Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Jan 14, 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 explored Albania, a destination the author argues is too often overlooked, particularly by travelers in search of affordable Mediterranean beaches. Do you have an underappreciated international destination to recommend? Tell us where it is and why you love it below. Most compelling answer gets a book about a city that is in no danger of being underappreciated: Leslie Jonath's "The Little Pleasures of Paris," with illustrations by Lizzy Stewart. On to your questions!

 

Loved the article on Evora in yesterday’s travel section. We were there several years ago, on a road trip between Lisbon and Porto; we stayed at a very elegant Pousada across the street from the Roman ruins. In addition to the town itself, there’s an interesting abandoned fortress at Montemor, a short drive away, that’s worth a visit.

Glad you enjoyed it -- and thanks for the tip! Readers who missed the story can find it here

We're scheduled to fly to Ft. Lauderdale next week for a cruise. I'm getting nervous about TSA and air flight controller issues because of the shutdown, and am actually considering renting a car and driving a couple thousand miles instead. Please talk me off the ledge!

Don't do it! I just wrapped up a Navigator on the shutdown. I'm getting widespread reports of short lines and on-time flights. I think you'll be fine.

My apologies, as I know this has been asked before, but can you recommend a link to information on the best “any reason” trip insurance policies? Thank you.

Research your options via QuoteWright, InsureMyTrip and SquareMouth

We planned a trip to Key West over the New Year's holiday this year. Planning was done well in advance for hotels and restaurants. We knew going in that it was going to be expensive, especially our hotel which was a run-of-the-mill Fairfield Inn for $450/night (incl. taxes). What we weren't prepared for was restaurants that canceled our reservations made on Open Table so they could resell our seats to the highest bidder. Most egregious was Cafe Marquesa that informed us that they were only serving a prix fix dinner for $160 pp on NYE. Another restaurant wanted us to buy tickets over the phone for our meal for $85 pp. These restaurants had our contact information for months, but waited until the very last moment to call. We complained to Open Table and they were very sympathetic to our plight but to our knowledge have done nothing about this practice. Additionally we complained to the Key West Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Assn, and the Mayor's office, all to no avail. We would caution travelers to Key West about these unscrupulous practices. Needless to say, our vacation there was a very expensive, unpleasant one and we won't be returning.

Thank you for the warning. 

It's always fun to look at the photo on the top of the Travel section in the print edition, and try to guess which country it is! Usually I can get the continent right (unless the photo is of an "English scene" in a former Commonwealth country, always tricky), and sometimes the country and even city (building designs and car models usually are good tips). This week's "Albania" photo was tricky -- I finally guessed based on the building designs and the trees that it had to be somewhere in the "former Yugoslavia" so when I turned over the folded page and saw that it was Albania -- that was very close to my guess but not quite! Anyway, I'll continue to enjoy this guessing game every week.

I love that guessing-game idea, thanks for sharing! Readers who missed the story can find it here

Appears to have giant lines in Atlanta right now.

Thank you for the heads up.

6 weeks now that my GE renewal has been pending, and I'm glad I started 3 months before expiration. I guess I got caught in the shutdown (and will skip comments on fault). I read online that there is a 6 month "grace" period where your privileges continue if approval is delayed. Can you confirm? It isn't the end of the world if it expires, but would cause some potential issues as I have international travel coming up...Thanks

I am asking my CBP source. Hope to have an answer soon . . .

Hi! I have a bunch of flights over the next couple weeks. Beside a smile and sympathy, is there anything that we can bring TSA folks that they would be allowed to accept? For example - it would be fun to have a couple six-packs of soda going through screening for them to "confiscate" and enjoy, but I assume they are not allowed to keep anything confiscated? Would gifted soda, candy, clementines be allowed? Anyone have a good idea how to support the hard-working TSA agents on the job without pay?

That's a great question. Chatters, does anyone know how to say "thank you" to a TSA agent legally?

Hi travel team, I rented a car for 10 days and on the last day accidentally ended up on a toll road with no cash option. I had declined the toll pass and knew I was going to get charged some fee, but I was charged the toll pass fee for the entire 10 days and just got a bill in the mail for $127! I emailed the rental car company and asked if they could reduce the fee to $16 for a single day use. I'm still waiting to hear back, but any suggestions for next steps if they don't reduce the fee? Thank you! Enjoy the chats.

I can probably guess the company you were renting from. Let's see how it responds to your email. If it doesn't help you, please contact me. I'll do my best to assist.

I am traveling to Australia for three weeks this summer. Do you know of any hop on hop off buses that let you get on in one city and allow you to get off and on in other cities around the country for a set period of time? I took the Baz Bus from Johannesburg to Cape Town in South Africa and really enjoyed the trip.

You have a few options: Greyhound Australia has a hop on/off pass, as does Stray Australia.

What are your must-sees for Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples?

Downtown Naples is lovely for shopping and eating. Favorite restaurants include Truluck's and bha! bha! Corkscrew Park Sanctuary and Naples Botanical Gardens are must-sees. Make the drive to Marco Island to go to Tigertail Beach Park.  Sanibel Island is near Fort Myers and is great for collecting seashells. I'm not as familiar with Fort Myers proper and haven't been to Sarasota for many years, so will leave that to my colleagues and/or chatters. 

Today, Sunday, we received an email from an individual with a hertz.com address indicating that the car rental company which was Dollar had found damages to the car we turned in at Sky Harbor in Phoenix more than two weeks ago (an attendant checked us in). Attached to the email was a blank accident form and the email essentially was accusing us of damaging the car and not filing an accident/incident report. I responded to the email that no report was filed because there had been no accident/incident to report and the car had no damage when we turned it in. No other info was provided. In the past when a rental company has contacted us with a claim that we knew would be coming since a car had an accident on ice, the company had sent the information and claim by mail. Are there scams going on? I plan to wait for a response and then contact my insurance company which handled a claim more than 12 years ago--depending on how much the actual charge is. The person did not submit any photos of the "damage" or cost. Any suggestions about what we should do?

I'm sorry to hear about that. I deal with claims like this every day at my nonprofit consumer advocacy site. If your car rental company can't substantiate the claim, you should not have to pay it. Also, you should send Hertz any pictures you took of the car after you returned it, and that prove there was no damage to the vehicle. You can also appeal your damage claim to one of these Hertz executive contacts.

I checked on their website and see that they are open and processing. But could that change if the shutdown nonsense goes on much longer?

Yes, passports are still being renewed. I'm not getting any reports of delays. Global Entry is affected, however. Some interviews have been canceled until further notice.

Thinking about spending a week in Ireland, but unsure which cities to concentrate on without a car (I assume spending a few days in Dublin). Any suggestions?

You can see several places in Ireland without a car via the rail system, but you won't be able to get to the more rural areas. Last year, we took a train from Dublin to Cork before renting a car and heading to the country. You could make a very nice vacation out of a trip to Dublin, Cork and Kinsale (you'd need to take a bus or taxi to Kinsale from Cork). 

Today's code is TT8592. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

What's wrong with a sincere spoken "Thank You"? That always seems to work when I travel.

Nothing at all!

We are heading south on the Amtrak Autotrain, having booked a family sleeping unit, in which a porter assigned is responsible for making up our beds and then converting them back to seating in the morning. It's a bit more attention given than in the coach seating. Are tips appropriate or expected in this situation? Thanks!

Amtrak does not require -- or ban -- the practice, but tipping is widely accepted and acceptable. Some tipping experts suggest $5 to $10 per berth per night, but it all depends on the level of service. I took Via Rail across Canada and tipped the attendants who made up my bunk bed and made sure that I did not get left behind during station stops.

How would you recommend travelers adapt to the current TSA screening issues? Presuming no shutdown solution materializes in the next 5 days, I’m unsure how early to arrive for my international flight on Friday (not to mention the added complication of more snow in the forecast). I have pre-check and typically arrive about 2.5 hours early for international at Dulles, should I bump it to 3 or more?

January is one of the slowest months for air travel. I think that even with the sick-outs, the TSA screening process will be fairly smooth -- and fast. I'll have a full report this week in the Navigator.

I recommend Bratislava, Slovakia, as a very worthy, but unappreciated international destination. Bratislava has a beautiful Old Town with many shops and a varied restaurant/bar scene. This Eastern European capital is thriving, situated as it is on the banks of the Danube, where river cruises call regularly. It is within an easy train ride to either Vienna or Budapest, so it is a great and inexpensive base for touring this part of the continent.

For underappreciated cities. Both Merida and Izamel in the Yucatan are enjoyable places to visit. Izamel is a small town with a large cathedral. Almost all the buildings are painted a rich yellow color giving the entire town a warm glow. Merida is the capital of the Yucatan and is rich in culture, history and dining. If you are spending time in Cancun but want a few days of something totally different, these are good options.

I don't think this what you're looking for - but I had a fascinating stop in Dubbo when I was in Australia in approximately 2000. I was traveling with a sort of celebrity and there was a talk and reception he gave there. It was like stepping back into my 1970s/80s British childhood. All the WI old dears came out. They had food I haven't seen ages and even had one of those huge metal teapots meant to serve a crowd and that tea ladies used to use. I can't remember the last time I saw one of them. They look like this, which 4.5 liters and are usually very battered. I was amazed to see that Harry and Meghan went to Dubbo!! 

The best unsung international area is eastern Canada: Eastern Quebec, PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland are stunning. We were in national parks in July with half full parking lots. Amazing wildlife, sophisticated cities and the most friendly people will greet you. It is close and inexpensive. Don't overlook this gem!

Some friends and I are going to Panama for a week, flying in and out of Panama City. I've looked at suggested itineraries and most of them involve flying to another part of the country for a portion of the trip. We don't want to fly once we get there but will have a rental car for the week which gives us some flexibility. Are we making a mistake by staying within a few hours' drive of Panama City for the week? We are talking about going to Coiba Island for a couple days but it's a 5+ hour drive, I'll admit to being apprehensive about that. Any thoughts and suggestions would be most appreciated, thanks!

I have only been to Panama once, and I did the same thing as you: Just stayed within driving distance of the city. I found the driving easy. I highly recommend visiting the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island. The scientists are working on incredible research projects and are happy to discuss their work with visitors. When I was there, I saw their work (howler monkeys!) in the trees.

Many people on this chat routinely trash flight attendants and claim to have been treated horribly by them. I fly 10-15 times a year and can't recall any behavior by a flight attendant that I would classify as unacceptable. The service I have received has ranged from acceptable to outstanding. Flight attendants work long hours and their primary task is to ensure the safety of the flying public. Most often, I see them attempting to referee an altercation between cranky passengers or bending the laws of physics to place oversized bags in the overhead bins. I appreciate the job they do - and I am unfailingly polite and appreciative for their efforts. But that's just me - doing my part to make traveling a more pleasant experience.

Thank you for sharing your experience. You're right, a vast majority of the interactions between flight attendants and passengers are professional -- as they should be.

A few weeks ago Andrea said one of her favorite cities in the world was New Delhi. For those of us who have never been to India and aren't likely to go, why New Delhi?

I love cities that open my eyes and really challenge me. New Delhi is extreme and chaotic, and its energy carried me away. In addition, the shopping and food are AMAZING! (I hold similar affections for Hong Kong.)

When you get Global Entry or TSA Precheck, do you get an actual physical document that you show at the checkpoints, or does your name just go into a database?

For TSA Precheck, you need to type in your known traveler number at the time of booking, or ask the agent to do it for you. If you are part of a frequent flier program, the known traveler number will appear automatically when you type in your airline membership number. (I once tried to show a TSA agent my Global Entry card and she booted me from the line. Lesson learned.) For Global Entry, you just scan your passport at one of the kiosks in the designated GE line. All of your info is on that one page in your book.

The one time this happened to me, the rental car company paid the fee and fine from the toll people and then charged me for it. What they did to you is ridiculous.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Go to Siesta Key Beach. The sand is white as snow but never gets hot because it's made up of 99% quartz crystals. Someone even teaches yoga classes on the beach a few mornings a week. You can also take a guided kayak tour through the mangroves and they have a lovely botanical garden.

Yes, it is a lovely beach!

Re the previous question: I always thought that if I turn a rental car over to an attendant, and he gives me a receipt noting no damage, then I'm safe. Is that not enough? Can I still get a bill for alleged damage that the attendant never saw? Are we supposed to take pictures of the car at the return lot, or what? And is even that sufficient protection?

No, I've seen many cases where a car rental company accepted the car and then weeks or months later filed a damage claim.

FYI I saw a tweet from someone who asked a TSA supervisor about this: they said he said that the workers cannot accept gifts, but can accept gift cards for restaurants in the airport. The supervisor said he would buy a bunch and give out to workers for lunch so they don't need to drain the available food for their families at home.

Thank you.

I am not waiting for an interview - the system still shows "pending" on approval... You'd think 99% of the process is automated, so what needs a person?? I just need to know that I won't be penalized for (trying to be nice here) political tantrums. Thanks

I don't know how the process works. But for passport renewals, I believe the State Dept. employees manually renew the books. It's not automated.

The company is Thrifty, did you guess right?

Ha! There are only a few companies that charge for tolls like that. By the way, here are the executive contacts for Thrifty, in case you want to share your disappointment with them.

Could you please identify the rental company you are thinking of as a service to others? If there is a specific problem with a company shouldn't you share that with everyone? I see this in other chats and am curious why there is any hesitancy to identify specific problems with specific companies/restaurants/etc. Thanks.

It's Thrify.

Hi Chris - Thanks for your suggestion last week to reach out to Delta regarding poor service on a recent trip. I thought I would follow up to let you know the first contact on the Delta contact list is no longer valid. I emailed the second in command; no response. Delta is not going to win my dollars in this way. But thanks for your assistance!

Thank you for letting me know. You'll be happy to know that my research team has already fixed that address. If you want me to contact Delta on your behalf, I'd be happy to. I have a few other ways of getting their attention. Here's how to reach me.

Hi, My friend and I go on a girls' trip each winter to somewhere warm with palm trees. She lives in LA and I live here, so I try to keep her travel time as short as possible. We've been to Cancun, St. Croix, and St. Maarten. We don't like eating out and generally have coffee/fruit in our room for breakfast, but eating out for dinner gets expensive. How do we find ratings for all-inclusives? I don't really trust TripAdvisor anymore. We want an adults-only pool, relative peace and quiet, and unlimited decent wine. Is there a hotel brand you recommend?

Traveling to the Caribbean from Los Angeles isn't all that easy. Have you considered Cabo San Lucas on Mexico's West Coast? It has all-inclusives, although not as many choices as you'd find in Cancun, DR or Jamaica. Take a look at Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Resort & Spa. Cabo also has many, many timeshare properties that are for rent, and you may be better off getting a kitchen-equipped unit. 

Dubbo happens to be home of Taronga Western Plains Zoo: probably the best safari-style (drive-through) zoo in the world. Well worth a visit!

Thanks for this -- check it out here.

I am signed up for a 10 day tour of Ireland (focusing on harps - hooray!) this summer. I live in California. Tour starts in Dublin (at airport) but immediately heads out for other places. It ends in Dublin for only for 2 nights. So I figured on going to Dublin early to get over the jet lag and also see more of the city. I need to connect with the tour group at 9 a.m. at the airport. Am wondering about (1) how long to hang in Dublin first (5 days? A week?) and where would be best place to stay... downtown? Near airport? Thanks for any advice.

Five days in Dublin will give you enough time to experience the city. Definitely stay downtown. Not sure of your price point, but we stayed at the Brooks Hotel, and it was a lovely place in a very good location. Make sure you do the Kilmainham Gaol tour, and don't miss the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology. The Hop-Off Hop-On bus is a good way to get familiar with the city in a short period of time. 

Uh, yeah, it's a good idea. Digital photos have time-stamps in their meta-data, which would help provide evidence that the car was still undamaged at turn-in time.

I second that. I need to be better about snapping pixs before I leave the lot.

Hi everyone-- I've been trying to book a OUIGO train in France with no luck. The SNCF site won't allow me to book without a French phone number, and TrainLine took my credit card info then just gave a series of errors. My googling says this is a common problem for people trying to book from outside the country; do you have any tips or do I just have to show up and pay the higher in-person price? Thanks!

Chatters, any advice?

A car in Dublin is a hindrance. Since the airport is north of town, one can always tour rural Ireland for a few days and then return the car to the airport. There are very convenient shuttles into Dublin or an Uber/taxi if one doesn't want to ride a bus.

Exactly, which is why we took a train to Cork where we rented a car. Made sense. 

In 2017 we flew to Dublin and also visited Cork (by train) and Belfast (by bus). I'm happy to drive on the left but my Platinum credit card rental car coverage excludes Ireland & Northern Ireland (and I certainly didn't want to pay for insurance on top of the cost of renting an automatic which is "upgrade" there).

Renting a car can get expensive in Dublin, but we paid something like $340 for a week with Hertz including insurance and automatic transmission, which I thought was a good deal. 

For those of us who have had sudden changes in heart and decided that a brief warm get away sounds great--what do you suggest? I'm looking at a long weekend four-day excursion somewhere close to the eastern seaboard but warm. 

There aren't that many places on the East Coast of the U.S. that can guarantee warmth in winter. Even Miami can get cold from time to time, although it's usually a fairly sure bet. Key West is farther south, so that may be a good choice. The Bahamas should be fine, although water isn't always that warm in winter. Puerto Rico is easy to get to, and it will be warm. 

I have $600 in my budget, plenty of leave, and a desperate need for a short vacation--maybe 3-5 days. Where can I go in March or April to get the most bang for my buck? I'm not a beach person, and I don't mind driving 8-10 hours for someplace interesting (museums, good restaurants, shopping).

How about Richmond or maybe Pittsburgh? I'd say Philadelphia or Boston or Charleston, but they will likely be more expensive, unless you're willing to go the Airbnb route and stay outside the main tourist areas. Weather won't be warm at that time of year, but if you wait till April, should be OK. Try to avoid the weeks before and after Easter (April 21). 

On 1A this morning, Joshua Johnson spoke with a TSA agent and head of their local union. He said a passenger tried to give a TSA agent a Starbucks gift card, but a manager saw the exchange and nixed it. No gifts of any kind! (The union head was going to a food bank after the interview to pick up food for his agents.)

Good to know. Thanks for sharing that.

Looks like the answer is no, there's no gift a traveler can give TSA workers that they can legally accept (except for expressions of support).

Thanks.

I also accidentally triggered a toll fee on the last day of a rental with Hertz and got charged $27 for entire rental period. This happened in Florida about a year ago. A very expensive lesson.

I click "no tolls" on the Google Maps app to be safe.

I hope you're flying in the day before the cruise ship sails. Chris's Elliott.org highlights the problems people can have if the arrive on the day the ship sails.

Great point. If you're taking a cruise, give yourself plenty of time between your arrival and castoff. Otherwise, you could miss your cruise.

Although I don't condone a restaurant not letting you know that they are having a prix fixe dinner on NYE after you have made a reservation, I don't think it is unusual for a restaurant to charge $100 or more with a limited menu for that evening. It's the worst night of the year to go out to dinner. If I were going to dinner somewhere for NYE, I would contact the restaurant to see if they were serving their regular menu or a special one, and I would ask the cost if there were a special menu.

It sounded like the restaurants voided the poster's reservation without giving them the option of accepting the upsell.

Try the Rail Europe site -- it's a US aggregator for European trains and will take US credit cards.

Thanks!

Try Loco2 

Another suggestion -- thanks!

I thought I was the only tourist to visit Dubbo! I went when I was in school in Sydney. WEnt to the great zoo. And at the time they had a guy that did a great sky watching program. We got there because my friend decided to close her eyes, point to the map, and go where she pointed. About 6 of us went and had a GREAT weekend!

Loving this unexpected Dubbo outpouring!

The train system in France is very opaque to the non-native. I successfully booked a train from CDG to Aix-en-Provence through the Captain Train website which redirects to https://www.trainline.eu/ It was very easy and intuitive.

Thanks!

Also note that you might not be able to claim your tickets from a self serve machine with a swipe card. You might have it sent to you or you might actually have to queue up to get it from a person. That can be awkward day of tavel.

Good to know, thanks!

Heading to Iceland at the end of March for a three day stopover...was planning on renting a car and driving around. Any driving issues that time of year? Anything obvious we shouldn't miss? thanks

You could experience a wintry mix, so rent a solid car with four-wheel drive. (When I was there in late March, we were  pelted by icy rain and whipped by cold winds.)

The country is pretty straightforward, especially if you drive the loops. Just be sure to hop out often to walk around the geologic/thermal features. Fight the urge to stay in the toasty warm car.

Due to a family situation, I'm spending much more time in Florida than I ever thought I would. For Sarasota, check out the Ringling Brothers home, Myakka State Park for alligators and boat tour, Marie Selby Botanic Gardens and Mote Marine, which has been doing a lot of great work on red tide. Also check out historic downtown Sarasota and the little town of Venice, which is a short drive away.

Thanks for the tips.

I really need to get away for a bit, but am not interested in drinking my vacation away. I'd love a place where part of the inclusive package is yoga classes and massages. And ideas?

Look at Zoetry.

Not sure if you're outdoorsy, but Asheville NC has fantastic hiking and scenery and a thriving arts community. If you also like good food and beer, you'll be in heaven.

Excellent suggestion! I am also a fan of the Raleigh-Durham area.

I have stayed at a few over the years, and the Marquis in Cabo was hands down the best. Actual top shelf alcohol, delicious food, amazing pools, and no timeshare (so no chance of getting tricked into going).

Thanks for the recommendation!

The west coast of Flores, the westernmost island in the Azores. The cliffs, waterfalls. oceanfronts and other scenery are dramatic, and there are very few tourists (other than emigrant relatives returning to visit in summer). We hired a bilingual driver to give us a tour of the island, and enjoyed it immensely, especially the photo-taking opportunities. There are also a number of hiking trails, for those so inclined.

A final underappreciated international destination recommendation! 

One more suggestion: compare prices among the various websites other have mentioned. My recollection (from several years ago) is that some websites charge a lot more if the inquiry is from a US address.

Thanks for the tip!

Charlottesville? Cape May?

Yes and yes!

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Original Dubbo poster, 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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