Talk about Travel

May 13, 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 day, chatters! Are you, like me, entertaining dreams of luxury travels after this week's story about the luxe resorts of Oman? They sound positively sumptuous. Or maybe a quick trip to L.A. to check out that fantastic subway art? Who knew?

Let's keep the luxury dreams going today. Tell us about a time you splurged on your travels --  and were either glad or sorry that you did. It can be an entire trip, or just some indulgent little splurge in the course of one, like my $25 martinis in Florence. (Worth it!). Best story -- glad or sad -- wins a little prize.

Now let's chat!

Any hotels you can recommend in London near the tube? Am going in early september with my mom and I have never been there (she has, but not in years).....

Yes. I just got back Friday from London -- had a wonderful stay of nine nights at St. Ermin's Hotel, now part of Marriott's Autograph Collection. It's been recently, and beautifully, renovated. Staff was great. The hotel is in Westminster, just around the corner from the St. James's Park station. And are either of you a Costco member? That's how I booked it, and the rate also included breakfast daily, a private car to and from Heathrow and a $200 per person tour credit with Golden Tours.

Hi - we are a family of 4 (living in The Netherlands, so airfare isn't a huge issue) and looking for a relative bargain in late July/early August. I know it's the biggest travel time for Europeans, but it can't be avoided this year. We usually do our summer vacation in June as my kids school ends sooner than the European schools. We are open to any and all suggestions - city, beach, mountains....thanks for all of your great travel advice!

Take a look at the Costa Blanca coast of Spain. Lots of cheap flights on various discount airlines into Alicante. From there, rent a car and head north to one of the lovely seaside towns and villages along the coast. I am partial to Moraira. 

I live in Northern VA and my sister lives in Cincinnati. We are planning a get together halfway in between for a week at the most in August. Last year we stayed in Pittsburgh. I am looking at West Virginia, possibly off 79. We are interested in walking, shopping, food, music, history and a quiet place to stay. We are both on a budget so nothing fancy. Any ideas for a good place?

Morgantown, W. Va., is a pretty cute town. It's a college town, home of West Virginia U., so there are shops and restaurants, etc., theater, has a historic district to walk around in. Also very nice, and a bit smaller, is Elkins, W.Va., south of Morgantown. It has a pretty booming restaurant, theater and shopping scene, and in the summer, there are festivals held on the town green that can be loads of fun. 

Other ideas, chatters?

Do I need some kind of RFID blocking sleeve for my passport, or is there some sort of protection already built into it?

You can buy an RFID-blocking passport/ticket holder, but I'm told the passports are difficult to scan unless they are open.

When we went on our honeymoon to spain, we used miles that I had accumulated for years from work travel to upgrade to first class. Oh, it was great. I had flown first class a lot (frequent flyer) in the US, but it was nothing compared to going to Europe. It felt like vacation from the moment we got on the plane, rather than flying in the back. So we walked on the plane, and we were given glasses of champagne. And we got great choices for food. And we could lie down flat to go to sleep. We got our pick of channels/movies in the seats (this was 13 years ago - well before what they have on board today - and no internet). When we arrived in Spain we were refreshed and it didn't feel as bad re: jetlag. Going back there was HUGE confusion at the airport and lots of flights being canceled (threatened strike? we weren't sure). We were standing with our bags in a group - no one could check in, we're all waiting for some person to yell our names - no mike or anything - and at some point, for our whole flight, my husband's and my name were called. We ran with the gate agent to the flight (no one looked at our bags, no xrays of anything, we gate checked the bags) - and were the last two on the plane. Where our whole flight was left behind - and this was a connection to madrid, where basically all the people were connecting to the US. So we were lucky to get on that flight, and I think it was because of our first class status. We were able to use the airline's first class lounge, which was wonderful. The flight back to the US - well, I don't remember it much, I was so exhausted...but I got to sleep - again, on our wonderful seats to sleep in. Amazing. (oh, and the trip to spain? well, that was wonderful too!)

Nothing like first class, is there?

I want to take a candy shoe filled with bon-bons to my sister. It is chocolate, approximately a size 6, and fits in a 7"x7"x4" box. If I can't fit it into my carry-on suitcase, would I be able to carry on the box along with my purse & carry-on bag? Also, would there be any problems with getting it through security/TSA? I will be traveling from Florida to Washington, DC via AirTran. Thanks for your help with this - I really miss my live-time Monday chats with you guys... definitely need to see about changing my work schedule!

You should be able to carry the chocolates on your flight, particularly if you're headed to Florida, where they can easily melt before you have a chance to give them to your sister. Techically, the TSA could harass you if the chocolates have a cream or liquid filling, but I've never come across a case where the confections were confiscated at the airport. There's a first time for everything, though.

I want to go to Scandinavia in September. Never been, don't really have a preference as to which country to go to, so I'd value some insights from people who have been to any of them. We are a healthy middle-aged couple, experienced and fairly adventurous travelers. We'll be going for two weeks. .Love interesting cities, but also natural beauty and friendly small villages or towns. Thanks in advance for your ideas!

How about Sweden? Stockholm for the city part and Fjallbacka for the small town part.

Other suggestions?

Whenever I'm traveling on the cheap and hit the wall, I head for the nearest five star hotel and order a diet coke with ice. I can go an entire day traveling without spending $5, but in Bangkok for instance, that hour of peace, quiet, orchids, and aircon in the lobby bar of the Four Seasons is worth every penny!

I'll bet!

Husband and I went to Paris for our 20th wedding anniversary, and ate well, but our splurge was our anniversary dinner at Tour d'Argent. Lux all the way - we were Bon soir'd by no less than a dozen people as we crossed the lobby to the elevator up to the restaurant, and another dozen as we were led to our seats. The wine list was bigger than a phone book, the service was over the top, and they brought us a new sauce spoon with every course despite the fact that we hadn't touched the one from the last course. When I'd made the reservation they asked if we'd like the special cake to celebrate our anniversary and I said, "Sure!" The cake was delicious, but huge, enough to feed a dozen people, so I imagine some kitchen staffers had a lovely dessert that night. The view of Notre Dame was sublime, and all in all it was a fabulous (and expensive, even for Paris!) experience, but as the Japanese say, a wise man climbs Fuji once, and a fool climbs it twice. We left feeling that way about Tour d'Argent, very happy we'd done it, but no intention of ever doing it again.

Splendide!

My sister's getting married in October, and as maid of honor one of my tasks is to find a location for a long-weekend bachelorette party this summer. We're all in our 30s and not wild partiers - looking for good food, fun activities, and fun but not crazy nightlife. Things are complicated by the fact that some of the bridesmaids are on a tight budget (though I will subsidize, if necessary), and that the 5 of us are spread all around the country - DC, Portland, OR, San Francisco, Nashville, and Chicago. I'm trying to come up with places that are fairly easy (direct or one-stop flights and no more than 6-7 hours travel time max for anyone) and not prohibitively expensive for everyone to get to. So far the only place I've been able to come up with is...Vegas. I'm hoping you might have some more original suggestions!

My daughter just returned from a bachlorette party in New Orleans (she lives in Los Angeles) and they had a very good time.  It's not difficult to get to, with lots of nonstop flights. While it is  a party town, the city also has other things to offer, specifically the good food. And yes, we are aware of the shootings that occurred there this weekend, but still think it is worth considering. 

Love the chats - they are always so helpful & interesting! My husband and I have had a very stressful couple of months and are in need of a relaxing vacation. We'd like to stay within the U.S. and are looking at a trip of a week or less. We're at a loss as to where to consider. A beach location (or outdoors spot) is what we're looking for but where? All we want is a nice place to stay (doesn't have to be super fancy), access to the beach/nature and a variety of restaurants in a town to choose from for dinner. Do you or the chatters have any ideas? Thank you so much!

My mind just wandered to some lovely New England islands: Block Island in Rhode Island and Nantucket in Massachusetts. I adore both!

I paid $500 and used miles to upgrade to Business Class on a trip to Australia. Totally worth it, even to a cheapskate like me, since I got a good night's sleep in the BC seat that laid down into a bed and therefore was raring to go when we arrived at 7 a.m. Sydney time. I didn't get the upgrade on the way home, unfortunately, but sitting in coach for that whole flight definitely solidified my opiinon that I had made the right call to spend the money when I could!

Absolutely the right call!

My husband and I used miles to have a no-kids trip to Hawaii last summer, and kicked off the trip at Turtle Bay on Oahu. We got a sale, but it was still a splurge. The resort was so nice, and it was so great to push the easy button those first few jet-lagged days. The rest of the trip was B&Bs and small hotels, but we'd go back to Turtle Bay in a heartbeat.

Thanks to everyone for tips. Will post more when back. Quick Question: some stores and restaurants allow you to pay in euros or dollars. Which should we choose?

Pay in euros, if you're using a credit card. I'll explain why in next week's Navigator.

Friend and I were traveling for four months on a shoestring budget. Staying in places that cost $20 a night (ok, not dirt cheap for SEAsia, but pretty stringent), and eating at road stalls (all you can eat for $1, extra for beers). Finally we couldn't stand being grungy anymore and paid the equivalent of a whole week's lodging $$ to hit up the Hotel Sofitel in Ho Chi Minh city. We couldn't afford to actually stay there, but we could afford the fee to use their hotel gym and pool. Having drinks delivered poolside on the rooftop with a great view overlooking the city felt decadent. Then we put our grungy backpacker clothes back on and slunk back to our hostel. But it was a great afternoon.

Aren't you glad you did that?

My husband and I splurged on the first night of our honeymoon and stayed at the Willard. It was so NOT worth it! The service was perfect, our room was beautiful, and we were so exhausted that we just couldn't enjoy it (plus we had to bug out early the next morning for an early flight).

Aw, so sorry to hear that. You should go back sometime!

Any suggestions for specific all inclusive resorts that would be a good option from DC? I usually don't go that route, but I need some time away without any thought or activity required. When I looked online at Orbitz or Kayak, you seem to have to know where you want to go. All I know is I would like a beach, a not ridiculously expensive resort, and a direct flight from one of the DC airports. How do I start? Is this the time for a travel agent? And if so, how do I find one of those these days?

You might want to talk to a travel agent. We don't have any specific recommendations, but I'd look at one that specializes in all-inclusives. Liberty Travel comes to mind, although it's all about the individual agent and that person's level of expertise. The cheapest, easiest-to-get-to-from-here all-inclusives are located in the Cancun region -- I'd take a look at the Riveria Maya area south of Cancun, specifically Playacar or Playa Carmen, although you may get a better deal by going farther south to Tulum. There are dozens of all-inclusives at all price points. The Iberostar, Riu and Barcelo chains are not too expensive, but don't expect gourmet food. 

Would like suggestions for castles in UK, preferably south of London, that allow a night's stay.

Leeds Castle, which I visited last week, is in a beautiful region of Kent, and it has overnight accommodations that sound nice.

I wrote earlier to ask about getting a "true" Chip & PIN card -- just as Travelex discontinued offering them in the US. In April, we flew to Vienna, with a 5 hour lay-over in Amsterdam. The Travelex desk at Schiphol offered a Chip & PIN card based in the Netherlands, and we got one. The disadvantage is that it can be pre-loaded and re-loaded only in the Netherlands, and it needs to be used once in a while to remain active. We used mostly cash during our travels, and we were pleasantly surprised (after bad experiences in Copenhagen in 2009) to find that Austrian, German, and Dutch ATM's accepted our American cards with no problems. We had less trouble withdrawing money from ATM's than changing actual dollars for Euros. Cash was accepted at more places than any of the cards, including the Chip & PIN card. We never needed one of the kiosks that would only take the Chip & PIN card, so we could have managed without it. Still, we were very glad to have the reassurance that the card was there for those situations. (And traveling northward we enjoyed the spring weather repeatedly while missing several snowstorms at home.)

Thanks for the info. Glad that worked out for you!

Good report. And thanks for the opportunity to plug my little chip-and-pin primer coming up in this weekend's section.

For what it's worth, the only problem I had with my credit cards in London when I was trying to buy an Oyster card at a Tube station kiosk. Couldn't get it to work, but I went to the manned desk and the person there was able to process the transaction.

Our family loves water parks and we generally try to incorporate at least one water park into our summer travels. Two years ago I decided to splurge on a cabana at one of the parks. I honestly feel like this might be the best $100 we have spent on a vacation. The first time it was a bit rainy and while we sat and ate in out lovely cabana most of the park cleared out. When the rain cleared we were happily rested and in much shorter lines. My parents are getting older and have begged off water parks lately. Now that we use the cabanas it is much more enjoyable for them to spend a long day outside. They can rest in the shade, have waitresses attend to them while we zip around with the kids. And at the end of the day you can zip up the cabana and get changed so much easier than using the locker rooms at the end of the day.

Do you or the chatters have any recommendations for cheap, clean, and somewhat centrally-located hotels/hostels in Stockholm? I've been looking online but there are so many that I'm not sure where to start! I'm also considering Couchsurfing but having a bit more personal space/safety sounds good. Thank you!

Our story on Stockholm a few years ago recommended the Scandic Malmen (the "cabins" are the cheapest rooms) and the Hotel Tre Sma Rum hostel.

Hello, Travel Crew! We are going to France in September and have the option of flying out of Dulles or Philadelphia. Which airport and airlines do you all prefer for this trip?

Where do you live? It might make a difference as to convenience. My husband and I have flown Air France out of Dulles on two occasions in the past few years. Air France is great for the most part -- it flies nonstop to Paris from IAD, and my husband loves the food! I'm finding only USAirways and Delta flying nonstop out of Philly. I'd choose Air France over either. Chatters, your views?

I have an international flight out of Chicago ORD at 11 am and I have to get to Chicago from Boston. Would it be advisable to take an early morning flight that lands at ORD about 8 am, or should I be in Chicago the evening before? They are two separate legs on different carriers so I can't check my luggage through.

If possible, make sure your itineraries are connected (usually, they would have the same confirmation number). A travel agent can do that, but if you buy your tickets through an online travel agency at the same time, they should already be connected. If you don't, then you may be listed as a "no show" if your first flight is delayed for any reason, and you may have to pay again for the next flight. An agent's reservation system, or an online travel agency, will also have a so-called "minimum" connection time built into the system, which will ensure you have enough time to make your connection.

I would go to Kristiansand in the southern tip of Norway, beautiful old city with lots of history and culture, then take the ferry to Denmark from there and go to Skagan, on the northern tip. Beautiful beach town, where oceans meet, with lovely restaurants and art museums.

Hello, I won a prize for having a great topic during a chat session in late March, and sent my claim to Andrea Sachs. However, I don't know whether she received the email. Is Ms. Sachs' email address Andrea_Sachs@washpost.com or Andrea.Sachs@washpost.com? I probably used the address with the underscore. Can somebody help me with this issue? Thanks.

Sorry about that!

I am at andrea.sachs@washpost.com. I will watch for your email!

Come back to the chat in two weeks, if you have not received your gift.

...in asking travel advice for Scotland in the summer, in terms of recommendations for hikes, road trips, restaurants, hotels, destinations, activities. Thanks!

You do understand that we're not travel agents, right? In that we can't set up your *whole* trip for you. :-) Have a look at this piece about hiking in Scotland that might give you some good ideas and hotel recommendations. And this piece about Edinburgh and doing a whisky tour might be helpful, too. And one more about St. Andrew's. Other than that, chatters, we'd be glad to hear from you!

My parents and my husband and I had started looking into a family trip to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate a big wedding anniversary in 2015. Then this fall I got pregnant. Do the tour groups and cruises to the Galapagos allow children that small, or are the boats not equipped for families with small children? Are there some lines that are more welcoming? We haven't paid any fees, but if this isn't going to be doable, we need to start re-negotiating a destination again (it took us forever to agree the first time).

You would need to contact the  expedition ship for specific age requirements (my advice: start with the largest ones). Mainstream cruise ships, such as Carnival and Disney, allow babies and toddlers on board, but adventure boats follow different rules. In addition, they will not have baby sitters or kids' programs, so you will be in charge of baby for the entire time.

In all honesty, the Galapagos is not a good fit for a small child. There are a lot of hazards, such as the water, the sun, the food, the altitude, sea sickness, the wildlife, etc. If you still want to go to the islands, consider staying in a hotel and taking daily excursions.  For a sample itinerary, check out this tour outfitter's offerings.

We are planning to take a cruise in September with my 92 year-old mother, who is very active and loves cruises. My mother loves the ship-board activities, especially trivia contests. The last cruise we went on had mostly kids' activities or late-night shows and my mother had little to do all day. I have heard that what type of ship-board activities there are has more to do with the individual cruise director than with the cruise line. Is there any way to know which cruises will have trivia-type games on board?

Itineraries are also key. For example, you'd likely get more daytime activities on ships that spend more days at sea. Cruise Critic did an article on the best ships for sea days which outlines daytime activities, and the comments from readers are also illuminating.   

Any idea when BT will resume in print? Or if at all? I signed up for 3 more years back in September or October and haven't received one since. Not that it was a lot of money, it's more the idea that seem to be ignoring their subscribers. Any word? Is anyone having success getting a refund? Thanks, as always!

I just messaged a contact at BT, but in case I don't hear back in time. . . here is the latest (per the Web site):

Please note that while a printed version of the November/December issue will not be distributed through the mail, we're offering everyone FREE access to the complete issue on our website (the magazine is also available on multiple other platforms). Please know that we appreciate your readership, and sincerely apologize for this interruption.

Thanks for your support of Budget Travel and for your patience while we consider the necessary changes to our print publishing schedule. We apologize for any inconvenience.

My wife and I splurged on our honeymoon, getting the "royal" service at the all-inclusive resort we went to. For an extra $100 each, we were in a special "royal" suite that had its own pool -- with separate poolside beverage service -- a happy hour in the "royal" clubhouse every day, first crack at reservations, a personal butler, and -- best of all -- no kids allowed. For anyone going on a honeymoon to an all-inclusive, I highly recommend checking to see if they have a bumped-up "extra" like this one.

Thank you, your Highness!

Happy Mothers Day to me and my girlfriends, who are ditching the kids (love 'em, but need a break!) for a girls' weekend in late June. We want sun, sand, and to be waited on hand-and-foot. Most of us are East Coasters, and we want to keep costs fairly low (while still being pampered). Is the Four Seasons in Palm Beach a good choice? They have good summer rates and even though FL is 'meh', we're hoping it will be luxurious enough to restore our collective sanity. ;)

Chatters, anyone been? I just looked up the property on Oyster. One thing that jumped out at me: "Some may feel the property isn't quite up to the usual Four Seasons standard: The building exterior is short on curb appeal, rooms lack 'wow' factor, and some have complained that poolside and beachside service could be better." Overall, though, it sounds like a decent option.

My husband has a business trip in Hawaii (Oahu) in July. Naturally, I am taking advantage and tagging along. Any recommendations on what to do (besides lay on the beach- not that I will have a problem with that!) all day while he is working? I won't have a rental car, so I am assuming that that will limit me. We only have a week there, and I want to milk the most out of this trip! Also, any recommendations on a hotel that isn't far from the Marine Corp Base in Oahu, and that is under 180 a night (his per diem on lodging). And of course, fun things that we can do together in the evening when he gets off of work would be nice too!

The Marine Corp base is located on the windward side of the island about 15 miles from Waikiki. I believe it has its own lodging, called the Kaneohe Lodge & Cottages, which may be a good value, but without a car, you would be isolated there. Oahu has a good bus system, called The Bus, but it would take nearly 90 minutes via two buses to get from the Marine base to Waikiki, for example. The Aston hotels are usually fairly reasonable, but you may want to look into booking a bed-and-breakfast (the tourism site has a list) or  privately owned unit, via a site such as Homeaway.  Among the sites worth seeing are Pearl Harbor, the Iolani Palace and Diamondhead. 

Hi, we are visiting Hawaii next month and we land in Hawaii around 9pm and we are thinking of driving to Hilo directly. Not sure if the route is a proper highway or if we should plan on staying in Kona for the night. We also heard that when the volcano errupts the road to Hilo area will be shutdown. Is this true? Your input is greatly appreciated. Thanks for these awesome chats

There are two airports on Hawaii's Big Island. If you're landing in Kona, you can take 200 or 19, both of which will take you around the volcano. I would not try to drive down 11, which takes you through Volcanoes National Park and which I would consider the scenic route. If you're flying into Hilo, you probably won't have to worry about the volcano.

Has the format for individual e-mail addresses changed? Don't recall seeing adds with underscore or dot.

Yes, they did but the old ones still work. The new format, if you're keeping track, is first name.last name@washpost.com.

I would be careful and make sure you can stuff the box of chocolate in your purse and/or your carry on. I have been hassled by security before when carrying a magazine with my purse and carry on and was made to put the magazine in my purse before going through security so that would meet the only 1 carry on and 1 other item rule. It does happen.

In the mid 1990s, my now spouse and I were teaching in Botswana in southern Africa, less than 30 miles from the northwest border with South Africa. Our friends John and Susan booked themselves and a friend visiting from the UK into one of the Luxury Lodges at Madikwe Game Reserve. As they were about to head off on Friday evening, John discovered his passport was out of date and the embassy was closed for the weekend. He very generously gave us his place at the luxury game reserve, something we could never have afforded ourselves. Birdwatching and wildlife galore with guided walks and drives. Accommodation and food exceptional. Just one example of the wonderful friend that John was. Sadly, he passed away most unexpectedly a few months ago and we miss him terribly.

So sorry you've lost your kind and generous friend.

for our second family trip to disney - we just bit the bullet and went all out. we got the meal plan (not the super pricey one, though, who could eat that much food?) and we stayed at the polynesian (oddly enough, that's where my family stayed when we went the year it opened, of course, there really wasn't anywhere else to stay). It was fabulous. The pool was great, but we weren't there much. it was nice to be able to park anywhere on property. it was nice to have all that transportation back and forth. it was nice to be able to go to epcot or the magic kingdom on kind of our own out of the way transport. it was totally worth it. we really enjoyed it.

We spent a week in Dragor, Denmark in October last year. You can catch a public bus straight into Copenhagen from Dragor - about a 25 minute trip. Dragor is a hundreds year old fishing village. We rented a small house in the historic part - could walk along the Baltic Sea, bike (using the house's bikes), and walk to lots of little restaurants and shops. And, Copenhagen being a stone's throw away let us have some wonderful city life at our finger tips. Dragor was a peaceful contrast.

Thanks for the suggestion.

I returned to the states several years ago and had to go through Philly. Worst TSA experience ever. The agents bark at passengers, which was awful for those on our flight who spoke little English and this was, unfortunately, their first view of the USA. We all tried to let a soldier on leave (in unifor0m go ahead of us so he wouldn't miss his flight. TSA refused, yelled at us all, and the soldier missed his flight. I swore then that I would never use the PHL airport again. I vote for IAD!

Whew, sounds awful.

My wife and I are travelling to Israel this summer and we are considering a side visit to Jordan to visit Petra. Can someone share their experiences in crossing the border and public transport/sherut options for travel between Israel and Petra (rather than an organized tour). My concern is that we are not really drawn to Eilat - most of what really appeals to us is located more in the northern part of Israel (Jerusalem, Akko, Dead Sea/Masada etc). We'll have eight days altogether. Is it perhaps too ambitous to try and visit Petra as well? Many thanks!

Chatters?

Took my elementary-school age son to NYC for a quick 2-day trip over his spring break. Having lived in NYC (as a student, years ago), it always my habit to do things cheaply. Wanted to make this a special trip though, so tried to spend the money on some things that count: The express pass for the Empire State Building -- totally worth it! Didn't wait in line at all. Taxis (took the subway once to go all the way uptown during rush hour). Good tickets to a Broadway show. But some splurges weren't worth it: Business class tickets on Amtrak -- not needed on a morning train -- there were plenty of seats (but the end of the day train they did come in handy to get seats together) Pedicab in NYC -- what is the point of those?

I had the unfortunate idea to rent a car and drive from Miami to Key West, without realizing how big the distance. It should be okay when we go into Key West since we are in vacation and have no reason to hurry, but I worry about driving back to catch a flight in Miami at 11:30 AM. How bad is the drive early in the morning? When should we leave from Key West? Thanks for your help!

I've made that drive many times in the early morning. If I had an 11:30 a.m. flight, I would give myself at least five hours. On weekdays you could run into schoolbus traffic in Islamorada, Marathon or Key Largo. Definitely, the sooner you leave, the better.

We are travelling to T and C at the end of the month and rented a house for the week. At a hotel, we wouldn't have had to worry about lugging a crib/pack and play etc, so was wondering if you knew of any stores in T and C where we could purchase a pack and play or high chair? We will be staying in Provo. The rental company charges more to rent one that typically it is to purchase.

Consumer goods are very expensive on the island because they are all imported.  I would double check to be sure that the cost of buying is less than renting or sending through as checked baggage.

That said, you won't find robust shopping on the island. You could try the IGA or a pharmacy. Or ask the rental company if they can suggest a retailer or a unit owner who has kids who have outgrown their furniture.

 

Why are B&Bs getting all this negative attention lately? First Joe's WashPo column, then the BA Foodist, and Anderson Cooper is getting in on the bashing. Obviously as an innkeeper I think they have their place in the travel world, although clearly not for everybody. I'm just wondering what's caused the recent rash of hate...

I have no way of knowing for certain, of course, but I think a sense a little bit of  'follow the leader" here. And of course, The Post leads the way! :-)

Our family of two adults and two young children are traveling to the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun this summer. With the recent killings in Mexico, including Cancun, is it advisable to remain exclusively on the resort? We would like to go to Xel-Ha Water Park, an hour away, visit our resort's sister properties, and go into town to do some shopping.

There were drug-related killings in a shack on the outskirts of Cancun last month, but they weren't tourists, and it would not deter me from visiting there as a tourist.  You should be fine going to the water park and visiting other resort properties. As for going into town, just use common sense. I wouldn't go into sketchy neighborhoods or dive bars, but I avoid those places in any city. 

Hubby and I thinking about taking a long weekend sometime soon up to NE area. We are looking for a luxury spot, not too many kids, something with a lake or near the ocean. Really not even sure where to start looking. Maine? Vermont? No clue. Just something to get out of dodge for a few days, ideally with a massage involved. Thanks!

Here are some knot-releasing suggestions (I took some liberties with the water feature part of the question):

Stillwater Spa at the Hyatt Regency in Newport, R.I.

The White Barn Inn and Spa in Kennebunk Beach, Maine

Omni Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire

Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine

Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass.

And on Martha's Vineyard: Winnetu Oceanside Resort or
Mansion House Hotel & Spa

Traveling from Ohio to HI - we boarded our 2nd flight in Chicago, and sat on the tarmac for three hours while they dealt with a passenger who "forgot" to mention his medical accommodation got his charger or whatever. They wouldn't let us deplane, and BOY was my husband happy that I had burned all our miles upgrading to business class.

I would be, too. Your airline should have offered you the option of getting off the plane, in order to comply with DOT rules. I'll tell you what annoys me: The fact that airlines can get away with offering 31 inches or less of legroom in economy class on a 10-hour flight. That's torture!

I got a chip-and-PIN card from Andrews Federal Credit Union here in the US before a European tour and was so glad to have one. I needed a chip-and-PIN in a few ticket machines. If I didn't have one, I would have had to wait in very long lines. I did use it in a few retail spots too where the merchants said it was necessary.Getting the card required some paperwork/faxing/snail mail but it all worked out in the end. And, 0% foreign transaction fees. Real chip-and-PIN cards are hard to find in the U.S.

Good advice. I had a chip-and-signature card from Bank of America that did me no good compared to a regular American card. It's the PIN that I needed!

How about Boulder, CO? EAsy to get to Denver Intl Airport from teh places you mention. Great, vibrant college town, easy drive from the airport, you can go hiking, tubing, rafting, zip-lining, etc., and if you stay near the Pearl Street Mall (maybe the Hotel Boulderado?) there are plenty of shops, bars, restaurants, etc. And no, I am NOT with the Boulder CVB or anything - I just enjoy the town.

I have the ability to tag a long with someone to a 4 day trip to Portland. During the day I will most likely be alone. I have never been on a trip like this before, so I'm at a bit of a loss. Do you know if there is anything I must do in the city? The only thing on my list is VooDoo donuts and the weekend market.

Have a look at this story about quirky Portland. And let's ask the chatters? What to do, guys?

We took what was to be a 12 or 13-hour round trip coach ride from Queenstown NZ to Milford Sound, which included a short cruise on the sound. The scenery heading down on the bus was breathtaking and quite diverse (alps, rainforest, kea parrots, glass-topped bus). We were offered an on-the-spot add-on to fly back to Queenstown, thus saving something like 4 hours on the bus, at a cost of $200 or $250 each. We debated it for all of two minutes and then took the plunge. My spouse is a private pilot and the pilot allowed him to sit in the cockpit with him. There were only 6 passengers on the 10-seater plane and we got to see alpine lakes and the full range of the spectacular southern alps. Back in Queenstown, as we were having a drink hours later we said, "can you believe we'd still be on that bus right now?" So worth it.

Sounds like it!

I will be in Denver early next month. My 12 year old grandson will meet me there for 3 days. We will visit the Air Force Academy. He is young and strong and athletic. What shouldn't we miss. Maybe some cool hiking spots. Or anything else that appeals to a fun loving 12 year old and his fairly athletic granddad.

This piece has some family-friendly Denver suggestions.

Petra is mind-blowing. I guarantee the scale of it will leave you without words. And if you aren't interested in Eilat, watch Lawrence of Arabia again, when they swoop down into Aqaba & the Red Sea. That should serve as adequate inspiration...

We had pre-booked a pre-cruise hotel stay and a cruise in Tahiti, when I found out about over the water bungalows. We could not cancel or change our pre-cruise hotel, so we double booked ourselves. We checked into the first hotel, packed a carryon bag and took a ferry over to Moorea for a wonderful two days/one night stay at the Moorea Sheraton in a fantastic over the water bungalow. We spent over $500 (in 2005) for the two rooms that one night, but it was so worth it. We traveled back to the original room for the last night on land, then boarded our cruise around French Polynesia. It was worth every penny and I would do it all again. The honeymoon was also a splurge as we had a small affordable wedding and spent more on the honeymoon than we did on the wedding. We love to travel!

I'm going to be in Spain for 8 days in August and want to travel around a bit while there. Will it be too hot to have an enjoyable visit to Andalucia at that time?

August is the hottest month, with temps in the high 80s to 90s. But you can find some comfort along the coast, where temps are lower than inland destinations.

Your ability to enjoy Spain in August really depends on your tolerance for heat. If it is low, be sure all of your hotels have air-conditioning and a pool or water source nearby.  Honestly, I would rather be hot in Spain than in Washington!

When I arranged an overnight excursion through my hotel in Arequipa, Peru to the Colca Canyon to view the Andean condors and other sights, I was given two choices for accomodations: a budget hotel in Yanque town with a folk-dance show, or luxury spa with a natural hot springs. When I joined the group of 16 or so, I found I was the only one who opted for the hot spring (it was only about $30 more). There was some consternation because they had to drive out of the way to drop me off and pick me up. I heard many complaint in the morning about the meal and the noise and the scruffy hotel they had, so I had to bite my tongue and not brag about the delicious meal I had, and the long luxurious soak in the natural hot springs under the stars I enjoyed. I make it a point to upgrade in developing countries where the dollar goes far -

Smart!

Is there going to be a point where airline fees are going to bite them in the butt? I remember about 7 years ago when no one thought the housing market would burst, but it did. I, for one, have figured out how to do much of my travel without planes. (Cruises from Baltimore, Amtrak to visit the grandparents in FL at Christmas... even with a roomette, it's competitive with the plane). I'm sure the airlines can be smug with the fees, but one can only hope that sometime not too far in the future, the likes of Ben Baldanza (CEO or Spirit) and Michael O'Leary (CEO of RyanAir) will be relegated to the garbage can of history.

Yes, I think it's possible the airlines will one day go too far with their fees. They may have done so already without realizing it. I think we need to give the market a chance to adjust to $200 change fees and carry-on fees, both of which are, in my opinion, nothing less than a money grab. If we're still having this conversation in November, then maybe the airlines still have some room to add new fees. I hope I'm right, though.

My husband will be in Barcelona for work and we are trying to decide if I should join him - either just for a weekend, which he will have free, or if I should be there for a few days on my own there or nearby before joining him for some joint vacay. My college Spanish is pretty rusty but my comfort with solo travel is pretty good. What are your thoughts? Anywhere not too far away I could enjoy for a couple days on my own before getting to Barcelona? This would be in July so the airfare might be too steep anyway...

If he's working during the day for part of the vacation, you could always go out exploring and then meet for dinner. I don't know that I'd add another layer to the trip by traveling elsewhere. Plenty to do in Barcelona, including museums, shopping and nice walking tours. And airfare will be steep: Expect to pay upwards of $1,400 round trip. 

I second the recommendation about hikes--there are so many wonderful places to take amazing hikes in Scotland, especially if the weather is nice. In Edinburgh, I recommend Howie's as a restaurant to go to. Isle of Skye and Isle of Man are wonderful. Find a nice, *local* pub and talk to the people--you'll find friendly locals and tourists alike, and it can greatly enhance your trip. Outside of those, you can use any travel guide to find the usual things you shouldn't miss out on.

We each used enough skymiles for a Round the World Business Class Trip.Of course we paid for our own land package and meals for the 40 days. We visited Hawaii, Japan, Korea, India, Russia and Kenya/Tanzania. The Africa part was the biggest splurge with our own driver/guide and 4 star resorts/lodges very near the Game Parks/Reserves. We thoroughly enjoyed the full trip going around the world, but we had a blast in Africa. So much fun and totally worth it!

Last Christmas, I used miles to fly my niece and nephew (ages 12 and 9) from Europe to the US in business class. They seem to have loved it: from having ice cream sundaes for dessert to seats that turned into totally flat beds. They both told me they had a great time. My niece commented that the flight attendants addressed them by their last names -- "just like grown-ups" -- and never let her glass (of ginger ale) get empty. She actually wanted the flight to be longer so she could be pampered a bit more! For the "you're an awesome uncle" reputation I got (and not just from them!), this splurge was more than worth it.

I bet you're they're favorite uncle now!

I would appreciate some "must sees" or "must eat and drinks" in Montreal and Quebec City. We plan to visit the last week of July.

I can help with Quebec. Fun to see there is Le Marche du Vieux Port, Parliament, the Place Royale and the Citadelle. And just walk tons. Lovely city to see by foot. If you have a car, head out of town to Montmorency Falls and the Ile d'Orleans. We ate well at SSS, Casse-Crepe Breton and Paillard.

Check out Joe's story from a few years ago for Montreal advice.

I was meeting some friends in London for a trip to northern England. I flew in the day before to go to the recently opened replica of Shakespeare's Globe. Decided to splurge on gettng an actual seat for the afternoon performance, not standing with the groundlings. After a red eye on which I intended to sleep, but couldn't because the woman from India sitting next to me insisted on complaining that she had been denied entrance into Canada to see Niagra Falls for about 4 hours, I was very, very grateful not to be standing for the entire perormance. Not a huge splurge, but money very well spent.

My husband and I have a 12 layover at Heathrow airport in London. We would like to visit some of the sites in London while we are there. How do we get into the city and what should our destination be? What could we see in that short of a time frame?

I'd recommend hopping on the Heathrow Express, which will take you to Paddington. From there, you can jump on the Tube. You could go a lot of different ways, but I might suggest something around the South Bank. Check out St. Paul's Cathedral, then walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Globe and/or the Tate Modern. Go to the Eye -- with your limited time, you'll want to get a ticket that gives you priority boarding.

Westminster Abbey is another big draw. Awesome, but you might get stuck in a long queue. If you want to try for that, you could easily combine that with the Eye and maybe a trip to the Churchill War Rooms.

Other itinerary ideas?

My husband and I spent our honeymoon at a cabin in Quebec--basically glorified camping. We drove back to the U.S. through Ottawa and stayed at the Chateau Laurier (one of the old railroad hotels). It was gorgeous. We swam in the pool which had beautiful mosaics on the walls, the bedsheets were amazing, and all the surroundings were beautiful. So nice to end a week of camping in the bush with such luxury.

Check out Hale Koa, a great hotel on Waikiki open only to military personnel (and some others who qualify). They have some rooms at per diem rates, though getting from there to the Marine Corps base would be easier with a car. Call and ask - if enough people are staying there and going to that training, there may be some sort of shuttle - just a thought... In any case, consider visiting! Also, check out renting a car there - we've rented cars in Honolulu for remarkably low prices compared to what we pay here, and if it's just the two of you you'd only need a compact. Even if you don't end up staying there, they have a luau twice a week (maybe Mondays and Thursdays?) that you can go to (buy tickets in advance if possible) and they have a tickets/tours office that you can use even if you're not staying there. We also noticed people using the beach and pool during the week by showing military ID even if they weren't staying there. Finally, they have a little exchange in the bottom floor near the banyan tree that has very well-priced Hawaii souvenirs - and a better selection on that than even the exchange at Pearl Harbor in some cases. In ANY case, don't buy souvenirs without checking prices at an exchange first! We also loved our stay at Pililaau cottages (also run by the same company that runs Hale Koa). We've stayed at Hale Koa three times now and I can't recommend them highly enough - we were even married there. Also, if by chance you make it to the Big Island, look at KMC inside Volcanoes National Park (also restricted to military guests) - excellent!

Thanks for the tips!

 

We're considering a fall trip to Europe. My -- admittedly limited -- anecdotal experience is that the European airlines are better than the domestic -- more freebies, better in-flight entertainment, etc. Am I way offbase, and do you have any thoughts?

Hoping chatters and my colleagues can weigh in. I will say, though, that my experience this week on United to/from London was good -- way better than domestic, anyway. Lots of in-flight entertainment, food (sort of meh but there) and on the way to Heathrow, the flight attendants came around to ask what newspapers we might like.

I recently made flight reservations, carefully selecting flights that gave me LOTS of time to get thru immigration etc at Charlotte. I had to do this via phone due to having a voucher, so changes had to be made by the same means. When I got an email alerting me that return flights had changed, I had to call. The point is, the computer making the change allowed a 1.5 hour window to land, taxi to the gate, get off the plane, run to and thru immigration, get luggage, recheck, get to the new gate, assume there were zero delays anywhere! Fortunately the person on the phone sort of understood my concern that 1.5 hours to do all that was highly unlikely, although the computer system insisted that it was 'a valid layover'... And since I didn't initiate the flight change, I was really hoping they wouldn't try to say I was changing anything - even though I disagreed with their change... No money was mentioned, so I am still hoping that when I get to the airport they don't insist I pay, when I really won't have any options. I'll let you know! Why on earth would 1.5 hours be enough time to do anything that includes TSA, immigration or anything over than being first off the plane and dashing madly thru an airport?!

Good luck. Do report back.

Several years ago we took a flight directly from Dulles to Aruba. We stayed at the Divi all inclusive. It was a smaller hotel directly on the beach. The food was pretty decent in some restaurants and the rooms were nice enough. The beach is spectacularly beautiful and would feel safe - it appeared to me that the person asking for recommendations may have been traveling alone.

Alone or with a group, I think Aruba would be fine. Fewer nonstop flights than to Cancun. 

Jordan isn't very large. you can see quite a bit from Jerash to Petra. Petra is a reasonable drive from Amman or the Bethany Red Sea crossing point. Crossing delay is likely on the way back to Israel, if there is a delay. Petra is an amazing place to visit. Well worth trying to see it. Carry water with you.

Loved Petra -- I've traveled the world and still think it's the most spectacular place to visit. I flew from Lebanon, so unfortunately I can't give insight on the crossing from Israel. I had a friend who did it without problem, but that was 20 years ago.

When my now-husband and I were first dating, we took a trip out to Vancouver and Vancouver Island. At the time I was a broke university student, and he was working and between us we did not have much money. However, in a small town (Tofino) on the coast of Vancouver Island, he splurged for us to stay at a really nice hotel (very rustic though--no phones or internet, very much our style on that type of trip), which was on a stunning beach filled with sand dollars and so much nature and wild animals. While most of our activities were done cheaply (surfing, hiking), he also splurged on a whale watching trip which was amazing--on a coast guard inflatable boat, a huge whale came up so close to us it was amazing/a little scary. We now both earn more money and have gone on more expensive trips, but that one remains special to me for both its overall simpleness and the few splurges that made it extra special.

Sweet, thanks!

is awesome. just hanging out downtown you will have fun. pioneer square. japanese gardens. chinese gardens. oregon jewish museum. rose test garden. take the train (trimet) to the zoo. Oregon science museum. just stroll along the waterfront. take a boat tour. there's the portland art museum (downtown) too. so much to see and do!

Thanks for taking my question! We have flown Air France before and liked it. We've also done Iceland Air. We live in the Baltimore area and are traveling with parents who live in Delaware. Each airport is about two hours away from either home. So I'm trying to price flights and nonstop out of both airports. Thanks again!

You're welcome!

Norway is great for natural beauty -- exploring the fjords. Sweden has terrific cities -- could spend a week just in Stockholm exploring sights, museums, design stores. Denmark is a smaller country, so you could get to a few places more easily -- loved both Copenhagen and Odense (where Hans Christian Anderson is from). Enjoy the white nights of summer -- the sun will trick your system and you'll be able to make efficient use of really long days.

More advice for the Scandinavia-bound traveler.

We went for a week's vacation on Vancouver Island on the cheap, compact rental car and tent camping only. We got up to the north part of the island and found out that the salmon had just started running, and there was a grizzly bear tour to an area of the mainland only accessible by boat, where you could see the bears fishing. It cost at least double what we were spending on food and campsites for the entire week. We just slapped down the credit card and went - and it was incredible. We saw 15 grizzlies grabbing salmon out of a stream, including a mama bear with two cubs, and took some of the best travel photos of our lives. On the way over, we also saw sea otters, orca, and tons of bald eagles. It was like wildlife Disneyland. We'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Hi--Are suggestions posted somewhere for weekend trips from DC? I'd like to take a long weekend this summer--have been to the area beaches...looking for something different this time around, but not a City.

Our Escapes features are pretty much all doable for weekend trips. Some good options on that list, including Thomas, W.Va., Red Bank, N.J., and Western Maryland.

Would you be willing to drive back to Miami the afternoon before your flight, and spend the night at a hotel near MIA? Then you wouldn't have as much worry about re possibly missing your 11:30 AM flight.

My Travel Buddy and I are thinking of taking a long weekend this winter (one of the two Holidays either MLK or President days weekend). I am curious which one you would choose the Jan. or the Feb. Holiday? Is there a good time to visit there?

It'll likely be cheaper in January. Long flights for a weekend, even a three-day weekend -- about seven hours each way -- plus the time difference. 

During one visit to London, I splurged and stayed at The Ritz! I live in the US, so let me acknowledge first that traveling from the U.S. to London is in itself a splurge. But there are many affordable places to stay in London. On this trip, however, I wanted to treat myself because I'd had a challenging year at work. The Ritz was such a treat. My room was gorgeous and luxurious. The hotel staff were corteous and helpful. The people watching was great. The Rivoli bar was FABULOUS. Did I regret the splurge? No way. Would I do it again? Yes, but I need to save up!

Hope those pennies in the piggybank are piling up!

Took our 5-year old son to the Bahamas but stayed at the Comfort Suites across the street. CS guests receive full access to the Atlantis at a fraction of the price. We rarely ate at the Atlantis, instead used bread from our CS continental breakfast and made PB&J sandwiches with the condiments I had packed. Purchased bologna and cheese from a nearby market to make sandwiches from aforementioned bread as well. Chicken from Churches Fried Chicken was dinner one night and leftovers were lunch the next day. We did splurge our last night at a buffet at the Atlantis, though. p.s. Anthony's Restaurant was good but crowded.

My husband is a teacher, and it looks like the best time for us to celebrate our 10th anniversary is during his spring break next year. We'd love to go international, but other than that we don't know what to do! I'd love to go to Scandinavia, but I can't imagine March/April would be a good time for that. Would Prague or Croatia be okay then? Or are we better off heading to South America and seeing Machu Picchu or ...? Thanks!

Especially in April, Scandinavia might work, but I can't see why Prague or Croatia wouldn't be fine too. Spring is a nice shoulder season for Europe in terms of crowds and prices.

I have an annual conference over the first week of July that changes locations. This year it is in Ft Worth. I generally try to take advantage of these various spots with a few days of R&R before the conference starts, typically by hiking, eating/drinking well, and exploring the local culture. Can you suggest places to visit withing 3 hours? I'll have a car and plan to stay at wherever I go. If it's too hot to hike, maybe a food lover area - breweries, vineyards, and cooking classes? Thanks for taking my question.

You can find tons of attractions outside Dallas-Fort Worth, including Austin. Some other ideas include Greenville (pop into theBlue Armadillo Winery), Wildcatter Ranch in Graham, Athens (zipline, scuba park) and Waco (Dr. Pepper Museum!). Also check the state park system for hiking and lake swimming opportunities.

Hi, I'm traveling very shortly to a conference in Yokohama. Flying into Narita. I generally have no problem with public transport, but researching the system in greater Tokyo is throwing me for a loop (excuse the pun). How do I travel from Narita via train to Yokohama? I suppose I take the NEX, but beyond that it's a bit confusing. My hotel is in the vicinity of Chinatown in Yokohama. I'll likely seek help once I arrive in Narita, but advance guidance is much appreciated. Any other suggestions reg Yokohama- particularly sushi restaurant recommendations? (Reasonably priced- I'm a PhD student.) I'll have brief opportunity to venture into Tokyo too.

I haven't been to Japan. :-( Chatters, can you help out?

To the chatter asking about a choice of carriers to Europe. I find Virgin Atlantic's customer service to be far better than that of United. If you fly to London on VA, you can easily hop onto the EuroStar train from London.

Hale Koa sounds wonderful...but we aren't actually military. He is a civilian private contractor. But the suggeston was appreciated anyways!

I'd love a few suggestions for where to go for my 40th birthday inDecember. I do not mind the cold, but want to go some place where i will not be snowed in or have tourist sights closed due to off season. I've ruled out Turkey for this reason. I have travelled widely, so i am looking for unusual ideas and a 'big' location worthy of this milestone. I like trips that have variety--walking/hiking, historical sights, museums, local markets, old towns, nature reserves. I do not want to just hang out at a beach or reading in a treehouse. This is not a complete list, but if it helps, i have been to most of western Europe, china, thailand, peru, kenya, costa rica, slovakia, australia, bulgaria (i am very fortunate, I know). Money is not really an issue although i am cheap. Thanks for any ideas you have.

Wow, sounds like you don't really need our help! Maybe New Zealand?

there's also quirky things, like the hat museum. and a toy museum. and i'm sure a few other things. but just people watching is um, different than anywhere else. just know that it is NOT a late night town. things close early enough.

No longer able to participate in the chat live due to work schedule changes but still play catch-up and reading them during my off hours. I believe it was 2 weeks ago that someone had mentioned purchasing airline gift cards to pay for tickets for a friend and I just wanted to make a note of something with Southwest in that regard. I was given a Southwest Airlines gift card but when it came time for me to make reservations, the flights operated by AirTran were close to $40 more expensive per leg if booked on the Southwest site than if booked on the AirTran site (same times, same flight numbers except for the prefacing "5" on Southwest). However, the AirTran site would not accept the Southwest gift card so my choice was to either pay more to use the gift card or pay less and use my own credit card (the option I chose). I am also confused as to why AirTran will charge you to check your bag whereas, if the ticket is purchased through Southwest, you get 2 free checked bags and no change fee on Southwest but charged one if you book through AirTran and then change the flight (is that why the ticket is more expensive)?

Southwest and AirTran have not yet integrated their systems and policies. So for now, they follow their own rules, including the luggage one.

when my family went on a cruise, my husband and I *really* wanted to go swim with the dolphins. So we did, in Nassau. It was FANTASTIC. That one excursion was a HUGE splurge, for the two of us it was a lot of money. but it was SO worth it!

Takes you to Florence, Italy! You can use the Post search box enter "quirky portland" and it'll work (you need the quotes)

Sorry about that! I hope I've fixed it!

And. . . back to earth. Time to wrap up those luxury dreams. Thanks for all the splurge stories. I had to really wrestle among a couple, but in the end, how can I not give the prize to the chatter who so generously splurged on his niece and nephew and flew them business class to the U.S. for a visit. Send your contact info to me at zofia.smardz@washpost.com, and you will get a reward that you richly deserve!

Thanks everybody, and 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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