Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Feb 12, 2018

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's section. we ventured Down Under to New Zealand's Rotorua region, whose hot springs, geysers and prismatic pools have earned it comparisons to Yellowstone National Park. Have you ever traveled for a geothermal attraction? Tell us where below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Andrea Lammert's "Highway 1 California: The Dream Road Along the Pacific." And please bear in mind that there will be no travel chat next Monday, Feb. 19, otherwise known as President's Day. We'll return to chat again on Monday, Feb. 26. On to your questions!

I loved visiting Kilkenny when we visited Ireland! I already thought it was a great city, but it turns out we visited right during a music festival. My husband and I were able to grab seats at a bar and enjoy some bands, and a local Irish couple took us under their wing and gave us some tips and good conversation. I highly recommend it.

Glad you enjoyed the piece! Anyone who missed it can read it here.

Hello, thank you for taking my question. I (a mid-20s female) am going on a four-day Carnival cruise to the Bahamas in a couple of weeks with friends (all female, same age as me), with ports of call at Nassau and Princess Cays. As this is both my first time going on a cruise and to the Bahamas, I could use tips on what to pack (obviously I plan to bring a bathing suit and warm clothes), if I should bring a credit card or cash (or both) and a moneybelt for security reasons since I'll have my passport with me. Do you have any advice?

Carnival cruises are very casual. On a four-day cruise you may have one night that people will dress up in the main dining rooms, but that's about it. The rest of the time, beachwear and casual clothes are in order. Bring cash for small tips and credit card. You'll likely leave your passport onboard the ship when you go ashore, so just follow your usual security precautions. 

I happened to see an ad stating this budget airline will be flying IAD to Heathrow starting around August. Do you know anything about this airline? I assume it's similar to Norwegian, which is supposed to start flying to Paris from DC area. I'm familiar with Norwegian but haven't heard of Primera.

Primera will fly from London Stanstead, not Heathrow, to Dulles beginning Aug. 22 and is offering intro fares of $199 each way. But that price is for bare-bones travel -- no food, no advance seat assignment, no checked bag and carry-on must weigh no more than 10 kg (about 22 pounds). 

I have been dealing with the rental car vs. Uber issue as well. I am headed to Australia soon. While Melbourne has fantastic public transport, I will also be spending several days in Canberra which does not and it is somewhat spread out. In the end, it came down to a couple of things. For the cost of a rental I can take about 15 Uber rides (in 4+ days). Add in the fact that I don't really like driving and have never driven on the "wrong side" of the road before and the decision wasn't too difficult. Although I don't really like Uber as a company, they don't appear to have much competition in Australia -- yet.

Thank you for the feedback. I think you made the right call. I'm reluctant to drive on the left, too. It's better to leave that to the professionals.

I am having a problem trying to to buy both a non-refundable and a fully-refundable ticket at the same time so they are on the same record locator. I am definitely going on the trip (barring a comet hitting the earth) but my friend may need to cancel at the last minute, thus needing a fully-refundable ticket. The ticketing systems don't seem to be able to do this. Do I need to call and make reservations over the phone?

Yes, I would call the airline or work with a knowledgable travel agent on that reservation.

Chatters' geothermal faves:

It wasn't the whole point of the trip, but when we went to Yellowstone National Park, we took part of a day to do the Ribbon Lake Trail. It goes through the Clear Lake area, which feels like walking through the Land of the Lost (and smells like rotten eggs). Geothermal features burbling and bubbling all around, but almost no other people. Everyone else sticks to things close to the road. Highly recommend it!

I was in Iceland during January and one of the must-see items on my list was the Blue Lagoon. I had heard both pros and cons about it: I wound up firmly on the "pro" side. It was nowhere near as crowded as I'm told it gets in the summer, and the outdoor temperature was not unbearably frigid. However, as part of two tours that I signed up for, I wound up in smaller geothermal pools as well. One had very nice facilities, but the pools were all simply too hot for me (though my tour-mates enjoyed them greatly), while the other had much more basic facilities, but the pools themselves were perfect. Unfortunately I can't remember the names offhand. And I heard tell of more options, too. A veritable geothermal smorgasbord!

Growing up in the SF Bay Area, the first geothermal attraction I ever saw were on a day-trip to the geysers at Geyserville in Sonoma County. A few years later we visited Lassen National Park, with its stinky sulfurous mudpots and hot springs. After I was married, my husband and I visited Yellowstone National Park, with a lot more hot springs and mudpots, not to mention Old Faithful geyser. Finally, in recent years on trips to the Azores islands, we've visited the volcanic region at Furnas, on the east end of São Miguel island; one of the culinary treats there is a local dish called "Cozido," a stew of meats and vegetables cooked in sealed ceramic pots that are buried all day to cook in the hot springs (really!).

unless you count the brief stop over in Iceland, but just wanted to point out that geothermal vents may be the origin of life on earth. There is a pretty great explanation in the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. They waters around the vents had an energy source (not originating in sunlight), minerals that could be a food source, and were protected from meteorite bombardment by all that water.

I would have posted about Rotorua, but your column covered everything I had to say on the matter! I still really want that book (recent transplant to CA). I was pretty disappointed that they use dish soap to get the Lady Knox Geyser to erupt, but really loved the last green lake in Wai-o-Tapu (and the glow worm cave trip was amazing!). I have been to Yellowstone several times, and would recommend a dip in the Boiling River on the way out of the park. My favorite destination is Iceland. The geysers are amazing and we loved visiting different geothermal pools.

I've had three really wonderful trips that involved hot springs and geysers, all completely different from each other! The first was at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, where the hot-springs-fed pools were calibrated for all ages - we taught my 5- and 7-year-old nephews to swim in the not-too-hot Olympic-sized pool, while my sister and I soaked in the 104 degree pool as often as we could stand it. The second was at Hacho No Yu onsen, a hot-springs resort near the famous Nikko shrine area in Japan's Tochigi Prefecture. A group of us spent the weekend there during the winter, and the harrowing ride up the mountain in a slipping & sliding minibus was rewarded by outdoor soaking pools that were carved into the rocks, surrounded by gorgeous old-growth forests and foot-deep snow on all sides. I still love the memory: a bunch of American & Canadian English teachers, sipping warm sake in the pools among all the local Japanese onsen devotees... everybody naked except for a strategically-held hand towel. Nudity is the great equalizer! Finally, last summer, we had a too-brief visit to Geysir and the "geothermal area" in Iceland's Golden Circle. Though it was raining and cold all day, seeing the bubbling pools and spouting geysers in person was amazing. Not so amazing: the fools who ignored the MANY warning signs and reached over the path markers to dip their fingers into the 300-degree water flowing along the ground. Yes, it's HOT. Sheesh. At least nobody jumped in while we were there.

During a tour of Iceland's "Golden Circle" we stopped at an area that has many hot pools (too hot for human dipping), steaming fissures in the ground, and several geysers. One of the geysers here erupted every 5 or so minutes. Our tour guide was a bit surprised; he said usually it was every 7-9 minutes. We saw that one erupt, recharge, and erupt again several times. Another one spouted once every few hours, yet others at longer, unpredictable intervals. And then he stopped by one hot pool and sadly told us "This, too, was a geyser, but it has broken."

We are taking a trip in June to the northwest, flying into PDX and leaving from SEA. Are there any tips on finding a reasonably priced rental car? It's a nine-day trip and we have four people, so we need a full size or larger. The cheapest I've found is $450. I've tried looking at off-airport pick up and/or drop off, but there isn't much of a savings. I've tried the usual sites, are there any lesser known ones that might have deals?

I don't think that's a bad price for a one-way car rental. Even Costco, which typically has very good rental car prices, is expensive. Any chatters have another favorite rental site? 

Hi, Travel Gurus: My husband and I were felled by the flu (twice, in my case). This meant we had to cancel our non-refundable rock-bottom airline tickets and "give" United Airlines a $600 gift. Our bad for booking cheap seats and not getting travel insurance, though a friend said she got insurance and a doctor's note for her illness last year and they still wouldn't give her a refund. I also read that the DOT is asking the airlines which cumbersome consumer laws they'd like to see abolished (see: fox guarding hen house), yet they can continue to cancel flights at their random discretion without much of a penalty. How does such a non-consumer-friendly business continue to get away with such one-sided treatment of the people who pay their salaries? Hard to imagine any other industry not at least trying to appear like they care.

Thank you for the rant. I deal with this double standard every day on my own consumer help website. Airlines get away with this kind of behavior because our regulators let them. This is apparently what we voted for.

But I might be able to help you with your tickets. You should be able to get a ticket credit, usable for up to a year from the date of your booking. Have you asked about that? (If it's one of those "basic" fares, though, I'm afraid you're out of luck.)

I will be going to Europe and only taking a carry-on since I’ll be moving around a lot. Can you recommend a brand of shoe for women that is great for a lot of walking and is stylish enough to wear with a dress, as well as jeans? It will be the only pair of shoes I have on the trip. Thanks in advance!

I'm a guy, so my answer may be of limited use. I wrote a story about the best travel shoes for a summer trip last year. I have some useful advice at the end for men and women. But from here, I'm going to need to punt! Chatters (especially women, although men you are also welcome to answer) any advice for best shoes?

Today's code is TT7825. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

Do we inform the car rental company that we will be buying one of these once we get the rental car at the Orlando airport? Is there somewhere near the airport that sells them?

Try the Publix at Conway Crossing. I would definitely let your car rental company know what you plan to do. It may have special directions for using your own transponder.

I'm not a fan of Uber, but it's likely a lot better than a taxi in Canberra. I've had not one but (unbelievably) two taxis break down on me there. Once on the way up the mountain to the restaurant at the top of Telstra Tower! More generally, driving on the left actually isn't that hard but certainly isn't necessary in Australia's urban areas.

Thank you for the advice. Much appreciated.

Is there any reason that you can't have separate record locators for the two tickets? That would solve your problem, without making your trip appreciably more difficult.

Good point.

Why is it necessary to book the passengers traveling in different fare classes into a single record? Spouse and I sometimes have booked separately (one is traveling for work with the other tagging along or we're each using our own miles or we want to snag the very last lowest fare and there aren't two left). After the two bookings are complete, we call the airline and ask to have the records linked.

Thank you. I think that's very helpful.

We're planning to visit Australia & New Zealand, flying round-trip to/from Sydney. I realize flights schedules for March 2019 aren't available yet, but would like to know a site I can now view non-stop possibilities to Sydney. We're open to departing from any big US city that offers non-stop flights and would probably use Southwest/other reward points for the US leg and spend a few days in the city before departing for Sydney.

I typically go to the airport Web site to determine nonstop flights. A quick look at the flight schedule on Sydney Airport's site indicates there are U.S. nonstops from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Dallas and Houston. 

Hi! We would like to take advantage of the under 2 fly free and take a long weekend trip this April/May with our 14 month old. Our criteria is a flight less then 3 hours that is affordable (would prefer to stay in EST time zone), outdoor activities like hiking, good food options (we also enjoy breweries), a few kid friendly activities for her age (aquarium, zoo, etc). Would appreciate any recommendations!

Austin is in the central time zone and flight time is a little longer than three hours, but it's a good fit. Any other ideas from our chatters? 

in Ireland? Especially in Dublin, but all over as well. I guess the equivalent of Time Out listings. My googling isn't working as well for Ireland as it has in other places.

The Dublin City Council publishes a calendar of events

It might not work in the chatter's case - going from PDX to SEA, but when we rented from SEA in 2016 I used Costco Travel to get a very cheap fare from a Budget in Kent, WA. We were arriving in the evening, so I booked a hotel a few blocks from the rental site that had a free airport shuttle, and picked up the car before checking out in the morning. We reversed the steps when we returned to SEA two weeks later. I'm planning on doing the same thing when we fly to MSP in June. Off-site Budget rental for 16 days (Intermediate size) under $300 total - same car at the airport well over $600.

Thanks for the idea. 

Thoughts on good US cities to visit with my sister? We last did Charleston, SC. Both in our 50s, very fit. I'm a foodie. She loves hiking, outdoors things and doesn't mind striking out on her own. Thinking of Nashville, San Diego (cross-country for me...ugh). She lives in Austin. Any wild ideas?

Nashville or San Diego would work. I'm also a big fan of St. Louis. It's got lovely botanical gardens, a walkable downtown, Forest Park, the Budweiser tour, museums, river gambling, the Hill for Italian food, major league baseball, etc. 

We have a group of ages 25 to mid-60's going on an Alaskan cruise in May. Is there anything we should be sure not to miss? Obviously there are varied interests and ability levels, but I wondered if there was one or two things that stick out to you at the common ports of call. Thank you!

It's been many years since I did an Alaskan cruise, but I really enjoyed the outdoor salmon bake in Skagway and a rainforest hike in Ketchikan. Chatters? 

Don't they have taxis there? Remember those???

Ah, yes, taxis. I do remember those.

What the questioner wants is simply not possible - no matter how good the agent the speak too they won't be able to do it. Flights in the same locator need to be identical and a different fare bucket means they are not. So OP buys their non refundable on one locator and their companion buys their refundable one on their own.

Thanks. I stand corrected, then. So these will need to be two separate reservations. (I'm not a travel agent.)

Thanks for your offer to help us get something back for our tickets -- but as you guessed, it was a "Basic Economy" ticket, so we're out of luck. I have to give props to the third party company we bought the ticket through: when I asked how to cancel our seats (because we had fevers at 101 and 102 degrees), she said, "Just don't show up. If you cancel with me, I will have to charge a $50 per ticket cancellation fee." So at least THAT person showed us some mercy.

I'm so sorry to hear about that. And you know the airline can resell your seat and pocket your money. Not really fair.

Is the coverage that comes with super-premium credit cards equivalent to stand alone travel insurance? Thanks--love the chats.

Not that I'm aware of. Some of the cards come close, but if you want full-featured travel insurance, you have to buy a real travel insurance policy.

I am traveling to L.A. with my teenage daughter in August -- not sure where we should stay, but would like it to be near the beach and reasonably fancy (milestone birthday, so looking to splurge...a little). Old-Hollywood vibe and cool neighborhood a plus. Thanks!

The Georgian in Santa Monica fits the bill. Splurge on an oceanview suite. 

Have you actually talked to the airline? Look at your ticket - generally you can get a credit with a fee, but might have had to cancel the ticket before the flight. I had to do that recently on Frontier when I was going to go to a yoga workshop and stay with my friend. I assumed I'd have a year and could go to the workshop the next year. The credit was only for about 8 or 9 months and I lost $99 on my ticket, with the fee to change, but did rebook to visit my friend, with a good ticket price that didn't cost me any more than my credit.

Thank you for the advice. Back to you, OP.

Even in a carry-on bag, you can pack a pair of lightweight sandals or flat espadrilles (canvas slip-ons) that are stylish enough to wear with a dress, but take remarkably little space in a bag. I pack both styles (!), while wearing my sturdy black walking oxfords (+ compression hose) on the flight, so I don't have to pack those clunky shoes.

Thank you!

More geothermal attractions:

I've been lucky to see several. I'd say they were not the purpose of my travels, but were definitely high on my list of things to see and do while there. My absolute favorite is the Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest, with indoor and outdoor pools, and a total of 18 pools overall, surrounded by fabulous Baroque buildings. Blue Lagoon in Iceland was lots of fun and highly recommended. But my favorite in Iceland are the geysers. A geyser is a geyser (incredible!), but the security is nothing like the US, where you cannot even get close. In Iceland, security is a little rope surround that you can step over--in other words, not secure at all. But still awesomely beautiful.

Lonely Planet says Mt Yasur is among the most active and accessible volcanos in the world. That is debatable as we flew on connecting flights to Los Angeles, Nadi-Fiji, Port Vila Vanuatu, Tanna-Vanuatu followed by a two hour truck ride on ash roads and finally a hike up to the awe inspiring view point where you are quite close to the action and have the lava bursting overhead ever 15 minutes. They do not have liability lawyers, perhaps that is why it is so "accessible".

I took my kids to Yellowstone twice, in 1995 and again in 2002. I did the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland in 2007, and was extremely disappointed in the thermal area that we visited. Compared to Yellowstone, the area was small and uninteresting. Other parts of the Iceland tour were wonderful, especially the Gulfoss waterfall.

Another geothermal site is the Azores on São Miguel Island. They actually cook a stew in the hot springs that was very tasty.

There's generally no need to pay the "sticker price" on rental cars. If you're a member of AAA, for example, the discount on Hertz [also Thrifty] makes it competitive with, and at times cheaper than, the "low-cost" vendors. And every company's site has a "deals" page, often explicitly including one-way offers, that should be reviewed.

Always good to shop around. And whenever I find a price from a third-party vendor, I always compare it to the provider's price, whether it be hotel, car rental or airline tickets. 

My airline card is offering a crazy good round trip price to Australia on the non-stop Quantas sleeper plane. I so want to go. But I’d like to do my first trip as part of a group since I’m traveling alone. Finding something on the web is daunting. I’ve been googling for over a week and my confusion is growing. I’d like to go for at least two weeks and keep costs, excluding air, to $5,000. Can you point me somewhere to start?

Have you looked at the airline's vacation package division. Qantas offers escorted tours that you could pair with the flights.

Love Nashville - how about Denver?

Another good idea. 

I always use the airport wikipedia page to see airlines and destinations for a particular airport. Just search [airport name or code] wiki in your favorite search engine. I believe there's one for basically every airport in the world and they are kept pretty up to date.

Another option, although I would verify with airport site. 

Try Ecco. There's an outlet at National Harbor.

Excellent recommendation. Thank you.

Carol's list of non-stop flights to SYD is correct. Note that there are also non-stop flights from the US to Melbourne and Brisbane. Her general approach, by the way, is brilliant: For any destination, look at the arriving airport's website which generally lists all the destinations to which passengers can fly. Then work backward from there. BTW: if traveling from the East Coast, I have taken Qantas from JFK [through LAX] to Australia. It's a seamless connection: the flights are all in adjacent gates (whereas if you arrive on another carrier it's a non-trivial connection + increased chance of checked bags not going through).

You had me at brilliant. 

Long ago, friends took an Alaskan cruise, and raved about a railway trip they took at one of the stops. Don't recall where, and unfortunately my friends are both now deceased, so I can't ask them.

I took a railway tour that I thought was boring, but it could very well have been a different one. I can't recall details right now, but will share if I remember. 

In Juneau go to the Red Dog Saloon for a fun hour or two. Out of Juneau we did the helicopter ride to a glacier. Yes, it was very pricey but totally worth the big bucks. For the more adventurous in Ketchikan we did the zip line. If I can do it at age 58 so can you!

Thanks for the thoughts.

One more vote for St. Louis...if you are into mosaics, be sure to visit the Cathedral Basilica there. The mosaics are amazing. Some are by Tiffany Studios, others by artists from Ravenna, Italy, where they really know mosaics.


I immediately thought of Asheville NC that has everything they want. I also had a great time with my sister from another mister in Milwaukee last year. The art museum is fantastic, as are their botanical gardens, a walkable downtown with boat tours, plenty of hip dining (and frozen custard), and the Brewer's ballpark has a retractable roof!

May not be as easy to get to Asheville, but yes, a great spot. 

Asheville, NC, or Burlington, VT

I like both places. 

May not work if you're spending most of the time touring between SEA and PDX, but sometimes it's cheaper to limit the one-way rental (with its higher price) to 1 or 2 days, and pick up a cheaper local (same-drop city) rental on each end. In any case, I've had good one-way rate luck with Costco. Also, I've consistently found cheaper rates in PDX by picking up downtown and dropping off at the airport. Good luck!

Interesting idea. 

You may want to wait a little later, but Portland, ME is a short flight, has great food and breweries and tons of natural beauty. Bonus points because you can get there inexpensively with Southwest.

Great suggestion, thanks!

I'd look into Clarks shoes. I've had several different styles and wore them out. (Usually, I don't need something to go with a dress, though - just something that can be casual and yet also be work with business clothes - my go-to in that case is a black walking shoe, because no one really looks that closely at your feet and they blend with black pants.)

Thanks for the suggestion!

In Juneau visit the Mendenhall Glacier (I think we just took the bus not run by the cruise ship). If you don't have budget constraints, we LOVED our excursion of taking a helicopter to a glacier to go dog sledding.

One of the things we did cost nothing, but was so fascinating. We took a hike while in Sitka and came across an ancient Russian cemetery in the middle of a forest. Don't ask me how to get there!

I've never rented a car in the UK or other wrong-side-of-the-road places for fear that in an emergency, instincts would kick in, and they would be precisely wrong. Are there any local driving schools that give instruction in right-hand-wheel cars? I would think Washington, maybe more than many cities, would support such a business model.

Yes, that make two of us!

Try this site - she is a Rick Steves guide and light packer, and does a lot of research on travel shoes

Good resource -- thanks!

I infer that the chatter lives in the DC area, from which there are non-stop flights to many destinations. So may I recommend that the sisters use a website that lists non-stop flights to/from Austin? (Can you list one?). That would tend to narrow down their pool of potential city destinations.

Like your idea. The airport in Austin lists all its nonstop flights. 

We took the White Pass and Yukon railway and did a hike in the forest. It was pretty interesting, but the hike was more strenuous than I would have expected. Not sure the train ride alone would have been worth it.

That's the rail trip I did! 

I live in Europe and wear black Ecco shoes (because my orthotics fit them) with black tights or stockings and not too dressy dresses. Good for walking and not tooo frumpy.

Thanks for the tip!

We went to Hot Springs National Park last year, and I absolutely had to recalibrate my idea of what a national park should look like. The hot springs were a bit of a letdown, but now I'm making a list of all the amazing geothermal travels others have done so I can find something more to my taste.

And one more geothermal post for the road...

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting today! Ribbon Lake Trail fan, drop us a line at to claim your prize. And join us again on Monday, Feb. 26, when Talk About Travel resumes.

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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