Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
May 14, 2018

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's section, we explored the 23 spectacular and varied UNESCO sites in the United States. Have a favorite? Tell us which and why below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Rick and Susan Sammon's "The Route 66 Road Trip: How to Eat, Stay, Play and Shoot Like a Pro." Now on to your questions! 

Thanks for the rundown of luggage products. I never really understood that trend toward putting motors and batteries in bags so it's nice to hear everything is getting back to basics. I would suggest also taking a look at the ebags brand. Since they only sell on their website (and I think Amazon) there's not a lot spent on marketing. I've been using their bags pretty much exclusively for the last several years. Lots of color options to find your bag in a sea of black. Great, well thought-out features like orange interiors to find small items that get lost in a black interior and top notch materials. And they frequently have great sales too.

I'm so glad you liked the story. I was also a little tired of the bells and whistles on luggage, although I'm sad about the demise of BlueSmart. The company managed to incorporate those features in an elegant way. Thanks for the on eBags. It's a great resource for luggage shopping.

We’ll be staying at a cabin near Rapid City in late June/early July for eight nights. Besides the National Parks & National Monuments in the area, what other interesting sites are recommended? We’ll be driving from Ft. Collins and don’t mind reasonable travel from our home base.

Actually, I'm in Rapid City now, and there's plenty to do. Our favorites include the Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, the Journey Museum and the free Museum of Geology. Chatters, what are your favorite South Dakota attractions?

We're visiting family in the UK in August and would prefer to have some flexibility by having our own car- relying on trains isn't going to work with where we need to go. The last time we went, we got stuck an extra 45 minutes in the car rental place to prove that our Amex included insurance (and I think our own covered us, too) and it was a nightmare. It seemed that the insurance requirements are now more restrictive. Any navigation help here? Do we need to expect to pay a lot to rent a car? We also will have a 23 month old and will need a car seat.

I would recommend printing a copy of your cardholder benefits, which includes details on your insurance. You can present this to the rental agent. Better yet, call the car rental company in advance and ask about the insurance requirements and car seat.

We're heading to England this Sunday night, arriving on Monday morning at 9:30 (British time), which will feel like 4:30AM our time (after a presumably sleepless night). Our hotel starts check in at 2PM. Should we just go there when we get town and throw ourselves on their mercy, hoping our room is ready early? Any hints for if the room isn't ready? (store baggage, park at a coffee shop for a few hours)??

Depending on where your hotel is located in London, and how you plan to get there, it may more time than you think to make your way from the airport. Passport control could take 90 minutes. Then you'll have to get to London. If you're taking the Heathrow Express, that's a short trip, but then you'll have to make your way from Paddington station to your hotel. My usual routine is to make my way to the hotel and if the room is not ready, I drop off the bags, take a walk and grab a meal. I'd also request an early check-in in advance, although chances of that making a difference are slim. 

How to get tickets onthe Eurostar for the fall if one does not know which days they will be striking?

I believe the current strikes are due to run through June, so you should be fine. Eurostar has a Web page with strike details. 

Good morning - I am a regular business traveler, and travel with a refillable metal water bottle. At Austin TSA last week, I forgot I had some water remaining in the bottle. After it was scanned, the TSA agent required me to exit the security checkpoint, and be entirely re-screened. This was a new one for me - normally they just dispose of the water and let you move on. is this a new TSA requirement? It seems excessive.

That must be a new procedure. I will investigate. Chatters, have you experienced this kind of punitive screening requirement? 

Online subscriber - last week the UNESCO world heritage destinations article dated May 3 was the top travel story. The online version of the travel section indicates it was posted 4 days ago (today is May 14) and there was no new headline travel story this week. Is this a website problem? Thanks - love the travel section and want to read all.

No worries, you haven't missed anything -- and thanks for noticing! We essentially put out a double issue online last week, publishing the UNESCO guide in addition to the full May 6 Travel section.    

I had the hairbrained idea to add on a trip to Bhutan to my upcoming trip to Taiwan. Visiting a country that measures it's value on happiness seems like something we could all get on board with these days. Any insight on how to go about planning for such a trip? I read somewhere that you have to go through a government approved tour provider. Any truth to that?

Your travel plans make me so happy! Bhutan is one of my favorite countries; I actually shed a tear when I left.

The government heavily regulates tourism, to prevent the country from becoming another Nepal, so you will need to either join a tour or hire a certified guide. The government does not encourage backpackers or independent travelers.

Start your research with the Bhutan government's site, which includes a list of tour operators. (I had an incredible guide, who used to be a monk, but unfortunately I can't remember his name beyond it starts with a G. I think he's a Facebook friend, so I will post his name if I can find it.) For group travel, Audley Travel is a great tour operator and offers Bhutan trips.

I like to fly Southwest. I almost always spring for the early check-in. When the kids were younger it really made a lot of sense. We never ended up separated on flights. Recently, purchased early check-in but booked the flight later and was in the back of the line of people to board first. I was surprised that the passengers that boarded first were able to save seats for people boarding later. One family had four rows saved. Apparently, they paid for four people to have early check-in then each saved that entire row. Not a big deal we just moved further back. But as more and more people boarded, people were tenser about having to bypass available seats to take less desirable seats. There was grumbling but no confrontations. Two things, is this practice of seat saving normal and have I been wasting money buying it for each passenger? The flight attendants never said a thing or discouraged the behavior in any way.

I've asked Southwest about this. It has no policy on reserving seats, so you could buy one Early Bird and reserve for a family of 12 if you wanted. The other passengers might be unhappy, so I'm not sure if I'd recommend it.

I agree they are likely to eat up that time with getting out of the airport and into the city (and then having a meal), but a similar question was asked last week in the chat, so the OP might want to look back at the transcript to see if any of those suggestions are helpful.

Yes, worth a read, although that chatter had a longer lag time. 

The one time I rented a car in the UK the return at the airport was sticky. They charged me for the insurance that I had declined and then when I showed them the paperwork proving it they got all pissy and took forever and had to speak to a supervisor. Meanwhile time was ticking - luckily I'm the kind of person who arrives super early. So - make sure to check your bill and allow time.

Thank you. That's great advice.

Today's code is TT9224. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

Watching some of the videos posted online of the SW flight making the emergency landing, I wondered if there were extra oxygen masks for lap children? If there are not what are the protocols, does the parent share with the child? Are the other passengers expected to share as well?

That's a great question! I've just reviewed the Code of Federal Regulations to find out if there were any requirements for oxygen. As far as I can tell, only pilots are required to have oxygen. Chatters, have you seen extra masks for lap children?

In September I have a nearly 7 hour layover at JFK en route to Nice, France. I'm thinking that's probably cutting it close to go into Manhattan and walk around a museum for a couple of hours? If so, do you think it's possible to catch a cab or Uber to somewhere interesting in Queens? The Museum of the Moving Image looks fun and interesting. Or maybe a nearby park for some walking before the long flight?

Security at JFK is not easy to predict. I have TSA PreCheck, and it's taken me as little as five minutes and as long as an hour to get through the security line there. And you'll want to give yourself extra time since this is an international flight. So I agree that Manhattan is a stretch, although it could work if the planets align: You'd take the AirTrain to Jamaica and then take a 20-minute train ride to Penn Station, but then you'd have to make your way to an interesting museum. Even though the Museum of the Moving Image is in Queens, it will take longer to get there than to get into Manhattan. The New York Aquarium is in Brooklyn, but easier to get to from JFK. I'd probably opt for a walk along Rockaway Beach or a visit to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.  

In answer to Chris Elliott's question, anyone who is a Laura Ingalls Wilder aficionado (we go way beyond fandom) should visit DeSmet, where Laura lived during her teenage years and young adulthood, married, and where her daughter Rose was born. DeSmet residents talk about members of the Ingalls family as though they are beloved aunts and uncles who have only recently left us. The Little House books give DeSmet a claim to fame that stokes a tourism industry, and locals manage to carry off the resulting commercialization of their town with great aplomb.

Thank you!

Like the previous chatter, I too bring an empty water and fill it at the water fountain after going through security. Last year, I was annoyed that some airports (Mexico City, Guayaquil, Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe) had no water fountains! Later I realized that these are places where you're not supposed to drink the tap water. Oh well.

Thanks. Yes, that's why they sell beer. ;-)

Had a great time in and around Rapid City a few years ago. We drove up to a historic fish hatchery in Spearfish because a guide book called it "surprisingly delightful" and it was indeed.

Thank you.

Best vacation ever! Badlands, Wall Drug, Deadwood. Also a fascinating tour of a Minuteman Missile silo just east of Wall.

Yes! Great ideas!

Some other places not mentioned by Chris that we enjoyed on our visit to the Black Hills in 2015: the Mammoth Site, the Sturgis motorcycle museum, the Presidential statues in downtown Rapid City (stop by the city's Visitor Center for a map), the Needles Highway, and if you're driving up I-25, stop at the Southeast Wyoming Visitor Center near Cheyenne to see the mammoth skeleton (though there are many more in situ at the Mammoth Site).

Thanks. I'm going to have to hit some of those before I leave. Great tips!

Just organize your trip using a local (Bhutanese) agency. Skip the foreign operators who add an enormous markup to the price. I used Keys to Bhutan who were excellent arranging my 17 day trip. It was actually fairly cheap to travel solo (with my own personal guide and driver) since I was paying for 1 person.

Thanks for the tip!

Can't believe that the Big Sur Highway is closed again, in 2 places! Any idea as to whether it will reopen this summer? Driving 100 miles south on the Big Sur from Monterey, then a U-Turn back to Monterey, then driving on Highway 101 to San Luis Obispo, then back north on the Big Sur for another 100 miles and another U-Turn, is not a very practical way to enjoy my favorite road.

From what I can tell -- reading Dept. of Transporationese is not my strong suit -- it looks like the highway will reopen 9/30. Here are the highway updates and closures from Caltrans.

Hello - Can you recommend a reputable visa agent for obtaining a visa to China? I don't live near a Chinese consulate. Thank you!

I have used VisaHQ for several of my more challenging visa applications. They have six offices around the country. If you don't live in these spots, you might be able to send in your paperwork and they will handle the rest.

My best advice: Pray! When I went to Belgium, it was cheaper to arrive and leave by Roissy-Charles-De-Gaulle Airport and taking the Eurostar then landing directly at Brussels Airport. My flight going back was leaving mid-morning and I thought first of taking the first Eurostar leaving Brussels in the morning, but my boyfriend told me What if there is a strike? Just to be sure I bought a train ticket for the evening before and stayed in a hotel by the airport and sure enough, there was a national strike from the SNCF on the day I was leaving. You just never know when there will be a strike....

Yes, these strikes are not always predictable. 

Hi - Any great suggestions for hikes/activities in Grand Teton, or restaurants in JH? We are traveling with 2 kids - 12 and 10.

I'm a big fan of the ranger-led activities. Your kids may also be interested in becoming Junior Rangers. My children enjoyed the hiking around Jenny Lake. As for restaurants in Jackson Hole, I haven't been there in several years, but my family enjoyed the Bar J Chuckwagon experience. 

Check out our recent Breakfast-lunch-dinner column on Jackson Hole here.

What's a good seafood restaurant in Baltimore and place for crabcakes?

I am going to toss this one over to Tim Carman, our intrepid food writer.

Option 1:

Occupying a sunny corner location inside Mt. Vernon Marketplace, Local Oyster has deals that will brighten your day regardless of the weather. Like its Buck-A-Shuck happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, when local oysters are a mere $1 each, including the powerfully briny Misty Points from Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Those bivalves go down easy with a $3 pint of PBR. But the real steal is Local Oyster’s crab cake, prepared with pure Maryland blue-crab meat. The 5.5-ounce ball of sweet meat runs $15, which sounds like a price guaranteed to bankrupt a business, given that the wholesale cost for Maryland jumbo lump, according to one individual, runs about $1.80 an ounce. More likely, Local Oyster relies on Maryland lump, a somewhat cheaper product that still delivers the clean, sweet flavors you expect without impoverishing the company. Whatever grade graces Local Oyster’s crab cake, you need to get one, like, right now. 520 Park Ave., inside Mt. Vernon Marketplace, 844-748-2537.

Option 2:

Woodberry Kitchen has local seafood. Its chef, Spike Gjerde, sources much of his ingredients in the Chesapeake watershed. He has a killer oyster program at Woodberry Kitchen, with an assortment of Chesapeake oysters.


Option 3 (road trip required):

 Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn, in Annapolis.

Any thoughts on activities to do for older vacationers to the "Inner Banks" NC? Specifically, Emerald Isle and for people >45. Thanks

The one time I went to Emerald Island, I just hit the beach. Chatters have any thoughts? 

If you're into funky neighborhoods you could just go to Jamaica. I worked there for a while at the Queens Finance Department.

You have any specific ideas? I know there's a good selection of ethnic restaurants and a weekend farmer's market, but that's all I know. 

Thank you! I loved this article. I honestly had no idea many of those sites were considered UNESCO World Heritage sites. What a great list to spur some fun and educational trips.

So glad you enjoyed the piece, and hope you can check a few off your list, if you already haven't.

Someone hasn't paid enough attention to the flight attendants. 4 oxygen maskes with deploy from the ceiling, Place the mask on children or those needing assistance before securing your own mask. Just don't have 2 lap children in the same row

You got me! I haven't flown in a long time. But it just so happens I'm working on a story about in-flight announcements this week.

Thank you so much for the issue on UNESCO World Heritage sites. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only been to four of the 23 sites; the travel section has given me a new goal in my travels! (Which happens pretty regularly, I must admit).

You are so welcome, and four is a good number considering that you probably didn't even know that you were visiting UNESCO sites. Now that you know, you can easily knock out the last 19, right?

Chatters' favorite UNESCO sites:

I've been to 7 of the UNESCO sites in the U.S. My favorite was Mesa Verde, which I first saw as a child of about 8, then as an adult. As a child, I couldn't imagine anything more fun than running up and down those ladders all day, playing with my friends. As an adult, I couldn't imagine what it took to live a day-to-day life in a place where nothing came easy, and when a severe drought could kill everyone. But I still love those ladders!

I was lucky to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park in 2014 -- it was one of those sites I had wanted to visit for years, but it sure is remote! A bumpy ride on a dirt road yielded to a masterpiece of a canyon. We camped in the desert winds that night, worried our tent poles were going to snap. And the next morning, I hiked along an ancient route to ruins on a high plateau. The hike involved a tight squeeze through some rocks, which prompted my now-husband to turn around. I had a fantastic hike nonetheless, and loved the overview of the Chacoan culture and all to explore at the site.

Several years ago, my wife and I took our first trip to Yellowstone. We went during the Memorial Day weekend, and some of the entrances were closed due to a snowstorm. Luckily, we had a few days in the Grand Tetons before venturing into Yellowstone. The park was beautiful, and we saw a great variety of wildlife. While my wife was driving, we were stuck among a herd of bison crossing the road, including many new calves. At other times, we even saw the bison waiting patiently on the side of the road until the traffic cleared. During dinner one night, my wife ordered bison steaks. When the steak was served, she remembered back on the day watching bisons and their calves and lost her appetite. We switched plates and she had my salmon instead.

I have to give this site my vote, just for nostalgia's sake. As a kid in the 60's we did the summer vacation in a station wagon thing; and if there was a cave advertised on a billboard we were sure to go. Maybe it had to do with getting 8 kids out of hot car and into someplace cool! Mammoth Cave was a big exception to the cheesy commercial caves we had visited, since it is operated by the National Park Service. We even took one of the lantern tours so we got to experience things the way early cave explores might have.

The question was about lap children, not children seated next to you. Obviously put your mask on first, per directions, but are their extra masks in each row that deploy from ceiling for a potential lap child (i.e., 4 masks in a row with 3 seats)?

Yes, you put your mask on first, then take care of the children.

Any suggestions on how to avoid trouble in Havana on a one day cruise and what to see in such a short time?

Are you going on a cruise and stopping for a day in Havana? If so, I'd look at the shore excursions offered by the ship if you want to be conservative. 

Isn't that backwards?

Yes, it is. Thanks for the clarification.

About 20 years we flew American from Dallas to BWI. We had 3 children, one was a lap child. The lap child could only sit on the side where I husband sat because that side had an extra oxygen mask.

Thank you.

Count me as not being terribly impressed with them now. So one person's ticket can reserve four seats? That's ridiculous! I thought the deal was you get in line and take whatever seat is open, and no "saving" seats. If someone is trying to save the last window seat for someone else behind me in line, good luck keeping me who paid for early check-in from parking my (ahem) self in that seat.

Thank you for the feedback.

My wife and I find ourselves with some free time the first week of June, and we're thinking of a trip to Toronto (we live in DC). Airfare is pretty cheap and I've got a ton of points for a hotel there. I've heard great things about the city, but what exactly should we plan on doing and how much time should we plan on being there? We've got the flexibility to spend a entire week there, but maybe a few days is enough. We're open to just about any kind of activity but won't have a rental car, so walking and Lyft are our go-to ways of getting around. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I haven't been to Toronto in many years and we are almost out of time, so I will point you to the city's excellent tourism Web site

More favorite UNESCO sites:

Love Yellowstone. Stayed in the "old" section of Old Faithful Lodge. Wonderful vacation with the family. Animals, geysers, hot springs, mud pots, etc.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here’s why: Years ago, I was a 17-year-old in the Midwest who had never traveled more than 50 miles from home. My girlfriend, whose family traveled all the time, said we should take a road trip and go backpacking at GSMNP. She borrowed her dad’s station wagon and we five 17- and 18-year-old girls went for 2 weeks. A great trip, of course, but it was the first time I realized there was a world out there to explore. (I've been to 17 of the 23 sites.)

My friend was moving her car between Washington and Crested Butte so we took a very long route down along I10 for the express purpose of having millions of bats fly over our heads at dusk in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We made it to Austin, Texas and my friend asked me to call and get some information. It was then that we learned that the bats had not returned from wherever they winter. We went and enjoyed the caves and learned the lesson of planning ahead.

I've been to about half the sites but Mammoth Cave more than once. Carlsbad didn't do as much for me as Mammoth but that's the Kentucky in me talking. I have family pictures of people starting the tour of Mammoth back in the 30s--group pictures were taken then. I don't know when that stopped. Much more variety at Mammoth than Carlsbad. The land under a good part of Kentucky is caves. The limestone is why we breed great horses. Louisville has an underground river which provides drinking water and an area for storage. There's Karshner Cave in Arizona which is a hot cave only recently opened.

Check out the Culinary Adventure Co. for cool walking/biking/food tours - I did one that was paddling across the bay for a picnic on the Toronto islands. It was fantastic and I was generally impressed with them! Also, the Distillery District is cool, historical, with good shops and great restaurants.

Great suggestion -- thanks!

My husband and I would like to visit Chicago but my 19 year old daughter is not so enthusiastic. What sites would be enjoyable for our family? Are last minute tickets to Hamilton easy to get? Will I melt if I go in August?

Even though your teen is a post-millennial, she will love Millennium Park. The park has amazing public art, gardens, stunning architecture, bike rentals and special events, such as a summer music festival. If she likes dance, check out Chicago SummerDance  (June 28-August 25)  in Grant Park’s Spirit of Music Garden; the event features an open-air dance floor and free lessons. If she likes heights, consider Skydeck Chicago. where you can step out on The Ledge, a glass box four feet outside the walls of the building. You can also take a kayaking architectural tour or a food tour and sample such Chicago specialties as deep dish pizza. Or hit the Field Museum, one of the country's best science museums.

Hamilton tickets are available. Just go online.

Average August temps are 81. To cool off, stay close to the lake for the breeze.

I've had good success with PassportVisas Express. I used them this past year for visas to Russia and China. Note: The China visa application process is a lot easier, with a shorter application and more lead time.

Thanks for the suggestion. I went to the Chinese consulate both times and didn't have any issues.

Another small road trip takes to you Razorbacks, in Towson, 15 or so minutes north of Baltimore. Hiding in a strip mall is Razorbacks. Since my mother makes the best crabcakes ever, I am very picky about eating them at a restaurant. But this is one place I will buy them. So sweet and full of lump crab at a good price. Enjoy!

Thanks for the recommendation!

I love the city! But it's a city that's great at being a city, not a typical tourist destination. Walking, eating, and drinking are things they excel at. That said, there are some good museums (the art museum and the textile museum are great), and I imagine theater and music are also good. So you could do a few days or a week, but there's not a lot of tourist sites to check off a list.

Thanks for weighing in!

Andrea seems to have traveled almost everywhere, and she notes from time to time that someplace (Bhutan today) is among her favorite places. What would it be like to actually live in one of your favorite places? Have you ever written about "tourist goggles," that is, seeing a place through the eyes of someone who can move on at will? I've traveled pretty extensively too, including Africa and Asia, and I can't help but note that great places to visit could be terrible places to live. Wha makes a place your favorite?

That is a great question, and while I always dream a little dream when traveling, the only place I could truly envision living in is Morocco. I even picked out my place -- a riad in Rabat with almond and date trees. For me, I want gorgeous scenery and a culture that inspires me to learn more and grow.

We are out of time, but come back next week and we can continue this conversation. It's a good one.

The Harbour Islands are a short and pleasant ferry ride (pier is next to the Westin Hotel). If you like Zoos, Toronto's is very good (take the subway + bus).

One last Toronto suggestion!

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Loved your story Great Smoky Mountains National Park; drop us a line at to claim your prize. And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel!

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