Talk about Travel

Apr 22, 2013

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.

Welcome, travelers and travelettes.

To celebrate Earth Day, let's travel the world, but not stomp too hard on the planet's delicate shell.

As usual, send us your questions, comments, ideas and quests. And we will respond to as many posts as we physically can in one hour.


For this week's question/subject: Tell us how you stay green when traveling, or share with us your favorite  eco-hotel or destination. For example, I collect my recycling during my travels, then throw it away at the airport, which usually has recycling bins.

Best answer wins a nugget of coal -- or maybe a more earth-friendly tote.

When you have an international layover, do you have to go through customs, pick up and re-check bags, and/or go back through security if you are changing planes in a third country (for example, changing planes in Thailand on your way from US to India)? Does it depend on the country? How long do you allow for such international layovers? Thanks for your help!

If it's a layover, which would involve an overnight stay, then yes -- you would always pick up your luggage and probably leave the airport. If it's just a stopover (in other words, you're changing planes at the airport) then it would depend on which country you're visiting, your final destination, and any interlining agreements between the airlines.

Submitting VERY early so I don't forget yet again! We're invited to an adults-only wedding in the Raleigh area. We're from out of the state, only know the couple, and we have two kids- a 2-yr old and a newborn. Apparently the couple doesn't know ANYONE they can vouch for as a babysitter and we're at a loss for childcare. Is there some website or other resource to find reputable sitters for an evening? Thanks!

I would first check with your hotel: Does it have a kids' club or babysitting? If not, perhaps the concierge can provide the name of a  reputable service. Or does the couple have friends with kids who can recommend a sitter?

Otherwise, if you use a childcare service here, perhaps they havd an outpost in Raleigh or can recommend a company in North Carolina. As a last resort,  can you bring a relative or friend on the trip? Throw in a free dinner!

I was too late to submit this suggestion last week for hotels in Amsterdam -- we stayed at the Movenpick. It's next to the cruise passenger terminal and is convenient to two tram lines. And for those arriving from the airport via the train, they have a shuttle that will pick you up at Amsterdam Centraal for free!

Thanks for coming back with this great suggestion.

Any reason why the link to today's talk says, "Travel: Talk Abot Travel, 2"

Because someone on our web team typed it that way. We'll have them fix, thanks!

Hi I wasn't able to be on the chat live last week. Just wanted to say thanks to the responses on my question about sea kayaking - very helpful and much appreciated. Best regards

Glad to be of help!

There appears to be several cruise lines that do the River Cruises - Viking being one and Uniworld being another. Is there are difference in the services of either of these two lines and what has been peoples experience doing the river cruises. Thank you

I've cruised on Viking River in the past, and really liked it. The pace is a little slower and there's an obvious emphasis on the shore excursions. The biggest complaints I get involve river conditions which can turn a cruise into a bus tour, and which the cruise line can't really control. I haven't had any recent Uniworld cases, and a vast majority of the Viking River queries I get are resolved to the passenger's satisfaction. I can't say the same thing for the other cruise cases I get, unfortunately. 

Back from 10 days there - my wife and I stayed in a small apartment a couple of blocks from the Pantheon. Excellent location, with good Metro access. Some comments: either airport to Paris - I have no doubt the train/Metro will work, but, if you're on the older side (like me), Paris-Shuttle.com will set you up for door to door, avoiding a lot of hassle (but it's not cheap); the Metro pass is a good buy IF you'll be riding the subway and busses a lot. If not, just buy a block of tickets; the Museum pass is also a great buy, again, IF you're going to several museums; at the Louvre, make sure you know what the special exhibits are. If you aren't interested, buy the regular ticket. For trips out of Paris - the one-day tour to Reims, to see the cathedral (unbelieveably gorgeous) with champagne tastings at Mumms and Moet/Chandon, is well worth the cost. Notre Dame - try to visit during a service - the organ is awe-inspiring, and visit the Crypt in front - old Roman ruins and great interactive 3-D exhibits (5E charge). You probably can get by without the newer "pin and chip" credit card, but it's worth the time to get one - and check with your credit card company to see what it charges for Euro/$ conversion - one of mine was 3%, another just 1%. Restaurants - I'm no expert, but close fo where we were staying, on the Rue St. Jacques, the Port Du Salut had excellent food and, on Friday and Saturday, a great piano player (9 to 11pm). As in any big city, watch your wallet and valuables - the pick pockets and scam artists are out there!

Thanks for all the advice.

I'm am looking into several group tours to Cuba with companies that have permits. Most seem pretty expensive, and each group has a different itinerary, making it a little hard to compare them. Do you recommend any particular companies for Cuba travel, and any particular cities/regions (each company includes Havana, but beyond that they tend to include different places). Thanks.

I had a great experience with Friendly Planet travel (here is my story on the trip). We traveled a bit outside of Havana, to visit a farm and Hemmingway's house, but I would have loved to have seen the country. 

That said, I recommend looking at trips that go beyond Havana with visits to Santiago and Trinidad. You might also look for trips that match your interests, such as art, literature, nature, etc.

Hello Flight Crew! My question is about purchasing airline tickets for a friend as a birthday gift. (San Francisco-area to IAD or DCA) The date isn't set yet but, when the time comes, can I buy them for her or must she purchase them herself (and then I reimburse her.) I tried doing this four years ago for a different pal in England and it wouldn't go through, perhaps for security reasons? (He bought them and I later reimbursed him.) Also, do you know of any upcoming sales along this route? I know Southwest Airlines doesn't charge change fees but they also don't seem to be the cheapest option. Thanks!

You can buy tickets for anyone, but you'll need their full name and date of birth. Bear in mind that the ticket (and any ticket credit) are the person's property and can't be transferred back to you. Regarding sales -- they're difficult to predict, but they happen with some regularity. I would book when your friend is ready instead of waiting around.

I'm traveling to Ambergris Caye, Belize in February. I want to do a side trip - 1 or 2 days maximum, to Tikal but it's a "must" for me that the complete trip be with a tour operator - I'm the only one of my group making this trip and I won't feel comfortable traveling into Guatemala by myself. Do you know any suggestions for tour operators that go from Ambergris to Tikal?

I can't persoanlly recommend a tour operator but Frommer's gives high marks to Maya Vacations, Clark Tours and Via Venture.

Can any chatters provide a recommendation?

We have downloaded an English-French dictionary. Are wondering if anyone can recommend a map app (so we don't have to use data for GPS) or guidebook app or other helpful app.

There are a lot of possible answers here! Here's Andrea's story from last year on travel apps. There are plenty of apps with offline maps -- the only one I've used is Google Maps (saved several areas). Who has a favorite?

I've been playing around with various other apps for a future story, including TripAdvisor city guides and Triposo. Both allow you to use them offline. Fodors and Lonely Planet are among the guidebooks that have apps too.

In case the Amsterdam poster is here this week, check out Hotel Brouwer. We stayed there last year, and it was wonderful. Not only is it affordable, it's quirky, it's right on the Singel canal, and it's and within walking distance of the Central Station, Dam Square, and the Anne Frank Huis. It's a short bus ride from the Van Gogh Museum. And the breakfast--wonderful! Three types of bread, a softboiled egg, cheese, and French press coffee. We liked the hotel so much that I hesitate to spread the word about it lest it be booked up the next time we visit. Amsterdam was our first stop on our first European trip, and having a comfortable hotel made all the difference in starting out right.

Sounds lovely.  Thanks!

Is Kate Siber chatting today? My boyfriend and I just decided to take a vacation to Southern Utah this summer and are starting to make plans. Can she, or any of the other travel gurus, make a recommendation of great hiking locations? We'll be flying into Las Vegas and will have about a week. Thanks!

Kate wrote back to us with a ton of advice. Here it is: 

 

I will do my best to advise you, assuming you are fairly fit and adventurous. 

 

The big national parks will be fairly crowded in the summer, but there’s a reason why they are national parks: They are spectacular. What I would do is mix it up with some of the big-name national parks and some of the lesser known areas. 

 

Also, before I begin, you might also consider doing a rafting or kayaking trip if you are not hell bent on hiking. It would be nice to get some water activities in your trip because the Southwest is reliably very hot in summer. I would recommend the stretch of Colorado River in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is not very far from Las Vegas. You can look up kayaklasvegas.com for shuttle and permit information. 

 

Ok, here are some ideas: 

 

• The Zion Narrows in Zion National Park is an asbolute classic. It’s also shady and wet, which will be a good thing in the summer. You could also try some of the other lesser known canyons in or outside the park (such as Kanarra Creek Canyon) depending on your fitness level. I can recommend Zion Rock Guides if you want to do a guided hike or canyoneering day. 

 

• The Peek-a-boo Loop in Bryce Canyon is one of my favorite hikes ever. It is just so different from any other landscape I’ve ever seen worldwide. You should do it early in the morning before it gets too hot because it is quite exposed to the sun.  

 

• Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument is amazing and not very well frequented. If you are even just a little bit adventurous, I would recommend going on a day canyoneering trip with Excursions of Escalante, which is based in Escalante, Utah. You will see some of the most gorgeous sinewy slot canyons in the state, places unreachable to most people. You will also find nice shade down there. 

 

• If you have more time, any of the loops in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park are stunning. I love the hike to Druid Arch, which is a long day trip but very worthwhile. Again, you will want to go early in the morning before it gets too hot. This might be quite far for a week trip from Las Vegas but food for thought! 

 

Safe travels!

 

What travel clinic would you recommend in suburban Md.? I will be traveling to Nepal in October. I understand the immunizations are expensive and not covered by insurance.

Anyone have a clinic to recommend? Me, I'd lean toward a major medical center, such as the clinic at GW or Georgetown.

I also recommend the travel clinic at GW --though it is not in Maryland, of course.

Also, for a recent trip to Asia, I received immunizations through my HMO's travel clinic (I go to Kaiser). I only had to pay a co-pay for the visit if I am remembering correctly.

Just wanted to say I loved the Guam article. Very interesting and now I'm intrigued about it.

Thank you so much! I was so surprised by the wealth of history there, in addition to amazing snorkeling, hiking, diving, etc. I recommend going, even if you have a passport.

I'd like to find a location within a few hours drive from DC for a 2 night stay, preferably a beach town, that's dog friendly (both the town, beach and accommodations) for my husband and I. This will most likely be our last time away as I'm due with our first child in August. We're open to suggestions of places, and with a lot of places requiring 3 night minimums, wonder if heading towards the mountains is a better option...? To give you an idea, while we liked the Outer Banks, it was a little too quiet for us. Thanks!

Have I got the place for you! Head to charming Cape Charles, Va. The recently opened Hotel Cape Charles, where I stayed last year, has pet-friendly rooms. One of the swimming beaches at Kiptopeke State Park (gorgeous) is pet-friendly -- I was there for a story and met someone's pet ferret! You can also bring your dog to the Cape Charles town beach before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

Also, shoutout for the the town's adorable scoop shop, Brown Dog Ice Cream, that should satisfy any pregnancy cravings.

Last year we stayed at La Cantera Jungle Lodge Iguazu in Iguazu Falls, Argentina. The hotel was beautiful and was designed to minimize environmental impact. The hotel is literally a collection of treehouses in the rainforest and you have your own balcony with a hammock to watch the critters play and enjoy the scenery. It was so peaceful and by far the favorite place we stayed.

That sounds like a lovely guilt-free place!

A Buddhist retreat...at the various monasteries and retreats where I have visited, meals are vegan and mostly organic (and yummy), much of the produce is grown onsite, we scrape and rinse our dishes in dishpans before putting them in the sanitizer (saves water), and we have a car-free day once a week - not that we use them most of the other days. Some would consider it a bit rustic but I love it!

Great green idea.

So, lately I have gotten lost in YouTube watching videos of Armenia and the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh which is also known as Artsakh. It looks really beautiful and fascinating. But I will admit to knowing almost nothing about it. Apparently their tourism industry is growing fairly quickly. Have any of you been there? I am thinking it might be a destination for next year for me after a couple of years away from more Third World type of places.

You stumped us too.

Chatters, can you help educate us?

Hi guys, I'm traveling to Costa Rica, staying in Alajuela at the Courtyard Marriott for a few days, then onto Marriott's Los Suenos resort. I don't think that the rooms have safes. What do you suggest we do with passports and extra valuables during day excursions? Not sure if the hotels have a safe at the front desk, if so is it safe to leave our stuff or should we just carry everything with us? Also, is the Arenal volcano close enough to Alajuela to do a day trip?? Thanks

Looking at the Courtyard Marriott Alajuela  and the Los Suenos Marriott Web sites, they list safe deposit boxes at the front desk among their amenities. I think that's safer than taking everything along. A day trip to Arenal is doable, but trip there/back will take at least six hours total.  You may want to instead consider a trip to the much-closer Poas Volcano National Park

Hi Experts. Will be flying into London in July. Am a regency fiction buff. Planning to travel to Bath and Cornwall. Really appreciate any ideas for what not to miss in Cornwall.

Cornwall, I can't help you with. Chatters?

I'm going to be in Bath in a few weeks. For my Regency fix, I plan to check out No. 1 Royal Crescent, the Assembly Rooms, the Pump Room, the Jane Austen Centre and maybe the Fashion Museum. And of course the Roman Baths. Whether I can do that all in one day, we shall see.

Hi travel gang! I have an evening international flight (10 pm) out of Dulles later this week. Haven't flown out of Dulles recently, and though it seems like sequester cuts aren't causing massive delays, I'm still unsure as to how far ahead to get to the airport. Any advice? Thanks in advance!

Delays are becoming a reality at area airports. Here's our news story about the situation today. I suggest you stay on top of the evolving situation and build in some extra time.  

Had a fantastic time with the kids last week in NYC. Tried not to get too much news, but it was everywhere! so tiring (when we took a cab, there is all the news. My kids don't need to know everythign all the time!). Anyway - we did the mostly touristy stuff (top of the rock, circle line - since there's no liberty island til at least July 4 - chinatown, little italy, central park, saw a bway show - tried to convince the boys that Annie was the best, but Spider man was on the board at TKTS - Serendipity's, the Met, Chelsea piers - we couldn't find the high line). We took a pedi cab because it was raining and I couldn't find anything else. And WOW. If you want to do it - just take it a couple of blocks. A small 'cab' ride that might have cost me $10, cost me $170. Eye opening.

What a fun itinerary, no matter your age.  Thanks for sharing.

"Try to attend a service" might be good advice, but wouldn't it be rude to wander around a church during a service?

Notre Dame welcomes visitors to attend services, but, yes, you should sit down and be respectful and quiet, just as you would during any religious service or ceremony. Here is the cathedral's own advice for visitors.

My family is planning a vacation at Block Island this summer. Do people have any recommendations about whether to bring/not bring the car over on the ferry? Also, any tips for things to see/bring...Thank you!

As a longtime BI visitor/summer resident (my folks own a house out there), I vote for no car.  You can get around by bike or foot, or if you are feeling lazy, moped or taxi. A car is just an extra expense and hassle (unless you have kids and lots of beach gear).

My favorite spots are the farm on Spring Street, hiking/biking in Rodman's Hollow, Mansion Beach, North Lighthouse, bands and drinks at Nick's, and riding the water taxi around New Harbor. 

Best to just wander around a bike and have an adventure!

Travel vaccines ARE often covered by insurance, but only if you have the right documentation. Call the insurance company first and ask what information they need for reimbursement. Bring the list of CPT codes with you to the travel clinic and ask them to put the correct codes on the receipt.

You sound like a prepared traveler. Thanks!

Going to Montreal this week. Any good places to eat in Montreal? Also, do you know if it's still maple season?

So much to eat in Montreal! L'Express is an old favorite, and of course Au Pied de Cochon for all things porky. Joe Beef is very fun. The last time I was there, I found a new favorite: Le Compotoir Charcuterie et Vins; I liked it so much I went back a second time.

Funny you ask about maple -- that was the focus of my last trip, when I ventured to the gut-busting Cabane au Sucre au Pied de Cochon, Martin Picard's wild spot about 45 minutes outside the city. He takes those traditional Quebecois sugar-shack dishes and chefs them up -- and takes them WAY over the top, stuffing foie gras wherever he can fit it in.

Looks like we're right at the tail end of the season -- at least some of the sugar shacks are closing for the season this week, including La Cabane, a pop-up sugar shack in the city. (Picard's goes through next week, but it's long been sold out.)

But some maple things are open in Montreal all year, such as Canadian Maple Delights, the little shop/museum that'll teach you about the process, let you taste test different grades of syrup, and of course will sell you all sorts of treats made with it.

Seems like a silly question to ask about the happiest place on earth...but alas I'm a mom, so ask I will. We are going to Disney with a small group. There are kids of various ages and the teenagers (15-17) want to be able to experience Disney World without "annoying parents." They will all have cell phones and Park Hopper tickets. It is safe to turn them loose in the morning and see them back at dinner? We have assumed some reasonable phone/text check-ins during the day. And, I should note, they are good kids who know better than to cut lines or be otherwise inappropriate. Thanks in advance for an independent assessment.

Parents, chime in if you feel otherwise, but I think this sounds reasonable, having been to Disney many times myself. Emphasize to the teens that they need to stay together as a group and that, yes, you'd like those check-ins. Even though they have Park Hopper tickets, it might be good to try to keep everyone in at least the same park in case of an emergency or other situation. There's also a Disney app you all could download to share your plans with each other.

Hi, Travel peeps! My boyfriend and I are going to south Florida in May, and I would love some advice. We're spending our first night in Miami, 4 nights in Islamorada and then... not sure about the last two days. We'll fly out of Fort Lauderdale. Is there plenty to do around Ft. Lauderdale, or do you have a different recommendation. We like outdoors stuff (planning to spend time on the water in the Keys) and cool restaurants.

Yes, there's plenty to do in Fort Lauderdale, but it would be a shame to make it all the way down to Islamorada and not also visit Key West. If you're feeling adventerous, you can even take the boat out to the Dry Tortugas. Head south!

We desperately need a vacation! We have an 18 month old and have been considering flying to Atlanta for Mother's Day weekend. Would we also need to rent a vehicle? We are interested in visiting the big aquarium and the Coca Cola plant and have no interest in going to the suburbs. Any suggestions on airlines to take and/or avoid? We will fly out of BWI or DCA. Thank you!

Yes, you'll want to rent a car. That's what I'm doing when I'm there soon. Cheapest fares were on Delta out of BWI, but I sprung for the extra convenience and am flying AirTran out of DCA.

While there, your tot might also like the zoo and the Center for Puppetry Arts.

Any suggestions about where to stay/what to do when visiting the Delaware Water Gap this summer. (We'll be coming from NYC.) Thanks as always!

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers lots of outdoor activies, including hiking around a couple of nice waterfalls. There are also several historic houses, including the Millbrook Village.  Best bet re: lodging is probably the Water Gap Country Club

Do you have any suggestions for where to go on the East Coast with our almost 2-year-old toddler? We'd like to stick to a 2-3 hour flight as this will be his first ever and we're not sure how he flies. We just need to get away from the office desperately! Thank you!

How about Orlando? It's a quick flight from DC and there's plenty to do with a toddler, and for adults, too. And I'm not just saying that because I live in Orlando.

I have been in that area. There a lot of less visited areas. Natural bridges NM, goosenecks state park, many Anazani sites. I have driven on 261 ....you can't do this road with tailors,or RVs, or vehicles that are too long. It's a very tight switch back without railing where it's pavement in the middle and gravel at the turns. The speed limit is like 10-15 mph.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Southwest has a gift card option. You could buy a gift card for what you approximate the dollar amount will be for the ticket and they can then purchase the ticket once the dates are firmed up.

Great idea. (Mom, hope you are reading this chat!)

The person asking about immunization should check with their doctor and/or insurance company. They may well be covered. I had a bunch of immunizations done when I started traveling to SE Asia on a regular basis by my primary care doctor. I am pretty sure they were covered by my insurance company. And it's in my medical file with them doctor as well which is a nice thing.

Great tips. Thanks!

The only way you can get to Guam without a passport is through Honolulu. The only other way is through Japan and Korea which would require a passport. The only way to America Samoa is through Honolulu and flights only operate 2-3 days a week. With Palua, Mcronesia,, and Marshall islands . . .the people who live in Micronesia, Palua and Marshall Islands are US nationals  because the territory previously were US soil. US military recruits people from the islands . In recent legislation there was some issue that made the military recruiting more paperwork related. This also affected people traveling to/from there.

Indeed, the only way to travel without a passport to these U.S. territories is to connect through domestic airports.

My son just came back from a week in Jewish Galicia, the area of Ukraine and Poland his great grandfather came from, staying for a few days each in Krakow and L'viv. One thing he noticed--the area relies now on a kind of kitchy post-Soviet tourism. He went to one pub in L'viv where you had to give a password of "Slava Ukrainia"--freedom to Ukraine--and you could throw darts at posters of Lenin and Stalin. In Krakow, his hotel was across from the Propaganda Pub, with pictures of Breznhev and other Soviet and Polish communist leaders.

How fascinating!

We had to get our bags and recheck them when coming home from Tahiti. Caused us to miss our connection and have to stay in LAX for 10+ hours.

Oh no0000.

Thinking about a trip in July to either Yellowstone or Yosemite. How will the furloughs impact trips to those parks?

Still up in the air how the sequester will affect those parks this summer. At Yellowstone, local business leaders chipped in to get the roads plowed so it would open -- the park has to cut about $1.75 million from its $35 million budget.  Similar story at Yosemite. 

Thinking about taking the train ride during a road trip. Is there enough stuff to do in Silverton during the layover without getting bored? Where are good places to visit nearby during the summer? Moab and the Arches National Park seem like they're reasonably close. Is Moab too far to stay at the night before the train ride?

The layover is just over a couple of hours, so yes, I think there's plenty to keep you occupied. Lunch and a stop at the Silverton Depot Museum would seem to take up all your time no sweat, don't you think? If you decided to stay overnight, there would be plenty more to occupy your attention in town, looks like.

As for Arches/Moab, it's about 3 hours from Durango, which is pretty far in my book to stay the night before, especially since the train leaves at 8, 8:45 or 930 (depending on the dates in the summer). But you could certainly start there and spend a day or two (or however long you want) and then spend the night before the train ride in Durango.

 

You'll want to get there 7ish, so I would catch the 6:24 5a bus from Rosslyn or 6:10 from L'Effant. It is reliable and works better for me than driving or any other option.

Thanks for the planning help.  Getting to Dulles is a bear.

Not in MD, but I used the travel nurse at Foxhall immunizations before a trip to Kenya this winter. Their travel nurse is wonderful and very up to date on various regions. They also spaced out the vaccines (9 total) in three separate visits so my arms weren't too overwhelmed!

Thanks much for the recommendation.

If you're just doing 'downtown' things like the coke museum and the aquarium, and then maybe centennial park and CNN center, piedmont park and the botanical garden, you wouldn't need a car. With only two days, I would think staying downtown without a car (you could take MARTA to buckhead and midtown, but not much else) would be fine. If you want to go to the zoo or the science (fern bank) museum, then, well, you would need a car. but there's plenty to do without one if it's just a couple of days.

Great suggestions. Thanks!

Can be done if MARTA (the subway) is near your hotel. You can take MARTA straight from the hotel into the city and Coca-Cola World and the Aquarium are near MARTA (we did this trip with a kid under one). Why stress yourself out driving in another city when you can use public transportation?

One more for the Atlanta-bound family . . .

If you have a week there....look at Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, UT 12, page, and north rim. In the summer crowds aren't that large compared to the south rim. With only a week, it will be difficult to do that plus Moab area. It's either one or the other. Needles district you need to have a high clearance 4 wheel vehicle or go with tour groups for a full day trip. Moab in August is 100 or higher while Bryce and Zion will be a little cooler.

Utah is the best, isn't it?

Hi Crew, Headed for Tucson for a long weekend on Thursday (yay!). I'm interested in doing some light outdoorsy/hiking stuff and not sure what my best option is. Looks like there are a few promising areas, including Sabino canyon and Saguaro National Park and I'm having trouble deciding. I'm in good physical shape but not looking for anything too strenuous (mainly for time constraints). FWIW, 2 years ago we did one of the shorter trails at Bandolier Nat'l Monument outside Santa Fe and that was about perfect. We will have a car. My "stay green" strategy = shop local!! Don't eat at chains, buy souvenirs from local craftsmen, etc.

I have only hiked around Painted Desert,which was easy hiking but so hot!

Can any chatters pipe in about light hiking in Arizona?

And thanks for the great green idea. Go local!

My husband and I would like to go to Italy and a few other European countries over the next few years. I want to use a small group tour company because we don't speak anything other than bad Spanish and English. But we don't like to be tied to a tour bus or scheduled all day. Can you recommend several companies that handle small groups, have some organized tours but provide lots of time on your own, and are competent. We have traveled to France, Australia, Mexico, the Caribbean, and throughout the US. We are 50+ but very active (ski, paraglide, snorkel, etc.) Any suggestions are appreciated.

Abercrombie & Kent might fit the bill; it's a high-end tour operator, but most companies that cater to small groups are more expensive. Untours is less expensive and more independent. 

Would I be okay using cable ties on my luggage for international flights? If TSA cuts off a cable tie will they replace it? I keep hearing stories about TSA cutting off even TSA approved locks? I assume that employees in Heathrow Airport don't have keys for TSA locks, anyway, so I would be okay with the cable ties? Thanks.

I wish I had a clear answer for you, but with TSA, there is no definitive answer. They are free to open any luggage even if that means cutting ties and breaking locks.  Before you put the ties on, ask the TSA official at the airport for his/her advice. You don't want to waste money on ties if TSA is just going to cut them.

Also be sure to carry on any valuables and note any damage to your bags once you land.

I'm headed up to Canada in a couple weeks. Will be spending two days in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which I know has some good restaurants. But then it's off to the city of Niagara Falls for three more days. Do you or the chatters have any recommendations for restaurants there?--my online research indicates an awful lot of Outback, TGI Friday's type places, which is what I absolutely hope to avoid. I know the main point of the trip is to see the Falls, which I'm very psyched about, but I'd also love some interesting culinary experiences.

I haven't been to Niagara Falls recently, but a few that get good reviews include Villellas, Wine on Third and  Kobans

It seems more than reasonable for you to 'let the teens go' on their own. You'll have more fun that way too. Don't text them every 10 minutes. Expect them to tell you if they are leaving the park. Maybe try the first day to meet up for lunch somewhere? You know your kids (and presumably the others) best. If you think they'd be fine on their own, they probably would be. There's no real danger out there in Disney...:)

Sage advice.

If the couple is being married in a church or synagogue, call the place of worship directly and explain your need. I bet they will be able to recommend a reliable teenager or two. We've done that before will great success!

That's a fantastic idea.

you can ONLY get to the islands of guam, samoa, et all and stayng within the US is by flying through Honolulu. You can't get there from LAX or SFO or other airports.

Very true.  However, if the airlines decide to change the routes --say, DC to LA to Guam -- then maybe you can fly there from other U.S. airports.

Thanks for all the hotel tips! We leave on Monday for Paris and will probably go to Amsterdam as well as Brussels. Am now thinking about the Moet tour mentioned today.

And thanks for coming back!

For the poster about Block Island, my husband (who is from Rhode Island) and I went one summer just for the day and thought we would rent bikes...after about a mile, we realized neither of us was Lance Armstrong, so we turned them in for a moped and had a great time - for a day trip. If you're staying longer, I'd prefer to have my car - the moped cost more than taking the car over on the ferry. If you have lots of gear and are staying more than a day, I'd opt for having my car there...Block Island is wonderful - love walking down the wooden staircase and its million steps to the beach....

It is wonderful. I'm jealous of Andrea's many trips! I was there for a single day too and did a big loop on a rental bike. Had to walk up the initial hill, but managed to do the rest on two wheels. What a workout!

I always offer any magazines or books I have finished on my travels to the flight attendants! One of 'em are always thrilled!

Green and generous!

For the gift-giver - most major airlines have gift cards; just price the ticket and pick a denomination accordinging. They retain value, so any remainder can be applied to future travel. Also for the travel clinic question - check with the CDC web site to see what the general recommendations are, as well as the country-specific recommendations. Your general practitioner can get you up to date for routine shots (flu, DPT, MMR, Hep A, Hep B, Pneumonia, typhoid) which should be covered by insurance. Anti- Malarial depends on where you go - for instance, there is no malaria in Kathmandu; but you always want to protect against mosquitos due to dengue. You can save by doing your homework.

Great advice all-around. Thanks!

Was at Dulles at 7am last Sunday for a flight to Vegas and the security lines were the worst we have seen! Took 40 minutes to get through; one TSA guy was taking about 3 minutes per passenger. Can't imagine what it will be like with the sequester and heightened security. Allow more than 2 hours. No problem coming home from Vegas - 10 minutes in line.

Thanks for the update. 

I would warn any parents of teens to have a serious sit-down before letting them go off for the day on their own. The company essentially runs its own police force there and takes any sort of disruption, from hanging out of ride cars to shoplifting, very seriously. Plenty of anecdotes about high school kids disappearing for hours after being picked up for "age appropriate misconduct" if there is such a thing. There used to be...

More good advice.

If you decide to go to Zion (and I heartily agree you should go) please go see an outfitter the day before so that you have the necessary gear.....it is very hard to do without the walking sticks and proper footwear!

Any recommendations for House Swap agencies. I would like to visit England later this year by doing a house swap. I am very flexible where in England I stay. Thank you.

Here's our article on house swaps, as well as suggested agencies. Anyone have a favorite?

My wife and I and two other couples are interested in seeing the Panama Canal and experiencing traveling through a part of it. We are NOT interested in taking a multiday cruise from Miami (we live in the DC area) just to do this. Is there any other way we might achieve our goal? Thanks, Richard

You can certainly just go to Panama City and take a day cruise partway or all the way through the canal. Tour and cruise companies that offer such a thing include Viator and Panama Canal Tours. I'm sure there are others! Chatters, anybody taken one of these?

I am toying with going to Hawaii (flying into Honolulu) a few days before Christmas. Why is it the fares I am finding now have flight times that are practically red eyes or arrive very late into Honolulu? I have flown into Kona before from DCA and would have landed via Phoenix around 2:30 HST. In addition, when is the best time to buy the airfare?

Most flights that I'm seeing from Washington airports arrive around 2 p.m. HST.  Return trips are typically red-eyes. Do a Kayak search to see your choices. Airfares seem OK right now -- about $850 round trip. If you're going around the holidays, I'd buy sooner rather than later. 

For the chatter looking for a small tour company - try Rick Steves' My Way Tours. They handle lodging and transportation between locations but you are totally on your own about what you do at each stop.

Thanks!

whst will be affected.....the parks will still be open, the staff will be cut. There will be less seasonal employees. This will mean less hours a visitor center is open or less staff working. Some camping area will be losed, and some of the nighttime/daytime ranger led hikes and talks will get cut. The lodging won't be impacted as much because it's operated by a contractor. Just like with the FAA the agency is doing cuts in a way to make it more high profile and more negative impact that will get people yelling at congress. These two are the two most high profile of how fed govt affects citizens of all ages.

Thanks for such a thorough answer!

Holy crap! I hope that doesn't turn that chatter off the idea of returning to NYC in the future. Also, for anyone else who might be looking for it on an upcoming trip, the High Line is above 10th and 11th Avenues., with stairs/elevators at Gansevoort Street 14th Street (elevator access) West 16th Street (elevator access) West 18th Street West 20th Street 23rd Street West 26th Street West 28th Street West 30th Street (elevator access)

I love the High Line.

My friend was traveling in Europe and took only old tattered underwear. After he wore a pair he would throw it away so there would be more room in his small amount of luggage to pack souvenirs.

Hmm, not sure unless he wore them until they dissolved.

Go to the Niagara on the Lake area - not too far and lots of restaurants

you need to get away from the tourist traps and get out of the falls area and ito the real towns on both sidesof the border to find decent restaurants.

leaving PDX was pretty easy, as always. I was dreading the return thru LaGuardia. but - wow. The line was about nothing. The worst part was getting them to check ID (that was the longest line), then going thru the security screening was a piece of cake. So easy. So happy I didn't have to 'opt out' (because we didn't get led to the machines). Will be happy when ALL those machines are gone.

Seems like every website has their opinion about Caribe locales for summer vaca. Trying to plan a vaca for June. Looking at DomRep, Costa Rica, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico. Any opinions on each with relation to safety, snorkeling, adventure, good beaches. Two adults and two 20 something daughters.

Dominican Republic is cheaper, and if you stay at an all-inclusive, very safe and beaches are nice. Costa Rica better for outdoor adventures. Puerto Rico cheaper to get to, but hotels more expensive. Have you looked into Cozumel/Cancun? They offer good snorkeling, nice beaches and are generally safe. 

I'm originally from NY, so I'm already planning another trip. Just wanted to warn people that they are really for tourists, not for transportation. Although I *was* shocked to see so many of them out there! totally different New York City from when I grew up. Things are much cleaner, people seem even pleasant. Sometimes ruins the whole 'NY' thing. But clearly my kids didn't grow up there - they were just meandering down the sidewalks, etc, not getting out of people's ways, etc, they have a lot to learn re: walking in Manhattan!!! I think we were just too far north to find the high line, we didn't have a lot of time, we had to get back to the hotel and get to the airport.

Oh no, time is out. But Earth Day continues. So go hug the  planet.

Today's winner is the chatter who donates her literature to flight crewmembers. That idea wins on so many levels. Please email me your address at andrea.sachs@washpost.com.


Have a great week!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
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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