Talk about Travel

Sep 10, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 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.

Hello again. It's been a while. Hope everyone had a great Labor Day and is already planning the next three day weekend (Columbus Day, according my calendar).

As usual, ask away. That's why we are here.

Also, for today's question:  Tell us about your favorite airport or experience in an airport and win a prize that is not from an airport.

I've been really eyeing the Porter Airline sales to Toronto, but admit that I don't really know if I actually WANT to go to Toronto. What would you or the chatters recommend about a fall trip? Things to see, places to eat, etc.

Toronto is an amazing city that melds Canada's finest with so many other cultures. And it is such a quick flight from D.C., you can feel very far away without having to go very far.

  The city is big in theater and also comedy (home of a Second City improv club), plus quirky attractions, such as the Barta Shoe Museum. It has a very strong foodie scene, with many award-winnng chefs, such as David Lee of  Nota Bene. You can also go icewine tasting. And the city embraces the outdoors-- lots of biking and boating.

If anything, try it for the weekend. If you love it, go back for longer. If you don't, now you know.

I was looking forward to reading about the travel through Switzerland and Italy, and to learning specific facts about taking a car vs. train, how they decided where to stay, restaurants to go to or to avoid, specific sights to see, etc. Instead, all we got was an extended ramble on the author's relationship with her mother, with the travel merely a backdrop for this psycho-drama. Please, give us articles with useful travel information, and leave it to others (Ann Landers, Carolyn Hax) to discuss family dramas.

Thanks for the feedback. Cara recommends Hotel Interlaken and La Casa del Garbo as two places to stay.

Is there either a professional or customer-based rating site for the airlines? I've read a few of your postings over the past several months complaining about Delta and it makes me wonder/concerned about all of them. How do I weed out the bad ones? Thanks!

One site that I like is Skytrax's Airline Quality. Lots of passenger reviews plus a ranking/review by the Web site. Overall, it  gives Delta three out of five stars.  

I'm retired but I don't like the new time for the chat. Noon or one is much better.

Sorry you don't like our new time, but if you want, you can submit a question in advance and check the transcript later, at your convenience.

I am beginning to see several travel size items that claim to kill bed bugs. Do any of these items work? Are there any that you would recommend that are more natural or don't have an unpleasant fragrance?

I am not sure which products are you referring to, but when I wrote about bed bugs, the experts basically advocated such measures as inspecting the room for bugs before you settle in (check the seams of the mattress, in the folds of the drapes, etc.), sealing up clothes and luggage, and storing bags away from the bed and furnishings with potential bed-bug habitats.  A lot of products are useless, to be honest. Best to call an exterminator and ask for his/her opinion.

I need to get to Milford in Conn. using public transportation as I don't drive. I can find a bus service so far, is train my best option?

Yeah, I'm not finding any bus info on an initial search either, other than local transit options. If I were you, I'd take the train or bus to New York and then take Metro North to Milford.

Do you have any advice for choosing a cruise line and/or destination? I've heard ships differ greatly even within one line, and that fellow passengers make a world of difference. We want to relax, to have a comtrolled pace, to see new places without feeling that we have to "do everything," and to be with genial people. We don't care about lavish shows or crazy amenities. We want delicious food, wine, views and a bit of history and culture. We will travel in May or June 2013. This will be a major splurge, so price isn't a determining factor, but we want a good value. Thinking about the Rhine or Rhone...where do we start?

River cruises are entirely different from ocean cruises. Ships are relatively small, tours are heavy on culture & history, and there are no lavish shows. I did an Avalon Waterways cruise on the Rhine last year, and it would check all the boxes on your list. Other well-regarded river cruise companies include Viking River and Uniworld. Check out Cruise Critic's article on choosing the right river cruise. 

I wrote in a few weeks ago out of frustration since I was having problems buying tickets for the AVE in Spain. I didn't succeed with any of the recommendations I got here but finally - my husband suggested calling a travel agent. They took care of it right away. Just goes to show you can't do everything yourself online!

Great to hear that you succeeded, thanks to a travel agent.

My favorite airport is the Albuquerque Airport. It's easy to navigate and the southwestern decor immediately tells me that I'm home. I remember flying out of this airport when I was a child (thirty years ago) and it was the only airport I knew where you still walked out to the plane on the runway. Also, because of the connection with Kirkland Air Force Base, it's almost never closed. And finally, you can get an awesome green chile sopapilla there.

All great reasons!

I'm scheduled to fly to Barcelona via Lufthansa Wed,, connecting thru Frankfurt. Should I panic now or later?

Don't panic. It looks as if the union has agreed to put off any strike until the end of October. 

This is a broader version of a chatter's recent question about DC-specific gifts to take to Europe. My family participates in international exchange programs all over the world and it's considered appropriate to give host families gifts reflective of the culture of one's home-country. So much of what the US is known for is manufactured or assembled abroad, from electronics to clothing, that we usually give Native American crafts -- but we would like to branch out. Do you and the chatters have suggestions? Please, nothing that says "Made in China" or :Assembled in Costa Rica," even if it's an iPod or the latest fashion craze. Thank you!

Are food gifts acceptable? There are a lot of great things you could do with that, now that so many people are focusing on local and heirloom foods. I'm thinking jams, jellies or honey, grits, jerky, peanut flour, etc. Coffee-table photography books -- Ansel Adams? -- would also be nice, although I guess those might not actually be bound here...

Other ideas?

I will vacation soon in France and Italy. While there, I would like to be able to call the United States using a cell phone. Is there a cell phone available in the U.S. that has that capability? (My current cell phone can only call from the U.S. to Europe -- and not the reverse.) Thanks.

If you get an international SIM card before you leave the country, you can call home without having to pay outrageous fees. (Just be sure to have your cell phone provider unlock your phone.) You can also buy a prepaid phone card from a newsstand, airport kiosk, etc. that can be used in your cell phone.

I tried both types and called my friend from Beijing and my mom from Mongolia. It was as easy as if I were in Washington. Here is my article comparing the different types of cards.

 

Does anyone know of a good language app for travelers that 1) can be used offline and 2) has a large collection of words and phrases a traveler would use, especially food items? The ones I've found so far have phrases for ordering at a restaurant, but I want one that will tell me what I'm ordering. Other categories like dealing with public transit and hotels would be appreciated, too.

Recommendations?

Next week, I am heading to Colombia. Yeah! Any advice? I am a solo woman with very rusty crappy high school Spanish under my belt. My price range is moderate to low (must have private room with bath). I think I will make arrangements when I arrive ( I have only my international ticket and first night's lodging). I'm planning on Bogota-Villa de Leyva-Medellim-Cartagegna, flying between the cities. What is mis-see ( no beaches)? Guidebook info is limited. Is Medellin worth visiting? Thanks

Our former staff writer Nancy Trejos was the Colombia expert. Here's her story on Medellin.

Anyone else have advice for this chatter?

I've never been to Paris, and have always dreamed of going there and (mainly) seeing the Louvre. Finally working on planning the dream trip, but am having trouble figuring out which hotels are closest to the museum. Google maps is confusing the bejeebers out of me! What's nearby? Thanks!

Other chatters I'm sure will weigh in, but why not check the Web site of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau -- there's a contact form you can use to send a message/ask a question. It also has a boatload of general tourist info for the city.

The chatter a few weeks ago inquired about Turkish Airlines. I had a great experience with them. I was pleasantly surprised by the food! The chef greeted us at the boarding door in his chef's "whites" and our dinner meal that evening was really great for "airline" food! Return flight was a drag, we sat on the tarmac in Istanbul long enought to watch an entire movie! Oh, and they asked about renting a car in Istanbul. My suggesion is "don't!!!" Those drivers are fearless and pedestrians have to really watch it when crossing the street.

Thanks for following up.

I did the Danube River cruise several years ago on Avalon. It was fantastic!

Thanks!

Posting early as I live overseas and can't make the live chat, but I never miss reading the transcripts. My kids are 4 and 7, and have racked up lots of frequent flier miles. The biggest tip for a pleasant plane trip with little ones is for the parents to be actively engaged with them the entire time they are awake. That may mean running conversation and stories for a 12-hour flight, or coloring together, or whatever they enjoy doing. Don't plan to nap or read or catch up on work, plan to make sure those little feet don't touch the back of the seat in front of them more than once , discuss your destination and plans for the trip, play endless games of tick-tac-toe, whatever. If they fall asleep or get engrossed in a movie, great, but don't count on it, and be sure to keep an eye/ear out to make sure nothing they are saying or doing can be heard by anyone else around. People often write in wondering about taking red-eye-flights with kids, and I say, go for it. If they still use a car-seat, bring it on (they are used to falling asleep in it). In the departure area, put on PJs, go potty, and brush teeth. Once you get on the plane, read a story & say prayers (in other words, do as much of your normal bedtime routine as possible), then say good-night. Most importanly, be prepared that they will feel perfectly chipper in the morning and will not be as tired as you are! Also, we keep some foods as "airplane only" foods: Goldfish crackers, Teddy Grahams, fruit chews. It adds a little bit to the fun of the trip, and has the advantage of being something unusual and a good distraction when necessary.

All good advice. Wish the parent of the kid behind me on my flight home from Boston last week wasn't zoned out on the TV and had seen the tyke kicking my seat!

The mention of Ansel Adams made me think about books of art by American artists, say, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O'Keefe, the Hudson River Valley School. I think that artists who specialize/d in our landscapes would be particularly good choices.

Great idea. Thanks!

The airport is large enough to have good shops and restaurants, but small enough to get around easily. It has waiting areas with SEATS and other comforts for people who are meeting passengers. Rental cars are easy to find and it's a breeze to leave the airport. Friendly, knowledgeable people man the information desk. And there's a museum! A small, peaceful area holds a few items from each of the many and varied museums in the city. This is an excellent airport.

Compared to Singapore, it sounds like a charming throwback.

I'm a 30 yr old female and I've traveled overseas a few times with friends, but I'd like to take my first solo international trip next month. I'm looking for a large city where there is enough to see and do to fill up 4 or 5 days, easy to get around (either on foot or by an easy-to-navigate public transportation system), and the people are friendly. Safety is of course also important since I haven't traveled alone before. I've already been to Italy and France, so strongly considering Barcelona or Prague for this trip, but am wondering if you have other recommendations? My budget is $2500 total and I'd really just like to see some museums and beautiful architecture and enjoy good food. Thanks for any guidance you can provide!

Those are good options. So are London, Dublin, Stockholm, Reykjavik, Brussels, among others.

We'd like to take advantage of some good prices and take a Caribbean cruise this fall, but I'm hesitant to book in hurricane season. What is the general consensus on doing this? Do cruise lines generally have a return policy or credit towards a future trip if weather prevents the trip from occurring or if it has to be cut short (if this actually even happens)?

Hurricanes don't stop cruise ships. They just change their itineraries, spending more days at sea or docking at a different island. Cruise lines do not refund money and they rarely give credits (something awful has to happen, such as the ship losing power, before credits are handed out). You could look into a "cancel for any reason" insurance policy, but these are expensive and you don't get 100 percent of your money returned. The positive side of cruising in hurricane season? Low prices. 

Your recent article made me break out into hives. My mother has been hoping to take that sort of trip with the whole family for years now and thank god for my sanity it hasn't happened yet. But this article is going to set her over the edge. I plan to send you my therapy bill and the bar tabs I will inevitably rack up during the trip. (Lovely article, otherwise).

All in all, I think Cara was happy that she took the trip. Small moments of angst aside, to me it sounded like one of those experiences that will be fondly remembered many years afterward.

Hi travel gurus! I'm currently pregnant with our first child (due this week, in fact), and I never changed my last name to my husband's. Will there be any issue traveling with our child since we don't share the same last name? The child will have my last name as their middle name, though. Thanks.

You won't have a problem, though if you are really worried, bring the baby's birth certificate. (Congrats!)

We have been invited by friends to join them in CO after Xmas for a few days. We live in Tampa and in checking out non-stop flights, one airline we found is Frontier. Never flown them before, so does anyone have feedback on the airline? Thanks.

Lots of places online you can look at. Same cautions that apply to their hotel rankings, but Trip Advisor has airline rankings you can check out. So does J.D. Power. That's just a sampling.

I have not flown Frontier. Who has and wants to chime in?

We had an early flight out of Heathrow Terminal 5 on Boxing Day. Because of empty roads we got there very early and decided to eat breakfast at Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food. Everyone, including the staff, was in a post-Christmas lethargy. All of the sudden the pace picked up. Coffee refilled, empty dishes removed, more toast offered. Sure enough I looked up and Gordon Ramsay, his wife, and four kids were sitting down two tables away. The best part was he wasn't walking around being a celebrity chef -- he was sitting with his youngest on his lap feeding her some of his toast. Just a lovely moment that made getting up at 5:30 a little easier to bear.

That is a Boxing Day to remember.

My favorite airport was the one in Columbia South Carolina. Small but bight and open with plants and rockers like a southern porch. I'd take the small planes so we had to walk down the stairs and onto the tarmac to board - one time I saw the woman at the desk upstairs and the person downstairs communicate using tin cans with a string (really, just like we had done as kids). Once I needed to talk to an agent in the luggage area, but no one was at my airline's desk. The fellow at the next one (a different airline) asked me what I wanted. No problem, that's my mother-in-law and I know her password. This was around 9/11, but I can't remember if it was before or after...

Oh, how I miss those days . . .

Scads of hotels in all price ranges within walking distance. We stayed at the modest but comfortable Hotel La Louisiane in the 6th Arrondissement (Latin Quarter).

Thanks!

A small English to whatever dictionary is the most useful thing ever. I buy one in every country I go to, even if I don't plan on learning the language. And it always works offline :) Some of the good tour books for foreign cities also include information on public transit and customs (tipping, etc) as well - head over to Barnes and Noble and peruse the selections for your destination, and pick the one that works best for you. At least, that's what I'd recommend :)

Much appreciated.

I would also add Lisbon to the list. I did it last summer as a solo female traveler and had a great time. You can easily get a train pass and visit some of the surrrounding towns during the day while staying at the same hotel in Lisbon the entire time.

Thanks!

I stayed at Hotel Casa de la Botica in La Candelaria in Bogota. LOVED it. Reasonably priced, breakfast included, cute neighborhood. Only thing to note is if you are there on a Sunday not a lot is open for dinner. We did not make it to Medellin but did make it to Cartagena. Cartagena was very humid. If you decide to do a boat ride in Cartagena make sure you get on one of the big boats - we were on a smaller boat and felt very near-death.

Thanks for the personal recommendations.

Amish, Mennonite or other types of authentic handmade crafts?

Good idea.

Just wanted to say I really loved the Swiss/Italian article. If all you want are a list of hotels and restaurants, that is easily accessible online (or in any guidebook). Plus, it is not likely that one person's travel style matches another's. (My mom, for example, loves the typical recommendations in your articles. I am more of a backpacker type and can rarely use them -- which doesn't make me enjoy the travel section any less!) What everyone can enjoy is a fun travel story, which is exactly what this piece was. My mom and I both read it together and reminisced on our family trips. Thank you for that article, and I would like to see more of them, not less. :)

I will pass on your very nice comment to Cara. Thank you.

In July 2013 I would love to go on a cruise that hits Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and possibly Israel. We are looking for a smaller ship and one that allows lots of shore excursions, but are struggling to find something. Do you have any recommendations?

Only one that I could find that fits the bill is a 12-night Holy Land cruise aboard the Pacific Princess departing July 26. 

I had to fly to Fort Smith Arkansas once. It's the airport near Walmart headquarters. A bitty little thing, but with the best airport bathroom in America. No joke - it's lovely :)

Now I am curious . . .

Hi, Travel Gurus. I liked the family trip to Europe article, but was puzzled about where the other 7 days of the trip went: The writer said that the trip was 12 days in length, but I counted perhaps 5 days described in the article. I'm willing to subtract the first day, which was the day of arrival on the Continent, but I still wonder what happened to the missing days not described. Also, if the family traveled by train or bus to and from the Cinque Terre and Florence instead of driving, would the expense had been greater or less than renting a car? One other missing piece was the details box about where the family stayed, at and their activities, e.g., the Florence museums, the Cinque Terre visit, and other places. Thanks.

Cara says:

I left here Friday, got to Switzerland late Saturday and we went to dinner and to bed. So day 1 from the story was Sunday, after about a day and a half traveling time. And I actually had to leave a day and a half early from my family, so that may explain the discrepency. Sorry that was confusing... I am pretty sure we found the difference in price between train and renting a car pretty minimal. For the four of us renting was a little bit cheaper, but my dad ultimately made the decision that he wanted the flexibility of leaving at the times we wanted, and to have the flexibility to stay in each place an extra day etc. if we wanted. So it became more of a personal preference.

She also says they enjoyed the Hotel Pasquale in Cinque Terre, which "had the best breakfast -- fresh lemon jam and popovers." They also hiked the blue trail in Cinque Terre.

Is there any benefit of getting a visa for Nepal in advance rather than getting it when landing in Kathmandu? The Department of State website says travelers can purchase visas on arrival in Kathmandu, but I've read comments here about difficulties in getting a visa for Nepal so thought I'd ask. I have plenty of time to do it before I leave and being in Washington, the embassy is convenient, but I hate the idea of leaving my passport and having to wait for it to be returned to me. Thanks!

I have not been to Nepal, but my philosophy on prepping for trips is to do as much in advance as possible and preferably in your home country, where the risk of miscommunication is less.  Plus, after that long flight, do you really want to spend anymore time in the airport?

 

Could you please post a link to the article with the family drama?

Hockey Fall of Fame, Science Center (up at Don Mills), a variety of ethnic restaurants beyond your wildest dreams (including Chinatown, Little Italy and Little Portugal), University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum and other museums -- why, you could live in Toronto and still not see it all!

Now I want to go, too.

It's not quite that easy. Amtrak goes to Penn Station, Metro North line to Milford (New Haven line) goes out of Grand Central. Good luck finding a cab or bus once you get to Milford. You will need to schedule a car in advance. You can probably get a bus to New Haven and then bus or cab from there.

OK, true, but I've done the transfer between Penn and Grand Central by walking. It's doable on a nice day and without a ton of luggage.

Thanks for the New Haven tip.

Have any of you used Google's ITA matrix search? Is there an advantage to the extra information that's supposedly there that you can't get from the airline or consolidator web sites?

I have used it, and do like it, but you can't purchase from it, so you still have to elsewhere to buy. It's nice to see an entire month of fares between destinations, although other sites also do this. 

6.5 hour layover in Istanbul, and have ALWAYS wanted to see Turkey. I know I'll need to plan a separate trip there soon, but any chance that I can zoom in and out of Istanbul fast enough to take advantage of those 6.5 hours??

Are you flying on Turkish Airlines? If so, you can take one of their free tours, if it works for your schedule.

Has anyone done this on their own?

I stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Paris Vendome a few years back. Super easy walk to the Louvre - great location all around, in fact.

Thanks!

My favorite airport in the world is SFO - because it is home! That's all I need! No matter, how terrible or awesome the preceeding trip was, once I get to SFO I know everything will be ok because I am home.

A great reason, but also San Francisco is a model of eco-ingenuity. Another reason to love it (plus, the refill water bottle stations).

It depends on the recipient but I've given almost all of these things: Maple syrup for sure. Junk food. Bubblegum. Salt water taffy. Root beer. Sarsaparilla. Americana, like a Davy Crockett cap. American literature. Native flora/fauna gifts that will pass customs. Locally made pottery. Something super tacky from a truck stop gift shop. Political campaign pins or mugs or stickers/ephemera. Tacky bumper stickers.

You are the expert. You should start an e-store for Americans traveling abroad.

Is it cheap to fly to the Islands for Thanksgiving or is it expensive like everywhere else?

Expensive. Holiday travel, when many have the same days off from work, is always expensive. 

Berlin! Berlin has amazing and plentiful museums (i've been twice for a total of 15 days and there are still museums I didn't get a chance to see!), a fantastic contemporary art scene, stunning modern architecture, and it is easy to get around and almost everyone speaks english.

I second that!

I'm looking for a short vacation out of the country this November or over the holidays. I prefer visiting cities rather than a beach vacation, but do not want to be freezing (not Canada/Sweden). Any suggestions?

We've talked a lot about Europe today. How about heading south? Buenos Aires would be lovely that time of year. 

Go to local craft fairs/stores and look for woven pieces (placemats, coasters, runners, etc.). Fabric is good because it won't break when packed or mailed.

I like this idea.

Figure out what you consider walking distance and then check out websites such as Expedia, Travelocity, or Hotels.com that allow you to search by distance or map the hotels.

Great idea.

The best airport I've been in is in Amsterdam. It has great shopping, a museum and spa services. It was almost like an extension of our vacation.

And it is so easy to access via public transportation. Always a plus.

... in my experience, is Marco Polo in Venice. It's not a big hub or anything, so the crowds are not overwhelming for security or customs. But the best part is, we always feel our vacation has started the moment we land there. Arrival is early in the morning, so we hit the airport cafe for delicious, high-octane cappuccinos to wake us up. Then, because the airport is right on the water, we only have to stroll about 100 yards from the terminal to the ferry stop. No fussing with rental cars or shuttles or taxicabs. So within minutes of collecting our bags, we can be fully caffeinated, on the water, the wind is in our hair and we're enjoying spectacular scenery on the way to Venice. It's a beautiful thing.

Sounds lovely.

Could you please give this week's prize (or find an extra one) for this chatter, who's doing his/her best to make flying more pleasant for everyone, one family at a time? Well-behaved children on a flight are usually more enjoyable to sit near than most adults (LOL!).

True enough. I love the excitment and wonder kids have about flying. Reminds me not to be so jaded.

Venere.com is a great site to visit - it shows you a user-friendly map of Paris, and you can click into various regions to see what hotels are available. It should be easy to find the Louvre. One other option: the Metro system in Paris is fantastic - you could choose to stay a few stops away and might find less expensive accommodation.

So true about the Metro. It's so easy to zip around the city.

I'm travelling with my BF to LA for a wedding in December, and will be staying a couple of extra days to relax and explore. We have both been there before so we don't necessarily need to hit up the major touristy spots, but aren't sure what neighborhood to stay in. We like live music, good restaurants and would like to be in a walkable area. I'd like to go to the beach but we don't want to spend every day there. We'll have a rental car. Any neighborhood suggestions?

I'd stay in Santa Monica, especially if you have a little cash to spend. My favorite hotel is the Fairmont -- it's quite pricey, but there are occasional deals.  The Georgian Hotel is a lovely historic property. Shore Hotel is a new ultra-modern property. Best priced nicer hotel, but not on the water, is the Ambrose

what about use of middle seats? annoys me when someone uses them and it isn't their seat. also, when you spend money for upgraded seats and someone just sees an open seat and sits there when they didn't pay, also annoys me.

But if the middle seat is open and available, given today's cramped quarters it seems a shame not to take advantage of  it by stashing some of your stuff there or folding the seat arm away and giving yourself some extra room. I'm not suggesting monopolizing it. It's a space that can be shared by both the window- and aisle-seat occupiers. (And then if you've got your stuff on it, the freeloader who ticks you off by co-opting an upgraded seat probably won't try to sit there!)

This year I would like to visit NYC during the Christmas holiday season to see alot of the holiday window displays at all the stores. When do a lot of the window displays go up and what is the best weekend to go to not get stuck with the crowds? I don't what to go the weekend after Thanksgiving but I don't want to do it too close to Christmas. Also, any other sites to see that's holiday specific?

Most of the big department store displays are up by the end of November, but some might not go up until early December. Best plan might be to call each store individually and ask: Try Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Saks. As to other things to see, there's of course the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center (with ice skating), and you're sure to find a number of holiday-theme shows.

Hi, Travel Gurus! Love your chats and read them every week. I'm asking what is probably a cliched question but nevertheless, I'd love to hear your thoughts. My husband and I are celebrating big birthdays next March, and I'd love to take a trip to celebrate. We're pretty active on vacations and like to sightsee rather than sit on a beach or go on a cruise. We've been to Paris and London recently and loved them. If you had a week to go somewhere with a city feel, full of history and culture, where would you choose? Thanks!

Oh, so many choices. What would I do? Barcelona. I was also going to say Stockholm, but that may still be too chilly for your tastes in March.

Travel Gurus - just wanted to thank you for the advice you gave me a couple weeks ago regarding jet lag and driving in London. I am SO GLAD we didn't attempt to drive. It didn't seem so bad in the highways, but in the city it was such a mess. The main thing that confused me was that they don't use yellow lines to separate the opposite lanes - they're all white! Add in a traffic circle with several streets that go both one-way and both-ways, and a 3rd lane for buses/taxis - it was pretty confusing. You were also right about jetlag - I couldn't get any sleep on the plane (although I easily slept on the way back) and we hitting the ground after we landed (7am London time) since we couldn't check in until 2pm. One thing I highly encourage for anyone visiting London - do take a day to tour OUTSIDE the city - I felt like we actually got to experience more of Britain life itself that way (instead of all the touristy stuff). For me, the city was a bit too fast-paced and modernized - lots of diverse cultures, accents, and food (I liken it to NY and DC merged into one). Outside the city you see more of historical England itself. Overall it was a pretty memorable experience!

Glad it worked out for you! Thanks for reporting back.

Back in the olden days when airline travel wasn't so carefully controlled, my husband and I flew to Montreal for our honeymoon. The only problem was my husband had left his wallet with his i.d. in the pocket of his rented tux, left in the hands of a friend who was to return the tux the next morning. The airline let us fly, but warned us that we might not be able to get into Canada without that i.d. We flew anyway, figuring the worst that could happen would be getting stuck in limbo while waiting for Fed Ex to catch up to us with the wallet. When we got to Montreal and had to go through customs, my husband had a bunch of homemade wine to declare. He and the customs agent spent so much time trying to figure out the value of the homemade wine (checking customs guidelines, discussing ingredients) that after all that they never asked him for identification and he walked into the country without a problem (and only paid something like $5 for the wine).

Wine saves the day!

Thanks for posting my question on Colombia. I should have mentioned that I read the Post's published articles on Colombia, includingthe one you linked to, but it still left me wondering what is appealing about Medellin. If chatters have any advice, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

Chatters, can you tell us in 14 minutes or less, why Medellin is great?

Goes to the chatter who wrote about ways to occupy his kids/be a RESPONSIBLE parent. I have talked with multiple parents who don't see it as their job somehow to prevent their kid from kicking the seat in front of them and it absolutely astounds me. How would they feel if it were their seat being kicked?

And chewing on the Sky Mall catalogue does not count as entertainment.

Chatters - Please don't judge me. I booked one of those deals thru Vacations75/ITP and now I can not get a hold of them. We fly to Montego Bay on Oct 1 and still have NO reservations. Please advise! thanks

Ouch. Lots of  complaints about this company, but you already know that. I'm sure you got a deal that was too good to be true. Have you talked with them via phone? 

One of my favorites was unexpectedly running into an acquaintance at the Copenhagen airport. Another was arranging to meet a friend for 15 minutes at BOS - she was flying in, I was flying out. Most memorable in many ways was a Thanksgiving weekend when I flew to ORD. I gave up my seat on the way out and flew two hours later in exchange for a voucher. On the way back (Sunday night) ORD was a complete and total zoo. My flight was ridiculously overbooked, so I once again gave up my seat for a voucher - even though that meant spending the night in Chicago. United did provide the hotel room, and I was able to provide some company and anxiety calming to a 16yr old acquaintance who happened to be on my flight and had not even gotten a seat. The flights to DC had been so far overbooked that the next morning United had a separate unscheduled flight to get about 100 of us back to DC (although not necessarily to the correct airport).

Wow, you really raked it in.

Is there a better way for the average passenger to get through a security checkpoint at the airport? I find it so hard to empty out my pockets, remove my watch, shoes, belt, etc. and then have to quickly collect it all back and put it on. I try to leave the coins at home, but there is still a lot of loose items that are easy to loose. This past weekend, the guy infront of me almost forgot his watch which he had to go back and remove after sending his shoes and other items through the machine.

I hear that. My husband's ID went AWOL after we went through security at Logan last week. It's not totally rolled out yet, but you can look into TSA's Pre-Check program. Chris wrote about it a few months ago.

One other tip -- follow the blue blazers. The business travelers know how to get through the lines faster and I can almost guarantee there will be fewer delays.

I have the most love for the Minneapolis- St.Paul Airport, always fast through security, rarely closed due to weather (somewhat counter-intuitive when you think about the northerly location, but MSP does not get any lake effect snow), and now it has the hands down best airport wine bar, run by the local retailer Surdyks. That said, my current favorite experience in an airport was having a relaxed brunch at Buckhead Books in the Atlanta airport, on the way to Tortola for our honeymoon this summer. It was a surprise to have such a pleasant meal in such a busy airport.

Sounds like you found a rare calm spot at the Atlanta zoo.

For the chatter asking about hotels near the Louvre, remember that the last two digits of the zip code correspond with the arrosdissement. The Louvre is in the 1st, so anything ending in 01 or 02 will be closest. However, I find those areas to be so business-oriented that they are not nearly as fun in the evening as hotels in the 3rd, 4th or 6th (I’m old enough that the 5th – the Latin Quarter - is a little too student-oriented for me). You should be able to walk to the Louvre from any of these areas, and remember you are never more than a couple of blocks from a Metro station.

Thanks!

I racked up some miles recently on Frontier as they moved equipment into DCA (Washington National). They're actually based in Denver and operate pretty well as a no-frills, fee intensive (a Denver 'Southwest'). Good equipment and always ontime.

Good to hear.  Thanks!

anywhere Kenmore AIr flies -- they do seaplane service in Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia, so you just walk out the dock (no security check!) and the pilot loads your suitcase on the plane, and you climb aboard.

Now that's the way to travel!

I traveled as a solo woman and loved it. Visit Guatape outside of Medellin and Tayrona N.P. sort of near Cartagena if time permits. Allow yourself time and patience for Spanish. I encountered no English until the coast. I often had to ask staff at hotels to use different words for me to understand. It is a beautiful place with beautiful people. Mike's bike tour in Bogota is fantastic.

Gracias!

Hands down, it's National Airport. Landing for the first time when I was visiting in high school and seeing all those monuments in real life for the first time was priceless, and when I lived in DC each time and saw them as we landed, I always knew I was home!

So true: You do get amazing views flying into DCA.

Just a note that the train from Washington comes into Penn Station, and the Metro North to Connecticut leaves out of Grand Central, across town. Give yourself a half hour to make the connection. If you take a bus into the Port Authority (or environs - I don't know where the discount buses drop off in Midtown), you'll need about 20 minutes. I'd cab it, but you can take the subway.

Great point. Thanks!

The White House Christmas Ornament is made in the USA-- always makes a great gift (for those that celebrate, of course). And weren't the various Smithsonian gift shops supposed to start selling more US-sourced souvenirs? Might be worth checking out... especially the American History museum.

Great idea.

College memorabilia, especially for teenagers. One foreign friend has quite a collection of UC Berkeley goodies now, thanks to me!

And another great idea.

Speaking of being good parents and good fellow travelers, have you seen this article?

I had not. Interesting!

Not sure if it has to be Europe, but Montreal is a really cool city, lots to do, French is the primary language, and it has a very Eurpean feel. And close enough to avoid getting bogged down by jet lag!

Good answer.

Hello! I am looking to plan a weekend away in late October/November and could use some ideas for locations, places to stay, things to do. I'm a 30s, single woman who will be traveling alone (essentially for the first time) and I prefer city/urban settings where there are things to do and I can walk around. I'd like to go someplace warm or at least warmer given we'll be starting to head into winter, and I don't have a car, so while I'll willing to be on a train/plane, I don't want to spend my weekend in an airport or break the bank having to rent a car once I get to my location. I already go to NYC/Boston/Chicago often, so I'd like to try something else. I know this is still somewhat vague, but any ideas would be much appreciated!

Charleston! Take a cab to/from the airport and you won't miss that rental car.

For the person who suggested maple syrup, that's fine if you're planning to check luggage. But if, like me, you're a super-light packer who goes abroad with only a small wheeled bag, try getting maple SUGAR instead (sold in sealed clear bags), which TSA allows you to carry on; there are easy-peasy instructions online for reconstituting the stuff into syrup (basically just knowing the correct ratio of sugar to water).

Yes, don't forget the 3-1-1 rule.

US military themed stuff can also be popular, again, depending on the recipient. Know anyone with access to a P/X? Also pro-sports team items, including pennants (sports or non-sports) which are also very "American".

How about sports jerseys and caps? When I was visiting the island of Sao Jorge in the Azores in 2002, I spotted a boy of about age 12 wearing a black-&-gold #10 Pittsburgh Steelers jersey (Kordell Stewart, who was then the team's starting QB) -- talk about deja vu! I suspect a relative must've sent it to the boy for Christmas.

More great ideas.

They always have interesting exhibits, and I think they are one of the few airports (the only??) in the US with a curator. It is easy to get around, from gate to gate and the terminals. The air train is great, and it is easy to grab BART. SF used to be home for me, so I am biased, but I still find it far preferable to any other airport.

Another vote for SFO.

You can always visit the CN Tower, Yonge & Dundas Streets (Toronto's Time Square), and Kensington Market. The Streetcars and Subway make everything accessible. If you're an adventure seeker you can go to Niagra Falls on the Canadian Side. It's only about 1.5hr away.

Okay. the case is settled: Go. To.  Toronto.

Hi - I am planning a trip for my family - 2 grandparents, 2 parents, 2 children ages 3 &13 -- to Greece for 3 weeks in October. We are going to Athens for a few days, the Peleponnesos, Crete, and Thessaloniki. I would like suggestions for concrete provisions to make in light of the possible economic and social difficulties due to the summit meeting in October, e.g. potential exit from the Euro Zone. I am not particularly worried about riots -- I think that contingency is overblown and probably easily avoidable -- but more mundane things like transportation, medical care, and so forth. I don't know enough about the situation to even begin to visualize what is needed. Perhaps no one else does either; I posted a similar question on another forum and got very little helpful advice. I'm hoping you can help. Thanks. Susan

I covered this topic a year ago in a Navigator, and my advice remains the same: you probably will not be affected by the Eurozone problems. No one knows exactly how a switch from the euro to a new Greek currency would happen, but odds are, the euros you're carrying would still be usable, at least for a short time. You may want to also carry some U.S. dollars, which may be accepted. You'll also want to carry your credit card and/or debit card, which will continue to be usable. If I had a vacation to Greece planned, by the way, I would still go (actually, I'd be more interested than ever, because it's such an interesting time to be there.)

Hi there - thanks for taking my question! I wrote in a while ago about an October honeymoon, and after some research we've narrowed it down to a long weekend in either Barbados or Curacao. We like them because it seems like both offer beaches and relaxation but have culture/food/nightlife outside of big resorts. The impression I've been getting is that Barbados is much more tropical while Curacao is European - is that true? Positives/negatives on each island? Any advice one way or the other from the travel section or the chatters? Thanks so much for your help!

I don't know that I'd choose either one for a long weekend, only because either will take most of a day to get there, and most of another day to return. As for positives/negatives, I would probably go for Curacao over Barbados because of hurricane threat potential alone. Chatters thoughts? 

I'm taking my son to NYC for approximately 1.5 days for his birthday next week. We will be driving up in the morning, watching the Yankees (he's a big fan who has never seen them live), staying overnight, and then driving back sometime the next day (hopefully not too late to avoid the worst traffic coming home). Can you recommend a few things that we can do in the city in the few hours that we might have before the game, or the next morning before we have to drive back to the Washington area? I've thought about the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty tour, the Museum of Natural History, and Central Park, but I'm not sure how much to try to squeeze in in less than a day-and-a-half and still keep it a fun trip for a 13-year old celebrating his birthday. Any suggestions from you or your readers? Thanks for all the great advice over the years!

The Empire State Building may appeal to a 13-year-old, but go only if it's a very clear day. Statute of Liberty may be boring for him, but if he likes boats, perhaps a Beast Speedboat tour would be fun.  If he likes movies/TV, there are tours that feature filming locations. If you go to Central Park, a guided tour may be the way to get the most out of the visit. As for museums, if he is interested in a specific topic, such as natural history, that could work. But we have great museums right here, so that would not be my top choice. When I was that age, I lived a train ride from New York, and used to love just walking around.

I was interested in the article in Sunday's paper about rental-car customers getting stuck with unwanted charges for toll passes they didn't know they had/didn't want. I rented a car for 8 days in Maine two weeks ago; the car had something on the windshield I didn't pay much attention to, which I guess was one of those EZ=Pass things. I was on a toll road exactly once in the 8 days, and paid cash for that toll that one time. Does this mean I can expect a bill from some company for 8 days of usage of the pass? Wouldn't the rental-car company have to offer renters the choice of opting out on that thing (they certainly never mentioned it to me)? Do I have any recourse if I get such a bill?

Yes, the company would have to clearly disclose the presence of the transponder and ask you if you want to rent it or "opt in" to the service that manages the transponder. If they didn't, please let me know. Here's how to reach me.

San Diego - I was taking a 6:30 AM flight and was unaware (probably just ignorance on my part) that early morning flights are PACKED. Based on prior departures from SAN, I got to the airport about an hour ahead of time. After waiting in line to check my bag (I was out there for two weeks for work and couldn't comply with the liquid rule to carry-on), I was starting to freak out about getting through security quickly (the line was literally out the door). Luckily the security line folks there had a policy of "if your flight time is approaching, you can go through the first class line" and I was able to make my flight. Contrast that to Dulles several years ago, when I got to the airport with 2 hours to spare and still had to run to make my flight, because the security line folks wouldn't let me or other people around me cut to the front (when we asked we weren't that far away from the front).

I wish all airports had express lines for people whose flights were leaving in 30 minutes or less.

I traveled home to Malaysia (from DC) often, and a lot of times, I have a long layover in Singapore's Changi airport. Because the flight from Japan would arrive in Singapore after midnight, I would have to wait for the early morning flight that usually departs at about 7:00am. This means that I would stay at Changi for 6-7 hours. It is such a great airport for layover as there is free wifi, and the airport also provides computer for the travelers. My favorite area of Changi airport is called the Oasis, where there are lounge chairs for those of us who want to take a short nap. Did I mention free x-box games? For a fee, one can also use their shower facilities. Having traveled to so many airports around the world, Changi airport is definitely the best.

We actually had an article about Changi a few years ago.

But that is the final destination, so no big deal. They have personal TV and movies for a fee.

The Rock Center tree will be lit on November 28, and that's usually the last big thing to get unveiled for Christmas in New York. Come! It's the best season of the year here.

There is so much to do you almost forget you are in an airport. I arrived at 2:00 a.m., and had to be there at 5:00 for my return flight, and the staff I encountered were as charming, helpful and welcoming as could be. It is also beautifully maintained.....very modern

I just grab my whole bin with the loose articles and take it over to the 'dressing' area. I leisurely get everything in place, then take back the bin.

Or grab a plastic baggie and stuff all your goodies in the bag, then toss it in your carry-on post-security and sort it out at the gate.

How about CDs of Native American music or the Folkways Albums from the Smithsonian?

You all are a creative bunch.

Since the Louvre is in the very center of Paris, the nearby hotels are among the most expensive. I would look for hotels near the Metro lines that service the Louvre - #1 and #7.

We are considering an international trip next year, and I may be able to get two free business class tickets, but the other two family members will probably need to fly coach/economy. Will most airlines allow passengers to trade seats during the flight? We would probably be flying KLM or Qatar.

From my experience, it's allowed on domestic flights, but not international flights. I have no idea why, but those were the rules on my last two flights.

I was there several years ago and we got our visas at the airport. Pretty painless, just fill it out and pay your money. Check before what is needed for a visa pictures, I can't remember or even if we needed one. Most people were getting their visas at the airport.

Very helpful info. Thanks!

Uh, have they EVER completed the renovations there? It seems as though something is always under construction there. And I say this as a Bay Area native who left her heart there...

When I went on a People To People trip, I brought a bunch of the state quarters as gifts. They even have DC ones now...(or the Presidential dollars)

Cute idea. And good if they come to the States and need to do laundry.

I used to fly them direct from National to Omaha several times a year and never had a problem, although I still have not heard the last (I'm sure) of my father's hatred of them for delays when from San Diego (something about fog and not helping them as standby passengers). They tend to have Republic Air do a lot of their flights, so be prepared for that.

I lost my wallet in Providence about two hours before my flight back to BWI. I called Southwest and they told me to talk to the TSA guys when I got there. I gave them my social security number and they asked me a series of questions--but I was so nervous -- for no good reason -- that I gave them my maiden name, which I changed 30 years ago. My husband started to laugh, they asked me a few more questions and let me through security -- but I was still so rattled that I walked into the mens room and didn't realize it till I came out of the stall. When we finally got to the plane, the Southwest flight attendent who heard the story (I was still a little off-balance) gave me a free drink. And now I keep my wallet closer when I travel.

A lesson learned, and a free cocktail.

Just go to Times Square and soak up the atmosphere. There's nowhere else quite like it.

I wear oxford shoes whenever I travel, so when I have to empty my pockets at the security check point, I just put my wallet, change, keys and other pocket items into my shoes, which I have to take off anyway. Afterwards, I remove the individual items one at a time, and last of all pour my change out into my hand, to put back in my pocket.

Smart idea.

When I was a child my dad kept his small plane at Bradley Field north of Harford, Conn. I would have fun playing amid the WWII planes that were still there in the 50's. This airport later became Bradley International Airport. Years later, I was on the first commercial plane that flew from the airport after the tornado went through in the 1970's. As we taxied and took off I caould see the damage by the tornado. All those now historic planes had been puched to the back of their hanger, smashed beyon recognition!

Wow, that's quite a memory of Bradley.

That person probably wouldn't like the two of us, because I try to book us an aisle and a window seat on the same side of the same row if the middle seat is shown to be vacant, so if no one else books it, we can share it. And the if it turns out someone HAS booked the middle seat after I booked the aisle and window ones, once we get on the plane we can always offer to trade that person for the aisle or window seat so my husband and I can sit together (with one of us in the middle seat).

Well, I like the two of you. Sounds like a great system.

When I've rentedcars in Albany, NY, and Boston, the EZ-Pass is enclosed in a box that makes it unreadable; as long as you don't open the box, you are never charged, but you must pay in cash! In fact I just bring my own EZ pass, put the car license on the account that evening (you just have to do it within a couple of days, in case their reader fails), and I'm set to go. I remove the car from my account when I get home.

is the best airport. they have their own casino! great to spend time there, which I did once when trying to visit a friend in London - and everything was delayed many many hours (so when I arrived in london, I had like 30 mins to catch a train before there would be no more, but I was the ONLY american on the plane - so I had to wait in a line of one, while they processed the EU people. So I jumped the line, and they got angry...I said: well, if I don't get on the next train to London, I'll be sleeping right HERE).

Another vote for Amsterdam.

Um, the foreign recipient of the maple sugar gets to reconstitute it into syrup! You don't reconstitute it yourself before traveling -- kind of defeats the whole point.

So true.

Velvet Elvis!

Thanks everyone for participating in our Travel chat. Loads of great questions, comments and stories. Please come back next Monday at 2 p.m. for more lively conversation. (If we did not have time to answer your question, please resubmit for next week).

Today's winner is the traveler who saw Gordon Ramsey having a quiet moment at the London airport. I would have loved to seen him not yelling at someone. Please e-mail me at sachsa@washpost.com with your address.

 

 

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.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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