Talk about Travel

Jul 02, 2012

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.

Good afternoon, chatters! Are you all managing to stay cool? It's been quite the weekend here in Washington, with power outages everywhere after Friday night's storm. I'm hoping that you're all ensconced somewhere nice and comfy for our chat. Did you all enjoy Andrea's behind the scene with cruise director Ricky Matthews? He sounds like such a fireball! And I'm betting you laughed as hard as I did over Jane's hilarious story about her rental car nightmare. I know that folks have been sharing their own rental car horror stories with her, but let's let everybody in on them, shall we? Tell me about your funniest, most annoying, scariest, whatever rental car mishap and win our weekly prize. Best tale will drive off with a little something from our warehouse. Just don't get your hopes up too high; it won't be anything on four wheels. :-)

On to the chat!

Thanks to your recommendations, I visited Savage River Lodge in early June. Just wonderful -- quiet time walking in the woods, watching wildlife from my cabin porch, sitting reading in front of the gas fire in the evening, and comfy bedding, not exactly what you expect in a *cabin*. My dog loved it too, and the Lodge is a great place to dine just a short walk/drive from the cabins. Thanks!

I'm sure it was Becky who recommended that, and she's on the road today, so I will say "You're welcome!" on her behalf.

I've never been to the beach on the East Coast and want to take a short trip at the end of July. I plan to drive from DC on a Sunday and return on Wednesday. Are overnight lodging prices better Sunday to Tuesday? What beach towns in Maryland or Delaware have the best access to areas geared more toward hiking and less toward sunbathing masses? I'm also thinking of taking the ferry to New Jersey and heading to Atlantic City on Tuesday to stay overnight. Any tips for room deals in or near the nicer casinos?

Because there are so many cities within easy driving distance of the Delaware & Maryland beaches, they are crowded in summer. Lodging prices are fairly consistent during summer -- you won't get a deal for weekday stays until Aug. 20 or so, when kids go back to school. If you want to be near the beach, but not on the beach Lewes is a nice little town in Delaware that is very close to the ferry. And Cape Henlopen State Park and Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge, which offer hiking,  are nearby.   I will have to defer to my colleagues and chatters for Atlantic City tips. 

Last month I rented from Avis, and requested a compact car. When the woman working behind the desk plaintively told me they were out of compact cars but would not charge me extra for the larger car they were about to give me, I was a bit nervous; she kept apologizing, repeatedly, that they truly had nothing else available. She then handed me the keys to a black Crown Victoria. I have not had a smoother trip ever in my life - people see you coming in that and move the heck out of the way! It was great fun, especially seeing the confused looks on people's faces when they realized I was not, in fact, any sort of law enforcement officer. Made for quite the memorable trip!

Now that's the kind of upgrade you want!

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO KNOW AND ENJOY IT AND WHAT ARE THE MOST INTERESTING PLACES FOR THIS TRIP? SERGIO E. URBINA( from Colombia) e-mail: sergioeurbina@yahoo.com

Ouch, my ears are hurting. The best way to see the Left Coast is with a good old fashioned American road trip. I would fly into LA, rent a car and drive up Highway One (PCH), which is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. See LA, San Francisco, drive up to wine country, and if you have time, head up to Oregon and Washington. Summer is a great time to visit Seattle and maybe Bainbridge Island, which is just a half-hour ferry ride from the mainland. That's how I'd do it.

A girlfriend and I went to England and rented our first ever drive-on-the-left standard transmission car. We were far from the rental place when we realized we had NO idea how to put it in reverse. For awhile we could deal with it (pull-through parking spots, gravity down a hill), but finally we had to admit defeat and car the company. So embarrassing! (BTW, we had to pull this funny little thing on the gear shift up to get the car to go backwards.)

Ah yes, that funny little thing on the gearshift confounds many an American over there!

Several years ago, I was driving from my apartment in Alexandria up to my younger brother's college graduation in Pittsburgh. I made it through the beltway traffic and to Gaithersburg when, suddenly, my car overheated. After waiting several hours for the only available mechanic to tell me the car was nearly shot, I drove home at a steady 35mph with bottles of water ready in case the car wouldn't make it. The next day, I rented a car and restarted my trek. I had made it to Gaithersburg when, you guessed it, my rental car died on me. I went back to the same mechanic from the night before and he couldn't stop laughing. Eventually I gave in and had to laugh too!

Wow, what an awful coincidence. Glad you could laugh about it!

I have been lucky enough to be married to the most wonderful person for over 23 years who happens to hail from Denver. As a result, Denver has become my "2nd home" and we go out there at least once a year. This year was going to be the 1st time my parents were going to come as they have never been to Colorado in all their years. I wanted to show them how pretty it is there. A couple of weeks ago we bought tickets on Southwest to fly out there at the end of July and stay for about 1 week. We were planning on spending a few nights in Denver, a few nights in Breckenridge, and 1 night in Estes Park. We haven't booked any rooms yet, but I feel that we are still locked in to going as our airfares are non-refundable. If we decided the fires in CO were going to cause problems for our trip, do you think Southwest would go along with changing the trip to another time without a change fee?

Southwest  has a very liberal cancellation policy. There are no cancellation fees. You can apply the ticket price toward another flight, as long as you use it within one year. 

 

Aside from the obvious, e.g. NYC, Boston, etc. - what might be an interesting stopover between here and Maine when travelling with an 11 year-old girl? Thanks ;-)

Depends on your 11-year-old and what kinds of things she likes and likes to do. If she's a mature 11-year-old, I think she might like Newport, R.I., with its gorgeous mansions by the sea -- they fulfill many a young girl's princess fantasies. Of course, this would mean taking the longer route along the ocean, rather than the straight shot up. But it's worth doing. If she's more the active, amusement-park type, you could make a stop at Canobie Lake in Salem, N.H. Once again, this also depends on how many stops you want to make along the way.

Chatters, what do you recommend?

I was working in amsterdam a while back and needed a rental car. so i got one (a story in and of itself wrt how to rent a car - okay, so if you go to the post office, you can get a voucher for a rental car, and that voucher was about 1/2 what it cost to rent a car, but you have to do it for EXACTLY the number of days for the rental, no breaking up the voucher at all. But no one tells you about the voucher system, which I suppose doesn't exist anymore, what with the internet an all). It was a tiny car, manual. I couldn't find a place to put gas in it - so I brought it in without gas, in the US they will just charge you more. BUT they told me they wouldn't accept it without a full gas tank *sigh*. So I had to go out and about in a city that I didn't know that well, to find a gas station. In the process, because of the way the streets are I banged up the car pretty good. So I returned it, with a full gas tank, and some damage to the car. Eventually (a month or two later?) they charged me something for the damage (which I expensed...;). But it was overly annoying. I mean - seriously. Why not just fill the tank up and let's be done with it (I think the ordeal took me several hours, actually).

That does sound nonsensical.

I rented a car in Manchester England and drove to Wales with my father (who could not drive standard transmission). En route, we parked at a rest stop. When we tried to leave, the reverse gear would not work, and the car would not go into reverse no matter what I did. A group of Welsh rugby players pushed the car out of the space so that we could resume driving. Someone later pointed out that there was a collar on the shift column that needed to be raised with two fingers before the shifter would go into reverse. Another time in Scotland I was driving a rental car for miles with the rear fog lights on, unable to figure out why some drivers were flashing their lights at me.

Okay, chatters -- consider yourselves duly instructed on how to put your car in reverse when in the UK or on the Continent!

A friend and I had the same thing happen as the other chatter. A few years ago I rented a car with a friend in Ireland. We made a pit stop and realized we didn't know how to put it in reverse. We kept driving, but were a little bit panicked. It was a Renault Twingo, which is a cute little car! Anyway, a few minutes later, we passed a Renault dealership on the road, so we pulled in and went in the lobby and sheepishly explained to the receptionist that we didn't know how to put the car in reverse. She came out and showed us how to do it and off we went.

I was fresh out of college and had flown home to visit my parents in Buffalo. I had to fly back to DC the day after Christmas and the family was flying to Florida 15 minutes earlier. They took off without any problems, and then a surprise windstorm came through and canceled my flight. Southwest told me there were no flights available for the next week and I was stranded without car or house keys and without family to rescue me. I ran down to the rental car counter and found the lines were super long. The woman who got the last car offered to carpool and I ended up sitting in the middle seat of a car full of random strangers for the next 7 hours. I got home safely-- but it was a long 7 hours with the most random people.

Incidents like this make for the best stories, though, don't they? :-)

Hi Travel Guys - I'm a million mile flyer on American Airlines and travel internationally often for work. I'm less than thrilled with my treatment at their hands (in particular, their lack of flexibility on changing tickets without exorbinent change fees). However, I still have lots of frequent flyer miles and enjoy my Platinum status. I am interested in changing (probably to Continental, as they travel from my local hub). Any chance I could keep my existing status, but transfer to a new airline? Do they woo customers like me?

Yes. You can redeem your miles and ask another airline to match your status. Normally, they will allow that with proof of your elite status. Having lots of miles doesn't really count -- you need to be an elite in order to get elite on another airline, usually.

I liked the article about the author who shadowed Ricky, the Oasis of the Seas' cruise director. One thing I didn't quite get was how fast he had to walk and use an elevator to go from his office to the Bridge in less than 15 minutes. That's quite a feat, especially when you're on a ship that's bigger than the Panama Cana is long.

Alas, Andrea is also on the road today so not here to explain these logistics to us. But perhaps Ricky knows some shortcuts? :-) All I can really say is that I'm glad you liked the story!

A friend showed up at our five-year high school reunion driving a rented purple Yugo. Twenty-five years later, he's in charge of Very Important Stuff, but we've never let him live that down.

I'll bet you haven't!

My boyfriend and I want to take a mini-vacation this summer while he is in between jobs, leaving somewhere Thursday July 26 and return to DC on Saturday July 28. We were hoping to somewhere we could take advantage of week, versus weekend hotel prices, at least for the Thursday overnight. Any suggestions? He wants to relax and we are good with driving up to about 5 hours to the beach, mountains, cute towns, etc.

You won't get great hotel prices at the beach during July, and you may hit traffic on Saturday, so I'd opt for heading west. Maybe the town of Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley would be a good choice. Take a look at this article I wrote about it a couple of years ago. 

Hi! I have what may be a weird question. I'm traveling in a few days and need to take a lot of things with me, but when I return I shouldn't have nearly as much stuff. I was wondering if TSA would have a problem if I checked my big suitcase with all that stuff AND a smaller rolling suitcase inside it (hence, "suitcase-in-suitcase"). I could then use only the small rolling bag for my return flight, and leave the big suitcase with my family (which I can then use when traveling back after the holidays!). I assume if TSA had any questions about the suitcases, they would just open them up, but I wanted to see if anyone had any thoughts. (Oh, and it's much cheaper for me to check the luggage than ship it, since I'm taking Southwest.) Thanks!

That's an unusual question. If you're checking luggage, then it would be screened by the TSA's normal process, which involves a combination of X-ray machines and manual searches. The suitcase-within-a-suitcase may trigger a more thorough search, but it isn't specifically forbidden by the agency.

I'm sending this on Sunday morning because, ironically, I should be somewhere above Oklahoma aboard a transcontinental flight at the scheduled time of the chat. What was the name of the rental car company that caused your correspondent Jane Touzalin her problems as described in the recent story "A Whale of a Rental Car Nightmare"? It's not mentioned, but it seems that is an important part of the story and something I'd like to know for my own future car rentals. More as a "your philosophy of journalism" question, why wasn't the name of the company in the original copy? That certainly is one of the "Who-What-When-Where-Why-How" requirements of accuracy, isn't it? According to Joseph Pulitzer, "the purpose of a newspaper is to print the truth and raise Hell." If your travel section is only going to put names on positive stories and redact those details which can be used to identify those involved when writing about more negative experiences (noting that Mr. Elliott does not redact that information in his problem-solving columns) then please explain how that helps your readers and travel consumers?

The question of whether to name the company was certainly discussed. But in the end, we decided that the point of the article was to tell a story about my (sort of!) humorous vacation experience and not so much to call out one company in particular. We figured -- and subsequent e-mails from readers have borne this out -- that this sort of thing isn't limited to just one company. Overall, it's the way the rental car industry is run -- no firm reservations, no no-show fees, no way for the companies to know how many cars they really need -- that's the problem. A self-inflicted problem, I might add.

This wasn't a nightmare (though I was thoroughly expecting it to be!). While vacationing in Turkey a few years ago, a friend and I decided to spend a few days on the Aegean coast at Bodrum. I had really wanted to also visit the ruins of Ephesus (a few hours north) and had been assured that there were plenty of buses north. Unfortunately, it was the off season so no luck. Seeing my disappointment, the tourist office suggested his friend up the hill at a car rental place. He had 2 cars. I handed him 50 lira in cash (about 40 dollars), he handed me the keys to a red Opel and a small sheet of paper (in Turkish). I was white knuckled every time I passed one of the (EIGHT) police traffic roadblocks I passed on the 300 mile round trip, but somehow survived. [Incidentally, since gas was (in 2009) over $10/gallon USD, Turkish country roads are pretty empty. It was a pretty amazing day trip.]

Nice!

As always the live Q&A list in the top right corner of the page is wrong. Still showing Friday. Why does this happen all the time?

Not sure which page you mean? Seems to be working from the homepage.

My husband and I locked the keys in the rental car on our honeymoon in Scotland. We had about 40 minutes of driving left, the rental car company closed in 2 hours, and we had a flight to catch. We called roadside assistance and the poor guy trying to open the car was confounded by its brand new anti-theft features, so it took many attempts and techniques to get the car unlocked. We made the 40 minute drive in about 25-30 minutes and returned the car just in time. What a nail biter and defnitely the first stress test of our marriage.

I'm assuming that you passed that test, though!

OK, I own a Ford 150 truck and love to drive it! But I will grant you he's a big boy and it takes some getting used to. Daughter is in the same camp as Jane - get me a compact please.

Given time, I'm sure the truck and I would have become fast friends. It was the timing and circumstances that were so annoying.

I missed submitting last week but just wanted to say thanks for Chris' column highlighting the airline's atrocious response when the traveler was delayed by TSA so he missed his flight to Africa. Whenever an airline wants to avoid responsibility for anything, they say something about circumstances beyond their control. When this gets turned around and the traveler is detained by TSA for circumstances beyond their control, the airlines just tell us "tough luck." Travelers shouldn't have to write to the WP just for the airlines to do the right thing. Thanks for highlighting this double standard.

Thank you. I'm glad you liked that column, and I'll keep following this issue.

We will be traveling from the Bay Area to LA over 2 1/2 days. We will spend the second night in Santa Barbara, and would have liked to spend the first night in Big Sur, but most places are booked, require 2 nights, or are extremely expensive. Do you have a suggestion for a town/area to stay the first night about halfway between SF and Santa Barbara? Alternatively, is it crazy to think we can just drive through Big Sur and find a room for that night? We have a smart phone - what would the best strategy be? it will be 2 adults and 2 kids aged 6 and 8. Thanks!!

I haven't stayed in Big Sur in a long time, but remember there were some more modest places. Have a look at the Chamber of Commerce's lodging listings. I wouldn't take the chance of not having reservation unless you would be OK with driving on to San Francisco should there be no rooms available. Monterey and Carmel are nice communities, but they are closer to San Francisco than Big Sur.

A friend is getting married in Curacao next year. I find lots of great things online about Aruba, but am having trouble finding info about Curacao. Where is the best place to look and see when the best time is to buy flights? What about things to do there?

Have a look at Andrea's fun story about Curacao. She went there last year and offers some interesting suggestions. I'm sure the chatters will have more, won't you, guys?

You should also check out the Curacao tourism Web site, which is full of good information on what to see and do. TripAdvisor could also be a good source for you. See what other folks have to say about their trips to the island.

We had a near rental car disaster on our honeymoon in S. Africa. We were doing a walking safari in Hluhluwe-Infolozi NP, which was one of the big highlights of our honeymoon, and had driven pretty far into the park to the meet up spot for our group. When we arrived, we found to our horror that the trunk of the car was totally jammed and wouldn't open at all. In it was everything we needed for our five day hike. We were literally in the middle of nowhere in the bushveld. Thankfully, one of our fellow hikers, who was a cheerful Australian fellow, and my husband were able to break into the trunk by removing the backseat of the car, and unjamming the mechanism. (Perhaps more fortunately, we were able to put the car back together again!) It's a very funny story now, but didn't seem that way at the time!

Wow, I'll bet it didn't. Glad it worked out. Very resourceful of your husband that that cheery Australian fellow.

A friend and I went to Ireland two years ago and decided to rent a car; all the early roads were highways so it was I was cruising along thinking, driving on the other side of the road isn't so bad. Just as I was patting myself on the back, we got off the highway and my friend, ever so calmly looked at me, looked at the road, looked back at me and said "you're not in your road". I quickly swerved out of incoming traffic back into the right (left!) side of the road. Fortunately the rest of the drive was uneventful.

I know, driving on the left is so crazy-making!

not the homepage, this discussion page. So for instance I can't go back and forth between here and Dr. Gridlock without going back to the home page first. Is this just a scheme to get more homepage views? :-)

Of course it's not a scheme! At least I don't think. ;-)

This seems to be an ongoing problem. I'll take it to our digital folks once again. So sorry!

In Hawaii, on my honeymoon, the rental car company was out of the size we had reserved. So for the week, we were stuck driving around a Mustang convertible for no extra charge. Ok, so it really wasn't a disaster.

Hardly. :-)

VERY cute town. Not too expensive. Perfect for 1 or 2 nights. Eat at Zynadoa while you're there.

For the writer looking for a local mini vacation- I suggest Shepherdstown, WV. Lots of nice shops and restaurants, a pretty town, hiking and canoeing/kayaking, and a casino and racetrack not too far away. The Bavarian Inn has reasonably prices rooms with beautiful views of the river. And amazing food!

We use Southwest Airlines and buy our tickets early but keep an eye on the fare as we get closer to flight time. If it drops, we go to the website and rebook our tickets at the lower rate. The difference becomes a credit that is good for another flight booked within the next year without any deduction for "change fee". The credit only works for the name of the original user of each ticket, but is great for those that travel often.

Yes, you're thinking of Yapta. Great service. But as I've said numerous times, you don't want to obsess over your airline ticket. Buy the darned thing and don't look back.

I've got a brochure from a legitimate company, which says I can get a two-for-one deal if I send my money soon. I can't find any small print which states that the price is locked in. It seems to me that they could just tack on "cost escalation" charges, negating the supposed deal, while keeping my money for a year. Am I being too skeptical? Should I just call them? Many thanks!

I think you may be overthinking this. A reputable river cruise company, such as Avalon or Viking, is not going to pull a bait-and-switch.  But this should be spelled out in the "contract of carriage" (the legal agreement you enter into when booking).   For example, here is what Avalon says: "Once Avalon has received your full cruise deposit for any cruise vacation, that cruise price is guaranteed and you are protected against any base land or cruise price increase due to currency surcharge. Any subsequent land or cruise cost increases are at Avalon' expense, not including energy cost increases and/or any government tax increases."

So, after last week's shootout in the Mexico City Airport, is it (the airport, and more broadly Mexico City) safe? The State Department Travel Advisory has not been updated since February.

It is troubling when three police officers are shot dead in a shootout in a crowded food court. Mexico City's airport is a hub for cocaine traffic, but this is the first time such an incident has occurred. The State Department has said it does not plan to revise its travel warning on Mexico, and I would not cancel a trip. But it's not good publicity for the country. 

The person who is AA elite should know that Continental no longer exists as it is now United. But yes, the majors do status matches all the time. Sometimes they will just outright match and other times they will offer a status match challenge where you have take a certain number of flights or fly a certain number of miles with them in a limited amount of time to qualify. flyertalk.com forums are a great resource for these types of questions.

Thanks for the additional information. Hey, letting go is hard. I have a lot of friends who still call it "Continental."

Why waste so much space on a story by an author who is simply a bad driver but never owns up to being a bad driver? Driving a truck, even one longer than in the story such as a F-350 crew cab, is not that hard. It just takes awareness and careful driving.

Oh, lighten up. I'm a fabulous driver. When you've spent your entire adult life driving small sedans, it takes a lot of adjusting when you suddenly find yourself behind the wheel of a much, much bigger vehicle. And when all you want to do is chill out and enjoy your hard-earned vacation, it's a pain.

I have a question and a story. QUESTION: How is it allowed that rental car companies are allowed to say that a couple can rent a car without paying for the additional driver but a non-couple needs to pay for the extra driver? STORY: My friend and I were upgraded to a Toyota Rav-4 for our road trip around Georgia. When I returned the car in Atlanta (at ATL) the Enterprise guy said "What you think I rap for? To push a freaking Rav4?" Yes. He was quoting Jay Z. It was awesome!

These policies are discriminatory and there should be a law against them. In fact, in some states, this isn't allowed, and some rental companies don't charge extra for an additional driver. My best advice is to not do business with any car rental company that discriminates in this way.

OK, any help I can get on this TODAY would be really appreciated, as we need to make a decision soon. I just saw a deal for airfare to Brazil for $574 per RT ticket, taxes included. That seems to me like an insanely good deal. My husband and I have actually been wanting to go to Brazil, because he was adopted from there. We would have to fly by the end of November, and because we've already used up most of our vacation days, we could only go for 7-9 days, which isn't as long as I would have liked. However, I figure that gives us enough time to visit Rio and either the Falls or Salvador. 1) Is it worth it to go? Our in-laws have actually talked about taking a family trip there next year, so it's not like this is our only chance to go. 2) How much should we expect to pay for room and board while there? I would like to keep it at $1,000, but I'm not sure if that's possible. We don't need fancy hotels, but I would prefer clean ones. 3) Any good websites and/or book with travel info on Brazil? I'm not familiar with the country and am not sure how best to plan a trip there. Thanks!

That sounds like an excellent fare, and 7-9 days is ample time, so I'd go. Especially since I've never been! But honestly, it definitely sounds worth it. Don't forget that you need a visa to travel to Brazil, so factor that in to your plans and cost. Check out the Brazil tourism Web site for info. As to your accommodation questions, I'll have to throw them out to the chatters. Folks?

At the end of my study abroad semester in Dublin, my parents came over for a cross-country trip in Ireland. I kept encouraging my father to take us to Belfast because of the amazing cultural experience. He did not want to, because he was nervous about driving in the city, and had heard it was a rough city. However, I wore him down and our last day was spent in Belfast. We did a great walking tour and had a wonderful time. However, at the end of the day, when we got back to the car, all the hubcaps were missing! Not a great way to end the trip. Fortunately, the kind, Irish rental car company told us that it was okay and we didn't have to pay for replacements. Must have been the Luck of the Irish on our side!

That *is* a nice rental company!

Reserved a rental car in Munich so I could travel down to Bertesgaden area for a week. Since it being the Alps and lots of small towns, I figured I'd be more comfortable (and confident) in an automatic. Found the only location that said they had automatics and reserved one. Upon arriving a month later to the location, the reservation agent informed me they do not have automatics. I pleaded that I specifically reserved in this location because the did. She looked at her computer and said she actually had one automatic, but it was small. Since it was only me, I was fine with that (Smart car, i wondered?). She handed me the keys and I walked down to the garage to find a shiny, black Mercedes Kompressor two-seater hard-top convertible. For the price of an economy car. Needless to say, driving the autobahn and the alps was an absolute pleasure. Although, I wish they didn't put a governor on the speed...hehe.

Lovely!

A few years ago, my husband and I went on vacation in Colorado. We got stuck with a minivan for just the two of us - it was literally the last car left on the lot, which had been a 30 min shuttle drive from the airport. We looked pretty ridiculous driving a mini-van around Rocky Mountain National park! But we ended up with plenty of room to layout bathing suits to dry, so I guess that was a perk.

I know that issue of there is no guarentee there is a car which is why I do multiple rentals was different rental companies when I travel. On a recent trip tmVegas I made my reservation with Budget...but Budget has restrictions on where the car can go so you were limited to NV. CA. AZ. and UT. As the agent told me "The car will automatically shut down if I entered Colorado or New Mexico). I just changed my rental company and went with Avis. another story.......I was traveling for work and needed a rental. I am a car driver. I dont like trucks. I got stuck with one. Luckily I wasnt doing much driving. I wqas not comfortable with the different view of the road.

I lived in Athens, Greece, 1960-63 and knew the drivers there were maniacs. I turned16 there and, unlike most teenagers, agreed completely when my parents said, we don't want you to learn to drive until we are back in the USA! But when I next returned, in 1981, I needed a car to revisit old neighborhoods and favorite sites. Renting a car and driver for a day was prohibitive, so I rented a tiny Diahatsu right off Hadrian's Arch in downtown Athens. I took out all possible insurance coverage so my one day rental cost was prohibitive. The car was parked behind the agency on a narrow one-way street. Cars on each side had 2 wheels on the road and 2 on the curb. As I gingerly nosed my way out into the street, a pick-up truck shot down going the wrong way, missing the parked cars on each side by inches! I somehow managed to go where I wanted to go w/no mishaps and had a few hours left before I had to return the car. So asnot to tempt fate, I returned it early, driving it up onto the sidewalk in front of the agency. That day remains the scarest driving experience of fmy life. I've been back to Athens several times but have never again rented a car there. Unfortunately the city is now so congested that no one can drive anywhere.

Scary!

Check out the Asilomar Conference center. It's state run, not fancy and has access to the beach from a lovely trail. If there are no ongoing conferences, they rent rooms to the tourists.

Last month my mom and I rented a car at the airport, and after doing the paperwork I was told "It's a white Kia. Go outside and stand by such and such sign, and they'll pull up with it." We went outside and told the guy in charge of the cars what I'd been told, and he said, "What? Are you crazy? Just pick any car from this row." My mom had been sitting in the waiting area while I did the paperwork, and I told her I really wished I had a witness about the instructions to wait for the white Kia. Anyway, we picked out a car (never did that before) and drove to the exit booth, where we were told we had the wrong car. The cars behind us had to back up, and we had to return and get the white Kia. The original car-giver guy was gone so I don't know what the deal was. At least my mom believed me all along.

That's a crazy story! :-)

You can find places to stay. You generally cant stay at BnB or right along the coat...especially if this is a Friday or Saturday night. If one night is Santa Barbara...look at spending a night in San Luis Obipso or Paso Robles and then the other night in Salinas/San Jose

Because her car had to go into the shop, daughter was sent to nearby rental office. The first 2 cars they brought out had VA plates and long-expired VA inspection stickers. The agent had to drive us quite a way to Car #3, but it was a brand new Dodge Challenger. Envy of the neighborhood for over 2 weeks!

I'll bet!

I once accidentally took the wrong rental car. A friend and I were taking a Labor Day weekend trip to Charlotte but flew into Raleigh-Durham because the prices were cheaper. Friend who bought the tickets apparently did not look at a map beforehand to see how not-close those cities are. We arrive late into RDA after bouncing down the runway because of a storm, and there was a huge line at the rental desk. Then we had issues because the agency would not accept a debit card as payment, and I had to write a check and hope my landlord didn't cash the rent check first. I was all kinds of furious. So, when the driver said "It's the green car and the end of the sidewalk" I threw our bags into the first green car I saw, and we drove off. About an hour later, I had calmed down somewhat (food helped) and was looking at the driver's manual. I realized that instead of the Dodge Neon we were supposed to have, we were driving a Chrysler 300. Hilarity ensued with us trying to find a pay phone at 11:30 pm to call the rental company in the pre-cell-phone era, whose office had closed by this time. The next day we straightened every thing out -- the rental folks quickly had figured out what happened when the businessman who was supposed to have the Chrysler came in screaming about his car not being there. They kindly let us keep the car.

Great story, thanks.

Have you considered San Juan Bautista? It's slightly inland, but has one of California's loveliest missions, some good restaurants, and perhaps its overnight accommodations may prove less expensive, and without the 2-night minimum.

This weekend I had a guarantee room reservation at a chain hotel near the Long Island Islip airport. Due to the storm our plan did not land until 2AM. When we arrived at the hotel we were told the room was cancelled. Luckily it was not given to anyone else but it could have been. I was told at 1:30AM the hotel cancels the reservation as a no show. I never thought of calling the hotel to tell them we were still coming. I feel if I have paid for the room it is mine until check out the next day. They should not give it to anyone else. Can you explain their logic here, becaue for the life of me, I paid for a room. I never heard that the hotel cancels the room at 1:30 if there I have not arrived. What if the plan finally flew out at 6AM, arrived at 7:30 and I wanted to get a couple hours of sleep before I had to do what I had to do that day or even take a shower. Just doesn't seem ethical to me since I gauaranteed the room. I guareanteed it for then night not just until a certain hour. Thanks for any enlightment.

You're right, the hotel should have held your room, especially since you were experiencing storms on that day. Hotel rooms are managed by sophisticated systems that are largely automated. So when you didn't check in by 1:30 a.m., the system automatically considered you a "no show" and canceled your reservation. As a practical matter, you would have had a room, since the odds of someone showing up between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. and paying a walk-up rate for the room, are pretty remote. If that had happened, and the hotel was totally full, you could have asked the hotel to "walk" you to another property with some availability, and you would have been accommodated at no extra charge. Or you could have called me, and I would have helped you sort things out. I get up around 5 a.m.

A friend of mine once used Priceline for a car rental. She requested a compact, thinking it as 50/50 that she would get an intermediate or full size, because the compacts are most popular. Imagine her surprise when she was given a Hummer. She is about 5 feet 1 inch tall, and she was vacationing in New York City. Oy.

Oy is right!

I agree with your itinerary, but I think you should have mentioned just how long that trip would/could take. People don't seem to realize the distances out here.

You're right. In order to really see the sights, I'd give yourself a minimum of two weeks.

My mom (78 and in okay health) and I would like to go on a trip together. She's in Miami and I'm in DC. We thought about the Galapagos, but it's not realistic - she has some heart issues and we'd be pretty isolated from what I've heard. Any suggestions? We're looking for a 4 - 5 days trip. Walking is great, hiking not so much. I've looked into spas, and also Charlottesville, but feel like there's something better out there. All help will be very appreciated!

At the risk of repeating myself, look at Charleston, S.C., especially if you are thinking of a fall trip (it could be hot for walking in summer). 

I think I was around the daughter's age when we went on a family trip from here to Maine. I enjoyed the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, MA, so I'd recommend that.

Yes, great idea! They can see the House of the Seven Gables, too. And now it occurs to me that another good stop might be Plymouth, Mass., and its living history demonstrations.

Salem is lots of fun. We were there last week. Don't forget the Maritime Museum, which is mostly free.

I have on many occasions wondered why the rental car agent was spending so much time try to upgrade me from my economy car. For only X dollars more a day, you could have a much bigger car. In the end, I find out it is because they ran out of economy cars and they have to give me the big car for the same price. So I don't understand why they said you had to pay the extra amount. (Once a decade you all should actually publish the lousy company's name. Doesn't the Post have any lawyers at all?)

I don't understand why, either, but at the time I was pretty helpless to protest. Or rather I did protest, but the clerk was adamant. (And at that moment, she had all the power -- and all the cars.) I think they really, really wanted to get rid of that pickup truck because they knew no one would want it, and I just happened to be the first person in line.

My sister and I were meeting at a South Beach hotel this weekend for one night. Her flight got into Miami before 9am, I drove down from my graveyard shift at work near Fort Lauderdale, arriving by 10:30am. When the reservation was made directly through the hotel, we were told there is in/out valet parking for $32/day. We were also told that there would be no problem with early check-in. However, upon arrival, my sister was told she would have to wait in the lobby until the standard 3pm check-in time. Then, she was told that they could not find her reservation, in spite of the fact that she had given her credit card number to hold it and had a confirmation number. When I arrived, they agreed to"find her a room," but we were told that the hotel had, just one day earlier, "had a problem with the valet company" and thus, there was no valet parking. I was given a list of garages ranging from 3½ - 7 blocks away. I tried all of them, but (gee, perhaps because it was the Independence Day weekend?) they were all full or private to the building with which they were associated. When I explained the situation, none had any arrangement with our hotel. The people at the front desk suggested I look for street parking, or use valet parking at another hotel. I actually drove around for hours trying to find parking, using almost half a tank of gas. Finally, the hotel allowed me to use their loading zone for a few hours, until they told me that I would have to move the car or the city would tow it. It was back to circling and hitting the garages. At least this time, the temperature had dropped to 89º so it was a little easier for me to walk back to the hotel (I have lung problems). I felt that due to all these problems, plus the fact that we did not get the suite that had originally been reserved, the hotel should have compensated us with something, even if it had only been a meal, free mini-bar or something else. I am not suggesting they should have comped the room, but feel *something* should have been done. Other than writing about this on TripAdvisor and/or Yelp!, is there anything else that can be, or should have been, done?

I'm sorry to hear about this. You should definitely send a brief, polite email to the hotel, mentioning your inconvenience and asking it to address the issue in a way you think is appropriate. Please let me know how they respond. Here's my email address.

Harper's Ferry, WV. or Bedford Springs, PA.?

Good ideas. 

We flew to Seattle and went to get a rental car from one of the less expensive dealers. The agent kept trying to get us to upgrade from a compact, but a compact was all we needed and wanted. She finally admitted they didn't have one on the lot and gave us the free upgrade. Didn't appreciate her dishonesty - people, make sure you don't pay for what you don't need!

Yes, that happens all the time, and every company seems to do it. I've been "upgraded" before to a larger car that I didn't need and that got crummy mileage. But for some reason I've never been downgraded to a smaller car! It seems as if the companies tend to run out of the compact/economy cars first. Why not take the hint and stock more of them?

I'm flying out to Colorado this coming weekend for a outdoor hiking/camping vacation. We had planned to spend a week traveling all around the state camping in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Would you cancel? (All plane tickets are the non-refundable type.) Just not sure if the news is correct in making it seem like the whole state is one big smoke filled haze. Thanks.

Take a look at the smoke outlook from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. I would not cancel my trip, but I would make sure my itinerary takes me as far away from the fires as possible. 

Regarding the 40th B-day beach getaway, AirTran has nonstop flights between BWI airport and San Juan that could that be more convenient for the inquirer than National.

Just like to recommend from a well traveled person. Had to go to Colombia for a wedding in June. It's now my new favorite country. The people, the places, the food...all amazing. Security didn't really cross my mind.

Second the mansions, as long as she's OK with some walking. The best way to see them is along the cliff walk, right along the water. Do some research too, some of them give tours and some don't.

Hi - My mom and I are taking my sister to Charlottesville for a long weekend in two weeks to celebrate my sister's 40th birthday. Any suggestions on wineries, places to shop, restaurants, etc.? We are open to any ideas, including places to stop on the drive there from DC.

If you're into wineries, check out the Monticello Wine Trail, which is actually several trails that, in all, lead you to 30 vineyards in the greater Charlottesville area. For shopping, there's no better place than the Downtown Mall, which is full of smaller, interesting local shops and restaurants as opposed to a conglomeration of national chain stores. I've eaten at several restaurants on the Mall and hven't had a bad meal yet. The C&O, which has been there forever, can be a little pricey, but it's nice.

No problem whatsoever. My friends and I do this a lot traveling overseas when we expect to bring back a lot of souvenirs. None of us has even gotten a second glance--it's quite common.

You said that the no firm reservations are a self inflicted problem. I wonder is it not a problem caused by airline delays and such? Many (most?) rental cars are picked up at airports. Not many people will be happy to pay a cancellation fee on their rental car because the flight was late or cancelled.

That's an interesting thought. It does seem, though. that with very little effort the rental car companies would be able to confirm with the airlines that a canceled or delayed flight was the cause of a no-show. Isn't that something anyone can find out with a computer and an Internet connection?

I recommend the southern NJ beaches very highly. Check out Stone Harbor, Ocean City, Cape May. All lovely (if you want to go south, fly down and hit Tybee for a few days).

A number of times I've done the opposite - packed a suitcase inside a suitcase because I knew I would be returning with more stuff than I took over (such as gifts from relatives, souvenirs, etc.) To the best of my knowledge TSA has never had a problem with this - at least, they've never questioned me or confiscated anything and my suitcase-in-a-suitcase combo always went through undamaged.

Took a guided group bus tour this past weekend, which turned out to entail several long walking stops in the oppressive East Coast heat and humidity. Several of us wound up mildly heat-sick, despite thorough hydration -- which made the rest of the trip less-enjoyable, as we all felt mildly nauseated and fatigued. Unless you're well-acclimated, I'd recommend that tourists consider canceling out of guided tours that don't allow for pacing that takes the weather into consideration.

I have a hard time with the implicit suggestion that if the rental car companies simply adopted onerous policies (prepay, cancel fees, etc.) then the whole 'we don't have your car' probelm would go away. That's the last thing we need - more fees and tightened policies. Clearly there are times when travel companies come up short - airlines oversell, a hotel may not have your room because the wedding party for last night trashed a whole block of rooms that are now out of service, etc.) - the key is how they handle the problems. I can understand it if my car company doesn't have my rental type - trust me, I didn't drive the minivan in Reno by choice - but I haven't had them insist on charging me more but for one car, fail to call the other location if they said they'd do so, or threaten to call the airport police. All of those actions were unacceptable, and - frankly - give good cause for you to call out the agency.

Sorry, I can't agree that prepayment for guaranteed reservations and penalties for no-shows are onerous policies. Isn't that how business is conducted in almost every other realm?

To your poster regarding a Colorado vacation: Firefighters made good headway on the fires this weekend. Regardless, this is a big state and while many have been tragically affected by the fires, most of the state is unaffected, even by smoke (I live in Denver and we've been only to smell the fires only a couple of times over the past few weeks).

For those who love music, and are willing to turn inland, there's Lenox, Mass., home of Tanglewood (usually lawn tickets are available for concerts).

New Bedford, MA., home of the whaling museum?

San Juan Bautista is lovely, but is quite a drive from the coast. Why not try Cambria, and maybe include a visit to Hearst Castle?

Okay, folks, we're done! Thanks for flying with us once again, and thanks for the many, many tales of rental car mishaps/hilarity. It's hard to choose a winner, but since I have to, the prize goes to the chatter who had to drive around Amsterdam to gas up the car before returning it. Send your contact info to me at smardzz@washpost.com and you'll soon get your prize. Have a great Fourth of July everybody, and see you next Monday!

In This Chat
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.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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