Talk about Travel (May 20)

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
May 20, 2019

Join the Travel team then 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 wrote about one traveler's carb-filled quest to  find the best baguette in Paris. Do you have a favorite food in the City of Light? Tell us about it below. Tastiest answer gets a copy of David Downie's "A Taste of Paris: A History of the Parisian Love Affair With Food." One quick housekeeping note: We will be dark next Monday for the Memorial Day holiday, and resume chatting on Monday, June 3. Now on to your questions! 

google has overwhelmed me - do any of you or any chatters have suggestions of go to (or to be avoided) travel medical insurance providers? I'm going to Ireland if that matters

I think you need to compare several policies in order to choose the one that fits your particular needs. Comparison sites include InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright and SquareMouth. All things being equal, I've been partial toward Travel Guard International only because it was one of the very few travel insurance companies that liberally interpreted its fine print in the days after 9/11. 

Just a rant on the trials of traveling with breastmilk and pumping equipment. I flew through DCA this weekend and encountered very different protocols within 10 minutes of each other. I went through security (pre-check) an initial time, and was permitted to keep my ipad and breast pump in my bag, and while my breastmilk was x-rayed, the TSA agents did not take the bottles out to place into the secondary screening machine. After I realized the only nursing station was located pre-security, I went back out, pumped, and went through the same security line again about 10 minutes later: this time, I was told to remove the ipad, the breast pump (that has never happened before in about a dozen flights around the country), and the milk was xrayed and also scanned in the secondary machine. Just had to shake my head at what has become a farce of security measures.

Thank you for sharing this with us. TSA had a helpful post on its site about its breast pump procedures. But the agency is not always consistent with its screening procedures.

Whats the best way to spend a day and a half in St Louis next week? Open to good food, experiences, etc. Thanks, chatters!

My daughter graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, so I spent many days exploring that city. Some of my favorite spots include Forest Park, which is great for walking, running, golfing, museums, zoo, etc.; the Budweiser tour, where you not only see how the beer is made, but you also get to meet the Clydesdales and get free beer; City Museum, a quirky place that appeals to kids and adults; Busch Stadium and adjoining Ballpark Village; and The Hill for all things Italian. As for food, we ate out mostly in Clayton, and my favorite place there was The Crossing. 

The best food in Paris is, of course, crepes, preferably crepes avec nutella, which I got daily from a street cart vendor during my visit there, along with a coca-cola light. Sitting and eating those crepes along the Seine or on the steps of Sacre Coeur are some of my best memories of my trip there over ten years ago.

There used to be a small restaurant off the beaten path surrounding Montmartre. We stumbled across it by accident, in 2010. It was called Chez Marie. The inside was covered with cat posters and paintings. l It was on a side street down another side street, walking away from the church and all that tourist mass surrounding the church. It was very quiet and cozy. We had the best onion soup and frites avec moutarde there. We were staying for six months at the time, and went back often. In subsequent years we made a point to go back. I recently looked it up online, and unfortunately it seems to have closed.

I was in Paris for a week at age 17 and loved the baguettes, the croissants, the various pains, but my most long-lasting discovery started with a braised duck with lentils on the side, and a day or two later I was served lentil soup. I just fell in love with everything lentil on that trip. It turns out both of my parents had not-so-pleasant associations with lentils (think poverty) and therefore we never ate them at home. Probably not what most people would associate with Paris/France, but to me it's where my love of lentils started.

When my son was in Paris for a semester abroad, I visited him for a week. My favorite food was a crepe with Nutella near the Notre Dame Cathedral, and falafel from a vendor near the Catholic University where he was studying. I don't know the locations, but Paris has good street food.

I'm planning a trip to London for mid-September and wondered whether US seniors are accorded the same discounts on admissions tickets in London. It's not clear to me when I view the websites. Alternatively to purchasing individual tickets, is the London Pass worth the expense?

It varies: Buckingham Palace does not; Churchill War Rooms does. But some of the city's main attractions are free, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate museums, the British Museum, etc. All of the prices are listed online, including discounts for children, students and seniors.

The London Pass is worth the money if you plan to visit at least four attractions. Choose your interest, check the single admission fee  then do a little comparative math and decide.

 

Also, check with your own health insurance carrier to see what they will or will not cover while you are traveling. Sometimes you have to pay out of pocket but can be reimbursed when you file a claim.

Most regular health insurance policies don't cover you when you're traveling abroad, but it's worth checking out. 

Just wanted to relay a positive experience renewing my global entry. Was approved within a week with no interview required and my card came a few days later. Their system is so annoying to navigate (including the fact you just have to check your status periodically since they don't email notification of approval), but at least it was fast.

Thank you for sharing that.

Question for Christopher Elliott: I've gone through airport security several times in the last 6 months w/my walker, and I've noticed that TSA officers subject durable medical equipment such as walkers to intense inspections. I'd like to know what exactly these folks are looking for so that I can prepare my walker for a quicker inspection the next time I enter their turf. Thanks.

It's possible that the TSA has received a tip that someone is trying to smuggle weapons inside a walker or cane. If I asked the TSA, they would not tell me (I've tried many times). My only recommendation would be to be prepared to give up your walker when you go through security, at least until this threat has lifted. Chatters, have you also had experiences with walkers or canes? Let's see if we can figure out what's going on.

My husband has a 5:30 a.m. flight out of Dulles on the last Saturday of June. He thinks that if he gets to remote parking by 4:30, he'll have plenty of time to catch the shuttle, check his bags, and get through security. I have major doubts that this is enough time. Does anyone have experience with one of these oh-dark-thirty flights out of Dulles?

That is really pushing it, especially since the parking lot shuttles aren't always prompt and security could be a madhouse with summer travelers. He should be in the airport at least an hour before his flight -- plus 30 minutes for parking and shuttle. Maybe a certain someone can give him a ride?

I would like to find someplace local where I can hang out at a pool. I'm willing to pay for it, but I'm not interested in the various water parks. Don't want a slide or anything - we're too old for that stuff. I seem to remember someone once did an article on hotels that might offer this, but maybe it wasn't in the travel section.

The Going Out Guide covered this topic in 2017. Not sure if it's still current, but worth a read. 

This has happened multiple times on different airlines, and it's incredibly stressful. Can anything be done? An airline notifies me at 12 noon that my 3 pm departure is now leaving at 5 pm. OK, that's thoughtful, so I postpone my departure to the airport for 2 hrs. However, at 1:15 pm, the airline sends an update that now the flight will actually depart according to the original schedule at 3 pm. I barely made the flight, but had to break every speed law to do it. It happened again today. Another airline delayed it's departure about 3 hrs, which would cause me to miss a connection on the same airline. As there were no later flights, I'd be stuck in the connecting airport overnight. The airline apologized and re-booked my second leg for the following day and I booked a hotel for tonight at the connecting airport. Guess what happened about an hour later? The airline reversed itself and said the first flight would leave on time after all. They could put me back on the original second leg, but I've got a non-refundable hotel for tonight (can't cancel the same day). Again, incredibly stressful and frustrating experience. How should I have handled these situations, and is there anything that can be done to prevent them in the future?

I can't think of anything you can do, other than to accept a full refund. Chatters, do you have any thoughts?

What would be the best way to make a plea for the smoking section outside National airport to be moved--away from the long lines for taxis?! When your first exposure to outside air is full of cigarette smoke, it is a really unpleasant experience.

Drop a note to the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, which oversees DCA. The Web site says they want to improve their service.

Just a word of encouragement for anyone sitting on the fence of a trip. Facebook kindly reminded me this morning that I had to cancel my trip to Alaska years ago due to cancer treatments. And it took me 10 years to get there. And this year, I was literally surfing the web for Yellowstone plans when I had a stroke. And I’m in my 40s! Don’t go into debt, but do it.

I'm so sorry to hear about this. I agree with you --  as an old colleague used to say, "go anyway."  I wish you a speedy recovery.

Today's code is TT7663. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

We were looking at river cruises, but the European ones are a bit beyond reach budget-wise. But the Mekong River cruises look interesting and affordable. Have any of you had experience with any of them? Also, what would be the best way to price flights - the cruises seem to start in/near Ho Chi Minh City and end somewhere near Sim Reap, or vice versa. Do you do a round trip to either of those cities and then take one shorter hop once there, or price two one-way long flights?

We have not taken a cruise there. Chatters, any advice?

I would fly into the starting port city and depart from the last port. If you are booking online, use the multi-city key when searching for fares. Or book two one-way fares. You can see if the cruise line books air for passengers, but make sure you know the general cost so you don't overpay.

I'm looking to do a small ship cruise to Alaska next summer with my family. We really want to stay away from the large boats. I found a mention of the company "uncruise" online, but had never heard of it. Do you or any readers know this cruise company? I know National Geographic has a very good reputation, but they are also very pricey! Any other advice for me? Thanks!

UnCruise Adventures has a good reputation as a low-key  line that doesn't offer the usual glitz of a cruise ship. Others to look at include Alaskan Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines and Maple Leaf Adventures, although I am not sure of those lines' price points. 

Wanting to visit Savannah GA and Charleston SC this summer, thinking 2 full days in each place. Does that sound like not enough time, too much, or just right? Anyone have any specific places / restaurants that they recommend? Thanks!

I think you'll get a good taste of each city visiting for two full-days and nights. If you want to explore outside of Charleston, you could easily add a day to see Folly Beach, Sullivan's Island, etc. I enjoyed walking tours in both cities. I liked the tour of  Juliette Gordon Low's home (founder of Girl Scouts) in Savannah. Fort Sumter in Charleston is great for history buffs. As for restaurants, loved Fig in Charleston and definitely have a drink at the Vendue's rooftop bar. 

Kouign Amanns, the buttery yeast-cake from Brittany, but that's also sold in Paris.  

Galettes were a favorite of ours in Paris. They are like a crepe only a bit heavier, made with buckwheat flour. There are lots of varieties, but my favorite was a galette covered with thin slice of ham, cheese, with a fried egg in the middle. Our favorite place for that was West Country Girl, but that has since closed from what I understand.

I had so many wonderful dishes in Paris (the tarte noisette from Cedric Grolet's shop in Le Maurice was one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth), but the best Parisian food is the food where all delicious Parisian food begins...the butter. Rich, delicious, preferably originating from happy, grass fed Brittany cows. I brought back several pounds from my trip almost exactly a year ago and still have a teeny bit of one brick meticulously wrapped in my freezer. I don't know how my will power has managed.

My favorite thing to do is to try a different bakery every morning and compare the pain au chocolate. Also, on our last visit we found a place with giant meringues filled with whipped cream. I've never seen them anywhere else and my husband still talks about them 5 years later!

My first day of my first visit to Paris, I made my way to Fouquet's. I took my time carefully looking over all the amazing chocolate creations in the glass case, finally deciding on a multi-layered chocolate mousse, covered in a layer of ganache and topped with gold leaf. I savored that, along with a glass of champagne, sitting on their sidewalk café watching the world go by.

There's been a lot of recent commentary about problems with evacuating airplanes, including people taking personal luggage down the slide! But, the related problem of some people not keeping their wallet / passport / cell phone / etc. on their person at all times has led to problems when reaching the ground. The "Miami Air" plane that skidded off the runway at Jacksonville was a perfect example -- some people had to wait for hours or longer before someone could retrieve their purse, etc. Maybe Chris should do one of his timely columns about how to prepare for the unlikely event of a plane evacuation, including wearing appropriate clothing (with pockets), walkable shoes, and keeping your valuables/identity information on your body at all times.

Thank you for the suggestion. I'm going to add it to my list of Navigator topics.

I was looking for a hotel in Chile on one of the major travel websites, and a property in a resort town that appears to be a modern high-rise and has "hotel" in its name was offering rooms at a fairly high rate that were noted as "without windows." I thought it might mean "no scenic view" or something, and I called the site. They confirmed that those rooms literally do not have windows. I know cruise ships have interior cabins, but have you ever heard of such a thing at an actual hotel? (Needless to say, I didn't book. Always read the fine print.)

No,  I've never heard of a hotel without windows, although I once stayed in a hotel in London that had a view of a courtyard and a dumpster. Chatters?

I am taking a domestic flight - one way. I will be driving back with family members who are able to get to the destination before I will. How much extra scrutiny can I expect to face? Especially with only a small carry-on bag.

None. I've been doing this every week or two in recent months visiting my sick mom in New York. I usually buy a one-way ticket because not sure on when I'll return, and I carry a bag small enough to fit on a Bombardier 200. Never been subjected to extra scrutiny. 

I'm afraid the solution to this problem is to arrive at the airport for an on-time departure, regardless of ever-changing communiques from the airline. Note that if you are actually there, and your flight is truly delayed, you have a chance to be rebooked.

Thank you.

Recently had a business trip (BWI to DEN, then driving to Boulder). I requested a small/compact--all they had were minivans. Okay, I'll deal with that. But at the end of the trip I found that my cousin (coincidentally in town from Chicago) had reserved a rental car in Boulder, but they were sending her to the DEN airport to pick one up, as Boulder had run out! Fortunately I could take her to the airport, however--what is up with rental car agencies letting you 'reserve' a car and not having anything to give you? How often does this stuff happen?

That kind of thing tends to happen during busy times (Memorial Day, Fourth of  July, Labor Day). It's pretty rare.

It looks like the primary attractions in the Galapagos Islands are tortoises, sea lions, and exotic fish. For someone who doesn't dive or snorkle, and isn't especially thrilled by lengthy hikes, would you recommend the trip?

You can see the wildlife from the boat, on short hikes around the islands and even in town. But based on your question, I don't think this trip is ideal for you. It is all about nature and being outdoors.

You have to be on board the plane at least 15 minutes before stated departure time. If you're on the C concourse, that's at least a 10-15 minute walk JUST from the train/shuttle. So that's 1/2 hour right there. Not including shuttle buses that have a large loop, the walk from the bus to TSA, unknown lines, the walk to the train, the wait for the train...

Thanks for the reality check.

Check if the websites refer to prices for "concessions." That's Brit-speak for discounts for seniors, students, etc.

Thanks for the translation.

I brought a metal hiking stick with me through security. They were concerned in xray because it was wired for a pedometer function, but passed the test, and I went on my way.

Thanks for sharing.

Traveling to Spain for 3 weeks (Barcelona, Madrid, Marbella) next month. I'm not sure how to address getting Euros while traveling vs putting most expense on my credit card. Should I get Euros in advance and supplement with ATM withdrawals? I'm not sure of the fees for doing that. I assume I'll need Euros for taxis, small local expenses, tipping, etc. My credit card does not charge foreign transaction fees.

You need to ask your debit or credit card provider how much fees will be. They can really add up, since you are paying multiple fees. I would recommend charging as much as you can, including using Uber/Lyft or cabs with credit card machines when possible. But you will still need some petty cash on hand for smaller purchases and tips. Consider a pre-paid euro card or pick up some euros before you go (AAA or your bank, for example) or once you are there. Check the currency rate and exchange fee before you fork over your dollars.

I was just reading that Panama/Panama City is a reasonably priced, warm, Winter vacation destination. I'm thinking of going in Dec with my 9 year old boys. The kids would like the beaches/wildlife and my husband and I would enjoy some time in a city with museums etc. Seems like a great mix. Any tips? Cautions? Suggestions?

Maybe it is just me, but I did not get a good feeling in Panama City, Panama. The city felt seedy to me, and full of party people and shady businessmen. The nature outside the city is lovely, but I think you might enjoy Colombia, Chile or Mexico. [If you meant Panama City, Florida, join us for chat again on June 3!]

How much time would you allow to see the major sites on Easter Island?

Four to five days is suggested.

My understanding from airlines over the years is to show up for the scheduled time because sometimes they can get things back on track. Not sure that helps your hotel room but you probably could have worked/watched tv at the airport until your flight with the 3-> 5 delay

Thank you.

I did a brief 2 day Mekong cruise in Laos. It was really great. The boat was quite small, I think it was 12 cabins. It ended up being me and a group of elderly Japanese people and their perky tour guide. There was also an English-speaking guide provided for me. The food was excellent and plentiful. The only downside was that we had to take these uncomfortable long boats from the southern border to where we met the bigger boat. The sunrises and sunsets were amazing. Laos is not on the radar of many people but I found it to be really beautiful. After the cruise I spent a couple of days touring around the Bolaven plateau in central Laos.

Thank you for the very helpful overview!

I stayed in a hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans that was a converted office building. The rooms had windows, but they looked out on the corridor. I didn't like the ambiance.

That doesn't sound pleasant.

Just walk all the squares as well as Forsyth Park. They each have a different character, something to be said for all. There was a hop on hop off trolley (don't remember the line) that was affordable and gave a good overview of everything and gave me a good idea of what to see more of. I also had a nice walking architecture tour. I am not an architecture fan, but there was a lot of history and folklore and anecdotes mixed in.

We also walked every square and did the hop on hop off. I second your recommendations. 

We had an excellent experience with an "uncruise" back in August 2012. We were especially interested in seeing glaciers, so did their 1 week itinerary between Juneau and Sitka that included 3 nights docked in Glacier Bay. Less expensive than National Geographic.

Thanks for the report. 

This appears fairly common in Asia as well. Especially lower end properties have at least some rooms without windows. I also choose not to book such rooms since it seems so dangerous

Good  to know.

I hate them but sometimes can't live without them. When I need a car, I always reserve a car. Not an SUV. A car. And then they "upgrade" me to an SUV. Which I won't drive, ever. Are they just going to stop carrying cars? It's always a fight, and sometimes I'm stuck with a smaller car than I reserved, just to get a car.

Yes, that happens. My pet peeve is when they try to charge you for that involuntary upgrade.

Tips for traveling with 2 kids under 3 and all their luggage? We're planning to fly, but could do the 8 hour drive if it would be significantly easier. We'll need to bring 2 pack n plays, a double stroller, and 2 car seats (toddler will use his on the plane; might also buy seat for infant to use his car seat). Can we check pack n plays? Will we be able to gate check our stroller?

Yes, you can check pack n plays and yes you can gate check the stroller. Can you rent any of this gear at your destination? Or minimize or consolidate your load? If not, I recommend you drive to avoid extra baggage fees and the overwhelming burden of carrying all of that stuff.

I stayed in a hotel on the seafront in Brighton. My room had windows onto the three-story high lounge/restaurant, with windows on the other side of that of the outside/sea view. Interesting concept and I was high enough up not to be distracted by what was going on in the lounge/restaurant.

Thank you for sharing your windowless hotel  story.

I asked last week about smaller interesting hotels in Paris and booked myself a few days at the Hotel Astra Opera. I leave on Tuesday. Now I look forward to reading about the best morsels, not to be missed while I am there.

Hope you saw our article on Parisian bakeries in Sunday's Travel section. 

I thought it was a great article. But what happens when your travel anxiety is linked to disability? For example, I'm deaf and a complete wreck at airports, bus stations, and train stations because I can't hear announcements - like a gate changes, boarding calls. Once I'm in my seat though, I'm perfectly fine. I love traveling, especially solo, but this is the most stressful parts of my trips. Any ideas or strategies?

I download the airline's app, and I sign up for text updates. Most airlines are pretty good about sending out texts when gates change or flights are delayed. I also have an app called FlightAware that tracks my flight and even tells me where my plan is currently located.  

that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees? And how do you use it to pay tips?

It is basically a gift card with euros. When you reach zero funds, you can refill the card or toss it. You can't use it for tips, unless you hand over the entire card to your server.

unless told otherwise always check-in etc based on the time of the original schedule. Airlines can switch in another aircraft or make up time in the air or have a quicker turnround.

I usually call the airline and ask the agent why the plane is delayed. If my flight hasn't even left the previous destination, I will delay my departure to the airport, too.

If you're still a month out, you have enough time to open a checking account with no foreign transaction fees, connect it to your current account, and use that for getting cash out of ATMs during your trip. I use Schwab (free to open, ATM fees reimbursed, no foreign transaction fees) and have always been satisfied, but I know there are others. Also, check if your bank has an agreement with a bank in Spain that allows for free ATM withdrawals. I believe Bank of America does with many international bank. Other big banks probably have something similar too.

Great advice. Thanks!

You are going to be there for 3 weeks! Just take 200 euros out at an ATM at the airport. Pay for most stuff on cards, and around day 18, if you still have lot left, start paying cash for things. Even part of a hotel bill. They will take cash and put the rest on a card if you ask.

Good plan!

I gotta warn you it is HOT. Not like DC hot in the 90s with high humidity, but rain forest on the equator hot. I thought since I'm a DC native who barely breaks a sweat in summer here I could handle it, but nope. If you go, stick with indoor activities (lots of mansion tours there) in the afternoons, and definitely take a carriage tour first thing. But again, it will be HOT.

Yes, it's hot, but we still managed to have a good time. 

sounds like a building that was converted from another use. And it doesn't sound completely safe. All bedrooms are supposed to have two methods of egress in case the door isn't usable because the fire is in the hallway.

Good point.

Hope you like heat and humidity.

Again, yes, the South is hot in summer, but tourists still visit. 

Ah...the bane of my existence as an airline manager...our company would send out delay alerts (with all the necessary small print disclaimers), pax would show up for the "new time" and be mad their flight went back to sked and left without them. Tough situation for the airline frontline staff, too, since our company was the one who told them their flight would be late....but on the flip side, those delay messages do have language to the effect of "Hey your flight could still go back on schedule if we find another plane, crew member, new weather forecast, etc

Thank you for the insider perspective. Much appreciated.

Check with your airline about gate checking the stroller, most have max weight limits and if your double stroller is a Bob it won't work. You can buy easily attachable.detachable wheels to attach to the car seats to turn them into 'strollers' for the airport.

Thanks for the tip.

I'm going on a cruise to Mexico in a few weeks, and I would like to do some shopping. Is the US dollar accepted there or are there areas to exchange money?

A lot of places in cruise ports do accept US dollars. You can also exchange money on the cruise or in town. Or use your credit card to avoid carrying around a lot of cash.

For the record, Kaiser Permanente, at least, does cover urgent and emergency care when you are traveling anywhere in the world. Of course, it would be out-of-network. And the real expense is if you need medical air transport to come home. I went through AAA to get travel insurance quotes -- I think it cost me about $100 for a month-long trip abroad.

It's a good idea for each person to check their individual policy. 

Please just leave your stuff and get out! The inconvenience of being without your phone or purse for a few hours is nothing compared to the consequences of slowing down the evacuation. If you want to keep your ID in your pocket the whole flight, great. But do not stop for anything if you really need to evacuate a plane, for your sake and the sake of those behind you!

I agree. Thank you for sharing your thought.

I went on Amawaterways in 2012 and loved the experience. Drinks included, food was excellent, room was nice, and the staff was superb. Not sure how the cost compares to our river cruise companies.

Thanks for the recommendation!

I saw the concessions discounts generally include seniors but I've heard that those discounts are only available to British "pensioners". I'm trying to confirm if that's true.

From what I can tell, seniors of all nationalities can receive a discount.

I recently flew United and downloaded their app. There's a feature where you can see where your inbound plane is coming from, if it's on time, etc --very handy.

Thanks!

Coq Au Vin. Absolutely delicious!

We stumbled across a (now-closed) Moroccan restaurant near Les Invalides on our first night in Paris. The most amazing tagine I've ever had. We stayed for hours and ate ourselves silly.

The name doesn't sound like much, but they are really good! Small boats, personalized activities, etc.

Thanks!

Surely that is when you walk up to each competitors' counter and ask: what is your best rate for right now?

Indeed

Wasn't that Panama City, FLORIDA -- not Panama City, PANAMA?

Thanks for catching that -- we will clarify the distinction.

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting, everyone. Pain au chocolate comparer, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. We'll return on Monday, June 3, 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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