Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Feb 11, 2019

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

I hope you can answer this, because I have not been able to get an answer from CPB or State Dept. We (spouse, myself and 12 & 17 year old kids) just mailed our passports in for renewal, so we don't have them in our possession. In the meantime, will we be able to visit Canada for a day trip via the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel? I have reached out to Customs & Border Protection, and even called the Canadian Embassy but got stuck in a menu tree loop and then directed back to the website that stated I can provide a passport or trusted travel card. We were hoping to perform our annual tradition of taking a family photo from Canada with the city in the background, but now our only documents are birth certificates and MD drivers license.

The answer is one the Canadian government's travel page: If you are a citizen of the United States, you need a passport to fly to or transit through a Canadian airport, but not to enter Canada by land or by boat. You must carry proof of your citizenship, such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, or a Certificate of Indian Status, as well as photo identification.

 

Thanks for years of wonderful travel suggestions! This chat is one of the many reasons I pay for your content. Family of four on United Basic Economy. Fortunately we booked with a qualifying credit card so we can work around the baggage restrictions. But for seat assignments, the language is pretty direct: customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together unless advance seat assignments are purchased and seats are available; your complimentary seat will be automatically assigned prior to boarding, and you won't be able to change your seat once it's been assigned. That said, is it likely we’ll have some flexibility at the gate or will United ask my 7 and 8 year old kids to take their own seats? Should we shell out the extra money and purchase the seat assignments?

I have an upcoming Navigator about basic economy class tickets and ways to avoid the restrictions. I think you're going to be OK. Airlines do their best to keep families together.

Will have 2 free day’s next week in San Diego. What’s the best way to use my time? Thanks!!

Just got back last night from a trip to San Diego and Los Angeles. Even though I lived in San Diego for 10 years, I managed to do two things I have never done: I visited the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and took in the view from Mount Soledad, and I would recommend both. Would be nice to combine those with a trip to see La Jolla (don't miss the wild  harbor seals). If you've not been to the San Diego Zoo, it's very cool, and you can combine it with a stroll around adjacent Balboa Park. Little Italy is a happening spot for good food & drinks. Torrey Pines State Reserve is good for hiking. Coronado's beaches are gorgeous and you can grab a cocktail on the deck at Hotel Del. Rent a bike and do the loop at Pacific/Mission beaches/bay. 

The online travel articles used to include the date of publication. This stopped some time ago. Why? Looking at today's headlines, on the WP travel page (section) there is a story about a train crash in Spain. There is no way of knowing if this happened today, yesterday, or some time ago. How difficult is it to include the date of the story? Thanks.

You'll find the story's date of publication -- in this case, February 8 -- underneath the byline. If you mean that story dates don't appear on the section's landing page, that's true, but it isn't a change.

I believe someone last week was asking about New Orleans. The World War II museum will be at least a half-day. Venturing outside of town, the Whitney plantation, with its memorial to enslaved people, is rather different than other nearby plantations.

Thanks for the insights.

Whitney is wonderful -- such a moving experience.

I'm thinking about escaping this miserable weather. Is there a "best" website to find last minute flights, deals, etc.? Any pointers, things/places to avoid? Thanks!

Traditionally, the "opaque" sites like Priceline and Hotwire have offered some of the best last-minute deals. But they also come with significant restrictions, which is to say, if you change your mind, you lose everything. So if you find a really good deal on flights or hotels, check the restrictions.

If I don't shell out extra money to pick my seats before a flight will a stranger really take care of my 1 yr old for the flight? (Not sure what answer I'm hoping to hear ;-))

Your one-your-old will not be separated from you. The airline will find a way to keep you together.

I was intrigued by last week's mention of pet sitting, so I looked up the number site. Sounds like something I'd like to do. Can you give more details, your experience with it? Thanks

I just returned from pet sitting in Quito and it was amazing. (I posted some photos of my adventures with Fischer on my Instagram account, if you want a preview. I am at andrea.sachs. My photo is of a blonde hedgehog.) The story runs the first weekend in March, I believe. Hopefully the story will answer your questions, but if you have additional ones, join us that Monday and I would be happy to tell you more. (Or if you have specific questions, happy to answer them now.)

Which airports within driving distance from the DMV are the cheapest to fly from when going to Europe? Which airports in Europe is the cheapest to fly into? Is there cheapest days of the week to consider when flying to Europe?

Discount carriers offering nonstop flights include WOW from BWI to Reykjavik. Norwegian Air flies out of Newark to Barcelona and Rome. Turkish Airlines has flights from Dulles to Istanbul. Fridays and Sundays are typically more expensive days to fly internationally. 

I'm in the process of looking at plane tickets to LA (IAD to LAX) for early June. I'm looking for 6 tickets (4 adults and 2 children), and the prices I'm seeing are ~$350 for the cheapest tickets to ~$450 for reasonable tickets. Looking at the restrictions for the cheapest tickets, I'll not choose it because it doesn't allow for seat selection, which is impossible for us because we have two young children (5 and 2 yo). It's been a few years since I've booked LA tickets, but it seems to be much more expensive these days. What's a reasonable range of prices that I can expect and should book at? Thanks!

That seems high to me. For example, I'm looking at June 4-11 for nonstop flights on United and coming up with $317 round trip for economy seats (basic economy is $257). Flying on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays saves money. I'd also look at flying out of BWI: Southwest sometimes has good sale fares from there. 

Today's code is TT6789. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

Is there an app for PostPoints? I don't see how to access it via either of the Washington Post apps.

If you like naval history, visit the USS Midway and stroll around the close Seaport Village and the nearby Gaslamp district for food and entertainment.

Yes, I second those ideas. 

I've been to many music festivals across the country but my favorite will always be the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I traveled to Jazz Fest a few years ago and that was the first of many trips to New Orleans. There's just something about the people, the heat, the music, and the food that makes New Orleans an addictive destination. Life down there is amplified and I'm always planning my next trip!

This is a primary tactic of my peer group! We met at the first few Firefly festivals, and while some of us continue to return every year, others of us have gone to Voodoo in New Orleans (right behind the art museum), Osheaga in Montreal, Boston Calling in the obvious, and Shaky Knees in Atlanta. None of the big European festivals yet, but that would be a thrill. Coupling the festival experience with local tourism is a higlight of our year.

HECK YEAH! The New Orleans Jazzfest is the BEST! Great food, fabulous music of all genres, warm weather, and the crowd is the enthusiastic and laid back. It is always the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. It is always a blast.

We went to Tanglewood for a few days one summer when a former professor of mine was Composer in Residence. A special treat was attending a rehearsal of one of his works, with him advising the players.

Do you recommend repositioning cruises? Do any depart from Baltimore?

Repositioning cruises are typically good values because you're going to spend most of the time at sea. For those who love being aboard ship, that's fine, but most would rather be visiting different ports. I believe both the Carnival Pride and Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas are based year-round in Baltimore, so no repositioning cruises from there.

Repositioning cruises are slightly different than regular cruises. They are often less expensive and include more days at sea, but you might also see some ports or areas not on traditional itineraries. They are also typically longer and not as crowded. Since they are one-way trips, you will have to book flights from two different airports. Or figure out how to retrieve your car from the parking lot.

Only two cruise lines depart from Baltimore (Carnival and Royal Caribbean), and I don't think either offers repositioning cruises. I would check cruises departing from the NYC area.

Is the vegetarian food in First Class is any better than in Coach? Also, I don't drink, so wonder if I wouldn't get my money's worth out of the pricier ticket. Your advice?

Which airline are you flying? I have flown economy and biz class on Ethiopian Air and the veg food was equally good in both sections. Airlines typically use the same food supplier for all meals, but in first class, you will get better tableware, more creative menus, more frequent service and higher quality ingredients, an advantage that I think favors carnivores. (Asparagus is asparagus.)

For me (a vegan who never drinks on planes),  the draw of first class is the roomier seating and better accoutrements, like headphones and movie choices.

While Chris's answer provided information regarding entering Canada (by land) from the U.S., it did not answer the issue of returning to the U.S. The rule is: "U.S. citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry need to have a passport, passport card, or other travel document approved by the Department of Homeland Security."

The U.S. Customs site suggests you should be able to enter the U.S. by land with a valid drivers license, tribal card or military ID.

While you may be able to get into Canada (by land or boat) without a passport, you won't be able to get back into the United States (speaking as someone who recently traveled to/from Canada by land (to, where they did ask for our passports) AND boat (from, where the US Customs and Border Control definitely asked for our passports).

Thank you for that feedback. It looks like the official information online needs to be updated. (Or maybe my reading comprehension skills need to be upgraded?) Anyway, for the record, I always recommend traveling internationally with a valid passport. It's not worth the risk.

Another perspective on 'basic economy' and not paying for seat reservations. Last November, when returning home from Thanksgiving travel, a man asked I wouldn't mind trading seats with him so he could sit with his wife. Well, I did mind. I'd paid for that seat and reserved it well in advance of traveling. He didn't think to reserve a seat - but had no problem asking me to give up something I paid for. Ultimately, the person seated next to his wife's assigned seat agreed to trade, so he went back to sit next to his wife, and I got a new neighbor.

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm troubled by the antagonism that the basic seats have caused between passengers. I think that might be a good topic for a future Navigator.

Last year I had a question about traveling to Canada on a soon-to-expire passport, and despite what I read on the State Dept site (that I was fine as long as the passport was valid on entry into Canada), I still wanted to verify it with someone in Canada. I dug around and found a website with a phone number - called - and was able to speak with someone who verified the information I'd seen. Looking again just now after seeing the earlier question - I think this was the website. Click on "Phone" and scroll down. In the "Service Standards" section, it says "Provide the option to speak with a BIS agent by pressing 0 during regular business hours – Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (local time) excluding holidays." It apparently doesn't always work, but it did for me last year.

Thank you.

They might, but not always. Sometimes they tell the parents to work it out with other passengers. Sometimes they deny priority boarding and cause families significant stress about whether you will be allowed to board, and then make you do the "walk of shame" of being so late to board that other passengers give you the side eye that it is "your fault" that the plane is departing late.

Thank you for the feedback.

My family of four (husband + 2 teens) is spending 4 nights in San Francisco on the way home from Hawaii in August. A typical hotel room 2 double beds, no longer works for us and the hotel rates are so, so expensive that I can't get 2. I am looking into airbnb and VRBO options. What else would you recommend? I would like to keep my lodging costs to $400 to $450 a night (max) and don't want to rent a car (ie near downtown and public transportation).

San Francisco is very strict regarding short-term rentals (Airbnb, Homeaway, etc.), so there aren't anywhere near as many as in more lenient cities, but you could get lucky. May be easier/cheaper to stay in a home where the owner resides. I think I'd do more research on cheaper hotels/motels and look into B&Bs. Any chatters have a favorite hotel that doesn't cost all that much? 

I continue to contemplate taking a cruise, but am concerned about how companies handle food allergies. Epi-pen level allergies, specifically. Which cruise lines are best? Also, I saw that one cruise line had adult only sailings. Which cruise lines practice such age discrimination?

Most cruise lines will accommodate food allergies as long as you give them advance notice. Some go the extra mile. Azamara Club Cruises, for example, will have you meet with the executive chef and the restaurant manager the day you board to discuss your food allergies. Most cruise ships have adult-only areas. A couple lines -- Viking and U by Uniworld -- don't allow children. And some ships are adult-only, such as P& O Cruises' Oriana and Arcadia. 

Any website that lists them "all"? I am retiring at the end of the year so traveling is a-ok.

There's one here. Chatters know of others?

We will be traveling to Morocco in early May. We are short on time. What are the must see places to visit in Morocco. Can we make the bookings on our won or should we look for a tour. Thanks!

My favorite cities are Rabat, Fez and Essaouira. You can book it yourself and hire a day guide. I would not recommend driving yourself, though. Definitely get a driver for outings outside the cities and between destinations.

We just booked a trip to South America for 2 weeks. We have never bought travel insurance before - is this something you'd recommend for a trip that will be somewhat activity-intensive? If so, any guidance on coverage? I've been looking online and it is so tough to make sense of the pros/cons of all the plans out there.

For a trip like that, you definitely will want to consider travel insurance. There are two basic types of insurance: named perils, which covers the named reasons only; and cancel for any reason insurance, which allows you to cancel for any reason and get a percentage of your money back. I answered a few common travel insurance queries in this Navigator column. If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Hello - Thanks for having these great chats every week. My wife and I are heading to Rio later this week and was wondering if you or any chatters have recommendations for must-dos that are a little off the beaten path. We have most of the activities planned that show up on typical "best-of" lists but wanted to crowdsource a bit. Thanks!

Chatters, any non-obvious recommendation for Rio?

 

So the airline has a limit of 18 lbs for carry on luggage. Since the flight is really a United flight and not Lufthansa does this weight limit apply? Do airlines ever weigh carry on bags?

The airline that checks you in and prints your boarding pass is the airline that will weigh your bags and decide if they are too heavy as carry on. And yes, they do weigh carry-ons. On several occasions, I have had to check a bag that was small but exceeded the weight limit. My trick is to have the boarding pass sent to my phone so I can bypass the check-in counter and go straight to security. As long as your bag is not bulging, and you are not bent over from its weight, the gate agent will likely let you board without an issue. One caveat: If you are flying the new lower category of seating, which restricts your carry-ons. On domestic flights, United will charge you for any bag beyond a personal item.

We are going to Barcelona for 5 nights in July. What hotels in the Old Section do you recommend. We will need two rooms, 1 room with 2 adults and one room with an adult and 15 year old. We are looking for rooms under $250 per night per room. 

Chatters, any advice for Barcelona hotels?

Might want to check the WHTI website from CBP and make sure that your driver's license is considered "enhanced" before crossing the border, or you might have some difficulties returning to the U.S.

True. Thank you.

Consequence of Sound's Festival Outlook is pretty comprehensive and lets one filter by country/region.

Thanks!

May and September are both lovely and quiet. Something to consider, though is that both water and air temps tend to be warmer in September -- Maine can be slow to warm up in the spring. Most importantly: while lobstering goes on year round, things don't really take off until late June/early July. So they'll be more plentiful and cheaper in September vs. May.

Thanks for the Maine tips!

I know this makes me a grumpy old lady BUT if I've paid for selecting my aisle seat I will not be happy moving seats to allow people to sit together. I fault the airlines more than the traveling families. At $50 per seat that's a lot of money for a family of four. There is no good answer!

I agree. It feels as if the airlines have figured out a way to turn us against each other. Not good.

A few years ago for my husband’s 50th birthday, we visited the UK. I kept calling it the Way Back Tour, because we visited so many of his childhood and university hangouts. But for him, the highlight was attending the annual Cropredy music festival. It’s a multi-day music festival put on by folk group Fairport Convention, and held on a field in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy. Husband has been a fan since they formed some 30 years ago, but this was the first time he got to attend the festival. We were only there one day, and it was fabulous. But to check that off his bucket list was priceless.

We spend time at a family cottage in Harpswell, Maine every summer. There's a campground/beach nearby called Thomas Point Beach that puts on a four-day bluegrass festival the last weekend of August. It's pint-sized compared with the big festivals, but it's always superbly curated and has both known names and up-and-comers from all over the country. Because we rent out the cottage during high season, we used to go just after Labor Day and we'd always just miss the festival. But once our son was school-aged we needed to go before Labor Day, and we were finally able to be there during the festival when he was 6. What a fabulous time -- you don't have to camp there, they sell day-passes, and we brought a picnic (featuring lobster potato salad and Maine blueberry muffins, of course), wine, snacks, set up camp chairs. The stage is small and homey, the music fabulous (Del McCoury was a highlight) and the kids just run around all over the camp while the adults relax. And it's a good thing we went that year, because the following year my MIL, who used to go for the entire month of June, fell ill and we had to start going in June from then on, so we could get the house ready for the season. So, alas, we only got to go once, but it was so worth it!

I'm planning a long weekend there in August to see the Nats plays the Cubs and am working on my itinerary. So far I've got Millennium Park, the Art Institute, deep dish pizza, Second City, an architecture cruise on the river, the Navy Pier for fireworks, and Museum Row. I figure that's plenty to keep us busy and am thinking staying in a hotel by the river and the Loop will make everything Uber-able and easy to use the El to get to and from the airport and Wrigley. Anything I'm missing?

Honestly, I think you nailed it. Except for the Nats winning, but only the Gods of Baseball can determine that.

 

Traveling to nyc in mid April. Looking for reasonably priced accommodation in Manhattan. Is that possible ??

Sure. Some that often show up on various discount booking sites and apps include Yotel, Hotel 50 Bowery, Lucerne Hotel and Park Lane Hotel. I like the Hotel Tonight app for finding hotel deals, but the best values are day-of-stay. 

My spouse and I are planning to go to Paris in 2020 for our 20th wedding anniversary. Neither of us likes planning travel. When is the right time to find and work with a travel agent? 6mos out? We are looking at summer or fall; open to advice on timing, too. thanks!

Airline and hotel prices are change all the time, as do current events that could affect your trip. I would reach out to a travel agent about six to eight months out, but assume plans and prices could change -- maybe to your advantage. For lower prices and fewer crowds, avoid the summer.

I am a United 1K frequent flyer and not in a million years would I not have assigned seat assignments if I were traveling with children. Do not count on seats together. Pay a little extra for the economy fare with advanced assigned seating!

Thanks. This is a really interesting topic.

I would be hard pressed to give up a seat I'd paid extra for so that an adult could sit with an adult...who presumably didn't want to pay or think ahead to be sure they could sit together. I don't like playing the airline game of buying into better seats, but do play it as I don't want to be squished (I am tall) by not doing it. If that makes me a bad person, well, that's a label I'll just have to wear...

Yes, this seems to be the majority view on this issue.

Any special tips for a Viking cruise?

Enjoy it! Friends just got home from one and had a wonderful time. 

I'm sorry, but I always book my seat in advance (window, because otherwise I'd get airsick) and pay extra to do so because that's life. I assume other people book in advance to get an aisle seat or seats in the front of the plane because they're concerned with having more room or getting off faster. So you have a family. Pay extra to sit together. Am I missing something?

As I was saying...

Just pay the money! All the worry and then the asking strangers to move, often to a less desirable seat, the worry that they won't, the stress of it all. Simply not worth it. Even when we fly Southwest, we spring for the early boarding. Yes, we may give up something during the vacation to afford this but it is well worth the cost. The cheapest tickets are for people without restrictions, families just have restrictions.

And one more!

sitting next to me on a train. Pre-cell phones, so I showed her where the city she was named for was located (Savannah, Georgia). We talked about how small states can seem big if you stay awake the whole time the train is going through it (Connecticut). She tried to give me her stuffed toy, which I neatly ducked by telling her that if she really didn't want it anymore, she should talk to her parents about maybe donating it to a kid who didn't have nice Christmas presents when that time of year came around. Her parents were in the seats in front of us with younger kids. I saw the dad keep an eye and ear on us, but he totally let her chat with a stranger on a train. I think that it is good practice for kids. I'd rather sit next to a polite, interesting child on mass transportation than some of the adults I've had to share space with.

Indeed.

Without knowing what they have planned, I don't have any tips, but do want to remind them to get their visa before they go! Brazil has a new one, it's $40 for two years, but make sure you get it before you go. A friend recently went to Rio, and when I saw him a few weeks before he went, he hadn't heard about the visa.

Great advice, and you can apply for it online, too.

.....it's a little more than a music festival, but it has lots of good music and activities every year. We went some years ago, and I'd love to go back!

And one last festival rec!

Perhaps a better way to think of this situation is to consider your airfare the basic PLUS seat -- and that you get a discount if you don't want to reserve a seat.

Right, and ugh.

Cropredy festival-goer, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us 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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