Talk about travel: Banning peanuts on planes, houseswapping, couchsurfing, driving to OBX, Curacao, African safaris, Spirit Airlines strike, Santa Fe sights, more

Jun 14, 2010

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.

Greetings, travelers, and welcome to today's flight: We switched over to the new vForum for our chat -- one of the last at the Post to do so (besides Food, which will happen Wednesday). Hope you like it!

As always, we're here to answer any and all questions you may have about travel -- from the new types of home exchanges that Nancy wrote about today, the scams that Brigid Schulte ran into (and investigated), solidarity trips to the Gulf as in Andrea's story, and more. Let us know what's on your mind, and we'll try to help.

As always, we'll start by asking you to tell us a little story, which will put you in contention to receive a prize. Today's marching orders: In the spirit of Nancy's story, tell us about a time you stayed with a stranger or strangers when traveling, or hosted the same. A good, bad or in-between experience, but make it entertaining.

Now let's take off.

Although I am sympathetic to people with anaphylactic allergies to peanuts, the notion of banning peanuts on airplanes is ridiculous. I say that as someone whose best friend is anaphylactically allergic to peanuts (and she also opposes the ban). Peanuts are good, nutritious, portable food and to ban them to "protect" less than 0.5% of the population is not only bad policy, it is likely ineffective (how can you really know that no one on the flight has peanut products or peanut residue on them?). I think this proposal is an overreaction to a very vocal, active minority of people (mostly parents of children with peanut allergies). I'd rather the Transportation Department focus on more pressing matters. If they are out of ideas, I'd suggest that they implement a ban on drinking alcoholic beverages for anyone seated in the emergency exit rows. That's a minor inconvenience to those in those rows (who could choose another row if they found the ban onerous) but has the potential to be a major lifesaver to others on the flight.

I hear you. At this point they're just asking for comment on the proposals and may not do any of them. Among three options being considered, according to this AP story: banning serving of peanuts on all planes; prohibiting peanuts only when an allergic passenger requests it in advance; or requiring an undefined "peanut-free zone" flight when a passenger asks for one.

Seems like that second one makes some sense, doesn't it? So at least the ban would happen case by case, only if they know an allergic person is on the flight?  Fellow, chatters, what do you think?

I just wanted to weigh in after reading for months that you (I believe it's Christopher Elliott) so dislike frequent flyer programs. We use our United credit card and will fly United when they're prices are competitive. Over the years, we have flown 1st or business class to Europe, Hawaii and New Zealand all using miles. We love it! It helps, of course, if you can book pretty far out and also be somewhat flexible with dates. Just thought I'd add another view, for those debating the merits of these programs.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my column about loyalty programs. I agree with you that mileage programs can be useful, and they clearly are for you. My point was that they aren't for everyone. I don't think you're making the argument -- perpetuated by some of the more hard-line frequent flier apologists -- that everyone should be collecting miles. Are you?

Crew, I know that I have seen some previous discussion/articles on alternative driving directions to NYC (avoiding the Delaware Turnpike backup, etc.,). We are driving up for a cruise in July leaving from Brooklyn and would like some feed back regarding getting there, parking. If anyone has experience, would appreciate hearing back.

Here's a story the paper ran last Thanksgiving that gives you various alternatives for getting around the dreaded Delaware toll plaza plus other tips for alternative routes north. And here's a Travel Q&A we ran last year about parking for cruises in New York. But it seems to be for cruises leaving from Manhattan, whereas you mention Brooklyn. So we'll have to throw that out to the chatters. So, guys?

I just booked a trip to San Fran in early August and am trying to figure out a road-trip plan. Possibilities include Yosemite, Napa, Monterey, etc. Any advice on what to check out? Where to stay?

Before we can answer, can you tell us how long you have? That makes ALL the difference! (If it's only a week, I would stick around San Fran and visit Golden Gate, Chinatown, Berkeley, Marin County, etc.)

I'm posting early, hope you'll still take the question. Just today I decided to get out of Dodge for an extended 4th of July weekend. In your opinion, with flight prices being the way the are, what are the chances of there being some last-minute deals? Probably slim, eh?

No, fat.  There are always last-minute deals for the holiday. It just depends on where you want to go. The Gulf Coast, no joke, has some great deals now, as the area tries to woo guests to its shores (which are not all soaked in oil). Also, check the airlines' Web sites for holiday sale fares (example, AirTran), and packages sites such as Hotwire, Priceline and Expedia for hotel/air deals. If you drive, check the area's tourism sites and local resorts for deals. If there are open rooms or plane seats, they will want to fill them!

So how many of your staff are planning on visiting the beautiful white sand beaches of the panhandle of Florida this season???

I know that's a trick question, but I'm going to take the bait. I'm hoping to make it out there this summer. (Also, look for next week's Navigator on "tragedy tourism" and why the Gulf coast should be on your must-visit list).

I, for one, am curious to see how the area is holding up, and, I hope to discover that the beautiful beaches of the panhandle are still in good shape.

Personally, I prefer "solidarity tourism" over "tragedy tourism," but that's just me.

Are fall sales already listed? I see a lot of offers but ending in August. I have all vacations planned for the summer and I am now ready to plan those in the fall. Any quick island getaways?

Sales are not what the used to be. They've been sporadic, short-lived and stingy. I'd just keep checking on aggregator and third-party booking sites, such as Bing and Kayak.

Our morning paper (Milwaukee) had a brief article about the ongoing discussions of whether peanuts should be allowed on planes-- either distributed by airline staff or brought on board by passengers. These discussions have been going on for a few years, at least. And yet, we read a few months ago that airlines are now allowing pets on board. Please forgive my strong language, but this is just idiocy. Airplanes recirculate air. Which means that no matter where I sit on a plane, I will be exposed to someone's cat's dander -- to which I am extremely allergic. And so, I will begin wheezing, with no way of getting out of the range of the allergen. And to the best of my knowledge, there will be no way for me to specify that I want a "cat free" flight. What geniuses are contemplating these issues and what can consumers do? Thank you.

Relax. These are just proposed rules. The government is accepting comments on the peanut rule, and at least 11 others. You can go to to weigh in on all of them. The final rules aren't expected to be adopted until this fall.

As an occasional connoisseur of fine roasted peanuts, I agree that a ban may be a little extreme -- which is all the more reason to let the government know how you feel. Should they create a peanut-free "zone" on a plane, ban all peanuts, or leave things as they are? Your comments could make a difference.

You forgot to include sites for rooms to rent in homes like through

No, we didn't. Nancy's trip was about staying for free, and Andrea wrote a whole ginormous piece about Air BNB last year.

When you rent her Brooklyn apartment bedroom for $70 a night, Christine Be sleeps in the living room. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

nooooooooooooooooooooooooo.... why did you have to switch to the (horrible) new format? Just wanted to say thanks for the chats...

Tell us how you really feel! Seriously, what don't you like about it? Don't tell me you actually WANT to hit "refresh" all the time to see the chat progress? From our perspective, it's so much easier to add links and even photos.

So hang in there; hopefully you'll come to like it.

I am looking for an airline which has "lie flat" seats in Business class on the New York to Shannon/Dublin route. I can't find one. Can you help? I prefer flying a Boeing Aircraft. There are a few carriers which have this type of seating if you are flying to Heathrow, but that is not an option for me at present. Thanks.

I'm pretty sure SeatGuru should help you with this. Have a look.

Hi there - has anybody been to Curacao before? We are looking at it as a honeymoon destination. We will be traveling at the height of hurricane season, and it is obviously appealing because it sits outside of the hurricane zone. We aren't looking for anything out of the ordinary - just nice beaches, good food, and water activities. Thanks!

Good choice. The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) are outside the hurricane belt, so you can be assured that your vacation in the middle of hurricane season will be storm-free -- meteorologically speaking. Curacao has second-to-none diving. Try Habitat Curacao for an all-you-can SCUBA experience.

How is the Iceland volcano doing? I'm contemplating a trip to Europe in August, but am very wary after the way the volcano disrupted travel. If it is not erupting right now, is it possible to get travel insurance that would cover volcanic eruptions, and what type of insurance would you want to include in the package to cover that?

Most of the insurance policies that are being underwritten now exclude the volcanic eruption in Iceland, from what I understand. The eruption has to end completely before insurance will again cover a possible air travel disruption. However, there are more expensive "cancel for any reason" policies that might cover a trip to Europe. You would need to check with your insurance company and specifically ask about the volcano.

When is a good time to go? My schedule is wide open.

Here's a story on Hong Kong we ran a couple of months ago. Seems they went in November, and she doesn't say anything negative about the weather, so that could be a good time. I was there in July once and it was sweltering, so I'd say avoid the summer. Chatters, what think you?

It's subtropical, so cool/dry in the winter and hot/humid in summer. Late fall -- Oct/Nov/Dec -- is indeed supposedly the best.

We are a very active couple in our 60's who love camping, hiking, and adventure. We would like to take a safari in Africa, but don't need or want luxury. What is a good organization to go with, what are the best times of the year, and do you recommend Kenya/Tanzania or Botswana/southern Africa?

We ran a story about safaris in Botswana last year. The details box offers some good options for safari tours that you might consider. Otherwise, let's ask the chatters for their thoughts/experiences. People?

I will shed no tears for death of Spirit, as they kept me in Florida for a week with four cancellations during snow week in Feb, it's the only airline where I ever heard "please leave faster to make room for next guests." Also, even when you upgrade, they still charge for food and drink. Good riddance, SpiritAir.

Spirit's not dead -- yet. I just posted an update on the strike on my site a few minutes ago. I haven't heard any speculation that the latest union troubles could finish off the airline, but it wouldn't surprise me if it seriously damaged the carrier. The best thing it could do right now is issue immediate refunds to passengers whose flights are canceled, rather than giving them flight credits. 

Hi! I am unfortunately scheduled to fly on Spirit to FL for a cruise Friday June 25. Cannot reach anyone by phone!! Should I just go to DCA and get my money back? I understand from media reports that no other airline will honor my ticket for standby. I am meeting travel companions in FL so I'll probably just drive (meaning more time off from work and more expense of car and gas) but I consider myself more fortunate than other Spirit passengers with limited options. What's your take? Can I even get a refund as they haven't canceled my flight? Will they even be around by next week? Thanks.

Spirit won't offer you a refund or pay for a ticket on another carrier, which is a fairly hard-line position. I have more details on its policy here.

You can dispute the charge on your credit card if you're within 60 days of your purchase, as required under the Fair Credit Billing Act. But if you're past that, you're at Spirit's mercy. 

My advice? Buy a ticket on another airline if you can find one, and try to get your money back through your credit card. Your other option is to wait and see if this strike gets resolved. It's hard to tell if that's going to happen.

I really want to get out of town with my boyfriend for a day. Neither of us own cars and don't have a lot of money. I was thinking about taking a commuter train somewhere local. Is there such a thing as a interesting place to visit via VRE or MARC? I am considering Baltimore, but am looking for more ideas. Thanks!

Hate to bust your bubble, but if you're thinking of a weekend trip, both MARC and VRE run only Monday through Friday. If a weekday will do, I'd recommend Harpers Ferry. Otherwise, you might want to look into some Amtrak destinations.

We are going to be in San Diego for the 4th of July and are looking for a hotel that will have great views of fireworks. Cost isn't a concern. Our first choice, the Hotel Del Coronado isn't available for the 2 nights we will be there... where should we stay?

I don't think Hotel Del would have been the best place anyway. The fireworks are set off in the bay, so I'd think you'd want to be facing that direction rather than the ocean. I'd investigate the Hilton Harbor Island, Loews Coronado, Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Marriott at the convention center. Call each one first to find out what their views are like. 

Is the financial crisis in Greece created better or worse prices and reasons to travel to Greece?

All signs seem to be that the Greeks are anxious to attract tourists and are therefore offering deals on hotels, etc. Plus the euro is down some against the dollar. This should be a good time to go there.

A question and suggestion. Heading out to the Moab Utah area for a week vacation, would greatly appreciate any suggestions of things to do/parks not to miss within that area. For the poster from last week I'd highly recommend the restaurant - Slightly North of Broad - in Charleston. Fabulous food - fun, eclectic decor - well worth a trip.

Obviously go to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Take the route into the Needles District and Newspaper Rock Recreation Site which will pass through Indian Creek Canyon. Also try the Island in the Sky district. Dead Horse Point State Park is also nearby and pretty. Farther away, but worth it if you have the time, is Monument Valley.

If you need further inducement to get to Monument Valley, here it is.

An unusual sight in Monument Valley: The Three Sisters rock formation looms amid fog and snow. (Roy Magsisi)

Hi - Thanks for taking my question. we're heading to a beach house at the Outer Banks the weekend of June 25/26. What are reader and your tips for avoiding traffic on the way from D.C. to Kill Devil Hills? When should we leave D.C., and what times should we avoid trying to get the Outer Banks? Thinking of hoteling it somewhere on the way down on Friday night - suggestions for good areas to do that?

I-95 south always seems to be a nightmare. I'd probably get up at 4 a.m. Saturday and leave then rather than go through the Friday night madness. Any other ideas chatters?

Thanks for the article, which was very informative and entertaining. I'd like to participate in one of these programs, and we have a guest bedroom and metro accessibility, but we live in a suburb of the DC, not a swinging Adams-Morgan bachelorette pad. Are there any requirements that the residence be in the city? Would people want to stay on the outskirts of town in the 'burbs?

Hi. Thanks for reading the story! No, there are no requirements whatsoever. Your place can be anywhere. Many people would actually prefer the outskirts of town because they want more space. It's a great option for families. You said you're near a metro. That will certainly appeal to people. I just personally don't like driving, which is why the Denver place, though really nice, was probably not the best choice for me. But other people have different needs. I hope you enjoy the experience!

Sometimes I feel like travel related businesses are working with each other to make travel more difficult. I had a flight for 5:30 departing Kansas City yesterday which was delayed by 2 hours. Unfortunately my rental car was due back at 4:00, so I didn't have any good options from that point on but hanging at the airport, since the Kansas City Airport is miles from anything. So I went through security for the small area serving gates 10-14, and they only vendor in that area, a small kiosk, closed while we were all there waiting. Every time I thought about going out in the concourse to stretch my legs or get a meal, the security line would back up and foil my plans. If I could keep the car longer without penalties, or if security moved better and the airport designed better, I would have better options, but as it stands, my whole trip was overshadowed by the long boring day spent sitting at the gate. All weekend I thought about making a return trip to Kansas City to spend more time there without any appointments, but after the airport experience, my excitement has waned considerably.

Having experienced my own aiport delay in Huntsville yesterday, I feel your pain. Why did my in-laws in Arlington know about our delay before we at the gate did, and why did all the displays still say "on time" despite announcements that we'd be leaving more than 30 minutes late? Travel these days is unfortunately full of such frustrations.

Hi I am planning on two days/nights in Santa Fe over July 4th. Any suggestions on great hikes, restaurants or special July 4th fesitivies? thanks Melissa

As far as restaurants go, check out a 2007 Postcard by Tom Sietsema.

Chatters, any other Santa Fe tips?

Actually, if you can wait until June 27, Tom's next Postcard just HAPPENS to be on Santa Fe again. I'll give you a sneak peak and tell you that he is recommending Rancho di Chimayo, Restaurant Martin and Tia Sophia's.

As for other things to do, I've heard great things about Ten Thousand Waves spa.

Ok, experts: If you had no choice but to leave for the beach around 4pm on Friday from Pentagon City, would you head south to the Beltway and then around to 50? Or go in to DC and take NY Ave??

I'd check the traffic first at the Post's site and then make a decision. I'd also look at taking I-395 to  I-295, although this can get backed up, especially if there is a ballgame. I'm guessing the route through the city would be the worst.

On my first trip to London, I was going alone for a week, so couldn't really foot the bill for a hotel, which I heard were notoriously tiny, and many with shared baths for the lower priced rooms. I found a "room for rent' posting on the Internet -- and spent about $250 for 7 nights. Only after I arrived did I realize that I was staying in a public housing project in what was considered the bad side of town -- a "council flat" in Brixton. I was near the tube, enjoyed the ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood, and really didn't think it unsafe, compared to my own Chicago neighborhood. I had a clean, nicely furnished room with a big TV. I don't know that I would necessarily do it again, though.

Glad that worked out for you!

Hi Flight Crew! Is there a website/clearinghouse that lists apartments for rent for vacations (like London, or San Francisco, or Tokyo)? I'm not thinking of couchsurfing, but actualy apts. Has anyone done this? You had a great piece about couch surfing, and I'm hoping you can help me out.

There are numerous sites listing apartments, such as AirBnB, VRBO and Just be sure to read the small print and ask the renter what is included, the neighborhood, how to work the heat/air conditioning, etc.

I'm going to Italy in the fall - I've never been, my travel buddy lived there for 3 years. He's pushing a guided tour so that we can cover lots of cities in our short 10 days, and I looked online at Perillo Tours, but they lost me at "wireless headset". Are we better off taking in a big city like Rome for the whole trip by ourselves, or surviving the potential embarrassment of a big tour group in order to cover more ground. Any recommendations for a good tour group?

Just judging from the tone of your question, I'm thinking you may not be group tour material. Yes, they cover much more ground, but you have to deal with the group. If the bus is going, you've got to be on it. Perillo Tours is well known, and there are plenty of others - go to the United States Tour Operators Association for a list. Look for those that specialize in small groups - more expensive, but also more flexible.

Hi, I scored a mileage ticket into Amman and out of Cairo. I am wondering if I should go to Abu Simbel-is it worth the extra trek/cost to get there? What were the highlights and what can I skip? I'm thinking of Abu Simbel; felucca from Aswan to Kom Ombo and then some time in Luxor. Thanks!

I would go to Abu Simbel. The temples are amazing and it is an easy flight from Aswan or a six-hour round trip drive. And I would definitely do Aswan and Luxor. All three places are amazing if you have the time to make it to them. Out of curiosity, are you planning to spend any time in Jordan? Definitely go to Petra if you have time.


Maybe one of your photos will win an honorable mention in our annual contest, like this one from Petra did last year...

Michael Frost, a 40-year-old graduate student in journalism, photographed a traditionally-dressed guard as he spoke on his mobile phone outside of al-Khazneh (Treasury) in Petra, Jordan.

Hi! My husband and I are going to Europe in September for 10 days. We know we want to go to Brussels and Italy, but were trying to figure out a third destination. I was thinking about Switzerland, as that would break up the long trip between the two countries. Where would you recommend going in Switzerland? Geneva looks beautiful, but I'm open to other ideas. Thanks!

Three countries so far apart in 10 days is biting off a hefty hunk. Not sure you'll be able to chew it all. You'll lose two days just traveling between places, and two on either end traveling to and from the continent. That puts you at not much more than 6 days to enjoy the places you visit. Now Brussels you could do in two days, but Italy? All of Italy? Even four would be far from sufficient. You could spend all 10 days in Italy, no sweat. So I'd advise against the interim stop.

But if you insist, Geneva is beautiful, certainly, but my pick would be Basel or Zurich. Chatters, what do you think?

What about flights to Chicago? Search the usual?

Yes. We ran this article last year on tips for last-minute getaways, in addition to the accompanying piece on Chicago. Also, check out the various airlines' e-fare specials, which come out mostly on Tuesdays. Those can be a good deal sometimes.

Forgive me, but I don't think my initial comment was clear. I fully understand that the peanut issues are "proposed" and are under discussion. My point pertained to permitting animals to fly in the passenger cabin when there are many of us who are (deathly) allergic to pet dander and will have no knowledge or recourse until a reaction occurs.

OK, two things sure to create a lot of discussion in our chats: peanuts and pets.

My grandmother was visiting us in Connecticut and we went to a restaurant. She heard total strangers speaking Hungarian in the parking lot and ran over and began talking to them, as it is rare for her to hear someone speak her language. It turns out that the couple speaking Hungarian were from Cleveland. It turned out they were from the  section of Hungary where my grandmother grew up, which is not that surprising since many Hungarians migrated to the same section. It then turns out that the couple live in the same house my grandmother grew up in. I found that a nice coincidence from total strangers.

An amazing coincidence, from the language to the house! Thanks!

Harpers Ferry is a lovely choice, but the MARC train only runs in the outbound direction in the afternoon, so it's not an option for a day trip.

Yes, thanks for clarifying.

Original poster here. Yes it would be on a weekday. How would we get to Harper's Ferry? Thanks.

I'm afraid I got your hopes up! As a sharp fellow chatter pointed out, Harpers Ferry might not be ideal for a day trip, as the trains that head there don't get you in until the evening.

Tips for renting a car in Lihue, HI? Other than Priceline, etc.? Many thanks.

I'd had good luck with Hotwire. But always compare prices.

I want to do that, but besides the Google, how do I find one that's reputable? Any recommendations and/or suggestions? Also, while we're at it, what's with the single supplement?! How does it cost more for me to travel alone? I'm not using an extra hotel room or airplane seat. It makes no sense to me.

Check the listings on ShawGuides (,   a reputable directory of learning vacations. You can also trust trips offered through culinary schools and other educational institutions. Just be sure to ask the company about the ratio of watching the teachers cook and participating yourself, and if additional tours are included, such as trips to farmers markets and wineries. You definitely want a comprehensive experience.

And, yes, single supplements are a cruel joke on soloists. The extra charge doesn't apply to airplane seats, just packages with hotels rooms (the idea being that a vacant bed to leads to a loss of revenue, such as meals, drinks, tours, tips, etc.) and cruise cabins (see hotel room rationale). Sometimes, the company will waive the fee if you agree to a roomie. Or if they are eager to fill spots. If not, grab a friend with a good appetite.

Travel squad - HELPPPPPPPPPPP! If I hear one more time "where are we going on vacation?" I am going to pull my hair out. I know, I know it should have been planned by now, but business has kept me occupied. Would like to go somewhere, anywhere for a week, preferably during 4th of July week (stop laughing) with a 12 and 16 year old. --You know the "I am too old for Orlando" crowd. Please give me three, two or any one suggestion to bring peace to my household. A beach (preferably no oil discounts) something, anything.

Help us help you. What do your kids like to do? Maybe narrow it down a bit.

This person might consider taking the Bolt or Mega Bus to NY. We did this last week for a cruise out of New York (we're in Baltimore). We didn't get $1 tickets, but they were still inexpensive. It worked out very well--got to NY in 3.5 hours, during which I slept, read and relaxed. Then took a cab to the terminal. Just reversed it for the trip home. In the end, we saved at least $100 in tolls, gas and parking at the terminal.

Yes, the bus is an excellent alternative if you don't mind not going on your own schedule. Certainly saves you some money. Thanks for chiming in!

Alas. Because it would be a reverse commute, we could not travel to Harper's Ferry in the morning and return to DC in the evening.

Exactly. Maybe Baltimore is your best bet for MARC. Fredericksburg is a good option via VRE, and trains head south from Union Station all throughout the day.

Hi, I'm looking to book a flight to Israel in late October. Right now the fares are hovering around $1100 to $1200. I'm hoping if I wait a bit more I might find a sale, but I'm afraid if I wait too long prices are just going to go up more. When do you think is the make-or-break time to buy a ticket? Do you think there's any chance of finding a fare sale between now and then?

You still have some time, so keep monitoring it for now. You'll get a good idea of the pricing trend within the next month. Could there be a sale? Of  course. But airfare sales are not as good this year as they have been in previous years, so I would not count on it. I just paid $433 for a coast-to-coast ticket, which is double what I paid last year.

I am in the process of booking a cruise for a family of 4 (mine) and despite surfing all over the web I still don't have a comprehensive description or the actual layout of the very stateroom I am holding. I find that very unsettling and usually when I book for my husband and I it does not bother me, but I want to make sure that our vacation is not going to be ruined by the stress of 4 of us being on top of each other. Do you know of a website where you can enter the cruiseline, cruise ship, cabin number to get a photo and a layout by any chance? Thanks for the good job you all do!

I don't know if there's any place that gets down to a room-by-room analysis, but see if Cruise Critic has any insight for you in their reviews.

I just returned from a lovely and amazing vacation in Argentina. I had a rough time getting out of the country, though, due to a snafu with a major carrier. Here's the basic story. Buenos Aires had violent thunderstorms the day before our flight out, and the crew arrived late into the city. They had to sleep and rest before they could fly back to the US with me in tow. This is perfectly fine with me, but the airline was dishonest to the passengers about what was ultimately a flight delayed by 10 hours. I believe they did this to keep us from demanding to be switched to another carrier or to be put up in a hotel. They knew the crew needed to rest, but they didn't want to compensate or accomodate us. So, I've filed my complaint. They told me the case was escalated to an "executive" in customer care. What kind of recompense can I expect? What is fair?

Excellent question. If there are multiple reasons for a delay (weather, crew timeout) you can bet the airline will cite the most favorable one -- in your case, probably the weather -- as the reason. That's because they would not owe you anything. On international flights, however, an airline may still offer minor compensation, like a voucher or at least an apology. It depends on the airline, the time of day, the agent and the tone of your complaint letter. Please let me know if the airline blows you off. Here's my email address. I'll see if I can get a better response if it does.

Hi! I enjoy walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and back when in New York, but have never gotten off the Brooklyn side, usually because I do the walk at sunrise when little would be open. But, next time I go to NY, I plan to do the walk in the late afternoon, so was wondering what is there to do in Brooklyn that is within a few blocks of the bridge? I know about the River Inn, but that is out of my price range. There seems to be a new waterfront park? Any other suggestions... Thanks.

There's the great Brooklyn Heights promenade with wonderful views of Manhattan. You should definitely spend some time there. There is also the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, which opened a few months ago. There are plenty of good places to eat in DUMBO, as the neighborhood is called. You can get great pizza at Grimaldi's. There's also the Dumbo General Store which has good sandwiches. Five Front has a nice back garden. Henry's End is a cute place. 

I always check flight status before leaving for the airport and if I see the flight is going to be delayed, I wait. But I've gotten grief from the ticket agents for waiting - they say we're still supposed to be there at the original flight time. If that's the case, then what is the point of updating flight departure times? I'd like to think they want to minimize the number of people waiting around. Am I wrong?

I still head to the airport on time, even if my flight is delayed, because that can change. If it's canceled, then I stay home. Each airline has a contract of carriage, which outlines its requirements re: delays. On many major airlines, if your flight is delayed for two hours or more, you can get your money back and not fly. So that is one reason it makes sense to post delays.

I haven't had this happen when I've stayed home longer, but it HAS happened to me when I've been delayed at the airport. They post a delay, then I go wandering around, maybe to get something to eat, or shop, and then I hear over the loudspeaker that my flight is leaving NOW. So, indeed, things can change.

We go every year, and always try to get on 95 by 5:30, getting us to Corolla by 11:30 or so. Traffic is a breeze that early.

My thinking exactly.

When I lived in Brussels as a middle schooler many, many years ago, I took my first trip away from home to go to Paris on a choir retreat. I stayed with a very nice family with a daughter my age. We got along really well and were both sad when the weekend was over. Well, her family moved to Brussels the next year, and she was enrolled in my school! We became best friends and are in touch to this very day. The things I remember most about that trip, aside from Beth, were the feeling of incredible independence (my, I was so grown up) and the amazing buffet they set up for me. More different kinds of cheese than I had ever seen in my life!

What a nice story.

From Pentagon City, take the GW parkway south to Slaters Lane (stopping at Buzz Bakery for caffeine and sugar) and cut over to Rte 1 south. Take that to the beltway and around to Rte 50.

Another alternative. Thanks.

For the couple wanting to go on safari in Africa, I think that Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park would be a good choice (and I believe that one of the Post travel writers did a story on this park within the past couple of years.) We went to H-I in July 2007 and had a great time staying in a tented camp at Mpila Camp. The tents all have ensuite bathrooms (toilet, sink and shower with hot water), electricity until late evening, and full kitchens. The beds were incredibly comfortable too. H-I is primarily a self-drive park, but there are guided safari tours which you can take too. There are also a couple of places in the park which are safe for hiking and we did a great hike at one of these places. We had such a fabulous time there spotting animals on our own, listening to the hyenas at night and doing a bit of "luxury" camping. (Camping is a luxury for me when there's a bed and a bathroom!) If the couple is interested in an even more rustic adventure, they could check out doing one of the walking safaris in H-I.

We are considering going to Maine for Labor Day week and staying near Harpswell. We have never been there...any ideas for fun? what will weather be like? Friends are going and we are tagging along...should we do it? Thanks!

I don't know Harpswell, but have stayed north of there in Boothbay Harbor and Damariscotta areas. Loved it. Can't promise sunshine, but weather around Labor Day is fine. Eat lobster, take a boat ride, hike, bike, etc. Go to Visit Maine for ideas.

My former paper, the Boston Globe, has a good collection of Maine travel stories (if you dig hard enough, you may even find some written by yours truly) on its Web site.

If you want to drive down on Saturday, either go very early (leave by 7:00 am) or leave in the afternoon when traffic on 95 in NoVA clears up (when everyone from points north has cycled through. You can also take Route 17 from Fredericksburg, VA to Newport News to avoid delays on 95 and 64. It's a four lane divided highway and you'll hit stoplights when you travel through towns, but it's quiet and scenic. The real trick is avoing delays getting onto the Outer Banks once you're in NC. For that, again go early or late. As for the return trip, just get off the island as early as possible (don't even think of waiting until check-out time) and you should be good to go once you get to the highways. Sunday is the bad day to come back because you'll meet up with everyone returning from points south once you get to 95.

So helpful. Thanks!

I loved your article about the home exchange/couch surfing! I've always wanted to try home exchange but my partner would never agree to it. Also our landlord lives above us and I imagine they wouldn't be too happy with the arrangement either. Do you plan on continuing with these types of stays or did you have your fill?

Hi. Thanks for the note! I'm actually not opposed to a straight up home exchange. I recently got emails from people in Paris and Mexico who want to exchange. It's tempting! I would take that over staying at a stranger's home. Don't get me wrong. The people I stayed with were really nice and I appreciate them for opening their home to me. But I felt like I was imposing. I would much prefer to stay with people I know, and thankfully I have friends all over the place. So I think my rule now will be: Only go to places where I can crash with a friend!

Hi Travel Crew! By bff and I both have a week off in August and are trying to find warm weather diving spots that won't bust the budget. Honduras has been thrown out as an option and we are wondering how the Bay Islands compare to other Caribbean locals and if we could also do some inland exploration there in a one week period. Thanks for the advice!

I have never scuba-ed around the Bay Islands, but I can recommend Belize, which has the second-longest barrier reef in the world. Plus, you can find cheap lodgings there. When you need a day off,  go roam the rain forest. Bonaire and Costa Rica also have good diving. Add to the list Cozumel, where you can get a package for pretty cheap. And for dry tours, check out the Mayan ruins.

My husband and I are seriously thinking of taking off the next year to travel. We're in the early planning stages and would like any recommendations and/or suggestions. We recently heard about Round the World airline tickets and would love to hear from anyone about their experiences with them. One potential issue is the housing. I am not big on being the stereotypical backpacking student since I'm 33 years old. I don't need to stay in hotels but the idea of youth hostels is not appealing. I know we can try to stay in apartments but even that is costly for the entire year. Is there a happy medium between that and youth hostels? Should I just get used to the idea of living out of a backpack vs. a cute rolling suitcase?

Read Maryann Haggerty's great piece from last year about doing this very kind of trip. I think that'll help a lot.

Anyone else out there with round-the-world advice?

I did a month-long exchange program to France when I was 16. While there were some traumatizing moments (my friends joked that I stayed with the 'Naked family' because I saw the mom, dad and son all in their undies at some point), the most humorous thing was that they bought me a bottle of Heinz because they "knew" that Americans ate ketchup on everything. I'm a "just on french fries" kind of girl, but I put a little bit on my plate each night so they could see that I was using it!

That's an adorable story! The ketchup gesture makes up for seeing them naked! Thankfully, I didn't see anyone naked during my exchanges.

I believe you have written about this in the past, but I'm looking for a rental car for July in Rhode Island. The prices are ridiculous -- double what I've paid in the past. I've been checking Hotwire and the rental cars sites, but do you have any suggestions of how to get a cheaper rate?

No kidding. I just got a rental car for next week in Rhode Island, and had to swallow a rate of about $30 a day. For some reason it was way higher than a lot of places I've been to recently. You sound like you're doing everything right, though. Look at bidding on Priceline too. Maybe sign up for some of the rental companies' e-mails. I've said this before, but I really like Costco's travel site. There are a lot of rental car discounts there -- and you don't have to be a member for all of them.

I agree that traffic south is always bad on I-95. To avoid this I always leave later in the evening like 9 or 10 at night. Or take the day off work and leave Thursday night. I love the Outer Banks.

 I love the Outer Banks, too. Going in October and praying there'll be no hurricanes that late. :-)The driving's not much problem that late in the sason, either. We made it there in about 4 hours last year.

The poster should also consider renting a car-- by pricelining it, she might be able to get one for less than $20, and that would really open up the day trip possibilities...

Good tip. Thank you!

For just a day, Zipcar would probably work too.

not sure if this is funny enough, but yrs ago someone I would characterize as a friend of a friend and his spouse asked to stay with me one night when in the town I lived in at the time (to save money no doubt). I had a one-bedrm apt and offered to sleep on the couch so they could have the bedroom. as it turned out I came in late that night after they were in bed and I left early for work before they got up. when I came home after they had left I saw that they had pulled everything out of the kitchen cabinets in what appeared to be a frantic search for coffee and perhaps in retaliation for not being able to find all the coffee things there was lipstick all over the bathroom towels. also, I never heard from them again.

Oh, how horrible.

I would suggest Interlaken. I know, I know, it has a bad rap as a tourist town, but, it is a great central location to get to lots of smaller towns that are a real delight. Plus you are right there if you are interested in going to the top of Jungfraujoch, or want to get in some hiking.

You're right, it's central. But I doubt our travelers will have much time for traveling to other towns. Appreciate your vote, though!

We went to Curacao over Christmas in 2008. I highly recommend it. Great beaches, the main town is a world heritage site, there are really good restaurants (try LaRusse or Landhuis Daniel) across the island. Everyone is really friendly and helpful. We didn't go diving, but I hear there are many wonderful places for it.

I second that. The people are very friendly. Just stay away from the goat stew.

Ten Thousand Waves is fabulous--definitely check it out. See if you can go at night; you can soak in your hot tub surrounded by the scents of juniper and pine, with the stars overhead. Tecolote Cafe (on Cerillos) for breakfast. I swear I once saw Tommy Lee Jones there! Keep in mind that you will probably not see fireworks as it's often too dry there to risk setting them off (fire hazard). Also, if you want water in restaurants, you will have to ask for it. The joys of being in the desert.


I'm trying to get from Tampa to southern California for Christmas, then on to Los Cabos for the New Year's holiday. Plan is to arrive in San Diego Dec. 23, fly to Los Cabos Dec. 26, then back to Fla. Jan. 2. I'm finding insane fares--$2400 and up to do this, though I can go roundtrip Tampa/San Diego for less than $800. Does anyone know the cheapest way to get from San Diego (or LAX if I had to) to Los Cabos and back? So far roundtrip flights from San Diego to Los Cabos are running $1100 to $1200 and up... Is there train service between San Diego and Los Cabos? Other options?

I don't know where you are looking, but you should be able to do much better than that. I just did a quick search on, and came up with nonstop flights between San Diego and Los Cabos for less than $800 on those dates on Alaska Air. And I also saw a Tampa to San Diego to Los Cabos to Tampa fare of $1,198 (with stops).

For hiking, if you're up for a bit of drive, head to Bandelier National Park, north of Santa Fe. Very cool cliff dwellings. I really enjoyed dinner at the Cantina at La Casa Sena. Not only was the food delicious, but the waiters sing! Well!

Santa Fe tip!

How low will my flights to Boston become now that Jet Blue will be at DCA? Do you know what type of planes they will fly?

The flights will be about 90 minutes long, and the airline will be flying 100-seat jets.

I was in Santa Fe earlier this year, and, if they have any interest in history/archaeology, I would definitely recommend a stop at Bandelier National Monument and/or Puye Cliff Dwellings, about 45-60 minutes northwest of Santa Fe. Both have cliff dwelling ruins dating from about 1400 AD. Puye just reopened in late 2009 after having been closed for years, so many guidebooks don't list it (or say it's closed).

Good ideas, thanks!

Would love to take a trip to Buenes Aires this fall. I'm not finding much in the way of airfare (from DC area) for less than $1,000 a person. This will suck up a lot of our travel budget. Any tips or ideas? Or is this pretty normal for Arengentina this time of year? If so, any ideas for other places in central or south america to visit that might be less expensive to get to?

We had a Going Our Way recently on Buenos Aires and Argentina, and K.C. Summers doubted that couple could do it on $1,500 a person.

But maybe a chatter would like to recommend their favorite South American destination.

It's also a minor inconvenience to not eat peanuts. I don't think people understand just how dangerous peanuts are to those who are severly allergic. We're not talking about a case of the hives. We are talking about DEATH and it's really hard to get to an ER when you are on board an airplane up in the sky.

I'm a fan of pretzels myself.

Even better, if you're going the Route 17, ahem, route -- head down 301 through southern Maryland and over the Nice bridge to get there. I-95 to Fredericksburg is its own special hell, after all.

Again, depends on when you go.

I've done Annapolis as a public transportation day trip from D.C. There's a bus (run by Dillon's, I think) that takes you there from the New Carrollton Metro for a couple bucks. And Baltimore, of course, is always an amazing day trip. I think so many people see Charm City as just the Inner Harbor, but there are so many other awesome neighborhoods. If you've never been to Federal Hill, there's a new free circulator bus that goes there from Penn Station. (Also: Hampden! You can take the lightrail there -- get off at the Woodberry stop.)


If the cruiser leaving from Brooklyn drives up, the quickest way to get to the cruise terminal is probably across Staten Island and then up the Brooklyn waterfront. I don't know the exact details, but you'd cross the Goethals to SI and the Verrazanno to Brooklyn. Both are toll bridges, but it's potentially faster and less stress-inducing than crossing Manhattan or the Bronx. Do alternate maps on Google or similar... Also, the Brooklyn cruise terminal has a website.

 That Web site will be helpful. Thanks!

Just saw the poster heading to Moab. My parents highly recommend Capitol Reef N.P., if you have the time. Not too far away and they say it's spectacular!

More tips for the Moab traveler. Thanks!

Any tips anyone? We are going on a 5 hour road trip with a 2 year old. We've got a portable DVD player. Any other suggestions on things that work well as far as eating/drinking, activities to keep her occupied, or general comfort?

(Producer here) Can you schedule the trip around her nap time at all or leave really early or late? We just took our 18 month old to the Outer Banks, leaving at 5 am and getting in at 10:30 am. He slept for a good chunk of it.

By far the most direct route from Pentagon City to route 50 is 395 to 295 up to 50. Even if there are some backups it will still save a lot of time over going though town or the beltway. If you can try to get into the express lanes that go over the river. They move a lot better than the regular 14th St bridge especially with all of the construction going on. When I am going to the stadium I always go Washington Blvd and get to 395 right there at Pentagon City. You have to go across all the way to the left to get in the express lanes, but it is usually not hard to do that.


Thanks for that link! I may actually use that as my guide as I plan to take this trip alone.

You're welcome!

Am interested in traveling to Thailand this fall. Do you think it's safe yet?

The State Department canceled its travel warning to Thailand on June 3, citing "improvements in safety and security conditions throughout the country," so it looks to be safe to go again. But keep an eye on any developments and read the new message on the department Web site carefully. There are lots of recommendations and security advice.

For the commenter suggesting Megabus as an option to NYC, you might want to pick another service. They always leave late and last night's trip back from NYC took nearly 7 hours, coming in 2 hours after the time they said it would arrive. Sure there was a lot (a lot) of traffic, but leaving late didn't help matters one bit.

I don't think MegaBus has a corner on that market. I took a Bolt Bus a few weeks ago that was late and then took us over the Bay Bridge and through the hamlets of Delaware and New Jersey to get to New York. Took us more than eight hours.

Waaay back in 1972, Hurricane Agnes hit the DC metropolitan area. We were asked if we could help out some people coming to the area from Europe as the homes in which they were supposed to stay were damaged. My parents obliged thinking that, as a college student on summer break, I would be happy to act as tour guide to others close to my age. Two young French men were assigned to our home. I have never met such ungracious people in my life! I took time off from my summer job to show them around DC, and then even took them up to Atlantic City for 3 days. They complained about the parking in DC (ok - I give them that - it was hard to find spaces near any of the museums and the heat was sweltering) but I thought the trip to AC would provide a welcome respite. Instead, their first comment was "The Riviera is much nicer!" Well, duh - I wasn't trying to compare to the Riviera! I tried to contact the hosting organization to send these guys back to the damaged homes but, of course, that wasn't an option. I convinced my parents to never open their home to strangers again, and I can't say that I have ever thought about doing so either!

Ouch. Maybe it's time to try it again.

One time someone stayed with us because our church was holding a conference and we offered home hospitality. She got lost three times on her way to our house, got lost getting to the church from our house (which honestly was only three right turns from our house), stayed out until 2:00 a.m. both nights, requiring US to stay up so we could let her in (guests were supposed to be back by 10:00 p.m.), made the most unholy noises in the bedroom (we had NO IDEA what she was doing in there), and then she stayed until 2 p.m. the final day (she was supposed to be out at 9 a.m.) and we finally had to tell her to leave because we had to be somewhere. After she left, I found chocolate smeared all over the bedsheets. We're NEVER doing that again.

Some bad experiences here along with the good.

Good experiences. My first host home in Germany (I've stayed in a few) 17 years ago. There were teenagers my age and we stayed in touch afterwards. I met up with the teenagers a few years later on a subsequent trip to Germany. Fast-forward 17 years ago and I live in another European country and speak fluent German. The host parents came to my city and we met up after 17 years, going sightseeing and taking in local cafe life-- all while speaking entirely in German, which I couldn't do when I stayed with them. My host family for German study-abroad knew nothing about me other than that I was a female-- and I knew nothing about them-- didn't even know their names until the day I arrived in town. They really became my second family. I even got my wedding gown from my host mother when I got married (about two years after the program) and we still call, visit, write, etc.

This is very sweet.

If anyone is looking for a western destination completely free of condo developments, chain hotels, chain restaurants, chain stores and the usual tourist trap crap, check out Chama, New Mexico! We stopped there last summer, while on a trip to see Santa Fe and Taos. We ended up in Chama because we heard good things about its train ride and it was only a two hour drive from Taos. The train ride was an all-day affair, but well worth it - the train climbed up over 10,000 ft through a national forest. The train hugged cliffs and went through tunnels - the scenery and views were incredible! We stopped for a meal at the half-way point, at a restaurant only accessible by the train. Our ride ended in Colorado, where we boarded a tour bus and rode back to Chama. We stayed the night in a very small hotel run by a great couple, Roger and Barbara. I don't remember its real name, but everybody refers to it as the shamrock hotel because there is a big shamrock on the front of the building! There is a market, gas stations, a couple of restaurants and bars in town... but not much else! We had a wonderful time in Santa Fe and Taos, but tacking Chama onto the trip let us see a more authentic part of the state.

What a wonderful idea. I have to add Chama to my list. Thanks!

One of the best tips I ever read was to put a treat of some kind in a bag and hand out one an hour. I put in new toys (an I-Pod-like toy, camera toy, board books she hadn't seen in a while, a new board book), and it worked like a charm. Several years later the toys are still special to her because they came from her surprise bags.

More tips with the road tripping parents. Thanks for this. Great idea.

I did my diving certification there, on Roatan. There are many, many dive sites all around the island, but not much else to do - the beach was ok, but infested with sand flies - alway use a chair! It may not be the best for budget destination -I want to return and I've been searching but keep finding $500+ and long, long connecting routings. Once there, food is good and not too $. as are the various hotel choices.

Thanks for the input on Honduras diving. Much appreciated!

Please. We all managed to survive our family car trips without these evil devices and so can your child. Bring CDs of songs or sit in the back with her and read to her or play games. I do recommend scheduling around nap time--it will be easier on everyone (if possible).

Point taken. Thanks for the input!

not that it matters to me, but the news was reporting that they were refunding ticket prices *and* giving a $100 flight credit. Of course, buying tickets NOW for a flight tomorrow or whatever would be much more expensive, but that's what I heard that they are doing - which contradicts what you are saying.

Thanks for clarifying -- we'll check into that.

Hi Flight Crew, can you also be the Rail Crew? I'll be traveling via Amtrak to a wedding next month, but have never taken a train before (besides light rail and metro). I was wondering if you knew of any comprehensive guides on what to do and expect, especially if it could compare the process to air travel. I looked around the Amtrak site, but most of their information was vague and generalized. My itinerary involves traveling north from Baltimore to Philly, then transferring west into Pennsylvania. For the outward bound trip, they offer a package for both trains, but the homeward trip requires separate tickets. I imagine that might complicate things if I check baggage, which I may be doing. I'm making sure to give myself a large layover to account for delays and/or newbie behavior. Thanks!

There is not much to Amtrak travel. It's like riding Metro with more room, the ability to eat and drink in the car, and gabs more luggage. I am not sure where you are going, if it's overnight or just a few hours, but the check-in/boarding process is pretty simple. You get your ticket from the kiosk at the train station, check your luggage (look for a porter or ask at the info desk), then board the train. Unlike airports, you don't need to arrive an hour ahead. But with checked bags, give yourself at least 30 minutes. I don't understand what you mean by  a "package," but you if you are switching trains, then, yes, you will have two tickets. The conductor takes them once you are seated and the train has started to move. He will place the stub above your seat, so it's best to keep that seat for the whole ride.

I am not sure how much luggage you have, but it's if only two bags, I would carry it onboard. (See the site for luggage restrictions.) I assume that like a plane, you can check your bag through to your final destination, but ask at the station to be sure.

Amtrak is not the most punctual form of transportation. But it's a comfortable ride, with a food car, so as long as you have the time, you should be fine. Just bring lots of reading materials and snacks in case the cafe car runs out of your favorites.

For more about Amtrak, see our story.

Yes, only going for a week. Have been to San Fran before and have done Golden Gate and Chinatown, and most of the other "must-see" things. Looking for something a little different. Thanks!

Sorry, but I would love more specifics. Do you like nature and parks, wineries and olive oil makers? Or coastal views? Can you come back next Monday and let us know more what you like and don't like. (If you are going in the summer, I would skip Yosemite; it's crowded!).

For a 10-day trip I would allow a couple days in Brussels, and a day-trip to Bruges; travel day to Italy, and choose a couple of Italian cities that most interest you for the remainder - Lucca and Florence would be plenty.

Precisely. We think alike. Though maybe I'd go to Venice.  :-)

Please put down your peanuts ... and store them in the seat pocket in front of you as we prepare for landing.

Thanks for the great q's today. Hope we helped you make some decisions. And now for the winner of our prize. It's the Old Saybrook chatter who told us the charming tale of linguistic/geographic coincidence. Send your mailing information to us at, and we'll get your prize to you!

See you next week.

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The Washington Post Travel section is your source for narrative tales and practical advice about journeys far and wide -- from weekend trips to the Eastern Shore, to two-week jaunts to the Far East -- plus consumer news, penny-pinching strategies and deals galore.
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