The Washington Post

Jan 10, 2011

The Post Travel section's editors and writers answer your questions about coupons and other money-saving strategies, the TSA's more aggressive pat-downs, holiday trip planning, and more.

Good afternoon! Thanks for joining us for our chat today. We hope you enjoyed this weekend's section on solo travel, a topic that frequently comes up here in Talk About Travel. To contend for this week's prize, tell us about your most harrowing, hilarious or downright strange tale of traveling alone. Now let's get started!

I'm looking for a good deal on flights to Puerto Rico in early April. Is it too early to book? I'd like to fly direct from EWR to SJU and currently Continental's average fare is about $380 per person including taxes and fees. Is that reasonable? I'm afraid to wait too long and have the prices spike. Ideally I'd like to keep tickets under $300 per person. Help!

If $380 is for nonstop flights and includes all taxes, that's good. I see Continental flights for nonstops as low as $345 in early April, but they may not be available on days you want to fly. Cheapest days to travel are typically Tues., Wed., Sat.  I'd buy.

As both a solo and independent female traveler, I was pleased to see the articles on people traveling alone in this week’s travel section. A few comments. There are more concerns for women traveling alone than fear of unwanted sexual attention. In many cultures women aren’t allowed to travel unescorted or would not have resources to do so, so the locals lack a cultural reference. You may therefore encounter some strange treatment, including very personal questions. In such cases, it is especially important to try to respond respectfully if someone asks, for example, ‘why does your husband let you be here alone?’ They may think you’re not financially aware and try to charge you more. Yes, it’s smart to pretend you might be meeting your (possibly fictional) husband somewhere shortly, but when checking into a hotel alone this might not be possible. Getting your back up won’t help. Try to act confidently, and keep your radar tuned to the difference between divergent cultural expectations and dangerous behavior. And based on my recent visit to Turkey, for lone travelers of either gender I strongly suggest traveling with an e-reader…it is both the easiest way to tote books, and a great conversation starter. Over and over, strangers approached me… Them: ‘Hello, is that an ipad?’ Me: ‘No, it’s a Kindle’. Them: ‘Can you read on it?’ Me: ‘Yes.’ Them: ‘Read books?’ Me: ‘Oh yes.’ Them: ‘How interesting. Can you show me how? Do you know you look like Nicole Kidman?’ (OK, that last part was only once, but still…) Seriously, it was better than having a dog for meeting people. Of course, soon Kindles and other e-readers will be everywhere, but right now it’s a novelty in many parts of the world. (Note, you will still want hard copies of guide books, because it is hard to flip back and forth on the Kindle. But it saved me a lot in luggage weight.)

Thanks for the extra pointers! Interesting that a Kindle kindles so much conversation. Perhaps that's where the name comes from?

MY SO is very stressed at work and we need a place to relax for the weekend, with an indoor pool. Romantic / beautiful / restful is best. We live in Alexandria. Any suggestions?

I apologize if this is a question you've answered before, but I couldn't find it in the archives: is there a simple online aggregator of which airlines fly nonstop to which cities from which airports? It's nice to live in a city with options, but having an easy list might help ease the booking process. This would also be helpful for a weekend getaway or award ticket where destination is flexible. Any information would be appreciated, thank you!

I really like ITA Software, which allows you to see every available flight combination (but you can't book a flight). Also, try ExpertFlyer, which gives you a lot of flight options, but requires a subscription.

I do most of my traveling solo so it was nice to see that focus this week. I typically go to places where I can easily hire a guide (or work with an agency that makes arrangements including personal guides) which certainly makes things a lot easier. They tend to tailor the day to your interests even if the plan is to visit certain sights. And it's nice to have them to talk to and deal with language issues, tickets, etc. I do try to learn a couple of words in the local tongue but there isn't enough time to be fluent. I find that I can say a few words but understanding responses that come back is a good bit trickier. I also am an introvert by nature, so being alone is not a problem for me. I am not one who goes out of his way to "meet people" either locals or fellow travelers.

Hello travel crew, Please give me a reality check. I'm desperate to get my kids out of the beltway bubble, but am wondering if I've bitten off more than I can chew. I booked two weeks in August into a two bedroom condo in Antigua with a pool/playground, security, etc., but would appreciate some input as to whether or not this is too much. Is Guatemala just too challenging/dangerous for young kids? I'm a foreign service brat and have very realistic expectations with kids...if the highlight of a day is walking to the central square for an ice cream, so be it!

I think you'll be fine. Of all the Latin American countries I've been to, Guatemala felt to me like one of the safest. That said, you have to take precautions anytime you travel outside the country, especially with children. Antigua is a small, charming, colonial city. It's very easy to manage. And because there are so many Spanish language programs there, it's filled with Americans and Europeans who are studying Spanish and living with local families. I would suggest doing a couple of day trips because you'll probably get bored spending your entire two weeks in Antigua. Plus, Guatemala has so much to offer that it would be a shame if you missed out on it. I think your kids would love exploring the ruins of Tikal. But the best way to get there is by plane, so whether or not you can go depends on their tolerance for air travel, especially on smaller planes. Alternately, you can take a bus ride to Lago Atitlan. It's one of the prettiest lakes I've ever seen and has the Reserva Natural Atitlan with lots of nature trails, monkeys, a butterfly farm. Have fun!

Years ago in London by myself, I decided to go to the Cheshire Cheese pub. Was seated at a communal there at the end of the lunch hour, so the place cleared out and I was left with a man who was a regular and the staff. The staff all sat down to eat and we started talking. The "regular" asked for a bottle of the "dusty" port, and we all shared a drink. Then he ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon, which we all shared. (my first and only taste of the Dom) He had to leave, I left shortly after, and found out that he had paid for my tab. Such fun...and I still have the Dom cork!

I submitted an entry for 'your vacation in lights' several weeks ago. I never received a response, not even an automated email reply. Should I have received any aknowledgement of my submission?

We run Vacation in Lights when space permits, so when we have room, we sort through the submissions and pick one that fits well with that week's destinations and topics. We contact the writer a few days before publcation to address any questions and give them the head's up. (Because of volume, we can't individually contact each writer when the submission arrive.)

However, I will check for you to make sure it arrived safely, if you wish. What am I looking for?

Greetings from Brazil. I see posts from people asking if they should wait for fares to go down. We recently booked roundtrip Brazil-U.S. tickets in Biz Class on Continental. Recently asked about changing the return itinerary for one of us, and found the fares had gone up so much that to make a change would cost $4-5 thousand dollars (beyond the $250 rebooking fee for international travel). I still see some bagains, especially on domestic routes, but anyone waiting for international fares to go down might want to rethink that idea.

Don't know that you can make generalizations about international fares based on your experience. There was probably a business-class fare sale when you booked. Sales on business- and first-class seats  have become more common, especially on international routes. But your basic premise is sound - when you find a good fare, book it.  For example, Aer Lingus recently had a sale fare, which sold out fast, of $402 r/t inc. taxes JFK to Dublin.  If you snooze, you often lose.  Check deals out on our Twitter page.

When my friends and I went to Greece and Turkey, I decided to do a few days in southern Turkey by myself, then meet up with them in Istanbul. It got off to a rocky start. They left Athens a few hours before I did and after they left, four hours before my flight, I realized I had lost my passport. I raced to the embassy, but it wasn't open yet. I broke down on the sidewalk crying at the prospect of being trapped in a foreign country by myself without a passport. Then it started raining. Thankfully, hot Greek security guard was there to comfort me. After an hour or so, the embassy opened, and amazingly, issued me an emergency passport in time for my to catch my flight. After that, things were awesome. I visited Ephesus and Aphrodisia, took a boat to Samos, befriended a bookstore owner, and saw Troy. There were a few more misadventures (sketchy overnight bus, hitchhiking back to Kusadasi from Aphrodisia when the bus never showed up), but after the passport fiasco they were a breeze. Some of my favorite travel memories are from that portion of the trip and I had great stories to tell my friends when I met back up with them in Istanbul.

Hi Crew! I will be working in Mumbai for a couple of months and am looking for short weekend trip ideas. Can you and/or the peanut gallery help? Thank you!

Throwing it out to the peanut gallery. Suggestions, folks?

Thanks for taking my question last week- so many great ideas! One reader recommended Savage River Lodge, and we've fallen in love with that idea of a somewhat-secluded cabin where we can be on our own as much as we'd like. Not as much in love with the reviews of SRL on TripAdvisor and elsewhere- any suggestions for other similar cabin setups within 3-4 hours' drive of DC? Thanks again!

I'm not sure what exactly the reviews are complaining about, but I visited the Savage River Lodge this fall (with my two dogs, no less) and loved it. Service was friendly, cabin spotless.

That being said, here are some cabin ideas from the Virginia tourism folks. I've also been intrigued by Montfair, near Crozet.

Any other favorites from the chatters?

I thought I had a reservation on a BMI/United set o f flights RT from Amman to Dulles through Expedia but the email said the airline had to confirm it. Three days later I received an email from Expedia which seemed to imply I was now confirmed. The next day I discovered that Expedia was offering the same fare for $70 less and I tried to get use the “Best Price Guarantee” for which I had to notify them within 24 hours of “booking”. Of course they said the time ran from the original reservation three days previous. There is no definition of “booked”. I’m a lawyer and I’m confused and annoyed. BMI only charges 50 pounds to cancel the flight and if the flight keeps dropping in price, I’m tempted to rebook it directly with them (I didn’t do it before because of currency issues and United didn’t have the fare or the schedule) and cancel with Expedia. I guess one should always check the price within 24 hours of that hit of the button on the computer to make sure the price hasn’t dropped. Has anyone ever actually availed themselves of this price guarantee or is it a myth?

Most "price guarantees" offered by airlines and online travel agencies come with a lot of fine print, which makes it difficult (often impossible) to get them to honor the guarantee. I think you might have a case, given the delays you experienced. Try sending a brief, polite email to Expedia (that's a link to the executive contacts) and if that doesn't work, send me an email and I'll look into this for you.

Hello, my husband and I are thinking of a surprise trip from our state to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, OH. We have a few questions, its it better to stay on premises versus on an outside park hotel. Is there a decent selection of places to eat and what is the best time to go June, July or August. We're traveling (driving) over 700 miles. They're website booking is not available for summer dates yet. Thanks!

I think this is one for the peanut gallery as well. Any chatters been to this park?

Hi Travel Crew- Any advice on the best way to fly from DC to Venice? There don't seem to be any direct flights. Is it better to get to Philadephia, and fly direct from there, or fly to Europe and change planes there? Thanks for any tips!

Don't know when you're going. Last I heard, US Airways offers nonstops from Philly, but only seasonally during summer months. If price is right, that would be a good option. I've flown to smaller cities in Italy by connecting in New York, Rome and Frankfurt, and for me, it's more about the airline and the convenience of the connections that the connecting city.

Traveling in Denmark during my junior year of high school, I was staying in a really neat hostel in Copenhagen. However, it was also near the seedier part of the city. It was not bad or dangerous, just a little less nice (sex stores and perhaps a bit of a prostitution area). During my stay, the International Deaf Olympics were also taking place, and several participants were staying at the hostel. Many of them were great; really warm and friendly. However, a few of them were perhaps too friendly, and from seeing me walk to and from the hostel through this neighborhood I guess got the wrong impression, because one morning as I was walking into downtown Copenhagen, they were trying to use hand signals to solicit my services. It took a second to figure out what they wanted, but I quickly set them straight. I was initially upset about the situation, but I quickly just decided it was better to laugh it off just because of it having been such a bizarre situation. It happened early on in what turned out to be an amazing trip!

first, thanks for everything you do to promote travel, i've groused more than most about small planes, long lines and everything else but all in all, it's tremendous to be able to get around the world like we do so thanks to all travel personnel. I think maybe there should be a "thank you transport workers" day? Thanks much.

I agree. There's a lot to be thankful for, and not just when it comes to air travel. But let's stay with air travel for a minute: It's affordable, reliable and safe. Cars are safter than ever. Fuel is cheap, when compared to other places in the world. Cruising is an absolute steal, and the service is generally very good. So yes, I'm all on board with a travel workers appreciation day!

Thanks for taking my question! I should have a few reasons to celebrate late spring/early summer and am looking for a quick trip for me and a few friends. I'm in central SC and friends would be flying in from the northeast. Do you have any budget friendly vacation suggestions. We would have no more than three or four days. As far as preferences go, just someplace we could get out and explore and enjoy some good food.

Have you thought about Charleston? Definitely plenty to see and eat there, and if you browse, I think that with a couple of people pooling for accommodations, you could get a nice place and still call it budget-friendly.

Or you can head the other direction and explore South Carolina's Upcountry. I had a blast in Spartanburg -- overall, I imagine it's probably on a lower price scale than Charleston. Maybe talk to the folks at the lovely Inn on Main where I stayed. I bet they'd be happy to arrange something for your group.

Your timing was perfect! I'm headed to Florida this weekend, and your story about Lake Wakes inspired my mother and me to visit that area for the first time in many years. Unfortunately the Pinewood Estate house will not be open, but we can enjoy the gardens and the carillon. Thanks!

That's what we like to hear! You're welcome and have a lovely time.

Might check out , some cabins have a roll-up 'softwall' and all have private hot tubs, right next to New River Gorge.

Hello all, Happy New Year! I'll be taking a trip to the Middle East soon, and we'll be going from cold weather to warm weather. Thinking about wearing long skirts with leggings in the cold. I'm looking for suggestions on women's shoes that I can walk in much of the day, that will look OK with jeans or zip-off type pants, and will also look OK (meaning, not horribly clunky or frumpy) with long skirts. I have shoes that will do with one or the other, but not really both. Any ideas? Thanks so much for the chats and the help!

I am a fan of ballet-style flats with no-slip rubber bottoms. I got a really cute pair at Loehmann's made by Calvin Klein. Sneakers made for walking, not running, are also good choices, such as the flashier ones by New Balance, Converse and Nike. For dressier styles, look for Mary Jane- style shoes, and some people (including doctors) swear by clogs. Good brands to look at include Ecco, Dansko and Mephisto. For some ideas, check out the Walking Company.

Last Monday morning during rush hour I took Super Shuttle from BWI to my home in Fairfax County. I assumed I would be grouped with other people going to Northern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I was grouped with people going to central DC proper (Logal Circle, Dupont Circle, etc). First, is this normal or an anomaly? The customer service people at Super Shuttle keep telling me this is normal and that they can group me with whomever they want, and that there is no redress. If this is normal, have you ever had any success at the Super Shuttle counter asking to be grouped with people near you, even if you have to wait longer for a van?

SuperShuttle's only assurance is that your route to the airport will be relatively direct and that you'll reach your destination on time.


"Our state of the art reservation system and proprietary automated dispatch system group passengers by geographic area or along major routes," it says on its site. "Customers enjoy the cost savings of a shared-ride service along with the assurance that they will reach their destinations reasonably quickly."


I guess it all depends on how you define "reasonably quickly." I've used SuperShuttle on numerous occasions, and our van took some significant detours. I think if you arrived at the airport late, you might have a case against the company.

I'm starting school in England in the fall, but want to visit beforehand. Do you know when the best (cheapest) time to fly is? I'm seeing roundtrip prices from $850 - $2200. Anything cheaper? Thanks!

You don't say where you're flying from, but I'm going to assume the DC area. I've been tracking flights to London for a few months, and you can get some good fares now for trips in March. I'm seeing around $580 non-stop round-trip from Dulles to Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic. I can't see you doing much better than that. Be sure you do mid-week flights -- those have the best prices.

I would like to visit Hong Kong some time this year, preferably during the low season to save money, but I have no idea when the low season is. Is $1,200 - $1,300 is good price? Do you expect trans-pacific flights to get more expensive due to rising oil price? Thanks!

The cheapest fares I see to Hong Kong are about $1,000. But those are sale fares. If you can get convenient flights at $1,200 inc. taxes, I'd say that's good. Low season is in winter. You may find my recent Going Our Way on Hong Kong an interesting read.

Hi Crew! I have my "officially shortest trip to Europe ever". I am heading to Paris for two nights only in order to see the Monet exhibit before it leaves. I also happen to be there during the soldes. I've been to Paris ~12 times or so, not a newbie. I already have the hotel (old favorite) and mostly plan to wander, take photos, see the exhibit, do a little shopping. I have 2.5 days b/c my flight home on AF leave at 440 PM. 1. Any tips on clothing boutiques to seek out for these soldes? I can either wander and just happen across them, or so even a little planning for cool clothing stores. I'm staying near Lux Gardens. 2. I'm usually a left bank girl. I have been to the Marais and of course the Louvre, Champs Elysee and Montmartre/Sacre Coeur (years ago) but otherwise concentrate on the Left. What area of the Right Bank should I especially seek out for let's say two-three hours of wandering? Any other must-sees going on during the wkd of the 22d? What do you like to do most of all in the winter in Paris? Thank you

I was just in Paris a couple of weeks ago. I've been to Paris a few times before and have hung out in the Left Bank. But this time, I stayed in the Montmartre/Sacre Coeur area, so that is what is fresh in my memory. I would highly recommend spending some time there. There are some really cute boutiques there. One that was recommended to me by my French friend was Vixcite. It had really chic, high-quality items. Kookai is great too even though it's a chain store. These places were in the Rue de Abbesses area. The metro stops there, and if you spend a couple of hours walking around, you'll find many other boutiques, food shops, and cafes (the cafe where Amelie was filmed is there.) It is near the Moulin Rouge. I was there Christmas week so it was nice to walk around and see all the displays in the department store windows. I'm not sure they will still be there. All the lights might still be up, which makes the city look even more breathtaking than it usually is. Do any chatters have other tips for Paris in the winter?

"I've also been intrigued by Montfair, near Crozet." We stayed here last spring - my husband and I with our 2 dogs. I think in cottage #5. It was great - clean and convenient to hiking and the wineries. The lake/pond isn't the greatest - we did go out in a canoe with the dogs but it's small and doesn't seem super clean. But we'll definitely go back b/c of the location, the tranquility, the clean cottages and the dog-friendliness. We made friends with our cottage neighbors and actually hung out with them one night. It was a nice get-away and for the right price too (at least when we went. I booked through homeaway)

Last Summer I went on to Japan for a conference. My first visit to Asia. I found the country to be very friendly and easy to navigate in that everything was both in English and Kanji. When I travel alone I tend to venture out on my own (during the day of course) to see what the off the beaten track places look like and how the locals live. Well one evening after a day of visiting the various temples I looked at the subway map and decided I knew where I was going and how to get home. Well, I heard that the train was on it's way and rushed to the train platform and hoped on the train. Something (that little voice) told me that something was amiss. During my visit I rarely if ever was looked at (being a foreigner), but this time I noticed I was getting more stares. I finally figured what was wrong, there was NO English writing on the maps on this particular train line and that's when I realized I was going in the wrong direction and was WAAAY off. I hoped off at the next station, looked at the map at the station (and fortunately for me) I figured out where I needed to get back to and I made it home. Lesson learned when traveling solo slow down and make sure you can read the maps well.

Hi! I am completely fed up with the unrelenting cold here -- I still haven't recovered from last winter... Looking for suggestions for an inexpensive 5-day or so getaway for late Feb/ early March. Within 6 hours flying distance, WARM/ HOT weather, and opportunities for physical activity (hiking or biking). Thoughts??

With that criteria, there are so many options. I'll throw a few out there but others, please feel free to add. I think Puerto Rico is always an easy and fun option. It doesn't take long to get down there. Flights are usually inexpensive. Old San Juan is charming. You can also drive to El Yunque rainforest. There are tons of beaches near San Juan or you can venture out even more and go to Vieques or Culebra. Another idea: Cartagena in Colombia. Spirit Airlines has cheap fares there. You transfer in Fort Lauderdale but it is less than 6 hours. The Old City is amazing. And you can take boat rides to Isla de Rosario and Playa Blanca. I also loved Barbados when I went there last year. I had to transfer in Atlanta, I think, but it's still less than 6 hours. It is a bit pricier though. The National Trust does a great free hike every Sunday (I got lost on my hike but I'm sure you'd have better luck.) Although I have not been there, friends have gone to Belize and raved about it. Again, not too far or expensive. If you're into scuba diving, that would be the place to go.  Anyone else have suggestions?

My boyfriend and I are starting to research a week in the Keys this summer. We are thinking of flying into Key West and renting a car to drive up to Key Largo for a day spending a full day there and then take our time making our way back to Key West over the 3rd day and spend the remainder of the time in Key West sans car. Would you say this is an appropriate allocation of time to see various parts of the Keys? Also any recommendations on non-serious fishing. We've looked at some party boats, but some of them still seem somewhat serious. Looking for recommendations anywhere throughout the Keys.

I think you have the right idea. I'd spend a few days in Key West and then maybe a day in the Middle Keys (Marathon or Islamorada) and a day in Key Largo, maybe two if you like watersports. Key Largo has the best diving, but if you're looking for good fishing, try Islamorada. I'm partial to fishing in the bay, as opposed to the Atlantic. There's more to see and no waves (I get really seasick). Also, give yourself plenty of time to drive. Although the distances are relatively short (about 110 miles from Key West to Key Largo, give or take a few) you can't drive fast. Also, you'll want to take pictures of the beautiful bridges along the way. The Florida Keys site is an excellent planning resource, with lots of eye-catching videos and photos.

Hi Flight Crew. I just got engaged (yeah!) and we are thinking about a honeymoon destination. We are getting married in early October of this year. My fiancee would prefer a relaxing beach vacation, while I would prefer someplace I can be a tourist and see historical or other notable sights. Ideally, we would like a destination with opportunities for both. We will probably have about a week and a half to two weeks off. We are pretty open to anywhere around the world, though we have done the Caribbean many times already so someplace different is preferable. Thanks!

That leaves you so many options. I am going to throw out some ideas, some may stick, others you may discard -- but I think both provide the best of both of your needs:

Greece (note: water might be chilly), Turkey, Brazil, Morocco, Thailand, Colombia

flights within India are still fairly inexpensive, and you can get virtually anywhere in a few hours. I would suggest Goa, heading to the south if you want to party and to the north if you want more calmness. I personally love the North and go to small place called the Surf Shack in Arambol. I would suggest heading to anywhere in Kerala, fly into Cochin and wander about! Consider taking train from Mumbai somewhere, the voyage south along the coast is breathtaking. Another lovely destination is Coorg, go and bathe the elephants at Dubare Camp. Or fly into Mangalore and experience lovely seafood and great sights. And lastly take a hop to Chennai, rent a car and drive to Pondicherry for some amazing French Colonial atmosphere and food.

Hi Crew. Have to say, I though the article on street harassment was very interesting. I've traveled a lot, both within the U.S. and internationally, and the only times I've ever been annoyed by street harassment is here in DC as well as in Memphis, where it was pervasive. I was actually really uncomfortable in Memphis due to the amount of catcalls, etc I encountered, and it really spoiled the trip for me. That being said, I'd probably never post on a site like that mentioned in the article.

I think street harassment knows no international boundaries. It  can obviously be just as bad at home as it is abroad. Wondering why you wouldn't post on one of the anti-harassment sites?

I clicked an internet travel advertisement with some great prices - called Kayak. Is this a safe site? They have several very good deals.

Ah, yes. We recommend Kayak all the time.

Looking at a cruise going from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Estonia, and a couple of other places in late May or early June. I can find average weather for eah city to be visited, but what about rough seas at that time of year? It's the Baltic, not the Atlantic, but I imagine they can still get some pretty rough seas. Could affect not just whether to go or not, but also which ship to choose (leaning towardes a larger ship in potentially rougher seas).

Cruise liners and their captains are experts at avoiding rough seas. They study the weather and know that if choppy water is ahead, they will change their course if they can for calmer seas.

If sea sickness is your concern, be sure to load up on patches and pills, though the infirmary will also have a large supply. The ships have stablizers (you are correct in going with a larger vessel), but you can also improve your odds by following the cabin-selection advice of Carolyn Spencer Brown, of Cruise Critic:

"if you are unusually sensitive to movement, you may want to forego the higher decks. The higher you go, the more likely you'll get not only back and forth (or side to side) rocking, but will also feel an unsettling swaying effect. Stick to the center, the most stable part of the ship, and by all means avoid any stateroom within a dozen cabins of the front."

If safety is an issue, the major cruise lines have impressive safety records. For info on their safety rules, see, from the Cruise Lines International Association.

We will be traveling to Costa Rica this Friday for a 4-day visit. Staying in a condo at the Los Suenos resort in Herradurra. Would like to get recommendations for nice places for dinner off the resort. Any recommendations?

Chatters, can you help feed this Costa Rica-bound traveler?

Greetings and belated Happy New Year! Any thoughts, advice or suggestions on taking the Cruise Excursions (Holland America: Easter Mediterranean: Apr/May 2011) versus booking local Private Guides for cities and attractions that are not close to ports? Specifically: Athens; Ephesus; Katakolon/Olympia Site. Our main concerns are the reliability of (online) reviews of Private Guides and reading of travelers who paid deposits to 'Guides' who were never seen or heard from again. Generally, we are not fans of large coach groups, either. Many thanks.

If you want to be super safe, go with the cruise line tours. They offer so many different flavors that you should be able to find some tours that eschew the large motorcoach. But you can also find good private guides. Start by looking at official tourist sites. Contact the guides directly and ask for references. Online reviews, while not foolproof, will often give you a general idea of reliability.

heading to Key West on Saturday - pray for warm weather! Forecast is 60s!?!? that I should bring beach shoes and not walk in the water barefoot. Really? What about if I'm going snorkeling..okay to use fins with an open heel? thanks!

The Keys don't have "real" beaches with sand and waves, because of its coral reefs offshore. But they are gorgeous, even so. Bring a pair of sandals or neoprene shoes if you want to avoid plants, shells and other debris.  At this time of year, the water is a little cool, but the snorkeling and diving is excellent! Have fun.

When a big group of us went a few years ago we stayed at one of the many motels near Cedar Point, not at the park itself. It was fine. I wouldn't see the need to stay at the park unless you value the convenience of not having to wake up early, drive over and park.

I have a full day free in Montreal next week - any suggestions on things to do? Thanks!

We've done several stories on Montreal in the past couple of years that might give you some ideas. Here's one, and here's another. Personally, I'd just go to Old Montreal and wander around (though it'll be nippy).  I'm sure our intrepid chatters will have many suggestions to add.

I am going on my first trip to Vegas. What do you guys suggest for some campy, cheap fun (the Liberace museum is closed!)? Are there any cheap buffets on the strip to fill up at?

The last time I was in Vegas, I went to the Viva Elvis Cirque du Soleil show at the Aria hotel in the City Center. It was total camp. I've heard that Bally's, Mirage, Wynn and the Bellagio have good buffets. But you can also find coupons for other buffets at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

My first time overseas was as a college exchange student in Germany. Intent on experiencing everything the world (and a 2 month long spring break) had to offer, I started my tour with a gigantic backpack and a several years old hand-me-down travel guide from a friend. On arriving in The Hague late one night, I treked my way via bus and tram out to the hostel on the edge of town -- only to find out that it was no longer there. Some nice gentleman walking his dog explained that they had moved to town and pointed me to a pay phone. My directions from the hostel were "get off the tram at stop x, and head straight towards the glassed-in bar." Sooo...I got off at stop x, saw the easily viewable bar and made a bee-line toward it in my exhaustion--suddenly making a comic-book stop (windmilling arms and everything) as I realized that the reason the bar was so visible was that there was a deep canal between me and it. Fortunately, my backpack didn't completely overbalance me--and the hostel bar served Grolsch, cheap.

I have some unexpected time off in February, and was thinking about taking my wife to Paris for 5 days. Flights seem pretty cheap (about $700 rt) and it should be free of all crowds. Do any of you have any advice about going to Paris in the Winter? Thanks!

Stay indoors. :-)

You should have all those fabulous museums and attractions and restaurants pretty much to yourselves.

Speaking of vacation in lights, what are the guidelines? That would be fun to submit (quick trip to Paris poster here).

We are changing the categories (look online in the future for the new ones) but for ideas, see our site.

My absolute worst experience happened when I was in Italy visting my parents and booked on an evening train to go back to school Germany. I got to the train station 1/2 an hour early and yet the train had already left (thanks dependable Italian trains!). I was almost in tears and frantic, with no way to get in touch with my parents (before the days of cell phones) so one of the train operators put me on a train going to Paris. He tried to explain to me and the conductor (I speak no Italian) that I could get off at the border check in Switzerland and run across and meet my train on the other platform. Amazingly, the conductor came to get me when we reached the border and I was just able to catch my train - the border guards gave me some funny looks as I ran, but I never felt so relieved. I realize now that it was not the end of the world, but it sure felt like it at the time ;)

I plan on travelling to Ireland in late Spring, early Summer. Because I do not fly, I'll need to take a boat over and back, and to give me enough but not too much time over there, I plan on taking a different line over (Cunard) than back (Holland-America). I'd rather have someone who knows what they're doing (i.e., not me) attend to the details. Any advice on where to look and what to look for?

Cunard offers direct transatlantic cruises. Holland America has some transatlantic repositioning cruises, but they're typically longer and stop more places. I'd probably advertise what you want on a site such as Cruise Compete, and see what a travel agent can come up with.

I was visiting Amsterdam with my partner before she went on to Switzerland for work, and I went back home (to the US). On September 11, 2001 we went to the airport for her flight, and mine was early the next morning. After I got back from the airport, I found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center and spent the rest of the day at an Internet cafe, emailing my folks and friends and trying to find out more about what happened. Everyone I talked to was so nice and went out of the way to be helpful. The owner of the B&B let me stay several more days without charge and loaned me a cell phone (and even called my airline in California (because there was no 24 hour number, and it was before 5PM in CA). On my way back to the B&B that evening, I fell, seriously injuring my knee. The people in the bar where I went to get ice were really nice and gave me a dishrag along with a lot of ice. So the solo part of my trip was several days longer than I had planned, but I didn't feel alone because of the helpful and solicitous attitudes of the people I met.

Hello, how much is cab fare with tip from Dupont Circle to Dulles airport? Is it worth the cost or should I stick with taking a car service? Thanks!

You can get estimated fares on many of the local cab company's websites. I tried Yellow Cab and was given a quote of $59.45 with an estimated 15 percent tip. By car service do you mean a shared van? If so,  the shared van is cheaper. It usually costs me about $35 from Adams Morgan. But you have to factor in time. Your cab ride will take you 30 minutes if there is no traffic. If you're the first person picked up in the shared van, you could end up stuck in there for two hours if there's traffic. As for a limo service, they might be pricier than a cab, though I've taken one that is only about $5 more, so it might be worth. You'll have to check with individual companies. It really just depends on your budget and patience. 

Cedar Point will be busy no matter what, so look at the historic temperature for the area to decide when you would prefer to go. If it was me, I would prefer to wait in lines in June rather than the heat of August. We did not stay onsite when we went. It has been several years since I have been there, but unless staying on the premises allows you more access to the rides, I'm not certain what advantage you receive. Enjoy the rides!

There you go.

We drove from DC to Philly & flew direct to Venice. Best thing ever! We even rented a car one way each way & it was a breeze!

The Elephanta Caves are a common day trip. You could easily do Delhi or Agra as a weekend trip. If you go to Agra, consider spending the night and getting to the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning -- lots of people take the train from Delhi as a day trip, so it gets very crowded later in the day.

I was staying on Stockholm, Sweden. I am blond and look Scandinavian, although I am not. Once when a guy was trying to pick me up and I said, I don't speak Swedish, he said, of course you do! But the strangest incident when when a group of laughing people, accompanied by a camera crew, danced up to me, placed a table with two stacks of folded laundry on it in front of me, and started chattering away in Swedish. It was apparently one of those commercials where you picked the cleanest laundry, and one stack did in fact look whiter.. I've always sort of regretted that I didn't just pick that stack to see what happened next, but instead I said, I'm sorry but I don't speak Swedish. They looked disappointed but packed everything up and danced off to find a more cooperative subject.

When I travel, I am usually paying for it out of my own pocket and as a result, on a budget. I have been satisfied finding hotels 15 miles away from my destination when that meant saving an extra $30-50/night. It isn't bad for short trips. Other times, I realized the hotel I chose was cheaper for a reason... I now think that maybe I should factor in comfort and convenience when picking a hotel. What is the best way to compare two hotels? I am planning a trip and found two hotels that are about a block apart. One is about $15/night cheaper (before taxes). I am not concerned about access to a pool or number of channels on the TV. Is there a good way to decide if the extra $15 per night is worth the added expense?

I usually consider the hidden costs: Is parking free? Is there a kitchenette or even a fridge, so I can prepare my own breakfast and lunch? Is there a free breakfast? Do they accept AAA? Free shuttle to the airport or downtown?

These little extras can cost, or save, you loads.

And of course, for a second opinion, check out TripAdvisor.

Hello! I'm planning a trip to London in August. Flights are currently around $1100, direct from IAD to Heathrow. Should I book now or wait for a better fare?

Unless you need to go on specific dates, I'd wait and track the sales. Dozens of Internet travel sites allow you to sign up for fare alerts: I usually use Kayak and You may get lucky and find something closer to $850 or so, but those sales will be few and far between.

visiting husband in South Korea in the late 80's (he was stationed there). Our flight had several legs...Dulles to SF to Tokyo to Gimpo (Kimpo). The landing at Tokyo was a little wicked...we're coming down on the approach..the cars and buildings are visable...all of a sudden the plane accelerates and gains altitude. The pilot comes on the intercom and apologizes for the hurried change of course...he said the runway we were cleared to land on; had a plane sitting in the middle of it. We were minutes from landing and it was raining and slightly foggy.

Just got back from Southern India and had a fabulous time in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Would recommend weekend trips to Allephy, Kerala to visit the backwaters, Ooty, Tamil Nadu to visit the tea plantations, Madurai, Tamil Nadu to visit the grand temple.

is within a couple of hours or less of Toledo, Cleveland and Detroit. Lots of places to stay. You may also want to consider Port Clinton or the Lake Erie Islands. You are right on the lake.

The Belleville/Pere Lachaise area is another place worth checking out on the Right Bank. It's an up-and-coming part of the city that's ethnically diverse and has the restaurants to prove it. Taking Metro line 2 to anywhere between the Belleville and the Alexandre Dumas (where I lived while studying abroad) stops will give you great jumping off points to explore.

Hi, I might be submitting too late. My sisters and I want to plan a quick getaway (3 days) to some place warm and relaxing to celebrate the end of my breast cancer treatment. We were looking into all-inclusives in the Cancun area in the beginning of March. Any suggestions? Or any other places we should consider? Thanks!

I like Playa del Carmen, which is south of Cancun. It's within easy driving distance of the airport (shuttles are easy to find) and has many all-inclusives to choose from. We stayed at Iberostar, which was well priced and middle-of-the-road. Next time, I'd like to spend a little more and try something like the Royal Playa del Carmen.

Hi - sat last nite on the DCA tarmac while mechanics worked on a Delta plane headed to Orlando. Delta let us deplane, issued meal vouchers, and threw in free drinks. Still, budget an extra $100 for this event. I rolled over into another "day" of parking fee, had to pay an extra day of pet sitting, etc. Even a smooth tarmac hold costs some $$, beyond dinner. Add some cash to your travel overhead fund for this possibility...

Thanks for the heads up.

This isn't the type of question you usually answer but could be helpful to a lot of people. My mom and grandma are interested in taking a guided tour of England and maybe Scotland or Ireland. They wouldn't mind hopping on a bus with 50 other tourists and seeing these countries, stopping at important cities and landmarks. Can you or the peanuts suggest the names of some companies that run preplanned guided tours?

Basically every travel operator offers guided tours. It all depends on how planned you want it. Just sightseeing tours? Or do they want hotels, meals, cultural events en masse --basically 50 lives enmeshed for a week? I would check out Globus, Grand Circle, Trafalgar, Afforable and Visit Britain, the tourism office. Elderhostel also has a three country explorer trip with Wales instead of Scotland that might be a good fit.

Hi, I'm planning to go to Jackson Hole the second week of February and I've never been to Yellowstone. I see that you can take snowmobile tours, but at $250ish, they aren't cheap. Has anyone tried these before and are they worth the money?

I did one of those a long time ago. At least five years ago. I don't remember it costing that much, but I do remember it being an amazing ride, especially the one that takes you to Old Faithful.  I seem to remember we drove around for a couple of hours. How long is this tour? If it's longer than a couple of hours, it might be worth it. It is a great experience but that is a steep price, so it really depends on what your budget can handle.

I was meeting a friend in Bangkok a few years ago and flew out a few days earlier than him. I had been touring around the city some and got back to my hotel late at night. No only did I get numerous offers of "you me all night $20" and the like, but I get into my room and hear voices. Apparently, the hotel had accidentally given my room to another couple when they checked in., and they apprently didn't notice my bag in the closet. I walked in to see them in bed going at it. He was embarrassed, but she invited me to join in. I politely declined and walked downstairs. The hotel made it up to me by giving me the presidential suite for the rest of the stay.

It's a bit of a pain, but I find that Wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive list of destinations if you search for a city's airport.

You can stay outisde the park....what I would suggest though if you can to target mid week over weekend in the summer. Another option is go in late May/early June before many of the school districts get out if you can. As for the drive to there...I would suggest maybe breaking up the long drive and do some side trips..... like the drive up you stop in pittsburgh and on the way back you head more to the south and return through west virginia.

I lived overseas in a country that had some serious issues with street harassment. and one thing I can say with certainty is that if you had tried to photograph a majority of these men, it would escalate the situation to a level that you would really not want to go to. I think the moral of the story is that you MUST know about the country you are visiting before you go. Every place is different, and you should have a plan before you set out. Which should include knowing how to dial the police in whatever country you are in (single women are sometimes assaulted by cabbies who realize the women have no idea where they are and no ability to reach out for help... if someone starts acting weird and you call the police, you would be amazed at how quickly that behavior stops!)

I currently look at Expedia and Kayak to find good airfares. Are there any other sites I should be using, especially if I am looking to fly out to California?

Those are both great sites. Expedia is a traditional online travel agency, whereas Kayak searches a lot of different airlines and online agency sites. Also, try the other two big agencies, Orbitz and Travelocity, as well as the two big "opaque" sites, and Southwest flies to a lot of California cities, so I might check its site as well. Its flights are typically not sold through the online travel agencies or the opaques.

Also, be aware that American is currently fighting with Orbitz and Expedia, so its fares are not going to show up on those sites.

We took that cruise two years ago and had no trouble with rough seas -- it was much calmer than what we found on the Mediterranean in October. You should be prepared for the possibility of rainy/cool weather. We had one miserable day (rainy, in the 40s) in St. Petersburg. The big surprise for us was Tallinn! Loved it.

Thanks for the at-sea report!

I was in Paris with a friend, and we both wanted to do different things, so we split up. I went to the 'jewish quarter' to look around, etc (and had the BEST felafel I had ever had ever, including Israel). I stopped in a deli to get some lunch. I ordered matzo ball soup (and maybe something else?). The waiter the whole time was treating me very strangely. As if he'd NEVER seen a lady sitting and eating alone before, I suppose. By the end of the meal, he gave me his phone number and told me to call him later. ick ick ick.

This was a great section! I am now old and disabled, but have wonderful memories of many solo jaunts. As a woman, you do have to take more precautions; and I am cautious by nature. But if you use common sense and street smarts, you should be fine. But some places should just be avoided. Last year's movie starring Patricia Clarkson (Cairo Time? It had Cairo in the title) shows what can happen to unaccompanied women in certain parts of the world.

So glad you enjoyed it!

Hmmm...I don't know if this applies... I was in Amsterdam for work, and wanted to visit a friend in London. There were all sorts of delays at the airport (due to weather, I think). So my flight was delayed and delayed. I finally got on the flight, got to london... and well, we got to London kind of late. Apparently, the last tube (metro?) ride out of the airport to get to my friend's flat was in about 1/2 an hour (maybe 45 mins?). There were two lines to immigration. I was waiting in one of them, everyone else was in another. Since no one was tending to the line I was on, I tried to get to the other one, and I was stopped. (clearly I was american, the others were EU citizens). So I was told: you can't do that, wait in that line. I said: how long do I have to wait, and was told something or other that was not giving me hope for making the train. Then finally someone who was allowed to check in the americans came by, and I went thru all sorts of rigamarole - where are you staying, why are you here ( wasn't like I was going to communist russia or anything - I am an american visiting the UK!!!). Then I said something or other (don't remember what) and they said something like: what's wrong - and I answered: well, if you don't let me out of here soon, I'll be sleeping at the airport, since the last train out is very soon. Later, I was told that I *should not* have said that - because they could detain me, or whatever. And after I said that (which, I guess, most UK citizens wouldn't say to the immigration officers) - they let me go and run to take the last train to london. I then had to take a cab to my friend's flat, very late, etc, but I made it!

Staying on premises, admission is $29.00 per adult per person per day and 1 hour access to park before the public.

Is that admission better than what you'd get if you stayed elsewhere?

went to a nice restaurant for dinner but had to wait for it to open. Met a Korean businessman also waiting for it to open. He was amazed that I was traveling solo and invited me to join him and his colleagues for dinner. He insisted on picking me up the next day and driving me to some hard-to-get-to sights. We had a delightful time. He gave me his number and said that I should call when I was back in Addis (I was traveling elsewhere). While in Lalibella met an English chap who, sadly, had a serious eye injury and was flying home the next day for medical attention. He said that his hotel in Addis was already paid for for the next week and I should take his hotel. I helped him get around and even exchanged money - he left his local currency with me later I was able to wire money to him in London - I really felt for the guy. His hotel was part brothel, as is somewhat common in Africa (I knew this, so wasn't thrown. The women who worked there was very protective of me). What surprised me was rainy season and the shower had some snails living in it! Too funny!

I've been traveling solo for a long time; and have been to some distant and remote places - Nepal, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and all over Mexico - 20 of their 31 states; as well as major European capitals. Most unusual experiences were with strangers I met in Peru - on my final morning there I went to breakfast in the hotel; they had several communal tables and the one vacant seat was with a group of four - three Canadians and an American. After the usual "where are you from, etc... " introductions I found the American was a professor from Terre Haute, Indiana. My sister is a nun with the Sisters of Providence - their mother house is at St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Terre Haute. No, he said - I'm at Indiana State University. Then he said - oh, but I played golf in their charity tournament last year. My sister, the nun, is an avid golfer - and he had been in her foursome. Small world. I also, in Peru, took an excursion on lake Titicaca to the floating islands where the indigenous Uros people live. Normally the tourists are met my women selling handicrafts, but when I arrived there were several young men with a rifle; they said they were going to go duck hunting, but after the soccer match on TV. They have solar collectors to power batteries that allow a few hours of TV. When I told them I was American; they had lots of political questions - "what is wrong with George Bush!? Why did he get reelected?" I posed for a photo with them and the rifle, and declined the invitation to watch the soccer match. Couldn't really explain our election process in Spanish.

On the "solo traveler" - do you have any recommendations for well-regarded tour companies that do travels to off-the-beaten path countries? Doesn't have to be exclusively for solo travelers, and the region of specialization isn't that important right now. Thanks!

Intrepid Travel has some pretty interesting trips for more adventurous travelers.

Love to travel solo! Use a few networks - SERVAS and hospitality club (HC) mostly. Arranged an HC stay in Alice Springs, where I was set to do volunteer work. The driver from my tour in Darwin agreed to drop me at the door....although the address was in the industrial area. Seems my host lived above his event-tent rental business in a loft. He showed me his CA-king bed and my the foot of his bed. His wife was out of town. Still, he seemed reasonable and it felt safe. I was dog tired and dirty after 3 days of camping in 90+ degree weather - no air in the van. Host wanted to talk politics (which I don't like even when I'm clean!). Finally his friend came over and I sort of ignored them and fell asleep. When I awoke I felt guilty and thought I should really be social. His friend popped in and told me they were in the hot tub. I rallied myself and wandered downstairs. Saw the lush greenery surrounding the hot tub and heard their voices. As I rounded the corner to say hello....there sat two naked guys in the hot tub! Needless to say I was shocked, though acted cool. Made for a great story at dinner with my tour-mates - we'd agreed to a farewell dinner and they all thought I was little weird for staying in a stranger's home while they checked in to the local hostel. "yeah, but my place comes with naked men in the hot tub!" -- I mean, you can't beat that! (In the end all was safe. They guy had a real anti-American streak and I found other accommodation--I stayed for a month to volunteer with the Aborigines.)

I lived in Greece many years ago and return there as often as possible, but Greek men are incorrigible. Wearing a wedding ring doesn't help, as they reason that if your husband lets you out on your own, you're fair game. Fortunately I speak fluent Greek and am pretty no-nionsense, but I once had to beat one off with my purse. And this was on a main street in Athens, not in a seedy bar.

Was there any harrowing When I was living in the DC area I took a couple 2 week summer vacations out west. Now that I live out here in Seattle I have done 10 day road trips or took short flights to Salt Lake City or Denver and then had 5-7 day vacations. One thing I dont like is a lot of places dont cater to solo travelers like cruises or resorts. The price they quote is a per person cost assuming two people. When living in DC I took a ski trip with one of the ski travel agencies (I think they are closed now) associated with a ski store. I was a single person that could have had a roommate on the trip but since nobody else signed up I got the room to myself.

I dont know if you addressed this yet.....are there decent travel sites for group travel that is friendly to solo travelers that may not charge that extra on you because you are a solo traveler.

I did get into single supplements a bit. Abercrombie and Kent is offering a couple of tours in which the single supplement is waived. One to Costa Rica is coming up soon. I didn't find one good web site that lists all the group travel companies that will waive the fee. The best thing to do is to call up whatever reputable company you are considering and ask if they have any tours in which they are waiving the fee or if they will make a special exception. This is more likely if you are booking at the last minute. 

My last night in Budapest in 1999, I decided I wanted to ride one of the trolleys to the end of the line and back. It was pretty late in the evening - sometime after 10:00 pm. (I'm not sure why this idea occurred to me.) So I got on the train, went north and got off when we reached the end of the line. As I stood there, waiting something like 30 minutes for the next ride, I realized just what a stupid idea this was - I was alone, I didn't speak the language, I didn't know exactly where I was, and if something happened to me no one would ever know! I was so happy when the next trolley arrived! I took it back to town, then continued seeing the sights at night by subway!

I travel alone a LOT, many times for concerts around the country. I went to LA three times last year and went to two shows at the same venue. Surprisingly, this super cute bouncer remembered me from my previous trip, that I was from far off DC, and did great favors to me like hold my spot and make sure the stage curtain wasn't blocking my view. Unfortunately on my second trip, before I could attempt to arrange an after-show get together, a fist fight broke out next to me and he had to go to work! Obviously, whenever I get back to Club Nokia, I'll be looking him up!

Since the chatter has quite a bit of experience in Paris and has already been to Montmartre, how about the area around l'Opera? I don't spend much time shopping, but I recall seeing a lot of boutiques up there, and it's a busy and beautiful area (especially at night). (Also, take a past tip from Tom Sietsema and splurge on dinner at Drouant.)

Spouse has a severe ear infection (on antibtioics until after flight) and burst ear drum. We're waiting for final guidance from the docs - but has anyone flown with this and have a personal yea/nay? We're headed to Europe - so long flight and we don't just want to spend our time tracking down a doc to deal with complications.

Let's see if there's a chatter out there who's had this experience. Anybody?

Not really harrowing, just long. In college, my boyfriend and I did our semesters overseas at the same time. I traveled from Manchester, UK to Geneva to visit him, more or less in stages: a bus from my flat to one Manchester rail station, a train from the first Manc station to a second Manc station, a train from Manc to Liverpool, a bus from the Liverpool rail station to the Liverpool airport, a plane from Liverpool to Geneva, and two buses from the Geneva airport to my boyfriend's dorm. (And yes, then I had to do it in reverse three days later.) The train between Manchester and Liverpool featured a group of preteen boys playing selections from the South Park movie on a tape player with no headphones (I don't think you're allowed to print which one they seemed to like best, but let's say the title refers to an uncle). Because I was worried about all the connections, I left super early and made it to the airport FOUR HOURS before my flight. They wouldn't even let me check in. But airports, even small ones, aren't bad for people-watching.

I am a female traveler and went to China alone. One hotel I stayed at was insistent that I share tables at breakfast with others even though their were tons of empty tables available. One morning I had breakfast with a Japanese business man that liked to slurp his food and another morning I got seated at a table were they continued to seat additional people with me and then asked me to move tables so they could seat a couple in my spot. Not harrowing instances but funny stories.

Take metro to West Falls Church and then the airport bus to Dulles.

My friend and I are looking to book a getaway somewhere in the Caribbean for a long President's Day weekend. We thought we had our destination figured out, but then we found that our top resort choice was getting bad (in some cases, very bad) reviews. We have narrowed it down to the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo), Montego Bay, or Cancun, due to the availability and timing of flights. Do you or your chatters have any suggestions for all-inclusive resorts with a good reputation in any of those locations? Thanks!

Take a look at WhereToStay, a site that reviews Caribbean resorts. I've never wanted to spend big bucks on all-inclusives, and I've gotten what I've paid for - average food and OK accommodations. But if you're not a foodie and you aren't too fussy, you can get a good value from an all-inclusive, especially if you enjoy a few cocktails.

Doesn't sell tickets. They direct you to other sites. I don't like their format (listing dozens of tiny variations for the same itinerary you have to scroll through), but they have a decent rep.

Yes, thanks for clarifying this.

Has anyone at the Post ever done a story on the Ladera Resort in St. Lucia? My wife and I are going there at the end of February and would appreciate any additional info you might have about it. Thanks!

I visited there and had lunch -- and then I had to crawl back to my lesser hotel. It is truly gorgeous. I loved how the rooms were missing major walls, so you basically could roll out into nature. And the food is really healthful and fresh.

I would add that, if you like to hike, climb one of the Pitons.

Yes. $46.99 per day adult admission.

That sounds like major savings. But if the hotels are more expensive, it might cut into them. I guess you'll have to check out the hotel savings vs. admission savings and see where you actually save most.

I've enjoyed seeing all the big mountain national parks out west like Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier, etc. Lately, I've realized I've missed one of the most popular parks in the east. Is Great Smoky Mountain National Park worth the trip, or is it just a big version of Shenandoah National Park? Thanks.

I certainly think it's worth a visit especially if you live in the D.C. area. I've done a couple of road trips that have taken me through it on both the North Carolina and Tennessee side. It's gorgeous, quite different from Shenandoah.

I hope you can help! I'd like to see my friend in London and sister in Brussels. British Airways has a sale ending tomorrow for flights in April. Round-trip airfare to London - with taxes - is $620. Is that good? Also, should I take the Eurostar back and forth to Brussels, or is it worth doing a multi-city flight (fly to London, back from Brussels) for $840? (Is that a good deal?) THANKS!

Yes, $620 is very good, especially for nonstop flights on British Airways. As to whether to fly into one city and out of another, that is usually the easier way to go. Price it out. Look at how much the train will cost and compare that to the flights. Consider convenience.

Forgot surprising a 22 year old, 20 year old and 2 - 16 year olds. That might make a difference in any response...thanks again.

hmmm, fly to Key West, drive north to Largo and then wend *back* to Key West?? Um, why? Better: fly into Miami and out of Key West: make the drive just once. Allot time for the small Key deer preserve in the middle keys, and be sure to stop for stone crabs, conch stew and fritters and of course - Key Lime Pine. Take the glass bottom boat tour from the national park in Key Largo, and linger longer if you snorkel or dive. Near MIA, as you head to the bridge, stop @ Biscayne National Park for their excellent boat tours. The water is clearer there and better fish viewing. Have a tropical feast in Homestead, star fruit smoothies, etc. If you have time and $$, take the launch from Key West over to Dry Tortugas, an easy day trip. See the fort, snorkel and enjoy a clean, empty tropical island. Worth the $125 per head. Take sunscreen!! Don't miss the Hemingway House and Audobon House in Key West, off the beaten path and a really refreshing look at interesting lives in the American tropics.

For the traveler going to the Middle East, Walking Company as recommended by Andrea is a great place to look. I *strongly* suggest picking a closed-toe style of shoe, because although you don't say where in the Middle East you're going, you never know what you're going to encounter on the streets. (Cairo is notorious for sewer leaks, for instance. Other places, goods are brought in to market on donkey carts.) Solo travel: I'm a woman and it's the only way I go. I've been to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Bosnia on my own, as well as to many parts of the USA. You might initially get some funny looks, including from your family when you announce your plans, but go for it! I've never understood why some people wait for someone to want to go with them, to go on their "dream vacation."

my submission was on Italy--traveling solo (today's theme!)

I will look for it, but we get LOTS of Italy submissions.

Do you have a favorite family friendly, all inclusive resort in the Caribbean? I'm turning a big number and my son is turning 18. No need for kid programs but not uncomfortable that we are a family. More upscale than not. Thanks.

Take a look at Beaches.

On rue St. Andre des Arts (6th): Heteroclite, my favorite Paris boutique; night-time city bus tour to see all the lights; visiting churches to see variety of creches, often w/messages left beside them; walking, walking, walking! Bon voyage!!

if the water is cool....are there places to rent a wet suit for the day or a few days? We're both cold water wimps!

Any dive shop in the Keys can rent you a wet suit, mask, fins and snorkel.

My son had lots of ear infections, one lead to a burst ear drum. If the infection is in the other ear (not the burst one), what the docs worry about is the drum bursting. So, since the pressure will be equalized (no ear drum to block it), what you have to worry about is the drum healing. It's also painful. Does your doc prescribe ear drops? Used to deal with infection after ear tubes are implanted--and to clear the eustatiton tubes. Your call as to travel, but I travelled with him from CA to LHR.

I had the same problem and was worried about it, but there was no way I was cancelling my flight - I was flying to Scotland to get married! The Dr gave me some strong pain meds just in case, but I had absolutely no new with my ear. It didn't hurt as bad as I thought it would, even with the fastest descent and landing I've ever experienced. I say go and don't worry about it!

What a lively hour. You all have some great solo travel stories, but the prize has got to go to the chatter who nearly ended up on a laundry detergent commmercial in Sweden. Send your info to

Come on back next week, everyone!

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