Talk about Travel

Jul 18, 2011

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. Today's topics: destination weddings, clamming in Oregon, and anything else travel-related.

Happy hot Monday.  Thanks for joining our weekly Travel chat. Ask away, or send suggestions so that we can learn from your experiences.

For today's topic:  How do you research restaurants before you go to a new destination? Tom's Postcard is a given,  but do you also look online? What are your favorite Web sites? Do you ask for local advice? Or just wing it?

I visiting Disney World next week - are there any Florida beers I should look up while I am in the area? I can't think of any.

Check out this great Web site for Florida brew events and whatnot:

At Disney, Big River Grille and Brewing Works on the boardwalk is the only working brewpub at the resort. For brewpubs in Orlando, check out Hops (two locations) or Orlando Brewing.

Two couples--70 yrs. in good health--would like to visit Ireland but would rather not sign on for a conventional tour and would rather not drive. We would like to use public transportation to travel to several areas where we could settle in for 4-5 days for exploration, on foot or in public transportation. I would appreciate any information or suggestions along these lines.

Hmm. You're rejecting two of the most time-honored ways of seeing Ireland, although I can understand why you might not want to drive the country's winding lanes on the wrong side of the road. Still, there are good bus and train routes in Ireland, so you can do it your way. Check out Ireland Tourism's Web site for their info and advice on traveling around by bus and train (or taxi!), and let's also ask the chatters for their two cents. Let's hear from you, folks!

On the Cruise Critic website we saw a "deal" for a Royal Caribbean cruise (incl air) through "Online Vacation Center" which they say is registered in Florida, California, and Washington. Although we assume Cruise Critic would vet the "deals" they list, my old boss used to say, "Never assume anything." We hesitate to plunk down our money in these troubled economic times for a 2012 cruise with an unknown company. Are you familiar with the company and/or do you know of a website or other source which evaluates tour companies?

I'm with you about doing your own due diligence, especially if it was a paid advertisement rather than an editorial story. I usually check with the Better Business Bureau - a quick check there shows that Online Vacation Center has a B+ rating. I also look to see how long a company has been in business and whether they are members of reputable trade organizations. Also, you should always price out the components of a trip separately directly with the source to make sure you are getting a good deal. In other words, price the cruise portion with Royal Caribbean and the air portion with the airline. 

According to a top editor at Cruise Critic, the site vets all deals posted in its deals section.  The companies in this section are ones they trust and have been working with for some time. If you found the deal as an ad or posted by someone on the boards, then you've lost your safety net.

Please stop recommending tranquilizers for cats (and dogs) even light ones! They are torture! I submitted a comment about it already describing the situation I experienced travelling with a tranquilized cat to the U.S. from Canada (upon the vet's recommendation). We were both traumatized, the cat suffered incredibly. I moved to Europe with her being completely unmedicated. She didn't even blink and was a happy camper upon arrival. Why everyone keeps recommending this useless practice is beyond. And why you follow despite horror stories from others is just as beyond me. Other than that, I always enjoy 'travel talk'.

Excellent point. One caveat: If your vet has strongly suggested tranquilizers for a very nervous pet.

Has anyone taken surfing lessons in the Santa Monica, CA area? If so, any recommendations?

Chatters? This one's for you.

Any suggestions for a relaxing beach vacation in a gay-friendly, but reasonably low-key location in October?

I am not sure how far you want to travel, but here are some suggestions: the Hamptons, Rehoboth, Cape Cod/ Provincetown, Puerto Rico, Ft. Lauderdale, the Florida Keys. Since it is off-season in these destinations, the scene should be much more laid-back.

I want to go away for my birthday weekend. Traveling alone and taking Friday and Monday off work. Want to drive; no more than 3 hours; I like museums, book stores, funky fun stores where I can wander around, good food, nice but not too pricy hotels...would kind of prefer no college town as it will be in mid September. Love the beach but not sure I want to drive that far. Can you help? I may be asking for too much..I would appreciate any city, hotel, restaurant recommendations...Thank you!

How about Berkeley Springs, W.Va.?

I'll also put in a good word for my former city of Winchester, Va. You could probably spend a good chunk of a day browsing shops on the Loudoun Street mall. Quite a few museums, too, but the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is a real first-class institution. Stay: George Washington Hotel. Eat: Brewbaker's, Cork Street Tavern, La Nicoise Cafe, Sucilee's House of Thai. Lots of farms around too, but my favorite is Marker-Miller Orchards -- get the donuts!

I want to go to Peru. When is the best time to go there to avoid cold & rain? Heat, I don't mind, for I am a sinner.

There's really no bad time to visit Peru, which never gets really cold (low temps in the winter -- which is our summer, btw -- are only in the 50s, and that's at night. It does matter a little depending on where you want to go, though. If you want to hit the mountains, best to go in winter (July through September). The jungle's always hot, and apparently it rains a lot there in December and January (summertime). Chatters, have any of you been?

My dive shop is planning a trip to Curacao in november, staying at the Lions Den resort. Question 1 is - are you familiar with that resort. Question 2 is about flights. Prices range from less than $200 for a 1 stop via Miami flight, up to about $1k - is the lowest price weird? Question 3 is - is Curacao as great as they say? Thx

Second question - yes, the lowest price is weird and $1,000 is way too much. About $400 is right. I don't believe there are any nonstops. American Airlines is the key player from Washington to Curacao, and flights go through Miami.

First question: I'll throw that one out to chatters. But a quick look at reviews are positive.  Take a look at Where to Stay and TripAdvisor.

Third Question - I've  not been there. Chatters??

Here is my Travel piece on Curacao.

I definitely enjoyed the island, and the diving is great. But I would not classify Curacao as my favorite island. (For that, I would pick maybe Grenada, St. Barths or Puerto Rico.)

Do you know of any good websites that have reliable reviews of different airlines? I'm trying to decide between KLM, US Airways and United for a trans-Atlantic flight. The fares are close, so I'm looking for other factors to help me decide. Thanks.

Try Skytrax - I think its reviews are fairly accurate.

Hello! I am looking to visit a friend in Puerto Rico and flights from the DC area flights seem to be around $400. Right now I'm thinking Labor Day weekend - do you think I should buy or is there a chance they will go down? Also, I've noticed that the flights out of Puerto Rico seem to only be in the morning hours. Am I just not finding other flights or is that common? I really appreciate your help!

That's not a bad price --especially for a holiday -- but be sure to check the budget carriers, too, like AirTran. And no, flights to San Juan are throughout the day and into the evening. The later flights might just be sold out for the holiday.

Comment: As a long-time Elite flyer on Continental (unfortunately, now United) I was shocked to find out they charged my credit card when I canceled two tickets within 24 hours -- usually there is no penalty. I was told it is now an "option" to request no charge to my card, or to put it toward a new ticket -- with a $150 change fee! Yet another way to fill their coffers. Also, my husband (a Silver Elite) now has to pay for "an extra leg room seat" where I sit (Gold Elite) in the coach cabin. You don't have to pilot a boat near the Somali coast to be robbed -- just fly a major US airline -- American's blatant corporate thieves!

As an elite-level frequent flier, United should be waiving every rule it has. I would recommend letting the airline know of your disappointement. It's the only way they'll ever change. (Remember, these fees are a major source of revenue for airlines, so if no one says anything, they'll just keep piling them on.) Here are some United contacts.

i know you eschew controversy but i'm sick of getting beaten up on planes, first a flight attendant loudly closing bins elbows me on the top of the head and instead of "i'm sorry" he says "I do that once a flight." The airline claimed as a regional connection, they weren't responsible which is different that what they say when you buy your ticket: Last week, someone's trying to get around a flight attendant who's doing what they tell us not to do, standing in the aisle and in the process of heaving his too large bag, it slams directly into the side of my face.

I hear you! No one should be beaten up on a plane, ever. I'm working on a story about this -- would you mind sending me the particulars. Here's my email address.


I always ask the hotel concierge, friends who have been to a particular destination, and of course travel mags. When I wing it, I tend to go to places which seem to have a lot of locals (I like the mom and pops and small places, because 9 times out of 10 the places have food which is pretty good.

Great advice!

My husband wants to visit Svalbard. To me it looks cold and bleak, but I'm only looking at photos. Isn't this a place that is best for only those who are truly rugged outdoor explorers?

Wow, you stumped me!

Chatters, any thoughts on Svalbard?

The rates I have been quoted (picking up in the Salt Lake City airport, returning in Las Vegas) are ridiculously high. I called the counter directly at the Avis location in Murray, Utah (14 miles from airport) and was quote a rate that was 1/3 of the price. However, the attendant would not give me anything in writing. No email confirmation -- he said he was giving me the "employee" discount. When I checked the reservation online, it was $1,000 more than what he quoted. My husband says we shouldn't do it - we could end up taking a cab out there and paying just as much as at the airport. Have you heard of this?

When your pick-up place is different than your drop-off point, the rental car price will be astounding -- no getting around that (I have tried).  Yet, when you book a car off-site from the airport, the price will be cheaper (the company does not have to pay airport fees). I would call the company again, ask to speak to a manager and confirm from the manager that you can get that rate. You should get a confirmation email or at least a confirmation number. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time.

About 12 of my friends and I flew Delta Airlines from Tampa to Atlanta to Jackson, MS, on 6/26/11. We all had a major baggage delay. Delta reps said due to the small size of their planes and FAA weight limits they can't put everyone's luggage on the planes. The luggage arrives later on another flight. We had to wait 24-48 hours for our luggage. If Delta already knows about baggage limits and weight limits in the beginning, why don't they tell passengers this when we book the flights? We could have taken carry on luggage. Was Delta just trying to collect extra baggage fees? This seems like a ripoff to me since we were all out of $50 for baggage fees, not to mention the major inconvenience of having to wait for our luggage to arrive. And I might add our luggage did not arrive when Delta said it would. We have all vowed to NEVER FLY DELTA AGAIN.

Sometimes, aircraft can be replaced (it's referred to as an equipment change in airline parlance). But that's no excuse. I think Delta should have notified you, if possible. Here are a few contacts at Delta. You might try sending them a brief, polite email, telling them about your experience.

I'm very excited to have gotten tickets to some Olympic events in London next summer (yay!!!) but now is the big question: when should I buy my plane tickets? I know prices can fluctuate with the seasons, but what's the best time to buy? Thanks!

The best time to buy is when you see the best fare, so sign up for fare alerts and check fare booking sites often. There is no exact science.  And for the Olympics, you can expect prices to just escalate.

I'm traveling with a friend from Blacksburg, VA, 24060 to Merrill WI, 54452. It looks like the shortest route, through Chicago, is just over 900 miles. I'm looking for a 2-3 hour diversion along the way. On a similar trip a few years ago we visited Frank Lloyd Wright's studio in Chicago, and are not interested in stopping in that fair and congested city. We are willing to lengthen the route by 50 miles in order to accommodate an interesting diversion. Indianapolis Speedway is also not a consideration - been there. Any suggestions?

It's not too far past Blacksburg, but in West Virginia, you'll be passing close to the New River Gorge Bridge, which I recently walked across. If you're not afraid of heights, it is an amazing experience. You might enjoy visiting Columbus, Ohio, for its North Market, as former Food staffer Jane Black did. In Columbus, you also shouldn't miss visiting Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, with locations at the market and elsewhere in town. Near Gary, IN, you could detour east to some of Michigan's lovely lakeshore. And, of course, there's always Milwaukee.

How's that for a start?

Hi there Gurus! Is Croatia a good location for a low key, R&R type trip? My boyfriend and I are usually into packed itineraries and sightseeing and have been to nearly all of Europe, but this time around we're looking to relax someplace we've never been (we're going to a wedding in September in Europe, which is why we're heading back to the continent). I'd like to spend a day or two in Dubrovnik, and then spend 7-10 days or so relaxing and wandering some of the islands (I think we'll only have time for 2). We're not looking for a resort but would like to be near the water and to check out some small towns. I've heard the island of Brac is nice, but wanted to learn a little more. Thoughts? We'd otherwise be doing the villa thing in Italy, but we've both been and can't afford it these days. Thanks!

I think Croatia sounds lovely. Here's a recent Going Our Way we had about it.

We are looking for somewhere scenic (maybe a resort with good food) to go for Thanksgiving in the upper Midwest. Minneapolis is the starting point.

Hm. Let's ask our upper Midwest chatters. Ideas, people?

I'm wondering if there any rhyme or reason to when prices go up. I was looking at prices for a trip in August. I checked again exactly 4 weeks before the trip and some of the trains for that day had gone up, but others were the same. Are there any timing rules I should be aware of for the future or is it just a crapshoot? Thanks.

It is basically supply and demand. If the train company sees that loads of people are buying seats on a certain train, they will up the price. If seats are empty, fares go down. Take into account peak times and days of the weeks as well as special events, such as holidays and sports events. Go against the norm (such as traveling wee hours of the morning or late hours) and you might find lower rates.

I am going to Santa Fe in mid August with some friends and am looking for a hotel. We were hoping to stay downtown but everything we've seen there is quite expensive. Do you have recommendations of how to find a more affordable ($100/night) hotel? If it's not in walking distance of downtown it would be great if it offered a shuttle. Also, any recommendations in general for things to do in Santa Fe?

Have you tried Hotwire or Priceline? I see hotels at rates lower than $100 on those sites.  I haven't been to Santa Fe in many years, so will throw that one out to our chatters.

Thanks for taking my question, love the chats!!! I've heard people advise against seeing more that one island a week. Any other advice? Also, I was thinking visting Oahu and the Big Island over 2 weeks in early November. Prices are around $900, is that normal?

November is still shoulder season in Hawaii. Once the weather gets really cold, you can bet ticket prices will rise. Regarding doing more than one island in a week -- it's possible. I've done it. But I wish I hadn't. I think you picked the right islands. I wouldn't recommend squeezing another island into your itinerary.

I have and I loved it! I stayed at Le Mergiot and had their concierge arrange it. The instructor ( who for all purposes was a college kid) picked me up, provided a wetsuit, and enough instruction I survived and enjoyed it. I really liked the one on one because I could take a break and didn't feel too foolish since it was my first time.

Any advice on how to pack a couple of bottles of wine in checked luggage without having them break?

First, can you have the winery or liquor store ship it home? Sometimes that's the easiest way. Otherwise, consider buying a travel wine case; find tons of options here. I have heard good things about Wine Skin.

Before our oldest goes off to college, we wanted to have 1 last family vacation and decided to splurge at the Atlantis Resort in early August. However, we are concerned about hurricanes. I was concerned that usual travel insurance would not cover hurricanes or tropical storms. Do they? If not, does someone offer hurricane insurance for travelers?

Most travel insurance policies cover hurricanes under trip cancellation and interruption. But flights  have to be canceled, a hurricane warning issued, etc., for coverage to kick in. Go to one of the Web sites that offer policies from different companies - InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright, SquareMouth -  and read the fine print of any policy you purchase.

Good morning. I'll be travelling to Turkey in September and will be packing one mid-size suitcase. I'm wondering if I might be better off shipping the suitcase to my final destination - Dalyan, Turkey. I'll be flying from Dayton, Ohio, to Chicago to pick up my Turkish Air flight to Istanbul with a connection to Dalaman. I'm concerned about handling my luggage that many times. Any advice. Thanks, much!

Is your midsize bag small enough to fit as carry-on? That is one option. Otherwise, I honestly think it is safer to just check it through all the way to Turkey than to  ship it via mail. Your bag could get stuck at customs or lost in the mail or delivered to the wrong address. I would think that it is easier dealing with lost luggage with the airline vs. a mail service from Turkey.

Of course, make sure you pack your essentials (meds, documents, extra underwear) in your carry-on.

I haven't been surfing in Santa Monica, but there's a great all-women's surf school, Surf Diva, in San Diego worth checking out. They offer excellent pro instruction in a very fun environment. (Men are allowed, too.)

My birthday is at the end of August and I'm planning to do a solo mini-vacation (aprox 5 nights) somewhere where I haven't been before and not in the US. This is a special birthday for me and I would like to go to a place where I can somehow meditate. At first I thought about the Holy Land but I don't have enough time! I've been in Western Europe (except Portugal), also in China, India, Egypt and a couple of places in South & Central America and many islands of the Caribbean. I want to go to a place with a good transportation system so I can go everywhere without the need to rent a car since I don't drive. My interests are photography, religion, culture and good food. I'm not interested in a place where the only attraction is a beach. My budget is 1k-$1200 and I thought about the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, or visiting some monasteries in Italy (San Giovanni Rotondo, Puglia?) But I've been to both countries and would like to explore other cultures however I'm willing to consider going back if it is really a "shouldn't miss place." Any suggestion for a solo female traveler will be greatly appreciated!

What about Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary is said to have been appearing to some locals for 30 years. It just sounds fascinating to me. Plus it's pretty. Or there is, of course, Lourdes and Fatima (since you've never been to Portugal). Chatters, your thoughts?

I missed last week's chat because I was on a plane! Because of some family emergencies, I've been flying a lot over the last few months. The real problem with carry on vs. checked luggage is the fact that the airlines don't enforce their own policies / regulations. I always carry on my bags. Small suitcase that conforms to the carry on limit and fits either in bin or under the seat. And a very small bag that can hold wallet and book. If the bins are full, I don't mind gate-checking the bag (free). I refuse to pre-check my bags because I refuse to be nickel and dimed by the airlines and contribute to the CEOs' salaries. On every flight in the last three months, there have been several passengers who board with three or more bags despite the "two only" announcements. And passengers who carry on full-size suitcases that take up extra room in the bins. And each time this happens, these passengers walk past a gate agent and one or more flight attendants NONE OF WHOM say a word! Really? A suitcase, laptop and a garment bag for one person are all ok? What about the woman on this last flight who refused to check her full-size suitcase in case it got lost and the flight attendant simply shoved it under the seat so it stuck out in the aisle and the passenger planted her feet on top of it. Why wouldn't attendant simply say "I'm sorry, ma'am, but that has to be checked -- it is TOO LARGE to be on board." If they'd enforce their own rules, then boarding would be much quicker and every passenger have a proper share of the overhead bins.

You're right. Flight attendants' are unhappy about this, too. They are being asked to enforce a policy many of them don't agree with, which is to charge for all checked bags (unless you're sitting in first class or are a super-elite). So they look the other way until the cabin is full, and then they begin gate-checking the bags. I don't know how to solve this. Any ideas?

I just got back from a great hiking trip with Backroads to Norway. I've had Norway on my radar for a few years but something always came up and this year just decided to go for it. What a beautiful country. It reminds me of Switzerland but wilder - less tourist infrastructure. Also more expensive than Switzerland (!!). My cab fare from Oslo airport into Oslo (and back again) was 900 NOK each way! Do the math... Most of the trip was in the fjordland - mountains. Oslo was a gateway for a few days. What were your thoughts on Norway?

Haven't been myself, but Norway does sound great. I recently read Julia Child's "My Life in France," and the way she describes it will make anyone want to go. This weekend I also happened to catch our own Food section columnist Andreas Viestad on an episode of "New Scandinavian Cooking" on one of our PBS affiliates. He was doing something intriguing with berries amid some of the spectacular scenery you describe.

Me again. Thanks for the advice. The attendant gave me a confirmation number, but when I pull it up on the Avis website, it is for $1,600 -- while he quoted me $600. He will not put it in writing, though. He said he can't. It seems a little fishy for a major business like Avis. It's tempting to try it . . .$1,000 is not chump change.

That does not instill confidence. What if he is not working that day and no other employee knows what you are talking about? And what if he is doing something improper, the company finds out, and charges you the high rate anyway? Your call.

I will be in Paris during mid-August for 4 days. What should I expect and what suggestions do you have for slightly off the beaten track tourist activities. I'll be staying in the 6th Arr. so location is pretty central. Merci!

Expect it to be pretty empty of locals. Many Parisians take their holidays that month and escape to the beach. You will, however, probably encounter a lot of tourists. One fun thing that happens in August is the Paris Plage along the Seine. The city literally turns it into a makeshift beach and at night there are musical performances and places where you can sip cocktails. Actually, August is a good time to take a cruise along the Seine. There are also free outdoor movies at the Parc de la Villette. For some off the beaten path ideas, I love walking, shopping and visiting cafes in the neighborhood of Montmartre. It's got a relaxed, cool vibe. And of course, you must take a walk up to the Sacre Coeur cathedral. A train ride away from Paris is Monet's Garden at Giverny. Beautiful. Also go to the Centres George Pompidou in Paris. It's an interesting modern building, with a restaurant on top with an amazing view. It also houses the National Museum of Modern Art. A newish art museum that caused some controvery when it opened a few years ago is the Musee du Quai Branly. Would be interesting to check out. Anyone else have ideas?

Hello Gurus! I'm taking my boyfriend to dinner for his birthday at the Bartlett Pear Inn per Tom's recommendation for his birthday in August, and I'd like to spend the day out and about on the Eastern Shore for some R&R time before dinner, preferably on the water. Do you have any day trip suggestions for us? We have bikes we can take with us if that's an option. Thanks!

Consider going to St. Michaels - not far from Easton. Here's a link to a bike route that includes a ferry ride.

Hello! I am going to be taking a Western Carribean cruise right after the new year. The cruise has ports of call in Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico. Is it necessary to exchange currency before traveling or will I be able to buy things in these 2 cities with American dollars/credit cards? Thanks for your help.

You'll be fine with American dollars. BTW, I was recently in both places, and arranged my own very relaxing shore excursions.  In Costa Maya, spent the day lounging at Maya Chen Beach and in Cozumel, bought a day pass for the Aura  Grand Resort  (not sure they are still doing this). 

Second times the charm? I will be flying in to Tel Aviv and after 14 days, flying back from Istanbul. In that time, do you think that I could reasonably fit in a visit to Petra and Cappadocia? It seems to be a bit of a pain to get to Cappadocia. Any experience in staying in one of the fairy chimney rooms?

Two weeks is a long time, so I think you can do it. But you'll be moving around a lot. So it depends on the type of traveler you are. Do you want to relax and get to know a couple of places well or do you like changing it up every few days and don't mind hopping on buses and small planes? I tend to be the second type of traveler. The first time I went to Israel and Turkey, it was also a two week trip and I added in Cairo, Amman and Beirut (and went to Petra). You really only need two or three days each in Tel Aviv and Istanbul to get in all the main sights. Cappadocia is not so hard to get to. If it's in your budget, the easiest thing to do is fly. Otherwise it's a 10 to 12-hour bus ride. The easiest way to get to Petra would be to do a guided tour. Many of them depart from Tel Aviv daily. They can be pricey, but they will save you time. As for the fairy chimney rooms, never been. Has anyone out there?

I am a female in my 30's and want to take a 4 or 5 day trip around Labor Day and am having a hard time deciding where to go. I would like a combination of urban and outdoors such as hiking. I am trying to avoid the southeast and its possibiliy of hurricanes Thinking maybe New Mexico or Vancouver but would like suggestions. Thanks, love the chat!

I like your thinking re: Vancouver. New Mexico might be a bit hot then! How about Montreal? Definitely a quicker flight. If Joe was here, he could surely espouse all that fair city's virtues. Lots of outdoors opportunities there too.

Hello there - headed to Los Angeles with teens and not enough time to tour all of the studios, which (I think) include Universal, Warner Bros, Paramount, and Sony. Which ones(s) would you recommend? Thanks!

If you can only do one, I'd go for Universal. There's a lot more to do, and it's perfect for teens.

Seeking advice on what to do. I will be there from August 2nd through the 7th. Have a room at The Sylvia and grandstand tickets to the fireworks festival. No other plans. What should I do? I'll have been in Alaska the previous week doing quite a bit of outdoor stuff, so I might be more in the mood for city delights than getting out of town for hiking. I was going to pick up a "Time Out" at the airport to use to make some plans. Is that enough, or is there a better magazine for listings? Also, I really don't want to rent a car. I'm assuming the public transportation system will be fine for a person who can read a map and used to deal with New York subways and busses with minimal fuss. Am I correct? Thanks.

We had a bunch of articles about Vancouver in the run-up to the Olympics there the other year. Find them here in our Canada archive. You probably don't want to miss Stanley Park, if you're not too sick of the outdoors.

Chatters, have any experience on their transit system?

How the heck do I search for a particular country, region, or state? When I'm looking for travel info, I know to go to the Travel section and select "Europe," "United States," "Mid-Atlantic" to see articles on this topic, but there doesn't seem to be a away to narrow down from there. What if I wanted to look up Spain or the Eastern Shore? Using the search doesn't help because it searches the entire Post. Is there no way to search only the Travel section for specific locations? Thanks!

Alas, it's rather complicated since we redesigned the Web site, although it can be done. Here's what you do: On the Travel home page, scroll down to the map headed Travel by Destination. Then, say you're looking for stories on Spain. Click on Europe, which will take to our old Europe page. Then, on the left hand side, click on International, which will take you to a page where you can select a specific country. It's sort of a backwards way of getting there, but it does work! To make it easier,  here's the direct link to the Browse by Country page so you can just bookmark it.

Since I'm on a gluten free diet, I have to do a LOT of research before I travel. I usually contact the local celiac support group for their restaurant recommendations, and ask for advice on on-line celiac forums. Urban Spoon has a "gluten free" check box that is also of some help, and the Gluten Intolerance Group has the "Gluten Free Restaurant Awareness Program" that lists restaurants with gluten free menus, etc. Yelp reviews are also helpful, not so much for gluten free options, but for more general information about restaurants from a diner's perspective.

Thanks for the insights, and so useful for people with special dietary needs.

For the 70-year-old couple who does not want to drive . . . SMART decision! First off, I'm not sure you can rent in Ireland, given your age. Second, it is way too dangerous. The average speed is 60-70 mph on narrow, windy roads with no shoulder (and tour buses coming straight at you) -- not to mention the "other side of the road" complication, which led to several near crashes for us (mostly when pulling into traffic). I'd recommend staying in town where you can walk to and from the inn or hotel. For example, we stayed in the beautiful Quay House in Clifden -- you can walk to town and there may be transportation available to other towns along the west coast. Also, there are ferries to the Arran islands. Check out Connemara websites like -- and click on "getting here."

Terrific, thank you!

I know there's no way to time the stock market, but do any of the old rules about when to score airline ticket deals still apply? It seems like the airlines are always charging the highest price, even when I check on days and times (e.g. Tuesday at 3PM) when travel "experts" claim they will be lower. Has this gone the way of free peanuts & onboard magazines (remember those?!) Or do some "rules" still apply (prices may drop 3 months before departure, etc)? THANKS!

I never bought in to those so-called tips. Airline pricing is, simply put, based on supply and demand and competition. If the market is served by many carriers, especially if a discounter is involved, fares are generally lower and sales more frequent. Sales have become less common because there are fewer flights, which means fewer seats, and flights are filling up without deep discounts.  There are still deals, but you're more apt to get them by using your noodle -- ie using an alternative airport that has discount carriers-- rather than coming upon some outrageous sale.

LOVED the postcard this week. That's exactly how I like to travel. I generally eschew guide books and instead search the local English-language papers and Google to find local food bloggers (or link from food bloggers I already follow). This approach led us to the best Italian restaurant in Bangkok one time. Seriously great food. The chef could not believe how we'd found him. I think we were the only non-locals in the place.

Bloggers are a zealous group. Great idea!

What could possibly have led Chris Elliott to make this comment in his latest The Navigator column: "Shouldn’t we be welcoming the screening instead of running from it?" Was he being sarcastic? For those of us who have medical implants--I have two artificial knees--there is no strategy that lets us avoid some kind of intrusive TSA search. If an airport does not use the X-ray scanner, my knees set off the traditional metal detector, so I ALWAYS get what I refer to as 'the full grope'. If there is a scanner, my choice is the grope or unwanted radiation, which though minimal (the TSA says) can't be good for you in its cumulative effect when you fly a lot. Come on, Chris...I only wish I could "run away from it"...

I thought that the question was worth asking, but I meant it rhetorically, if not a little sarcastically. The answer -- if you read the rest of the column -- is that we are running from TSA screeners, the very people who are supposed to be protecting us. That says a lot about the TSA and its practices, and it is not positive. We are at the point now where the worst part of air travel is the TSA. How did it come to that? (Another rhetorical question!)

Great postcard on dining in Istanbul. The travel staff seem to love Istanbul, with good reason. But there are many other great parts of Turkey....going to Turkey and just visiting Istanbul is like coming to the US and only visiting New York City. I suggest you feature some articles about traveling in Capadoccia, or the Turkish Mediterranean, or other parts of this wonderful country.

Oddly enough, we have something planned on that score. :-)

It sounds to me that the poster whose cat had a bad experience with being sedated got a too large dose. All pet tranquilizers have to be precisely calibrated to the pet's weight; don't just give them one of your own valium or xanax pills! Some cats do a lot better when they are mildly sedated, and if that describes your pet, don't get scared off from a safe practice (just talk to your vet about proper dosing).

Thanks for a becalming response.

I actually had that question in the past and spoke with a train rep and yes they said it's supply and demand. With the trains sometimes the early bird does get the worm. The closer you get on some of the long distance routes the price does go up. On the more regional routes (like the NY to Boston route) the prices seem to be constant and steady, because of the large number of people who use that route. So with Amtrak for the long haul routes it's better to buy earlier than to wait.

As soon as I know I will be going to a new destination, I start writing to the WaPo Discussion Groups (Travel Chat, Tom Sietsema) asking the gurus or the chatters for recommendations (sometimes, I even get answers!). Then, once at the destination, I ask at the hotel, or at sights I am visiting or, if I happen to get involved with conversations with locals, I ask them for recommendations. The only problem with asking the people at the concierge desk is that sometimes I feel their recommendations are based more on their kickback than on honest recommendations. If, when I go there, I see nothing but tourists, I usually change my plans.

I agree about asking the concierge; you never know what motivates the answer.

I want to go to Tierra del Fuego--through the Beagle Channel. I'm not young any more, and I'm allergic to tobacco smoke. Are cruise ships non-smoking? I don't expect Chileans or Argentenians to be non-smokers....

Many cruise lines are instituting new, harsher non-smoking policies. Most have designated areas where smokers can go. Common areas, even decks, tend to be non smoking. Here's a useful article on cruises and their smoking policies.

Really tempted to get one of the Icelandair packages for either Veteran's or Columbus Day holiday weekends. With the flight schedule, it would only be a 2 day/2 night thing, and I'm wondering if that's really enough time there. Hope you or the chatters can share experiences going there. I'm envisioning 1 day at the Blue Lagoon (or really maybe that's just a part-day thing) and then 1 day to explore Reykjavik.

I have never been on one of these packages --but have definitely been tempted to throw down my credit card. However, I know of many people who have jumped at these specials and had only positive things to say about the trip, despite the short time there.

Any chatters have thoughts on these packages?

When traveling solo (around the US), I check online for nearby fast food & chain sit-down places (Dennys etc.). I know I'm weird, but I travel for the sights & activities, not the food.

I can (sort of ) relate. I typically hit up supermarkets and eat in transit.

I practically build our vacations around bakeries! I check Yelp, Chowhound and Google the city along with a category, like "Bakeries Charleston" or "dinner Atlanta." I also check TripAdvisor and sometimes, local newspaper restaurant reviews. I have become an unofficial concierge to my family and friends -- they always call me before they travel to get the inside scoop. Now, if I could only figure out how to make money at this "talent"!

Add this bakery on Cape Cod to your list.

I booked flights for a friend and I who are headed to a memorial service in Iowa next week. I booked directly on AA's website. The system allowed me to pick seats for us on 3 out of the 4 flights. Unfortunately the flight from here to Dallas is the one that I could not pick seats on. The seat map seems to indicate no seats are available (except for half of first class). How worried should I be? We only have 90 minutes to make our connection so can't afford to get bumped off this flight. I am guessing that online check-in 24 hours in advance will also tell us that we have to get seats at the airport. Suggestions?

Don't worry. If you show up a little early at the airport, you should be able to get seat assignments all the way through (sometimes, seats are held until the last minute). I would guess that some frequent fliers will get bumped up into the first class seats, freeing up some seats in economy. If you have any problems, let me know -- I'm here to help.

Hi. My husband and I started thinking about destinations for our 10th anniversary trip. He's thinking cruise, but I'm not convinced. I picture a lot of gluttony with stuff we don't like (gambling, drinking, dancing). He thinks he'll like the buffets, sure, but that he'll also enjoy the boat and the ports. If neither of us gambles, drinks, or dances, can a cruise really be enjoyable? Thanks.

Don't do a traditional big-ship cruise. You won't like it. How about a river cruise? I did an Avalon river cruise along the Rhine and Moselle rivers a couple of months ago and loved it! Yes, most of the folks are older, but it's very relaxing and emphasis is on exploring the sites, fine dining and good wine.

My parents also aren't cruisers, but we have taken amazing cruises in Patagonia and the Galapagos. The smaller boats emphasized activities and the environment over gambling and drinking.

My mother and I have the same birthday and will be celebrating milestone birthdays next summer. I'm looking for someplace fun and maybe a little different to travel with my family and my parents. There would be 7 people total (youngest is 15) and I'd like to keep it at no more than $2000 per person (including airfare). Beach-type places are out - someplace with lots of things to see and do.

Can you give some more direction? The amount of time you have? Region of the world you want to visit? Here are some initial thoughts. With $2,000 a person, going to Asia or the Middle East would probably be out because airfare alone would eat up more than half of that. But maybe you can do Latin America? I go to Colombia quite a bit and am always an advocate of that. Airfare is not bad and it can be pretty cheap when you get there. Or you can try Peru. Machu Piccu has always been on my bucket list. But give me some more direction and maybe I can come up with something better.

Would you ever consider a European or Alaskan cruise? It's a great way to see loads of destinations while keeping the group together (except when some members need their private time).

I am traveling to Brussels for a day trip. Can you give me some tips for a 1-day itinerary? Thanks!

Start in the Grand Place, of course, the central square with the Gothic town hall and the old guildhalls and the breadhouse. It'll probably be overrun with tourists, but you can't visit Brussels without seeing it, and it is magnificent. Go see the Manneken Pis, the famous fountain with the peeing boy, not far from the square. Then there's the Atomium, the steel monument representing an iron crystal that was built for the 1958 World's Fair. At its foot is the Mini-Europe Park, which has mini-reproductions of the most famous monuments in Europe. And of course, you must hit a chocolate shop -- take your pick of brands, or let's as the chatters for their recommendations. 

Even in this day of online instant everything, I like a paperback guide book. For your Ireland-bound chatters, the Lonely Planet is usually reliable for suggesting 3,5,7,and 14 day journeys, and each destination listed contains a "Getting Here and Away" section with the public transport details and convenient next stops. I haven't been to Ireland yet, but I did tour Vietnam and Peru with the LP method. As to your question of the week - I use the guide books as a starting point, but Trip Advisor will give you the most up-to-the-minute info. I especially like to see when a business owner replies to a review - it means they are paying attention to their on-line reputation. In too many resort and vacation areas there are places that just prey on a new batch of tourist arriving daily, so they don't care about repeat business or reputation; the online discussion keeps them responsive.

Great suggestions. I agree that I like to see the owner/manager respond to the reviews. It instills faith that they really care about their operation, or are just super Web-savvy. 

See deals from them all the time but in researching them I found a boatload of complaints as well. I used Intrepid for the first time in November and was extremely pleased with that experience. Do you have any insight to either of these companies? Thanks.

Gate 1 has been around for a long time - 30 years - so I guess they're doing something right. It offers rock-bottom prices, which means that the hotels are budget quality (it usually offers a higher-priced alternative with better hotels, but travelers who go for the lowest price get pretty bare-bone accommodations). It has an A- rating with the Better Business Bureau. Intrepid Travel is more of a discount adventure travel outfit and is based in Australia. It's a different kettle of fish, but has a good rep.

I will never ask them...I don't trust them....from my experience they seem to either suggest what's in the standard guide book or suggest who is paying the hotel to recommend their establishment.

Ouch! I know at least one concierge who would take issue with that.

Hi Travel Team. I'm headed to Portland, OR this week. Any places I should eat or check out? I"m free from 5 on for 3 nights, and I have a free morning before I catch my flight on Friday. Thanks.

Lucky you. Here's Tom Sietsema's Postcard from Portland. More ideas in this Going Our Way and this one.

I usually check They have listings and reviews for NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., South Florida, London, Paris. If I'm going somewhere else, I might check Yelp. I read through a lot of reviews, and I've got a very good track record of picking a good one. I think it's because I'm NOT picky about some things that other people ARE picky about. For instance, I don't care if the service is slow, but I DO care if the food is good. By reading several reviews for a restaurant, you can usually get an idea of whether it will be a good idea or not. I may be eliminating some good ones this way, but so far, so good on my picks.

So helpful. Thanks!

Will the water at those locations be warm enough to enjoy?

Florida, yes. Puerto Rico, yes.

The ones higher up on the East Coast, maybe for a quick dip. I can't remember what else I put on the list. 

The best pub guide for most European cities, is at I have used it for more than 10 cities on multiple vacations. I choose which pubs sound interesting, copy them into a spreadsheet that shows the pub address, hours of operation, whether they serve meals, and any distinctive or unique features. When I arrive in the city, I get a street map from my hotel or tourist board, then start plotting pubs on the map, to see which places are near key sites and which are co-located in the same neighborhoods. Domestically, and can help, but they are too focused on beer culture and exclude some really great watering holes, such as Vesuvio and Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco. Restaurant-wise, tripadvisor and virtualtourist reviews can be unreliable and inconsistent. and have some decent forums with good suggestions, but many times the suggestions come from other tourists and not locals, so the information can be outdated, such as a recommended restaurant that is no longer in business.

Whoa, you are a Beer Master!

You should also consider the Greek Islands and Montenegro in addition to or in place of Croatia. I travelled to Croatia and Montenegro last summer, and have previously been to the Cyclades in Greece. Croatia does have some beautiful islands, but if you're looking for islands, my opinion is that nothing beats the Greek Islands. In addition to Santorini, Naxos and Paros are especially beautiful. If you're looking to stay on the European coast, Montenegro has some very dramatic scenery, especially around the Bay of Kotor. I also found service and prices better in Montenegro. September is the shoulder season and a great time to go to that part of the world. I'm jealous!

I think some caution is warranted, and if you've never sedated your pet before a trip you should try it before you go, in case there is a problem. This can happen with people too. Years ago I was traveling to Israel and tried a sleeping pill for the flight on advice of a physician colleague. Suffice it to say he recommended too strong a dose, and I pretty much missed the first two days of my trip. I was fine, but that was a high cost.

I took Ambien once on a flight and, well, I can't remember what happened but I know it was not pretty.

Contrary to what the previous poster argues, my cat did very well with a tranquilizer when we moved here, as did two kitties that were next to me on a flight just a few days ago. Obviously, it depends on the pet itself, but to suggest that no cats ever need such meds for travel is ridiculous.

So true. Each cat is different. Just seek vet advice before doing anything!

Don't miss the Thurber House in Columbus. Be sure to pack your camera in order to snap photos of the Thurber Dog sculptures in the garden!


Hi Crew! I'm planning a trip for next March to Iceland to see the Northern Lights and learn more about Viking culture. I saw you did a piece on the lights but didn't mention Iceland at all. Any reason for that? I'm checking out hotels & tours, I'd be grateful for any direction ya'll could give me. Thanks!

K.C. picked what she thought were premium Northern Lights watching spots, altho she said that there are many to choose from. Unfortunately, we have this little use called, um, space, since we still print a dead-tree newspaper. Here's a piece we did on Iceland a couple of years back that might help with planning. And as ever, we call upon you, o faithful chatters.

Another don't miss is the Museum of Music housed in a beautiful old Art-Deco building. Headsets allow one to hear samples the instruments including ancient ones. Great fun. Also, you must try waffles at any openair waffle stand!

I found Bus Eireann to be very useful when traveling in Ireland a few years ago. It's not expensive, and you get to see wonderful little towns along the way without having to pay attention to the driving. I had never heard of Gort before!

For other cities, especially in the U.S., the local newspaper or magazine (the equivalent of the Post or Washingtonian) is a good place to start. Frommers guides, which are free online, are also helpful for a shorter list targeted at visitors. In Europe, the Michelin guides are an obvious choice, especially their "Bib Gourmand" recommendations, which focus on good food at reasonable prices. I really had a tough time when we visited New York, however, because there are TOO many guides (Yelp, New York Times, New York Magazine, Village Voice, and a few dozen others).

The advice can get overwhelming. Which is why sometimes just walking around and grabbing a table at a random restaurant can result in surprise finds.

I would like to gift my newly married best friend and her husband a weekend getaway from New Orleans. They both like outdoorsy stuff (biking, hiking, etc) so I would like to make it a MIX of fun outdoors activities and relaxing things they would also enjoy but never buy for themselves (couples massage, nice dinner, good theater etc). Anything that doesn't involve long travel out of New Orleans and within a weekend budget of $500-800 would be great. Suggestions?

Maybe this story on Lake Charles, La., will give you some ideas? And chatters, please chime in, too!

I use Tom's postcards, but also rely pretty heavily on Open Table. Usually lots of reviews to look at. I did this for my last trip to Charleston (SC) and every meal we ate was fantastic. Have also lined up some possibilities for Boston this week.

Great advice!

It's easy to solve. Go the other way. Start charging for Carry-On bags and allow bags to be checked for free. Almost everyone I know prefers to carry on bags for convenience reasons. So, charge for that extra convenience! People might stop bringing big suitcases on board if that cost them $25 or $50 when they could check them for free.

Nooo. I never want to check my bag! Too much risk.

I usually do what most people probably do -- check the guide books and ask at the hotel. But I also love going to grocery stores in foreign countries to put together a picnic. After all, that is where you will find the food that the natives eat, and it's often really very fascinating. I remember bringing back cans of liver pate from Copenhagen, and they were very well received here!

Ditto on the local supermarkets. If only to look at the packaging alone.

I would do the new Magritte museum and Delerium Cafe.

I carefully cut with the "grain", the bubble type enclosures that come with new ink cartridges for my HP Laserjet. They fit a bottle of wine, liquor or bomber of beer very nicely. For extra protection I wrap the bottle in a bag first, but have never had an issue, and keep re-using the same free packaging trip after trip. What also works pretty well is a Single Malt cardboard "tube" with the metal ends.

Smart idea, DIY Guru.

There's always historic Easton, MD. Although i probably shouldn't be recommending it since i live on the Eastern Shore and get really tired of the tourist traffic!

about $7500, seven-ish days either in the summer or Christmas time, and have never been outside the U.S., where would you go?

Wow, that's a great budget! You could go almost anywhere -- so it would help to know what you like to do/see. Do you know any foreign languages? Maybe, since you've never been outside the U.S., London and England would make the most sense for you. So much to see and do, and you could stay in a great hotel! What do you think chatters?

Neither of us has ever flown with a cat, but we have taken a few of ours on all-day drives when moving. We've only had one cat that was a happy camper in the car -- we'd let him out of his carrier (I realize that's a no-no, but he loved it) so he could climb up onto the back shelf in order to look out the window at the tailgaters, then after a while he'd get bored and take a nap! All our other cats detested riding in the car, so could only be transported long distances after we'd administered a sedative pill ca. 30 minutes before departure (vet determine dosage by the animal's weight and age) , then put kitty in its carrier for the duration of the ride. The pills seem to wear off after 8 hours, when the cat wakes up yowling indignantly. However, unlike today's earlier poster, we've never observed any ill-effects on our cats, who all lived to ripe old ages (15-18 years).

I usually check the venue website for suggested local resaurants, although those can be highly self-serving, partuclarly if it's a resort location. Sometimes local CVB websites can be helpful. If I am headed to an urban area, i try to check the local/regional newspaper for resources and recommendations. And as a frequent traveler, i do this a lot. Oh, and like Tom, i don't trust Zagats.

Look for deals with airline, auto club, or sign up with a rental car club. We've done all of these and got good rates. However, because of the high taxes we won't ever rental a car in Dallas.

My fiancee and I are heading to Honduras for two weeks our honeymoon in early October (actually stumbled across it as a destination because of your recommendations, so thank you!!). Question #1, Utila or Roatan in terms of island visits? We are interesting in water activities but are more snorkelers/kayakers than scuba divers. #2, Is it worth it to pay more to fly into Roatan over San Pedro Sula? Thanks, James

I can only discuss Roatan, as was recently there. It's overrun with cruise ship passengers. I'm sure there are places where the cruise ship people don't venture, but many of the beaches are crowded. I'd go with Utila.

I just spent a week there. In case you missed the story here it is. I have not been to Roatan so can't compare the two. All I know is that Roatan is more popular with tourists and more expensive. So if you want something a little more laid back, I would go with Utila. Lots of snorkeling opportunities there. Flying to San Pedro Sula is significantly cheaper, but it means you will have to spend half a day taking a bus and a ferry to Utila. It's not expensive though. Also, consider renting that private island off Utila that I wrote about. You'll love it. 

You're missing the point. If the airline says only "this size" bag and "only two per passenger" why aren't the flight attendants and gate agents enforcing those regulations? Fee or no fee, selfish passengers are getting away with clogging up the aisles and bins (and hitting the earlier poster while they're at it) and the flight attendants do nothing. So why would I care that they're upset?

Of course, they should be enforcing the limit. But as I said, I don't think some of them want to until the overhead bins are full, and everyone must check their bags. 

Good morning. I've hiked the Inca trail 2 times - once in July and once in January. I preferred January. July was cold. The trail wasn't, necessarily, but Cusco was . I remember wearing gloves, hat, scarf, etc in July. January was pleasant.

Good to know. Thanks!

any recommendations? We like local, quirky, healthy, affordable!

We only have 2 minutes left, but check the transcript from this chat for some great ways to find restaurants in your upcoming destination.

I have an extremely long layover in Paris on my way to China later this summer--13 hours in the airport. How logistically complicated would it be to leave the airport and head downtown for a few hours while I'm waiting? I assume my baggage will be checked through (same airline for both legs), so I wouldn't have to worry about that.

That should be easy. Just take the RER train at Terminal 2 or 3 of Charles de Gaulle Airport (I'm assuming that is where you are flying into). That takes you to several Paris stations, including the Gare du Nord, which is where the Eurostar station is. The metro system in Paris is super easy to figure out.

After multiple vacations that both started and ended on grumpy notes due to airline fiascos, and after taking Amtrak short distances both on the Northeast Corridor and out in the midwest, I'm starting to think that my next vacation should be on a train. Not by train, just on it. Anyone have any info on what Amtrak's overnight rooms are really like, for a single traveler? I've seen what's on their website, but if anyone knows what the shower/bathroom scenes are like in reality, that would be helpful.


In Massachusetts I have seen Columbus day when it has snowed and Columbus day when the temp was in the high 80s and a perfect beach day.

So true, and no way of knowing which it will be!

With only a day, I think I'd pass on the Atomium and instead stick with the sites downtown. There's a really interesting museum of musical instruments worth a visit. The Museums of Ancient and Modern art, which are connected and have a single admission fee, have a very strong collection of Flemish and Italian works. The Magritte Museum, also connected to those two, is also worth a visit. The Royal Palace, near those museums, has an interesting tour in which you get to see the foundations of earlier versions of the palace. You won't go wrong with chocolates, though Wittamer, on the Grand Sablon (with an interesting church nearby), is my favorite. With more time, there's a museum containing artifacts from the Belgian Congo a little farther away.

Yes, others have mentioned the music museum and the Magritte museum, too. Thanks for your input!

There's good reason that many Parisians leave town in August: it's hot! So unless you're a real hot-weather aficionado, plan accordingly if you go.

Why I ask Tom Sietsema of course! In fact, ask queried him during a chat last a or so ago before going to Prague and got wonderful suggestions from none other than Cathal Armstrong (restaurant Eve), who was chat-lurking!

Three cheers to Tom!

I think you can do two islands easily over the course of ten days or longer. With pricing look to book an open jaw ticket where you fly from say dc to the big island then return from Honolulu. Then book the inter island flight separately. It will likely be cheaper Also look at splitting the trip to the west coast then to Hawaii and compare the prices.

South Africa!

Yep, that's a thought, too. Looong flight, though, for someone who's never been outside the country.

My husband and I are both vegan, so our research always starts with the restaurant guide on the PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) website or HappyCow!

Excellent advice. Thanks!

I missed last week's chat because I was on a plane! Because of some family emergencies, I've been flying a lot over the last few months. The real problem with carry on vs. checked luggage is the fact that the airlines don't enforce their own policies / regulations. I always carry on my bags. Small suitcase that conforms to the carry on limit and fits either in bin or under the seat. And a very small bag that can hold wallet and book. If the bins are full, I don't mind gate-checking the bag (free). I refuse to pre-check my bags because I refuse to be nickel and dimed by the airlines and contribute to the CEOs' salaries. On every flight in the last three months, there have been several passengers who board with three or more bags despite the "two only" announcements. And passengers who carry on full-size suitcases that take up extra room in the bins. And each time this happens, these passengers walk past a gate agent and one or more flight attendants NONE OF WHOM say a word! Really? A suitcase, laptop and a garment bag for one person are all ok? What about the woman on this last flight who refused to check her full-size suitcase in case it got lost and the flight attendant simply shoved it under the seat so it stuck out in the aisle and the passenger planted her feet on top of it. Why wouldn't attendant simply say "I'm sorry, ma'am, but that has to be checked -- it is TOO LARGE to be on board." If they'd enforce their own rules, then boarding would be much quicker and every passenger have a proper share of the overhead bins.

Need a hotel with a pool. What is close and kid friendly? The little ones will not enjoy a b&b. Thanks for the recommendation!

Look into the downtown Richmond DoubleTree. It has a rooftop pool and observation deck and a free shuttle service that should get you to the museum. And DoubleTree is famous, of course, for their chocolate chip cookies. What kid wouldn't love that? Their web site also mentions a family package, which you might call to inquire about.

Powells books, the Japanese Garden, the Chinese Garden, and a drive up the Columbia River (well, beside it)


We just stayed in the 6th Arrondissement in May. I suggest that for some meals (for fun as well as economizing) you just buy a baguette, some Camembert, fresh fruit and pastries from local sellers, then picnic. Also, I found the famous Parisian "macarons" a bit overrated, but was unexpectedly delighted by the luscious Kougn Amanns (spiral-shaped buttery pastries).

Thanks for this. Yes, baguettes and cheese. You can't go wrong. I beg to differ on the macarons though. Laduree has the most amazing macarons. There are several locations throughout the city. Here's a hint with macarons though: They only stay fresh a day or two, so perhaps you got one of the stale ones.

Svalbard IS pretty cold and bleak. You don't have to be a rugged adventurer type, but it's not a beach and yo do need a sense of adventure! I went on a boat operated by Peregrine Adventures. It is an expedition-style type of cruising. Twice a day we'd go out to shore, then would be divided into 3 activity levels. One group stayed close to where we landed, one went farther afield, and the 3rd group was for those who wanted to do a hike of 6 miles or more. Staff was extremely knowledgeable. You need gear to stay dry and warm. We was polar bears, various bird nesting grounds, glaciers, bergy bits (no ice bergs there, unfortunately). You cannot go off on your own anywhere because of the threat of polar bears. This is probably dissuading you from going, but it was an interesting trip!

You sold me on it. Seriously.

I look here, to see if there's a travel article about the place (not just Tom's postcards...which I love). Ideally, there's both an article about the area AND a Postcard from Tom. I also try to find the local paper's Web site and search their food critic's reviews to get a sense of what that person likes, which restaurants they review positively (and negatively - also helpful!). I also seek out the "word on the street" (from Yelp, Zagat, and other sources) about specific restaurants, once I've identified a few possibilities. While I don't view Yelp or Zagat as THE authority on restaurants, I find their reviews helpful for narrowing the field and/or just identifying locations, price ranges, etc. I use TripAdvisor and/or other travel-specific sites (Rick Steves) for similar purposes, probably assigning a little more value to those ratings. I also check Chowhound - that's been helpful in the past, but a lot of content to wade through. Beyond that, I frequently just Google "[location] dining" or "[location] restaurants" and see what I find and cross-check via my other sources (see above!). If any look promising, I'll go look at the restaurant's Website, view their menu, and see what other reputable sources have to say. So, I guess, for me it's a combination of sources, with the hierarchy being: Postcard from Tom, Washington Post travel section article, local paper's restaurant critic, Chowhound, travel sites (Rick Steves, TripAdvisor), Yelp/Google/Bing/Other search enging/etc.

What warm weather desitanations have direct flights from the DC area in January and February? We are looking for a Carribean vacation or something simliar. Thanks!

You can look at the airport Web sites to find nonstop flights - BWI breaks out nonstops, and DCA and IAD offer flight guides that you can scroll through. But much can change between now and January. Airlines reserve the right to change schedules, so nonstops can become connecting flights. 

My husband is trying to talk me into riding horses in Bryce Canyon in utah -- in August. My view: we'll be hot and miserable! Your thoughts?

Looks like the average high in Bryce Canyon in August is 77 degrees, which sounds downright cool to me after my sweaty walk to work this morning. The elevation of Bryce is above 6,600 feet, so that will help. Looks like daytime temperatures are usually from the low 60s  to the upper 80s and that the nights are cool, dropping to the 40s. Expect afternoon thunderstorms. I think you'll be okay. If you decide to go to nearby Zion, which is gorgeous, expect warmer temperatures as it's a lower elevation.

I always read trip adviser. However, someone once said that many of the websites will have significantly more negative comments than positive. Happy people just go on their way whereas people who have had a negative experience tend to want to vent.

There's an overnight train from Istanbul to Cappadocia...a very romantic way to travel. And the cave hotels are fun, although make sure you are staying in a real one and not just one built to create new caves.

Overisight on my part. Thanks for pointing out the train. My friend Emily recently stayed in one of the cave hotels and loved it.

I have flown quite a bit for a nonbusiness traveler...for non international flights there are usually air fare fluctuations where around Wednesday you will find cheaper flights because southwest on Tuesday releases their fare sale as do other airlines. The various web sites that track airfares will verify this trend. Sure you can find a route put there that fares don't change. Also direct flights also won't change as much as connection flights unless southwest offers the sMe direct route. If you are looking at popular summer time ply locations or locations served by smaller aircraft or places with seasonal service then you will not see fare fluctuations.

Still not convinced. I track airline deals, and I think sales are contingent on load factors. And Southwest doesn't fly everywhere.

For the chatter who wants to visit Iceland: I had a 24-layover in Iceland in late October a few years ago. I opted for a one-day Reykjavik Excursions bus tour called "The Golden Circle" which was pretty good. Many of their tours are only available during the warmer months: Also, Reyjavik is a pretty small town, I don't think it requires an entire day. I walked around the town in one evening. It reminded me of Bar Harbor.

My boyfriend and I want to go somewhere that, best described, feels like a vacation. We love ruins, good weather, great food and the outdoors. Our constraint is financial : tickets must be under 500 per person (from DC). We're considering Puerto Rico and the Southwest. Any other suggestions?

You can get pretty cheap flights to Cartagena, Colombia, on Spirit Airlines.

I've felt that attendants don't try to enforce carry-on bag rules more because they know so many people loudly argue (or more) with them, and assume those going by the rules are more likely to suffer in silence. I would not assume that airlines instituted baggage fees to inflate CEO policies. I know many airline personnel, including pilots, who were laid off as the number of fliers dipped and fuel costs rose. One may argue "Planes are full!," but many airlines have cut back on the number of flights. I hate the fees, too, but if an airline were to simply raise their base ticket prices and cut out fees, many people wouldn't even consider them (e.g., looking at the grid on Expedia or Traelocity, they'd just see the ticket price apart from fees; and some services show cheaper tickets first, regardless of fees). Airlines lost money for a long time so they don't want to take risks now. And you can still fly across the country for a bit over $200, including fees.

Thanks everyone for such a lively chat.  What a great assortment of questions and upcoming trips! And it looks like Iceland is hot again.

For the winner of the restaurant research question:  The person who puts "bakeries" in the search engine.  I like the way you eat and travel. Please send me your address  at and I will send you a loaf of bread (or something else that might or might not be edible).

See you next Monday!

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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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