Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Jul 17, 2017

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. This week we published a collection of short travel-newbie pieces about having various experiences for the first time -- from traveling first class to seeing a Broadway show to flying with baby in tow. Have any memorable first-timer stories to share? Tell us about them below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich's "Vacation Guide to the Solar System." On to your questions!    

Hello Travel Team I was reviewing a airline reservation that i made over a month ago and realize my connecting flight was listed as risky connection. I am assuming this means there is a great chance of me missing my connecting flight. If this happens what rights do I have?

That depends. If you made the reservation at the same time and the flights are connected, then you're in good shape. Your airline should be able to rebook you on the next available flight and take care of any incidental expenses like meals and lodging. If they are not connected -- in other words, if they are two separate reservations -- then you might have to buy a new ticket.

With college and high school students at home this summer, our family could never carve out a true vacation. The best time for us is always around the Christmas holidays, and this year, one son will be celebrating college graduation! I'd like to plan a fun trip for 5, but one that won't completely break the bank. It needs to appeal to high school and college boys (and 4-5 days is enough with the parents). Suggestions?

I would determine which parameters are set in stone, such as budget and length of trip, and then task each person with researching whatever vacation appeals to them, complete with details. Then have a family meeting and discuss each one. Hopefully, you can reach a consensus as to which makes most sense or at least you can whittle it down to a couple and then vote. 

Within her rights to complain, or a troublemaker? Did she violate the rights of her co-passengers? Or was Delta right this time?

Airlines routinely move passengers to different seats. There is no "right" to an assigned seat, at least not in the contract with your airline. Yes, it can be upsetting when an airline switches your seat assignment, but that's no excuse to forget your manners. Coulter used Twitter to bludgeon Delta and a fellow passenger repeatedly and in my opinion, unfairly. That kind of reaction may get you a big audience -- after all, who doesn't love to watch a good fight? -- but it's less than effective in securing an apology and refund. Delta took its sweet time in responding to her mean-spirited attacks. I might have waited a little longer.

With the whole Ann Coulter hubbub (Go Delta!), how difficult is it to get seats together? My boyfriend and I will be coming back from Italy together, but because of how we booked our tickets (his through the military, mine through Expedia), I don't know if we can move around. Any suggestions?

Try to snag seats together when you check-in for your flight 24 hours before departure. If you can't get seats together, ask at the check-in desk. As a last resort, ask a passenger if you can swap his or her seat for yours. Just make sure your seat is the same category as theirs: No one will give up an aisle seat for a middle seat.

I need four seats on a particular flight. Multiple travel sites (Orbitz, Expedia) let me book the flight. But a check on the airline’s site (United) shows only two seats available and will not let me book four seats. Clearly it’s a full flight. Should I go ahead and book on the travel site knowing what I know about the flight availability?

Don't base your decision on the seating chart. Sometimes airlines hold back seats and release them closer to departure time. I have booked a flight and didn't see one open seat but discovered that I had a prime aisle seat once I checked in 24 hours in advance.

If the reservation goes through, you have a seat. Just be sure to check in 24 hours before departure and show up at the airport at least two hours in advance, in case the flight is oversold and the crew needs to bump people.

We are planning a family trip to celebrate our 50th anniversary in July 2019. Six children’s ages will range from 3-12 along with 8 adults with varying interests including hiking, water sports, exploring history and new locations, shopping, and relaxing together. Ideally we would like a week-long self-catering rental with a variety of both area (day trips) and nearby activities. With school and work limitations July will be the travel month and we would like to avoid very high temperatures but are open to locations in US, Canada and Europe. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

Lake Tahoe, Park City, San Diego, England's Lake District, Spain's Costa Blanca coast, the coast of Maine and Mont Tremblant are just a few places that come to mind. In other words, the world is your oyster. Get everyone who will be part of this trip involved in coming up with ideas. 

Hello! We will be traveling to Guatemala in mid-September and staying in Antigua for 3 nights and 3 nights in Atitlan. We dont want a rushed itinerary and have all more or less figured it out except some details: We would like to get to a hot spring, which one will you recommend? We know that it will not be the same as Costa Rica but would really like to go to one. Second, where would you stay in Panajachel? We are travelling with seniors that can walk but not very long distances; our budget is $80-$100 per night. And finally, we are planning to travel to Guatemala City the day before our 2pm flight. We want to get there around midday so that we can do “something” the rest of the day. Maybe stay in a nice area and just walk around eat good food and say good bye to our brief stay in Guatemala: Where would that place be?? THANKS!

Chatters with Guatemala travel under their belts, can you help?

Thinking of doing Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand over three weeks, is that too ambitious?

All depends on how much you want to see of each country. You can get a good sense of all three over three weeks, but you will be running around a lot and you won't be able to dig really deep into the cultures. I personally would focus on Indo and Thailand and skip Singapore.

Does anybody know how or where I can get an Alaska highway map -- the kind distributed free at welcome centers? I'd be willing to pay a nominal fee to have one mailed so I have it in advance. A link I found online from last year no longer works. Barring that, are they available at the Anchorage airport?

I believe a map is included with the Alaska Vacation Planner, published by the tourism folks there; it's free. You can also order a map through Alaska.org for $1.99.  

That's where a tool like ExpertFlyer can come in handy since it will show you how many seats are still available on a particular flight. It's not exactly cheap but if you fly a lot it can be worthwhile.

Agree! I'm a fan of ExpertFlyer, too.

The death of the tourist on Maho Beach on St. Maarten from the jet blast of the plane taking off was tragic, of course. This is also the type of tragedy that often closes semi-dangerous tourist activities permanently. (A tourist died from a fall while climbing Chichen Itza's El Castillo pyramid in I think 2006, which hastened its closure to tourists.) Has there been an update from there on whether they are considering closing that stretch of beach?

I have been to that beach and it felt like the planes were going to shear off the top layer of my head. Scary! The beach has warning signs, so my guess is they won't close it. People need to be cautious and realize the risk involved in venturing so close to the powerful jets.

I apologize if you recently mentioned this (though I couldn't find any articles when I did a quick search), but the National Park Service last week announced a huge increase in the price of a lifetime Senior Pass - from $10 to $80, beginning on August 28. Passes purchased before that date, either in person or online or via snail mail will remain valid after the price increase. You must be 62 or older to purchase one, but if you go the online or snail mail route, there's an extra $10 processing fee added - which is still much cheaper than the cost of a pass beginning August 28.

I mentioned the price increase on my Twitter account but thank you for sharing it with our chatters. Hope the leap in price doesn't deter older adventurers from visiting the parks. It's still a great deal.

I'm not sure the question was about a reservation that was as originally booked, but I have had great success getting a better itinerary when the airline has "adjusted" their schedule and sent me new flight times. The key is to do research of all flights for that day, and then call explaining why the "adjustment" is problematic and what option you would prefer and why. As long as it makes sense, they will usually accommodate - especially if you just know exactly what you are asking for and give them a plan B.

That's great advice. Thank you.

Chatters' share their first-timer travel experiences:

It happened 10 years ago. I really wanted to visit Egypt and Petra in Jordan and I have been in the U.S. for a year so didn’t have many friends that could join me. It was a hard decision and I was scared to go by myself but I still remembered thinking “If I don’t go now I will never do it.” I bought a land package to Egypt and after a week there I went to Jordan. I had a very rough time in Egypt (I dressed very conservatively but the harassment was awful) but the trip overall taught me so many things that after those two weeks travelling solo I was more than ever confident that I could it. After that, I’ve been to over 25 countries most of the time solo, but that first trip was a life-changing one.

The first time I traveled with my twin children was when they were- gasp- 7 weeks old. They must have weighed 6 lbs each soaking wet, and I can't have been thinking clearly to have gotten on that plane (in my defense, I was flying to my sister's wedding). I do recall -- and I think I may have been the first, since this was 9 years ago almost - handing out tiny plastic baggies to all the passengers near us. They had some candy, earplugs, and a sweet sticker on the front asking for forgiveness from the twins traveling for the first time. Silly me, I didn't realize that babies that young don't have the kind of loud cry that can be heard above the roar of the engines, so all was quiet and calm for the flight. I do think the other passengers were charmed though-- as I said, this was before EVERYONE started doing it! ;)

My first summer after graduating from college I got a summer job working for a federal agency in Fairbanks, Alaska. I borrowed a sleeping bag from my sister and bought a cheap frame pack and pup tent in hopes of getting out of town to see some wilderness. After a few weeks on the job (in mid-June), I was able to switch shifts to get a three-day weekend, and took the train to Denali (then still McKinley) National Park. I found a campsite at the walk-in backpacker's campground and set up my tent. It was the first time I'd ever gone camping other than in the back yard as a kid) and I was excited. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to take into account the time of year and the latitude when selecting my orange pup tent. Although the sun set, it never got dark at night, so it was like lying under a BRIGHT neon light all night. Of course, the sound of birds chirping away all night didn't help either. Needless to say, after that first trip, I went out and bought a tent with a dark green rain fly -- and some earplugs. :)

And I had only been on a plane before for one trip when I was 9/10 so I was hardly an experienced flyer. Other firsts on that trip? First time renting a car. First time driving in a place completely unfamiliar to me without a navigator in the passenger seat (this was before people had GPS for themselves). First time realizing I really didn't want the job on offer in an interview. First time in San Francisco. First time dining alone in a real restaurant (not fast food or grabbing take out). First red eye. Oddly enough, things worked out OK. I got there and back just fine. Everything happened on time. The interview wasn't a disaster, I just didn't like the way their office was set up. And I didn't get totally lost which give my lack of a sense of direction, was nearly a miracle.

If the airline doesn't have to provide you with the seat that you picked -- and in some cases, paid extra for because it was a "choice" seat -- then why isn't it false advertising for an airline to constantly bombard passengers with email and ads about paying extra for better seating? I'd be as angry as Coulter if that happened to me. And what prompted the change? Did somebody just recognize her name and decide they didn't like her politics? What would prompt an airline to bump a passenger from an extra-cost seat?

Only Delta knows for certain why her seat was changed. But you make a valid point. How can an airline offer something -- and entice you to pay for it -- if it doesn't have to deliver. Unfair? Anywhere else, yes. But in the wacky world of airlines, it's a common practice.

On a recent trip to Ireland, several merchants offered me an option to have my credit charged in dollars instead of euros. Are there any advantages to doing this? At the time, I figured there would be an extra cost hidden somewhere for doing this. Thanks

Nine out of 10 travel experts say don't accept the offer. You will most likely get a bad exchange rate and have to pay a conversion fee. If your credit card charges you as well, then you are paying two fees that can add up to 6 percent. Best to charge in the local currency on a card that does not exact a conversion fee.

I am no fan of Ann Coulter but I don't understand how the extra seat she purchased could be taken from her by Delta. This is not the first occurrence of a second paid for seat being taken away. A mother had to hold her son instead of being allowed to use the seat she had bought for him. As a recall, a minister from South Carolina who is very big had a second paid for seat taken from him. Is there some unwritten rule that all seats much be occupied by an adult? Passengers who are very large should be able to acquire a second seat without having to fear it will be taken from them.

Interesting question. As far as I know, airlines can require you to pay for another seat (if you're an XL passenger) but they can also take an available seat next to you, even if you've paid extra for it. I've seen it happen. That's a classic "adhesion" contract, applying a different standard to the company than to the customer. There's no rule that says adults should occupy a seat, or that kids have to sit on an adult's lap.

Any experience with doing the Amtrak vacations? I especially like the idea of seeing some of the Nationals Parks out west. I like traveling by train, but am not sure I'd like a whole 2 weeks of it?

I have only taken Via Rail across Canada, which I highly recommend. But I met several people on that trip who have taken Amtrak around a chunk of the U.S. (beyond the Northeast Corridor) and had a fabulous time.

Chatters, any experiences with Amtrak Vacation that you can share?

Five women, living in Texas, Chicago, DC, and North Carolina... want to leave the husbands and kids (with proper warning, of course) behind and head to a resort for fruity cocktails and a lot of RELAXING. Any ideas of great places to go? We'd be traveling in the fall (October?) and would like to find someplace that's reasonably convenient to all-- or at least not significantly less convenient for any. Beachfront resort is good but not required-- as long as it's a lush resort setting where we can feel pampered for a brief shining moment.

Fruity cocktails and relaxing makes me think of somewhere tropical, but October is still hurricane season, so Florida or Caribbean may be iffy. Maybe wait till November? An all-inclusive may be your best bet, as all your food, drinks (even the frozen ones with umbrellas) and most activities are included. Best spots for all-inclusives are Cancun, Jamaica and Dominican Republic. Cancun would likely be the easiest to get to for most, and you could travel south from there to quieter locations, such as Tulum.    

Why does this happen? Is it due to overbooking and more than one person chose one seat?

It normally happens because of an equipment change -- that's airline-speak for changing the plane. For example, if an airline decided to go from a Boeing 737 to a 757, everyone would have to be re accommodated in different seats. Airlines have computer algorithms that try to match the seats in a fair way, but it doesn't always work.

We're thinking of taking a five-day trip to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico. Do you or any of the chatters have recommendations for hotels in Cancun?

There are hundreds of all-inclusives in Cancun proper and the areas south of there, which include Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. I'd start by setting a budget, as the region offers everything from cheap to luxury. Five nights at the Oasis Palm, for example, would cost about $610 per person, while the same number of nights at Le Blanc Spa Resort would be $1,710 per person. You can get an idea of what's offered by going to a site such as Apple Vacations, which represents lots of properties there. 

Today's code is TT9412.It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating. 

 

Are you looking for wintry weather, or warm temperatures? A major city, a resort, or out in the country/small town? Flying or driving?

Yes, the chatter was vague, which is why I gave them homework!

We go to the Southwest over Christmas and when I checked nonstop flights and good time flights I found many with senior fares are already sold out. Reservations seem to get earlier every year. Once Christmas moves to mid week perhaps the situation will get better.

You are likely looking at Southwest Airlines to get to your destination in the Southwest, as it posts senior fares alongside its regular fares. They're often more expensive than its cheapest fares, but they are refundable. If you go to Southwest's travel tools page, it lists when it will release new travel dates. Christmas and Thanksgiving are the most popular times of the year to fly, but agree that when Dec. 25 falls in the middle of the week, travel is more spread out, so easier to find flights. 

I got mine so how early do I need to be for a domestic flight? I'm flying out of National on a Thursday at around noon next month.

Sometimes the TSA PreCheck line is just as long as the regular line. That said, it's still easier, as you don't have to take off your shoes, remove the liquids from your carry-on luggage or take your laptop out of the bag. I'd get there at least 90 minutes early. 

It really shouldn't be that hard to add a few parameters to the booking system. Four seats, would prefer to be together since it is two parents and two preschool age children, but absolutely HAVE to be two pairs (no 3-1 or 2-1-1 or 1-1-1-1 scatterings). Prefer the seat I chose, but HAS to be aisle seat with left leg on aisle because of recent knee surgery. Prefer the seat I chose, but need right ear to be the one close to other people since I am partially deaf on that side and I'll be able to sleep better with seat mates on the quiet side. Okay -- not that specific, but something along those lines. People pick seats, but if the airlines knew why they wanted those seats they could reshuffle people in a way that doesn't cause so much ire.

They do. I've seen these re-seating algorithms close up and have experienced them myself. They try to accommodate passengers in similar seats. But they can't always get you in exactly the same seat. 

a few other options are: 1. Seattle 2. Flathead Lake area in Montana 3. Coeur D'Alene , ID 4. Aspen/Vail/Breckenridge area 5. Vancouver Island/Victoria 6. Northern Michigan

Yes, all lovely. 

But what would make an airline crew bump a passenger from an extra-cost seat, as Delta did with Ann Coulter? That seems designed to create anger and bad PR. Why not give the other passenger the seat that Coulter had to use? Something is fishy about Delta's behavior.

There are a lot of questions, and I'm sure we'll get answers as the conservative blogosphere places its crushing weight on the thin-skinned Delta PR machine. It's only a matter of time. By the way, I'm the first to criticize an airline when it's done something wrong, but what Delta did here is so far eclipsed by Coulter's hysterical reaction, I can't help but feel sorry for Delta.

 

 

Guatemala City is not really a great place to hang out. I spent two nights there at the Radisson in the Zona Viva, which is fairly close to the airport. I felt safe-ish walking to dinner at night. I'd definitely go with a brand hotel in Guatemala City - it will be in a decent neighborhood.

Thanks for the insights!

If the person is in DC, I would call an Alaskan Senator's office or the Representative's office.

Definitely worth a try. 

Why would anyone want to go to a beach where it feels like the planes flying low overhead are going to shear off your head? There must be some huge attraction that outweighs the danger and scariness? Thank you.

 It's for the thrill, though for me, it felt more like a lot of noise and a lot of unhealthy air. Plus, you can't really relax with a book while jets are roaring overhead.

As any aviation geek will tell you, that there's no feeling like watching a 747 land up close -- really close. Tourist flock to Maho Beach to experience a jet blast. Here's the video. Wait for the guys on the fences. Crazy.

I went on an organized 7-day trip to Indonesia and we went to Jakarta, Jogjakarta, and Bali -- I barely saw any of Jakarta, would have liked to have spent longer in Jogja and definitely explored more of the island of Bali. Not to mention I didn't get to go to Sumatra and see elephants. Like Andrea said, it depends what you want out of it, but at least for Indonesia, there are thousands of islands and hundreds of languages and ethnic groups and you could spend weeks there.

Agree. And I strongly encourage seeing more than just Bali, and in Thailand's case, Bangkok and Phuket.

This is my first time. Where do I enter today's code?

You may create an account and log your codes here.

We will need to travel with liquid medications next week. The TSA website indicates that we can bring liquids more than 3 oz, just to present them to security. Also states we can use freezer bags to keep medication and the correct temperature. Wondering if there is anything we should do to make this a smooth process with security. We do not want any trouble and really do not want the medicine confiscated. Considering packing one set in a checked bag and carrying through another. Doubling the chances of getting to our destination with the medication. Or am I going overboard?

Remove the meds from your bag and show them to the TSA officer before you place them in the bin. Make sure the name of the med is clear on the bottle. The agent will not confiscate the liquids as long as they are for a legitimate medical need. If you feel better, check a set in your bag as well. Just know that TSA opens checked bags and inspects the packed items as well.

I'm an experienced traveler to all three - and agree it may be too ambitious to have more than a cursory experience in all three. My advice really depends on what your trans-pacific airline is; if it is Singapore, yes - include it for a couple of nights; just remember is it expensive, since it is a big finance center. I would also recommend the regional budget airlines that won't show up on Expedia or Orbitz - Air Asia has the biggest footprint, and Tiger Air is Singapore based. Bali is the top destination for Indonesia, but I have been to Java and Lombok too - get a good guidebook like Lonely Planet to explore all the options.

Great advice!

 

Have any of you ever used the Japanese luggage delivery service (so that you don't have to lug your luggage off of trains, from the airport, etc.)? It looks inexpensive, and since the Japanese have a reputation for being on time (look at their trains!) and conscientiousness, was considering it. Thanks for any thoughts.

I have not.

Chatters, have you tried this service?

My daughter and I are considering this trip next year. I used the (small group) travel company in the past for another trip and it comes highly recommended for Tanzania. However, it's quite expensive. Our goal is to see a lot of wildlife. Do you and chatters have recommendations? Thank you.

Overland safaris are much cheaper but also less luxurious. You will stay in tented camps or budget lodging and travel by bus, but you will see loads of wildlife. You can also go off-season, when prices drop, or DIY (trains, guesthouses, etc.). Or go with a larger, less personalized group and choose the lower end of lodging.

We just did this with the exact same set-up (8 adults and 6 kids between 5-16) over 4th of July on Whidbey Island, WA. We rented a big house (more like a compound) right on the water, which had a pool and hot tub and a nice sandy beach. We booked through AirBnB (not sure if it's OK to post the listing in this venue, but it's easy to find if you go to the site) and spent the week doing all the things you listed. Our only disappointment is that we wanted to hire a caterer to do one special meal (we were there for a 70th birthday), but turns out there are only a few on the island and they book up well in advance.

Thanks for the report!

Apparently United (or, as I like to call it, Untied) is deliberately trying to de-value itself for a fire sale. 

This kind of bidding is not new to the airline industry, but leave it to one or our legacy carriers to take it to the next level.

But she got the same seat on the other side of the aisle. Boo-freaking-hoo. She didn't get bumped out of first class. I had my seat moved (up one) and wound up sitting behind a guy who reclined his seat so hard it cracked my laptop screen. I can't blame the airline for that.

Thanks for your perspective.

I'd vote for the Omni Bedford Springs. Gorgeous rooms, sit by the fire pits, nice spa....easy 2 hour drive from DCA/IAD.

But do they serve fruity drinks?

There are many extremely luxurious resorts in Arizona and California. Also the West Coast of Mexico does not get hurricanes.

Maybe Palm Springs would be a good choice, but was looking for locations that are convenient for their crowd. 

Is your siding with Delta against Coulter in the seat dispute affected by your dislike of her conservative politics? If it were Rachel Maddow angry at Delta, would you be more like to be angry, too?

I'm not going to get into a discussion about Coulter's politics, or mine. If any passenger did that to Delta, I would feel bad for the airline and its passengers.

The airlines, in the name of profitability, have been doing everything in their power to make the airline experience awful. For this reason, I have done everything possible over the last decade to avoid flying. This includes taking every homeport cruise out of Baltimore, and driving and taking Amtrak long distances. In fact, for Christmas, I decided it was better for my 8 year old son and I to take the 22 hour sleepier on the Silver Meteor than flying. If purchased early enough, the fares are competitive, and it comes with so much more. Amtrak's Contract of Carriage isn't nearly as restrictive as the airlines. I realize I am an outlier, but is their anything that consumers can do to compel airlines to make the seats more comfortable, add legroom and include decent food? I mean, on domestic flights, unless flying across country on one of the last First Class sections (and those prices are outrageous), even Business Class fails to provide a comfortable seat, never mind affordable. It has gotten to the point that the Chinatown Buses are more comfortable than coach.

I don't think you're an outlier. I haven't been on a plane in months and I avoid air travel whenever possible. I know many people who do, too. A shift is coming and airlines are unprepared for it. Maybe this will offer a little competition to the near-monopoly domestic airlines currently enjoy.

I was stunned by her tirade not just about DL but also splashng the picture of the other passenger as well. If the shoe was on the other foot I can imagine her reaction. And as for her 'fascist' comment - just shocking. she spent $10,000 of her time reearching a $30 seat? DL should just ban her or at least point out as a customer she can take her business elsewhere. Sometimes the airlines pussyfoot around these issues and they need to be more robust with minor complaints such as this.

A ban would probably be too much, but Delta can counter her tirade with facts. That often works, even in an era of "fake" news.

I'm so sad! I turn 62 shortly after the price increase. I had an alert set on my calendar since last year to apply for the senior pass on my birthday. The pass was one of the few advantages to aging. August 28 marks the decline and fall of the American Empire. I have to admit, the pass is a deal even at the new higher price. And the NPS has been woefully underfunded for years (decades even.) By the way, Canada is giving out free passes to their national parks for their entire 150th anniversary year. 

We mentioned Canada's gift to the world for its 150th in our Canada issue, but thank you for reminding us to go north this year!

More first-time travel stories:

My daughter has been a pretty good traveler from day 1 (3 months old). However, the return leg of our first international flight (at 3.5) was truly awful from about hour 7 on (of almost 11). She was exhausted, the ventilation system must have gone on the fritz (because it got HOT - enough so that I was starting to feel sick too!), and the closest window shade was completely broken (which meant that there was bright sunlight in her eyes no matter what we did). She threw a pretty epic tantrum for at least 30 minutes when we started calming her down to sleep - like the kind of volume the entire plane could hear. Fortunately, most of the passengers around us were 5 or 6 drinks into vacation already so I resolved not to feel guilty. I finally convinced her to let me take her to the back of the plane/galley area, which was at least 10 degrees cooler and spent a long long time calming her down and negotiating a truce. She finally fell asleep just as they turned on the lights for the last drinks service and spent the last 45 minutes of the flight somewhere between sleep - and sobbing that she wanted to be asleep. Until then, we had figured we were golden for whatever travel we wanted. However, we're rethinking that assumption a bit!

I was about four years old when my parents decided that instead of the usual drive to Grandma's (about 500 miles away from our home), my father needed to work, so my mother would take the kids. I got on the plane before my mother, saw an empty seat, and asked the man in the next one if it would be all right for me to sit next to him. My mother, of course, had the tickets with the real seat numbers, and her way of dealing with the situation was to say, "I thought you wanted to sit with me!" I remember being flummoxed, because I didn't want to be rude to the nice man who was letting me sit next to him, but I also didn't want my mother to feel rejected, either. I looked back and forth and finally settled on going with Mom, apologizing to the nice man for hurting his feelings.

The first time I traveled to England I ended up employed as an undocumented worker for three days. My best friend is English and had recently moved back, and I was an impoverished graduate student visiting for two weeks on a shoestring budget. I knew London was expensive, but even so my cash started to run out much more quickly than I had planned. Meanwhile, my friend's PR firm was short staffed, so she came home one day and asked if I wanted to temp for a few days. She negotiated an incredibly generous hourly wage, paid under the table, and I worked as a receptionist/executive assistant for the head of her firm. It was a blast! I've always been one who would rather experience the local life than trot around monuments and tourist attractions, and here I was commuting, working, and going to happy hour like a native. I was able to finance the rest of my trip in comfort, and as it was only three days I still had plenty of time to see and do other things. When I got to Heathrow to fly home, I was randomly selected for a more thorough questioning at the immigration checkpoint, and I was momentarily terrified that they had somehow discovered my unauthorized work stint, but of course it was pure coincidence. And I had a permanent invitation to come back and work for them again whenever I wanted.

Headed to San Miguel de Allende with my two young adult daughters. Any suggestions for must-do activities? Thanks!

I've emailed my former colleague Jerry Rife, who is a retired newspaper photographer now living in San Miguel de Allende. Will post his response if he gets back to me in time. Meanwhile, the Parroquia church, the Mixta store, and the Mask Museum are some neat spots. 

The larger islands in the Azores (São Miguel, Terceira and Faial) have the sort of self-catering lodgings you seek, and the air temperature rarely reaches above the upper 70s in mid-summer). Being on the Gulf Stream in the middle of the North Atlantic, there are lots of water sports. The major city on each island has museums, shopping, culture, etc. And there's sightseeing on the rest of each island. Google is your friend.

And there are frequently good deals via nonstop flights from Boston on Azores Airlines

Frankly I think you can cut it closer than 90 minutes with little worry. But I understand the urge for being conservative. I flew out of DCA on Friday morning. Arrived about 6:15 for a flight departing at 7:30 (boarding at 7). The regular security lines went way down the hall. Precheck line was longer than I am used to but I was still through in about 5 minutes. For a Thursday at noon I expect the line would be shorter.

Good to know -- thanks!

Heading north and we were thinking of a stop on the Canada side of Niagara Falls. Any hotel/B&B recommendations? Bonus for views of the falls. Thanks!

The hotels with the best views are all chains, but don't let that deter you. The top three are the Marriott Fallsview, Niagara Tower Hotel and Embassy Suites. You can see bi-country views at the Hilton Niagara Falls. For a B&B, consider Greystone Manor.

Anyone have any experience using WhatsApp? I am trying to plan a trip to The Gambia, and want to hire a driver to get me to a park in the north of the country where I have reservations at a science center's lodge. The center gave me the phone numbers of some drivers they recommend. Can I use WhatsApp to contact them? It can be a challenge to be confident planning travel in less technologically advanced countries. Any other tips on finding drivers, etc. other than just showing up and crossing my fingers that people are trustworthy?

I use WhatsApp all the time, but you will need a WiFi connection or international data plan. And the other person, obviously, will need to have the app as well.

For drivers, word of mouth is the best. Ask friends, hotel concierges, tour operators, lodge owners, etc.

There's plenty to do in Thailand or Indonesia for 3 weeks. Depends on what you like to do of course. But given the climate you are almost forced to slow down so keep that in mind. I like Singapore though as well. If you are flying in or out of there it's worth a couple of days.

that seat was reserved for a corporate contract that they might have to fulfill much closer to the time of the flight for business travel. And the businesses pay a bit more on those contracts so their employees can have those seat even though they are booking closer to the departure time. At least, that is what I have heard.

Maybe it's the airports I few from recently, but I have TSA Pre and have had to remove liquids and computers from my luggage. This happened to me just a couple of weeks ago at two separate airports.

If you are not in a designated PreCheck lane, then you will have to remove your liquids and gadgets. If you are in a lane, then you should not have to remove them. Some airports are too small to have PreCheck lanes or only staff them during busy hours.

Many years ago: First time I traveled to Europe, I'd just gotten my first passport, and I was traveling alone. Checked into my hotel, which requested I hand over my passport; they said they were busy, so asked to keep it to photocopy it, then return it later. I forgot all about this. Three days later I flew on to another city in the same country, so didn't need to show my passport (as I said, long ago), then tried to check in to my hotel at my destination. Oops, they needed my passport. Panic ensued, then I realized the last time I'd had it. Luckily I had a few photocopies of the relevant passport page with me, which got me into my hotel room, and the passport was placed on the next flight from my previous stop to the new one. I've NEVER let my passport out of my sight ever since while traveling!

A final -- and cautionary -- travel first.

Once again, the hour has flown by. Egypt traveler, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel!

At the end of my third trip to Chile, we departed just before midnight on December 31 and were treated to a truly spectacular view of the Valparaiso/Vina Del Mar fireworks from above. It was my first, and only, time seeing fireworks below!

Adding this first as a P.S. 

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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