Talk about Travel: Italy, Florida, traveling while vegetarian and more

Feb 03, 2014

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Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat!

What's on your mind? Did you enjoy this week's flow chart, designed to help you decide (with tongue in cheek) where to go to escape the cold?

That, of course, prompts our question to you today. Where are your favorite escapes from the cold? Tell us your best had-to-get-warm story, with destination near or far, and we'll send a little prize to our favorite chatter.

Let's do this!

Although it's finally getting a bit brighter, it's been too dark for too long, and I'm barely moving from the depression (and not always managing that much). Piling it on, once the sun returns & the temperatures improve, the tree pollen will keep me indoors (and depressed) until May. The answer, of course, is to chase the sun in a different biome. But whenever I look to the Caribbean, I'm even more depressed by the thought of those insular all-inclusive compounds that I normally wouldn't consider (not really a beach person, but the sun lamps aren't working, so...medical necessity?). On the other hand, my ability to plan right now is rather limited, and those types of places can be easy. I am hopeful that you or some of your knowledgeable chatters might have some thoughts?

Don't limit yourself to the Caribbean. How about the Florida Keys or San Diego or Palm Springs? I'm especially fond of San Diego and nearby areas, such as Del Mar and La Jolla --  the beaches are lovely, but it also offers lots of other things to do. Weather won't be tropical, but it'll likely be sunny and  in the high 60s, especially if you go in March. 

Due to a couple of conflating circumstances (soon-to-expire vacation days, starting a new job), my husband and I have to take a vacation NEXT WEEK. Any recommendations for doable distances from DC? We've lived in Philly and New York -- and I'm not really feeling a city trip anyway. Warm weather sounds nice, but when I did a quick search for Bahamas-type getaways, I got overwhelmed by all the giant all-inclusive Sandals-like resorts, which we'd prefer to stay away from. Other than that -- literally anywhere. Literally. Anywhere. I'm willing to throw money at this problem.

According to our flow chart, depending on whether you want to practice your espanol; whether you crave seviche, plantains or tamales; and whether you gravitate toward turtles, kangaroos or lions at the zoo, you should go to Peru, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Miami or Bermuda.

I read last week's chat after the fact, but wanted to chime in after visiting Johannesburg last March. You must, must, must visit the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill (site of the jails and the Constitutional Court). I actually rode one of those red top buses around while my friend was at work one day, and it was a great way to safely see the entire city. The audio was very educational. It was about U.S. $15 for a hop on, hop off day pass. If I went back, I'd like to check out the Cradle of Humankind. Neighbourgoods Market is also supposed to be a lot of fun. The city is pretty safe if you use common sense and stay in groups. Not sure if you're aware, but there are men whose job it is to protect everyone's parked cars, and you're expected to tip them 2 or 5 rand (20 to 50 cents). They wear bright vests. Make sure to carry a lot of change around. Have a wonderful time, the weather should be great in March! Make sure to hit the beach in Cape Town!

Thanks for all this -- very helpful!

We want to get away for a few days to unwind immediately after our wedding this summer (longer honeymoon later). We'll have 2 or 3 days -- what would be your top recommendations? We'd prefer something relaxing -- maybe somewhere we can crash on the beach and do very little. Leaving from Philly and coming back to DC, so preferably somewhere on the East Coast or easily accessible from the East Coast so we don't use up all of our time traveling! Thanks in advance.

Have you been to Rehoboth Beach? Nice beach, good restaurants & shopping.  Not a lot of hotel choices, but perhaps the Bellmoor would work.  It may be too crowded in Rehoboth for a romantic weekend, but any beach community within easy striking distance of here is going to be busy in the summer. 

I will second Carol's recommendation for the Bellmoor!

I also thought Cape Cod might be nice (it's where I went for my honeymoon), but I don't know if you think that will take up too much time. Also, Virginia's Eastern Shore is an option. It's a bit quieter than some of our other regional beaches. Here's a piece I did that might tempt you.

We usually drive or take the train to NYC so I can't answer this question for my daughter and family, who plan to fly from MN to meet us there for a vacation. Any tips for most convenient airport to book if she is staying around Times Square?

The three major airports -- JFK, LaGuardia and Newark -- have slightly different accessibility and costs and time to Times Square. LaGuardia is fastest by taxi (about 20-25 minutes, judging from current traffic, versus about 30-45 from Newark and 30-50 from JFK). But of course it can be quite a bit longer depending on the arrival time and the traffic then.

Newark and JFK have semi-reasonable public transportation options, but it's not all that quick: From Newark they could take the AirTrain ($5.50) to Amtrak and then the regional train ($33) to Penn Station and then subway or cab to Times Square. From JFK it would be the free AirTrain rail to Jamaica station and then subway to Times Square. Both options look like they take a little over an hour.

The quickest and probably the most hassle-free and worth it, IMO, would be to fly to LaGuardia and take a cab: The trip would be about 25 minutes and cost $25-$53 depending on traffic, according to TaxiFareFinder. (Cabs from JFK would cost $45-$75, and Newark $42-$70.) Or if they're arriving in time to catch the Q subway to Coney Island (I believe it stops at 3 p.m.), they could take public transportation (a bus and then the subway) from LaGuardia to Times Square in about 45-50 minutes.

But it also depends on what kind of fare they can get from MN, right? I'm not sure what airport they'd be flying out of and what dates they're traveling, but when I look at Bing for nonstop flights in mid-March out of Minneapolis, I see fares of $358 to Newark on Delta, $325 to JFK on Sun Country and $299 to LGA on Delta.

If they see the same kinds of fare options, they should grab something to LaGuardia.

Chatters, any of you want to add to (or correct!) my thoughts?

My sister and I are planning a faith-based adventure to the Holy Land (Israel) in September. Please identify two travel agencies that offer packages including air, hotel, airport transfers, and escorted tour guide throughout the Holy Land.

I can't recommend specific agencies, but the United States Tour Operators Association lists 10 companies that offer Holy Land tours. I'd start there. 

We want to celebrate our 30th anniversary in mid April on a Caribbean island with a walkable beach. We want to walk, read and relax for about 5 days. All inclusives are ok but we want a strong balance of quality and value.

I am a big fan of St. John, with the option of ferrying over to St. Thomas if you need more action. The island has a variety of lodging, from rustic to high-end, plus lots of hiking and near-empty beaches. Plus, no passport required. Curacao also has some lovely beaches, and again not too crowded. The Dutch influence adds an interesting bite. I visited the island in 2011; here's the piece.

Re. Bahamas - go there, but don't go for the big resorts! We just went to Exuma - there is a Sandals resort on the island, but otherwise it's all small resorts/hotels or rentable condos/villas.

Well, what's "doable," anyway? The OP also said "anywhere"!

I was delighted to read your article, as I am headed there on Wednesday! My eating plan for the trip is to try to eat a lot of grilled fish and either a salad or vegetable side dish at every meal.

Glad you liked the piece! Your plan sounds good to me!

Our daughter will be in Venice for a couple of weeks in June, and we'd like to meet her there but we'd also like to go to Rome and Florence, spending 3-4 days in each place. Our dates are flexible, but we don't want to spend more time than necessary in transit between cities. Where should we go first, second, and third, and what is the best way to get between the cities? And can we make a side trip to Tuscany from any of the cities? I would prefer NOT to rent a car, but we can do so if that makes the most sense. Also, we want to fly nonstop, and we can fly out of any airport in DC/Baltimore. We would even consider flying out of Philadelphia if that would give us more nonstop options.

If you insist on flying nonstop, you're really limiting your options. As far as I can tell, the only nonstop flight from the Washington area is a single flight on United to Rome, and it's about twice the price of the one-stops. Philadelphia's no better, just one US Airways nonstop to Rome and one to Venice. Train connections among those three cities are excellent, so where you start is really up to you. Since your daughter will be in Venice, it would probably make the most sense to start there, then head down to Florence and Rome. You could make a side trip to Tuscany from Florence. Depending on where you wanted to go, you could either take a train or bus -- Siena, for instance, is easily reachable by either -- or rent a car -- you might need one to get to someplace like Montepulciano. Personally, if I wanted to do a tour of Tuscany, I'd rent a car. Chatters, what do you say?

so Joe how do you travel as a vegan? Is there anything special that you do to make it easier?

Well, I'm not vegan, I'm vegetarian. I have to admit, I haven't done a TON of international traveling since I confirmed this a year and a half ago, but generally I'm looking for interesting vegetable-focused restaurants and mentioning my eating preferences in advance where I can. I'll be testing my strategy next month when I go to London, Paris and Barcelona.

I am planning to take the Amtrak Auto Train from Lorton VA to Sanford FL, which arrives at 0930 the next day. Should I then drive nonstop to Key West or stop at one or two places on the way? (eg Naples or Marco Island but not Miami!). How many miles are involved? And which is the best month to do this, spending a couple of days in the Keys and then taking the train back to DC? Thank you for any advice you can give me!

You can make it to Key West by the afternoon if you head straight down I-95, but it's a long drive. Marco Island and Naples are not along the way -- they're on the other side of Florida. Even if you go for a straight shot down to Key West, you'll want to stop along the way to take pictures. The Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West is one of the most beautiful in the United States, and I would highly recommend that you give yourself a full day for the journey. If you want to stop in Naples or Marco enroute to Key West, plan to spend at least one night in either place.

I missed last week's chat, but I highly recommend the Celtic Hotel near Russell Square for a reasonably priced hotel with a full English breakfast, and wonderful hospitality by an Italian family that has been in the business for decades. They previously ran St. Margaret's Hotel until the Duke who owned the property forced them out, and the website is still under the former name

Thanks for the recommendation.

We just decided on our summer vacation budget for our family of 5 (includes a 10 year old and 2 toddlers). We are thinking about (1) a cruise to Bermuda from Balitmore, or (2) renting a vacation home in Nova Scotia for a week. Any thoughts on either choice? My requirements are that we travel outside of the U.S., and that the vacation be at least 5 days long.

Not easy to compare those two ideas, as they are so different. The cruise would likely be logistically easier, and you'd be able to carve out time without the kids, if that's desireable. And it might even be cheaper, especially if you plan on flying to Canada. But Nova Scotia is lovely. It's a more independent vacation where you'd have room to breathe.   My personal choice would be Nova Scotia, but I don't have two toddlers. Chatters? 

We won tickets for round trip airfare at the Christmas Party anywhere in US or Europe. We pick Europe (duh). It will be booked through corporate travel so we don't have to leave from where we arrive. We can realistically take up to 2 weeks off from work. We'd like to go to Scotland, England and France but don't know WHERE to start in picking a travel company or travel agent but figure packages or excursions are best since we've never traveled overseas before. We can't seem to find a package that encompasses all three, so wondered if it's better to book three small excursions at each place and take a train from city to city. Help...can you offer any advise on where to begin to start planning. Time of year is no problem for us.

Deep breathe! You can do this. First the easiest part -- time of year. If you can avoid it, I'd stay away from summer. You don't have to worry about plane ticket prices, obviously, but I think spring and fall are better in terms of crowds and your other expenses.

 

Finding a travel agent: Ask your friends for recommendations. Or search for one through ASTA. Or have a look at these recommended agents from Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler.

 

And not to downplay your concerns, but if you wanted to, you could totally do this yourself, if you decided you were up for it. Your England-France-Scotland isn't necessarily a typical grouping, but there are lots of England-Scotland or England-France packages out there, onto which you could tack your third destination. Costco has some appealing options for those pairings that include hotels, tranfers, train tickets, breakfast and in some cases, tour credits for an excursion or two (we did one of these just for London last year -- highly recommended). Those types of trips are a nice compromise between having the framework done for you while leaving you the freedom to explore on your own.

 

Good luck, and congrats on the incredible opportunity.

My wife and I have been to NYC several times and flew into LaGuardia. We've taken the Super Shuttle every time. Most of the time, we were on the shuttle with no other passengers. I believe the cost is less than a taxi.

Great -- thanks for the suggestion!

But I should have specified that we were looking for a 4-5 day trip, and thus, Australia is not doable. Thanks for the Exuma recommendation, other poster!

Gotcha. Glad you got some good advice!

Can you share your thoughts about the best time in 2014 to visit Normandy, with the observance of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing? Obviously, if one wishes to be present for the actual commemorative ceremonies, early June makes sense. What do you expect the crowds to be like, and are there other times of the year you'd suggest a visit?

I'd avoid the actual dates of the Normany invasion, as there are bound to be bigger crowds then than at other times, although I have no crystal ball to tell you how big exactly they'll be. WWII, sad to say, is receding into history and out of the consciousness of many. The war generation is dying off, and today's younger generations don't have the same connections to that conflict. But it's still safe to say that more people will be drawn to Normandy at the actual time of the anniversary than otherwise. I was in that part of the world in early May a few years ago, and it struck me as an excellent time. The weather, though slightly cool, was nice enough for touring outdoors, and crowds were not huge. Airfares are slightly lower than in summer. Fall -- September and October -- should also be a good time. Chatters, what do you think?

Hi, we'll be visiting Colombia late in February -- Bogota and Cartagena. Because it has been not so much of a tourist destination, it's hard to get a sense of what neighborhoods have charm (as opposed to just which ones are safe) .. do you have any insight?

I have never been but am dying to go! Former Post Travel writer Nancy Trejos wrote about the country a few years ago. Maybe this can help?

Chatters, any thoughts?

If you're into snow, you can come to Ottawa, Canada's capital. Next week is the second week of Winterfest - skating on the Canal. ice sculptures, skiing, etc. Come, please.

I'm busy next week, but thanks for the invite! ;-)

I'm a raw vegan and have traveled on major cruise ships and backpacking in remote places with no problem. I usually shop at farmer markets and make food (on cruise ships -- plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables on board. Many even offer special meals or can accommodate if you ask). When backpacking in particularly remote areas, I bring a good green powder (Healthforce VitaMineralGreen), some chlorella tablets, seaweed and possibly some dehydrated nuts/goodies. It's really only hard if you decide it will be.

My son and daughter in law will be visiting for about a week right before Easter. He and my husband are avid fisherman. We would like to go somewhere, hopefully within an hour of so of Blacksburg, Virginia, where they can fish, but daughter in law and myself can shop and/or sightsee. The proximity to Blacksburg is so that we can work in a visit to our other son, who is a student at Virginia Tech. Any suggestions along with a lodging recommendation would be much appreciated!

I'm not sure within an hour of Blacksburg gives you a ton of options. Roanoke might work. Perhaps the family might enjoy the recently renovated and revitalized Mountain Lake Lodge. Not a ton in the way of shopping or sightseeing, unless it's of the natural kind. Lynchburg is closer to two hours away, but you might look into it. Cute town. Same with Abingdon.

Have there been any recent stories about Belgium in general or Brussels in particular? I tried looking on the site, but gave up after 15 minutes. I like the idea of using Brussels as a home base for day trips to Amsterdam, Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent but it doesn't seem to be a really popular spot for American tourists.

Given how easily accessible Brussels is by train, I like your plan. And in my book, that it's not popular for Americans might be a good thing.

Here's an archive of Belgium stories. We haven't had anything in more recent years. But perhaps it's time for someone, ahem, to go back. Whaddya say, Joe? :-)

Please help us decide between Puerto Rico and Bermuda for a two family vacation mid-August. Four kids 10, two 13's and one 15. Some of us speak Spanish and we all have passports.... Thanks!

I would choose Puerto Rico. Better value and more to do, such as exploring the Old San Juan fort, bioluminescent kayak tours, coffee plantations, rain forest hikes, top-notch dining and beaches galore. 

Hi everyone! Repeating my question from last week, since we are leaving this week, if Mother Nature will allow it... We have been in guide book overload, looking for details on Madrid and Barcelona. Besides the usual biggies--museums, cathedrals, famous markets and squares, are there any special places we haven't yet read about? Do you think a tapas tour is worth it, or should we just wing it and hope we can figure out what the foods are? We'd still eat it, it would just be nice to know. Thanks!

If you can swing it, try to get to San Sebastian. So gorgeous there, and talk about tapas! That's the jackpot. I haven't taken a tapas tour, so can't recommend, but I think with a good phrasebook (especially one that specializes in food) you should be able to figure everything out.

Kind of a weird question, but I have some unexpected time off next week, and I want to use it to visit one of the few remaining states I've never been to in the U.S. Those states are: Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, Nebraska and North Dakota. I think Alaska and Hawaii would be too hard to swing last-minute, and N.D. and Nebraska don't really scream "winter getaway" to me. So...Utah! Any hotel or activity suggestions? I could do either Salt Lake area, or the southern part of the state for some warmer weather.

It'll be easiest to fly into Salt Lake City, and since you've never been to Utah, it make sense to go there. I would recommend also hitting Park City, but it's ski season, which means rates will be high. If you have more time, consider flying into Las Vegas and heading to Zion National Park  in the southern part of the state: Zion Lodge inside the park is open year round. 

I love to plan vacations. Maybe as much as a like actually taking the vacations. I am most recently intrigued by a summer vacation to England. I am envisioning going to London and doing the expected sight seeing and then finishing the vacation with a relaxing stay on the Isles of Scilly. I have explored the regular resources and located the tourism website of Isles of Scilly. I was wondering if you or the chatters had any first hand experience of travel off the coast of Cornwall and could point me in the directions of articles or books to research.

Chatters -- anyone been to the Isles of Scilly?

Need to get the lowest price flights for son to return from Bangkok Thailand in April. Have any suggestions or carriers for round trip? Prices differ, causing doubt and worry.

All you can do is watch fares and grab a price you like. Or consult a travel agency, though they charge for their services, and you can often find a good fare yourself online (check Kayak, Hipmunk, etc.). Flights are typically in the $1,100 ballpark. If your son can fly into NYC, the fares are much cheaper (less than a grand).

You can take NJ Transit and PATH for cheaper options.

Seems like a common question right now, understandably. For the first poster battling seasonal affective disorder, I would second the recommendation of San Diego or somewhere else in SoCal. Palm Springs or anywhere inland are pretty reliably warm, I think. Also check temps in places like Tucson, El Paso area. Nights will probably be cool, but the days should be warm and SUNNY! Good luck!

Agreed. 

My husband and I are heading to New Hampshire in September for a wedding. We're planning on extending our trip by visiting Prince Edward Island. What are your recommendations for traveling from Manchester, NH airport to PEI then PEI back to the DC area? Also what things must we see while visiting the island, i.e. festivities at that time of the year, as well as places to stay and visit? What about Canadian currency...where should we go to obtain? Thanks for your help.

Well, it looks like the only flights that will get you from Manchester to Charlottetown involve two connections. Not ideal, in my opinion. If you can get to Boston, it's one connection. Then again you're adding another leg there. If you don't mind driving, I might suggest you consider that. It's about 9 1/2 hours, which sounds like a lot, but you could split it in half and stay overnight somewhere in Maine or New Brunswick. You'll want a car for exploring PEI anyway (it would, of course be a one-way car rental, which can be expensive). From Charlottetown, it's a one-stop flight on AirCanada to any of our area airports.

Lots to do on PEI, and I don't have time to list it all. Definitely devote a day or two to Charlottetown and then explore the charming towns and gorgeous beaches. "Anne of Green Gables" sightseeing is a must if you're a fan (I am!). The island's tourism site is very helpful. 

Where would be a good places to go for a 1 night trip in Virginia for a pregnant woman and her mom (so no wine tasting, sad face)? Driving distance (2-3 hours) from Quantico with good food, and something pleasant to do? Nothing expense though.

You could stay relatively close to home and explore historic Fredericksburg. Culpeper is also a nice town to visit, with some good restaurants. Or how about Frederick, Md.?

Last week someone posted a request about travel from Zurich to Milan. The question was framed concerning flights, and so the answer was directed at flying as well. I would suggest that the original poster consider a train. It's about a 3.5 hour journey and there are several direct as well as one-change options. This way, they'd travel from city center to city center and would avoid journeys to/from airports and waiting in long security queues at the airport. On RailEurope, I noticed fares for as low as 32 euros per person. One might get better prices through Swiss Rail directly. Also last week, someone posted about landing in London and then going directly to Paris. I'm sure there's a reason, but I wonder why that person isn't flying to Paris if that is the destination. In any case, I think the original poster should consider flying rather than the EuroStar.

Much depends on a vacationer's itinerary, but trains are often a viable option when traveling in Europe.  

About that warm weather destination flowchart. I'm a fan of you guys, but I'm not a fan of the flowchart. Are there really only 2 choices for budget, "money to burn" or "tight on cash"? Probably the majority of readers fall somewhere in the middle, so that would be a nice option. And then there are the "probing questions" that are just too cutesy to be helpful. Choosing my favorite movie, when none of the three are my favorite, and I don't know what the flowcharter thinks my choice means, makes me have to try all three to see where they lead. I really didn't understand "How do you like your trees?", and some people won't understand "Do the words 'deep-vein thrombosis' scare you?". Now that I've clicked on the link from your chat, I see that the interactive version of the flowchart is what had me flummoxed, and the full flowchart from your link makes a lot more sense. But you still need a middle category for budget!!

Keep in mind that this was mostly supposed to be fun! And I think maybe you approached it a tad too literally. For instance, the pick-your-favorite-movie question was intended to get you to pick your favorite from among the three options. Right?

Honestly, I hear you about the budget thing, but if we tried to account for every single option, we'd never be able to do this kind of thing! And we want to, from time to time, to shake things up and have fun.

We took a road trip to Nova Scotia when the kids were 6 & 9. We loved the trip and had an excellent time. However, Nova Scotia is larger then we expected (I have become a much better vacation planner since!) and we spent a lot of time driving to see everything we wanted. My kids were veteran road trippers at that point and did well, my husband and I both like to drive and do not mind being in the car. But I think that doing the trip just a few years earlier with younger kids would not have been as enjoyable for us or the kids.

Thanks for sharing your insights. 

 

I once got hypothermia (hay ride at 30 miles an hour on a cold night with just a sweatshirt which was damp after bobbing for apples) and ended up under some really toasty blankets on a gurney in a hospital emergency room corridor. It wasn't really an escape, but it did the trick. I bet warm water with honey in front of the woodstove would have worked just as well, but my friends got a little freaked out at my lack of responsiveness, so I can't really blame them.

This made me smile.

I'm in Chicago, unemployed (but hopeful!) and enjoying the free time - thanks for thinking of us in your flow chart! We're conserving cash while I'm out of work, so we've taken a couple of day/overnight trips in the area just to feel like we're getting away. One surprisingly fun day was at the Brookfield Zoo, just west of Chicago - no crowds because of all the snow on the ground, so we had "Tropic World" all to ourselves for a few hours. It was great to just hang out inside the toasty warm primate habitats and watch all those monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, and the 3-month-old gorilla baby. Waterfalls, birds, tropical plants ... it's a cheap date if you're willing to walk a little from the parking lot! We're also not too far away from Starved Rock State Park, which is on the bald eagle migratory path. Spent an amazing long weekend knee-deep in snow, hiking and seeing dozens of bald eagles in their nests and swooping down for fish in the partially-frozen Illinois River. It helps that the lodge has fireplaces and hot-tubs when you're ready to thaw. I appreciate the warmth much more after I've been half-frozen!

That I loved the flow chart! Especially the local options. Good job, Travel Gurus!

Glad you enjoyed it!

JFK with the air train is now really really good - you don't even have to get on the subway, it stops at jamaica station, so you can take the subway - OR you can take the LIRR which is a bit nicer. That will take you to penn station. The subway you would have more options (and it would be less expensive).

I second your enthusiasm for the air train. I have only taken the subway/air train combo and never a cab. Much cheaper and less stressful.

Good luck. You may have better luck in Barcelona than I did in Andalucia but when I lived in Spain I found that saying I was a vegetarian got me a big plate of veggies with a big piece of jamon serrano on top. It's not considered meat as much as it is a flavoring. Just like people who give fish to vegetarians because you can eat it on Fridays during lent.

I've been scoping things out, and I think I'll be good. I know a good amount about Spanish food (and love it), and I'm also not going to faint if an anchovy shows up on a pintxo unannounced. There are some interesting veg places there now, and despite all the jamon, there are also some fabulous traditional foods that are vegetarian: tortilla espanol, of course; patatas bravas, one of my favorite dishes; and the incredible escalavida. I'll be fine.

Puerto rico doesn't really have all inclusive, but you can pick something near the beach and still be near to the 'old' town and sightseeing. It might cost more (or not) - but it is an option for some sun.

Another good idea for getting relief from winter-related depression.  

Why not go to Williamsburg? Plenty to do and see there!

My daughter's passport expires this July, and she will be turning 16 a month later. We don't have any plans to travel out of the country this summer or fall. Would it be better to renew her passport as a minor before July, or wait till after she turns 16?

I would wait till she turns 16, even though she is still considered a minor (18 is the magic number). The passport for 16- and 17-year-olds is valid longer (10 years vs. five), and she can apply for a passport herself. But take note: "It is recommended that at least one parent appear in person with the minor to identify him/her and to show parental awareness." 

Here's the application info from the State Dept.

I have been a vegetarian for 11 years and have travelled quite a bit during that time, although more in Asia and the US than in Europe. The main thing is to be as clear as possible regarding what you do not eat. In Southeast Asia, I expected to have issues because it is an area where a lot of fish is eaten, but I had no problem at all. The fact that dishes were made to order helped a lot. India is obviously pretty easy, since vegetarianism is the norm rather than the exception. The US is a different issue. In large cosmopolitan cities, like DC, most restaurants will have at least one vegetarian option (although it might not be very good). In more rural areas and small cities out West, I have a lot more trouble and eat more grilled cheese and french fries than I would like. One option that has worked well for me is to stay at lodging with at least basic kitchen facilities so you can cook your own food, at least some of the time. This is especially helpful if you are staying somewhere for several days. Finally, pack your own food for plane flights.

All good tips. Thanks!

Newark is good because you don't have to necessarily take a private taxi. You can go to ground trans. and they will hook you up with a van driver who will combine your trip. Last time I went was a long time ago - but it wasn't very expensive into the city - and they will drop you at your destination.

You can also take the train between NYC and the Newark airport. (I have done it; it's a piece of cake.)

The official overview: "Take NJ TRANSIT or Amtrak to Newark Liberty International Airport Station. It takes about five minutes to get from AirTrain to the train platforms and between seven and 11 minutes to get to your terminal, depending on the terminal."

Try Nawas. I haven't used them, but my brother has and it seems to be experienced and respectable.

I'll heartily recommend Bruges and Ghent. Both are gorgeous! There is plenty of info available online, and there are many tourists in both! Bruges is better known, but I liked Ghent just as much. Great food and LOTS of excellent chocolate to be had all over Belgium.

Chocolate!!!

Salt Lake City it is! Have you published anything in recent years about the state? Since this is last-minute and I don't have a lot of time to plan, I'm seeking hotel and activity recommendations.

In Brussels, definitely check out Grand Place at night - even more charming than during the day. Also, visiting the Museum of Musical Instruments is quite interesting, particularly given the gorgeous Art Nouveau building in which its housed and the cafe on the top floor from which you'll have a lovely view of Brussels.

Yes, the Grande Place at night is stunning!

Florence is in Tuscany. That's like saying you're taking a side trip to Virginia from Richmond!

Well yes of course it is. But they'd be taking a side trip through Tuscany out of Florence. Makes sense to me.

Good afternoon! After a January Costa Rican honeymoon that was perhaps a bit more rustic than was desired (still great, though, especially the Arenal Volcano region!), we are looking to plan a first anniversary/30th birthday trip to the Greek Isles (~7 days in late September). We aren't the resort-y type in that we like to get out and explore on our own, try local restaurants, do cultural/active stuff - but we also wouldn't mind splurging for beach chairs and room service for at least part of the trip. So our questions are: 1) which island(s) should we visit 2) when should we start booking flights, etc. to get the best deals (we'd like to use our United miles) and 3) do you recommend working with a travel agent, or can we plan this effectively ourselves? We don't want to be too scheduled, but the logistician of the two of us would prefer to pin down a few activities in advance. Thanks for your help!

One of the most beautiful -- and popular -- islands is Santorini -- you know, white-washed houses and churches with blue domes. The iconic images from countless movies, posters, etc. Here's a recent story, as well as an earlier one that talks about traveling from Santorini to a couple of other islands. Last year, we also ran a story on Ikaria, a farther-flung but equally wonderful-sounding island that would probably be much less touristy. You could also look into a Greek island cruise, if you want to visit more than one. Several companies, including Azamara, Costa Cruises and Windstar, offer year-round cruises. You can check with a travel agent for more, or just go online.  As for booking flights, it's never too soon to start -- do it now.

Hi, Joe and the gang. My twin sister and I are flying to Minneapolis at the end of March for a bday celebration. Clearly I did not realize how cold it will be before booking our tickets. So we'll just have to make the best of it. Both of us love food, art, culture, shopping, etc. Please give us your best suggestions (we'll be w/o a car). Thank you!

You could try embracing the winter scene! Here's an Impulsive Traveler we had the other year. And here are some winter ideas from the tourism folks.

For the Zurich to Milan traveler. I flew this route and it was one of the most beautiful flights I've taken. I felt like I could reach out and touch the Alps. If you fly, get a window seat.

S0unds lovely!

Have any of you ever been to the Lilac Festival in Rochester? Any advice for a first-time visitor?

Sorry, not we. But perhaps some chatters have been. Folks?

There is improved express service on the Q70Ltd bus from LaGuardia. It takes you non-stop from the terminals to Jackson Hts./Roosevelt subway station, with plenty of room for luggage. There are Metrocard vending machines in the terminals near the bus stops. I was last in NYC during the marathon - the subway is the best way to avoid traffic! http://web.mta.info/busco/schedules/q070cur.pdf

Thanks!

ANGUILLA. My fiance (then-bf) visited in June and it's like we had a private beach because it was so empty. We stayed in the West End on Meads Bay, where the beach spans about 1.7 miles with restaurants dotted along the way. We walked to a different one day & night. Perfect for reading and relaxing!

Great suggestion. Thanks!

Any of the local (or not so local gardens) with greenhouses. The Conservatory at Longwood Gardens in PA is my favorite but there are some great local options as well.

Yes! We mentioned the U.S. Botanic Garden in the flow chart, but many other options...

My husband and I are taking our 2 young kids to Europe this summer. When is the right time to get the best price on plane tickets out of BWI to London/Paris? Best sites for finding the best fares for a family? Any advantage to getting an air/hotel package?

Do you need to fly from BWI? You may find better fares out of Dulles, especially on nonstop flights. Connecting flights may save some money. Icelandair, for example, often has decent fares out of Dulles via Reykjavik. You need to start researching as soon as possible on sites such as Kayak and Bing Travel. I'd also go directly to the airlines' sites. I haven't seen cheap air/hotel packages to Europe for summer travel, but again, check the airline sites. 

Smith Mountain Lake. I don't have any lodging rec as our family has a house there, but it is great for fishing. Lots of wineries near by should keep the ladies busy!

Good thinking.

LGA & taxi hands down. You're on vacation, who needs the extra hassle, when for $35 or so you can get delivered to the door of your hotel? And Supershuttle may be cheaper for 1 person, but 2 or more and you're spending more than a taxi anyway....plus you get to go all round the houses dropping everyone else off

Going to Toronot for July 4th weekend (Amtak or driving) but can't seem to find reasonable rates in a good location. Anyone out there know of a place that great & cheap?

Have you checked out Hotel Victoria or St Germain Maple Leaf Square? I am seeing reasonable rates on Kayak too, such as $147 for the Bond Place Hotel.

You might also consider renting a place through AirBnB. For example, I see a luxury suite near the Air Canada Centre for $116 a night and a private room by the CN Tower for $49 a night.

Ok, I missed the memo that it was mostly for fun. Nevermind.

In a week and a half, I will be in Rome! And then going to Florence from there. I'm super excited, but feeling a little overwhelmed. If you had to pick, what would be your top sights I might absolutely see in each city? And what should I do in terms of buying tickets for them ahead of time/waiting till we get there/etc.? Thanks!

Sorry to send you to the must-sees, but my contenders are:

Rome -- The Colosseum, Forum and Catacombs, plus St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel.

Florence -- The Uffizi, the Galleria dell'Accademia (Michelangel's David), the Duomo (do a guided tour to the top, worth it!), Santa Croce and the Scuola del Cuoio.

You probably aren't going to have much in the way of crowds this time of year so can probably get all your tickets on site, but if you're at all concerned, I'd get tickets for the Uffizi and the Accademia ahead of time online. Long lines can form there. We got our Duomo tickets the day of the tour, no problem. Ditto Santa Croce. To be safe, I'd get my Colosseum and Vatican tickets online as well.

Don't forget that July 1 is Canada Day so also a big getaway weekend in Canada.

Headed to Charlottesvillle Presidents Day weekend. Where to eat (not picky), what to do (wineries, history, shopping), etc? Haven't been in many years. Thanks!

Boy, I wish I kept my stock answer on this since we get asked it so often!

Eats: Our restaurant critic Tom Sietsema recommends Glass Haus. Bagels at Bodo's. Sandwiches at Littlejohn's. Tapas at Mas or Bang!. Chinese food at Peter Chang's. And more.

To do: Walk around U.Va. Tour Monticello. Stroll the downtown mall.

Wineries could take up its own post. Here's a roundup.

A very good friend informed me of a tradition that the year a Mother is twice the age of her daughter, the two should take a trip. This being that year for my daughter and me, we've decided on 6 nights in Paris in September. I would really appreciate a recommendation for a charming hotel that won't entirely break the bank, so that we have money left over for shopping and wine. Restaurant recommendations would be greatly appreciated as well. Merci beaucoup!

I've recommended the Hotel Therese before, and stand behind that one. As for restaurants -- hooboy, there are so many! Not sure what you're in the mood for, so I highly suggest that you look at a couple of great resources: DavidLebovitz.com and ParisbyMouth.com. Also, I'll be headed there myself for a story to appear in March, so if you can wait I'll have more ideas after I get back!

I live in NYC and here's my take on the airports: Newark is a last resort, unless it's dramatically cheaper, the only option at a reasonable time of day, or you intend to rent a car and drive outside of the city. LaGuardia and JFK compete on price, if you intend to take a cab or shared van (like SuperShuttle) into Manhattan. LGA is a little closer to town, but the ride will still be 45 minutes in traffic. If you're going to take mass transit, JFK is the far better choice. The JFK AirTrain to the subway is $5, payable with the same Metrocard that gets you on the subway; the subway fare is an additional $2.50. There is a bus from LGA to Manhattan (the M60, fare $2.50 payable in coins, I have no idea where you buy a Metrocard at LGA) that connects to the subways along 125th Street. If in-terminal amenities matter to you, JFK wins hands-down.

Thanks!

Thank you or the advice! Sounds like a cruise might be easier with the toddlers. Do you have any advice on the cruise to Bermuda from Balitmore?

The cruise is offered on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Sea during summer and early fall.  I've been on many cruises, but I've not done the one to Bermuda. Chatters? 

please list some inexpensive hotels in manhattan around midtown suitable for a . very spry 80 year old grandmother and her 13 year old grandson. thank you

Would you guys mind sharing one of the bunk or double-double rooms at the hip Pod Hotels?

Looks like I was way to narrow in specifying an hour from Blacksburg. Any new recommendations if I take away that requirement?

If you are willing to go about 3 hours, you're in wonderful Asheville.

Princeton and Bluefield WV are scenic, and Kee Reservoir has fishing.

Thanks!

Hi, I am off this week and would like to spend 4-5 days in Miami Beach (Wednesday-Sunday). I am a woman, travelling solo, and really only need a hotel with easy access to the beach for safe sunrise and sunset strolls. Any suggestions. I've been looking at last-minute specials but it's taking so long to read through the reviews that I'm weary.

My friend stayed at the  Fontainebleau Hotel last year and loved it (she was with her husband, but he was working for most of the visit). For a more intimate property, consider the Clay Hotel, which has a good reputation. For style and scene, check out the hotels in the Art Deco District, such as the Delano or the Beacon.

I was fortunate enough to live in central Europe for three years, but the winters were cold, snowy, icy and gray (and I hate winter to begin with). The solution? Hot springs - especially hot springs with outdoor pools where you could sit in steaming hot water as snowflakes drifted down and melted in the hot pools. I lived about 20 minutes from Mosonmagyarovar in Hungary and went at least every other Sunday, ending a morning at the spa with an enormous lunch of pink, bone-in pork chops.

I can feel the steam! And the snowflakes. And I'm jealous.

not very exciting, but living mostly from savings until I can find gainful employment....I fly to West Palm every year to visit my 80+ mother and her sister. I usually spend a few days then borrow mom's car and drive somewhere for a long weekend. Keys, Sarasota...this year will just be Ft. Lauderdale, as I'm also tired of driving long distances. I can get a cheap, direct flight on Southwest so it's warm, inexpensive and easy

Hey, what's exciting is that you get away!

There are a few things you can do. One I just found again (lost the old app) on your smart phone you can get a translator. This one is called V Cards. Tells you in over 100 languages how to say you are vegan. When traveling on cruise ships-always when booking the cruise ship tell your agent that you are vegetarian or vegan etc. But don't think that they will get that info on the ship. You can also fill out a card for special needs. When you board the ship go directly to concierge and tell them of your needs. For resorts. Make sure that your agent will tell the resort that you are vegan. Maybe have them get in touch with the chef for a sample menu. Not always possible but it does work. I know this because I am a travel agent who specializes in vegetarian travel. There are tours that are all vegan-you just have to search for them. Most cities will have veg restaurants. There is an app for that as well!

Thanks!

Just wanted to thank the person who wrote in this week with more suggestions for Johannesburg!

It is a lot of fun, but bring lots of outfit options. I have seen it snow and be in the 80s! Rochester is very drivable, so you should have no real problem finding parking (by DC standards of a problem) and traffic is fairly light. People are really friendly, so feel free to ask questions. While you are there, be sure to check out Dinosaur BBQ and some of the wineries on the Finger Lakes!

Appreciate the tips!

Glass Haus is closed. I recommend drinks and/or dinner at Commonwealth. And Ace Biscuit or Bluegrass Grill for breakfast.

Oops, thanks for the update!

I'm taking my GF on a surprise trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon next week. Are there any out-of-the-way places between PHX and the Grand Canyon that are worth a diversion or 1/2 day side trip?

Aqua Fria National Monument is along the way. It sounds fascinating, with all the pueblo ruins, but I haven't been there myself so can't recommend it personally. Chatters, any suggestions?

We are invited to a wedding in Tulsa in May and are willing to go if we can flights for under $250pp (I would strongly prefer under $200). We are willing to fly into another city and drive up to 3 hours. Based on what I am seeing, this looks impossible. Do you have any any recommendations on airports to look into or when to buy?

Bentonville, Ark., is about two hours away, and fares in May are just a sneeze over $250 on American. The town is  worth a visit too -- see my recent piece here.

I think a double double would be fine...not sure about the bunk bed.

All right, well, there you go!

The Eden Roc (right next to the Fontainbleau) is also very nice and has a fantastic spa. If you want to be closer to the action in South Beach, though, consider the W, Mondrian and Delano.

The only problem with the Baltimore to Bermuda cruise is it'll leave you wanting more time in Bermuda. Bermuda is our favorite destination!

Funny. Thanks!

Not to step on any toes, but how young are these kids? In conversations with friends and co-workers, it seems many of use don't remember much - including amazing trips our parents took us on - before approximately the age of 8. So, if you're considering taking, say, 3 and 5 year old on pricey trip to Europe, don't be surprised if at age 35 they don't remember a thing!

I have never thought about it this way, but, well, you're making some sense!

I would like to check-in somewhere warm for a few days this week (Wednesday-Sunday). Any suggestions for last-minute websites?

Try Priceline and Hotwire

I'm going to Mazatlan this Friday! WooHoo! Any recommendations? We have plans to do a couple of tours, and lots of beach/pool lounging, but would appreciate any tidbits from those who have been before.

Mazatlan thoughts, chatters?

I took my Dad to Normandy in March several years ago -- the weather was great (cool, but pleasant), everything was open, and there were basically no other tourists around. Obviously the weather is unforeseeable, but everything worked out perfectly for us.

There you are!

Red Roof Inn on W 32 St between 5th and 6th.

Also: Chelsea Lodge.

The person looking for flights to Bangkok should keep in mind that Thai New Year (Songkran) is in April so that will have an effect on fares depending on dates they are looking at.

Stopped in Flagstaff for dinner on our way back to Sedona in August. Fun college town vibe worth checking out. Don't miss the Indian Gardens Cafe on your way out of Sedona. Great Sandwiches for the road.

I grew up in Rochester and miss the lilacs! Need to plan a visit during the festival one year. However, keep your fingers crossed that the lilacs are actually in bloom during the festival. The weather can be fickle and sometimes the blooming period doesn't cooperate with the festival dates! Also, go down to the lake to get Abbott's frozen custard. Yummmm.

Some one last week asked about spending 3 weeks in Malta. That's way too long in my opinion. I was there for about 9 days a few years ago and it was bordering on too long. The islands are pretty small. I would combine it with Sicily maybe if I was going for 3 weeks.

My partner and I are considering a last minute trip to the Florida Keys in early March for 5 days or so. Just looking for some warm weather and a relaxing/laid back trip by the water. Opportunities for snorkeling and hiking are a bonus. We have never been and were hoping for suggestions/advice. Thanks!

I would drive to a few of the Keys for a buffet of beaches (especially since Key West is not known for its sandy expanses).

For hiking, try Bahia Honda State Park. For a big nature adventure, Dry Tortugas National Park. For seclusion, Islamorada. For nonstop action, Key West, of course. I recommend the Island City House for accommodations.

If you don't want to rent a car, Pisa is a very doable day trip by train from Florence. Also you can hire a driver for a tour of Tuscany -- if you stop for wine tastings, a driver is an especially good idea. Your hotel concierge should have recommendations.

We've come in for a landing. Thanks for the trip today -- hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

And now for our little prize announcement: The chatter who mentioned hypothermia, hospital gurney and an ER will get a little something from us this week, in exchange for making me chuckle. Send your mailing information to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and she'll get it to you!

Until next time, happy travels!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
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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