Talk about Travel

Apr 21, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 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.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Hiya, folks. Welcome to the Travel chat.

As usual, send us your questions, comments, hopes and dreams, and we will spin them into golden answers and diamond-studded ideas.

For today's question: In Sunday's section, the writer learned how to row a gondola in Venice. Tell us about a course you took during your travels, such as an alligator-wrangling class in Australia, that gave you greater insight into the culture and traditions of that destination. Best answer wins something very, very special.

Thanks for another round of interesting articles in the Sunday paper -- makes me want to hit the road! But, in two of the articles, the destination was stated to be a "one-stop flight" from D.C. What does that mean? The logical reading would be that the plane from D.C. makes a stop at some intermediate airport before continuing on to the final destination. However, I suspect that "one-stop flight" really means that you have to get off the plane at the intermediate stop, and then transfer to another flight on a different, usually smaller plane to reach your final destination -- and hope that you don't miss the connection! Wouldn't it be more accurate to use "one-stop flight" only for those flights that do NOT involve a change of planes, and use "one-stop with a change of planes" for the vast majority of connecting flights that are necessary to reach the destination? The reader would benefit from knowing that they have to make a connection in order to get there. Thanks!

In the travel industry, one-stop  refers to a connection where you need to change planes. A direct flight means that the plane makes a  stop, but you do not change planes. Many think that a direct flight is the same as a nonstop flight, but that's not the case. 

Greetings -- am thinking of spending Memorial weekend visiting the sights in Detroit and Ann Arbor, as have never been to either place. Want to see the Detroit Institute of Art, the Henry Ford Museum / Greenfield Village, and the natural history museum / arboretum at U. Michigan. Any recommendations for places to stay in/near Ann Arbor? I only found one short article on Ann Arbor travel in your archives (about the little doors...) Thanks!

Talk about timing: I was just reminiscing about the fairy doors with a couple from Ann Arbor this weekend. The "magic elf" has stopped making them, but the doors are still there. So do make time to crouch down to see them.

For a rah-rah college experience, check out the Inn at the League, in the heart of the U-of-M campus. For something a bit more old-school, try the Bell Tower Hotel. Up a notch is the Dahlmann Campus Inn. For a more local experience, AirBnB has plenty of Ann Arbor listings, including a historic loft downtown.

I have a group of friends who will be visiting in June and want to spend 2 days in Chincoteague. Wondering about others' experience renting a house or hotels there.

Chincoteague is a laid-back community that doesn't offer big resorts or fancy digs. The most upscale hotel is probably the Hampton Inn. It also offers some nice B&Bs, such as the Channel Bass Inn. And rent-from-owner sites such as Homeaway feature lots of private vacation rentals. 

For years, I relied on Internet cafes for email. (No, I didn't use them for banking. Then again, I didn't have on-line banking until the last few years.) On my most recent trip, Ireland in 2012, all of the places that I stayed at had free wireless, so I brought my little notebook computer. Good thing too, as I never saw an open Internet cafe while I was there. Are Internet cafes still around?

Yes, there are still a few Internet cafes around. I saw one or two on my last trip to Europe. You can find a list at the Cybercafes site.

Hi-- OP from a few weeks ago reporting back on the drive London--Inverness and back. You are certainly right about the length of time being longer than expected-- the drive back which we did in one day took 14 hours (including a stop at Dalwhinnie distillery). The first day we drove from London to Ediburgh stopping in York and Durham, spent a day and a half in Edinburgh, drove past the lochs to Inverness, and back down the next day. It was a great trip but I would have added an extra day! Favorite site along the way was the Durham cathedral. We had amazing haggis in Inverness at a place called The Castle. Thanks for all the tips!

Sounds like a great trip! Thanks for following up.

Planning a mid May trip for two and getting started much later than I would like. Are there reputable online sources for last minute packages in the United States and Europe?

There are online sites that specialize in last-minute trips, but I'm not convinced they will save you all that much money.  Here are a few to try: Last Minute Travel, Groupon Getaways, and American Vacations

Last year my wife and I had our third trip to London and environs attached to a short business trip. Over three days , we did a "royal real estate " tour. Windsor Castle one day; Hampton Court the next and Buckingham Palace on the third. Great fun and contrast. BTW, Her Majesty avoided us at each stop. Check ahead for which days include the changing of the guard at Windsor and order your tickets for that tour on line and skip the long lines outside. Cheers !

Love this idea. I almost did the trifecta, but Buckingham was closed when we were in town. We know the Queen was in residence at Windsor when we visited, but alas, she did not lead our tour.

I want to escape DC for the 4th, unfortunately I am at a loss of where to go. The sole criteria is I want to explore a city. Montreal was my first pick, but that weekend is the jazz fest so I am looking for other options.

If Montreal is your first pick, how about Quebec as your second? Just as French-inflected and tons to see and do.

If you're willing to go cross-country, definitely put Seattle and Portland (Ore.) in the mix. Closer to home, think about Pittsburgh, Providence or Portland (Maine). I'm also a big proponent of Cleveland.

We're an elderly couple flying to Logan Airport this week, then taking a red-eye to Europe. Unfortunately the only flight we were able to book to Boston is in the morning, so we'll have about 8 hours free before we can check in for our overnight flight, but will be too tired for sightseeing etc. in Boston. Does Logan Airport have one of those hotels with mini-rooms that passengers can rent for several hours, in order to sleep? If so, could you please post a link to them? Roughly how much does an 8-hour stay cost? Have other people who have used such facilities (Boston or other airports) considered them worth the trouble and expense? Many thanks for your help.

I'm afraid the airport has no such facilities. You could consider buying a day pass to one of the airline lounges. They generally run about $50. There are two hotels at the airport, but I don't know if getting a room is feasible for such a short window.

I live in Arizona, and hear a lot of horror stories about crime in Mexico. I feel sad that I am afraid to travel to a country that is so close, has wonderful people, history, nature, food, culture, etc. What's the truth? Is it really unsafe for Americans to travel to places like Cancun? Must one stay in a gated all-inclusive resort (if so, what's the point?) Love the chats, really appreciate your & the chatters words of wisdom!

Parts of Mexico are safe while others are not. Cancun and other resort areas on the Yucatan Peninsula are not places you need to avoid. The area does cater to tourists, so it has more than its fair share of all-inclusives. But I feel very safe leaving the grounds and walking around Playa del Carmen and  nearby areas. 

I'm not sure what your price range is but also look at Ann Arbor B&B, Baxter House B&B, First Street Garden Inn, Hill Street B&B, and 717 West Huron B&B. I also highly recommend checking out this site: http://www.visitannarbor.org/home. And don't miss Zingermans Deli in Kerrytown!

Great suggestions! And "yum" on Zingermans.

OK, "course" might be a bit of an overstatement, but we did go dog sledding in Alaska. Really hit home just how isolated and harsh life is up there (even if most of the population has moved onto snow mobiles for transportation). It was a really amazing experience to be the musher with a whole pack of dogs out on a glacier.

What an incredible experience! Did you sneak a pup home in your parka?

Hi all, I read these chats religiously, but have my first question for you! We are planning our 8 day honeymoon at the end of August. Our first instinct was to go somewhere tropical, but baking in that kind of heat doesn't seem like the most fun way to spend ones honeymoon. I don't want to go to a city if that is all there is. We picture being on the water. I want something relaxing, but am willing to be a little touristy. I would like airfare 1000 or less (per person), and not so far that we will be spending a good portion adjusting to the time change. I know this sounds vague, but hopefully you can help with some ideas. Thank you!!

San Diego would be my first choice. It's a city, but it also has great beaches plus nearby mountains and desert. If you want to get a bit farther away from the city, San Diego's North County beach community of Del Mar is very nice: If you have a generous budget, L'Auberge Hotel  is lovely. 

Hello, I will be traveling to East Africa this summer, and it looks like most flights go through Europe regularly . Air France has a flight that has a 3 hour layover in Paris for $1700. I would love to extend that layover and take the following day's flight from Paris to East Africa, and the exact same flight exists at the exact same time the following day. However, when I try to get this flight, the online search engines like kayak and expedia say the flight is over $2000. Why the increase in fare? How can I turn a 3 hour layover into a 27 hour layover cheaply? It doesn't make sense to me why it would cost so much more, and I think there's some strategy here I'm unaware of. Thanks!

 Most airlines charge more for a ticket that includes a long enough layover to visit an extra city. Pricing models look at this as a multi-city fare, so, for example, it would book the trip in two parts as IAD to PAR and PAR to NBO instead of IAD to NBO with a connection in Paris. Some airlines advertise free layovers, such as Icelandair, which allows you to stop in Reykjavik for free. 

Last week's chatter driving from Paris to Aix should try to make a stop in Les Baux de Provence, north of Arles. Yes, there were tour buses, but this is one-of-a-kind village, with the ruins of a fortress on top of a cliff -- and the entire village is located on the top of the cliff. You'll see some ancient catapults and learn how the villages defended themselves over the years. The view of the surrounding countryside is great on a clear day. I even remember seeing photos in one of the restaurants of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Les Baux many years ago.

Yes, Les Baux is another beautiful Provence town. As I said before, there are so many!

We're planning a two week trip to Australia next April--yay! We'd like to spend a week near the Great Barrier Reef, and we're wondering the best areas to stay if we are snorkeling fans. Would it make sense to stay on one of the islands for part of the time, and if so, which? I'm reading up on it, but the amount of info is a bit overwhelming. Thanks so much, love your chat!!

I might divide my week into land/sea and sea/sea.

Cairns is a lively snorkeling/diving town, and you can easily find accommodations for a few days and sign up for full- or half-day tours. At night, the restaurants and bars are filled with guests regaling each other with tales of underwater adventures. For the other half of the week, I would take a multi-night sailing tour that takes you to a variety of reefs. Plus, sleeping on a boat is 100 times better than Ambien.

Hello All, what is the best site for last minute airfares? Looking to travel to Tampa this weekend, need airline ticket!

The old standbys for this are Priceline and Hotwire. But you should also consider visiting the airline's website directly. For example, American Airlines sells last-minute fares on this page.

Do you know of a family friendly (girl 13, boy 10) vacation destination or resort mid way between Atlanta GA and Alexandria VA? Beach nice but optional.

Do you mean this as a stopping-off point or a place that's roughly equidistant from both places where people can meet? If the former, you're not going to get a beach, because you don't even come close to one if you're driving to Atlanta from here. If the latter, think about Wilmington, N.C., which is roughly 6 hours from both places.

I'll have a four-day weekend for Memorial Day, so I'd like to put it to good use. Any ideas about a destination within a four-hour drive of DC? I like historical sites, museums, most types of music, and walkable cities. I'm not interested in sports, or shopping, and I'm not particulary outdoorsy. I'll probably be traveling alone. Thoughts?

Possibilities: Philadelphia, Annapolis, Charlottesville and Frederick, Md.

I don't know if this counts as having taken a course, but when I was traveling in Ghana, I was able to spend some time with the chief and other elders in a village in the Volta Region (eastern Ghana). Among the many things I learned that day about the history of the people and the way chiefs and elders govern in modern times, the best experience by far was being able to participate in a libation ceremony. This is an important ritual in many parts of west Africa. It was interesting to learn more about the importance of this ritual, as well as how, when, and why it is performed, but it was so neat to be a part of one. The pouring of libations is done for all public functions, but particularly at certain events (marriage, births, deaths, festivals, etc.). Watching the chief pour the palm wine as he prayed and invited ancestors and gods to participate was definitely one of my favorite memories of the trip! After the ritual, I was able to speak with the elders about the ceremony and learn more about their daily lives.

That definitely qualifies. What an amazing behind-the-scenes experience.

I always love to take cooking courses whenever I travel. It's a fabulous way to learn about the culture. I've done everything from a half day in Thailand, to a week in India, to a one-day course where the chef came to our rental in the countryside of Umbria. Yum!

What a tasty tradition!

On my bucket list is attending the Scottish Tattoo in Edinburgh. What is the best way to get accommodations (minimum 3 star) and great tickets to see the performance?

You can buy tickets directly on the Edinburgh Tattoo Web site. Visit Scotland publishes a list of hotels at different price points. Or you could save money by buying a package deal that includes airfare. We'll be featuring one from Sceptre Tours in next week's What's the Deal? column. 

Someone asked about taking a train trip, possibly in Africa, for their honeymoon last week. If they really want to do that, you could probably do a Cape Town - Johannesburg train trip with only a week to travel, since South African flies direct from DC to both cities. There just wouldn't be time for anything other than exploring each city for a couple days and the train ride. Still, both places are great to visit!

Great advice. Thanks!

My fiance and I are trying to get ideas for honeymoon destinations for spring or early summer. I have always wanted to honeymoon in Iceland, but my fiance says that if we're going to spend that much money, he'd rather use it to go to continental Europe and visit several countries instead of just one. I would like to see natural beauty, but he would like to visit cities, castles, and monuments. I know Europe has plenty of these, but in my imaginings, there aren't really any places there where we can look across a natural vista without seeing at least a small hamlet out in the distance. Is there a good place where we can see both natural wonders and man-made wonders? (I'm using the term "wonders" as a general term, not as in "Seven Wonders.") We're open to most any part of the world (if money is no object), but will likely be restricted to North America (since money probably will be a limiting factor). Where ever we go, though, would have to be gay-friendly, as I feel that being assaulted or killed on our honeymoon might ruin the experience a bit.

Marriage is about compromise: Here's one.

Fly Iclandair to a European city (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan, etc) but carve out time for a free  stopover in Iceland. The airline permits up to seven nights for no additional airfare.

I wrote in to the chat a few weeks ago confused about what kind of rail pass to get to go from Copenhagen to Bruges (overnight) and then Bruges to Amsterdam. Well, the pass itself was a minimum of $800, not including reservations which for the overnight train would be at least $150-200 per person. Well, we got SAS flights from Copenhagen to Brussels for $105 each, and there are apparently multiple departures every hour between Brussels and Bruge, and Amsterdam and Brussels. The one thing that isn't clear, that one chatter alluded to last week: is it cheaper to buy tickets ahead of time? A lot of travel sites say that if you're not traveling to or from Paris or Rome to just buy the tickets at the station. What should we look out for if we try that?

Thanks for following up. The Rick Steves' Europe expert I interviewed for my piece on rail tips (partially inspired by your question!) said it's important to remember that flying can be cheaper and easier than the train. She, too, said you can almost always buy a point-to-point ticket once you're in Europe. I'd feel better about that if it was a route with frequent departures. Study the timetable before you arrive. Also keep in mind that automated kiosks often don't like American credit cards because of chip-and-pin technology. But if you know where and when you're going, I might go ahead and buy in advance. It can be cheaper.

if direct flight means " the plane makes a stop, but you do not change planes. " then what do you call a plane going from point A to point B without any stop?? RE: diving in Australia - I would say skip Cairns and head to Port Douglas. Much more quaint, great leap off place for diving.

That's called a nonstop flight. 

Id suggest holiding off the honeymoon until October/November then go to the Carribean. In September the weather is really nice in Hawaii.

Hawaii is a long way to go for a weeklong honeymoon. I still vote for San Diego.  

Hello, my husband and I are planning a trip to Portugual in August, and are looking for advice on planning an itinerary. We'll have nine nights, and are flying in and out of Lisbon. Tentatively, we're' thinking 3 nights in Lisbon, 1 in Nazarre (or another town on the beach, suggestions welcome...I was also considering Cascais), 1 in Coimbra, 3 in Porto, then back to Lisbon for the last night. We're planning to get between cities by bus/train, but perhaps rent a car in Porto for exploring the Douro Valley. Does this sound feasible? Should we skip any of those towns in favor of somewhere else? Do the number of nights in each city sound right, or should we do less time in Porto and Lisbon in order to have more time elsewhere? Thanks so much for any suggestions!

Sorry that detailed itinerary is beyond our level of expertise (my last visit to Portugal was in college).

Chatters, can you help?

Joe, your recent article on your one-day, three-meals, London-Paris-Barcelona train trip was a great (and inspiring!) read. We (food-loving couple) will be in Barcelona for a few days in May, and I was wondering if you had any other suggestions for where to eat (or not eat) in that city. You mentioned that Tapas 24 was great, but if you found any other gems we'd love to hear about them (vegetarian or not--both are good from our perspective). Thanks!!

Joe is out this week, but maybe the chatters have suggestions. Definitely don't miss the legendary Boqueria market. And you can grab some food at these vermouth joints we detailed in our story on the wine the other week.

We are planning a summer family vacation: two grandparents, one parent and three kids ages 8,12 and 16. Something within a 3-5 hour drive preferably in the mountains. Must have or be accessible to facilities for the kids. A bonus would be reasonable proximity to a historic site(s) for educational purposes.

How about Liberty Mountain or Whitetail resorts in Pennsylvania? Both are near Gettysburg.

I've booked a two vacation with my wife to Thailand in early November. We're doing a few days in Bangkok and then Chaing Mi, then we're looking to hit the beaches on the west coast. However, we're overloaded with options and don't really know where to book. I've heard Phuket is overcrowded and would prefer to avoid the huge party scenes. We're thinking Khao Lak or Ko Phi Phi but don't really know much about either. Thoughts?

I would avoid Phuket.

Chatters, can you help with other beach options?

For the person who wants a 4-day weekend - I had a great time in the Williamsburg area last May for Memorial Day. I visited the National Maritime Museum first in Newport News, then drove to Williamsburg to spend three nights. On one of the days I went to both Yorktown and Jamestown, and on one day I visited all of the James River plantations open to the public. Plus I spent a little time touring Williamsburg. A nice trip without too much driving.

Good thought.

I'm spending a 4 days in Kauai,HI next week. Any suggestions or can't miss beaches we should hit?

Kauai calls its itself the Island of Discovery, and it is an especially good island for active travelers. For example, you can hike around Waimea Canyon, kayak or canoe the Wailua River, and, if you are feeling utltra-fit, trek the strenuous Kalalau Trail along the Napali Coast. (You can also see it by boat or air.)

When I was there, I took a film location tour, which was very entertaining -- and not at all hard on the knees.

For beaches, Lumahai Beach is great for sunning, but a bit precarious for swimming. Anini Beach Park is a bit quieter and has good snorkeling. And at Poipu Beach, you might share the ocean with monk seals.

Will be going down from the DC area for the first time for a weekend in June. Any hotel or location recommendations? We like history, eating, walking, window shopping. We do plan to see Monticello. Is there anything else specific you could recommend seeing or experiencing during a weekend in Charlottesville VA?

There are plenty of hotel options along U.S. 29 north of downtown. The Omni on the Downtown Mall is ideally situated for shopping and eating. There are also a few hotels along West Main Street closer to U.Va. and student hangout area the Corner. Just out of town, only a few minutes from the U.Va. grounds, is the Boar's Head Inn, which is very nice. I've also been intrigued to check out the new Oakhurst Inn.

Other activities: Visit wineries! So many of them. If cider is more your thing, visit the tasting room at Albemarle CiderWorks. Carter Mountain Orchard (near Monticello) is another fun place to visit. Stroll around U.Va., especially the Lawn and the surrounding pavilion gardens.

Lots of good eats. Tapas at Mas, bagels at Bodo's, Szechuan cuisine at Peter Chang's, sandwiches to go at Littlejohn's or Take It Away. If you are driving along 29, you should stop for ice cream at the Moo Thru on your way to or from C'Ville.

Actually a direct flight also means that there is no change of the flight number. It is possible for the same flight number to have a change of gauge (the airlines' term for a change of aircraft,) at some point during the flight, and that, of course, means a stop. If the passenger doesn't want any stops, it is best to make sure the flight is "non-stop"

Thanks for clarifying. You can also look at the itinerary, which details all of the legs.

Yes, we have a chip-and-pin card! Our bank allows you to request them if you set up a travel advisory for your credit card (so the foreign purchases don't cause a security freeze) to an area that uses them, so we got them last year! Thanks Becky!

Way to be on top of things!

Make sure the places you want to go will be open. A lot of that part of Europe shuts down in August...

So true!

Hi: We are flying to Venice in September and will rent a car to drive to Croatia, stopping in the way in Slovenia for 2-3 days. Any ideas for an itinerary? We plan to have about 18 days for this trip. Should we try to go to Bosnia too? Thanks

Again, this question is outside our wheelhouse, though I would try to squeeze in Bosnia. You are in the neighborhood--why not?

Chatters, any advice?

My husband and I are planning a trip to Paris in September. We would also like to spend 3-4 days visiting the Normandy coast (WW II sites and Mont St. Michel). Could you recommend a tour that would include these Normandy sites? We are healthy, in our 70s, but do not feel comfortable driving.

Viator offers a two-day tour from Paris. Any chatters have a tour company to recommend? 

My husband and I have decided to take a week-long trip to Europe in May. I have been to parts of Italy, France, and Austria in the past; he has never been to Europe. I would like to spend under $5,000 including airfare. Any suggestions on where to go or how to find the best deals at the last minute? Thanks!

Airfare alone to Europe could cost you $2,000-$3,000 of that budget. But right now, countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece are quite affordable. Eastern Europe is also still affordable, though less so than just a few years ago. If you liked Austria, you'll  find the Czech Republic or Hungary equally lovely. Chatters, what do you think?

Sounds slightly cliched, but we took a baguette baking class in Paris that was anything but. Besides the actual process (with a great tip on how to get that blast of steam that French ovens have that makes the crust so good), we learned a while lot about the laws governing the true baguette (ingredients / how not all the boulangeries in a neighborhood can close at the same time...). It turned out to be a crash course in one aspect of French culture, and we wound up with great bread at the end of it!

I love that idea! France = baguettes. non?

We (2) will have an additional 3 days in Venice, Italy in August. Can you recommend one or two day trips out of Venice?

The Dolomites (part of the Italian Alps) are a popular and beautiful day-trip out of Venice. You could head to Cortina d'Ampezzo, a gorgeous ski resort town in the mountains. Titian was born in the village of Pieve di Cadore, which you could also take in. For a different trip, you could visit some vineyards of the Veneto region and do some Prosecco-tasting, and also take in some beautiful hill owns such as Asolo or Bassano del Grappa.  What else, chatters?

I'd second Philadelphia! Plenty to keep you occupied there. I was surprised how much I liked it when I visited a few years ago. Some of the other places mentioned (Frederick, Charlottesville) might not be as interesting for someone who isn't outdoorsy.

Thanks for the Philly endorsement. But having gone to school in Charlottesville for four years, I would say it's only as outdoorsy as you want it to be. Plenty of urban or easily accessible attractions (Monticello, etc.). Guess it kind of depends on the OP's definition of outdoorsy.

I am not a beach person so I can't offer an opinion on which beach in Thailand. But travel forums like flyertalk.com have plenty of good advice for questions like this.

Great advice. Appreciate it. Lonely Planet also has a good thread.

After frequenting the same small restaurant in Brussels during several business trips, I asked the owner/chef for a recipe for my favorite appetizer. Instead of writing it down, he took me back into the kitchen to learn how to make it on his equipment. Amazing to be in a real restaurant kitchen with the owner. My challenge with replicating the recipe at home was the lack of a salamander.

How incredible. I think I know where you can find salamanders, by the way.

Just did a very similar route through Portugal last fall. Did not go to the beach, but did Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto. That length of time in each place seems about right. A day trip to Sintra and Belem are great to do in Lisbon and to Guimaraes from Porto.

You are our hero! Thanks!

Does anyone have a favorite travel insurance company to recommend? We're about to lay out $4000 for airfare and would like to know that I'm covered in case of any unforeseen emergency.

I have an entire chapter in my book about travel insurance. If you send me your email address, I'll shoot over a copy of the chapter. I'm at elliottc@gmail.com. But I've also written several Navigator columns on the topic, which may be helpful, including this one and this one

Hi! I have a bit of a conundrum to sort out, and would love some feedback. My passport is expired, and there is now a chance I may need to travel internationally for work. However, I would put that chance at 30%. The tentative travel dates are for late May/early June. I'm getting married in less than a month, and I'm planning on changing my name. If I decide to get a passport now, I would probably need to expedite it (and pay the fee). If I wait until I have my travel dates set in stone, I can get a passport using the 2 week process. I was not planning on renewing my passport until I legally changed my name... and if I get the passport now, I'll have to get a new one once my name changes. If you were me, would you stay on the safe side and accept the additional cost and hassle of renewing the passport within this year, or would you advise waiting until I am 100% certain I will be travelling?

I don't think it's a good idea to ever be without a valid passport, because you never know when you might have to leave the country. I think you have two options here. You could legally change your name now and apply for a new passport. Or you could apply for a new passport and keep your last name after you get married. 

Is there a great, secret way to find super cheap last-minute flight deals? I live very close to an airport and sometimes find myself with a few clear days. I can easily throw some clothes and a passport in a bag and just go -- but is there a listing of suddenly-reduced, sale tickets for unbooked seats on international flights?

Airlines don't reduce the price of their seats at the last minute just because the plane is going out half empty. Some, such as US Airways, publish last-minute weekend fares  for domestic travel. But if you're traveling last-minute, it's likely you're going to pay much more rather than less for your flights. 

We will be going to France next Jan/Feb, and my husband is determined to stop overnight in Reyjakvik on the way (Iceland Air.) Is this ridiculous? Won't it be dark 20 hours a day, not to mention freezing and blizzarding?

It's not much colder in Iceland than D.C. in January (well, at least this January) -- average high is about 36 degrees. But it will be dark, and snow is a good bet. Maybe you could take a tour to see the aurora borealis.  

My husband and I went to Thailand a few years ago around that same time -- late October and early November -- as the chatter. Stayed at a gorgeous hotel in Phuket and only encountered about 20 other people on the beach each day. Didn't really see any partying going on where we were, but maybe it was because things were mostly higher end. Not all of Phuket is a party scene.

Great insight. Maybe higher-end is the way to go for Phuket.

If you like medieval art, see the Giotto frescoes at the Arena Chapel in Padua.

Thanks!

I think typically any layover under 24 hours is considered a connection, but over 24 hours is a stopover. Singapore Airlnes also offers free stopovers of varying lengths in Singapore. I think it's usually those national airlines in places that are trying to encourage tourism that allow these sorts of things.

Yes, makes sense. 

We rented a car at Cancun airport (must buy Mexican insurance, btw) and drove to Akumal, about 1 hour south--great road, charming little area with beach front villas for rent. We felt very safe, plenty of restaurants within walking distance. Drove to Chichen Itza, spent one night there (kept the villa in Akumal) and got up early to beat the tour buses at the ruins. Just don't drive at night and you'll be fine. Also! Kauai. GO TO HANALEI. Absolutely lovely beach and since tour buses can't get there, not crazy crowded. Good swimming, not much snorkeling.

I've with you -- have always felt safe in that part of Mexico. And thanks for the tips re: Kauai. 

Have you ever heard of rental cars being targeted for tickets? I rented a car in San Francisco and read a bunch of reviews that recommended not renting from the cheap places b/c they all ended up with enorumous traffic fines. I took that advice and rented from Enterprise but ended up with a traffic ticket for $490! A camera apparantely caught me turning right on a red light without coming to a complete stop (I haven't been able to download the video yet). It seems odd that there are so many stories about others getting fines.

I have never heard of rental cars being targeted, and I can't imagine a camera has the ability to distinguish between a rental car and a non-rental car. Maybe drivers in rental cars are less observant of the laws?

Thanks for the suggestions, but these are all close enough that I've been to all four. I was hoping for something a little more out of the ordinary.

Hmm, sorry not to have read your mind. :-) Have you been to Fredericksburg?  Warrenton? Harrisonburg? All terrific. A bit farther than your four-hour limit is Roanoke -- very nice. In Maryland, Hagerstown or Cumberland are historic and very walkable.

A new way of getting to Hawaii for free? I'm surprised that planes are designed with that much extra space in the wheelwells.

Your WiFi story got quite a number of negative comments from folks who felt you overlooked or ignored good alternatives? Any responses? Also, in the U.S. you can buy prepaid broadband service for laptops from Virgin, Cricket etc. by buying a USB plug-in device and a card good for usage. Are similar gadgets available in other countries? I know I saw them in Australia recently, but I haven't looked for them elsewhere.

We seem to have lost Chris, sorry. Tune in again next week, please?

Pittsburgh?

Thanks all for joining our chat today. Hope you are now packing your bags. 

Today's winner is the traveler to Ghana, for that unforgettable  lesson on the African country's culture. E-mail me your contact info andrea.sachs@washpost.com.

See everyone next Monday!

In This Chat
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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: