Talk about Travel

Jun 23, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Past Talk about Travel chats

It's officially summer. Hooray! Hope everyone has beach plans or other avenues of escape from the heat.

For this week's topic: In Sunday's section, the author traveled to the Grand Canyon with a posse of friends. Hilarity ensued. Tell us about your experiences traveling with friends -- the good, the bad, the I-abandoned-her-on-the-side-of-the-Autobahn. The most entertaining story wins something that you we promise won't complain.

I'd just like to give a shout-out to the poster who recommended Lufthansa and their bassinet seats. I was able to reserve them and they sound amazing. Hopefully it will make the trip go a little more smoothly!

Let us know!

I'll be in Paris at the end of October for 4 days and instead of booking a hotel, I'm thinking about using airbnb.com to rent a 1 bedroom apartment. This would be my first time doing so and I'm a bit hesitant. As a first time airbnb'r do you have any tips? I really like the idea of being able to spread out in an apartment versus staying in a hotel room. Thanks!

I am a big fan of AirBnB. I have used the site for apartments in New York and an Airstream in Austin.

My tip is to read the descriptions and reviews carefully. Find out: What is included (breakfast, laundry, parking?), what are the cancellation fees, where is the flat located, how do you reach it, any extra cleaning fees, etc.? Chat up the owner for info on how to get the key and the best way to get in touch with her/him if you have any questions or needs.

If you are very social, you might consider sharing an apartment. Otherwise, get your own place. Finally, once there, if you see any damages, take photos so that you can prove that you did not cause them. And after your stay, spread the love and submit a review.

Travel-Finance question: What is the best way, in your opinion the best way to handle money in places like Poland, England and Germany? I am headed there for business, first time traveler in two weeks, and I still have don't have a real strategy on how to deal it currency conversions and fees, etc. Any suggestions?

You'll need a little cash for incidentals, which you can buy from your bank before leaving or pick up from an ATM when you arrive. Avoid the exchange kiosk at the airport, if you can (they charge commissions and usually have an unfavorable exchange rate). For the rest of the purchases, you can use a credit card. Just make sure you have one that has low currency exchange fees and possible, one that's compatible with the chip-and-pin readers widely used in Europe. See this week's Navigator for a full discussion of using a credit card in Europe.

For travelling with kids from NYC to Washington DC, who offers the most comfortable + clean bus service?

They are pretty comparable-- Bolt, Washington Deluxe, BestBus (previously DC2NY), etc. Just stay away from the Chinatown buses. I found them to be dirty and unsafe.

Your kids might like MegaBus,  a double decker. Try to nab the front seat on the second level. A new service called Royal Sprinter also started traveling the NY-DC route. It's more expensive ($90 one-way) but has only eight seats and individual entertainment systems.

I have been looking at airline tickets to go to Frankfurt, Germany in late August - early September. There are 3 direct flights I could take on United Airlines. A 3pm, 5pm, and 10pm. For some reason, I can't view the available seats for the 3pm or the 5pm. The system also tells me that seat assignments will be made prior to flight. The 10pm still has lots of seats available and I would be able to choose my own seat. Do you have any idea why the two earlier flights don't allow seat assignments?

My guess is that you are looking at Lufthansa flights. Try going through Lufthansa rather than United to see the seatmap. It's not all that easy to find on the Lufthansa site, but when you click on the Information bubble next to the flight number, you'll see seatmap in the top right corner. 

For the person going to Ocean Isle and wanting things to do...The Grand Strand is known for its golf courses, and there are many miniature golf courses. Go south to Calabash for seafood; there are about a dozen restaurants to choose from. We like Twin Lakes at Sunset Beach also. And check out Calabash Nautical...I've bought many shell Christmas ornaments there. Outlet shopping in Myrtle Beach is good, and I hear Broadway at the Beach has fabulous shows and a pavilion with rides. Check out Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach State Park. Going north, it's 44 miles to Wilmington; my husband and I visited the USS North Carolina last September for the first time in 40 years and loved the tour. Wilmington is a cool town to explore. Go out to Carolina Beach and then to the end of the island and take the ferry to Southport. Lots of fun antique shops to browse in that village, and seafood too. And yay for the brand spanking new Food Lion just across the bridge from Ocean Isle, it's a nice store to have convenient. Is that enough?

Great tips! Thanks!

The pin and chip article was very Chicken Little. I was just in Estonia and Finland and not once did I have a problem with non-chip+pin cards. I did not try to conduct any automated transactions at kiosks, nor did I try to use my card every single time I made a purchase. I was sure to have enough backup cash (Euros and even dollars for any bureau de change emergencies). I think the commenter on that article was spot on: if you transact with a human, pin+chip is not needed and if you transact with a machine, it is needed.

Thanks for commenting on the article. Wow, I've gotten the comments on that one. I'm glad you didn't have any problems with your credit card while you were in Europe, and here's hoping everyone else has the same experience. I've definitely learned my lesson about carrying cash.

For food, go to Cabana Las Lilas- AMAZING steaks, and the restaurant provides a lot of delicious little snacks before the meal begins. The meat pairs wonderfully with an Argentinian malbec. If the weather is nice, try to get a seat on the patio. For sightseeing, definitely visit La Recoleta Cemetery; it’s an incredibly fascinating little city of intricate memorials, and it was one of my favorite sites in the city. While touristy, I also highly recommend attending a tango show. I don’t remember the name of the one we saw, but if you ask your hotel concierge for recommendations you probably won’t go wrong.

Thanks for the great suggestions.

I'm going to Paris soon and plan to return with some items like mustard, jams, and cosmetics which can't be placed in my carry-on due to the liquids rule. I know there is no guarantee against breakage but I am more concerned about pilfering if TSA opens my bag. Is this a problem? Are travelers usually able to bring home such items safely?

Most checked baggage thefts involve valuables, such as money, technology and jewelry. You should always carry these goods in your carry-on bags. 

If you are concerned about your French goods, put together an itemized list and take a photo of your open luggage for proof. If you notice any missing items, report your concerns to the airline's Baggage Services as well as to TSA's claims department.

That said, I have full confidence that your items will make it home safely.

I'm trying to decide where to go on vacation labor day weekend with a limited budget. I have a place to stay on the beach in Florida, but need to pay for a plane ticket. I don't have a place to stay at one of the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia beaches, but can drive there rather than fly. Which do you think I would get a better deal at (flying to Florida or hotel nearby)? Which beach/resort nearby should I go to if I decide not to fly to Florida?

It'll probably be cheaper to go to the local beaches, as airfares are high over Labor Day, but hotel rates have already gone down as most families with school-age children are done with vacationing by then. Difficult to suggest the best spot without knowing a little bit about you. If you're on your own and like shopping & eating, I'd opt for Rehoboth. 

Despite my current hometown of Boston being the Hub of the Universe :-), there are no non-stop flights to some of the places I want to go to. In plotting out a route, I find it helpful to know which cities *do* have a non-stop flight to my destination city. (For example: I don't want to change planes in Chicago in the dead of winter when I could fly a more southerly route). Some,but not all, airport websites have a helpful page that lists this information. Is there someplace else I can get the information, rather than endlessly spinning the Travelocity, expedia, kayak, etc. dial? Thanks!

Google Flights offers a fairly comprehensive list of flight options. Also, have a look at ExpertFlyer. There's no site or reservation system that lists every flight option, but you can find most of your choices on those sites. For the rest, you would need a travel agent.

I just caught up on last week's chat, as I was driving the PCH last week! If the poster from last week goes, be aware that there are long stretches of highway without anywhere to stop (i.e. bathrooms). I would definitely reccomend spending the night in Big Sur, especially if they want to do some light hiking. But most of the hiking there is more in the moderate-to-strenuous vein. We also stayed in the town of Cayoucas, which was an adorable little beach town. And thanks to you guys for the suggestion of Hotel Tomo in SF, it was a great place to stay!

You are so welcome, and thank you for the tips.

My partner and I are visiting friends in Portsmouth, NH, in early August. Flying up for a weekend, our first time in the area. We already plan to take a whale watching tour. Do you or the readers have suggestions for how best to use the rest of our short time there? (We can have access to a car as needed, but are happy to walk as well.)

Love Portsmouth! It's a fun town just to walk around in, lots of nice restaurants and great shopping, if you're into that. You can spend a couple of hours just wandering around and having a drink in lovely Market Square, the heart of town. For history, there's Strawberry Banke, an outdoor history museum down by the water, with 10 historic houses that you can visit. Nearby Prescott Park has beautiful gardens and holds a summer arts and theater festival, so maybe you could catch a show. Another fabulous historic home that's not part of the Banke but is incredibly authentic is the Warner House; I recommend it highly. Across the Piscataqua River is
Kittery, Maine, which has outlet malls and more great eats.
I know you're already taking a whale-watching tour, but if you have time, I'd recommend a tour to the Isles of
Shoals
, a fascinating series of rocky islands about 15 miles from shore. If you don't do it this time, put it on your must-do list for your next trip. What else, chatters?

Hi Travel Gurus - My husband and I are going to France next winter, and he wants to do a stopover in Iceland on the way there. That's fine with me, but I'd really like to come back from France non-stop, which rules out a r/t on Air Iceland. How would I do a search for this kind of thing? Would it be prohibitively expensive? Thanks!

Most airlines sell one-way tickets at an astonishing mark-up, because their yield management systems that set ticket prices believe they will only be booked by business travelers on an expense account. So if you try to book a one-way ticket to France, and then a one-way ticket back, you will almost certainly spend more than by buying a round-trip.  I would find the airline you dislike the least and buy a roundtrip ticket. If you still want to proceed, I'd strongly recommend you seek out the advice of a qualified travel agent, who may be able to find something creative that won't break the bank.

I liked the article about the author finding traces of Phoenicians in Spain. As a history buff, I can tell you and everybody else a little about Phoenicians: 1. They were a seafaring ethnic group who, like the Greeks who followed them, established many colonies throughout the Mediterranean. 2. They also lived in what is today Lebanon, and traded in Tyrenean purple dye, a commodity so rare that only the wealthy could afford to have their clothing dyed that color. 3. If you look at our alphabet, you can see traces of Phoenician lettering. 4. One colony, Carthage, grew so powerful, they challenged Rome. The result was three Punic Wars featuring General Hannibal taking his army and elephants to Italy for a battle with Rome in the 2nd Punic War in the late 3rd century BCE. Later, in the mid-2nd century BCE, the 3rd Punic War was fought on Carthaginian home turf, resulting in Carthage's defeat and destruction. 5. Cadiz is mentioned in the Bible as Tarshish--that book mentions the "ships of Tarshish." Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Spain. OK, that's all the history I can toss out now. Class dismissed!

Well, that's quite a bit! Thanks for the lesson and the reminder of my 8th-grade history!

I have a layover in Iceland. Do you know the name of the bus company that shuttles people from the airport to the Blue Lagoon?

Blue Lagoon has a list of operators who offer trips and shuttle service, such as BusTravel Iceland. Here is the info.

Icelandair also has an add-on option. And Grayline offers transfers.

Tripper Bus and Vamoose Bus run from Bethesda and Arlington to New York, much easier to get to if you live in the 'burbs.

Great point!

Holy moly! A one-way ticket from CDG to BOS is $3000! I'm sure Iceland is a fine place to stop twice.

Told ya.

this has been around for a while...... it's pretty easy to break into any luggage - just trust and prepare for the best

Thanks for passing along that link.

Years ago, when we were both single women in our 20's, my friend and I (we grew up together in New York) went on a vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. She complained incessently that there were so few restaurants and nothing was open late like it was in New York. She also thought the ocean was too dirty and she only wanted to swim in the hotel pool. Thirty-five years later we are still great friends, but we never went on another vacation together.

So nice that you could salvage the relationship, and now know that you should never take her swimming in that dirty ocean.

Is it true that if you book holiday travel, flights on Christmas day are cheap (not full high season fares)? When do the fares drop from those highs after New Year's to make the return affordable too?

Yes. fares drop if you were willing to sacrifice holiday time with your loved ones. Such as flights that overlap with Thanksgiving dinner or  opening gifts on Christmas Day.

You might see the fare drop for really early flights on New Year's Day or about three days after the holiday.

Hey gang. We're going to Jamaica in October. Staying at an all-inclusive place: Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay. Any feedback on the place? And what's there to do outside of the hotel for two adventurous and love-to-party 50-somethings? Oh..and the weather in October?? Thanks!

Not familiar with that particular all-inclusive. Chatters? As for venturing outside of the resort to party, the so-called Hip Strip on Gloucester Avenue is where tourists congregate.  Jimmy Buffett's  Margaritaville is one of the more popular places there. Be careful, especially late at night. There are neat nature-oriented trips that I'd recommend, but not in MoBay. Take a look at the Mayfield Falls, which is about a 90-minute drive. 

We just booked a house in Dewey for Labor Day. We found that booking a condo directly was cheaper for 2+ people than flying anywhere. For beaches, Dewey is great if you like Clarendon, Bethany is great if you like Alexandria, and Rehobeth is great if you like Bethesda. I would avoid Ocean City-- Delaware is a lot nicer and a lot more enjoyable.

Thanks for the beachy advice.

For the person looking for places to eat in Bologna, Italy last week, try the small restaurants on Via Broccaindosso (Scacco Matto, for example), Drogheria della Rossa, and the ice cream at La Sorbetteria Castiglione. Reservations recommended for dinner!

Grazie!

In September, I am taking an overnight stay in London when returning from Europe. This will be my first visit visit to London: a) Please suggest an itinerary for the 7 day time hours before my British Airways flight departure at 5.35 pm? b) Where should I stay? My budget is US $225 or less for the one night stay. Does it make sense to stay near London Heathrow? Thanks!

Your free time may be less than you expect because you'll need to be at the airport at least two hours before departure. Heathrow is busy and very security conscious. It takes a long time to get through the process there. Don't know what time you are arriving the night before, but if you are getting in late, it may make sense to stay near the airport and then take the Heathrow Express right into London the next morning. That will dump you off at Paddington Station, which is not far from Hyde Park and Kensington Palace

I consult the Wikipedia page for the destination airport - it will list the airlines that serve it and all the destinations with direct flights. This also is very useful when trying to find the budget airlines not found on Expedia or Travelocity that only sell through their own web sites. By the way - I was one who recommended Lufthansa to the traveller with the baby - I'm glad my suggestion helped!

Thank you. That's a great suggestion.

I can't remember the last time I actually locked my suitcase. I simply avoid traveling with anything I can't replace. So far, bringing home something I'd be afraid to lose hasn't been an issue, but I haven't traveled anywhere exotic lately.

The rule is: Never get too attached to your belongings!

There were 6 of us, three males, three females, all 18 or so years old, headed from Germany to England for the Christmas holidays. The train between our town in Germany and the ferry was also full of British soldiers, some of who had decided that it could be great fun to invite us into the troop car and get the high school kids drunk. We were of legal age to drink, but only two of us knew when to stop - alas, one American kid absolutely did not, and the more drunk he got, the more political and ill-advised his speech got. His ever-louder and more strident rants about the IRA, the flaws of imperialistic thuggery, and the human right to disobedience (I'm paraphrasing), just like America did, was definitely playing to the wrong audience. Luckily, between the more sober parties on both sides of the yelling match, we were able to drag him back to our own compartment before international relations took a really ugly turn.

Oooh, definitely put that guy on the don't-invite-again list.

Would Ogunquit, ME., be too far afield for you? There's a live theater there.

Thanks for the tip!

Trip to Machu Pichu with three other people. Two wanted to spend all their time shopping in Cuzco, were bored with the ruins after about an hour, and complained about the spare accomodations on site at Machu Pichu (we stayed there overnight to do the whole "see the sunrise at Machu Pichu" experience). So annoying - who gets bored at Machu Pichu?!?

You beat the odds and found those two special people!

DISLIKE = typo, or what? Also, remember that you can't use the second half of a R/T ticket if you didn't use the first half.

Meant to say "dislike the least" and have fixed that. Thanks. Yes, you can do throwaway ticketing, but then you're buying two roundtrips, which may be more expensive than a single roundtrip.

I just read last week's chat mentioning the new duty-free liquids rule. My husband and I were returning from Lisbon a few weeks ago with three items (carried on) from duty free: a bottle of port, bottle of olive oil and jar of honey. We had to connect through PHL and completely forgot about going through security again at that point. My husband had the items in his carry-on and obviously was searched (we were so tired we forgot we even had them with us). I was surprised that they were going to allow us to bring the port through. They would not, however, let us bring the oil, which was in a frosted glass bottle, or the honey, which was a cloudy liquid, because those items couldn't be "scanned." Anyway, after reading about the rule change it now makes much more sense. So my advice is, just make sure they can see through the bottle and liquid if you try to carry it through, and don't open the sealed duty-free bag.

Thanks so much for sharing your illuminating experience.

Love your chat! I'm heading to London in a couple of weeks and was thinking of purchasing my airport transfer to hotel ahead of time through Viator. I know most folks would just take the tube, but I'm not sure I want my first trip on their underground to be with luggage, unfamiliarity, etc. Thoughts on this? Any reason to book ahead vs. just catching a cab at the airport? I've never booked anything on Viator before, but have seen it mentioned on this chat. Thanks!

I've not personally used Viator, but know many who have,  and the reviews have been good.  It also has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. As far as taking the Tube, if you can get directly to your destination via the Heathrow Express, which ends up at Paddington Station in London, it's a good deal. Nice wide areas for luggage and takes only 15 minutes.  Not sure what Viator is charging you for airport pick-up and whether that is a shared ride. Taxis are easy to get, although they aren't cheap. 

Hello, I am thinking about taking a bike tour. I have been looking at trips from two companies, and wondered if you or the chatters had experience with either of these OR any other bike touring companies? I'm not having much luck searching for reviews online. I'd like to stay domestic, and while both these companies are women-only, I'd be fine with mixed gendered tours, too. The companies I've been looking at are Woman Tours and Vesta Vello. Guess I'm just feeling nervous about booking something without knowing they are good companies! I've never done anything like this before (trip with a tour company).

Chatters, does anybody have experience with these or other bike tours?

Seems there used to be a time when you could get last minute flight deals where one could book a good priced ticket a few days before flying. Whatever happened to those? Are there sites I'm missing? It's hard to find any deals for spontaneous travel if not booked within 21 days. That seems to be the way with Amtrak too. Though I suppose for big holiday weekend like July 4th deals are scarce.

If you have a preferred airline or hotel, I'd recommend signing up for their email newsletter, which often sends out last-minute fare specials. If you're in the market for what's known as "distressed" inventory -- or fares or rooms that probably won't be sold and are aggressively discounted -- try Hotwire or Priceline.

(Some information left generic to protect identities). When I was 16, I traveled to Europe with a friend. For the most part, it was great, but she and I definitely had different ideas in mind of things to do and how to travel (I was ok with hostels, and she preferred nice hotels, I enjoyed trying the food, she stuck with what she knew, etc.). By the end of the trip, I was so sick of missing out on fun stuff, that when she went into a fast-food place to use the bathroom, I took off and left. I went off and had the best afternoon seeing things I had wanted to see but hadn't had the chance, and just walking around enjoying the city (large Danish city--awesome, beautiful place). I didn't really consider the fact that my friend might have a difficult time finding her way back to our hostel or that she would be scared--at 16, it's just not something you think about (especially since I would have been/was fine in that situation). She made it back safely, although shook up, and when I eventually came back, I claimed that I waited and waited but never seen her so I left. I definitely wouldn't recommend doing that, and can't believe now that I could have done that, but it was honestly one of my favorite days of that trip.

Honestly. you are not alone. I "strayed" from a friend in London for the very same reasons you listed. Sometimes you gotta go for it.

1993 - two friends and I flew from the East Coast to Phoenix for a wedding. We had a few days to kill, so we decided to drive to Vegas. I was the only one over 25 and had to do all the rental car driving. One friend smoked, so I lied and said it was a non-smoking car in order not to smell it. I brought along cassette tapes and didn't suggest they bring any, so we only heard my music. Two of us accidentally got free admission to Montezuma Castle, and the third was bitter for half a day and insisted we contribute to his ticket price ($5?). One drank too many beers and I would not stop for yet another pee break, so he lied about needing to vomit. Within 5 minutes of arriving in Vegas, someone won $200 and bought breakfast the next day. We were somewhat close to Needles CA, and one friend whined that we needed to go because Snoopy's cousin Spike was from there. We stopped at wedding chapels, Bedrock City, Sonoma, Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon. None of us had been to the Canyon before, so we all kept our heads down, walked to the rim and all looked up on the count of 3. It was a great road trip at a time in life where we were old enough to rent a car and hotel rooms, but young enough to bicker and lie and behave like sullen teenagers. But oh so memorable.

That is hilarious! I so wish I had been following along in my own RV.

I'm traveling to Rio for 4 days in a few weeks. Is there a list of must-do items while I'm there? I won't have a car, for what it's worth.

Well, you should see the Christ the Redeemer statue, touristy as it is, and also go up Sugarloaf Mountain for the views. There are favela tours that you can take -- these shantytowns are part of the Rio character, and as long as you're on a tour, you should be okay. Then of course there's always the beach. Copacabana and Ipanema are the most famous. Have a look at this Rio story we ran a couple of years ago. And chatters, let's hear your two cents.

We just traveled on a ticket we bought from Expedia. When we got to the airport the ticket agent would not check our bags to our next flight because the layover was less than an hour. She said we could make the flight but she could not put our luggage on that same one, it would have to go on a later flight. We ended up booking an entirely different flight to a nearby airport arriving at our destination 6 hours later than expected. There was nothing on Expedia that noted our luggage would not make the trip that they were offering and we bought. The flights were on different airlines which may have been the issue but if we had known that our luggage couldn't be checked we never would have booked it. I don't imagine there is any recourse and I'm necessarily looking for one but you would think this not minor detail should be noted for people buying these tickets. The agent said that it doesn't happen often but she has seen a rise of it in the past week - all people going to our same destination.

I'm sorry that happened to you. You're right, Expedia should have mentioned something to you, and it sounds as if you were inconvenienced by its lack of disclosure. Expedia relies on the same reservation systems used by travel agents, which sometimes offer an unrealistic or circuitous itinerary. I would let Expedia know about this issue in writing, and if you don't get an adequate response, please contact me. Here are my coordinates.

You asked what time I arrive in London (for my overnight stay). I arrive in London at 6.40 pm and depart at 5.35 pm the following day. Should I just stay in Central London or near the Airport? I am still not sure.....Thanks!

With a budget of $225, you will likely find more hotel choices closer to the airport than in the city. 

Looking for a romantic weekend trip for late August-- only Saturday/Sunday. Less than 4 hours drive from northern VA. We like scenery (city or hiking), wineries, good food, but don't need all of the above. Prefer hotels over B&Bs, and don't want to break the bank. Go!

How about the City of Brotherly Love? That's right -- I'm suggesting Philly! I think you could get all of the above there: Stay at the boutique Rittenhouse 1715 hotel or the posh Latham. Eat at one of these restaurants, or maybe one of these. Or these.

Stroll around the grounds of the Barnes Foundation. Whisper sweet nothings to each other at the Whispering Benches in Fairmount Park. Hike a trail in the Wissahickon. Take a day trip to the Brandywine Valley for wining.

Chatters, where else in Philly would you send a pair of lovebirds?

I have been a longtime user of US Airways' non-stop flights between DCA and PBI (West Palm Beach airport). Do you have any idea of what the future of those flights will be with the US Airways and American merger? Thank you.

Well, unlike my much-loved & now much-missed DCA to Islip nonstop flights, they haven't canceled them yet, which is good news.  JetBlue, which gained slots at DCA from the US Airways/American merger, will start  that service on Dec. 18. I noticed that US Airways reduces its schedule to just one nonstop a day after that, so that's where it might stay for a while. 

Hello, My family and I are planning a week-long trip at the end of August to Cape Cod. We went a few years ago and stayed in Brewster and drove around to Chatham, Provincetown, etc. This time, if we go, we'd like to make Provincetown our base, so that we can go to beaches and have fun walking around. But I'm also wondering about Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket? Would it be worth it to go to either place for a week instead of the Cape? We have a disabled child and a preschooler, so we're just looking for low-key fun outings like beaches and places to walk around.

If you're drawn to P-town after having visited, then I say go for it! I love it there -- although I confess I usually stay in the next town over, Truro, with friends. (I'm going there next month, actually.)

You could certainly find enough to entertain you in MV or Nantucket, but maybe you should consider that for next year, while this time you could take a day trip to one or both while you're on the Cape (kind of like you scouted out and settled on Provincetown last time). That's my two cents.

My husband and I are finally going on a long-anticipated trip to Japan. We will be going to Tokyo and Hiroshima, as we have friends there, and then we might go some other places. What are some of the best times of year to go there, both based on cost of flights and weather? I think we're looking at going mid-late 2015, but would consider earlier in the year, too. What is an amount we should anticipate spending on flights?

Spring and fall are wonderful times to visit, especially May and September. But you could go earlier in spring or later in fall and still have pleasant weather. Summer can be hot and rainy; winter, coooold!

For lower fares and fewer crowds, plan around national holidays. Price varies so much, depending on day/week/month. But flights are typically in the low $1,000 range.

I've heard great things, but never been to Charleston, SC. I'm throwing my brother a bachelor party there in late September as a destination party over a three day weekend. We are all in our mid 30's so we aren't looking for a super wild scene, we'd like to actually have a local experience, eat, drink, be merry. What are some can't miss places or things to do there that folks can recommend? Thanks!

You'll love Charleston, a beautiful, laid-back city. Can't miss things to do/see: Fort Sumter (where the Civil War began); any one or combination of Drayton Hall (a must-must), Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation and Boone Plantation; Calhoun Mansion; Charleston Museum; the City Market. Maybe take a city walking tour, they're fascinating. They'll tell you why all the houses face sideways to the street (I'm not giving it away!). For eats, try Husk, Fig, The Grocery and hot newcomer The Ordinary. What else, chatters?

Day-trip to Bucks County? Or to Wyeth territory?

Excellent ideas.

Hiking along Hadrian's Wall with some side trips by car. We met up in London and drove north together. I am not the world's best driver and I've had a bit of trouble with right and left since my Hokey Pokey days. We were all supposed to take turns, but...well...it was better that I become the designated gate opener for those quaint country lanes. Much better. No one wanted to risk my instincts on avoiding on coming traffic and I don't blame them. Not one little bit. Great time, though. Our B&B served a huge breakfast, so we never got hungry until it was time for scones and clotted cream and that was really just fine with us.

Friends don't let friends drive on the wrong side of the road!

Staunton, VA might fit the bill. Lovely town with good food and wine and plenty of nature surrounding for hiking.

Thanks!

I would like to go on an autumn leaf-peeping trip this October, but I've pretty much done Vermont and New Hampshire to death, so I'm looking for other alternatives. I'm thinking either the Berkshires in Massachusetts, or the Catskills in NY? I'm hoping to do lots of scenic drives, hiking, wine-tasting, and possibly fall festivals. Would like it to be within one day's drive of DC. Thanks!

Either the Catskills or the Berkshires would be fantastic. They're both beautiful areas with wineries, history, culture and natural beauty. I'm partial to the Hudson Valley myself -- you could start in Tarrytown, N.Y., and head north along the river. But really, I'd say the two are a toss-up. Chatters, your thoughts?

After too many tales, most of which aren't funny or fun, we've developed an approach when traveling with friends: "We are doing x. We will be a y bar/pub/cafe at z p.m. if you want to join us for all or any of it." We've spent too much of our precious vacation time trying to please everybody in the group, and ended up doing nothing because we couldn't come to consensus. Now we do research, announce our plans, and invite others along -- but no whining!

That's a great approach. We should all adopt it.

After a college semester abroad, I traveled with a friend around Europe. We had totally different interests and agendas and seemed to spend more time debating what to do/where to go than actually doing it. One night in a hostel in Geneva, she suddenly said "I'm done. I'm going home." and walked out. This was pre-cell phones, so once she was gone she was gone. She did leave me the travel guides and I had a MUCH better time traveling by myself than negotiating my every move with her.

That is unfortunate -- but you totally lucked out!

The Gin Joint is a great place for craft cocktails for the bachelor party -- laid back, not wild.

Thanks!

I've got a 5 hour layover at LAX later this summer. I'll have my carryon so don't want to drag it far, but any suggestions on what to do/where to eat from the crew or the chatters? Apparently the cool looking restaurant in the middle is now closed.

Well, I don't know that you're going to have such great food possibilities that you can eat up (cough-cough) those 5 hours with dining. Here's Eater's take on LAX dining possibilities.

How about going to XPress Spa? It's in Terminal 5. This is one of my favorite ways to kill time. Nothing like a good chair massage to help you handle air travel, IMO.

If you want to leave the airport, you might be able to swing it -- there are some good beaches a VERY short cab ride away! See Andrea's take on this possibility.

The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania? (Yes, there really is one!)

Oh that should be stunning in the fall.

I was going back to college. A car full of boys -- and me, the one female. We had a flat tire while on the Penn Turnpike. I saw the hubcap and said that I'd go back and get it. When I got back to the car, they'd gotten the wheel jacked up and two boys were trying to hold the tire while another one was trying to loosen the lugs. I suggested that they jack the car down and then loosen the lugs. I also needed to show them how to step on the bar to start the lugs. Boy, was I glad that my Dad had showed me how to change a tire when I was 9!

Supergirl saves the day!

Hi Travel gurus, going for a visit with my kids back home to Queens NY. I know we can visit all the amazing things in NYC and there are some neat meseums in Queens as well, but can you advise on any off the beaten path ideas. I saw a few weeks ago mentioned a blind/deaf museum in Long island, but can't find it...Doesn't have to be a museum, just something hands on fun and not longer than a 45 minute drive.

How about the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City? Too bad Theodore Roosevelt's house at Sagamore Hill is closed for renovations, as this was always one of children's favorites. 

My mother lives in a retirement community in Alexandria and will turn 90 November 1. Family and friends would like to visit to celebrate. She would prefer to sleep in her own bed, so I am seeking a celebration spot that can host 10-12 overnight guests within driving distance of Alexandria. We would gather at this spot during the day, and drive mom home at night. Any suggestions for a place that would meet our needs for a 3-4 days?

How about the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg?

Sorry, in my haste I forgot to write thank you in my last post. Thank you Joe Yonan! I think I will stick to cape cod this year and look at MV and Nantucket next year!

You are so welcome! (I am speaking for Joe)

Food at LAX has gotten so much better! The article you posted is from 2011. Not sure which Terminals these are in, but 800 Degrees has wonderful pizza, ink.sack from from Michael Voltaggio is there (I recommend the Jose Andres sandwich!), Vanilla Bake Shop has excellent cupcakes, and Lemonade is an LA favorite.

If you miss the color in PA, you can do Skyline Drive or Blue Ridge Parkway.

LAX has great restaurants now - go to the website and take a gander! Lots of bigtime chefs have opened places. Spa good, but restaurants are as well.

Thanks so much for joining us on this fun ride. If we didn't answer your question, please come back next week.

Today's winner is the road tripper who took the long and adventurous route to the wedding in Phoenix. Message me at andrea.sachs@washpost.com with your contact info.

Have a great week and see ya next Monday.

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.
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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