, including the leather-dying and tannery sections (warning: the smell is strong) is very tricky, and you can get seriously lost and confused. Also make time for the Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts,  the Kairaouine Mosque (dress down and be aware that non-Muslims are not allowed in certain areas) Jardin Jnan Sbil, a botanical garden, and Dar Batha Museum. Also arrange a tour to a pottery-manufacturer; the patterns and colors are incredible. (I still use my two bowls from Fes.)

Unfortunately, I can't recommend a specific hotel in the Medina (we stayed in the newer part of town), but I would explore the various riads, which in my opinion are preferable to modern hotels. Riad Verus and Riad Fes have great reputations.

You need more than a day to experience the desert, but if you only have 24 hours, consider the Roman ruins at Volubilis and Meknes, or the cedar forests of Azrou.

With the tours...stick with the national tour companies. Its going to be luck on if you get the great guy or the dull one who is on a bad day. I could help you a litle bit more if I knew what exactly you are wanting to see and experience. With Monument Valley...all tours are controlled by the Navajo. Anyone one claiming they will take you on a tour there who isnt navajo is lying. With Raafting trips for Moab...any refting trips through the canyonlands is usually a 3+ day trip. Anyone offering a trip its either not on park land in the area north of Moab along the colorado or green rivers or near the entry point to canyonlands before the rivers meet. Here the river is calmer so its not a rafting trip but a boat ride. For the 4x4 trips...the stadard one is a trip that takes you into canyonlamds or dead horse point state park where you can drive down along dirt roads...but its not recommended for cars. In Arches there is one area that is accessabile via 4x4 tours. All others will likely take you around the area but not actually in the parks.

Here you go, Monument Valley-Moab traveler!

Ages ago, it was only the second time that my husband and I had ever gone cross-country skiing, and we'd flown up to Buffalo to visit a friend over the Presidents' Day weekend, figuring there'd be abundant natural snow there, right? Well, wouldn't you just know they'd be having record-breaking temperatures for those dates, so only our first day there was it really possible to ski, even though we went to the snowier area south of town. We were on trails in a park, and my husband, more of a natural athlete, had skied somewhat ahead of me, including navigating a sharp right turn. As I approached that corner I realized I still hadn't really learned to turn yet -- and straight ahead lay a small creek that had melted in the above-freezing temps and bright sunshine! I certainly didn't want to wind up drenched in the ice-cold waters, so did the only thing I could think of -- I sat down between my skis, and the friction brought me to a stop within a few feet of the creek. Whew!!!

Whew is right!

Hello Editors. Can you confirm whether some travel agents routinely put the code CNN alongside a child's name? I am asking because a United Airlines agent at the check-in counter refused to issue a boarding pass for my daughter because of this code. We ended-up cancelling a trip to India and all our plans for my daughte's first visit to meet our families. She is just 22 months old. Here is an example of how the name appeared on the etkt: SMITH/JANE CNN The code appears quite a distance away from her name, and is very obviously not part of her name. The ticket was through Swiss Air but our first flight was on UA (their Star Alliance partner). Swiss Air told me over the phone that they would've issued the boarding pass to my daughter because it was obvious that her name had not been misspelled, but they had to bow to UA's policies. The travel agent was not available but I had asked her about it when the tickets were purchased. She had told me that CNN was a code and it wouldn't be a problem. I think UA used this excuse to bump us off their flight without compensation. Two other UA agents blew me off because they believed their colleague, they also refused to talk with the Swiss Air agent whom I had on the phone, and a supervisor did not show up until the flight had gone (3 hours later). There was a large crowd at the counters that day (Nov. 8) and they were obviously overwhelmed. The UA supervisor, when she saw the ticket said that the first agent had made a mistake. However it was too late. The flight had gone. She was unable to put me on the next flight because the connecting flights on Swiss didn't have seats in our fare class and Swiss wanted me to pay an additional $1000 per person. Both airlines blamed each other and also my travel agent. After two trips to the airport and three days of trying to get on a plane, we had to cancel our plans. When I told my story to friends who have travelled with kids, some of them told me that they have seen similar codes in front of their kids' names. Nobody had any problems getting boarding passes. I just want to know if 1. "CNN" is used to designate child and do some travel agents put this code alongside the name? 2. Am I justified in expecting additional compensation, and which airline can I expect this compensation from, Swiss/United? I hope my story has some useful pointers for people who travel with kids.

I'm not familiar with this "code." Chatters, are any of you?

Trying to decide betweeen taking the bus & staying overnight or doing an up & back in one day. Any idea which bus is best & suggestions for hostels or inexpensive lodging? The previous articles on buses & hostels are a little dated. Or should I just drive & stay in Jersey? Love the chats :)

I would take the bus and stay overnight. With traffic, you might end up with only a few hours in the city and you don't want to rush your shopping.

Book your bus ahead of time, since many fill up during the holidays. The budget buses are the same, for the most part. Bolt sells out pretty quick. I personally am partial to Washington Deluxe, because they pick up in Dupont Circle.

For budget lodging, I really like Chelsea Star near Penn Station and the Bowery House, which I reviewed. You could also try AirBnB. A friend recently found a Chelsea apartment for $135.

 

After hosting the in-laws from ...... for Thanksgiving, our little family needs a quiet weekend away before Christmas (which we're spending in DC for the first time in many years). We were thinking about Charlottesville, VA after classes end. Can anyone recommend a nice place to stay that has (very very important) an indoor pool for our 4 year old and 1.5 year old? Any other fun things for kids those ages to do over a chilly weekend in Charlottesville?

Places with indoor pools include Keswick Hall and the Omni downtown. The kids would probably like the Virginia Discovery Museum and Virginia Gingerbread Christmas. And bundle everyone up to see the lit-up Lawn at U.Va. It's beautiful.

Chris, I tried to opt out of the backscatter xray scan last week. The agent looked like he really didn't want to do it at first, then ask me why. I told him it was because of the potential health risks. He then sent me to the metal detector. I'm glad I didn't get irradiated, but if people can opt out and just get sent through the metal detectors, the system isn't working.

You should have been patted down, but during the busy Thanksgiving week, they were not doing that. I have details on my consumer advocacy site. Some say the TSA is not stopping terrorists, they are just trying to make us feel safer with their scanners and blue uniforms. I'm inclined to agree.

Although not a National Park, Mount Washington in New Hampshire is a great place to hike on the east coast...

Yes, terrific hiking!

Yes! Come to Oxford instead! There are amazing free museums, the colleges are beautiful and if you are lucky, you can book tickets to a carol service or concert at one of the colleges, which is really a special experience. And, don't miss the pantomime, which does not involve mimes at all, but is a very traditional thing to do at Christmas. In Oxford, it's at the Oxford Playhouse but there are pantos all over London as well. Most theatres will have a show every night. It's very interactive and silly, we look forward to it every year.

Thanks for the many tips!

It was, oddly enough, only the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but wintery enough in NH. I went back to college a day early to go hiking along the Appalachian Trail with a friend. Told my grandfather (who had been a hunter in his younger days) about the plans and he insisted on taking me to the sporting goods store to get an orange hat lest my friend and I be mistaken for deer. I promised to wear it and I did (though my friend and I followed the recommendations of the hiking club and just talked and sang all day which was supposed to scare away the deer and run off the hunters). Glorious day hiking through new snow and gorgeous views. When we got back another friend who had a gun offered to shoot a hole in the hat, just for irony's sake. I accepted. I still have the hat with two very small holes in it and a slight scorch mark on one side.

An interesting souvenir, at the very least.

We just moved to the west coast and are looking at going to mount hood for a few days during winter break...any suggestions over there? It is clearly a busy time. I have skied before - but not for a while, and my kids and husband have never been, so they need lessons (I may take some as well).

Need the chatters for this one. Anybody familiar with Mt. Hood?

Mount Katahdin! It is quite a drive from anywhere and is managed by the State of Maine so its not a National Park, but it is beautiful and historic and some of the best hiking the East Coast has to offer.

Make your own! For instance, if you like wine and French food, go to Napa. Take a class or two at the Culinary Institute, try to get a reservation at the French Laundry or other 3 Michelin star restaurants in the area. Try some of the great wines and go on the tours where you learn about how they make wine rather than just tasting it.

Nice idea!

I'm headed to Munich in 2 weeks mainly to see the Christmas markets, but to do some sightseeing as well. I have 5 days, but will not have a car. I'm thinking about taking the train to Salzburg for a day trip. Any suggestions for daytime activities?

Trains run frequently between the two cities, and the trip takes less than two hours each way. The cost is about $50 round trip. Salzburg's tourism office does a good job of giving you ideas based on how long you'll be there. If you are a first-timer, you'll definitely want to see the Cathedral and the Fortress. 

And the Mozart house!

I am trying to plan a ski trip for family. As family is spread throught out the U.S., we thought the best approach was to find a resort close to an airport rather than having a long trek after flights arrive. Unfortunately I have not yet been able to find a website where skiing options are broken down based on convencience to a major airport. Any suggestions?

There are a number of options near Salt Lake City. Reno will get you near the Tahoe region. Seattle could work too.

Here's a list of what Away.com calls the "top ski resorts for close to airport."  Most are out West, but one is in Quebec. It's not mentioned on the list, but there are at least two ski resorts within a half-hour of Glacier Park International Airport in Montana.

Winter 1977 was one of the snowiest ever in the DC area, so we took advantage of the chance to go cross-country skiing in nearby Sligo Creek Park (instead of having to drive 3-4 hours each way, as was usually necessary in order to find the nearest sufficient quantities of unplowed snow in winter). As we glided along a trail in the park, to our amazement we caught sight of a woman on a dog sled being pulled by two dogs (a sight we never thought we'd see in DC!). Luckily we'd had the foresight to bring our camera along, and so on her return trip we spotted her coming from far enough away that we could snap a couple photos of the phenomenon, because we weren't sure our friends would have believed us otherwise!

I still find it hard to believe! :-)

Hate to be difficult, but walking around during hunting season without blaze orange gear is not the smartest thing to do. The orange hat clearly marked the person's status to other hunters. It may sound stupid, but it saves lives.

I have lived on the east coast and on the west coast. The mountains really arent smaller when you take into account your relative elevation. For example in Colorado you have some 12,000 ft mountains but you are at 8,000 feet in elevation on what is "flat land" so the relative height is only 4,000 feet....which is the same on the east coast. In terms of national parks on the east coast there aren't as many. The ones to see are: Everglade nad Dry Tourtogaes (target doing this in March), Shenanfdoah,blue ridge parkway and smokey mountians (fall color time), and Arcadia in Maine. Elsewhere its mostly state parks....not national parks. Adirondacks in NY State.

The person who complained about the rich getting favored by the TSA in the Pre-Check program is misguided. Anyone who pays $100 can sign up to the program for 5 years. I'm not rich, but I travel a lot for work and for me Pre-Check/Global Entry is a worthwhile expense.

I agree and disagree. I agree in the sense that the program is open to non-elites, as I've written about in the past. But I disagree, in the sense that it appears only the most frequent travelers, usually flying in business class, have access to the lines. Joe Traveler is unlikely to be seen in the Precheck line during the holidays.

Be prepared: NOTHING is open in London either on Christmas or on Boxing Day the next day. Nothing. AND it's cold. We wandered around the city on foot, which is lovely, but we ducked into eaves as often as we could to try to warm up from the wind. We had the in-hotel coffee and complimentary shortbread cookies for breakfast, and were thrilled to find a Subway of all things open for lunch because we were starving. Even the in-hotel restaurant was closed both days! I recommend going shopping for food the day before so you can picnic anywhere, and just expect a very very quiet city for those days. Good luck!

Take a look at the  Time Out London guide to restaurants open on Christmas Day. 

Went on my first dog sled ride here in northern Maine last winter. A local dog sled team does free rides at our town's winter festival. It was really amazingly fast (they are sprint racers not long haul racers) and fun. We are hoping to catch some races this winter. Last winter we decided to get outside as much as possible and found that our region at a ton of winter festivals with lots of free stuff: dog sledding, sleigh rides, sled races, and always an abundance of hot cocoa. The local state park has snowshoe and cross country ski trails and really cheap rentals. The US Biathlon team is based up here, too. When you have snow until May you have to embrace it. And for those new to the east coast, Acadia is always worth the drive.

Good to know, thanks!

Husband and I are going to Turks and Caico's in the very beginning of March (we're in the mid 30's). What can we expect in terms of weather and what are some must do/must see things? We're going to be arriving on a thursday and leaving on a sunday, staying at the Beaches resort (I think it's part of a sandals).

The main attractions on T&C are beach and water, snorkeling and lounging. Among the top spots: Grace Bay, Pine Cay, the bays of Chalk Sound National Park, Governor's Beach and the Hole. For a bit more activity, consider horseback riding  at Long Bay, bonefishing or taking an eco-safari kayak tour. For a break from the sand, check out Cheshire Hall's cotton plantation ruins, Middle Caicos Caves, the Caicos Conch Farm and the National Museum.

As for weather: The trade winds provide a welcome breeze.  Air temps are typically in the high 70s in March with only a few rain days (or minutes to be exact). The water is also warm enough for repeat swims.

Don't forget to branch out a bit from the coast! Try the near-midwest. Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio is amazing (near Cleveland/Akron). Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan (technically a national lakeshore, I think) is a beautifully unexpected landscape in Michigan.

Rather than join a travel company that caters to singles, I might explore tour companies that cater to college students and people just out of college (at 31, you might feel a little old, but you should still fit in if that's your scene).

That's a thought.

I have found some success with a travel pillow, eye shade, and Tylenol PM (I tried it before I left to make sure I could take it without side effects).

Look to go in May...during Tornado season...there are storm chasing tours that will bring you around the areas. Best suggestion Id sy is look at flying into Denver and then driving up to South Dakota (Custer, MT Rushmore, Badlands) then drive down south through nebraska and Kanasa then return to Denver. Actually Eastern Kansas isnt al that flat. Its much more rolling hills and rolling praire land.

After this weekend's travel section on skiing, it reminded me that I'd love a place in the area where I can go to cross-country ski - with trails and ski rentals. I've been to West Virginia for this before - is there anywhere else a bit closer to DC? Thanks!

Problem with cross-country skiing is that you need natural snow. Wisp, which is in western Maryland, has a good Nordic Center and is less than three hours from D.C.

I have a memory that seems to come from a bygone era - waking up to snowfall on the weekend and taking the shovel and broom to clear an area of the lake to skate all day; going to the local playground which would be flooded and freeze into a skating rink with a "hot house" to step into for cocoa when we got too cold; making the big transition from the double-bladed trainer skates to the single blade...we would spend all day outside and go home at dust for hot baths. It seems like a series of vignettes from Little Women, but it was the 1980s!

Lovely! You don't say where this happened, though, and I'm curious.

I had a lovely train trip from Geneva to Vienna. My colleagues mostly took overnight trains, but I had never seen the European countryside so I took a day train. It was so charming to so through the small towns of Austria and Switzerland with the train slowing as we passed through and seeing all the skiers shoosh up right to the tracks. What a clear memory!

Thanks!

Helpful if I knew where you lived. There are many places to ski. Mt Hood isnt much of resort. It is a place those in Portland go for a day trip Skiiing/Snowboarding. Same with Seattle there are a few places that are mainly driven by locals who day trip to ski with little in terms of overnight accomodations.

One of the nice things about walking around California coastal areas on winter vacation is that, unless it's raining, often a lightweight cardigan sweater is is the only wrap one needs during the day!

When I fly my must-have is a lightweight denim travel jacket that has two semi-sumptuous zippered pockets on the outside (dissuades pickpockets, as well as keeping stuff from falling out). It has two inside pockets as well, which are also secure. Opens and closes easily thanks to Velcro "snaps" (instead of a zipper). Best of all, it's machine washable! I bought TWO of them about a decade ago from LL Bean (don't know if they have them any more), but I swear by them!

When I was in college in Michigan, when there was heavy snow the cafeteria trays would start to disappear. Turns out people were taking them to the dunes by the lake and sledding on them. Happened every winter.

We did that too! ;-)

I'll be in Boston in a few weeks-- anything there not to miss during the holidays?

You definitely need to see the Boston Common's Christmas tree from Nova Scotia and skate around Frog Pond.  Also soak up the lights and decorations (and gift ideas) at Faneuil Hall and the Public Garden. If possible, try to catch a Boston Pops holiday show at Symphony Hall or a performance of the Nutcracker or Handel's Messiah. In the evening, walk along the magical Charles River (I prefer the Cambridge side).  For boutique holiday  shopping, try Beacon Hill.

Hi, My husband and I (young,mostly adventurous, though I prefer a little more luxury than he does) have enough miles to get to Northern South America. We are debating the various merits of Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador for a 10-12 day trip in April. Any suggestions? He did Peace Corps in Honduras and is fluent in Spanish and wants to go somewhere new. Long treks are out but a bunch of 5-6 mile hikes are great combined with seeing the Amazon. Thanks!

Hmm. These are all large countries with varying attractions. Peru is of course well-traveled and visiting Machu Picchu would be your hike. We ran this story on Colombia a year or so ago. Chatters, what do you suggest?

I'm interested in doing an interesting New Year's Eve somewhere in the U.S. Any specific recommendations? Would like something different, but that's pretty much the only criteria. Thanks.

How about Niagara Falls? Not in the U.S., but close: On the Canadian side, you can say hello to 2013 at Queen Victoria Park, where there's a free concert that's nationally televised -- plus two fireworks displays -- in a park overlooking the falls. 

I read that question as the OP asking about the "First Class" line that's usually right next to the regular line. I don't have any issue with it since they don't usually let more than one First Class person in at a time (meaning they don't let all of them in before the regular people) and it's helps to divert people who may miss their flight to a shorter line (assuming the security people are nice enough to let people do that).

Hi team! Traveling to London this month for a short trip to visit friends living abroad. Are there any special requirements to note for visas for US citizens? Last time I traveled I presented my passport to get in and out of immigration, but a friend said that there's an extra form to fill out now. Any insight would be appreciated!

U.S. citizens don't need a visa to travel to England for a short visit -- check with the State Department for more info. Not sure what form your friend is talking about. 

I grew up in MA near a swamp in the woods. Gross in summer but in winter you would skate through what was essentially woods for miles and miles... it was gorgeous, and now it all seems like some kind of etherial dream... skating through the woods with my friends basically all day during the weekends, carrying thermoses of hot chocolate. I have no idea how we never got lost, but we didn't!

Thanks!

Don't forget if hiking is their thing to include the Appalachian Trail....

Of course!

the blue ridge mountains still don't compare to the rockies, but they are beautiful as well...and quite long...

How about the Hyde Park, New York, area, up the Hudson River? You could eat at those incredible Culinary Institute of America student restaurants, as well as sightsee at both FDR's home (with Presidential museum) and Eleanor's "cottage" Val-Kill, and other sights in the area.

I was 17 (late 1960's) and visited relatives in Denver for the holidays. My uncle had been a ski instructor in the Army (10th Mountain Division) year earlier. Even though I had never skied before he arranged for a three day trip to Winter Park. All went well ubtil the third day. Late in the day, sure enough, I fell and sustained a spiral fracture of my left tibia. My uncle felt just terrible as he had trained hundreds of Soputhern farm boys to ski without any accidents! I went on to go to college in Colorado and went back to skiing on a regular basis.

I was skiing with my friend and her family. I had my sister's skis, which at the time were old (and this was a long time ago). They were the kind where there was a string to go around your boot in case you lost them (rather than the kind that are supposed to stop quickly) - And, well, I lost one, and it came off and it slid far far away. My friend, the good skier, went far and away and through some trees to retrieve my ski. It was so wonderful of her. I had a great time that week with her family! We had so much fun. But I completely remember her going and helping me out when I needed it most!

I'm thinking of hiking the circuit route of Torres del Paine. Do you know any tour companies that offer this trip? Thanks!

A number of established tour operators can help you arrange this trip, such as Cascada Expediciones, Voyage Trek Travel and Mountain Travel Sobek. Before you sign up, ask lots of questions, such as daily mileage, accommodations, gear, etc.

Would either Bath or the Isle of Wight be close enough to London for the chatter who wrote in?

Bath would be close enough, and it's lovely, but I'm with Carol -- 5 days isn't that much time, and there's SO much to see in London!

We're heading to NYC this weekend to experience the city during the holidays. What are the must sees/dos? I know we won't lack for things to do but thought I'd throw it out there to see what you suggest. Thanks!

Check out: Rockefeller Center, the downtown department store window displays, the holiday show at Radio City Music Hall. And, of course, the holiday markets, about which Andrea Sachs wrote this story last year.

And that's it for today, folks! Thanks again for journeying with us around the world, from our armchairs! Thanks for the many questions, suggestions and stories, too. Lots of funny winter incidents, but I think the prize has to go to the chatter who cramped up on the slopes and had to be tobogganed down by the ski patrol -- love it! Send your contact info to me at smardzz@washpost.com, and I'll send off your prize. See you next week, everybody!

In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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