Talk about Travel

Apr 29, 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.

Good afternoon, travelers! Thanks for being here today. We had a nice package of domestic stories this weekend: Las Cruces, N.M.; the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia; and, of course, Andrea's take on the new attractions in Virginia's historic triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Who has a favorite memory of visiting one of these parks? Or another historic site? Share them with us. The best answer will get the prize.

Now, without further ado...

I will be in New Orleans the second week of June for the very first time. I am debating on the need for a car rental. The first four days of the trip are work related, and I will be spending most the day in an office downtown. The plan plan is to stay Friday thru Sunday doing tourtist things. Do you think a car is necessary for such trip?

I find it very easy to get around NOLA without a car. Unless you're planning to take day trips outside the city, I'd go without.

Not a question but rather an affirmation...I travel for work probably quarterly and for vacation/leisure travel about the same. I also started travelling in the mid-1980s so I remember "the good ole days." I will absolutely add RouteHappy to my list of tools to have a tolerable to pleasurable travel experience. I typically pay for the "plus" seats just to be able to drop my tray and watch videos on my iPad. I concur with the analysts in the article -- it's not always about cost -- comfort, convenience (direct vs. 2 hops through the middle of nowhere) are sometimes bigger drivers. Thanks for the article!

You're very welcome. I wish Routehappy all the best, too. I can remember the good ol' days in the '80s and, ahem, the '70s, too. I'm not happy with what's become of the domestic airlines, and I hope Routehappy will change the way airlines do business.

My daughter is studying near Frankfurt for 4 weeks in July. She is leaving from the east coast (Boston or NYC). How can we get the cheapest RT airfare for her?

Of those two cities, New York will be cheaper, and most likely JFK will be cheapest. Connecting flights will save a couple of hundred. But expect to pay about $1,100-$1,200 round trip for flights in July. 

Armenia is an old country with a long and interesting history and a vibrant culture. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, and later as the wife of an Armenian citizen, I lived there for close to four years. Here are some quick facts about Armenia: --Armenia is known as the first Christian country due to King Tiridates made Christianity the state religion in 301 A.D. I arrived in Armenia the year after they celebrated the 1700th anniversary as a Christian nation. 1700 years people! There are many many beautiful (whole and ruined) Armenian monasteries throughout Armenia and Artsakh. My favorite is the Geghard Complex that was largely built into a mountainside. One of the chapels has wonderful accoustics for singing. --For the birdlovers, 359 species of birds either live or migrate through Armenia. Several tour companies do special birding tours in Armenia. My favorite are the storks that make large nests on rooftops and other structures. Armenians consider it great luck to have a stork nest on a home. And funnily enough, Armenians consider it lucky to have a bird poop on you! --Armenian hospitality is second to none. In the towns and villages, it's common occurrence for an Armenian to invite a complete stranger in for surj (coffee) and sweets and to chat. And if you're invited for a meal, you're most likely to leave th Armenian's home stuffed to the gills! --There are many famous Armenian artists and musicians, including Aram Khachaturian, composer of Sabre Dance (search on YouTube you'll recognize it as soon as it starts); Sergei Parajanov, an avantgarde filmmaker and artist whose home has been turned into a museum in Yerevan; Martiros Saryan, a painter (heavily influenced by Gauguin and Matisse), whose home is now also a museum. In addition, the capital city of Yerevan has a lot to offer from current artists and musicians with concerts, the world class glass collection of Paul Cafesjian at the Cascades Complex, and productions at the Yerevan Opera House. Armenia is truly blossoming again after several long decades of disrepair and neglect following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a devastating earthquake in 1988, and a war with neighboring Azerbaijan. English is fast becoming the second language (where it used to be Russian) and so there are many opportunities for travel throughout the country even if you don't know Armenian. I highly recommend travel to Armenia and checking out all the amazing things it has to offer, from scenery (mountains and high dessert), to the arts, to architecture, and most importantly the wonderful people you'll meet. Colleen P.S. Feel free to contact me at moonwoman1977 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Whew! Thanks for the comprehensive report!

I am going on a rather last minute trip to India with a friend. We'll be in Delhi, Jaipur and Udaipur. My question, is since this is last minute, what vaccines are really necessary for the trip? I'll definitely be doing malaria pills but any others?

The CDC's Yellow Book is invaluable for this kind of information. Here's the section on India.

Hi - my daughter just got engaged - yay! In an effort to keep the wedding small (and hopefully, affordable), she is thinking about a destination wedding. She's not getting married until 2014 - and no specific time of year (whatever is best for the destination place). What are some of the best places to wed? And what are some of the worst? And we all have passports. Thanks!

If, by small, you mean immediate families, and everyone is on board, I'll help you plan. If not, please don't do it. I've been to a couple of these type weddings for family members, and they are an incredible imposition and expense. Yes, I realize no one is forced to attend a wedding, but difficult to say no to a favorite niece or nephew. Now that I've gone off on something you never asked about, are you thinking Caribbean all-inclusive or ski resort in Colorado? Both could be considered destination wedding sites, although we tend to think first of the Caribbean. Many, many tropical resorts on just about every island cater to wedding groups -- I have received nearly 100 press releases about destination wedding offerings in the last year. I would start by subscribing to a magazine, such as Destination Weddings & Honeymoons,  so you can get an idea of what your price point will cover. And we'll ask chatters here if they have any experiences to share.   

Posting early due to work. Hi guys, I posted questions back in January about Turkish Airlines and going to Istanbul, Turkey. I just returned and had a fantastic trip. You guys were right about Turkish Airlines, even Economy was way above the standards of American carriers with good meals, ample legroom, amenity kits(one of mine was in a pencil tin) and even slippers. Turkey itself was fabulous though crowded due to the Tulip Festival. So much architecture and history-my favorite being the Chora Church intertwined with the daily grind of 15 million inhabitants and countless touts and tourists. I can recommend the Hotel Erboy in Sirecki for basic rooms with 4 star service and close to all attractions. For a more modern side to Istanbul, I would ferry over to Kadikoy and shop at the far less touristy market there which caters more to locals. A second tip would be to get out of Istanbul for a couple days. We went to Selcuk/Ephesus and it was amazing the friendliness of the small market town. It's a shame that many Americans are still fearful of Turkey because of it's "Muslim-ness". It has great food, gorgeous weather and coastline along the Aegean Sea and is far cheaper than even Spain. In fact we saw many Germans and British plus Middle Eastern travels but far fewer Americans. It was also quite a contrast watch CNN coverage of the Boston bombings and Islam while traveling around Turkey seeing Muslims living ordinary lives. But thanks again for the tips and encouragement.

Another stellar report from a reader. We appreciate it when you all write back. Thanks!

Any thoughts on tipping hotel shuttle drivers? I'm never sure if you're supposed to do it or not. What if they don't handle your suitcases? Thanks!

I typically give the driver a dollar or two, even if they don't help me with my bags.  A lot of these travel industry jobs are tips-based, such as bellhops and shuttle drivers.

Consumer Reports also suggests $1 to $2 per person and recommends tipping the rental car shuttle drivers, too.

I just read your article about Routehappy and am very excited about it. I have some trips planned in the next few months and this site will definitely help me take them in more comfort!

You're welcome. I hope this will be the first of many sites that help people understand that all airline seats aren't created equally.

Hello! I am feeling the desperate need for a getaway, and after browsing your archives and reading about the GAP trial -- I think I may have found what I'm looking for. I even have a friend in Pittsburgh to visit on the other end! My question is this - I'm a single, 28 year old female. Do you think the trail is safe to bike alone? My thought is that it might be fairly popular trip in the summer months, and popular means crowds, and crowds (to me) mean fairly safe. But I'd love your thoughts or the thoughts of anyone reading who has biked this. (I'd plan to stay in hostels/b&bs, not camp, which I don't think I'd feel safe doing alone.) (I am also a fairly strong biker and have no concerns about being stranded with a flat or anything like that. And of course I'd carry a cell phone.)

My sense is that it's a very safe trail, because it runs alongside a lot of towns and populated places, not so much isolated rural areas. I think it does get quite a bit of traffic in the summer months, as you suggest, though I don't know whether it's crowds, actually. Let's ask the chatters. Has anyone biked the trail? What are your thoughts?

Hello, I always opt out of the new scanner machines. I am an electrical engineer with plenty of experience and don't believe the machines were properly tested to determine their impact. As long as TSA makes opting out an option, I will take it. What is the best way to handle when TSA agents insist the machines cause no problems? I don't want to hear it. On Saturday, I flew out of Dulles and had a secondary screening and the explosion manager evaluate my things (apparently I had walked on freshly fertilized grass with my shoes that day). I mentioned to the security manager that when someone opts out, the TSA agent shouldn't offer commentary on the safety of the machines. The security manager stated that the TSA agents are trained to say that. I live in Denver and they never make a comment about opting out to anyone there that I have ever heard.

Like you, I always opt out of the machines. Although I'm not an electrical engineer, I'm afraid the scanners haven't been adequately tested. To make matters worse, Denver is a problematic airport for security. I had a recent experience at the TSA screening area, which I shared on by consumer advocacy site, that made me very uncomfortable. But to answer your question: No one can force you to walk through the scanner. You should be polite but persistent when you opt out. When a TSA agent tries to persuade you to walk through, just say, "I would prefer not."

We all often make mention of political commentators and pundits and regulators and even movie critics and car columnists and restaurant critics who seem co-opted by the very entities they are supposed to be objective about. How much as travel writers are you torqued and unduly influenced by the very industry you are supposed to be informing us about?

Well, I am actually a travel agent. Does that mean I've been coopted?

Seriously, we are all journalists first, and we travel independently and, when possible, anonymously. We want the real traveler's perspective. For the most part, this doesn't endear us to the industry, believe me. We do get pitched stories by PR reps who work for and in the industry, so that means we have to work hard to also pay attention to other sources of travel information -- our own observations, the travel thoughts and plans and strategies of friends and family and colleagues, and more.

Contrary to currently popular opinion, a wedding isn't "about the bride." It's about the guests. So when you say that a destination wedding is affordable, you mean that the food and booze will cost less in Jamaica-Mon than in Jamaica, NY. I guess all your guests already live there, then?

Yeah, we'd gone a long time without this coming up!

Hi, thanks for taking my question. We (2 adults, 2 kids ages 8 and 5) have to be in Chiang Mai for 2 - 3 weeks in December for my husband's job. Any suggestions on a place to stay? thanks!

Here's a story we had on the region the other year. And you can finding lodging recommendations in the accompanying sidebar.

Is there any chance flights to Montreal from BWI will go below $400 for July 2013 travel? I feel like I've missed my window for a good rate.

You may be able to do better out of Washington Dulles on Porter Airlines, which offers connecting service to Monteal through Toronto. 

Hawaii travel from the east coast. You either fly to eastern/ central hubs and take direct flights or you fly to west coast cities. With routing to Hawaii there usually are 2 travel windows...morning departure and get in around 11am-2pm....or evening departure and get in after 8pm. With returns from Hawaii you usually have 2 windows...late morning/early afternoon departure or the red eye to the west coast.

Thanks!

We are planning flights for a wedding and a family member wants to wait until a Tuesday night to book tickets b/c that is when the prices are the cheapest. Is this at all accurate?

I've also seen research that suggests Tuesday is historically the best day to book an airfare, but I wouldn't wait until Tuesday to buy a ticket. Thing is, airfares are so mercurial and inventory is so limited that the the tickets on the flight you want may be cheaper today than they are tomorrow. Worse, they may not be available to you. There's simply no way to know. If you see a price you can afford now, I would book it and be done with it.

We will be travelling to Indonesia in July. Do we need air conditioning in our accomodations? I assume we will be out and about during most of the day. Also, how bad are the mosquitos in Ubud and on Lombok?

Indonesia is hot and humid. I remember sweltering in Bali, and it was wintertime! If you are sensitive to heat, I would recommend A/C. If not, then you can stay cool at the night with an overhead fan and the evening sea breeze.

I don't remember swatting away hordes of mosquitos, or even using repellent. But you do need to protect yourself agaisnt malaria and dengue. According to the CDC's overview of malaria in Indo: Rural areas of Kalimantan (Borneo), Nusa Tenggara Barat (includes the island of Lombok), Sulawesi, and Sumatra. All areas of eastern Indonesia (provinces of Irian Jaya Barat, Maluku, Maluku Utara, Nusa Tenggara Timur, and Papua Indonesia). None in Jakarta or resort areas of Bali and Java. Low transmission in rural areas of Java.

De

Any ideas on things to do in and around OK City in July? I'm going for a conference but will have a lot of free time. I tend to prefer hiking and outdoorsy stuff but fear that the weather will be too unpleasant for that. Museums would be OK too. The OK City memorial is already on my list.

Oklahoma City weather is lovely in July -- between 6 and 9 a.m. So do your hiking and outdoorsy stuff then! Or you could head indoors but still get some exercise by going to the Rocktown Climbing Gym. Looks fun.

You could certainly occupy your time in the Bricktown area, or at the Museum of Art, or the Cowboy/Western Heritage Museum. But if it were me, I'd head to  the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory and also check out the skeletons at the Museum of Oteology.

Chatters, what say you?

And, hey, here's our Impulsive Traveler on Oklahoma City from the other year.

Our anniversary is coming up and we can't decide where to go! Because we don't want to waste a lot of time travelling, we're looking for a long weekend (4-5 days) somewhere in the U.S., warm, with fancy accomodations, a great spa and fantastic pools or beaches. Any recommendations?

Seems like the Breakers will meet your every need.

We were in Williamsburg a few years ago after a long absence. The Woodlands was a good place to stay. At one of its restaurants, however, the AC was so cold we had to eat outside. Jamestown was really good; it took an entire day. We always allow several days for Williamsburg in order not to be rushed. We were in New Orleans in December without a car and used taxis/streetcar to get around. Except for the fact that the cabs are SUVs which were difficult for me with a bad knee, we had no problem and it was cheaper than a car rental. Courtyard, a block from Canal adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton, had changed to suites (formerly Embassy, I think) was great; an IHOP was nearby on Canal since the Ritz was only coffee shop at the hotel. Tours with Isabel was great. Don't miss the WWII Musuem--allow most of the day.

Hi there, I was wondering if I could get your opinion about a recent snafu with an airline (sorry for the long story): A few months ago, I was at Incheon Airport, about to board my return flight (on Singapore Airlines) to the States. There happened to be a baggage check at the gate, and the security officer ended up confiscating a small (under 100 mL) bottle of lotion from my bag. The security officer and her supervisor both told me it wasn't allowed because there was no label. I found this incredibly strange since I had flown with that bottle both domestically and internationally numerous times and never had a problem. There wasn't a sign anywhere about this supposed rule. I've checked Singapore Airlines's website, and there is no indication anywhere that labels are required on bottles. An email to customer service returned no helpful response or effort on their part to add it to their website. Has anyone else encountered anything similar? Should I have done anything differently to challenge the security officer? Thanks!

I hadn't heard of the label requirement either until I looked it up. Singapore Air has a "professional" label requirement that might have been interpreted in the way you describe. I'm not sure what, if anything, that rule does to increase security.

When I was 13 and my family was visiting an aunt and uncle in Jacksonville, FL it was decided that we would take a day trip and rent a boat and explore the Ofekenokee Swamp park (my aunt and I voted for a day at the lovely waterfront mall in Jacksonville, but we were out-voted by the more adventurous members of our family). As a northern girl, I already had a fear of alligators which grew considerably during our time at the swamp. We rented a small and rather tippy motorboat, which my uncle made more tippy by standing up to get better wildlife pictures. Also the motor was continuously getting clogged with water plants and stalling out on us. While our boat was never actually attacked by alligators, I spent the day in complete fear as they were everywhere. I blame my current irrational fear of alligators (last time I was visiting family in Florida I ran and hid from a little 2 footer by a canal in Lake County) to that day in the Okefenokee. I am sure there were many beautiful things to see there, but my family decided the most fun thing to point out was the potentially menacing alligators. Good times.

Don't have one. Nephew got married on a Carnival cruise and the wedding lasted just a few hours but we had to be at sea for several days--not the Triumph-- and the cost was high; not a cruise we would have taken.

Please don't do it. Oftentimes, it uses up a great deal of people's vacation time to fly to a place they would not want to go on vacation. And it is not cheaper, for you and certainly not for the guests. If you want cheap think having it in a National Park or a backyard barbecue where you spend the money on things that matter, like food and drink, rather than silly things no one will care about like flowers and chair decorations.

I've been to most of the 50 U.S. States and appreciate our relatively-young history, such as the Virginia locations you mention. It's when I travel iternationally that I'm most impressed with historic sites, such as Pompei, the Roman Forum, Chichin Itza, Stonehenge. The incredible feats of engineering, manual labor, ingenuity and simplicity vs. detail are amazing.

Any idea how long it takes for a weekly winner to receive their prize? My story was picked a couple of months ago (about visiting St. Petersburg, Russia, after seeing the movie "White Nights") and I e-mailed my name, address, etc as instructed, but nothing ever came. Is it still in the mail?

Oh, dear. Sometimes things do fall through the cracks. That's probably what happened to you. Send me your contact info again. smardzz@washpost.com.  We promise to send something off right away!

When I was in 5th grade I went to Williamsburg with my mom, grandmother, aunt and cousin on a summer vacation from Texas. I loved it so much that we went back for several summers. My great experience made me want to attend the College of William and Mary and lucky for me, I was able to do so. After graduation I moved to Richmond, still live here, and go to Williamsburg frequently. Our family has annual passes and my teen daughter is a big fan. I admore CW's commitment to helping us learn about the past and how it informs our present and future. They've done a great job, especially recently, with their street theater and focus on areas of colonial history that were previously ignored.

Wow, talk about a life-changing visit!

I flew out of Chicago's O'Hare airport recently and TSA pulled me aside to check the hem of my skirt and my ankles (I kid you not), which were all suspicious. Apparently my saline breast implant, the implant port, and my chemo port were all unremarkable because they attracted no attention. So puzzling.

That's very odd. Who do they think they are, the fashion police?

Routehappy is hardly a "new" idea -- Seatguru.com has covered that for years! But, will be interesting to see if the competition will lead to improvements in both websites.

Good point. I had a lengthy discussion about Seatguru with the folks at Routehappy when I researched the story. They felt Seatguru wasn't really a competitor, since it offered the ability to review seats but didn't really integrate the ability to book seats to the same extent as Routehappy.

I'm flying through Dubai en route to and from Nairobi in a few weeks, and I will have a few hours there between flights. Are there any recommended in-airport activities or restaurants? I'm a fit 48yo male who will be traveling alone.

With only a few hours, I would not recommend wandering outside the airport. If you had, say, five or more hours, then I would suggest leaving; anything less, stay put. (If you did have loads of time, you could take a tour with the Big Bus Company. You can pick it up at Deira City Centre.)

However, you can easily fill your downtime at the modern, cutting-edge airport: Take a nap in a snoozecube; chill out in a Quiet Lounge; grab a meal and a  workout/steam/spa/jacuzzi at the Dubai International Hotel;  shop at the mall-size duty-free emporium; and fill your belly with Indian, Lebanese, French, Chinese food or Mongolian barbecue. Or grab a Guinness at the Irish pub and watch the people traffic flow by.

I plan on completing my bucket list item of visiting every state by spending 10 days in Oregon and Washington state. In early July we are flying into San Francisco, renting a car and driving up to Seattle and back. What are the must sees in that part of the country? We prefer the mountains, coast line and smaller towns to big cities but will probably spend some time in Seattle and Portland.

Andrea's story on the Oregon coast will give you a ton of ideas. In Washington, you might like Port Angeles and the San Juan Islands, recently named a national monument.

If you're thinking of a foreign country, check into whether a wedding there would be permitted if the spouses aren't citizens of that nation, or if the service is performed whether it would be recognized by the US (or Canada, or wherever you are). Limiting a destination wedding to your own country might be the simplest course.

Yes, it is simpler to get married closer to home. But most destination wedding venues will take you through the process of getting the right documents in order to get married fairly simply in their country. 

I'm having trouble getting Routehappy to work on my computer. I was using Mozilla Firefox, if that makes any difference.

Try switching browsers if you can. Routehappy's servers may also be overworked -- after all, this is the site's first real workday.

Didn't there used to be a feature similar to the new feature in the travel section, where people can send in information about their vacation? Your vacation in lights or something?

Yes, it was called Your Vacation in Lights. We've rebranded! And re-formatted. :-)

Sorry - I meant to say that we are leaving from JFK!!!

Now you tell me. There appear to be more stay-and-park options at JFK. Look at Best Western's Sleep and Fly package, with rates starting at about $219 a night. 

I recommend the Cowboy Hall of Fame. I didn't find it nearly as 'sterile' as the article said. I love the saloon with the silver dollars in the floor. And John Wayne donated his entire kachina collection to the museum, worth looking at all by itself. Be sure to visit all of the buildings; the End of the Trail sculpture has its own room.

of visiting historic sites were school field trips. I grew up outside Boston. We used to joke that there were two cemetaries on the Freedom Trail so you could visit one and die in the other. It always seemed to be the hottest day in June (and perhaps all summer) during those field trips. And Sturbridge Village was also a favorite. For some reason the barrel maker was really popular. Not quite as popular as the bakery, but close.

My parents took me on my first trip to Florida over my 4th birthday. We drove down from Maryland, and stopped at Okefenokee Swamp on the way down. My dad had been joking with me the entire way that he was going to feed me to the alligators. I just laughed it off... until we got to one of the alligator pens and he picked me up and dangled me over it! I started screaming and laughing, and he shook me a few times (come and get it!!! 4-year-old girl!) before laughing and putting me back down. (For those who are going to jump to child abuse - we were actually quite far away from any alligators in the pen, so there was no chance of my getting bitten). To this day that is a really funny memory that I share with my dad.

Hi, I am planning a trip to the Caribbean this summer. We are open to the location but are really looking for the right fit for us. Specifically, we are looking for an upscale resort where we can walk right out on the beach from our room. I have stayed at places like Cap Juluca and Galley Bay before, and we are looking for a resort at that level. If you have any suggestions on places to go I would appreciate it. Thank you!!

Jumby Bay, a Rosewood property  in Antigua;  Anse Chastanet on St. Lucia; and Eden Rock in Punta Cana, DR come to mind. Anyone have other ideas? 

My husband and I are in the middle of a stressful move and I'm dreaming about a relaxing long weekend away when it's all over. We'd like to find a beach location, 2-3 hr direct flight from DCA where we won't need a car when we get there. We don't have passports, so US only please. Any suggestions?

Miami seems like a given. Plenty of airline options there. Or how about the Fort Myers/Sanibel area? They have some public transportation that might make your car-free trip possible. US Airways and AirTran fly nonstop to Fort Myers.

We're a group of 6 thirty-something college friends who want to reunite for a girls weekend this summer, from August 9th to 11th. We've picked the Baltimore area because it's the easiest for all of us to get to, but we are clueless about where to stay! It's not too rowdy a group (all of us are moms or moms-to-be), so it doesn't have to be near a big nightlife. But fun nearby activities (and a pool) are a plus. Can you recommend any great hotels in the Inner Harbor or any guest houses further outside the city? Our budget is about $150 to $225 per night for hotels or a bit more for a guest house that has a kitchen where we can eat-in. Thanks for your help!

You might enjoy the Hotel Brexton, where Wallis Warfield Simpson once lived. There's also the Fairfield Inn and Suites downtown. The Hotel Monaco looks classy, but I'm not sure of their rates and their online reservation system appears to be out of whack at the moment. Chatters, where else?

So I have just given two weeks notice at my job and have a new job lined up. I have set up a week off between the two; however, I am have thoughts as to what to do any good ideas? I was thinking anything from 3 to 6 days? Thoughts?

Go to Austin.

Or Charleston.

Or New Orleans.

Or San Francisco.

Or LA.

Chicago?

I know -- New York!

Hey, how bout Philly?

Seattle?

Or maybe Portland, Ore.

No, Portland, Maine.

Growing up in Maryland, we naturally made the family trip to Williamsburg one summer (early 1970s) and have the requisite photo of us children sitting on a cannon. I loved that trip. Fast forward to 2009, two Icelandic friends are coming to visit. Being unexpectedly laid off, I find myself with extra time and we plan a trip to Mount Vernon, Charlottesville/Monticello, and Williamsburg. One of the Icelanders had studied history at university and was fascinated by American Revolutionary War history. We had a blast and he was very, very happy. We even managed to throw in a quick trip to Jamestown on the way home. Next time, I've promised that we will tour some historically-significant Civil War sights/sites.

I visited Spain (Barcelona and Catalonia) about ten years ago. I now want to plan a return trip this fall. I plan to include Madrid and maybe a jaunt south and/or a few days in Barcelona. How has Spain's shrinking economy and sky high unemployment affected tourism? Is there anything I should be mindful of as I plan my trip such as reduced schedules for museums or transit? Strikes? Shops and business closing?

Like any country suffering economically, Spain is counting on tourism to help boost its condition and help alleviate its woes. It's still the fourth most-visited country in the world, and businesses are anxious to keep it that way. If anything, you'll be reaping the benefits of the economic crunch, which has made it cheaper to travel there. Yes, businesses and shops have closed, but not so many that it will affect you adversely. There's still plenty to see and do, lots of places to stay, eat and shop, and they'll be welcoming you with open arms. The problems you may run into are the same ones that would have been there even before the recession -- early afternoon siesta closings, for instance, or a lack of tourist infrastructure in parts of the country that remain very tradition-bound. But it doesn't sound as though you'll be going to those regions, so really, you have nothing to worry about. Chatters, what say you? 

After being forced to cancel our vacation due to derecho induced damage (hole in roof!) last year, we now have to book a flight on Airtran to somewhere by the end of May. We can travel later in the year but want it to be a direct flight. Where should we go and when? We'll be taking the kids (ages 8-14) and are open to going anywhere Airtran goes.

AirTran flies nonstop to Orlando out of both DCA and BWI. I'm not sure what kids wouldn't enjoy Disney World! You can also take it nonstop to Boston out of BWI. That's a fun city too.

The other side of the coin is that depending where and when you plan the affair, some people will use it as a vacation so you could end up with more people than originally anticipated. Plus attendance is generally considered the gift for the couple, so if they don't need or want anything, then good for them. :)

I don't think attendance is considered the gift. Maybe you'll give a smaller gift, but I wouldn't feel comfortable giving nothing. People do use it as a vacation, but would it be the place they would choose on their own? 

My husband and I are planning a trip to St. Lucia in late October. Because it's hurricane season, I want to purchase trip insurance in case we need to cancel. Do you have a recommendation for a specific company or line of insurance that is particularly good about giving a refund if you have to cancel "for any reason"? If the NWS has a hurricane headed at St. Lucia for when we are planning to go, I'd rather cancel and reschedule than have to go down and sit through horrible weather, or worse, an evacuation. (And I am going to check insuremytrip.com but just wanted to see if there was first hand knowledge or a recommendation.) Thank you so much!

You're on the right track. I can't make any specific insurance recommendations unless I know more about you, but I would be happy to email you an unedited chapter about travel insurance from my upcoming book. Just send me an email. Remember, with most cancel for any reason policies, you only get a percentage of your trip back, not the whole cost.

At the ripe old age of thirty, I just learned to ride a bike in Everglades National Park. Between the commission renting really stable bikes (and helmets!) and the alligators crawling around which are a good inducement not to fall, my recent trip to a Florida National Park was a huge success!

We have a flight leaving from LaGuardia at 9:00 am (next Feb.). What would be the best way to get up there? Flights from BWI are $400-$500 (WOW!). Amtrak is much cheaper but would arrive at Penn Station around 1:00 am that morning. Is Penn even safe at that hour? Suggestions to then get to LaGuardia from Penn? Other thoughts? Thanks

I'd probably drive up there the day before and stay overnight. The Comfort Inn LaGuardia, for example, has rooms starting at about $110. Could not find a hotel that has a stay-and-park package, but there are long-term parking options, such as Airpark, that charge $15 to $20 a day for parking. 

What qualifies as a destination wedding? My husband and I got married in Northern Virginia because that's where we grew up. Everyone (including us) had to travel (we lived in the Midwest, his family was in New England, mine out west, although my parents were in NoVa). Nobody complained about it. But now (15 years later) I'm wondering if we were really inconsiderate.

A destination wedding means the ceremony & reception are being held in a place where no one lives or grew up. Rest assured, yours would not be considered a destination wedding, and you were not being inconsiderate. 

When I was a kid growing up in SE PA we used to take a lot of field trips to local historic sites. The Liberty Bell Shrine in Allentown is very interesting. They hid the LB there during the war. But I agree that our young sites really can't compare to those in other places. My trip to Myanmar a couple of years ago took me to lots of amazing historic places. Bagan with it's plain full of 1000 year old temples is really stupendous. Angkor and the nearby sites are also pretty jaw-dropping for another example.

I missed last week's chat, but would like to give a little more information for the question about letting teens experience Disney on their own. Been there and done that! No matter what, set firm ground rules that include respecting park rules, time and places to meet and regular check ins plus consequences for not following the rules. Staying on property makes it easier and less stressful for all because of Disney's transportation, that way they can get back to the hotel by themselves if necessary. There's nothing worse than being ready to leave and the teens have park-hopped and its taking longer than expected to get back to the park that Mom&Dad are experiencing. If you aren't on property then just let them enjoy the same park as you (just without you). If you are staying on property make sure you leave for the parks together; know which park their going to; give them a snack/food budget; meet for a meal (it IS a family vacation); require a text/call if they switch parks; and give them an occasional surprise call; and ask how the day went. I found staying on property and the meal plan (which also let me check where they ate) were great options to give the older ones (15-17) some freedom with boundaries. They weren't on their own everyday and I didn't let them go to the water parks without an adult, but we all had a great time without the heavy sighs that parents of teens and little ones have heard when no one is happy (I want to go to the petting zoo; no I want to go on the scariest ride in the park)

All good tips, thanks!

If you want to go back to Anguilla and just not Cap Jaluca, check out the Cuisinary Resort & Spa on Anguilla. It was absolutely beautiful with the best service I've ever experienced. Very laid back with lots of former Cap Jaluca patrons.

United and USAirways have increased their change fees to $200, which is what, maybe 15 times their cost (they get to resell the original seat and sell the new flight for watever they want)? I think it is time fliers take on the airlines. I suggest starting with the ridiculousness of airlines thinking tey can cancel the return flight part of your ticket if you do not take the outbound flight you paid for. If i hire cleaners to cleanmy house from 9am-noon and they call and tell them to come only from 10am-noon-for the same price- they cannot say, no, we're not going to come at all, AND we are going to keep your money AND we are going to get another paying client for that time. How can we take on the airlines? Contact DOT? Contact our representatives (if we have them)? Sue airlines in small claims court?

I share your disappointment. The $200 change fee is so over the top, because it negates the value of most discounted tickets. US Airways and United might as well have said these tickets are nonrefundable and non-changeable. Yet DOT isn't standing in their way. I'm going to write something about what we can do in a future Navigator column. In the meantime, my best advice is to vote with your wallet: book tickets on airlines that have more reasonable change policies for their tickets. But more soon!

I am taking my 17-year old granddaughter to New York at the end of May for 2 nights. You had suggestions in a previous Sunday edition about places to take a fashionista and we are going with some of those. I have a reservation at Hotel Mela - what do you think? Can you recommend some restaurants in that area that might have vegetarians options? Also what's on Broadway for a 17-year old? Lastly, any other suggestions of fairs or weekend events for the weekend of May 31? Thank you

I haven't stayed at the Mela, but it does look fashionable!

As for vegetarian dining, my favorite places aren't in/around Times Square, but they're worth a little taxi or subway ride: I highly recommend that you try to get into Dirt Candy in the Village. So much fun. There's also great vegan food at Pure Food and Wine in Union Square. And Candle Cafe (versions on the Upper East and West Sides) is usually a good bet.

On Broadway, what about Mathilda? That's what I want to see (and some would say I'm in essence a 17-year-old girl).

For fairs or weekend events, check out Time Out and Village Voice calendars. Always some good possibilities there.

We've been trying very hard to find a place to take a family vacation this August. We want to go to the mountains and rent a house/cabin on a lake. We'll need to be able to take our dog and have some activities for our 12 year old daughter. We would like to have the weekly rental be under $2000. We've begun to look at Smith Mountain Lake. My husband suggested it but neither of us have been there or know much about it. Do you know what there is to do there? Is there somewhere else we should be looking?

Smith Mountain Lake is lovely if you like boating and fishing. It's nearly four hours from here, and depending where you are on the lake, you may feel somewhat isolated from restaurants, stores and things to do. You might be better off heading to Deep Creek lake in Western Maryland, where Wisp Resort is located. 

My daughter is getting married in July to a fine young man. We are from the east, his family is from New Jersey, so they decide to get married where they live in California. I've made no secret that I think it's inconsiderate toward family and friends, of which maybe 25 of ours will be attending. Our immediate family - 5 plane tickets to LAX, renting a house for a week, time away from work, and so on and so on. So our deal is you're getting $XXX dollars, which will include all of those costs. Anything over that, on you, and if nobody can make it, you can explain it. "Destination weddings" are fine if you don't have other bills to pay.

I'm not sure I agree with you on this. They at least live in California. They're not asking everyone to travel to a place where no one has connections. If  they expect you to pay for the wedding, that's another issue, as you should have some input. I don't want to go all Carolyn Hax on you here, but you may just have to go with the flow. My daughter lives in Los Angeles, and when/if she gets married, it may very well be there. As long as I like the guy, I'm OK with that!  

I agree -- it's not a destination wedding, IMHO, if it's in the couple's own place of residence!

Wow - thanks for all the great information everyone! Seems like everyone is leaning towards not doing it. Good info to have. Just to clarify - it was my daughter's idea that they could combine wedding with honeymoon, and those attending (BFF and immediate family) could then vacation there, too. No cruises (not after recent horror stories). Would a small very casual reception at a later date for those that could not attend the actual wedding make those that could not attend happy? Or is that considered in bad form?

As I said to an earlier poster, would that be where people would choose to vacation on their own? I know it's much cheaper for the wedding couple. Many resorts will comp the couple if X-number of rooms are booked by others. And the reception itself is often very cheap. I think it would be a great idea to have a reception later on for those who can't come. 

Sandy Lane in Barbados?

Missed the 2pm, but hope you can guide me. I am celebrating a "big" birthday in July and would like to take my two adult daughters to Switzerland for a week to celebrate. Ideally you could suggest a charming city and hotel as our base, so no packing/unpacking all week. But would like to take side day trips. I think I will have enough miles for 3 First Class Tickets (fingers crossed). Any suggestions, guidance you could give me would be so appreciated. Thank you.

Everything's subjective, but my favorite city in Switzerland is Montreux. You could stay there (just don't go during the Jazz Festival, July 5-20), and take day trips to Lausanne (14 miles away), Geneva (40 miles), Gstaad (18 miles) and Chamonix (35 miles). Outside Montreux there is also the Chateau de Chillon, the island castle Byron wrote about in "The Prisoner of Chillon." Don't miss it. Chatters, other thoughts?

Such a wonderful park; they have done a fabulous job with it. We spent a very enjoyable day there a few years ago--my favorite exhibit was watching the glassmaker. My mother was an archaeologist and used to go on digs at Jamestown; she really enjoyed working down there and being able to contribute to our knowledge of the area and its inhabitants.

I was visiting the Alamo with a group of friends, including a woman from New England. We were looking at the display of the 6 flags that flew over Texas. She said "I recognize 5 of them, what's THAT one?" and pointed to the Lone Star flag. The room went dead silent!

The Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota is fantastic. Nice pool onsite, shuttle to their beach club property, and walking distance to many restaurants, theater, etc.

Chris, What is your take on the BBB? I saw that United Airlines gets and A+ from them and I doubt there are too many passengers who'd see UA as an A+ airline. And Expedia also gets an A+ though there are 1200+ complaints about them and BBB says it identified patterns of long waits on hold and hotels not delivering what Expedia promised.

The BBB can be a good resource for evaluating smaller businesses. But like you, I find it highly unlikely that anyone would give any domestic airline or online travel agency an A+. As much respect and admiration as I have for my friends at the BBB, I think those  grades give the BBB's critics, who claim the organization favors corporations in its reviews, more fodder.

Lucky me! I get to go to Vegas for the first time!! The event I'm attending will be at the Venetian, so I'm staying there for 2 days. I'm also taking an extra day-and-a-half before flying home in order to actually see/do some sightseeing & take it all in. I need to make a hotel reservation for that additional night. Would you recommend staying at the Venetian one more night, or moving somewhere else to experience something different? If somewhere else, what hotel would you recommend? I'd also appreciate what you'd recommend for a first-timer to do during that day-and-a-half (and with whatever down time I can carve out). If it matters, I'm a female who will be traveling alone. Thanks!

The Venetian is amazing, but I would suggest spreading your wings and flying over to another theme hotel. Bellagio is divine, but for true kitsch, you need to experience Luxor, Mirage, Stratosphere and its ilk. Just be careful of the seedier places; if the rate is $50 or under, that's a sign! I also like the Palms, though it is off the Strip and not as convenient to the main attractions.

You don't really need to plan in advance.  You will stumble over attractions, such as the secret garden and dolphin habitat at Mirage; the Mob experience at Tropicana; the CBS TV city research center at MGM (you play TV critic and rate new shows);  the thrill rides at Circus Circus; the fine art gallery at Bellagio; etc. Also on the Strip, the  half-price ticket outlet: During my last visit, I snagged half-price tixs to see David Copperfield and was never the same afterward.

I had a small (45 ppl) desintation wedding last year in Tulum, Mexico ( which was affordable for all and awesome). I totally understand that these weddings can be a pain for people to go to. However, if your family supports it and your close friends do as well, go for it. Anyone else, they just don't have to come - no feelings hurt. I would just keep in mind to find a location that is easy and affordable to get to and is interesting and fun. (e.g. no all-inclusive resorts)

We've hit a nerve on this one. I have yet to meet anyone who has had a destination wedding think it was a bad idea. It does work well for the bride and groom, as they can combine honeymoon with wedding while saving money.  As for all-inclusive vs. not, it can be cheaper for guests, depending on how much they drink and eat,  to do an all-inclusive. 

A follow up to the point from the engineer who opts out of the scanners. I have several friends who routinely opt out of the scanners. The disturbing thing about it, now that I thing about it, is that everyone that I know that opts out is either a scientist, in the defense industry, or in the intelligence industry.

Go down to Norman. Great art museum on OU's campus. Go for boat ride in Bricktown. At Bricktown area, go to area behind Bass Pro, the locals will give directions, there's new sculpture depicting the land rush. It's impressive. State Museum of Natural History in OKC is good. Plenty of places to eat but be aware they go for big plates. OKC is supposed to have more eating places per person than anywhere in the U.S. We have people in the city so we're there every year or two.

Lived there and did it many time. Just remember it's a long windy drive so plan accordingly. After about 4 or 5 hours you'll want to stop and regroup. It's not like driving on an interstate. Take it slow and enjoy the beautiful coastline and small towns. The little general stores have great food. Not like 7-11's, most like organic food heaven!

I'm taking Amtrak from DC to Chicago. I've never taken Amtrak on a trip that lasts more than 3 hours. What can I expect?

A long ride, but relaxing. Just be prepared: Bring substantial food, bottled water, toothbrush/toothpaste, facial wipes,  books, movies, your charger. Also remember to be patient in case of delays, and be open to meeting some interesting people (train people are different than plane people).

I'm looking for a one-night getaway mid-June with my 6 yo while my husband and other son have plans. His ideal interests would be beach, but I'm bumping into two night minimums. Work keeps us from making it a long weekend, and because of that I'm looking for close-ish to DC. Any ideas?

Hershey Park? Sesame Place? A 6-year-old would probably love either one.

Hi - you said Spain is the fourth most-visited country. What are the top three?

France, the U.S., and China. In that order.

It's not that the booze costs less, it's that you have fewer pesky guests to pay for. But since they are rellies and invited they will still give you a gift. Boom!

I can only hope that all the brides and grooms I've supported over the years don't feel this way. 

The only thing that makes a destination wedding inconsiderate is if you harangue a person to attend or snub them if they don't. It's your wedding; do as you please. But also realize that many people will not want to/be able to attend.

Sorry, can't agree with you. If you love someone, you want to be there to support them during this important occasion, even if it is costly and inconvenient. 

I have a flight to Alaska coming up soon, and while I was checking on another aspect of the flight on the Delta website, I noticed that there is a significant schedule change to both legs of my connecting flight. These legs are now in conflict with each other - so obviously the new flights/times wont work. I assume I just have to call the reservations line to work out a solution; but I'm surprised that they didn't even bother to send me an email about the change to the schedule ( I would have arrived at the airport 2.5 hrs late for the flight if I hadn't noticed). Is there any policy that deals with this issue, or do I just need to vigilantly check the airline website?

You should have been notified by your travel agent or the airline, if it was a direct booking. I don't know why you weren't. If you aren't placed on a flight that works with your schedule, you should be able to get a full refund.

My husband and I would love to climb Kilimanjaro, and are trying to find a reputable company to go through. Ideally, I'd like to tack on a few days of safari as well. Do you all have any suggestions for a company as well as a recommendation for time of year? Thanks in advance!

Steve Hendrix, who used to be in our beloved section, climbed Kilimanjaro in 2001 and used Shades of Africa,  a Tanzanian tour and safari company.


Can any chatters provide other options?

Yes, I don't think she would choose a place no one would want to go. And we are all fairly well traveled people - up for any place. Basically, we work too hard all year long, and it would force us to go on vacation. It would be a good thing, I think. Any excuse for a trip!

I've biked the C&O and first bit of GAP and would feel comfortable doing it by myself in the summer. There's lots of folks out there. I WOULD do the standard check in though (make sure someone knows when you're supposed to be in town "x", just in case). And book hotels in advance!

When my sisters and I were kids, my parents took us to practically ever restored house/village in New England. We loved them. Onne house in Sturbridge produced one of my favorite memories: My dad saying "Look, there's a canopy over the bed and a can a' pee under the bed."

Hehe.

My Dad had a work conference in Williamsburg back in the 70's, so my Mom, 2 older brothers & I went along. My Dad bought us tickets which had to be punched at each of the sights (wigmaker, blacksmith, etc). Well, after 1 day of sightseeing, my Mom had had enough! She somehow got someone to punch all of the holes in our tickets, and we spent our days lounging by the hotel pool. We all lied to my Dad and told him we'd learned a lot of history. He did figure it out after a couple of days and we all had a good laugh.

Hope I'm not too late here. For the DXB traveler, the airport is a very entertaining and well organized place. It's also huge, so plan accordingly so you don't miss your flight! Re: Chris' article on the TSA in Denver....wow wow wow. How come there isn't broader outrage (public, media, Congress) about this type of stuff? Maybe there is, and I'm missing it.

Thanks. You're right, there should be more outrage, and in some circles, there certainly is. I think most air travelers accept the TSA's actions, believing it makes them safer. But there's little evidence to support that some (or even most) of the TSA's screening methods actually increase aviation security in a meaningful way.

Yes, they were expecting me to pay for it. With two younger brothers in college. Their sky is the limit. They are getting a check which is, according to USAToday, in excess of the the average amount spent on a wedding including the engagement ring. Too bad for most of our faimilies, I guess.

Paging Carolyn Hax...

Submitting early! Leaving from MCI to CDG on Oct 1. Woukd like to transfer through Detroit using Air france/Delta, but all connections only allow 1 hr 5 min layovers. We woukd not normally want such a short time, but can't find anything else. And now sequestration delays are upon us. Your thoughts or will AF make it work as Tim Gunn says. Thanks writers!

I think you'll be fine. The sequester delays are over. Just do some homework before you go re: gates and distances. 

Why all the indignation about people you don't know and their decisions. I had a destination wedding and no one got all nuts about it. Some ppl could not come and I understood. It was what it was. But people make choices, and they might not match the ones you would make. Yeesh!

Thinking of going away for a short trip Wed - Sat to Sanibel Island....have you been there? Any suggestions? Will I be out of place alone? I have wanted to visit there but am interestedin more details.

I have not been to Sanibel in years, but I remember it being very quiet -- lots of  walks on the beach, ouching my feet on shells. I also took sailing lesson through Offshore Sailing School. You can also rent a bike or kayak.

If you need You Time, then this is the place (beware:  there is also a tacky side to the island). But if you are looking for a more lively scene, you might want to research  some other Florida destinations, such as Sarasota or  St. Pete's.

And that's a wrap. Thanks again for being here. Today's prize goes to the chatter whose early trips to Williamsburg led to her going to W&M and sticking around the region for good. Please send your name and contact info to me at becky.krystal@washpost.com.

Thanks, and we'll see you next week!

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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