Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
May 21, 2018

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's Travel section, we sang the praises of El Paso, Texas. Do you have a favorite Lone Star State destination? Tell us where and why below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Rick Steves' guide to Iceland. A quick housekeeping note: There will not be a Travel chat next Monday - enjoy the Memorial Day holiday! And now on to your questions...

Yes there is one extra per row than there are seats so you are fine so long as there is only one lap child. I always ask. But don’t forget to also ask where the infant flotation device is located.

Thank you. Great discussion we had last week. I appreciate your tip.

I have had the pleasure of living near El Paso for the last three years, and it is a cool little town. Great article, and I have a few more thoughts: El Paso Museum of Art has a good regional collection and great exhibits; current one is Chicano art from Cheech Marin's collection (plus the museum is free and air conditioned). Chamizal National Park is small but has a good history of the U.S.-Mexico border and how it was surveyed and settled. Magoffin House dates to 1875 and tells the story of one of the earliest families to move west and establish the city. The El Paso Chihuahuas minor league baseball team plays in a lovely ballpark downtown; get seats in the lower section behind 3rd base to avoid the sun. El Paso is behind the rest of Texas in the craft beer scene but is catching up; Ode Brewery has good beer and food, and Deadbeach Brewery is another up and coming spot.

Thanks so much for the additional tips. El Paso is such a great town! I did get a chance to see the last play of the last inning and watch Chico the Chihuahua dance around the field celebrating the win for the home team.

Hello! We will be on the Eastern Shore late June (already have a hotel in Easton) and would like to cycle and kayak around the water (Bay/rivers). Can you please recommend an outfit to schedule with or website where we can plan our own itinerary. We've got bikes but not kayaks. Many thanks!

They're located down the road in Cambridge, but try Blackwater Adventures.  A good resource is the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Web site

I hope Chris can address this question. I traveled to Greensboro, NC over the weekend on American Airlines, and was delayed in both directions. For the outgoing flight, we boarded a bus for the plane and rode out, only to sit for an extended period before they returned us to the terminal because the scheduled flight attendant did not arrive. After a long delay, we boarded the bus again, and this time boarded the plane, then had a weather delay – and finally departed, arriving two hours late. (Too late for my family gathering.) During the flight, the replacement flight attendant did not even offer us water or other drink. On return, we boarded on time but sat on the plane while they worked on an electrical problem. It was an early morning and we could have used some coffee – but were stuck sitting on the plane. I understand such delays are often unavoidable, but why stick us on a bus to a plane with no flight attendant? We should be able to get something to drink, and if there’s a physical problem with the plane why board us before it’s fixed? I’d like to ask for some miles as compensation – where would I address this request? Appreciate any advice. Thank you.

You bet. These days, legacy airlines like American only do what's required during a delay or a service interruption. As I review your case, it seems the airline felt there was nothing for which it should be apologizing. But that doesn't mean it's right. You could probably appeal to an American Airlines executive, noting the unsatisfactory experience. But I'm afraid the best American would offer is a boilerplate apology and a flight certificate or frequent flier miles. I wish I had better news for you. 

Not sure if this is better for Travel or for Tom, but here goes. I'm heading to London in July. I'd like to treat myself to dinner somewhere. Would it be easier to make dinner reservations now or wait until I'm actually in the UK?

If you want to go to one of London's top restaurants, definitely make reservations now. Fairly certain Tom would agree. 

We had a long-planned trip to visit my sister's family over Memorial Day weekend and bought regular (nonrefundable) tickets on American Airlines. Completely out of the blue, her father-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a few weeks to live. They are managing all the arrangements and have been inundated with out-of-town guests making last visits, managing hospice, making funeral arrangements, etc. My sister let us know that our coming down would be more of a burden than a help right now, so we're looking into canceling/changing tickets (we may need to fly down for the funeral in the near future). I know we're not entitled to a refund, but do you have any advice on approaching the airline about a refund, or possible ticket change that could preserve as much of the value of the tickets as possible?

First, do you have travel insurance? If so, immediately contact the company and start assembling the refund paperwork, including any medical documents. If you don't, you could try to appeal to an American agent by phone. Many of them really do have hearts. I would explain the situation and offer any supporting documents detailing the illness. You can certainly cancel your flight and apply the ticket fare to a future trip; however, you will have to pay a change fee and difference in price. Or you could still go on the trip but give your sister some distance -- but let her know you are there if she needs you.

I enjoyed the article about El Paso. I was there just briefly, more than 10 years ago. We flew to El Paso (Southwest Airlines flies there) to begin a hiking trip to Big Bend National Park and the beautiful but less-known Guadelupe Mountains National Park. These parks are best visited in the spring, not the blazing hot summer. In El Paso, we stopped at a small Mexican restaurant and I ordered tacos. What I got were three small rolled-up corn tortillas with filling, sitting in a tray of liquid. Very good but not what I was expecting.

El Paso is full of surprises, for sure!

I just discovered that flights to Hawaii's Big Island in June are considerably cheaper than flights to Honolulu, and am considering it. I would especially like to see Kilauea in action, but I don't want to be one of those who either get in the way of people doing their jobs, or who need rescuing (or are beyond rescuing) for stupid decisions. Do you know if (relatively) safe volcano/lava watching is possible right now? Thanks!

I've been considering checking out the Big Island this fall, too. I love volcanoes and really hoped to see an eruption some day. It's safe to go for now, according to Hawaii tourism officials. Some services may be affected, and I would recommend staying tuned to the special alerts page on the Hawaii Tourism Authority site. Chatters, is anyone on the Big Island now? Please tell us what it's like!

You can read Travel's recent coverage of the volcano here and here.

Bistro Poplar is great if you're also looking for a good meal.

Yes, it has good reviews. May need to check it out next time I'm driving between OC and NOVA. 

While preparing for a North Carolina trip next month, I have found a number of "jewel mines" where people can buy buckets of earth and sift through them to find any of a number of listed precious and semi-precious stones. Many of these places guarantee finds, and some clarify that the dirt isn't necessarily from their own property. So it sounds like (unlike the diamond park in Arkansas, for instance) you're basically looking through stuff that has already been picked over, and there is next to no chance of an actual substantive find other than what the proprietors have dropped in, which wouldn't be worth more than the fee for the dirt. As a kid I loved reading about panning for gold, and thought this could be close enough to have the experience, but I'm a middle-aged person with no kids in tow; if these places are more of an experience similar to a childrens' museum exhibit, it's not what I'm looking for. Do you have experience with these places? Thanks!

I have a seen a few of these amusements and they typically draw kids and their parents, who are probably thinking: Great, more junk in the house and laundry. You could always ask to take a peek at the attraction and decide if it's right for you.

I would be very interested in an article about traveling with diabetes. Since I was diagnosed, I have been avoiding traveling, even short trips, because of worries about having meals delayed, healthy snacks unavailable, bathrooms unavailable, etc. It would be helpful to have a well-researched article about how to handle this. Also, what about an article about traveling when you are older, in general, and might not be as quick, spry, adaptable, etc. Travel can require a lot of flexibility, for example, unexpected changes in plans, venues, timing, temperature, etc. I think that younger people are often more well-suited for adjusting to change. How can older people compensate for this? Thanks in advance.

Great topic! I will add this to my list. Would you send me an email privately, please. Here's my address. I'd love to include you in the story. Also, if anyone has traveled with diabetes and has tips they'd like to share, please email me.

I spent a year in El Paso and was surprised you did not mention Thunderbird Mountain. We could see it out of our back window. It only shows up in certain lighting (the bird) but it is on a lot of Native American jewelry/belts etc.

I was squeezed for time and limited by space constraints, so I had to make some cuts. But thank you for sharing Thunderbird Mountain with the rest of us.

Good afternoon! I need to be in Naples in October to meet a tour with REI, and I'm leaving out of DC. Would you recommend flying directly into Naples, or would I perhaps find a cheaper flight into Rome? I'm considering spending a few days in Rome at either end of the trip, and taking the train to Naples for the tour. Any pros or cons with this plan? Thank you for the advice - I'm excited about my first visit to Italy!

I'd probably opt for the United nonstop flights to Rome, which cost about the same as flying to Naples on connecting flights. The train to Naples is only about 70 minutes each way, so that's not difficult. And you definitely should spend some time in Rome. 

Today's code is TT5699. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

My extended family is looking to change things up at Thanksgiving this year by celebrating either at a resort something similar that has good food and activities suitable for young kids (2-5). We would be coming from DC and NYC. I was looking at the Nemacolin but the prices over Thanksgiving there are a little over budget for our group of 12 (will have to try it another time of year!). Are there any other options that might be good for our group for that time of year? Love the charts!

Thanksgiving is usually expensive at full-service resorts that cater to family groups, such as Omni Homestead, Greenbrier, Nemacolin and Woodloch. You may save money by renting a house at Wintergreen or Seven Springs. You could also look into staying at a park, such as Canaan Valley Resort

Will be tentatively in Tokyo for 4 days and other 4-5 in Kyoto but dont have any reservations yet. Want to experience an onsen where we can reserve bath times and ideally outdoor. Will be there at the end of August and willing to stay in a ryokan onsen for under $175 a night. Where we can go?

Chatters, any advice?

My elementary-aged son has a learning disability that is not outwardly obvious. I have had problems with the junior ranger programs not being accommodating of his disability in filling out the project, either by allowing him to fill out the one that is at his reading level or allowing some wrong and /or illegible answers. I've been told this is bc of some prior bad parents who want the badges without filling out the project. I don't make a scene when this happens, but my son is clearly disappointed he can't participate and get the badge that his non-disabled cousins get. Shouldn't federally funded programs honor the requirements of Section 504 and the ADA even in the junior ranger program? Some of the rangers have been quite rude about it, making comments under their breath about my son being spoiled rather than accepting that he has a learning disability. Suggestions on how to deal with this when we visit more parks this summer?

They definitely should, plus many employees --- in the public and private sector  --  need to be more patient and empathetic in general. In your situation, I would suggest you reach out to the park ranger in charge of the program in advance or pull him or her aside when you arrive and explain your child's special needs. I would also document any comments and report any rangers who were unkind to your child. If the park does not respond your concerns, you can file a complaint with the Dept. of Justice.

Looking for suggestions for a get-away last week of December/first week of January. Five-six days for couple and their two adult children. Prefer no snow, no cold. San Francisco and Napa Valley? Tucson? Thanks for suggestions.

San Francisco can get cold in December and January. For a warm weather guarantee, you'll probably want to check out Palm Springs, Calif., or Miami, where temperatures will be in the 70s. That said, I think the Bay Area is an excellent choice in January. It's quieter and hotel rates tend to be a little more reasonable. I wouldn't hesitate to visit then. Chatters, what are your favorite domestic warm-weather destinations for late December or early January?

There was another report over the weekend about a dispute over a "service" dog that became a physical fight. (No info on what service the dog performed.) When people bring service animals onto the plane, do the passengers pay a fee? Or is the dog like a free carry-on item? Would some of these issues be reduced if passengers had to buy a seat for their animal? Maybe there could be an exemption for actual, certified seeing-eye dogs etc., but "Muffy makes be feel better" wouldn't cut it.

I'm so glad you asked me about this. Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) asked for public comments on amending its regulations about service animals on flights. You can leave your comment here. To your point, I think something needs to change. I'm just not sure what. Chatters, what do you think?

These companies salt the buckets with raw gems. Once you've sifted through all the material and picked out the gems - they show you what they look like - you can have your favorite cut and mounted. You will not find anything particularly valuable, but it's lots of fun! We took the family last fall, and the nine year old twins had a blast.

Thanks for a gem of a story! (Sorry couldn't help myself.)

That sounds like disaster tourism to me. The volcano is now spewing toxic hydrochloric gas which has spread close to twenty miles away. It's entirely possible that ash clouds will start interfering with planes, as happened in Iceland.

Yes, if the flights stop operating, that would be an issue.

Although my daughter is vacationing on the other side of the Big Island right now, and she has seen no evidence of a volcano. 

Hi Travel Crew! I traveled to France in April in the middle of the SCNF and Air France strikes and learned that European strikes do not means a complete stop of services, which we usually see in the US. Just fewer staff members to work and longer wait times.

Comforting news. Thanks!

Do you know of any good local scuba groups that meet socially and plan dive trips? Thanks!

I'd start by contacting a local dive shop. And I think Meetup would also be a good resource. Chatters know of any friendly diving groups? 

Shore excursions can be disappointing. Any non-disappointing excursions to recommend in Havana during an 8-hour time frame?

Havana is a little different than most cruise ship destinations. You have to travel under certain eligible categories and almost all cruise ship passengers head out on a shore excursion that meets the people-to-people requirement. Any chatters go on an excursion that was exceptional? 

Clearly not on the way to North Carolina, but we did the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine on the way to Missoula, Montana a number of years back. It was the genuine deal and although we didn't find anything amazingly valuable, there were a lot of tiny gemstones in the mix and it was a lot of fun. More more of a self-serve type adventure, check out Garnet Hill outside of Ely, Nevada on BLM public land. Bring your own pick-axe for this one!

Sounds fun. Thanks for sharing!

Might go to NYC with kids for the long weekend, and have a free place to stay in Brooklyn. Is parking impossible? I'd like to drive there and back but leave the car parked all weekend.

Where in Brooklyn? It's a big borough, and parking varies by neighborhood. I'm guessing the person who's lending you the place doesn't own a car, so can't advise you. 

Actually, the dog's owners were a deaf couple.

Thank you for the additional information.

I loved that article about renting the car ready to go camping. This is exactly why my husband and I bought a little camping trailer! (Well, that and east coast humidity.)

Glad to hear it! Chatters who missed it can find it here.

"Cold" is a relative term. I grew up in the East Bay, and in 20+ years it never got down to freezing in the flatlands of Oakland and Berkeley, or in SF.

You're right, cold is relative. I spent more than 15 years in Florida, so cold is anything below 60 degrees.

A pair of Texas favorites:

I just got back to DC from Austin yesterday, my new favorite Texas destination. We had breakfast tacos (why don't we have them here in DC?!?!) and coffees at the downtown farmer's market, rented bikes and rode all along the Colorado River on the beautiful and super well-maintained trails and wrapped up the day at Barton Springs - what an absolute gem in Austin! Even though it was 90+ degrees out, I was so impressed by the number of people outside and being active. Also impressed by the amount of public art - the Ai Weiwei installation, murals, and sculptures sprinkled throughout town. There really is something for everyone.

I highly recommend Palo Duro Canyon, about 10 miles south of Amarillo. The canyon is second in size to the Grand Canyon, and is over 800 feet deep in places. There's hiking and horseback riding, and during the summer months, the musical Texas is presented Monday-Saturday.

I know my friends are great fans of Naples, FL.

I love it! Naples is awesome!

Hi - What time of year is best for a visit to Panama City, Panama? Anything we can't miss? Thank you !

The best time to visit is during the dry season, from mid-December to mid-April. If you must travel during wet season, don't worry too much: The rain comes and goes in short spurts.

Be sure to wander around Casco Antiguo, the old quarter filled with plazas, churches, museums, cafes and shops selling Pintao hats. For nature, check out a national park, such as Soberanía or Chagres, or the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. The city is also home to Panama Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as -- but of course -- the Panama Canal. Several companies offer partial and full transit tours of the canal.

The Florida Keys! Key West puts on a great New Years Eve Party!

That it does!

We are about a month and a half from a long trip to the other side of the world (relocating for work). From the first flight to touchdown, we are looking at 24 hours before all is said and done (2 long flights, and a long layover). Kids have done short flights (a couple hours here and there) but nothing this long. They are young (2.5 and 1.5) and um, rambunctious. We are already planning breaking every rule about screen time known to parents, but are there any resources or tips so that not everyone on our flights hates us so much? Thanks.

Lifting the screen time rules is probably a good idea, although I would recommend selecting the entertainment carefully. Don't load up a movie that could get your kids too excited (for my firstborn, that was Finding Nemo). Interactive, non-electronic games are also a great distraction on long flights. But the most overlooked item is food. They will not feed you or your kids enough on the plane. Bring plenty of healthy snacks for the children. On a 24-hour flight, they can eat several times their body weight. 

More Texas musts:

My favorite place in Texas is San Antonio. So many fun places to see, delicious restaurants, and great history. The missions are amazing-the history and the beautiful simplicity of each one. Buckhorn Texas Ranger Tavern (and museum) is so much fun! Of course, Riverwalk is fantastic, with shops, restaurants and the artwork along the way. It's a fantastic place to stroll any time of day, just watch your step. Last but not least, The Alamo, with the amazing history and how it is wedged into the street with souvenir shops and other businesses popped up all around it. My brother and mom visited 30+ years ago and took a photo there. Just a few years ago we went again (probably will be Mom's last trip there) and we replicated the photo in front of the same tree. Great city and a special place in my heart!

Before we were married, my future husband and two of his fraternity brothers went camping across the US for part of a summer. They raved about the beauty of Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas Panhandle.

We raved about it, too, in 2016. Read the story here.

Is any part of old US Route 66 still open in Texas? We drove it 50 years ago last month, stopping for steak (although NOT the four-pounder!) at the famous steak house there.

Andrea passed through when she drove Route 66. Read about it here.

Can anyone recommend some nice, not too physically strenuous day trips around Boston? Will have a car and a toddler. Thanks!

Tons of relaxing options: Concord and Lexington; Walden Pond; Rockport; Cape Cod and the National Seashore, Marblehead; Old Sturbridge Village; and Salem (the non-spooky version), to name a few.

Check out senior publications like Diabetic Living, and websites like AARP. I'm sure there are articles about travel that would be helpful.

Good suggestions, thanks!

I wonder if having an overnight layover might be a good idea? It would give them time to run around (you mention rambunctious) and recover from the flight. I think whether to push through or stay somewhere overnight would depend on the kids themselves.

Another option to consider...

To the family who must postpone due to a family emergency: I had to postpone travel a couple of times over the years due to a medical emergency (once my own, the other time a family member), and I had nonrefundable tickets. In both cases, the people I spoke with in customer service (once Virgin Atlantic, the other time Amtrak) were extremely sympathetic and supportive, and my circumstance was accepted as valid. The airline refunded my ticket, and Amtrak let me postpone my trip by a couple of months. Can't hurt to ask.

What a hopeful story. Thanks for sharing!

We did a day in Gloucester, MA., last fall, including lunch at Woodman's in nearby Essex (although there's also a Portuguese restaurant in Gloucester that we'd like to try next time).

What a fun outing. Thanks!

Need to schedule a one-night stay in Middleburg during late September. Any thoughts on places in or near there? The Red Fox Inn is one we have not tried. Thanks.

The Ashby Inn in nearby Paris (Virginia) is very nice; I have never stayed at the Red Fox Inn, but have eaten at the restaurant many times; I'm guessing the Inn is equally charming.  

Always helps (or at least can't hurt) to empathize with their job. "I'm so sorry about this. I know you spend all day dealing with people who have problems and a lot of them are upset..."

True that.

Is New Bedford/Fall River too far afield? NB has a famous whaling museum, both cities have Portuguese eateries, bakeries, etc.

Thanks for the suggestion!

A matter of opinion (I am for my roommate is against) but Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard makes an excellent if long day trip. MV is easier to access but spread out when you arrive. ACK is slightly harder to get to but once you're there everything is fairly central.

Great suggestion(s) -- thanks!

Looks like we're out of time -- thanks for joining us today, chatters! San Antonio fan, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. Have a great Memorial Day weekend! We'll be back for more Talk About Travel on Monday, June 4.

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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