Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Apr 16, 2018

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's section, Andrea went behind the scenes with Darley Newman, host of PBS's "Travels With Darley," to see what's involved in shooting a travel program on location. Do you have a favorite travel show? Tell us about it below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Moon's "New York Walks" guide, complete with a handy pull-out map. Now, on to your questions!

How easy is it explore the DDay beaches of Normandy? We're a family of 4 (parents are in their 60s and kids in their 30s) looking to explore World War II history in Normandy and then travel to a town in The Netherlands were my grandfather spent time during World War II. Is this possible on our own using public transportation or would we it be better to find an organized tour? Thanks!

Normandy Tourism has a very good Web site to start your research. I'd recommend renting a car in order to see as much as possible. 

Saw the story this morning about Sun Country refusing to do anything to get their passengers home from Mexico and telling them, essentially, "you're on your own". How is that allowed? I understand weather issues happen, but to say to those people, sorry, our schedule is ending and we're not going to do a damn thing to assist you is just beyond the pale. They deserve to be put out of business if they can't afford to charter a plane to pick up their passengers.

Your rights as a passenger are outlined in Rule 135 of Sun Country's Contract of Carriage (PDF). The airline reserves the right to cancel a flight because of weather and must then refund the unused portion of your fare. That's an industry standard rule. What's a little unusual is that Sun Country's seasonal service also ends this weekend. The airline should have found a way to get passengers back to the States. 

My husband and I are heading to Paris on Thursday for a long weekend (returning on Tuesday). I have been tracking news on the SNCF train strikes in Paris, but would appreciate any advice on the actual impact to Parisians and how we can get around if we encounter massive delays or want to get to attractions that require a trip on the RBR like Versailles. Thanks!!

I may be an outlier, but I spent several days in Paris last year and never got on a train. We walked just about everywhere, and took Uber a few times. Any of our chatters been there during a rail strike? 

In booking a flight on Delta last month, I looked at the prices on their app, which has all my frequent flyer information, and I also looked at the online price, which I did anonymously. The online price was significantly lower than the price shown on the app for the same flight. Similarly, in looking at rental car pricing on Hertz yesterday, I got a much better price on their website booking as a ‘guest’ than when I tried to book as a ‘member.’ I’ve never come across any discussion of this issue and am wondering whether this is a new travel provider pricing tactic – i.e., charging new customers less than frequent travelers to attract new business - or whether I just hit some bugs in the software.

Cookies! I've covered this in a 2010 Navigator. It's just getting worse. Chatters, have you ever experienced this kind of price discrepancy? I may need to take a fresh look at the problem.

Why aren't airlines required to notify you when they change your flights? I just happened to be checking a trip I have coming up next month and noticed that American had changed my return flight from Chicago. Different flight number, different time. No notification. Granted it's only 20 or 25 minutes different, but it's still a change that they are making. There oughtta be a law.

Under American Airlines' customer service plan, it pledges to notify you of schedule changes such as the one you experienced. Sometimes, that information doesn't reach customers when there's an older phone number or email on file. Other times, American sends the information to your travel agent, who fails to pass it along.

I just booked a trip and opened the mail to find a jury summons for dates of travel. If I dont get excused from jury duty am I covered?

I'm guessing you bought travel insurance. If so, read the fine print, but you should be covered.  If not, contact the court as soon as possible and explain your situation. 

Four sisters--two in California, two on the East Coast--would like to celebrate a milestone birthday over a long weekend. We are all active, love to be outdoors, and aren't looking for much nightlife. Water nearby would be great but not mandatory. Any suggestions? Also right now it's easier for the East Coasters to fly longer distances.

This is so wide open, almost impossible to choose. Texas (San Antonio, Austin), Colorado (mountain resorts outside Denver), maybe coastal Oregon or Washington, or how about San Diego? 

A friend and I are taking a road trip in northern California this summer, and I would like to stop by Yosemite. However, I've heard it's really busy. Do you have any tips or resources on best ways to avoid the crowds (besides going as early as possible in the day)? Would it help to come from the east entrance (I live in Nevada, so this is actually closest to me)? I've also heard about shuttles in the park but don't know how efficient and regular they are. Or should I just leave it out this trip and aim for some time in the spring or fall?

You're right, summer can be really busy in Yosemite. I visited the park last season and managed to escape most of the crowds. Starting early is always a good idea. Most visitors like to take their time. Also, consider working with a guide. I joined a tour from the Yosemite Conservancy, and they took us to some of the uncrowded sequoia groves. The popular attractions like El Cap and the falls will always be a little busy during the summer, but they're worth seeing.

Looking for a nice hotel in NYC or Brooklyn (near the Brooklyn Bridge and a park for walking/running) for small family reunion over the 4th of July. Suggestions appreciated. Thanks.

I stayed in a nice boutique hotel in Manhattan within sight of the Williamsburg Bridge called the Nolitan. In Brooklyn, take a look at the new 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, although that may be pricey.  Chatters? 

On two recent occasions while staying in upscale boutique hotels I was pleasantly surprised to be offered the "house car" in lieu of an Uber to get to a restaurant. Neither hotel advertised this perk on their websites -- I think it was because my companion and I (we are both 50) were dressed up for dinner and we were headed to nice places. The luxury cars were wonderful and certainly beat the typical marginal Uber for starting the night on a high note. Now I'm hooked! How prevalent are house cars and how does one improve one's chances of snagging these sweet rides?

You can find courtesy cars at high-end (four- or five-star) properties. I just wrote about these car rental alternatives in a Navigator. I stayed in a Denver hotel that had a Tesla courtesy car, which was pretty cool. I've never written an entire column on courtesy cars, but I like the idea. I'll add it to my list.

Today's code is TT7803. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

So we are going as a family on a trip to Israel arranged with a travel agency through our temple next year, and some of us will be on different flights due to coming from different areas. What should we look for in purchasing travel insurance (for this big a trip, it seems like a good idea to us)? Thanks!

Compare policies on a site such as InsureMyTrip  or SquareMouth. Look at evacuation coverage, medical coverage maximums, whether terrorism is covered, what happens if your luggage is lost, etc. Read the fine print. 

I am just dying to go there but not for the pleasures of the Red Light District or even the Anne Frank Museum or even the tulips. I want to see their enormous sea wall and take some kind of tour of the country to really understand its geography. I just went to New Orleans and took a Katrina tour (it was not remotely exploitative) and after seeing the levees that breached so far above us, now I really can grasp how the post-Katrina flood happened, and I'm fascinated with seeing how the Netherlands keeps that from happening to them. Should I just read up on it then rent a car? Do car rental agencies offer navigation aids in English?

You could probably put it together yourself, but do some research on the Holland Tourism site before deciding whether you'd get more out of an escorted tour. 

I like all of Carol's suggestions, but many would depend on the time of year you are traveling. Doesn't give you water, but I'll add Santa Fe to the list for most seasons!

Another good idea. And yes, if they are tied to a specific time of year, that will play a part. 

FWIW, I booked directly with American and they have the correct contact info in my account. I sent them a complaint and their response was that since they are constantly changing their schedules there's no way that they could contact every customer about every change. For the person with jury duty, if you can prove that you had already-planned travel you should be able to defer service. I did that last fall with Arlington County circuit court. I got my summons in the mail. Sent them an email along with pdfs of all the travel plans and said I would be happy to serve when I got back. They deferred my service by a month. (and then turned out to not need me anyway)

Thank you for clarifying and for the additional information.

Pretty much any of his adventures.  "Around the World in 80 Days," "Himalaya" (I'm still waiting for him to return). Dated but perpetually entertaining.

Used to be Samantha Brown, but she seems to have disappeared. Now it's Rick Steves' "Europe Through the Back Door." Good, unpretentious, emphasis on history and culture.

Hands down, anything with Anthony Bourdain, currently in "Parts Unknown." Every time I watch it I just can't believe that guy gets paid to just travel the world, learn about fascinating cultures and their history, and eat and drink. Nice work if you can get it!

I have never seen one that didn't have a place for you to request a deferment because you are going to be away for the dates (or some of the dates) you are called for. Once I got to request which dates I wanted as an alternative. I picked Christmas Eve. Got the new assignment and didn't have to go because the judges don't want to start a new trial Christmas Eve any more than anyone else does.

Most jurisdictions will work with you, but it's not automatic. 

Hi Crew & Especially Chris - I just wanted to share an experience I had a few months ago while purchasing flight tickets online from an international carrier. At checkout, my card would not go through. Apparently, the transaction triggered my bank's fraud security and while the bank was confirming, via text & email, the legitimacy of the charge, I lost the seats. When re-booking, moments later, the price had gone up by $40 per seat! I purchased the 4 tickets at the new price and called my bank. They issued me a refund for the difference, so inconvenient, but ultimately all good. Just passing along so that folks know they have recourse in this era of "dynamic pricing."

Wow, what an unexpected but happy ending. I'm glad you got your seats at the price quoted. I hope you know how fortunate you are.

Check the jury duty summons. In the places where I've lived, the form allowed me to send it back with a request to be rescheduled. I had to reschedule due to my vacation. There was no problem at all doing that. However, they will probably notice if you are on vacation every time they summon you......

Yes, but don't ignore that summons!

The Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch is incredible. My husband and I are thinking of going there this summer for the third time! It's off season - and though still pricy, it's much cheaper than in the winter. Also - I think virtuoso travel agents have a stay three nights get the forth night free deal. We were also upgraded to the club floor, thanks to virtuoso our first time there and that was such heaven that we paid to be on the club floor our next visit. I bet you sisters would have an amazing t time.

Probably not cheap, but could work. 

This is a heads up, not really a question, though interested in any thoughts from WP staff & others It pertains to a recent trip we made to Ireland. We did our homework because car rental in Ireland is, as one website says, “a minefield.” In particular, insurance can be triple the daily rate of the most economical car.  The reason is simple:  too many claims. While Ireland now has wonderful roads, the scenic routes can be narrow and drivers unfamiliar with driving on the left tend to bump into things. Happily, my credit card is one of very few that allow the waiver of collision damage insurance in Ireland. You have to call ahead and get a letter from them to present at the rental desk, but that was pretty easy. Still, the websites indicated that there will probably be a non-waivable excess (deductible) amount of between €1,200 and €2,500, depending on the size of the car.  This amount will be "held" on your credit card but released when you bring the car back without any damage I thought: We can do that, no problem. And so we arrived fairly confident at Dublin’s South Circular Road rental office. My only real worry was that we might get stuck with an SUV like we did in London last year. Who would want an SUV in the UK? Back to Ireland. The first shock came when the attendant stated that the excess charge would be 5,000 Euro. That’s almost $6,000 US dollars!! Then — because of the amount — our credit card charge was not accepted. We called the international collect number on the back of the card but either our smartphone did not have a sufficient plan or the number was not in service. After 5 tries, with different area codes, I begged the agent to use the car company’s landline. He handed me his own smartphone. By then, he’d moved on to another couple — and now they were having the same credit card problem we were! It took about an hour to get everything approved with the credit card company. First, I was connected to a general operator, then transferred to a security agent in Ohio who walked through the security questions and listened to the situation. She eventually gave the go ahead and the company accepted the charge. It was time to drive off — but my nerves were understandably shaken. I was driving with a $6,000 “bounty” on my head! It became a “joke” when we encountered tiny roads, large hedges, HUGE tour buses and farm equipment going the other way. But it was real. Thankfully, the little VW Golf had blind side driving and a back up camera. Beep, beep. There were no accidents, the incidents were few, and we had a great time. For some paying for CDW might be preferable to nervous system stress. Erin go bragh! But check car rental issues before you head for the Emerald Isle.

Thank you for sharing your story. This is helpful information.

I actually had the opposite reaction from the previous poster. I recently got an email from Icelandair notifying me of flight changes which sent me in a panic (it's a long weekend in Paris, so even missing a few hours throws off the whole trip). Turns out the change was hardly noticeable, and I'm still arriving at the same times, maybe just a 15 minute departure time change. I'd rather they keep it to themselves unless it's a significant change, since either way, I'm not going to remember if my flight departs at 2:15 or 2:35 until I go to check a day or two before I leave.

Thanks for sharing your own story. I think I'd rather know about every schedule change, as long as it doesn't induce panic. But I'm a nervous traveler. Any little thing can set me off.

wheels replaced on luggage? The case is fine and I like it. But at least one of the wheels must have gotten stuck while I was dragging it on a previous trip because it is definitely not round now. Seems like replacing the wheel (or wheel assembly or even all of them, should be possible). Thanks.

I take my good luggage to a repair shop in Alexandria called Old Town Shoe & Luggage Repair and they've done a nice job. Chatters? 

I think the Delta app automatically shows you the non-basic economy price unless you swipe, whereas a desktop or third party search is more apt to show all options at once (including cheaper basic economy). Rental car companies sometimes 'conveniently' pre-populate discount codes or rate types associated with your account even if there are cheaper options to be had. So it may not all be cookies that purposely deliver a higher price - conscious software design and display factors may be nudging you into a higher price than you could be paying.

Oh, that's interesting. Thank you.

If the summons arrived by ordinary mail, and you don't respond, they can't do anything to you because they can't prove service; that is, they can't prove you ever got it. A majority of people don't respond to a jury summons, without consequences. Don't answer the summons and take your trip. If you get a more insistent communication later, that's what you have to take seriously.

I think the better option is to contact the court and reschedule. 

If you're in DC you have one 'free' change that you can do online. You could probably get it changed in other jurisdictions - give them a call.

Thanks for that info. 

Depending on where you live you may be able to defer. I may have to go to jury duty this week (not ideal timing), and when I checked the deferral options, I think vacation/out of town was an option. I'd contact the court first before trying to change your trip.

Everyone agrees that jury duty is not typically set in stone. 

I was at Yosemite over July 4 weekend several years ago and was pleasantly surprised by what a big difference it made to be on the trail by, say, 8 a.m.

Thanks. Yes, the earlier you get there, the better.

I've been in Paris with rail strikes, and you just have to check to see what lines will be closed. The RER is run in conjunction with RATP, so it may not be closed. Or if it's closed, not every line will be closed. French strikes are a pain. You could try taking a bus to Versailles if the RER isn't running.

There are motorcoach tours to Versailles from Paris, which could work. 

Looking for any tips about off the beaten path suggestions for Mexico City. Have done the major museums already and a bike tour on previous trips. Any ideas? Restaurant recommendations would also be great. We're staying in the Condesa neighborhood.

How about a side trip here, or a cocktail here, or a bit to eat here?

I want to thank the person who provided the link to the calendar for the French train strike. We are scheduled for a train from Avignon to Lyon on one of those dates. So, we decided to rent a car and drive to St. Remy and Aix-en-Provence the day before driving to Lyon. Instead of a nasty surprise at the train station, we are going to see some things we had not planned on. Now, if the Air France strike only lasts through April as planned, we will be in good shape. The trip from Milan to Lyon would otherwise prove to be more difficult. Ah, the French.

I'm glad it helped -- here it is again! (Right-click and hit "Translate to English.")

Cape May, NJ. Our families vacationed there a couple of years ago in early August. Warm, beaches are large and I didn't find them too crowded. Lots of nice places to eat and do there. We drove from the Midwest thru Ohio, PA and NJ and it wasn't bad.

Thanks for the suggestion!

Just sayin'--we too are looking for information about tours to Delta Works in the Netherlands. We've talked to natives of Amsterdam who agree this is definitely something worth doing, but are having a heck of a time coming up with information on the Internet. I've been planning our trips for years and this is the biggest stumbling block I've had.

I don't know of any week-long tours that concentrate on the infrastructure, but there are tours of the facilities. Try the Keringhuis Public Water Center, the Watersnood Museum and the Delta Experience

I don't understand, why don't people just take actual taxi cabs any more, driven by actual professional car drivers with the appropriate licensing? Admittedly I primarily take cabs abroad, in places I've flown to (e.g., Canada, Europe), so am not too familiar with the situation in the US. (Same applies re staying at hotels versus Air BnB, VRBO, etc.).

 I use Uber and Lyft because they're fast, efficient and easy. I know how much it's going to cost before I book, and when the driver is going to show up. 

Staying on Eastern Time is the secret for any of the western parks in the summer. It's also a good idea for places like the south rim of the Grand Canyon, where you'll want to be out and about early before it warms up.

Good to know!

We drove to Yosemite from Squaw Valley once and couldn't get over how long it took to get from Tioga Pass to the Wawona Hotel where we were staying. It's not a drive for the faint of heart!

And this!

Three colleagues and I were attending a conference at the Université Paris - Nanterr La Défense, but we'd decided to stay in the 4th Arrondissment and commute by train. The last day of the conference there was a rail strike just outside Paris, so we decided to split a cabfare from our RIght Bank hotel to the University campus. It came to 20 Euros apiece, but I was lucky enough to get the front seat of the taxi, so snapped photos through the windshield along the way, including amazing daytime mid-street views of the Champs d'Élysées that no tourist on foot would ever be able to capture! (En route back, a local conference-goer gave us a ride across the city limits into Paris, where we caught a train back downtown).


"The Amazing Race" isn't the typical travelogue show, but I always find the logistical challenges as they find their way around more entertaining than some of the "challenges" that sometimes come off as culturally tone-deaf. In one episode a couple of years ago they were in Phuket Thailand, and contestants had to dress in drag and perform with the "ladyboys" at the My Way Cabaret. I had been there before, and recognized the scene. On TV it looks way more flashy; in person, much more tawdry.

One last travel-show favorite!

I have decided to surprise my mother with a surprise cruise to Cuba early next year - she's always wanted to go. I recently (within the last 2 weeks) put down my deposit. I suppose I should have done more homework ahead of time, but I didn't know there were changes to the Obama policy of a more free and open Cuba. I know there is a people to people requirement and most cruise ship shore excursions are designed with the legal requirements in mind. But they're pricey and frankly I'd rather the Cuban people get my money rather than Carnival for a tour. Given the changes in the regs, can I hire an outside tour company (my Mom is going to be 75 and there are some mobility concerns I have) without fear of running afoul of the US requirements for travel to Cuba? The cruise line information ALMOST says that a cruise based shore excursion is required but is it or are they just looking to sell me a package? FWIW - I was looking into a bus tour, a classic car tour and dinner and a show to satisfy the P2P requirements of travelling to Cuba. Thank you in advance.

You can. Despite the "changes," not much has really changed. Just have your mom keep all proof of the tours, to show that she participated in a cultural exchange. And make sure you hire reputable guides. Also remember that cruise ships do not wait for cruisers on independent tours.

Try this small museum near Xochimilco if you haven't already. Dolores Olmedo was a patron and lover of Diego Rivera. The museum is her house, and has a big collection of Rivera and Kahlo paintings. It is easy to get to on the metro to Taxquena, then the tren ligero. The grounds have a flock of peacocks roaming around too.

Thanks for this!

We are thinking of a long weekend trip to Puerto Rico this summer. Is the island wanting visitors? We would only want to travel if it would be beneficial to the community and not if we would be using scant resources. Want to spend our travel dollars responsibly.

It definitely needs visitors, and San Juan is up and running. However I suggest you link up with a nonprofit organization and help rebuild homes and roads, distribute food and water, rescue dogs, etc. -- whatever you can to improve the islanders' lives.

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Palin fan, drop us a line at to claim your prize. And join us here next week for more Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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