Auto Load Responses: 
Font Size: 

May 7, 2012

12
P.M.

Talk about Travel: All around France, the next big airline merger and more

Total Responses: 71

About the hosts

About the host

Carol Sottili

Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.

Andrea Sachs

Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.

Zofia Smardz

Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.

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.

Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.

Jane Touzalin

Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.

About the topic

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.
Q.

Zofia Smardz :

Good day chatters and a happy Monday to you all? Did you love our France issue yesterday? I did, but then I love France and most things French. And my husband would go to Paris for every vacation if I let him (and we could afford it). I have a friend who's been going to Rome every single year for decades now. Tell me about your favorite country to travel to, repeatedly or not -- and why. Best explanation wins the jackpot! Now let's take your questions.

Q.

Miami Marlins

Thanks so much for the Marlins new stadium article. My goal is to see a MLB game at every stadium, and I am now looking forward to a game in Miami much more than I was with the old (not even baseball) stadium.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

You're most welcome! Let us know how you do with your goal.

– May 07, 2012 12:01 PM
Q.

International Flights

Hi. I've heard that there are cheaper days to travel by plane (Wednesdays and maybe Saturday?) but is that true for international flights? I'm looking at flights from DC to Tokyo and we have a bit of flexibility on the days in June. Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are typically cheapest for domestic flights, but international flight fares are not as predictable -- midweek is generally less expensive than Friday-Monday. Delta seems to have some good fares on connecting flights out of BWI in June.  I'd buy soon - June is right around the corner.  

– May 07, 2012 12:02 PM
Q.

favorite desitination

I have been returning to Thailand for each of the last 6 or 7 years...and will go again at the end of the year. I love that the culture is so different, great hotels are cheap, the people are very hospitable.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Yes, people who've been do seem to fall in love with Thailand -- and its inexpensiveness!

– May 07, 2012 12:06 PM
Q.

internet column

How do I find the questions and answers that used to be on the internet. I can't find them.
A.
Becky Krystal :

I'm not quite sure what you're talking about. If you're referring to the chats, well, you're in the right place. The archive of previous sessions is here.

– May 07, 2012 12:07 PM
Q.

B&B in VA within 3 hrs of DC area

I'm looking for a romantic getaway for a couple nights at a B&B in VA within a 2-3 hrs drive. I know I've learned from you guys that Charlottesville is nice so I'm investigating that (suggestions welcome). But also there was an article a while back on the VA coastline and a nice area to stay where seafood is plentiful and there's some sort of waterfront. Can you refresh my memory? Would you recommend Charlottesville over the other area? What area has more activity? We are late 30s couple who like to explore and experience new things but need some down time.
A.
Becky Krystal :

I am totally blanking on the coastal area you're talking about (maybe one of my colleagues remembers), so it's hard for me to compare. But I would probably be a C'Ville partisan anyway, having gone to U.Va. It's definitely a great area -- wineries, hiking, happening downtown, presidential homes. A relatively quick drive away from the city in the cute town of Scottsville is the High Meadows Vineyard Inn. I stayed there the other year -- very relaxing and perfect for down time when you're not exploring. About 45 minutes north of Charlottesville is probably the most romantic place I've every stayed -- the Inn at Willow Grove. (Zofia liked it too.) It's close to the fabulous Barboursville Vineyards and James Madison's Montpelier.

– May 07, 2012 12:08 PM
Q.

Finding Hotels with firm Beds

I, like many or most senior citizens, need a firm bed at hotels. Used to stay at Marriott, but then they went to the Marriott bed: soft. Hyatt was always reliable but, it too, now has a Hyatt bed: soft. Radisson was the answer! Sleep number beds and good, firm, stuffed furniture, not that ergonomic metal stuff. Now, Radisson is phasing out its Sleep number beds. Anybody have suggestions? Tired of going to hotels and sleeping on the floor. Thanks.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

Oh, dear. I loved the bed we had at the Sofitel in Philadelphia. They call it a SoBed, specially designed for the hotel chain. I can't remember exactly whether it was really firm, but I know I had the most fabulous sleep that night. Chatters, what are your choices for firm beds?

– May 07, 2012 12:08 PM
Q.

Checked bag fees

Hi. On my trip from West Virginia to New Mexico, I'm flying two airlines. I'm on Delta for the first leg, then switching to American for the rest of my trip. I have to check a bag. I have elite status on American, which means that I don't pay baggage fees, but I don't have similar status on Delta. Will I have to pay the baggage fee, or is there a way around it, since the bulk of the trip will be on the airline where I do have elite status?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

If you booked your whole trip on one ticket or itinerary, you should be able to send your bag through to your final destination. However, it looks like you are checking in with Delta, which will not acknowledge your special status, since they are not a codeshare partner. However, on your return, you should be okay, since you are checking in at American and the airline can send your bag through to your final destination.

– May 07, 2012 12:08 PM
Q.

Drumming

I'll be in Paris and Rome this summer with my son, 14, who is an avid drummer. Are there any places in either city where he can have a unique drumming experience or can watch a fabulous drumming-based show?
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Wow, this is a very unique question! I think we'll have to throw it out to the chatters, since a drumming experience is not what I'm usually looking for when I travel to either of these cities. Folks, any ideas here?

– May 07, 2012 12:09 PM
Q.

R.V Camping France & Spain

My brother and I are going to Toulouse, France on August 28. We want to see as much of France and Spain, Pyrenees as we can. We will have the use of a Road Tch 17' unit until October 15 so 6 weeks. Is there a route for the Midi Pyrenees, and the Spanish Haute Pyrenees? We just want to sight see castles churches, museums, small towns, etc.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

I am sooooo jealous! That sounds absolutely awesome. I don't know that I can map out a route for you, but in the Midi-Pyrenees, I would want to see Montsegur, with its Cathar history, Lourdes, Albi (birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec), Saint-Bertrand de Comminges with its fantastic cathedral. People used to stop there on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  Maybe you could try following that route through the Pyrenees, in fact, as a way of seeing the history and culture of the region. Chatters, what are your recommendations?

– May 07, 2012 12:18 PM
Q.

Alaska Cruise: Port-of-Call Trips, Sightseeing

We are going on a Southbound Alaska Cruise in June. (Seward; Hubbard Glacier; Juneau; Skagway; Icy Strait Point; Ketchikan; Inside Passage; Vancouver.) Not "extreme adventure" people, but we've heard the towns are small and not a lot to do. What "must-see" not-too-strenous sidetrips do people recommend? Anybody played golf there? Any good shopping/dining?
A.
Becky Krystal :

I hope others can jump in with some recommendations, but I'd suggest you look at Cruise Critic, which has a wealth of information on Alaska.

– May 07, 2012 12:18 PM
Q.

Drumming in Rome

I'd recommend checking out Piazza Navona. There are a ton of street performances (including musical) and you might stumble upon a unique drumming experience.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Aha, good idea, thanks!

– May 07, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

Amtrak luggage policy

I'd like to take Amtrak to NYC to catch a cruise this summer, but their web site says Acela passengers are limited to two carryons plus a personal item. I will have three carryons plus a laptop. Acela doesn't check luggage, so that isn't an option. Will I be refused boarding at the gate if I show up with four bags?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

From my understanding, Amtrak has the same policy for all of its trains: two carry-ons, not including personal items, and three checked bags for free (you can pay $10 per piece for three more). I don't see the info you are seeing.

In any event, you should be okay unless the train is very crowded and Amtrak has to police passengers' belongings.

One last word:  I don't understand Acela. It costs so much more than regular service but only saves you about 30 minutes. I would go regular Amtrak and take on all your bags without worry.

– May 07, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

Driving to Florida?

Hi! We are looking to drive down to Florida this summer. How bad is the drive on a Saturday in August? We could leave as early as 5 am or 6 am. I'm not sure if we would do it in one day or two days. What about coming back? Is I-95 better or worse on a Saturday or Sunday? Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I-95 on weekends  in August between here and Richmond is ugly. Of course, on the way down, the earlier you can leave, the better, as check-in times are about 3 p.m., so most vacationers don't get on the road until 8 or 9. As for coming back, time it so you hit Richmond either very early or late. As for whether Saturday or Sunday is better, I think Sunday is a little lighter, but it's still a slog. Don't know where you are going in Florida, but without traffic or breaks, it takes about 13 hours to drive to Orlando, so if you're going south of there, I'd stop overnight. 

– May 07, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

firm beds

If you want a firm bed, head to Asia. Beds there are hard as concrete for some reason. Kills the hips of this side-sleeper!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

:-)

– May 07, 2012 12:20 PM
Q.

Return trips

I have travelled pretty extensively in Europe and Asia, but I find that I really love travelling to different places right here in the good old USA. There is so much physical beauty, and the geography of the West in particular is actually very diverse (e.g., CA does not look like NM does not look like WY etc).
A.
Zofia Smardz :

So true!

– May 07, 2012 12:21 PM
Q.

Favorite country for travel

There is a certain thrill that comes from traveling. from the early stages of the trip planning to the first night back home in your own bed; I can't seem to get enough! I have been to more than 15 countries. some more than once, but I must admit, I think my favorite country for travel is still the United States! I love the fact that I can choose from metropolitan visits (can't beat NYC or Chicago), to country hideaways (come on, now - how many of you have enjoyed the quirkiness of Mt. Airy, NC?), to beaches (east or west coast or even rivers or lakes), to the mountains, to the national parks... I could go on and on. And the best part is, I don't have to worry about a language barrier, unexpected major political unrest or currency exchange rates! Plus, no matter where I am in the country, family or friends are still only a cell-phone call away without the worry of major roaming surcharges. Love me my travel, but in the US, we really do have it all!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Another vote for the good ol' USA!

– May 07, 2012 12:22 PM
Q.

Finding Hotels with soft Beds

I take exception to the earlier chatter's contention that "most" senior citizens want a bed so firm that lack of one makes sleeping on the floor the only palatable alternative. I too am a senior citizen, but when I sleep at hotels, it seems the beds are all nearly as hard as the floor -- so hard that I awaken repeatedly throughout the night feeling bruised and sore, no matter how frequently I change positions. I only wish I could find these supposedly soft beds of which the earlier chatter writes.
Q.

Last Word on Airport Designators?

Another wrinkle is that the Navy has reserved all designators starting with N. That's why, for example, Newark is EWR and Norfolk is ORF. New Orleans is a bit more complicated. It's earlier name was Moisant (an early local aviator) Field but MSY is not a misspelled Moisant. Instead it stands for Moisant Stock Yards, the place of Moisant's fatal crash, and where the airport was later built.
A.
Becky Krystal :

I feel a story on airport codes coming on!

– May 07, 2012 12:22 PM
Q.

Favorite country

Well, France is my favorite, but you've covered that :) Otherwise, I was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed Bahrain. I didn't choose to go there, but if I had the opportunity to go back, I absolutely would. Its Western enough for an American woman to go there and not feel oppressed, but there's also a ton of the Arabic culture, not to mention the amazing shopping (jewelry, carpets, furniture, etc) and amazing local food. I'd love to go back some time and explore a little more.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Interesting!

– May 07, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

Favorite Country ...USA

While I LOVE to travel Internationally, lately I have ben doing more US travel and I'm really glad that I have. We've got such a large diverse country, that millions come to visit annually. A few years ago we took a Las Vegas-Lake Tahoe-Yosemite-Monterrey-Santa Barbara-Vegas road trip and it was awesome. Driving down the PCH, stopping at small towns and random attractions. Last fall we did a Boston-Poland Spring, ME road trip, checking out coastal town (off-season) was wonderful and much less crowded. There really is so much to see here that it would take a years to see the "major attractions" (Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, San. Francisco, Highway to Key West, New Orleans, etc...). Glad I live in DC Metro so all the wonderful attractions here can be visited incrementally throughout the year!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

More USA! We do love our country!

– May 07, 2012 12:26 PM
Q.

What's with DC?

Hi folks, I unexpectedly have to travel to DC this week and cannot believe the hotel situation. Places I routinely stay in the Dupont Circle area at around $300/night are asking $800+ for a room! What's going on that has filled every hotel in the city?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Hard to say. There's one meeting listed at the convention center, but other than that I'm not sure what it could be. If you're not tied down to a specific location, try looking outside the city in Alexandria or Arlington, both of which have good options close to Metro stations.

– May 07, 2012 12:26 PM
Q.

Heathrow Layover

My husband and I are traveling in mid - July with our 4-year old to Cape Town South Africa for a combined business and leisure trip. We have the misfortune of having a 10 hour layover in London's Heathrow airport. Any suggestions or advice about what we might do? We might also wish to freshen up and nap before the next long flight. Are the "hourly" hotels you'd recommend?

A.
Carol Sottili :

London Heathrow is not all that close to the city, but the Heathrow Express train is a quick way to get into Paddington Station. Regent's Park, home to the London Zoo, is near Paddington. You would probably also have time to do a bus tour of the city. Yotel Heathrow offers hourly rates. As for more traditional hotels, closest  are Hilton Heathrow and Sofitel Heathrow, although I am not sure that they offer day rates. 

– May 07, 2012 12:26 PM
Q.

Favorite Country to visit - Australia

Business gets me there once a year, and I've spent time in all states and territories save Tasmania. It's just such a contradiction - on the other side of the world, yet just below Canadians in being like Americans, and yet they have an entirely separate "feel". The natural beauty is amazing - I've never seen anything more surreal than Uluru. Their manmade beauty is iconic - things like the Opera House and their national museum in Canberra are so distinctive. The people are beyond friendly and always fun and quirky (their unofficial antihero is Ned Kelly, a thief and murderer who faced off the police for a shootout in a handmade suit of armor). You can see kangaroos jumping around, which blows your mind, and echidnas look like something out of a fantasy novel that should be kept by goblins in a cage. The wine is incredible and the beer is famous. I could keep on going back ten or twenty more times and barely scratch the surface.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

I love it Down Under, too!

– May 07, 2012 12:29 PM
Q.

Cheap air tickets

I'm been accepted to a "working holiday" program with the National Trust of Scotland for the first week of September. Yay! Now the problem is how to get there. It's been so long since I traveled abroad that the air industry, and travel in general, has changed enormously and I don't even know where to start to find a cheap seat. When I did a standard Travelocity/Kayak/Expedia search from DC to Edinburgh, round trip tickets cost about a thousand dollars, which is about double what I paid the last time I went to Scotland, when I bought a package through a travel agent. I know flights have gone up, but THAT much? Consolidators? Do they still exist? Is there one you recommend? Or would you suggest some Google voodoo instead? Part of the reason I'm doing this trip is because the working holiday scheme makes it so cheap to travel--room and board for a week at a historic site in Scotland is going to cost me about $250--and I'm not in a position to pay a huge amount for airfare. On the other hand, I've got definite dates that I have to be there, so I can't play around with that too much, and I don't have a lot of vacation time to spare, so I can't spend all day in a layover, even if it's someplace fun like London. I know those factors can drive the price up, but I can swallow that better than I can swallow spending 20 hours with four stopovers and plane changes just to get from DC to Edinburgh when a direct flight only takes 10. I'm very tempted to turn it over to a travel agent again, even though all I need is this one ticket and nothing like in-country transportation or lodging, but I don't know where to start to find one, or even if that's a good idea. Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I wish I could tell you that there is a way to get a $500 round-trip fare to Scotland in early September. I feel very safe saying that won't happen. We haven't seen $500 across-the-pond fares for a long time. The closest to $500 I've seen is Icelandair to Reykjavik, but you'd still need to get to Edinburgh. Icelandair offers connecting flights to Glasgow, but still about $1,000 in September. Aer Lingus often has good sales out of New York, but again, fares in September are still high, and the best fares are to Dublin. Consolidators to Europe are basically gone. Vayama sometimes has decent deals, but cheapest I could find in September to Edinburgh was about $1,000. You could keep looking, but I don't think you're going to do much better than that. Travel agents will charge you for buying air tickets, and they don't have access to cheaper tickets.  

– May 07, 2012 12:29 PM
Q.

Israel is that country for me

Sure, there's the religious and cultural significance, but the real reason I can't go enough...the food. All the things I love (and often feel guilty about eating at home) are everywhere and since I'm on vacation, I eat like I want to. Fresh fruit is dirt cheap, fresh squeezed juice is on every menu, pastries are always right out of the oven, and shakshuka makes me swoon any time of the day. And there is no coffee like Aroma coffee. I always come home heavier but happier.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Sounds fabulous!

– May 07, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

Myrtle Beach

I'm heading to Myrtle Beach in August for about a week. I like hanging out on the beach but am not big on shopping, golf (mini- OK), or the bar scene. What else is there to do for adults?
A.
Becky Krystal :

A few ideas --

Ride the SkyWheel.

Visit Brookgreen Gardens.

Check out an art museum.

Go to a baseball game.

Catch a free concert or fireworks show.

– May 07, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

more France?

Over the years it seems like your section has done more stories about France than any other country by a wide margin. Is my perception wrong? It's a big world out there.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Hmm, we'd have to come through our archives to determine whether this is true. But before this weekend, we hadn't done a France story in probably a year or more. Not sure we have anything to apologize for even if your perception is correct. France is a big country, and beautiful. And loads of people like to travel there.

We certainly try to give the rest of the world its due, too! We have an upcoming story on Uganda -- not exactly the hottest tourist spot. :-)

– May 07, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

RE: Driving to FL

Take it from me, it's worth it to use the autotrain if you are headed within a few hours of Orlando. It's not cheap but in my experience the ease of getting on the train and just riding from here to there is worth the ticket. Plus, no gas costs, traffic issues, fast food queasiness, cramps from being stuck in the car, wear and tear on your vehicle...the list goes on and on. You get on the train in Lorton in the afternoon and you're in Orlando not too long after breakfast the next day. You can't beat it!
A.
Carol Sottili :

The Auto Train is not cheap and train delays are not uncommon. Even with the price of gas and an overnight stay at a inexpensive hotel, it's still less expensive to drive. But, yes, it is much more relaxing than driving. 

– May 07, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

Repeat Visits

I'll never get tired of Japan. The food, the temples, and you never know - since my last visit, someone may have thought of a new product to put Hello Kitty on. I'm thinking, the next time I go, it's time to acquire Totoro bath towels.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks, Japan fan!

– May 07, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

Room rates this weekend?

Is it graduation weekend for Georgetown, GW, Catholic, others? That could be the cause.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Ah, you could be right!

– May 07, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

ALASKA CRUISE

Excursions: It's expensive but on one stop take a flight plane or helicopter trip. We took a chopper up to the glacier at Juneau then did dog sledding. Sorry, most of our excursions were active. We did Royal Caribbean - their excursions are all coded for activity level when you look at the on line info. As for shopping every port will have the international chains. Please look for stores that have a 'local owned' sign. All the towns are small - you can walk them in no time. At Juneau go to the Red Dog Saloon for lunch - it's a hoot.
Q.

Favorite country

One of my favorite countries has to be Ireland. So far, I have only been to Dublin,a and a small area outside of the city. However, I'll be going back this summer to do more exploring. I love how friendly the people are, I love the feel and walkability of Dublin, and I love how it is such a short and relatively cheap flight to get so many other places (Ryan Air). There's nothing like drinking Guinness IN Ireland, or walking along the River Liffey or in beautiful Trinity College. I'm looking forward this summer to checking out northern Ireland, as well as checking out some of the coastline.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

I have yet to get to the Emerald Isle. Soon, though!

– May 07, 2012 12:35 PM
Q.

Favorite country to visit

Canada is nearby, incredibly varied, not nearly so populous as the US, full of spectacular scenery, multi-cultural not only with Quebec but also in terms of urban neighborhoods in the other provinces. And the Canadians are so friendly and nice(!), it's almost a cliche.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

All true!

– May 07, 2012 12:36 PM
Q.

Favorite Destination:

India! So unique and colorful, and so much diversity in the country that there is always something new to experiment and see.
Q.

SWDC

Was thinking about the chats on Saturday when I took a bump that had me fly MSY - BNA - BWI. Didn't have to wonder where the missing N's went in New Orleans and Nashville. Agree that the hard beds are in Asia. Last fall, my Hong Kong hotel was so bad that I added a layer of bath towels and the bathrobe from the closet out of desperation (it didn't help).

Q.

Return visits

I love to vacation over and over again in the Shenandoah Mountains. Depending on the time of year your experience can be completely different and there are always new trails/hikes that I have never been on before!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

And they're so close to home!

– May 07, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Favorite

Every year we plan our trip and go through all the possible places and end up in the US. There are 20 lifetimes' worth of vacations in this country, starting with just the public lands (National Parks, National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, BLM lands, National Historic Sites, National Monuments....). No worries about passports, customs, currency or credit card chips, and you can quite easily find lots of different cultures here. I have nothing against foreign travel, and we are going to Italy in two years, but really, we have an embarassment of riches right here.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Yes, we do.

– May 07, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Airport Codes

If you do a story on airport codes, be sure to cover both the IATA codes, which are what most travelers see, and the ICAO codes (used by aviators). In the United States, you can usually get the ICAO code by just sticking a "K" on the beginning of the IATA code -- for example, DCA (Washington National) becomes KDCA. However, this doesn't work in the Caribbean, Alaska, or Hawaii. For example, Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (San Juan, PR) is SJU in IATA-speak, but TJSJ in the ICAO code.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks. You certainly do seem to know your codes!

– May 07, 2012 12:38 PM
Q.

hotel mattresses

Having once worked in the consumer bedding industry, I always wondered how hotels make this choice since individuals and couples seem to find it difficult to agree! I recall that an industry spokesman mentioned how much the travel experience affects perception of the hotel bed...jet-lagged folks who could fall asleep anywhere,stressed-out travelers who CAN't sleep anywhere,all kinds of personal issues...hard to find a consensus on that.
Q.

Bali

Can you or the chatters recommend any sources for researching a trip to Bali in September? (I've searched the Post site and couldn't find any articles.) We have our tickets but need to decide on a hotel/resort, and plan any non-beach activities (hiking? volcanoes?). We'll be there four days (amidst other travel in Asia) so we probably want to make one place a home base with a possible day trip.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Here's a nice story we had on Bali last year. Be sure to check the sidebar for lodging ideas. The tourism site listed in that box seems to not be working anymore, so for other sources, I would browse some guidebooks such as Lonely Planet (old-school, I know).

Other suggestions, chatters?

– May 07, 2012 12:39 PM
Q.

Australia tickets?

I'm planning to go to Australia this October. I'm seeing tickets for about $2000-2100. Should I buy now or wait to see if something better comes along? Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

Airfares to Australia seem to have risen sharply. We used to get sale fares of under $1,000, but no more. The cheapest I've seen for off-season travel is about $1,250, but that's from Los Angeles in Australia's winter. Keep checking Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Qantas for sales. And it may be cheaper to ticket separately from here to Los Angeles, and then from LA to Australia.  

– May 07, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

Viva Mexico

I'm lucky to have had the chance to go far and wide: Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Peru, a dozen countries in Europe - plus Turkey - but I go to Mexico every chance I get; even if its for a weekend. (Once in San Diego for a conference I went to Tijuana on the trolley -- for dinner. ) The best trips there have been to old colonial towns like Patzcuaro, Tlaxcala, Ixtapan de la Sal, Colima, and Merida. There is rich history, agreeable climate (always better than Chicago) and friendly people always willing to help a solo traveler. Oh, and the FOOD! And when I'm worn out and want to relax I can find a hammock by the beach.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

Lovely!

– May 07, 2012 12:41 PM
Q.

Atlanta Airport

Is about to open the new terminal. In reading about it - apparently, there is an entirely new entrance to it - from a different interstate. AND that means shuttling between that terminal and the rest of the airport when one might need to change planes. I know that so rarely happens in Atlanta (cough) but thought people might want to know.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks! Chatters, you've been warned.

– May 07, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

Bali (travel websites)

I love Wikitravel (http://www.wikitravel.org). It's user-edited, so that means that less-popular destinations may be years out of date, but popular destinations are well-done. It's also much easier to navigate than Lonely Planet. Wouldn't use it as the sole choice, but it's a great way to get started.

Q.

staying in NJ to visit NYC

What is the best and least expensive place to stay in NJ for easy access to NYC? Hotels walking distance to the PATH train in Newark and Jersey City seem to be ~$300 a night!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

How about the W in Hoboken? Andrea liked it, and its rates are more reasonable; it appears that you can get a room for closer to $200 a night. And it's no problem getting to the city from just across the river.

Chatters, other suggestions?

– May 07, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Favorite Country - Australia

We had the opportunity to live/work in Australia for several years in the late 1990's/early 2000's. We've been back a couple times since then and I've wanted to return for yet another visit for the past couple of years. However, when we lived there the Australian dollar was about USD 0.55 and now it's around USD 1.02. We just can't bring ourselves to go back, especially knowing how much we'd be paying for everything compared to what we paid when we lived there. So, it's USA vacations for us for now and, like so many of the other posters, we are loving them.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

Plus it's such a long trip! Love it there, though.

– May 07, 2012 12:49 PM
Q.

Favorite trips

I like international travel (so much to see!) but I agree with so many who like the good old USA. In particular, I am so impressed with the National Park System. My dream vacation is a trip to visit many of the ones in the middle of the country, kind of near the Rocky Mountains, but extending south too. So, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. I'd love to find an online resource that could optimize a route through that area to visit all the Parks.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Chatters, anybody know of such a resource?

– May 07, 2012 12:49 PM
Q.

Favorite Country

As a child I wanted to travel to the "deep dark jungles" of Africa and become a missionary. Fast forward 30 years and I'd since become enamored with Netherlands, in part because of its beauty, in part because of the dedication and resourcefullness of its citizens who have reclaimed ?millions of acres of land from the sea. So it was the first country I visited on a "five countries in ten days" type of tour. That my twin sister was chased down the street by "street walkers" in the Red Light District added to my memories of the country. (WHAT?*&^ I can't take your picture? I'm not going to sell it, promise!)
Q.

Senior citizen lady in Spain

So my aunt is going to be for 4-5 days in Madrid in late August, she hasn't been there before and would like to venture somewhere else besides Madrid. I thought she may want to see part of the south, perhaps Cordoba or Granada for 2 days? She will be on her own and I have no idea how to help her on doing this trip, I'm thinking an organized tour will be the best option for her because of the limited time and well for logistics. She speaks Spanish and don't have mobility issues but Im not sure if she will be able to deal all on her own with trains and buses (I got a bit lost when taking the train to just go to El Escorial and I also speak Spanish). She needs to go back to Madrid as her daughter will meet her to go to Barcelona. Any help will be appreciated!

A.
Carol Sottili :

Viator offers several day trips out of Madrid. Since she's there for only four-five days, makes sense to do a couple of day trips rather than an overnighter. 

– May 07, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

Scuba diving

Hi Travel crew and chatters! Anyone have any good insights or recommendations for good diving spots accessible from Kuching, Malaysia?
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Chatters, this one's for you!

– May 07, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Turks & Caicos port of call and fun nearby

I will be cruising to Turks & Caicos and it was a last minute trip decision two weeks agao. Unfortunately, due to an accident, I am on crutches (it happened a few days after we purchased the trip). Have you any idea what is available to do for fun very near the port? Have you cruised there before? Some days I think I want to skip the trip and stay at home instead of navigate with crutches!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I think you'll fine in Grand Turk. There is a village for tourists, a beach and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville all right there. You may be able to rent a wheelchair from the cruise ship - check with the line. Or just rent a private cabana (available through the cruise ships), hobble over and park yourself there for the duration. 

– May 07, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

VA coast and soft bed

VA Coast - how about the Eastern Shore or Virginia Beach? VA Beach....3 hours from NoVA no traffic....lots of free music in the summer, too: www.beachstreetusa.com RE: soft bed - I always travel with my Thermarest. Makes any hotel bed firm enough. Also, many hotels have wooden boards they can put under a mattress. This doesn't help as much as the Thermarest, in my experience, but every back is different.
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Virginia Beach, for my money, is not the "romantic getaway" spot the chatter was asking about. It's loud and crowded -- very high-energy. The Eastern Shore -- either of Maryland or Virginia --  is pretty much the opposite: quiet and laid-back. There's golf, kayaking, good local theater, wild ponies, some decent places to eat. I recommend looking into St. Michaels, Md., or Onancock, Va.

– May 07, 2012 12:53 PM
Q.

Porter Air to Canada?

In the past, everyone has complained about expensive fares from here to Canada. Will Porter's arrival at IAD result in more competition and lower fares? What do you kow about Porter? Thanks.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

It's probably too soon to say whether Porter will bring lower prices and more competition, but we can certainly hope, can't we? If you want to know more about Porter, have a gander at this story we ran a couple of years ago. The airline gets high marks from our author.

– May 07, 2012 12:53 PM
Q.

For the Pyrenees Traveler

I don't have that kind of time to travel around the Pyrenees, but if I did I think I'd do the suggestion of taking the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Two good friends of mine did that for their 30th and said it was really great - you learn so much about the geography and the culture. Good cheap eats too. :)
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks for the affirmation!

– May 07, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

Alaska cruise people

I am honestly curious why they deliberately chose an Alaskan cruise if they want to play golf and go shopping. Cruises to Alaska are outdoors-and-wilderness oriented to see all the incredible natural beauty. Perhaps it's not too late for them to re-book on a Caribbean route.
Q.

London Eye tickets

My husband and I will be in London on May 23 & 24 and would like to go on London Eye tour. Is there a cheap/discount site I can use to get the tickets?
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Afraid I don't know of one. Chatters, do you?

– May 07, 2012 12:55 PM
Q.

National Park Resource

Not sure if this will cover everything the chatter wants, but this U.S. parks Web site may be a good starting place.

Q.

Favorite place to visit

I love to go visit distant cousins and friends in the Azores. But the islands have much to attract a tourist not of Portuguese ancestry as well -- from breathtaking scenery to historic towns and architecture, cuisine made with fresh local foods (meat, fish, dairy, year-round produce), geothermal springs and a volcano that still puffs a bit at its summit. Prices are lower than most of Europe, and with the Euro at a lower exchange rate lately, the Azores are a good bargain, especially outside the traditional summer season.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

You have to get that Azores plug in just about every week, don't you? :-)

– May 07, 2012 1:01 PM
Q.

Porter effect

I did a little poking around when the Porter announcement was made and it does look like it is already driving fares down a bit. Air Canada has dropped their fares to the mid-$300s at the lowest. They had been at least up over $400 for as long as I can remember.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Good to know, thanks!

– May 07, 2012 1:01 PM
Q.

For the Bali Traveller

I've been there 4-5 times. For your short visit, you really want to get familiar with this unique culture; so read up before hand, and then make Ubud your base. I can recommend the Kokokan hotel, which is on the grounds of the ARMA museum. It is so peaceful and surrounded by beautiful scenery, and filled with art and music. Take an excursion north with a car and driver to see temples, volcanos, rice terraces and waterfalls. I've stayed near the beaches before, but they aren't always the cleanest; buy some memorable crafts - they have a distinctive painting culture, woodcarving and batik cloth. I love the architecture, so plan to take lots of photos.
Q.

New Atlanta Terminal

The website for the Atlanta airport says there will be a pedestrian walkway and tram between Terminal E and the new terminal F. So traveling to/through ATL shouldn't be that much more difficult than it is now.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Also good to know, thanks!

– May 07, 2012 1:01 PM
Q.

Cruising the Baltic Countries

I will be flying from JFK to Stockholm and cruising the Baltic countries for 11 days in July/Aug. My trip including hotel, flights and a few excursions are totally paid for (as well as travel insurance). Trying to determine whether I need to take 1-2 credit cards, a debit card, travel cheques and/or exchange some monies in adv. Do not plan to do lots of shopping as I travel often. What about using for Sprint smartphone in airplane mode, turn off data, or simply lock phone in the safe. Email connectivity available in ports for quick check-in with family?
A.
Carol Sottili :

I'd exchange some small bills so you can tip land guides and buy a snack. You'll need at least one credit card (tell your issuer that you're going abroad before you leave). Also, check the fees with your issuers  to see which of your cards will be the cheapest to use. I just use my credit card to get cash advances, but again, that will be an individual decision based on your particular cards. You won't need travelers cheques - many places won't even accept them. Turn off your phone  and put it in the safe. The ship will have likely have computers with email access.  

– May 07, 2012 1:01 PM
Q.

re: Alaska cruise

I did the same trip a few years ago. We flew into Anchorage a couple of days early and took a small float plane out of the Anchorage float plane airport to Denali and back. Landed on a high mountain lake to stretch our legs and pee in the bushes. Similar to this. Expensive but it's one of the most memorable things I've ever done. Then we rented a car and drove to Seward (where the cruise ship docked), stayed a night in beautiful, private cabins and the next day did a sled dog tour.   So cool! Definitely recommend both activities.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

Be sure to check out our flightseeing story, too!

– May 07, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Romantic getaway within 2 hours

The Tides Inn, Irvington, Va.

Q.

camping and fun along I-81?

My husband and I and our 5-year-old son will be going to a family wedding in Elkin, NC in June, and are tacking on a few days. Can you recommend an area along the way (I-81 from Front Royal to a bit south of Blacksburg), or near Elkin, where we could camp and do a few kid-friendly low-key activities? Extra points for specific campgrounds, but mainly just want some location suggestions that I can research.
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Roanoke is a pleasant mid-size city along I-81 that is fun to visit. You can camp nearby along the Blue Ridge Parkway on national parkland (some of the sites require reservations). In the area are plenty of trails for fun hiking. Check here for things to do in and around Roanoke.

– May 07, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

AutoTrain ontime record

Actually, it has OK numbers. Unlike other long-distance trains, no intermediate stops to contend with. Amtrak.com says 85% ontime in April (latest avail. month), 83.3% last 12 months. Of course, with any travel, you should always be prepared for delays.
A.
Carol Sottili :

I guess it's the 15 percent that I'm hearing from!

– May 07, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

australia travel in October/November

Remember on November 14 in Cairnes there is a total solar eclipse. BTW...there is an annular one here in the western US on May 20 in the evening. crossing Radding, CA, Lake Tahoe, Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Page, AZ, navajo area, albuquerque, and ending just past lubbuck, TX. From Arizona, Utah the moon will cover part of the sun at sunset. with full eclipse happening at Lubbuck just at sunset..
Q.

Autotrain question...

I have heard good things about the Autotrain as a way to get a car to Florida without two days of driving and a hotel night. Question: Is a car loaded with vacation luggage safe on the train? Do passengers have access to the cars -- their own or somebody else's -- during the trip?
A.
Carol Sottili :

There is no access to luggage packed in your car during the trip. Two carry-ons per passenger. 

– May 07, 2012 1:05 PM
Q.

Cocoa Beach

Any recommendations for Memorial Day weekend? I'll be down there for a wedding I'm in and I'm staying three extra days. Any ideas on where I should visit?
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Well, the Kennedy Space Center, of course, to start with. Check out our story on Florida's Space Coast for more ideas.

– May 07, 2012 1:06 PM
Q.

Autotrain

Well, gas might be cheaper to drive yourself, but it is not really. Gas is highly subsidized and the many single cars driving around are horrible for the environment (and that doesn't even include the we oil spills that destroy those Florida beaches). You "pay" every time you drive your car, maybe not in the immediate cost of the gas in your tank, but in more detrimental and long-lasting ways. Trains are many, many times more energy efficient. Plus, as noted, they are a lot more relaxing!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I agree that trains are environmentally better, but some people just can't afford it. 

– May 07, 2012 1:07 PM
Q.

Miami Stadium

It's not to everyone's taste, but we liked the aquariums. Our only concern is that the article understated the parking problems. The nearby parking garages are almost entirely reserved for season ticket holders and other VIP's, The 6000 spaces are at least 10,000 less than needed for a stadium of that size. The City of Miami has designated 11,000 "lawn parking spaces" without getting the owners' permission for the designation! In a reverse from most sporting arenas, residents are not allowed to park in front of their homes on game days; some have been ticketed and towed. This is a very poor neighborhood so this olicy has caused much resentment. My husband is semi-disabled and we paid $50 to park 2 blocks from the stadium, bumper to bumper to bumper so we could not leave early. Some commercial establishments sell similar parking on public sidewalks. Hopefully the city will take steps to remedy this as it tned what couldhave been a very enjoyable experience into a near-nightmare.
Q.

Zofia Smardz :

And that's it for us today, folks! Thanks so much for chatting, as always, and for all your tips, suggestions and travel stories. I'm so glad to know that so many of you pick the U.S. of A. as your favorite travel destination. Wish I could give you all a prize, but alas, I can't. So I think the prize this week goes to the traveler who was surprised by Bahrain. That's what travel's supposed to do for us, isn't it, open our eyes to someplace new and different. So send your contact info to me at smardzz@washpost.com, and I'll send you a little something in the mail. Thanks again everyone, and see you next Monday!

Q.

 

A.
Host: