Talk about Travel

Apr 06, 2015

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Welcome to Talk About Travel on this mercifully springlike Easter Monday. Lots of great feedback about Andrea's Sunday centerpiece on Egypt. Contemplating a similar adventure? You're in the right place. Shake off that Robin's Egg torpor and send us your questions, comments and recommendations -- holiday-travel stories, happy or harrowing, also accepted. 

I'm headed to Italy next week and was looking around for a neck pouch. It seems all the rage to get one that has RFID protection, and after reading some Amazon reviews, I was convinced to buy some RFID credit and passport protection slips. Was this a waste of money? Or should I actually use these protection slips when we are out and about sightseeing? Many thanks!

I've covered RFID protection in several previous columns. It's an interesting idea, but I have yet to hear from a reader whose ID has been stolen or credit cards compromised because of a lack of protection. I don't have RFID protection in my luggage, but then again, there's not much to take from my ID or cards.  

Hi! I'm planning a trip for someone in late May who is departing Orlando to DCA and returning Orlando from BWI. I'm having problems using the regular websites - they want be to return at the same airport (DCA) or Dulles. Should I use one way fares? Is there another website that I can use? Thanks!

Just click on the multi-city option, and you should have no trouble getting that itinerary on most booking sites. But it may very well be cheaper to book separate one-way fares. US Airways, JetBlue and American fly nonstop from DCA. Southwest will likely be your cheapest nonstop bet from BWI. 

Sept. trip flying Delta to JFK then Delta to Athens. Connecting time 1 hr/15 min. Return on Air France to CDG then AF to Dulles. Connecting time at CDG 2hr/10 min. Not sure this is enough time. I tend to be a nervous Nellie when it comes to close connections.

If your reservations are connected on your itinerary, then you should be fine. Even if you miss your flight, you'll be placed on the next available flight. I've made international connections with less than an hour. I think you'll be fine.

Why did the Travel section shift from being included with the Saturday paper to the Sunday paper? I enjoyed reading it on Saturdays before dinner -- a nice tradition. To paraphrase Jeff Smisek (United Airlines), in announcing service cutbacks, is this a "change you will like"? More importantly, I almost threw out the Sunday comics section, not realizing it was buried with the auto ads in the Saturday paper. At least that should be fixed!

Two Sundays ago Travel traded places with the paper's new automotive tabloid; as you note, the Comics are now tucked inside the tabloid, while Travel is behind Sunday Business. Sorry about your tradition, it sounds lovely. (The switch was made for technical reasons pertaining to the printing schedule -- no ulterior motive.) 

We've never used our miles for "free" tickets, just upgrades. However, United has drastically reduced capacity across the Pacific, so we can't get the upgrades like we used to. Consequently, we'd like to burn our miles with standard mileage awards (not saver -- we know those are impossible to get). How much in advance do we need to book standard mileage awards? Is this something we must do 330 days in advance or is several months (like 6) okay? These would be business class seats to Japan.

I think that's a great strategy. Airlines typically open up their award inventory 330 days in advance, but that doesn't mean you have to book that far ahead. You can see what's available this fall by calling the airline or visiting its site. You can also try using a service like Expertflyer, which helps you figure out where the award seats are available.

I'm hoping to go to London later this year. Any drawbacks to booking a flight/hotel combination through an airline or tour company instead of booking them separately? I plan US trips all the time, but trying to pick a hotel in London seems unusually daunting to me, and this seems like an easy way to simplify it.

I don't think there is much downside, and you can always double check the rate by pricing components separately.  But I'm not sure that booking a combo package will make choosing hotel any easier. Determine your location and price point first and then narrow down from there. 

A recent trip to Puerto Rico resulted in a missing lock and clasp, leaving an intact zipper on our suitcase (we thought we had been lucky that it didn't burst). A quick walk to the local discount store for a replacement suitcase and we could board our cruise the following day. We thought it was a fluke accident until the next trip from Jacksonville to Dulles two weeks ago - same mishap. My investigation shows that the "ball point pen" method of entering a locked suitcase leaves the lock and clasps intact, but I think this is probably more than coincidence. We never check valuables and couldn't find much information on whether this is more common that we thought.

That's very suspicious. And it's yet another reason to never pack anything valuable in your checked luggage. If you're interested in getting to the bottom of this mystery, that makes two of us! I'd love to find out what your airline has to say for itself, and to find out what kind of steps it's taking to fix this. Do you mind sending me a quick email with the details of your itinerary? Here's how to reach me.

Crew, a number of months ago, you linked a resort with cabins somewhere in Colorado, maybe south of Denver, but in the middle of the state. I have gone thru 3 -months of chats, and can't locate the link. The cabins were near a lake. Can anyone pull a rabbit out of a hat for me and find the link to these cabins? Many thanks.

Perhaps it was this story from February, "The quiet side of the Rockies"?

I actually prefer getting the Travel section on Sunday. I wish the Post would deliver the Arts and Style section, magazine and other supplements on Sunday as well. If you read all that on Saturday, the relaxing Sunday morning paper-reading just doesn't last long enough anymore. I never read the Travel section until Sunday morning even when it came on Saturday.

Thanks for chiming in -- I'm also a fan of the Sunday-morning deep-dive.

During an upcoming layover at JFK, I'll have 3 hours, plenty of time for a sit-down lunch. I understand the new Jet Blue terminal (5, I think), is very nice and has good restaurants. Any ideas? Thanks.

The terminal has received rave dining reviews.

You can hop on the AirTrain to T5 and choose from Aeronuova (pasta and pizzas), Piquillo (small Spanish plates), La Vie (French)  and Deep Blue (sushi-- but it didn't get good reviews). For sweets, choose from Ben & Jerry's, Baked by Melissa and Dylan's Candy Bar, a NY candy-porium.

Just don't linger too long. You still have a plane to catch and security to deal with.

Hi there- looking for some honeymoon recommendations. Fiancé and I are getting married in August and plan on a 5-6 day honeymoon. Current idea is Maine. We are open to resorts, B&Bs- just don't know where to start searching. Important factors are great dining options (shacks to fine dining recommendations welcome), fun activities like whale watching, breweries, anything lobster related, and beautiful beach scenery. Does Portland fit the bill? Or are there cozier options further up the coast? I imagine we would rent a car so would also be open to day trip suggestions. Thanks!

I'm a big fan of Boothbay Harbor. Plenty of resorts and B&Bs. Some well-regarded ones include the Blue Heron Seaside Inn and the Spruce Point Inn Resort & Spa. Can't remember the names of lobster shacks, but you won't have any trouble finding good ones there. There are at least a half dozen boat tours available from there. We took the trip to Monhegan Island. The island was lovely, but I would not recommend the tour unless the seas are calm or you are immune to seasickness. Any other chatters have favorite places in Maine?

Just a reminder that you can now earn 15 PostPoints each time you participate in our Talk About Travel chat. All you have to do is record the weekly code that we'll post during the chat and enter it into the PostPoints Web site under Claim My Points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it each Monday to get credit for participating. Today's code is: TT6291.

I have always wondered about when to tip hotel housekeepers. I used to tip at the end of my stay and now leave something each day. Am I tipping for the work before or after I use the room? Ex: I arrive on Wednesday. I expect to tip the person on Thursday for making up my room. Do I tip on the day that I check-out? I will not use the room again, so am I tipping them to straighten the room for the next guest, or for cleaning up after me? I am not trying to cheap out on a few bucks, just wondering what is the proper protocol.

The topic of tipping housekeeping can be confusing! You are not alone.

I have heard that you should tip each day because you might not always get the same person, so you want to make sure that employee receives the gratuity. However, you can always wait till the end and give the front desk an envelope of tips and request that each person responsible for your room's upkeep receives his or her fair share.

Also, my understanding is that you are tipping for each day housekeeping cleans up your mess. So if you check in on a Monday and stay till Friday, you would tip Tuesday-Thursday.  But many people leave a little tip on the final day, even though they aren't directly receiving the benefit.

Any tips on must do's and must see's in Charleston, SC?

Take a historic walking tour: There are dozens of choices. We did the Lowcountry Walking Tour, and it was fascinating. Eat and drink: We quite enjoyed cocktails with a view at the bar atop the Vendue Hotel. And dinners at Fig and Husk were great. If you have more time, Fort Sumter National Monument and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens are nearby. 

I want to treat my family to a birthday celebration trip (my 75th). We are a family of 11 - five grandchildren ages from 23-22-21-14-13 yrs. I looked into Greenbriar and Broadmoor both are very nice but too expensive! Could you suggest some other places with the same ambience and activities. I am thinking of Columbus Day weekend (Oct) or Thanksgiving weekend. Thanks for your help.

Not sure the Homestead would be any cheaper, but it's worth a try. Historic Williamsburg has many different lodging options. Any chatters have a recommendation? 

One thing I'm always very careful about checking is the cancellation policy. Seems like a lot of the hotel and air packages have much stricter policies for the hotel segment than if you book directly with the hotel. If something happens at the last minute, at least I'll be able to get the hotel money back!

Always check cancellation policies, even when booking directly with hotel. Many hotels are now offering cheaper rates for nonrefundable bookings, so make sure you're OK with that before you hand over your credit card. 

This was using AAdvantage miles, not United, but we booked international tickets ~9 months out. Inventory was rather low even then and we had to be a bit flexible with dates, so we decided to jump on it. Funny enough, closer to the date, < 1 month out, we checked again and there were somehow MORE options available than when we had booked months ago. Do airlines somethimes open up more miles seats if planes aren't full?

I've spoken with airline insiders about the way they manage their seat inventory, and the answer depends on the airline and even on the route. If seats don't fill up fast enough, then it's possible for additional inventory to be opened up as you get closer to the date of a flight. But I wouldn't bet on that happening. Most mileage experts -- and by the way, I don't consider myself one of them -- advise that you book your award seat as early as possible.

THAT'S IT!! You found it - I thought it was in a chat, not an article. Many, many thanks, and yes, you did pull the rabbit out of the hat!

Easter Monday magic.

Hi, I submitted this Q last week, hope you have a chance to post it this week. We are going to Northeastern Wisconsin in late June and are hoping to find some reasonably strenuous day hike opportunities somewhere in the area between Milwaukee- Madison- and Door County. Thanks!

I think we have to throw this one out to our chatters. Anyone? 

We will be travelling to spread the ashes of a deceased family member. Are there restrictions to flying with these? Will there be any issue with TSA?

TSA is very sensitive to the issue, especially after the unfortunate incident in October. According to the agency:

"Passengers may transport crematory remains as part of their carry-on property or checked baggage. Some airlines do not allow crematory remains as checked baggage, so check with your airline first. If carrying on the crematory remains, they are subject to screening and must pass through the X-ray machine. If the X-ray Operator cannot clear the remains, TSA may apply other, non-intrusive means of resolving the alarm. Under no circumstances will an officer open the container, even if the passenger requests this be done. If the officer cannot determine that the container does not contain a prohibited item, the remains will not be permitted."

To be safe, bring along a letter that confirms that nature of the ashes. If you have any problem, ask for a supervisor.


Hi, enjoyed the Cairo story. I visited there with my family as a teenager in the 1970s. It got me thinking about what destinations in the Middle East are generally considered safe to visit. Many people seem to travel to Israel, for example, with their children. With the obvious exceptions right now -- Syria, Iraq -- are there other places that you all would not hesitate to visit?

So glad that you enjoyed the piece!

For safe Middle East countries (but always exercise a degree of caution), I would say: Jordan, Dubai, Qatar, Oman, Turkey and UAE. Also for Arabic culture not in the Middle East: Morocco.

With respect to leaving and returning to different airports, most search engines will allow you to check a box that will perform the search including nearby airports. Or you can use the WAS airport code that covers DCA,IAD and BWI. Some will even search the nearby options by default which means you have to pay extra close attention so you don't end up with different airports when you don't want them.

True, but if you know exactly what airports you want to fly into and out of, it's easier to use the multi-city function. 

Jekyll Island Club maybe? Slightly less ritzy, but better weather than VA or CO in the fall. Guessing Columbus Day will be way cheaper than Thanksgiving at any location.

Looks gorgeous -- thanks for the suggestion!

My family (two grown children + parents) are planning a trip to Ireland this fall and would love your input. We are thinking September-October, flying into Shannon, and then renting a car to travel around the south and west. And tips along that route? And about how much is a "good" airfare price?

You might consider a self-drive package tour that includes airfare, rental car and lodging vouchers. You will have the freedom to explore the country but will also save money.  You can based your itinerary on the lodging vouchers. Check our deals columns for specials or Spectre Travel for vacations in Ireland.

If you plan to arrange the trip yourself, look at various tour operator's itineraries for ideas. I would not drive more than four hours a day, so that you have time to stop in little towns along the way and explore. Also, try to stay in guesthouses or castles, for real Irish character. And book accommodations in advance. Even though you are not traveling during high season, places still fill up in the smaller villages.

Airfare is in the $900-$1,000 range. Check Aer Lingus for sales and packages.

 

 

Honestly, such angst over what is only a couple of bucks per day, that you won't miss, but that will make someone else's life measurably better. Just leave $$ every day. I've found that when I tip after my first night, I generally get better service and "extra" tidying/teabags/towels/whatever speedily when requested. But the bottom line is that it's just good karma, and a tiny tiny portion of your overall travel budget.

All great points! The Housekeeping Gods are looking down on you and smiling.

What was the unfortunate incident in October?

A TSA agent opened the urn and spilled the ashes. The incident happened in October 2012; the passengers filed a lawsuit a few years later.

A friend of mine is planning a trip to the Audi Forum in Neckarsulm and would like some tips on saving money on airfare as well as ideas for other things to do nearby--side trips etc.

Flying into Frankfurt would likely be the cheapest option. It's about a 75-minute drive from there to Neckarsulm. He may enjoy the German Motorcycle Museum. The town also hosts a well known indoor pool-sauna facility called Aquatoll.  

You referred to the "unfortunate incident" last October. What happened? I carried an urn in my carry-on luggage ten years ago, to a memorial service in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And I got bumped off my connecting flight and stranded in the Detroit airport. It was not a good situation, but they did manage to put me on another flight.

I just answered it!

In short, a TSA agent opened the urn and spilled the ashes. The incident happened in 2012; the lawsuit followed two years later.

I recommend Bar Harbor, right next to Acadia National Park. Spectacular scenery, whale watching excursions, bike rentals for the carriage trails, plenty of lobster shacks and nicer restaurants. Also great hiking trails, for those who want more physical activity.

Another good pick, a little farther afield. 

Portland, Maine is a wonderful, quirky small city. You can visit art museums, go to three beaches easily, take a cruise to whale watch, visit the sea life museum, climb a lighthouse, visit Victorian mansions. The foodie scene there is incredible- from dives to fine dining.

Yes, Portland is also lovely. 

Be warned that Maine coast in August will be *Crazy* busy and crowded...

Yes, but most desireable destinations within striking distance of the East Coast population centers are busy at that time of year. Find a restful place to stay, make restaurant and attraction reservations way in advance, and, if you're driving, try to hit the road in the off hours. 

I've traveled in a number of these countries, alone and as a (gasp) woman. Safety concerns were of a similar level and nature to what I have experienced in China, the U.S., and other countries. No less. But no more, either.

Great to know. Thanks much!

I'm going on an escorted tour to New Zealand and Australia, which includes airfare from LAX. I need to find flights to/from BWI. Should I leave a day or two earlier and stay in LA before flying on to NZ, or would it make much of a difference in terms of jet lag or the weariness of being on a long flight? Would it matter more on the return flights?

My philosophy is to just get there (and on the return, just get back.). I find that breaking up the trip just prolongs the pain. But some people say that an overnight in LA gives them strength for the next leg.


It all depends on your ability to sleep on planes and adjust to time change on the ground.  New Zealand is 16 hours ahead, so you will feel a bit haggard the first few days. Exercise, eat well, drink lots of water and push away tired thoughts.

I'm traveling to Italy next month (first time, yeah!), and I'm told that, by law, I'm supposed to carry my passport with me so I can show it if asked by authorities. Typically when I've traveled abroad, I've left my passport in the safe in my hotel room. What are your thoughts on carrying my passport around? I'm concerned about losing it to a pickpocket or purse-snatching (not that I'm overly worried about either...).

Apparently, there is such a law. I tried to find the exact rule that requires foreigners to carry an ID, but couldn't -- I'll keep trying. The State Department page on Italy makes no mention of the law, but you can find several forums where the law is referred to. It doesn't seem to be a law that's frequently enforced. When I was in Italy last year, we were often out and about without our passports, and we didn't end up in an Italian jail. Some people carry a photocopy of their passport, just in case their belongings are stolen. You might try doing that.

I went to a marketing event for Dream Trips. It sounds too good to be true. I know it's an MLM racket, and I have no interest in getting into selling memberships, but I wondered if you know whether the trips are as good a value as they sound?

Dream Trips is a travel club. I haven't had any complaints about it, but travel clubs change their names so often, I'm not really surprised. Here's all I can say: The only legitimate travel club I'm aware of is AAA. The rest generally sell overpriced memberships that give you access to the same deals you can find online. I would be very, very careful.

my sister and I and my three year old son are going to the beach mid May. We are still trying to figure out where to go. We've thought about Turks and Caicos or I suggested St Barts because I know she's always wanted to go there and with the Euro down against the dollar this may be a good time to go. Any thoughts? And if it makes a difference, we are not in the DC area so flights are irrelevant.

St. Barths is expensive, even with a strong dollar against euro. And I feel as if it is a more adult-oriented island. Turks & Caicos has lots of kid friendly resorts, and it's generally cheaper. 

I work in NOMA, and about a year ago, I was walking to the grocery store on my way to the Metro and someone with luggage asked for directions to the Greyhound terminal. I pointed him to where it used to be, but warned him that it was closed. He was very angry until I told him that all the buses now leave from Union Station and he should try there. Actually, I think he was still a bit angry and walked off to look for the stand alone Greyhound terminal.

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad that these complaints are relatively rare (at least, for now).

I received a United survey via email. They are considering offering direct placement of your carry -on luggage to the bin over your assigned seat (for a fee). On my most recent flight from San Diego to Dulles, the wif-if wasn't functioning properly so that there was no entertainment, period. It was a long five hour flight.

That's very interesting. Would you mind sending me a copy of that survey? Here's how to reach me.

I'm going to be moving to the west coast this fall and have planned an epic road trip to get me there. The only problem is that I'm going to be traveling with my cat, which makes it very hard to actually stop and get out of the car to see things. My current route takes me through the Badlands, by Mount Rushmore and Devil's Tower, through Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Craters of the Moon. What's the best way to see these sights from the road?

Most of the national parks have easy and quick walking paths to some of the main attractions. It might take only a half-hour or so (but, of course, never leave the cat in a hot car). You can also drive through and see the sights from view points and loops. Or perhaps you could leave the cat in the hotel room and ask for a late checkout, so you can squeeze in a short hike.

Also, I am not sure if this is feasible, but can you carry the cat? I had a friend who used to tote his small dog in a baby Bjorn!

I'm hoping to do a trip to Belize this year for snorkeling and seeing some of the Mayan ruins. Can you recommend any tour operators? Looking for something on a budget to mid-range price.

You could likely plan this on your own, but there are tour operators that can put together a snorkeling/ruins vacation. Try Slickrock Adventures

I can vouch for Devil's Lake State Park in Baraboo. It's about 30 miles from Madison. There are some great trails, definitely strenuous at times, with magnificent views. http://www.devilslakewisconsin.com/activities/hiking/

Thanks!

This fall, my wife and I will need to fly from Madrid to Pamplona to catch a bus for St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. Given the state of the Euro, is there any way to buy our tickets on a European website and pay with Euros? The current airfare on US websites is around $240 each, one-way.

I am not so familiar with paying in euros from the States, since you can't pay in cash. If the train's Web site charges in euros, then you can pay by credit card and lock in that price. But your credit card might convert the charge to US dollars. You should call them and ask if they charge a conversion fee.

Another option: Buy the tickets once you are there, at the ticket counter.

When traveling abroad I carry my passport, as well as cash and other assorted paper items I can't afford to lose, in a pouch that hangs around my neck and goes inside my clothing.

Going west, fly straight through. That is, get into several hours before your flight so you can grab some dinner before boarding the late night flight to AU/NZ. And then try to stay awake a few more hours. If you can, it will be about 2 am east coast time and very late in the afternoon in AU/NZ. Sleep as much as you can. Then, when you wake up, stay away. Do not caffeinate. Once you land, stay awake, and try to make it to 6 pm local time. Then, your body clock will be very close to local time. As for coming home, I often like an overnight in CA, because it's just so hard to get on a 5 hour flight east right after coming over the Pacific. And the flight times from AU/NZ to CA are just not as conducive to sleeping. I'm lucky to get 4 or 5 hours. OTOH, if you go straight through, you'll get home to the east coast and get to fall into your own bed a couple hours after you get home.

Thanks!

I too am in the "get it over with" camp and would probably not stopover in LA (unless you just want to spend a couple of days in LA). Also, I set my watch to my destination's time as soon as the plane takes off, and I try to sleep when it's nighttime there and stay awake when it's daytime there, as much as possible. Same for return trip.

It is supposed to be an incentive to superior service, not just an odd way to compensate low paid employees. So, obviously, if you tip the first day, then that employee knows you are likely to provide the same or even better for subsequent good service. Though, I admit, just for convenience I often wait until the end - and I probably get stuck with slightly lower quality service because of it.

It's not "impossible" to get saver level frequent flier seats by any means. You need to have some flexibility in your travel dates sometimes but it mostly depends on your origin and destination. Small airports without much service can be tough. But I've booked tons of award flights at the saver level from DC without too much trouble.

Thanks for chatting, everyone -- same time next week!

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, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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