Talk about Travel

Jul 28, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Welcome, travelers!

What's on your agenda today? Hope you enjoyed this week's stories, including Ted Kim's fun piece about traveling with his parents in their homeland of South Korea; Kate Siber's look at the Wanderlust Festival; and Melanie D.G. Kaplan's exploration of Buffalo.

In keeping with Ted's story, here's our challenge for you today: Tell us about a trip you took with your parents that taught you something about them you didn't know. Our favorite story gets a little prize.

Of course, we're also here to answer any and all questions you might have about your travels, real and imagined. So fire away!

I'm looking at rentals on airbnb and home away. Can you offer any information about either of them and guidance or advice about anything I should know/do/avoid if booking through one of the sites. It's the first time I've even looked at anything through those sites, so I'm not sure what I may be in for. Thanks!

Airbnb can be a great resource for a vacation rental, but there are two things I would tell first-timers. First, pay attention to the cancellation terms -- Airbnb actually offers several, from "flexible" to "super strict." Read them carefully before booking. Also, research your rental outside the site, if you can. Check other review sites, if possible, to make sure the apartment or home you're considering is on the up-and-up. I have a whole chapter on vacation rentals in my latest book. I'd be happy to send it to you. Here's my email address.

My spouse and I are looking to spend a quiet weekend on Maryland's Eastern Shore for nature watching and relaxation. (The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge seemed appealing, but we're open.) Any recommendations for places to stay? Thanks for all the fantastic travel advice!

I love Blackwater NWR. Even in high season, it's uncrowded and just about perfect for bird watching, biking, kayaking and hiking. Plus you can follow the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which is fascinating. Closest town is Cambridge, which offers a Hyatt resort and several bed and breakfast inns, including the Mill Street Inn, which as a good rep. 

I bought a greatly discounted ticket to Europe, only to find that I only had 46 minutes to change planes in Atlanta. Both flights are on the same airline (Delta and Air France operate buy Delta). Any hints on a quick change?

No matter where you booked your ticket, the reservation system should ensure that it's a "legal" connection. Here's the Navigator I wrote about connection times. You will probably be fine, but you might want to call Delta just to make sure.

The Atlanta airport is massive. Connections sometimes require riding the train between terminals. I've been traumatized at least once there -- we thought we had enough time to connect to our flight to San Francisco. Then our first flight was delayed, making things VERY tight. My husband and I barely made the connection. My parents and brothers didn't. Just a cautionary tale.

Heading to Maine this weekend with my young kids. We will be on the shore, just south of Portland. Looks like cool-ish weather. Any ideas for kid-friendly activities if the beach doesn't work out?

I was just in Maine and spent the day, as always, in Portland. Love it there. Check out this list of ideas; it has many things on it I can personally vouch for!

My husband and I are going to CA for two weeks in October. Our plan is to fly to San Fransisco and do stuff there (Alcatraz, Sausalito, Fisherman's Wharf), then head to Napa or some other wine locale for a bit. We plan to then backtrack and drive down the Pacific coast highway to San Diego, stopping in LA and Monterey/Carmel. We also plan to use Priceline to book hotel rooms as needed, rather than booking something far in advance and having to stick with it. Had good luck with the Priceline method in the past. We'll fly home from San Diego. Any tips? Places we can't miss?

We have a central California story coming out this weekend that you'll want to read, so stay tuned.

I'm doing some planning for a much shorter excursion around San Francisco and Sonoma. I'll tell you that I've got my eye on checking out a few places on the California Cheese Trail. My parents also highly recommend visiting Sterling Vineyards for the tram ride, so we're planning to do that too. On a previous trip, we visited Muir Woods and did the 17-Mile Drive, which are things other chatters have endorsed.

Here's what happened to me: I rented a car at RDU (Raleigh Durham) from Alamo. They gave me the car--a Volkswagen-- with the motor running. They told me to get in and drive. I did, and drove to my hotel. When I tried to start the car again, I couldn't do it; it wouldn't start. I have been driving for over 50 years. I went back into the hotel and asked if anyone could help me. A nice man came out to the parking lot and started the car. He pointed out that the driver needs to STEP ON THE BRAKE PEDAL in order for the car to start. I had no way of knowing this beforehand. I have asked friends and none said that they have cars that require the driver to step on the brake pedal. Shouldn't Alamo have told me this in advance? How can I be sure that I can work all the essential factors before accepting a rental car? Shouldn't there be a standard list of questions to which a driver should get answers before accepting a rental car?

This was a problem with the new hybrids and electric vehicles started being adopted by rental companies, too. It takes a while for customers to learn the new cars. And you're right, it's the car rental company's responsibility to show you. I'm eternally grateful to the helpful Hertz associate at CDG who showed me how to put my rental car into "reverse." I would have never figured it out for myself.

Our family is going to Paris in August. My grandson is 14 years old and plays the game Warhammer and board games like Risk. He has been to Disney World in Florida, so the Paris Disney Park is not really an option. What would you suggest for him to see in Paris that would be interesting for a 14 year old boy? Thank you for your help. I enjoy reading your answers each week in the Post.

Didn't you send this to us last week? I suggested the Catacombs. Other thoughts?

My family goes to the UK every year to visit relatives. We've never really had an issue with using US credit cards, but after all the problems this year, we asked about getting a Chip and Pin card for this year's trip. After getting assurances from Chase that it would be okay to use my non-Chip and Pin card, it was a disaster. I got it to successfully work in two places, National Express (bus) and Boots (pharmacy). Everywhere else was a fail: restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations. I wish I could have tested rail, but it was all car this year. Granted, restaurants were going to be hit or miss anyway, but being rejected by the gas stations hit hard. Glad that we had cash, and will request a chip and pin card now.

Thanks for letting us know. I experienced a few chip-and-PIN fails on my last trip to Europe. Here's what I wish I knew.

I am traveling to Copenhagen in a few weeks. Since time is limited, do you have any recommendations on what tourist stops to skip or some off beat adventures?

Well, you can take Tim Carman's lead from his recent trip there and check out Dine With the Danes, a program that pairs up travelers with Danish families for in-home conversation and of course firsthand lessons about Danish food culture.

Another idea: Check out the hippie scene in the Christiana neighborhood. Can't get more offbeat than that!

On our way to India we have a 7am to 8pm Heathrow airport layover. We've been to London before and plan to stay in city center on our way back for 3 days. Is it worth the trouble leavening heathrow, taking the tube to downtown, and going through security again on the way back to catch our PM flight.. If it is, where should we go?

That's a long layover, so I'd do it. The Heathrow Express makes it lickety-split to get to the city. This exact topic came up in the chat two weeks ago. Read my advice and insight from the chatters here.

We're planning to drive the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles in August. Our plan is to spend two nights in San Fran, one night each in Pacific Grove, Cambria, and Santa Barbara. Then we go on the LA. How does this sound to you -- any can't miss restaurants, sights along the way? (I know - we're not staying in Carmel or Monterey -- the hotel rates were sky high.We decided to spend the day there instead.) Thanks!

Some may view this as a tourist trap, but I love Hearst Castle in San Simeon, maybe because I started my career in Los Angeles at  a now-defunct Hearst newspaper. Solvang,  with its Danish ties, is another place that travel sophisticates might reject,  but I enjoyed strolling through it. 

Last year, I earned a travel award as part of my compensation. I was just notified that I must use it before October or lose it. Early August is a good time for me to drop off the grid for a week and I feel I need to do just that. Any suggestions for where I can sun, exercise, tour, shop, and spa w/in reach of an ocean? I love historic architecture (and hotels) and the beach but want to do my best Greta Garbo imitation and sneak off alone for a brief respite? Would appreciate your advice.

Not sure what the limitations on this award are, but ... how about Cartagena, Colombia? Or Rio? Maybe Istanbul?

Recently returned from Paris flying home on Air France business class. There was a woman on my row with a lap baby, although he was about 1 year old. The child cried the majority of the 7 hour flight. I thought the guy next to me was going to leap out of his seat and hurt somebody. I felt quite sorry for the passenger next to the woman who had to endure this noise for so long. The flight attendants did nothing. I do not understand why airlines even allow a child to fly in a parent's lap. In an emergency the child does not have a seat belt and would not have access to the breathing apparatus that drops down from the compartment. I always paid for a seat for my daughter and she flew in her car seat. Not a question, just a comment from a miserable passenger.

I'm sorry you had to endure the flight. I flew with my kids when they were babies, and there were moments when I wish they came with an "off" button. It's my understanding is that regulators know babies are safer in their own seat, but will not force airlines to require young passengers to have their own seat. The alternative would be driving, which is statistically less safe. (Of course, that doesn't apply to transatlantic flights.)

Yes, I did submit it last week, but I never saw the response. I am sorry. The Catacombs, I will try to find out about the Catacombs.

No worries. I just had a feeling of deja vu. You might also want to browse this page for family travels. A Segway or bike tour might work. But the best thing to do might be to engage him in the planning. Hand him a guidebook, app or whatever, and see what he comes up with. He might be more invested in activities he has helped choose.

This year got away from me, and I find myself wanting to go to a beach for a weekend trip but when I seach for hotels, everything looks booked. Do you have suggestions on staying at a local-ish beach for the rest of the summer? Or should I just set a reminder on my calendar to start looking for places this winter for next year?

Don't know your price point or what beach you're considering, but you should be able to find something in Ocean City, especially toward the later part of August, when the kids are back in school. For example, I found availability at the Lighthouse Club bayside in OC. Check out Ocean City's tourism page for a list of hotels. 

Any ideas for places on to visit for a nice overnight in the upper Chesapeake area on the water? Saint Michael's sounds ideal and Annapolis is good but looking for something further north up Maryland's eastern shore?

Chestertown is really nice. It's a lovely old port town with a lot of history, a nice waterfront and a gracious old historic district, as well as the campus of Washington College. Very pleasant to walk around. There are lots of art galleries and shops featuring local arts and crafts. You can bike, hike, or kayak (on the Chester River). Lots of good restaurants, too. To use that horrible cliche, it's a hidden gem.

We will be in Istanbul for a day and would love to end our first day there in a thermal bath. I realize that Turkish baths are different since they involve other stuff like massages etc. We are only interested in a hot thermal pool at the end of the day, like the public pools in Iceland. Do the Turkish baths have these thermal pools and if so is it possible to just get there and pay for this service only? Any recommendation on where we can go? What protocols should we follow? Thanks!

I have experienced hammams in other countries, but not Turkey. Though I imagine the experience is very similar. There are a lot of naked bodies and buckets of water, surprise splashings and an incredible sense of community.

However, since you are only looking for thermal pools, you might have to travel a little. Based on quick research, travelers recommend the thermal pools in Pamukkale, but it's quite a hike from Istanbul. For something a little closer, consider Yalova, an hour's ferry ride south of Istanbul. From there, you can venture onward to the pools in Termal or Bursa Çekirge.  I would also suggest calling the Turkish tourism office. Their travel experts are incredibly helpful.

The spas will outline the guidelines. But bring flip-flops, bathing suit, cover up and a towel. You might have to shower before you enter the pools. And you may have to tip the locker room attendant, so have some smaller bills handy.

 

We are senior couples who have travelled to France and Italy several times, always renting a villa in our preferred location and using it as a base for day trips to points of interest. In June 2015 we want to do the same in Span. However, we're unfamiliar with the country. Is there a location you would suggest that would fit our needs? Perhaps somewhere in Andalucia?

Tom Shroder did just that with his family in Ronda, Spain. Here's the story.

While cleaning house, we discovered some traveler's checks that had gotten mislaid over 10 years ago (don't ask!). First: are they still good, or is there an expiration date? Second: Are traveler's checks still even accepted from tourists (e.g., in Europe)? Or should we just cash them at the bank where we got them (we still bank there)? Anything else we need to know? They're on my signature, which is unchanged over the past decade, if that helps.

Your travelers checks should not expire unless it explicitly says so on the check. I would return them to the bank and cash them and then use a credit or debit card for purchases. Yes, travelers checks are still accepted in Europe as far as I can tell -- for example, here's the Amex UK site which answers some basic travelers check questions -- but I wouldn't chance it with a 10-year-old check. 

Just got back from there a couple of weeks ago, and even though it was only for a few days, I recommend checking out the Torvehallerne Market, where you can both get lunch and see what the Danes are buying to prepare for dinner. We ate a few meals there and enjoyed them at least as much as we did at fancy restaurants. Speaking of which, Aamann's is quite elegant, but you can also get a picnic lunch of smørrebrød (which doesn't have to contain fish...although IMO it should!) and eat it in a park somewhere. The Kastellet would be a good choice.

Thanks!

My husband and I are retired and we usually spend time during the winter enjoying south eastern U.S. warm weather climates. This winter we would like to couple our get away with improving our French language skills, preferably with a French Language Immersion course. We have only found these courses in the summer or in northern climates. We would value any suggestions you may have. Thank you.

I don't know for sure, but perhaps you could find something with the Alliance Francaise de la Nouvelle-Orleans? There's a reason they say things like Laissez les bons temps rouler in N'Orleans. ;-)

I will be in Japan soon with my teenage daughter (and just in time for their record-breaking heatwave, unfortunately!). I am on a group tour and the only real free time I will have is in Kyoto. Any suggestions, travel gurus? Any suggestions more broadly for traveling in Japan? Thanks!

This story from a few years ago covered Kyoto. Any other tips?

Thank you very much, Becky . I went back to past live chats and found your response. I signed off at 3 pm, thinking I had posted my question too late. Your suggestion is a good one. I have talked with him and was surprised that he wants to see the Louvre, evidentally, he has heard they have a big painting of some battle. Thank you. Marcy

Amazing how kids can surprise you, right? Don't know if he's gotten in to "The Da Vinci Code," but that's another possible theme. Here, for example, is a Louvre tour that ties into it.

Hi guys, not sure if this question is best for you or the misfits, but I'm in the mist of training for a half marathon and will be spending a weekend at the beach next month. I was wondering if you knew of any resources to find longer running routes (10+ miles) in other cities? I tried MapMyRun, but I guess no one in Wildwood, NJ uses that site. ;) I appreciate the help!

Maybe you should just run the course that was used for the Wild Half-Marathon in Wildwood a couple of months ago. Any locals have ideas?

My husband and I may have a day to spend in Des Moines this fall. Anything we should be sure to do while we're there?

Well, I'm not sure if this would be up your alley, but if that day is a Friday and you're into gardening, you should check out the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden. I haven't been to DM, but that's high on my list if/when I go.

Other ideas: The Des Moines Art Center, for both its acclaimed collection and stunning architecture; the beautiful Capitol, which you can tour; and the 14-acre Botanical Garden.

Chatters, any other ideas?

Spending 3 nights next week in Istria (near Motovun) and then three more in Kobarid, Slovenia. Any must do, eat, sees?

We happen to have had this story on Istria a couple of years back. It might give you some ideas, even if you're not a huge truffle fan (!). Afraid I don't know anything about Kobarid. Chatters?

My boyfriend and I are looking at Vancouver for our spring 2015 trip. We like a combination of city and nature exploring - past trips have been Iceland and Vegas/Utah national parks. Everyone we talk to says Vancouver is awesome, but we'd love to hear any specific suggestions of sights, towns, hotels, etc. from you all!

There are a couple of Vancouver stories in this archive. Nearby Vancouver Island and its surrounding islands are also great for exploring nature.

Hi Travel Gurus! After watching the Tour de France on TV for the past couple of weeks, my husband and I talked about going to France next year during that time. We thought it'd be neat to be on the side of the road when the cyclists pass by. Anyone done this? We were thinking of doing a stop at the less populated places (versus places like the Champs de Elysee).. How does one go about planning this out? How early would you need to get there before those roads close out? And any recommended locations (that would include other sites that we can kill time with until they pass?)

A number of tour operators arrange Tour de France packages. You might want to check out their itineraries or even consider signing up for a package. They often have the inside scoop on the action and best viewing spots.

Some companies: Pro Cycling Tours, Bikestyle Tours, Sports Tours International. To DIY, check for updates on the tour's site and then plan your itinerary based on the map.  For road closures and viewing rules, touch base with the Paris tourism office.

Years ago, I watched the last leg in Paris and just strolled over to Champs and found a viewing spot. It was a blast.

Hello travelers! My mom and I are considering a cruise among the Greek islands next spring, maybe March-April. We are not cruisers - we prefer to be out and about on our own, but for this destination I'm thinking a cruise would help us see everything with convenience (not schlepping luggage, dealing with transport, etc.). Do you or the chatters have any suggestions for Greek cruises that would minimize time on the boat and maximize time on land? Thanks in advance for all your great advice!

There are many, many cruise lines offering Greek island cruises for anything from 30 passengers to 3,000, but the catch is that I believe most run May through October. There are only a few companies that would offer a cruise in the months you're considering, so that might make your planning a bit easier. I think your best bet is to consult with a travel agent who specializes in cruises to find a cruise line that would meet your needs *and* travel during your descired months. You can check the ASTA Web site for an agent near you. Chatters, if you have anything to offer, please let's hear from you!

Hi Gurus- We're planning a family trip that will involve 3 border crossings- Serbia-Bosnia, Bosnia-Croatia and Croatia-Serbia. I've looked around the web, and feel sure that we'll have the right documents (green insurance card and US passports). Can anyone give me an idea of how long we might expect to spend at each crossing point, on a weekday afternoon each time? Also, if we try to add in a visit to Montenegro's Kotor Bay, is that going to add 4 more hours of border crossings? Thanks for any intel you can share.

Um, anyone? 

We enjoyed a week in the OBX in Duck last September and would like to go somewhere similar this year. We're debating about another OBX town or heading to Emerald Isle. Two adults and one active toddler. Thanks!

We used to take our kids to the Village at Nags Head, which has a pool, kids' activities, a golf course, etc. 

This is partly comment and partly question. While I live in the Washington area, I grew up and went to school near Buffalo. I still have friends and relatives in that area. To me and most of those I know who live there, Buffalo Wings did not originate there and are not very popular there. The most likely area for origin is Buffalo Wyoming where hot sauce is popular. The popular sauce in the Buffalo area is horseradish and the popular dishes are Friday Fish Fries an Beef on a Wick. Tenderly cooked beef is sliced in 1/8 inches and several slices placed on the bottom part of the bun. Horseradish is added and the top of the bun is dipped in the beef broth and placed on top. Heavenly!! 

Interesting -- I thought the Buffalo wings origin story was pretty much agreed upon, no? Anchor Bar and everything?

Also, I believe you mean Beef on Weck. There goes your food credibility, eh? ;-) "Weck" is short for kummelweck, the type of roll. As far as I know, the meat is NOT balanced on a candlestick.

If you want to make a hit with the locals, don't call it "San Fran" (or "Frisco," either)!

True!

For "2 weeks in California": Since you'll be spending some time in the Bay Area, have you considered visiting the East Bay? There's much to see/do in Berkeley (Cal, Gourmet Gulch, Marina) and Oakland.

The Sandaway in Oxford is very relaxing, right on the water and in a smaller, less busy town than, say, St. Michaels.

Chase does not issue Chip and PIN cards but they do have Chip and Signature cards. Generally, they are the cards that have annual fees but some of the no-annual fee Freedom cards that are being reissued from MasterCards to Visa's are coming with Chip and Sig.

If you are in Des Moines on a Saturday the Downtown Farmers Market is a must-do. The (relatively) new sculpture garden in downtown is excellent and free. There are lovely bike trails all around central Iowa if that is of interest. You also won't be too far from the covered bridges of Madison County.

Thanks!

How can I get United to give me a free ticket when I already accumulated more then 200,000 miles with the frequent flyer program but they refuse ? I understand they want to first sell the tickets and only at the last minute might award a free ticket. But I'm afraid if I wait I will not get it on the days I want to travel, so I keep buying tickets !

I am not sure I understand you. United can't refuse to give you a ticket for your miles, though the airline may tell you that loyalty seats are not available for certain dates and destinations. So you will have to go back to the datebook and try again. (Warning: Redeeming miles requires a lot of patience and flexibility.)

I would select some dates and destinations and work with a loyalty program agent on finding available dates. To avoid the booking fee, you can go online and book your tickets.

After spending ten days on Corsica, my wife and I will be getting off the ferry from Bastia, Corisca, to Livorno, Italy, around five thirty in the evening 25 September, with our ultimate destination the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi in Florence. Is it possible, and feasible to take public transit, or should we rent a car for our four-day stay in Florence? Thanks

The Italian train system is excellent, and you can certainly take a train from Livorno to Florence for $15-$20 per person. The trip takes a bit over an hour. On the night you're arriving in Livorno, I see direct trains to Florence at 6:12, 6:52, 8:12 and 9:12, so you have several to choose from. As long as your hotel reservation is guaranteed, you should be perfectly fine.

Ouch...i assume you are flying into one of the domestic terminals and out of the new international terminal. i haven't done that (lived in atlanta, haven't connected thru there in decades)...but it might be a tight connection... i would say a call to delta would be helpful. good luck (I've heard tweeting them is easier)

1. Wear slip-on shoes, as you'll be removing them indoors. 2. Bring a bandanna or handkerchief for drying your hands in public restrooms, as generally soap and water are available but not hand towels.

Great tips! I can echo the first one -- that shoes-off, slippers-on thing takes a lot of practice! I made MANY mistakes in that area when I was there many years ago.

I want to second the advice that was given of letting the teen pick a few of the activities. I did that when I took my younger brother on trips (he was 12 at the time) and it worked wonders. I even allowed him to plan one of the days himself and boy did that cut down on the grumpy uninterested teen syndrome.

Grumpy Uninterested Teen Syndrome. I know it well. Maybe GUTS for short?

I have a flight booked for October (DCA-SIN via JFK and NRT) on AA and JAL. AA changed my flight from DCA to JFK to a time after my JAL flight leaves JFK. THe worst part is that they didn't even notify me. I got an email from AwardWallet that tracks my itinerary that told me about the change. It was easy enough to get it fixed with a phone call. The agent told me that there have been a lot of "merger issues". So, if you're flying on AA, keep an eye on your flights!

Wow!

Our daughter will be in Seville Spain this fall for a semester abroad program. What is the best way to keep her in pocket money without excessive fees? She has a debit card which charges a 1% exchange fee. Do you have any other must do or don’t do tips?

I suppose it's at least worth considering setting up a bank account in Spain. Some folks do that for study abroad. Also, some banks have partnerships with foreign institutions that might let you withdraw money from ATMs for free. I'd also check with your daughter's study abroad program. They almost always have tips and suggestions. Chatters, happy to hear yours too.

Look into a Copenhagen card -- as pretty much everything is pricey, including public transit and museums, you can get the value back reasonably easily. Tivoli is worth a visit; there are some decent restaurants and at night, the lights make the piace feel less commercial and more like an old-time amusement park. Take a canal tour. Yes, it's cheesy, but it's a great way to see this city on the water (and a way to get a glimpse of the Little Mermaid, though as she's facing the shore, you'll mostly see her backside). I like the view from atop the Rundturn (Round Tour). Stroll along the Stroget, a mile+ long pedestrian shopping street. There are plenty of museums (both the Statens Museum fur Kunst and Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek have strong collections if you're into art), but one of my favorites is the Viiking Ship Museum in Roskilde, accessible by frequent trains.

Thanks!

I have been corresponding w/Mr Elliott on this - having just nearly missed a connection in Charlotte thanks to USAirways 'legal' connection time. The plane left Dulles 45 minutes late, thus leaving us really less than 15 minutes, as they close the plane doors 10 minutes prior to the departure time... We RAN from E24 to B2 at top speed, my son leading the way with me hoping he would body block the plane door! And I got chastised by the gate agent for NOT having my passport open to the picture page when I skidded to a stop at the lectern. We did get on the plane with the door slammed behind us, me with a swollen and stiff knee for the week. AND, while I was gone, I got an email from the NEW American Airlines that they had changed my connection in Miami from 3.5 hours to 1... Happily for all, they changed it back without arguing. SO, if everything goes just right, you might make the next plane, but the odds are against you.

I'm sorry to hear about your near-miss. Had you actually missed the plane, I would have let US Airways and the new American know of my displeasure. Airline schedules!

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden! http://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/ State Library and capital - Enjoyed all on a brief stay, of course my visit was interrupted by a tornado alert - I was the only one wandering about in the library as all the staff were hiding below.

Thanks -- but I believe I suggested that one already!

Thank you all for the suggestions. I think I will give him his own travel guide and see what he comes up with. We don't want GUTS.

Good luck for a GUTS-free trip!

You could also check out the website What's in Port and check out the cruise lines websites for the companies that are in port during the time you go. The one thing I do caution is if you want more time in port go with the smaller ships. While they may be a bit more expensive, they allow you to get closer to the city you are interested in. I would also suggest checking out the message boards on cruise critic. Those guys are die hard cruisers and can get you closer to the information you are seeking.

I will be taking a two-week trip to visit several national parks in Sept. I am planning to go on "easy" hikes and guided tours but not doing anything too demanding. What is a good source of information to guide me on equipment and clothing I should pack? What's been your experience at places like Zion, Bryce or Mesa Verde?

What a great upcoming trip you have. At each national park, I suggest heading straight for the visitors center and asking the rangers for suggestions on hikes. The number of options can get overwhelming, so it's nice to talk to an expert about the right hikes for your interests and abilities. And grab maps!

For packing, visit REI and chat up the folks in the hiking/outdoors departments. They will know exactly what you need. A starter list: sturdy hiking boots, socks (the right ones are essential!) and layers -- preferably shirts and shorts made of a light wicking material, wind breaker, fleece pullover, etc. Also, a day pack and at least two water bottles, protein bars and snacks (trail mix travels well).

I have been to Zion and Bryce, and the rock formations are mind-blowing. The Narrows hike at Zion is a wet and wonderful adventure.

Take Zofia's advice and catch a train if you can, because a car would be a burden in Florence.

I've definitely heard some horror stories about trying to do it solo (especially if you are trying to get space on one of the mountain stages). I've only seen flat stages in person, and my favorite version was actually on the Champs, because they come by multiple times. The other option is to try to catch one of the (or in more recent years, the only) time trial. Then you get several hours of spectating rather than the several seconds you might get on a normal day when the peloton whizzes by. I think doing it with an organized group or tour operator would be a better solution than trying to do it solo.

This year as every year we take vacation to foreign places. My kids are always excited and thrilled about the whole trip ideas and adventures. This year my older daughter turned 13... what a shock for us? She was completely different and more worry about keeping in touch with her friends back in US. I was able to read some articles about this after the fact. We were not ready for this... we traveled for 24 days to Iceland and France. Thank goodness for French wine! We are world travelers, and I am dreading planning next year's vacation that will keep my teen happy, and the parents happy. An article on suggestions on how to plan an exciting vacation for the entire family with teens would be greatly appreciated. Euro Disney type of vacation is not an option. :)

I can totally see how 24 days would seem like an eternity to be away from your friends at age 13! But you may be on to something. Perhaps there is a story waiting to be written there. We shall ponder.

I had a very similar experience when we took my son/daughter to England when he was nearly 13. He did not smile in one photo and at one point said, "If I have to go to one more cathedral, I will jump off the Tower Bridge."  We decided then to change it up and headedto the Outer Banks for a beach vacation the next year. That worked out much better. 

I don't understand why airlines fail to notify passengers of changes. Delta recently changed the times of all of my flights on an upcoming itinerary and failed to notify me of the change, even though I have a Skymiles account and booked the ticket while signed in on their website. I checked the notification fine print and you have to actually opt-in in order to be notified of changes. I sent an email suggesting they change this to an opt-out option, and got back a totally unrelated response about the need for occasional schedule changes. Given they send my daily emails about just about everything else, would it have killed them to tell me that I needed to get to the airport 30 minutes earlier??? Rant over.

Rant heard!

If you want to use Award Miles to purchase a ticket for a family member, is it better to give the person the miles or buy the ticket for them?

I think it's easier to give the friend or family member the miles, so they can handle the reservation. Booking for them might require a lot of back and forth phone calls or emails.

Check with the airline for transferring rules.

My husband and I are taking my son to WVU in a couple of weeks and it happens to coincide with my birthday so thought we would do a long weekend. Any ideas for things to do or a good place for a nice dinner? Thanks.

There's not a ton in Morgantown beyond the university -- the whole place seems to center around that -- but it's a nice town. You could certainly go hiking in the area if you're into that -- there are walking trails in Core Arboretum (part of the university) and around Dorsey Knob (mountain on the edge of town). In town, there's the Monongalia Arts Center, which houses art galleries and a theater. Don't know if anything will be playing the summer. You can always just explore the campus. And ride the PRT, the little people-mover down by the river. We always stay at the Hotel Morgan; it's small but historic and right in the heart of downtown. Their top-floor restaurant is excellent, and there are great views from the bar and rooftop. Even if you don't stay there, head there for dinner and drinks. Chatters, other thoughts?

I have just been issued Visa cards with chip. The banks assured me that they will work perfectly well in Europe with a PIN. Do you think the cards with chips will be a problem if they do not require PINs?

You have to actually have a PIN for your card if you want to use it, otherwise you'll have to use it as a chip-and-signature card. So check with your financial institution to see how you can receive a PIN on that card.

According to the FAQs on this Bank of America website, it looks like at least for their cards, even if you ask for a PIN, if the card is chip/signature, a different technology, then it still won't work at an unattended terminal that requires chip/PIN. The PIN you request will make it work at an ATM, but not other payment terminals. They advise that with these types of cards, you have to seek out cashiers that can accept a signature.

I am traveling to London in september, and would like to take a quick trip to Scotland for 3-4 days to soak up as much "non-touristy" culture as I can. How could I find a good B & B (or do you think hotels would be better?) . What is your recommendation on renting a car? is it a necessity or could I just stick to trains and local transportation?

If you feel comfortable driving on the other side of the road, renting a car offers flexibility. But the train system is also very good: It should take less than five hours each way to get to Edinburgh via train. Scotland has nice hotels and B&Bs. Check out the choices on the Visit Scotland Web site.  

I have a lengthy letter to the AA CEO ready to mail about their changing passengers plans and the connection time issue. Realistically I have little hope of any change, but if we don't express ourselves they just think everything is fine...

Agree! If we don't speak out, we will never change the injustices! Do you need a stamp?

Not sure exactly what problem the chatter with 200K UA miles is having getting an award. The UA website actually has a reasonably good award booking engine. The rules of thumb are to either book far out (like 10 months) or, increasingly, last minute. Maybe they are trying to go to popular destinations or must travel certain dates? With a little schedule flexibility I have never had an issue booking award flights. I tend to plan way ahead most of the time. But for sure your origin and destination make a big difference. If you are in a place that has few flights/small aircraft your chances are not as great.

Great insights. Thanks!

My advice is to get there early, before it opens. A limited number of people are allowed underground at any given time (in fact you can see the counter over the entrance door). We waited at least an hour last year and the line moves VERY slowly.

Thanks!

I've never been to the Eastern Shore but given the article about the flesh eating virus this weekend, I'm not sure I want to make a first trip. Do you know where people should avoid??

Not aware of that story. Where did you see it? And it would be bacteria, not a virus, right?

For the poster who suggested that the Northern California visitors check out the East Bay - Berkeley's culinary neighborhood is called the Gourmet Ghetto (not Gulch) and is home to Chez Panisse, the fabulous Cheeseboard (renowned for its cheeses, baked good and pizza), and other shops and restaurants.

Great tips. Thanks!

I don't really have a great one, but I like prizes! My parents invited me and my husband with them to Italy last year, and apparently they liked travelling with us so much that they try to find a way to come on ALL of our trips! We're heading to Ireland in the fall, but managed to go to California and Maine without them. We may have to start coming up with cover stories!

Well, looks like you'll be our winner, won't you? Thanks!

We lived in the Monterey/Pacific Grove (PG)/Carmel area for almost 2 years, so here are a couple of thoughts. 1) Walking down by the PG lighthouse at sunset of the day you arrive there would be super-special, and likely very private. 2) The Monterey Bay Aquarium is actually closer to most of Pacific Grove than most of Monterey, so you might plan to go there first thing in the morning from your hotel to avoid the absolute throngs of people. 3) You can do the 17-Mile drive through Pebble Beach on your way out of town, and stop in Carmel if you wish. 4) We loved Hearst Castle, and the beautiful drive that takes you there.

Great suggestions, straight from a local's fingertips.

i was on a recent flight from Vegas to LA when they held the plane for a first class passenger who'd gotten drunk in Vegas and lost his cellphone, when his friend, who had demanded we wait for this guy and demanded a round of applause once he boarded, thanked the captain, he replied "we would have waited forever." Is this standard practice and if so, why isn't everyone drunk?

I'd guess it's not standard practice. But I was once on a flight on the now out-of-business Hooters Air when they held the flight in Myrtle Beach for a group of very drunk passengers. I was not amused. 

We have done a lot of hiking out west, although we tend to prefer more strenuous hikes. I would definitely agree that the first thing to do is hit the visitors center -- the folks behind the counter can recommend hikes based on your desired level of difficulty and how much time you have. They routinely hike the trails themselves, so they can often tell you what the trail conditions are as well. The only other things I would recommend in terms of your list of supplies are sunscreen and sunglasses, and possibly hiking poles, particularly if you do decide to try more demanding hikes.

Great hiking suggestions. Sun protection is crucial.

There's a major World War I museum in Kobarid (formerly Caporetto), and plenty of WWI-related sites in the area. A day trip to Lake Bled (gorgeous Alpine lake) is a must. You can also do day trips to Ljubljana (Slovenia's capital), and to several famous caves in the Karst region. Slovenia is small enough that you can do day trips to just about anywhere from just about anywhere.

Carcasone, France in the Pyrennes is a beautiful walled city. This year's tour had a rest day there.

Thanks, all, for the great questions today. Hope we -- and our expert chatters -- gave you some useful tips for traveling!

Since we got exactly ONE response to our call for family-trip stories, and I just announced it as the prize-winner, I'd say the mystery is over, isn't it? Chatter, send your mailing info to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and she'll get you a little something.

Until next week, happy travels, armchair or otherwise...

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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.
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