Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Jun 03, 2019

Welcome to Talk about Travel. Join the Travel team to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's section, we focused on family travel: an aunt hit the road with her niece and nephew, a dad introduced his autistic son to Rome, a mom learned to navigate travel with her adult children and new parents took to the skies with babies and toddlers. Have a family-travel tale to tell? Share it below. Most compelling story gets a pair of stylish board books about the Big Apple: "NYC ABCs" from Mr. Boddington's Studio and "Hello, New York!" by Christopher Franceschelli, with illustrations by Gerladine Cosneau. On to your questions!

Your "avoid scams" story suggested using Uber and Lyft instead of hailing taxis. Do Uber and Lyft around the world work pretty much as they do in the U.S. (which itself has not been trouble-free)? Or in places where there are taxi scams, could there also be Uber and Lyft scams?

I have used car-share services around the world, including Hong Kong, Quito, Johannesburg and Saudi Arabia. In some destinations, car-sharing is not really legal, so you have to sit in the front seat and pretend to be a friend.

No matter where you are, you should always make sure the plate and person match the numbers and name on your reservation. And I always Google Map the destination to follow along.  You might get a suspicious charge, but it's rare, and the company usually fixes it or ask your credit card company to challenge it.

When you road warriors take a multi-stop trip, do you book every flight and hotel in advance, or do you do "just in time" planning for the next leg?

A lot of business travelers schedule their trips at the last  minute. That's why "walk-up" fares tend to be so much higher that advance-purchase fares. They're meant for corporate travelers on an expense account.

Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this week's Travel section. Especially the article about the niece and nephew and the father/son trip to Rome.

Glad you enjoyed them! If anyone missed them, niece/nephew is here, and Rome is here.

Some countries require proof of onward or return travel to enter. But that goes back to a time when people carried paper tickets everywhere. In the age of electronic ticketing, is this rule still widely enforced? If it is, are printouts of emails enough, or do we need something else?

Yes, I've had a few cases involving itinerary problems, where someone needed to either prove they had reservations for staying in the country and/or proof of onward or return travel. These requirements haven't really gone away, although the method for proving you are a tourist has. A reservation number is often all that's required, but it can vary.

I'm interested in going to Chile in December 2020 for the full eclipse there. I know eclipses generate a lot of travel. How soon should I start looking into planning my trip and booking things?

As soon as possible. Hotels book up fast as do seats.

We were in Montreal over Memorial Day weekend and came across a couple of interesting exhibitions at the Fondation Phi gallery in Old Montreal that might fly under the radar if you're visiting the city. Last week (May 26-June 2) was the 50th anniversary of John and Yoko's second Bed-In anti-war protest at a hotel in Montreal (the first Bed-In was held in Amsterdam in March 1969). Being of a certain age myself, I was interested to see them. One exhibition is a retrospective of Yoko's work (art, video, music) and was as avant-garde as I thought it might be. :) The second one (in a building a few doors down from the first) deals with the collaborations of John and Yoko in music, art, and anti-war protests. That one will definitely appeal to fans of the Beatles, and includes several places where you can plug in headphones (which they can supply) to listen to music and interviews. They have a longer video playing of the Bed-In highlights (Spoiler Alert - Tommy Smothers played guitar along with John when they recorded "Give Peace A Chance" in the hotel room). The exhibition is there until mid-September. Added bonus - it's free. It was a definite highlight of my trip.

Thank you for sharing this information.

I'm flying to Latvia in August. My flights there are United and then Air Baltic, on the return Air Baltic and then Lufthansa. I bought the ticket from the United website. Which airline's baggage policies do I have to follow? Will United's policy cover me given that I bought the ticket through them and my initial outbound is with them?

You must follow the luggage rules set by the airline you are flying on. You will also have to check in with the carrier that you are boarding, not the one you booked through.

I do not plan. The few times I have, I've ended up wanting to stay somewhere longer than I'd though and having to leave because I have a hotel in (or train to) the next city. Or I want to leave early and don't want to eat the night of lodging. But its fairly easy for me because I typically stay in hostels and their rates don't typically rise too much at the last minute. And a plug for hostels - I'm well into my 40s and still love them. These are not the hostels of our youth. With online reviews, it is pretty easy to avoid the party hostels, and I always get great travel advice from other folks in the common area. Plus, breakfast is often provided and its easy to make dinner in the kitchen, so it ends up saving me loads of money.

Thank you for sharing your perspective.

I'm starting to plan a long weekend beach getaway for the fall (probably four days). Based on airfare and hotel prices, I've narrowed it down to Costa Rica or Belize. Any opinions of one over another? The goal is beach relaxation, but we could carve a day for sightseeing/hiking/nature as well.

I'd say you can't go wrong with either of those places. Fellow chatters, help us out -- Costa Rica or Belize?

We are planning a trip in July - from Geneva to Milan over about 10-12 days. Thoughts on train v renting a car. We are torn. Trains allow us to really see the landscape without one of us focused on the road - but a car might give us more flexibility and fun driving. On the other hand we have heard finding parking in some of the towns we would like visit (Lausanne, Montreaux) is really tough. Thoughts?

I've driven and taken the train in Switzerland. There's no right way to see the country, in my opinion. If you're traveling with a bigger group (more than three) then a car might be a little less expensive. But Swiss trains are great, and yes, they always run on time. Chatters, what say you? Train or car?

Today's code is TT8870. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

I plan to see the total eclipse in Chile in July. It will be my first visit to South America, and I'm hoping to explore the "neighborhood." There's plenty of information available about getting to Easter Island, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. But I'm not sure about the major cities. 1/ How much time would you spend in Santiago, Lima and Quito, with day trips? 2/ Would you visit Machu Picchu from Cusco, or would you try to stay in one of the small towns that are closer? And is it best to join a tour group, or can I do it on my own? 3/ I've read that Ecuador may require a yellow fever vaccination if you're traveling from Peru. Does that apply to everyone, or just people who have visited high-risk regions? 4/ I note that the State Dept. has warnings about street crime, scams, hotel thefts and worse in all three countries. Do you have any particular advice beyond the obvious about getting home in one piece with most of my stuff?

I would spend  two or three days in each city.

I would not visit Machu Picchu, because it is struggling with overtourism. Try to visit a different Incan site, like Choquequirao, and spread your dollars to the smaller villages that get overlooked.

According to the CDC, you will only need yellow fever if you are traveling to affected areas in Peru and Ecuador. Check with the Ecuador consulate about their entry requirements and schedule an appointment with an infectious diseases doctor. I had to get the yellow fever vax to enter Botswana after a layover in Ethiopia, but no one ever checked. (In fact, the government repealed the rule a day before I arrived. All of those hives for naught.) But it's better to be safe, then . . sick.

Yes, crime happens in Latin America, though I have never had anything bad happen to me, with the exception of a rogue cab driver in Mexico City.  Just be a smart traveler. Here is our recent scams piece; this should help.

Where in those countries has a huge impact. If you are going to west coast of CR, factor in 3-4 hours' travel to get from San Jose. If you are going to Ambergris Caye in Belize, that requires a plane or small boat trip, and hours, too. For a "long weekend" both are a lot of travel. For us to get to Manual Antonio, it was literally a 16-hour day from DCA.

That's a great point. Thank you for taking the time to write.

Higher walk-up fares are a reason to book flights early. What about hotels? Unless you're going somewhere during a big convention or a sports championship, some hotels offer last-minute discounts on unsold rooms.

The dynamic is slightly different. You can still negotiate a pretty decent last-minute hotel rate. 

Hi, the "scams" link is not loading--just sitting and spinning.

This is fixed -- thanks for speaking up!

We're going on a cruise to Bar Harbor Maine, St. John, and Halifax in August with our extended family. Any suggestions of activities in those ports that would great for a variety of ages (from 3 to 74)?

I think I took the same cruise!

For Bar Harbor, Acadia NP is a given. A free shuttle bus takes guests from town to spots around the park. The town is also very charming, with lots of places to eat, shop and pick up jokey moose and bear gifts.

For Halifax, I took a city tour in a Russian motorcycle sidecar. It was so much fun, but probably not for everyone (the wee ones could pop out). The public gardens and maritime museums have multi-generational appeal, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is amazing. Kids to grandparents will love Maud Lewis's house and paintings.

Unfortunately, I don't know St. John, but I will in a few weeks.

About 17 yrs ago, took niece & nephew (about 8 & 10 yrs) to NYC bet Christmas & NYE. From SF they met me at home in DC & 2 days later we went to NY Hilton (concierge level with goodies that impressed Lauren & Brandon) via train. Packed itinerary including Dylans candy store, the great ice cream place near Bloomies for frosted fudgesicle drink & lunch, Tavern on the Green dinner, Central Park zoo & Carriage ride plus the Lion King! More activities plus a cousin & her kids came in for the day from NJ. It was magical w/fireworks & memories that will last a lifetime! We will never forget!

Thanks for sharing your story!

I had a legitimate travel insurance claim with Red Sky Insurance. They have reimbursed me the majority of my claim, however, about $300 is outstanding. I have called, emailed and stood on my head (not really!) to get this additional amount back. Do you have any suggestions on how to get them to complete the claim? The claim dates to January 2019. Thanks

No need to stand on your head to fix this one. You need to file a formal, written appeal, stating the reason you feel the company should reimburse your $300 and citing your policy. If you've already done that, and it didn't work, please contact me and I'll do my best to help you.

Has anyone been here? It's the only place authorized to produce Roquefort cheese. You can tour the caves, and there is a restaurant that looks fabulous. It is in the Occitan region, about 1.5 hours south-ish east of Toulouse. I was wondering about a good place to stay for an overnight.

Chatters? Any Roquefort fans out there?

I'm looking at flights to Warsaw for a summer vacation. By far the best option for me price- and schedule-wise has a notation on Google flights that the first leg of the outbound flight is "often delayed by 30 min or more." I would have a 3 1/2 layover to connect, so if it's 30 min, no problem, but if it's "or more..."?? Is there a way to find out how much it's usually delayed? Would you chance it? It's a British Airways flight from Dulles to Heathrow, if that makes a difference. Thanks for your thoughts!

You could look at the FlightAware stats for the last few days or weeks to get a better idea. Remember, if your flights are connected on your itinerary, your airline will place you on the next available flight. So you won't be left high and dry in London.

think DR is safe given murder of two and beating of one?

Great point. The State Department maintains DR as a "Level 2" country, which means it's still relatively safe.

Is it fairly easy to combine trips to Hilton Head and Savannah? Does it make more sense to fly or drive? Thanks for any advice you can give!

I would say drive. By the time you change planes in Atlanta or Charlotte, you could have just driven there.

Famous for its "reversing falls."

Thanks for the tip.

Do you know what the procedure is for passport renewal for minors when you've let the passports expire?

All of the information is on the State Department's Web site. I believe that an expired passport means that you default into first-timer applicant.

We have had many wonderful family trips. One of my favorites was Yellowstone. We stayed in the original part of the Old Faithful Inn. From our room, we had a view of a geyser which periodically erupted. The girls (teenagers) were apprehensive at first. 1) The bathrooms were shared, down the hall. The girls appreciated we could shower at the same time and save time. 2) No TVs, etc. They enjoyed the quiet without electronics. 3) The lodge has a deck overlooking Old Faithful. We would play family games and see Old Faithful periodically erupt. You could tell when OF was about to erupt, the deck became crowded. 4) Loved the history, science, geysers, mud pots, animals, swimming in the hot springs, ranger guided talks. Now that the girls are grown, my husband and I are planning on returning next summer.

Thanks for sharing your story!

A grown up daughter sprung for a two week trip to Italy for four, which was a total and complete success. Oddly, the most memorable moments were the unplanned ones--like the day (the Worst day) when we got lost looking for one of the seven hills of Rome for its view. We walked a good 10 miles and never did find the hill or the view, but we sure saw a lot of Rome. Another was a very last minute wine lunch tour with a few good people, exquisite food and great wine. I had no idea you could schedule a wine tour in Tuscany at the beginning of a day that was already fully scheduled I love the surprises that come with being adaptable!

Yes, adaptability is key!

A family member had that problem during a 4 month trip throughout Asia this year. For example, Sri Lanka (which they at least knew about in advance). And when they tried to fly to Malaysia, they were surprised to find out that the airline on which they were ticketed to Malaysia refused to issue the board passes until they showed proof of a return flight out of Malaysia within 30 days, requiring an immediate online search and purchase at the airport check in counter. Put a damper on the attempt to just stay in one place until they were ready to move on to the next country.

That's good to know. Thank you for sharing that.

I think a lot of it comes down to your personality. I am a planner by nature and feel much more comfortable planning things out in advance as much as possible. But I know that other people prefer to make it up as they go along

Yes, that's true.

Can you recommend a couple of great day trips from D.C., say within a 90-minute driving radius? We're looking for small-town charm and a change of scene. Thanks!

If you like trails (ice cream, beer, Mr. Rogers), here are some regional ideas.

Also, the little towns along the Eastern Shore are darling, and Harpers Ferry has great hiking and history.

Nova Scotia sports museum, with one entire room dedicated to Cole Harbour's Sidney Crosby! (Can you tell we live in Pittsburgh?).

Great suggestion. Thanks!

The first cruise I ever took was an anniversary celebration with my husband, our 18-months-old son and my parents. We were on one of Costa's smaller ships at the time and had most of our family time at our table in the dining room. During the days, my parents spent most of their time on board while my husband, son and I took excursions to see as much of the various countries as possible. My son became the "star" of the ship, with everyone recognizing him wherever we went (I believe his mop of red curls and thirst for knowledge helped). We quickly became known only as "Little One's Parents," and everyone working on the shop bestowed him with gifts before the end of the cruise. I think, in spite of how young he was, it left such an impression on him that now, as an adult, he still prefers cruising, even taking his honeymoon on the world's largest cruise ship at that time!

Ha, thanks for sharing!

My husband and I are taking our delayed honeymoon this summer in France for the last two and a half weeks of July: 10 days in Paris, train to Toulouse, rent a car and drive around the countryside for a few days before returning to Paris and flying home. We have flights, train tix, and an apartment in Paris booked already. How much of the other things should we set in stone ahead of time vs. play by ear once we're there? The only thing that is on my must see list is a trip to Chartres. Merci!

Because you are traveling during peak season, if you have your heart set on a certain restaurant, attraction or hotel, book it in advance. Otherwise, let spontaneity be your guide.

For the eclipse traveler: Not necessarily. Uniquely, a total solar eclipse will be visible across similar paths in Chile and Argentina next month AND in Dec. 2020. Rooms at a variety of prices are still available in the primary viewing area in Chile (the better place for this one), and in fact some higher-end properties have dropped their prices as, I presume, advance reservations have been cancelled. Some tour operators are promoting expensive group packages for 2020 and beyond (you can go to Antarctica in 2021), but you don't really need to join a group to go to Chile or Argentina. NASA has a detailed website with numerous links.

Great advice. Thanks!

When I was 11, my beloved aunt took me to DC for 3 days for my birthday. We did the usual sights popular in the late 60s era, which included the Wax Museum and an FBI tour, plus the monuments, of course. After now living here for many years here, I am still trying to figure out where we stayed (a hotel sort of near Dupont Circle called Executive House based on the Kodak Instamatic photos I still have). So this trip not only created wonderful memories with my favorite aunt and uncle, but helped inspire my subsequent choice of where to live my adult life.

That's great -- I'm loving the aunt stories!

Hello, I fly on United a lot. The last two times I flew with United, my suitcase arrived damaged. The first time, the lock was broken and I didn't notice until I got to my hotel room. The second time, the strap/handle at the top was broken (I have a hardside) and again, I didn't realize it was unrepairable until I tried to lift it when I arrived at the hotel. Of course, United doesn't take responsibility if you don't tell them in the airport, so I sent it to Tumi to see if they could repair the strap. I paid $25 for shipping and just got a note saying it's unrepairable! Do I have any recourse at this point? The suitcase cost over $500 new and I've only had it for 6.5 years. I can't believe it's being junked over a strap that the airline broke.

Oh, that's not going to be easy. You have 24 hours to get your luggage to the airport to have it inspected. I assume that 24 hours is long past. If you file a claim in writing, you might still have a chance.

I really enjoyed the Maritime Museum - nice Titantic display.

Thanks!

I get your point, but the same could be said for a lot of destinations (including Washington in the spring). The other side is that popular tourist destinations have the organization and infrastructure to support tourists and tourism. Getting to Choquequirao apparently involves multi-day wilderness hikes. Not everybody's cup of tea. 

True, and those cherry blossoms are looking a little tired!

My somewhat travel-challenged mom will be arriving in Terminal 2A, while I'll be arriving five minutes later in 2E. What are your thoughts on easy landside meet-up spots? Any ideas other than the RER station? Merci!

Can you have her stay put and you can meet her at the gate?

My husband and I have taken two trips around Switzerland, both for two weeks and both by train. It worked very well - the rail system has a myriad of discount passes that save you a lot of money ( not only on trains but on boats and buses), and the system is amazingly efficient. I was able to find very nice hotels within a block or two of the stations, so we didn’t have to schlep luggage very far. We stayed in Zurich, Lucerne, interlaken, zermatt, Lausanne and Basel, among other places, and took a lot of side trips to smaller towns and scenic areas. Yes, you probably miss out on some nice country inns, but both trips were wonderful and i’d do it again in a minute.

Thank you!

I read the Washington Post on my phone with the Washington Post app. Why aren't the travel stories ever on the app? Food stays for weeks at a time. Your section is my favorite and I feel I miss most of the stories because they aren't there.

All the stories that appear in the paper's print edition are available on the app, but the navigation isn't always intuitive. Drop us a line at travel@washpost.com and let us know what you're trying to find -- we'll see if we can provide a step-by-step. 

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Seven Hills of Rome-seeker, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
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. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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