Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Feb 25, 2019

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

Happy Monday, and welcome to Talk About Travel! In this week's Travel section, we joined John Briley on a kite surfing journey down the coast of Brazil. Do you have an adventure-travel story of your own? Tell us about it below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Ed Stafford's "Ultimate Adventure Guide: The Bucket List for the Brave." On to your questions!

got great deal from Philly to Bermuda but is first week of April too cold?

Depends on what you consider too cold. Probably be high 60s during the day and low 60s at night. May not be great for sunbathing or swimming, but fantastic for riding bikes, playing tennis, golfing and just strolling around outside. 

I know the value of early online check-in if you don't already have a seat assignment. But it seems most airlines prompt you to check-in starting at about 24 hours before your flight. If I already have a seat that I'm good with, is there any advantage to doing this early check-in? Any disadvantage?

No, I'm unaware of any disadvantage to checking in early. The airline might try to sell you a "confirmed" seat assignment or an upgrade, so watch for the upsells. 

There's got to be a law against this, right? Or at least no law that forbids a passenger from covering the camera hole? 

I agree, there should be. Fellow chatters, any legal experts who can weigh in?

This is not a completely tongue-in-cheek question. After all the recent torrential rains to California and accompanying mudslides, and all the months of fires last year, is there a quick window in the calendar when it is safe to travel to California's national parks?

I just spent a month in Los Angeles and used to live in California, so I'm laughing at your question. Disaster can strike any time. I would just go when you're ready, and be prepared for anything.

Any suggestions for a dude ranch or working farm experience? Very active family of four with two kids 8 and 9. Anything from upscale lodge to cottage, working hard and getting dirty. All-in for $4k for a week including airfare from DC. We’re just now starting to explore options but would love any ideas.

There are lots of Web sites devoted to finding the perfect dude ranch, but most of these concentrate on resort dude ranches rather than working ones. For farms, you may want to take a look at FarmStays. Any chatters have a favorite place to recommend? 

My husband and I are in desperate need of some fun and sunshine. I'd love to surprise him with a quick weekend trip in the next few weeks to someplace warm (doesn't necessarily need to be beach) with good food and drink. We have about $1000 that I'd be comfortable parting with to make this happen. One complication: we'll have a 1-year-old in tow. Any suggestions?

May be difficult to stay in that budget with airfare, especially since you want to fly over a weekend in the near future. And for such a short trip, you'll need to go for a nonstop flight. Orlando is likely the cheapest spot, but warm weather is sometimes iffy this time of year. I'd also look at Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Fort Myers would be good, as you could then head to Marco Island, but it's expensive. Renting a condo from an owner will likely be cheaper than a hotel. Or you could always agree to sit through a timeshare pitch in Orlando.....

I'm planning a trip to Scotland this summer and a good friend of mine is going to London this fall. What tangible changes can we expect in our visits given the Brexit situation?

Check out my Navigator column on Brexit, which goes over all the likely scenarios. Bottom line: You shouldn't notice much of a difference.

Have any one of you flown Norwegian Air before? We're looking at taking it from JFK>Madrid over the summer, but wanted to see if anyone had any particular bad experiences.

I have not but their prices look might attractive.

Chatters, any flight experiences you can share?

We'll be traveling to Salt Lake City in a few months, and I'm looking for the easiest (and cheapest) way to get downtown from the airport. Most hotels apparently don't have shuttles, but rather than spending $20 (or more) on a cab for the two of us, I found a link to the TRAX light rail system. Are any of you familiar with the system, and how good an alternative it is to get to (and from) downtown? Thanks!

The airport light rail extension opened in 2013. Here's more information from a Salt Lake Tribune story. I haven't had any complaints about it and when I lived in Salt Lake City last year, TRAX was a great way to get around town. Chatters, has anyone taken TRAX to the airport? 

Please recommend several places for spending a quiet, long weekend in the St Michael's MD area.

I've been to St. Michaels many times, but have never stayed overnight. I've heard good things about Inn at Perry Cabin, but it's expensive and you need to make sure that no wedding is scheduled for the weekend you are going. Wades Point Inn is not in St. Michaels proper, but looks as if it would be a nice place to relax. Chatters? 

I wrote in a few weeks ago looking for suggestions for dealing with a timeshare presentation. Wanted to report back that it was less bad than I expected. It helped that we were 100% committed to not buying and had decided in advance to use the shutdown as our rationale for not wanting to commit at this time. I was genuinely interested in hearing how they work, so we were polite and asked questions. Once we got done, they offered us a package to come back next year to do the presentation again, but we passed because the deal wasn't as good as the one we were currently using (and I can only imagine how high pressure the round 2 pitch would be). We got about $1,000 of value out of the deal, so felt like it was worth the 90 minute sales pitch and would do it again if the discount was right. Out of curiosity, we ran the numbers afterwards and could find no way that buying in would be a good deal (especially since there's no guarantee about the annual maintenance fees), but their sales tactics must be successful enough that they offer up such discounts to potential buyers.

Thank you for sharing your story. 

Even with a confirmed seat I try to e-check in as early as possible. My sense of the advantages: 1) Airline knows you are likely to fly; 2) Skip waiting in line for an aggravating experience at a kiosk; and 3) A printed boarding pass in the hand is worth at least two in the computer.

Thank you.

Hi, i'm looking at visiting the Calabria portion of Italy for a week this summer (June-ish). Any advice on getting there (fly to Rome and train?). Is the region bicycle friendly as ideally I'd like to establish a base or two and ride a bike as much as possible. Any other random thoughts - they would be appreciated. Thanks!

I believe the main roads in Calabria are fairly dangerous, even for cars. But there are rural villages that may make a good base. As for getting there, I think you first need to choose your base. There is an airport in Reggio Calabria, but that's no small village. Any chatters have a favorite spot to stay in that region? 

What possible reason would an airline give for putting a camera in the seat back? Total invasion of privacy, even if you are in a public space.

I can't think of one. In the airlines' defense, apparently some of the seatback entertainment systems came with the cameras -- which is to say, the airlines didn't request them. But still.

Today's code is TT4987. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

As a Salt Laker, TRAX is very easy to use. You can buy a ticket right by the airport TRAX station before you head outside to wait for the light rail. Just take the green line right downtown. The green line is the only one that goes out to the airport, so it's not confusing. You can check out the schedules here. If you need to go back to the airport on Sunday, just make sure to check the schedule. I have had problems in the past with frequency of trains.

Thank you.

My family flew from BWI to Guadeloupe via Norwegian Air a few years ago, and it was fine. We are all sad that they discontinued this flight. My son and his wife had to fly from JFK the last time they went to Guadeloupe (we have family there).

That is sad!

1 PM flight on Thursday. Planning on parking in Garage 1. Flight should leave from Concourse A based on history (United). Added my KTN to my reservation but not until after I made it, so presumably I have PreCheck but one never knows for sure until check-in. Only bringing a carry-on. When would you plan to get there/leave from Bailey's XRoads?

I always plan to be in the TSA PreCheck line about 90 minutes before take-off. I sometimes arrive at my gate a little too early, but would rather relax with a cup of coffee and a good book than cut it too close. Google map it to see how long it typically takes to drive there at that time from your home. And I always park in economy at Dulles. It's much cheaper and the buses come frequently unless you're landing late at night. 

It wasn't zip-lining through a jungle or white water rafting, but taking a helicopter ride over a volcano was one of my once-in-a-lifetime moments. I mean it wasn't a super huge volcano - Montserrat in the Caribbean at a little over 3,000 feet - and it wasn't erupting, but it did have a steaming lava dome and we got reeeeally close to it. Lots of people have told me they're deathly afraid of riding in helicopters but it felt just like floating to me. Would climbing to the top of a volcano win? I could do that next!

In November, I traveled between islands in the Palawan region of Philippines. We had to dive off the boat and swim to our "accommodation" of thatched huts. The lack of internet and electricity made for quiet minds to enjoy every shade of blue water-the most beautiful I have seen anywhere in this world.

I'll be attending a conference and my mom will be sightseeing during the day, so it would be great to find a centrally located hotel with friendly staff who will provide help with directions, etc for my mom. Thanks!

I stayed at the Old No 77 Hotel & Chandlery, which is within walking distance of the Mississippi River attractions and the French Quarter. The staff is incredibly helpful, and the restaurant is run by "Top Chef" alum Nina Compton.

To be in the thick of the action, you could also consider the Hotel Monteleone, home of the famous carousel bar. The lounge has live music nightly. And finally, the Ace Hotel is one of the coolest properties I have seen in a long while. I didn't stay there, but I did hang out there a lot.

I was under the impression that checking in earlier reduced your likelihood of being bumped if the flight is oversold. Is that not true?

I've spoken with airline insiders about how air carriers determine who gets bumped. It's a complex formula that takes connections, loyalty status and price into consideration. I have not heard that early check-in is a factor, but it could be.

Thank you to the people who pitched in and recommended things to do in Quebec City. I landed during heavy winds, that night there was substantial snow, and the next two days topped out at 15 (F!). But we saw the Citadel, and the Museum of Civilizations, the Old Ursuline Convent Museum (not something we would have thought would be particularly interesting, but it was done well), the parliament, enjoyed winter carnival events (ice canoeing... who knew?!) and some exceptional meals, from a locally-sourced tasting menu, to poutine and tourtiere, to a restaurant that serves a whole lot of rabbit dishes. It was a great 2 1/2 days, even though Air Canada lost my travel partner for 22 hours. QC was my "next thing" since my trip to Buenos Aires/Iguazu a year and a half ago, which was also inspired by the travel chat. Now I need a new next thing - I'm sure I'll find ideas here. Thanks again!

I hope by travel partner, you were referring to your luggage. 

We are starting to think of summer plans and would love to be able to use BWI. Condor goes to Frankfurt. I have never thought of Frankfurt as particularly interesting or exciting. Can anyone give ideas on fun things to do there that could fill maybe three days? Museums, cathedrals, that kinds of thing. Thanks!

I lived in Frankfurt for six months while I was on an academic fellowship, and there's plenty to do. Highlights include the Goethe House, the Emperor's Cathedral St. Bartholomew, and the shopping district, An der Hauptwache. Over to you, chatters -- what are your favorite Frankfurt attractions?

Over the past several years we've had good experiences flying on Norwegian. We've flown on a 787 from JFK to London, and taken a 737 from Newburgh to Edinburgh and also from Belfast to Providence. Even including a pre-purchased seat assignment and a checked bag, the fares are usually considerably lower than on legacy carriers. Service has been consistently friendly.

Thanks for sharing!

We are taking our first river cruise in June and got a deal with free airfare. We could pay $50 each to have the option to work with the reservation agent for flights we'd prefer. That sounds like a good deal if we could be sure that it would give us measurably better flights, but I have no idea what to expect. Do the cruise companies book the cheapest and worst flights in hope of getting people to pay for the upgrade? Or do they reject (or add substantial charges to) the more reasonably scheduled flights? I think we may have about 10 days after the default flights are offered to decide we don't like them and want to pay for our choice. Has anyone done that successfully? So far the best idea I've encountered is to research flights ahead of time to see what our options might be.

So they want you to pay $50 each without any promise of a better flight? That makes no sense to me. I'd first see what they offer. If it's not a good choice, you need to find out whether that cruise company has stuck you with it because they have a deal with a specific airline. If that's the case and there are no better flights on that airline, why would you pay more to hear that? Will gladly post any chatter stories, pro or con, of free river cruise flights. You will likely receive an air credit if you book your own flights. 

Couple of other thoughts - by printing the boarding pass you can find out whether you got TSA Pre (if applicable), which might affect your arrival timing and how you pack things; and to the extent that people who got upgraded vacated better seats than yours, you might be able to move to a slightly desirable spot.

Thank you. Great points.

I have taken TRAX to and from the Salt Lake City Airport. You can't ask for anything easier. There are stops downtown every few blocks, so you should have easy access to and from the hotel. The web site has maps of the stops on the various lines.

Thank you!

I flew through the Atlanta Airport last Wednesday on an international flight. CBP was opening and going through every single suitcase of each arrival. They were not using any x ray machines. It was a very long, poorly organized, and tedious process with unfriendly agents. I did the exact same trip in January except through Houston and it was quick and easy. Why the difference?

That's a difficult question to answer. Sometimes, the customs agents will be on high alert and go through every bag; other times, maybe not. But it's also true that some airports have a reputation for friendlier agents than others. I think that would make a really interesting story -- which customs agents are the best and worst? I would probably get into a lot of trouble for writing that.

I've stayed at the Maison Dupuy multiple times and been very happy with it.

Thanks for the suggestion!

I have family in LA and travel there regularly; I used to fly Virgin America regularly and now expect to switch that to Alaska. In making plans for a trip to LA this summer, I noticed that Alaska has a program where you don't even have to check your bags -- that as long as you use some special bag tag you can print out at home, you just leave your bags in a designated area and walk to security. Can you provide a bit more detail on this? Is this legit, or am I misunderstanding? Being able to check in AND check my bags online and not have to wait in any lines is an outstanding perk, IMHO.

Yes, you can tag your own bag at home and then drop it off at the airport. The airline has been testing the DYI service for a  few years at participating airports. For details and the steps you need to take, check the airline's Web site.

I studied abroad in Reggio Calabria a while back. We flew into Rome and then took a train down. We found it easy to get around to other local villages/cities via train as well.

Thanks for the info. Any favorite local village that was bicycle friendly?


What is the best way to go to Sedona, Arizona from Washington, DC? When is the best time of year to visit there?

It's probably easiest to fly into Phoenix and rent a car. You could also fly into Flagstaff, but it's a smaller airport and more expensive. Avoid spring break and beware of monsoon season (July and August). I spent two memorable months in Sedona last summer and loved it. The hiking is unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Travelling by cruise ship to Havana, Cuba next week!!! I have done my research and booked a private tour with what I think are 'must sees'. But do you know of any out of the way places or restaurants that I should think about including? Since it's a private tour, they allow customization. Thanks. Or should I say: Gracias!

I would recommend Finca Vigia, Hemmingway's house, about 10 miles from Havana.

Chatters, any other Cuba suggestions?

We will have 36 hours in Milan in June, and our 2 teenagers would like to take a day trip to see the Swiss Alps. Is there a place you would recommend? We were thinking either Lugano or possibly Zermatt to see the Matterhorn. We may have a car so transportation wont be an issue.

I'd probably go with Zermatt and the Matterhorn. But also look at Mont Blanc-Chamonix in France and the Bergamo Alps in Italy. 

Haven't flown them myself, but know lots of people who have. The pros are new planes (including free in-flight entertainment) and low costs. The cons are that everything is an additional fee, so that low cost may not be so low when you factor in bags, seat assignments, food, etc. Seat pitch is a little tighter than some of the international carriers as well.

So many of these new carriers are a la carte. Remember to do the math before you book a ticket.

I’m having a bit of a stressful period. I’d like to get away for a weekend (leaving Friday after work or Saturday AM, returning Sunday evening). Somewhere relaxing. I can’t really decide if I want to just go somewhere and spa-out or more an easy going city and check out museums. Would love for it to be an easy train ride or drive away. Not Richmond. Maybe heading north? I know that’s not a lot to go on, but do you have any suggestions for where to start looking? Thank you!

If you don't mind going south, I would recommend Raleigh. Here is our recent You're Going Where? feature on the N.C. city. I would also recommend Pittsburgh, or if you want to really chill out, consider the Homestead or Yogaville.

I know it is a long time away but I have always heard that you need to plan early if you want to go away between Christmas and New Years. The goal for our family two parents two recent college graduates is to find a place where we can pretty much count on real beach weather (at least mid to high 80's) a few other things to do (historical, cultural or hikes, kayaking, etc.) and good food. We went to Puerto Rico a few years ago and while we had a good time we only had one day warm enough to lie on the beach and go in the water. Looking for suggestions of places to go and also how much we need to save for the trip figuring 4 star accommodations and eating lunch and dinner out - $6K, $10K or more. Many thanks for any suggestionsand advice.

Head farther south in the Caribbean for the promise of warmer weather. And if you also want to have a better of chance of no rain, Aruba is likely your best bet. But there's not much to do there re: culture and history.  Perhaps a trip to Costa Rica would work for your group. 

Went on a three-day trek in Laos to a couple of villages that hadn't had tourists. We hiked through the jungle with our guide, who was better in his cheap flip flops than we were in our hiking boots. Got to the village and we were exhausted and immediately crashed. Woke up to the sound of children's voices outside our hut (we had a pallet in the village leader's house) singing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes." No idea where they learned it, but they continued to regale us with songs and we responded with all the songs we knew by heart (think John Denver and Billy Joel). That night, the village elders continued the concert, bringing out their homemade musical instruments. We were still expected to continue our quite terrible singing in return. Also remember the kids gathering around to watch us shower at the local pump. Truly magical experience. And then there was the less magical time in Thailand where it was so dark I literally couldn't see my hand in front of my face and motorbikes roared in and out of the village all night. I was convinced that it was an illegal drug operation and that we were all going to be murdered in our sleep! From that experience I remember the women doing all the work while the men sat around drinking rice wine.

For my brithday one year (late 20s), I treated myself to a *very nice* surf camp in Costa Rica for a week. I had only surfed once before on a trip to Hawaii, but thought it would be fun to see how good I could get in a week. It was amazing. I met great people (I was traveling solo), ate excellent food cooked by the small resort's chef, got to go zip-lining through the Costa Rica jungle, and surfed every day with excellent coaching. I had a few crashes in the ocean which required me to sit on the side of the beach until I got the energy and courage to get back out there, but it was amazing. I knew it was a great trip because I have a terrible habit of biting my nails, but during the nail biting stopped entirely!

Climbed volcano on Vulcano, island off Sicily. Walked around rim a bit then went back down to base and soaked in the natural hot mud baths there. Hopped on ferry to catch train to get back to mainland Italy, all without a destination and no shower (my hair was full of mud). Ah, youth!

I live in Fort Lauderdale, and it is still snowbird season, plus spring break is starting. Expect both airfares and hotels to be very expensive.

Good to know, thanks!

We will be traveling to Paris in June with 2 teen grandsons. Would like to know if any of your readers have suggestions for interesting sights or activities. One will be celebrating his 14th birthday and really want to make that day special. 

A few years ago, we ran a piece about a mom-and-son trip to Paris. Perhaps you can pick up some ideas from the article.

Some other ideas: a treasure hunt in the Louvre; Parc Astéri, an alternative to EuroDisney; a fat tire bike tour; and a cooking class.

Have you seen chef Lidia Bastianich's recent series of programs filmed in Calabria? She highlights local foods, wines and a few restaurants.

I have not, but love her!

No normal cars are allowed in Zermatt proper! If the chatters have a car rental they will need to figure out what to do with the car when they are there. Many hotels offer pick up from the train station in a little electric vehicle.

Yes, should have mentioned that. If they drive, can park car in Tasch and take train from there. 

Nope, my human companion got bumped but I didn't. They said I could voluntarily get bumped too. I said heck no and went on to Quebec City without him. I'm like that.


Galloped through the desert on Arabian Cross horses (they were sure-footed and high-spirited) and there is nothing like seeing the moon rise over the desert where we slept out under the stars, and galloping to and through the breakers in the ocean.

Nope. No way. No how. Nada. Zilch. Card-carrying coward here, who prefers to return home from vacation none the worse for wear!

When is it exactly?

It depends on the school system but typically from late February to mid-April.

What happens if I check in 24 hours early and then get stuck in traffic? Have I lost the right to cancel my flight at the last minute because I have already "checked in" at home the previous day? Thanks.

No, but you need to call and tell the airline; otherwise you forfeit a credit. If you are stuck in traffic, the agent can probably put you on the next flight, if there is room.

I've had this happen once, and it involved direct threats to the airline at that airport. The flight took off an hour late, because the airline (United) knew its passengers were going through very long security waits.

Good to know, thanks!

Find out what Paris restaurant the family was eating at in National Lampoon's European Vacation. That looks like a good place to bring teens for a special occasion!

And, on that note...

One again, the hour has flown by -- thanks for chatting everyone. Surf-camp-goer, drop us a line at to claim your price. 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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