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Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
May 22, 2017

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Happy Monday, everyone, and welcome to Talk About Travel. This week's issue was devoted to the challenges and rewards of Green Travel. Do you have a favorite eco-travel destination or strategy? Tell us about it below! Most compelling answer gets a velour Cabeau inflatable neck support. A quick housekeeping note: There is no travel chat next Monday, Memorial Day, but we are back the following Monday. On to your questions! 

Thank you for the informative article “Hotels that offer over the top amenities – for your pets." I was not familiar with the Kimpton chain, but we decided to book a few nights at the Brice Kimpton Hotel in Savannah last week. The service for our puppy was spectacular, and we humans were treated pretty well also. At some places we stay pets are tolerated, but here, the dogs were the center of attention. Thanks again for articles such as this one and for the chats which are always entertaining.

Great to know -- thanks!

Just wanted to say thanks to Christopher Elliott - I had an issue with American Airlines, and through the expert advice on the forums on Elliott.org, I was able to secure compensation from the airline. Without that guidance, I'm positive that the result wouldn't have been positive!

Thank you for your kind words about my consumer advocacy site. Actually, I owe a debt of gratitude to my editors here at the Post for allowing me to advocate for you in the Navigator column. I post the names, numbers and email addresses of all the travel industry executives on my site, but I wouldn't be able to without their backing. So, thank you.

I missed last week's chat on canoeing -- just had to write in to recommend "Paddle to the Amazon."  A memoir written by a man and his son who paddled from Manitoba (Canada) straight down the U.S. to the Amazon. 12,000 miles! A fantastic read and an actual book, not blog!

Thanks for the recommendation!

Checked bag fees are everywhere, so my partner and I usually do carry-ons. Some trips are too long, though, so we'll opt to check our bags for convenience. Instead of checking 2 carry-on size bags, we're thinking of buying a larger suitcase for these events. Do you have a recommendation on a brand/bag? Priority is a lighter weight bag, as my partner cannot lift too much because of past surgeries. We don't often pack our carry-ons to the max to leave room for souvenirs. Thanks!

I'm so glad you asked. I'm working on a story about the best backpacks and laptop bags for short trips and should have it in an upcoming Navigator. My early favorite is the Peak Design Everyday Backpack, which does it all and is intelligently designed. More to come soon.

I'm flying out from Dulles Friday for a short solo trip to Paris, and I'm suddenly panicking about every little thing. The latest: whether or not to check my luggage. I'm taking a carry-on size suitcase and a purse big enough to double as a tote. Amazingly, my airline doesn't charge anything to check OR to carry on a single bag. I change planes in Reykjavik each way, though not airlines, and have a layover of about an hour/hour and a half. Landing in Paris at 6:30 in the morning, there's nothing I need to rush out of the airport for. Loading my suitcase in a bin, wrestling it up narrow aisles, etc., is a pain, but so is lost luggage. What to do? What to do?

I always opt for carry-on when possible because I don't want to take the chance. But if you're playing the odds, more than likely your checked bag will arrive with you in Paris. If you're strong and have no issues lifting, do carry-on. If it's going to be a physical hardship, check it. 

Interesting juxtaposition of the Galapagos article with the "green tourism" articles. Pretty much anyone from the USA would have to fly to Ecuador to get to the Galapagos. But, once there (Quito/Guayaquil), which is better for getting to the islands -- a cruise ship (perhaps a smaller boat) or airplane to the islands?

Interesting that you should ask. I wrote about exploring the islands by land instead of boat. Here is the piece.

Some people say land tourism is better for the environment, because you can walk around the small islands and are supporting the local communities. You can take ferries between the islands, though the trip can be long and bouncy. However,  increased interest in land-based travel leads to more development and less space for the animals.

If you plan to go by boat, choose a smaller vessel with strong eco-cred. Galapagos Conservancy has some great travel tips. And if you notice any bad behavior on the ship, report it!

If hotels are serious about reducing laundry / water use, they must provide adequate towel racks. Typically there is a single rod for a bath towel, a small ring for a hand towel, and perhaps a hook behind the bathroom door. Sometimes there is a rack over the shower / tub with several rods. If the towel rod is small, you must fold the towel to hang it – and then it will not dry. (In a recent hotel stay in Brussels I had to fold the towel into quarters to get it to fit on the rack.) Nor will multiple towels crammed onto a rack dry. This is especially short-sighted in rooms designed for families – there is no place to hang 3-4 towels, and you can’t throw a towel to dry over the shower rod if multiple people need to shower. Furthermore, all too often I hang my towels to reuse – and housekeeping changes them anyway. Lastly, the advice to avoid bottled water should not apply in developing countries (or, sadly, places in the U.S. with high lead levels such as Flint Michegan,) where the water supply isn’t safe – do some research in advance, as bottled water may be the safe option.

Thank you. I agree with your suggestion that far too many hotels pay lip service to "green" travel. For my latest Navigator column, I left a lot of observations and insights on the cutting room floor. Maybe I'll pick up the thread again soon. I'll be sure to include your comments when I do.

Submitting early with hopes of getting in soon enough to receive an answer. We are looking for a nice restaurant in the Seville area for a celebratory (2nd anniversary) dinner in early June. One prefers not to eat red meats or seafood, the other is a fairly adventurous diner. We prefer a moderate cost, as opposed to super deluxe, restaurant. Do you or any chatters have recommendations? Thank you; we love your chats!

Chatters, any suggestions for a special restaurant in Seville?

After reading your reply to my earlier question about when to be at the counter for delayed Spirit flights, I checked their webpage: "In the event of a delay, customers are recommended to remain in the gate area for updates and possible early departures. Spirit shall not be liable to any customer who misses a flight, which departed earlier than the estimated departure time posted for the delay". It looks like leaving the boarding area, no matter how long of a delay is announced, may result in forfeiture of your ticket. Eeks!

That's fascinating. I wasn't aware of that policy. Thank you for sharing that with me.

My cousin and his wife are medical volunteers at a hospital in Kigali, Uganda. Their laptop is their lifeline to the world. They are returning in mid-June, flying from Uganda to Kenya to Brussels to Baltimore. They are reluctant to pack their laptop in their soft-sided luggage. In the past, their luggage has been seriously manhandled. They are very concerned about possible theft or damage to the laptop during the return flight. What advice would you offer them?

The ban does not apply to any of the airports they are flying out of or into. So they can bring their laptops on the plane.

The electronics rule applies to airports in Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.

Hello I am traveling to Paris in the fall. WOW airlines prices look fantastic. Any reviews on the airline. Is it a spirit airlines in disguise (excessive add on fees). I wonder if it is worth flying a no frills airline for a long flight. Thanks

WOW is a discount carrier. It you want a seat assignment, it'll cost at least $9 each way, and that's for the back of the plane. Carry-on bags are $50 each way and checked bags are $70. But even with those fees, it's often much cheaper than flying other airlines. Skytrax has given it a rating of three stars (max is five), and customer reviews on the site give it a 4 out of 10 max. Any chatters have experience flying WOW?

I will be on a tour of the Baltics and Russia in late July - early August and fly home via Munich. I plan to spend three weeks on my post-tour visit. I thought I would spend 4 days in Munich and then rent a car for two weeks and visit Salzburg, Hallstatt, Innsbruck and Lake Constance. Any suggestions on the route I should take? Any additional ideas? Thanks.

You may enjoy my story on exploring smaller towns in Austria. I did not get to the cities you mention here during that trip, but love Salzburg and the Salzkammergut region of Austria. 

I'm flying to Europe from BWI and am scheduled to leave at 6:50 PM on Saturday. The last time I was at BWI I used the hourly parking garage just to see someone off, but this time will be parking in the long-term lot. I know they have shuttles but do you know how long it takes to get to the terminal from the parking lot? And do I really need to get there three hours before my scheduled departure time? I'm always at the airport two hours before my domestic flight leaves and end up getting through security and waiting about an hour and a half to board. Add to that an hour's drive from Woodbridge VA (if there's no traffic) and it is going to be one looooong travel day.

It takes eight-ten minutes to get to the terminal from long-term parking and shuttles run frequently. Three hours is what is recommended by the TSA for international flights. I typically cut it a little closer, especially if I'm leaving from BWI, but an hour isn't going to change the fact that this will be a long travel day for you. Plus, it gives you some cushion in case the road trip from Woodbridge becomes a nightmare. 

Today's code is TT5056. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

Andrea, how in the world did you find your way down route 66? Seems to me that most of it has been covered up by Interstate and such. A cousin and I did travel maybe a 100 miles in maybe Mo. and OK. We were actually on a Hot Rod Power Tour and chose the 66 for a little bit. Would have loved to been with you.

I relied HEAVILY on Jerry McClanahan's EZ66 guidebook. He covers the route turn-by-turn-by-turn, though I still got lost!

I was the chat winner last week, thanks so much for the travel pillow. It arrived on Saturday and brightened my day for sure. Keep up the great work, love these chats!

You're very welcome!

A friend and I are going to Ireland in October and have been hunting out the best fares, specifically on Aer Lingus. However, I am going to be continuing on to the UK for a few days to see friends in Leeds. Because of expensive UK airport taxes, does it make more sense to do a round-trip to/from Dublin and then a round-trip to/from Manchester via a cheap airline (Monarch, Ryan Air, etc.) in the middle? I've done multi-way tickets in the past and it seems like they split the difference between the two one-way tickets, which for the UK, could be a lot more expensive. Any thoughts?

I'd price it out both ways, but I'm guessing it will be cheaper for you to buy international airfare to Dublin separately. You don't have to go to Manchester. Ryan flies nonstop from Dublin directly to Leeds as cheaply as $57 round trip. 

Hi, I'll be traveling to LA for a wedding and will be there for a week afterwards (Thanksgiving week). Looking for recommendations for biking and hiking, and also which neighborhoods to stay in (likely will do Airbnb). Notable vegetarian-friendly restaurant recommendations also welcome! Thanks.

I like hiking along the coastal canyons, especially in Topanga State Park. Griffith Park, located just five miles from downtown, is also popular. As for neighborhoods, I'm a beach bum, so I always stay in Santa Monica, which is east of Los Angeles proper. West Los Angeles is also popular with tourists and downtown is definitely trending. I like Elf Cafe in Silver Lake for vegetarian. 

1. If electronics are banned from flights from Europe to the US, would it make sense to book itineraries home via Canada? (You'd think terrorists could figure that out as easily as I could). 2. If passengers are required to place electronics in checked bags, will airlines now insure against their theft?

1. Yes.

2. The Department of Transportation will probably have to address this with airlines. As you probably know, the airline contract of carriage (the legal agreement between you and the airline) specifically excludes liability for electronics from checked bags. That would need to be reconciled in some way. Note, though, that the contract is different for international flights, and usually favors customers and their laptops a little more.

I have been on several flights where they have decided that they would board and hope to leave early. While this works fine if everyone is in the boarding area, that doesn't seem like it will often be the case. We were on a return flight from spring break and when we checked in both our boarding passes and the ticket agent indicated that the flight boarded at 1:05 PM. We went to a restaurant a few gates down, keeping an eye on the flight monitors which listed the flight as "on time" and never showed "proceed to gate". By the time we strolled over to the gate at about 12:55 the gate area was empty and they were calling our families name and saying last call before they shut the door. We were the last passengers to get on the plane. When I mentioned to the gate agent that the flight was listed for 1:05 boarding she said they were hoping to leave early. I guess my question is how early do I really need to be at the gate? Are airlines able to shut the door early and leave passengers behind even if there is a reasonable amount of time until the posted flight departure time, or even the board time?

If everyone has checked in and boarded, the airline can close the doors early and take off. (The rule is the staff shuts the doors 10 minutes before departure and tough luck for anyone who shows up 9 minutes before departure.)

Your boarding pass and/or the electronic board note the boarding time. Don't go wandering off, say, 5 minutes before they start calling groups to board. Give yourself at least a 15-minute cushion, even if you aren't in first class; the boarding process can move quickly. Always have one family member stay in the waiting area while the other forages for food.

The airline won't leave early without you, but it will leave you if it is on time.

I second the need for better towel racks. We usually don't have our towels replaced but not having adequate racks means the towels don't dry and we too have had the experience of staff replacing them anyway. We don't ask to have the sheets replaced either. However, what is curious is that in rooms with two beds we find that only one card is available for the "don't replace the sheets." That makes no sense. As a resident of Montgomery County with strong recycling, I have found the lack of recycling in many areas to be strange.

Thank you. I like the towel rack idea, too.

Do you know what sort of background check is done for Global Entry? Would, say, legal use of marijuana (in a state where it’s legal) turn up (are the states required to keep records that would be accessible to the TSA?) and if so, would it disqualify an applicant?

Yes, they conduct a background check for Global Entry. I have not heard of anyone being denied GE status because of legal marijuana use.

I think the chatter (not me) was asking how much risk there is that by mid-June flights from Brussels to Baltimore would have laptops banned.

I don't think it's going to happen. The laptop ban is reported off the table. I think it's probably going to stay there for the summer. 

I got an email the other day from Icelandair about a sale on flights from BOS, JFK, and Dulles to Paris and Stockholm from $399 round trip. You have to book by May 24 for travel from Aug 21 to Oct 5. Hopefully the WOW chatter will find this useful.

Yes, that's a good sale on Icelandair, and it covers one checked bag and a carry-on. 

Any journalist that suggests that Skytrax is a reputable source of infomation needs to rethink. They are simply not reliable. Their ratings are manipulated. If an airline pays its fees it gets a higher rating. I have had friends whose reviews have either been turned down as fake or edited in such a way to reverse the meaning. They have been found wanting by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK who ruled against them for example.

Skytrax, like all other airline rating Web sites, is not perfect, but  I find it useful in giving a general indication of an airline's status. It lets me know that WOW is a different kettle of fish than Emirates. I would not base my decision on whether to fly an airline solely on Skytrax. It's just one source of information. 

We bought tickets to London with Icelandair (through Expedia), however, my husband decided to stay home for health reasons. I called Expedia and they said Icelandair will not give us a refund, not even for airline credit. Is there anything at all we can do? Thank you!

That is possible, depending on the type of ticket you purchased. But I would call Icelandair. According to the company's policy: To cancel a booking you need to contact us.  Refunds are only possible if the fare rules of the ticket purchased allow a refund and/or if your booking included cancellation insurance that meet the relevant conditions. Please note that different regulations apply for different kinds of tickets.

Changing a booking usually incurs a fee, although some tickets cannot be changed.  Each situation is dependent upon the rules and restrictions of the ticket originally purchased. To change a reservation that has already been purchased, please contact us.

If you are canceling or changing flight dates due to a medical issue, you can submit documents and plead your case. Also, check your credit card policy to see if you have insurance. (I am assuming that you didn't take out travel insurance.)

Do you think the balcony cabins on the ship worth the extra money? Guess I wonder for other cruises, too.

Generally, no. Unless you enjoy sitting in your cabin in private and looking at the ocean, you'll save money by getting a less pricey cabin and just using it for sleeping. Then spend the rest of your time in one of the ship's lounges or restaurants, watching the scenery. There's more room than even your balcony cabin.

I am planning a road trip for August starting in Munich and plan to visit Innsbruck and Salzburg. I am also thinking of going to Freiberg and exploring the Black Forest. Any suggestions/ideas for additional places to visit? Time allotment in each place? Thanks.

That's a lot of ground to cover. I spent 16 years in Vienna and lived in Germany's Black Forest area for a year. It's quite a distance. (I remember the train ride seemed to take all day.) If I were doing this trip, I'd focus on one area, maybe Austria, and work your way down the Danube from Salzburg to Vienna. You can make that trip in about a week if you take it slow, seeing all the sights in Salzburg, hiking in the mountains, and then giving your self plenty of time to see Vienna. You could also go the other way, up the Rhine and then into the Black Forest area. Doing both could easily take two to three weeks, but it's worth it. It's really one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Warning, though, that everyone is on vacation in August. It's going to be busy.

I have been following this chat for a few weeks, but have not been able to find out how to enter it for the drawing.

PostPoints is a Washington Post reader rewards program; you can check out the details here.

Are there any good tips on how to get a good deal on a downtown hotel in the summer months? We travel infrequently, but I would like to take the family to Philadelphia for an overnight (or possibly two nights) this summer. We are flexible on dates. I've looked at the 3rd party sites (Travelocity, etc) to try to narrow down the search, but comparing rates there against the hotel's own sites is confusing. Should I be going about this another way?

Philadelphia's tourism office often has deals or packages with significant savings. You could also try the HotelTonight app, which lists discounted rates close to your arrival date. Or try AirBnB. Also, ask the reservation desk if they accept any discounts, such as AAA or military.

We were ensnared in the massive Delta weather mishaps in early April. They've credited us for the difference in price between the airport we were trying to get to, and the one they actually got us to, but we've had no response to my emails regarding our lost luggage, car rental fees incurred (couldn't get the car we had booked at one airport at the other), and other random expenses. Is this something I should continue to pursue or am I wasting my time?

Don't give up. I don't know all the particulars of your case, so I can't really say if you should be getting more. But I can try to help. Here are the Delta customer service executives and here's how to reach me. I'll do my best to assist.

If the ban on laptops in the cabin expands (and who really thinks it won't) is there any chance the airlines might create a "secure baggage" program? I could imagine them providing small hard-shell cases for valuables that would be sealed, monitored and loaded on to the plane by airline personnel apart from the normal baggage stream.

At the moment, the chatter about expanding the rule to Europe has simmered down.

Our photo editor  recently flew back from Thailand on Turkish Air and said he left his valuables with the airline, which wrapped them up and gave him a ticket (a la coat check). He chose this approach vs. packing them in his luggage, which handlers might toss about. He retrieved his goods in Dulles -- unharmed.

I am trying to get out to Dulles to see this operation. Hope to report back soon with details!

Does this apply to digital cameras as well?

I believe it does.

Actually research your destination and whether tourists are helping or hurting. The resorts or tours can say almost anything they want on their websites. You have to actually find out what the scientists (not paid by the same resorts or tours) say. Also, when hiking, please stay on the trail (flora above the tree line can be a LOT more delicate than it looks) and if you must bring soap, make sure it is really the biodegradable stuff. You are moving on the next day. The animals still have to drink the water that you used.

Good points, all -- thanks!

Interested in a cruise to Eastern Canada and would love to leave from Baltimore but I only have a week in September and a budget of $600 per person max $800 and that should include taxes. Our closest port is Baltimore but the Canada cruise departing from Baltimore last 9 days and the base price is $754 without taxes. Im looking into options departing from Boston or New York (considering I can get a good deal on flights from DC); would you recommend a particular cruise? which cruise ports I should make sure not to miss in New England? We are not into shopping but like to explore and enjoy the local culture. I’m going with two seniors which are not crazy about nightlife but enjoy good food and conversation!

Once you include airfare to Boston or New York and the cost of getting from the airport to the cruise terminal, you will likely not stay under budget. New York has many different options: Take a look at the schedule for a complete list. Boston also publishes a comprehensive list of cruises. 

I don't know whether it's more eco-friendly, but I like taking ferry boats between islands in the Azores whenever the schedule's convenient, rather than puddle-jumper flights. This is especially true for the central island group (Faial, Pico, São Jorge). A friend who lives on Terceira takes the auto-ferry when heading for annual long summer vacation on neighboring Graciosa, so he can take his car with him rather than renting one there.

Every little bit helps!

If you booked through expedia, you probably got the lowest grade ticket. I booked through their site directly and the differences on grades at the lower levels are almost all about cancellation policies. I actually booked a slightly more expensive ticket just to not be in the lowest group in case of overbooking bumps. It was only $15 more.

Good to know! Thanks.

Is the problem only with the camera bodies, or would lenses, memory cards and other ancillary equipment be banned from carry-ons as well?

From my understanding, the airlines are banning electronics with a power source, so lenses, memory cards, etc., should be fine to carry on the plane. But I plan to write about this topic, so I should have more details soon!

I agree that if you can carry it on without trouble, do so. It cuts down on wasted time at arrival. [Re baggage fees, I think most of the major international airlines don't charge for up to two checked bags, although some of the low-fare ones like WOW do. There are generally weight limits, though.]

Agreed.

I'm partially disabled (wheelchair in airport, but can walk short distances). I take only carry-on bags on flights, but since I board first (due to disability), I find that flight attendants are always willing to stow my carry-on in the overhead compartment. Of course, I'm always courteous to flight crews, and "please"/"thank you" them.

That works for those who can board early, but for those who aren't all that strong and have to board with the rest of the teeming rabble, not always an option. 

Hi there. Next summer, me and two friends are planning a reunion girls trip. Mostly we will spend time talking and laughing, but we can't decide where we should go to do this. It doesn't need to have too many things to do, but should be fun for a few 40-year-olds. Thanks!

Can you be more specific? Where are you based? Domestic or international?

Throwing out some ideas: Charleston, New Orleans (though it will be hot!), Napa Valley, Morocco.

This chat has given me and my family more ideas for more local (DC area) places to go than I can count. Thank you! Now we have an unexpected opportunity for a beach vacation this July, $5k budget, 5 nights, two kids ages 6 and 7. Passports in hand. Direct flights under four hours would be ideal, but we can stretch for a great trip. All inclusive a plus. We’re high activity and want to join the kids, so we don’t need full time organized kids camp. Coconut Bay Beach Resort in St Lucia could work, but something on a smaller scale would be preferable. Likewise, we loved Playa Viva, but maybe something with a little more activity this time. For various reasons, cruise is not on the table this time around.

Best spots for all-inclusive vacations are Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Cancun, including areas south of there. Cancun has the most nonstop flights. Look in the Riviera Maya and Tulum areas.  

Couldn't you take a piece of hotel-room note-paper and write "don't replace the sheets" on it and place it on the other bed?

Great idea! Or put an endangered animal on it. Then housekeeping won't go near it!

For the person wanting info on the BWI long term parking shuttle - we fly out of BWI a lot, and always use one of the off-airport lots. The shuttle van usually gets to your spot before you even unload your car, and takes about 10 minutes to get to the terminal. They're a little more than the airport lots, but if you shop around you can find discounts. We generally use Park n Fly, which is near the long term airport lot.

Great tip -- thanks!

The proposed laptop ban had me thinking- maybe it's not safe to fly to and from Europe, so I'm looking at changing a trip to western Europe to Uruguay instead. Is it worth reconsidering our travel plans? I don't want to be in the 1% that happens to have picked the wrong flight.

That ban has been shelved, but you should go to a destination where you feel safe. I personally would not have any qualms about going to Europe.

It looks like we are, once again, out of time. Biodegradable soap tipster, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. We'll chat again on Monday, June 5 -- happy Memorial Day!

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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