Jul 26, 2010

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

Hi, all. Did you survive yesterday's crazy storm? Perhaps you cozied up with your flashlight to read this week's story on Bulgaria or Tom Sietsema's Postcard from London. The weather (and our spoiled food) is all we seem to be able to talk about this afternoon, so tell us a time you encountered a bizzare act of nature on your travels. Best answer, yes, gets the prize.

When is the best time to book our flights to Hawaii for our honeymoon in July 2011?

There really is no best time. Get familiar with the going rates now, even though you may not be able to see fares for your exact dates yet. (Most airlines sell about 332 days out). Sign up for fare sale notifications on various Web sites, such as Bing Travel, Kayak and Priceline. And keep checking the airline sites - they sometimes offer Web exclusive sales. Also, look at ticketing straight through compared with ticketing from here to Los Angeles or San Francisco, and then from those cities to Hawaii. When a sale is announced, do not hesitate - buy!

Hello, I would like to plan a trip to the Caribbean for 4 nights sometime in late October or early November. Any recommendations for a young couple that likes to snorkel, drink, and eat, but isn't too expensive? I don't even know where to begin! Also, I would like to book now because there are good deals, but I know I am still in hurricane season then--any suggestions? Thanks!

See if this week's Going Our Way helps.

5 women, mid-40s, seek spring weekend destination for mini college reunion. We are traveling from DC, Philly, and Tulsa. Last time we got together in Sarasota, Florida, and travel was difficult for our Tulsa contingent. We'd like to find a fun locale that's relatively convenient for everyone. Any suggestions?

How about Chicago? Should be easy flights for everyone and, obviously, tons of fun.

We are planning a 5 or 7 days family cruise in 2011 sailing from Baltimore to the Caribbean. What is the best time to go? Can we stay in one room? How can we get away from the "party" cruise and should we use a travel agent since it is our first time going on a cruise.

There are only so many traditional lines that cruise out of Baltimore  - Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Celebrity (Celebrity does longer cruises). Of the three, Carnival has a rep for attracting partyers, but there are also plenty of families on these cruises. Departures from from Baltimore go year round - as for best time to go that depends. If your young adult kids aren't in school, you can get good deals in slower late fall/winter months, such as November and December (not around the holidays),  January, February.  But seas may be rougher then enroute to Carib. As for whether you can stay in one room - yes.  Do your homework on a site such as Cruise Critic before talking with a travel agent, which isn't a bad idea. You may want to also price out your desired itinerary at Cruise Compete.

Any suggestions for a long-weekend getaway from DC without driving? It has to be somewhere I can reach by public transporation, and then the destination itself has to be walkable and/or have usable public transportation. I'm mostly looking for a change of scenery and a chance to relax by myself for a few days - read a good book, have some tasty food, and maybe browse some fun little shops. Amtrak to Harper's Ferry worked out well before - any other suggestions?

This same topic came up in a chat in June. Options include Richmond, Fredericksburg, Philadelphia and Baltimore. How do those sound?

Hi Flight Crew, Love the chats and I was hoping you could help me with some information about renting a car when travelling. I am going on a trip to Maui in September and will be renting a car for the first time on my own. I am curious if any car company stands out above the others and/or what company you all like to use. I want to rent an economy car for about 9 days and have already checked into whether my insurance covers this (it does)...so no need for extra insurance, right?. Also, do you think I should rent directly from the car company website, or is it better to go through an aggregator like Expedia or Priceline? Any other rental car tips would be greatly appreciated! Thanks:)

I really don't have a preference on agencies. I tend to go through Hotwire for the good discounts (just make sure you book in advance if you're using it -- I tend to find the prices shoot way up as you get closer to your trip). If you find a great deal on a particular agency, by all means go for it.

I never get the additional coverage the places offer. If you checked with your insurance, then great. Keep in mind that many credit cards also offer rental car insurance if you pay with that particular card -- and that coverage can be nullified if you pay for the coverage from the rental car company or aggregator.

Happy driving in Hawaii!

It has been my life long dream to visit Great Britain and Scotland. I am in the early stages of planning a trip for my husband and I. It will be our first trip across the pond and I would prefer to have a tour guide and some structure. Would you recommend a cruise or an escorted tour?

I'd recommend an escorted tour over a cruise. You'll see more of the interior. So many different companies offer these type tours. First establish a budget and figure out what is important to you, such tour group size, method of transport, inclusions, dates offered, itinerary. Then try to match those with a tour. A travel agent may be helpful, or, if you want to go it alone, start by looking at possibilities at the United States Tour Operators Association site. 

Over at the flyertalk website a traveler posted a picture of Delta employees BBQing out on the tarmac, right next to the jetway gate! If ground crews are able to bring in fuel and everything else you'd need for good BBQ (large knifes and huge forks) onto the tarmac, why does it make sense to confiscate nail clippers from passengers?

I would say that someone has some splainin to do, Lucy. There must be some FAA or airport ordinance against BBQing on the tarmac -- and you're right, the knives and other instruments necessary for a real cookout are not TSA-approved. I'm sure we haven't heard the last about this, unless we have Photoshop to thank for this.

Hello! Four of us (women, mid-20s) are thinking of making an escape to the Eastern Shore/Saint Micheals for a long weekend in a couple of weeks. None of us have been and we're looking for some options. We're hoping to find a resort, hotel or B&B that has a pool or beach, a spa and good crab restaurants nearby. We like the Inn at Perry Cabin website, but that looks expensive. Do you have any other recommendations? Any suggestions of what to try once we are there?

Check out the recent Escapes on Easton, Md. The Bartlett Pear Inn looks like a cute place to stay -- with a Tom Sietsema-approved restaurant to boot.

What is the best source to find last minute travel deals for those of us with flexible schedules looking to travel to the best places on the cheap?

Your request is granted. Make sure you expand the "This Story" box in that article. It was a nice last-minute package.

If you had a couple of days to spend here, where would you go, where would you eat, what are not to miss wineries and mostly where would you stay?

Planning on running a 10K here in October and figured my husband and I should make a long weekend out of it. Can you suggest what else we should do, places to eat, and/or places to stay? Desipte growing up in this area, I've never been! We'd love to take our dog if at all possible, too, if there is decent hiking around, but that also limits where we can stay.

See above.

Hi Travel Gurus! I am going to Orlando in October for a work conference, and would like to know what there is to do for adults outside of the theme parks. I may be by myself at some points...any suggestions? Thanks!

There's a lot more to do in Orlando besides visit the theme parks. (Disclaimer: My full-time residence is in Orlando.) I-Drive has quite a few attractions for the grown-ups. If you're looking for eclectic restaurants, try the Lake Eola Park area. For shopping, check out the "destination" shopping at the Florida Mall or the Mall at Millenia.


Travel Gurus- I'm a single female late 30s who has a week off work in the next couple weeks and doesn't know where to spend it. Airfares are way too high so I was thinking of staying around the DC/VA area. I'm more a city gal but I've seen Philly, Baltimore and of course DC. Any ideas?

I'm going to give a shout-out to my home town of Richmond. Good food, awesome renovated art museum and a taste of the arts.

I was in the air on my way to Thailand when the tsunami hit. Fortunately, Bangkok - where I was heading - wasn't affected, but we did have to cancel the Phuket portion of the trip. Nothing like hearing from the captain of the airplane that the flight will not be connecting onto wherever it was heading next because the airport was closed for a tsunami. The true extent of the destruction wasn't clear from the captain's announcement at all. Boy were we surprised when we landed and heard about it. And then we were walking through the palace in Bangkok when a procession for the king's grandson, who died in the tragedy, went by.

I heard a woman in my water aerobics class say that she really enjoyed a Rick Steves' tour that she took to Eastern Europe. Despite his goofish charm, his tour guides do seem to know what they're doing.

I know it's bit further out from C-ville but the Holladay House B&B is AMAZING. The whole place was recently renovated and the innkeepers are great-younger couple too so it doesn't get that stuff staying-at-Grandma's vibe that some B&Bs do. If you're driving to C-ville anyway, I'd highly recommend staying there and they are close to some great vineyards as well.

My husband and I love to take weekends at the Omni Hotel which is super comfy and right on the downtown pedestrian mall within walking distance of restaurants, theatres and bars. The hotel has a lovely pool, a great gym and the food is outstanding! Plus, our dog is welcome.

We are vacationing at Rehoboth Beach in a few weeks with our 4 year old. This will be our first visit to Rehoboth, so I am interested in finding out some of the "can't miss" things for us to do with him to keep him entertained while we are there. Thanks -- Love your chats!

Gotta do Funland.

Submitting early as I have a meeting this afternoon and I'd hate to miss the chance to tap into your / the chatters' collective wisdom. After almost two years without a non-family-visit vacation, my husand and I are taking a two week trip to Egypt over Thanksgiving. (yay!) We're interested in seeing pyramids, of course, as well as getting lost in a marketplace, and my husband wants to climb Mt. Sinai to watch sunrise as well as snorkel in the Red Sea. Other than that, we're open to adventure. Are there other "don't miss" items we should have on our agenda? And, perhaps more importantly, can we do these things on our own, or do we need to hook up with a tour group, either for secrurity purposes or simply to be able to get around and enjoy our vacation and not spend our time negotiating or waiting for unreliable public transit? For what it's worth, we're in our early 30s and don't speak any Arabic (though I'm studying the phrase book!) and while we're definitely not into the high-end / high cost / all-inclusive style of vacation, I'm also not looking to replicate my Peace Corps-travel experiences of dusty, bumpy, 15-hour bus rides and questionable backpacker crashpads with shared cold-water showers. Any advice?

I would take a Nile Cruise to Luxor, where you can see the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Karnac. You can also take the train to Alexandria. Take the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan as well. You should be able to plan this all out on your own. I traveled around Egypt with a friend and felt safe.

Maybe it is just me. It seems everytime I fly out of Phoenix, something happens. My bags tends to have a one in three chance of coming on the next flight. My flight is often delayed. I wonder, because I hear that the rates of these happening are low, like less than 5%. Yet, when it comes to me and flying out of Phoenix, I have hardly ever made trip that did not have some lateness, breakdown, or luggage loss over half the time. Is it just me, or is Phoenix a center of air transportation problems?

It's hard to say if that's an airline or an airport problem. As you probably know, US Airways is based out of Phoenix (technically, they're in Tempe, Ariz.) and Southwest Airlines also has a heavy presence there. Were all of these flights on a particular carrier?

My husband and I were in England in early March visiting his family, and we went to London for 3 days while we were there (my first time in London!). Most of our trip had surprisingly decent weather, but our days in London were glorious--we had the most fabulous weather! It was warm, sunny, and clear--none of that fog and drizzle and general cloudiness. It was such a nice surprise and truly amazing to have such beautiful weather there that time of year, and it made for great photos especially from the Eye and the top of Saint Paul's.

I travel to ACA frequently because it is almost always guaranteed to be sunny and 88 degrees. However, one day in October of '04 it was cloudy and drizzly most of the afternoon, so I decided to go to the mall for a movie. When the show was over, the skylights in the mall were leaking like waterfalls, and there was about a foot of water in the road - tropical storm Lester had hit and in a matter of just 2 hours, all the rain in the mountains was washing down into the beachfront streets. I grabbed a VW taxi and headed back to the hotel on a back road - up hill from the flood zone. The atrium at my hotel was also full of cascading streams off the roof. Coming from the US, where the local TV news is on 24-hour WEATHERWATCH high alert all the time - I was really shocked that this came with no warning. Now I check the internet Accuweather every few days whenever I travel.

Hi, I am thinking of going to Egypt. Besides Cairo and the pyramids, what would you recommend for a solo traveler? I have about one week to travel.

Hi. Another chatter just asked about this. I love Egypt. You'll have a great time. If you're looking for a short day trip, you can get a driver to take you to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. It was the first pyramid built. Another day trip is to take the train to Alexandria. For trips that will last a few days, take the overnight train to Aswan or a Nile Cruise to Luxor. And if you're really ambitious, go to Mt. Sinai.

I second the Holladay House for the trip to Cville. My husband and I have stayed there 3 times over the past few years when heading to UVA for football games. The owners are extremely nice, and it is a great jumping-off point for scenery and wineries.

Hi all, I'm flying from Vienna to Dulles this week via London Heathrow. Does anyone know if they are still enforcing the rule of only taking one bag through security? Thanks!

This is the word on the official Heathrow site:

"If your airline allows it, you may take more than one item of hand baggage through security control at Heathrow."


While studying abroad, a classmate and I decided that Carnival break (early February) would be a great time to take a trip to Morocco. Thinking it would be warm during our trip to the desert, we packed light and our warmest clothing consisted of 1 long-sleeved t-shirt, light jacket, and jeans each. Unfortunately for us, we were on a 3-day trip through the Atlas mountains and the Sahara, where it snowed for the first time in 20 years. Needless to say, it was an extremely cold trip and involved no showering until we were back at our hotel in Marrakesh (too cold to disrobe!). Thankfully everyone on our tour was in a similar situation, since we were riding camels and were smelling a little ripe by the time the tour was over. I still have the blanket I bought along the roadside to wrap myself up in!

Any tips on getting a cheap rental car besides Hotwire and Priceline? Need a rental car for 1.5 days next month in Upstate New York (renting out of the Syracuse airport). Rates are exorbitant!

They are. Hotwire and Priceline would have been my first choices. There's also a new site called AutoSlash. And don't overlook the big online travel agencies, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, which sometimes offer good car rental rates bundled with hotel rooms or airline tickets.

I'm heading to Kampala for two weeks in August and would love suggestions for things to see and do...


For what it's worth, we had an article in 2003. See if that helps.

Well, this is not one particular act of nature but more of a cumulative effect. When I first starting traveling around South India, I was amazed at the number of people I saw wearing woolen sweaters, jackets and thick socks in 70 degree weather while I was out running around happily in gauzy skirts and t-shirts. I thought it was so strange that they were dressed up like it was winter! I came back from my vacation and laughed hysterically about people wearing snow gear in summer temps. Fast forward 2 years later, I had moved to South India, and during the "winter" found myself leaving the house one morning wearing the following: long-sleeved t-shirt, columbia fleece, jeans, socks and sneakers. I was chilly, and it was all of 74 degrees! I guess the last laugh was on me.

The weather itself wasn't too bizarre, but the sleeping arrangements were! When I was little I went camping with family in Colorado. The plan was for 4 adults to stay in the popup camper, 6 kids to stay in the tent, and one uncle in the back of the covered truck. Well, a crazy rainstorm hit, blew away the tent, and forced all eleven of us into the popup camper. Which was tight. I slept on the table. I do remember thinking it was a great adventure, but I'm not sure Grandma and Grandpa did...

Last October, four of us were stuck in Cambodia during the typhoon that hit SE Asia. While the damage was nowhere near as extensive as in the Phillippines, we did have to wade around Siem Reap with water up to our waists. We then traveled onto Hoi An, in Vietnam, and could see the water marks several feet up on all of the historic buildings.

We're planning a 2-week trip to the Grand Canyon and San Diego next summer with our two boys, who will be 8 and 13. We plan to fly into Las Vegas, drive around the Grand Canyon (we've reserved a cabin on the North Rim for 3 days), hit Flagstaff, Sedona, Jerome, and a bit of old Rte. 66, and then head to San Diego to visit family. We'd like to break up that last bit of the trip and find a great place to spend a night or two between the Canyon and So. Cal. Keeping in mind that it will likely be 100+ degrees. (Old hat to us Washingtonians!) And is there anything else we shouldn't miss? Thanks.

I just covered several Southern California destinations that might fit the bill for your family. The Palm Springs area offers a surprising number of attractions for families, considering its reputation as a retirement community. Farther inland along historic Route 66, you might want to check out Ontario or, if you can do a little detour, head up to Ventura and visit the Channel Islands. We liked Beverly Hills, too.

My husband and I are thinking about ideas for our fifth anniversary trip. We have not been on a real vacation since our honeymoon due to our demanding jobs. We live fairly close to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Sadly, neither of us has been out of the country but we have passports. We love museums, neat points of interest and great food. Beaches are fun-but we are finding that, as we get older, we are more interested in a beautiful coastline and less interested in laying on a beach. Please help with great domestic or international trip ideas in October 2010.

How about South America? You can go to Buenos Aires. Or Colombia. Cartagena is easy to get to. You would be by the water but also get cultural attractions. Or if you want to go farther, you can try Spain. The weather will be nice. . You can go to Barcelona. You'll get coastline and museums. Domestically, consider Santa Barbara.

What is the connection between the Post and Riviera Tours? I've seen your ads for the company and the URL is PostTrips.com but they seem to be unrelated to you. Is there a benefit here for Post subscribers? Have any of your readers/chatters taken a tour with them? I'm intrigued by the South Africa tour but it's a lot of money for a single traveler and don't know if the company is worth it. Thanks.

The connection is a business partnership that doesn't involve the Travel section or any other news department. So I'm not all that familiar with the offers. If you want to know if there's a benefit for subscribers, I would just call them, since I'm not really comfortable guessing.

Any feedback on Riviera Tours from the chatters?

I'll be driving from DC to Shelter Island but want to avoid driving through NYC to get to the LIE. Is there a way to do that?

You can take the Goethals Bridge off the Jersey Turnpike and then go across the Verrazzano to the Belt Parkway to Southern State to Sagtikos to the LIE. Or you can go all the way up to the George Washington Bridge off the turnpike and then take the Throgs Neck Bridge to the Cross Island to the LIE. Either way, there will be traffic. Listen to 1010 Wins on AM radio for the traffic report.

Lately one of the best ways I've found out travel information is via Facebook. My friends live and travel all over the country (and world), so requests for recommendations have yielded innumerable tips and hints. My requests tend to be culinary, but I've also found hotel and activity suggestions, too. That's how I ended up at Salumi in Seattle last week! Everyone loves giving advice about where they live, and in the past I've sent emails to specific people (and still do). Facebook just adds another layer of awesome because sometimes people you would never think to ask (maybe they just visited or their SO is from there, but I had no idea) have the best words of wisdom!

I like this tip. The Facebook status query can be quite powerful!

Over twenty years ago we had a tornado in Edmonton Canada, a very rare occurrence here. The son of one of my mother's friends happened to be flying over Edmonton to London England a little while later that day. None of the passengers had heard of it yet. The pilot announced that there had been a tornado and there was a lot of destruction... People on board had to wait until the plane landed in London England to phone home to find out if everyone they knew was okay.

I'd like to put in a plug for Staunton, VA, which has an Amtrak station downtown. The downtown is really charming with lots of restaurants, historic sites, beautiful architecture, and it's totally walkable. There's a great Shakespeare theatre and always some live music options on the weekends.

Indeed -- here's our 2008 article on charming Staunton.

Hi--Have Thursday---Tuesday off for Labor Day weekend, and hoping to find somewhere for 2 adults--we've been to Rehoboth, Dewey, Cape May, Outer Banks, Eastern Shore...Would like something relaxing (the fewer the kids the better), within 4 hours of DC--What am I missing? Thanks!

How about the Bedford Springs resort in in South Central Pennsylvania? There's a spa. You can also golf or go hiking. Tilghman Island in Maryland is relaxing and fun. The Clifton Inn in Charlottesville is supposed to be lovely, and it's a cute town. I always enjoy a trip to Williamsburg and you have plenty of resorts to choose from there. Any chatters have other ideas?

Will be in New York end of September. Do you know of a hotel which won't break the bank but is still convenient to everything?

Browse through our Bed Checks. We've had quite a few New York ones -- don't know what "break the bank" means from your point of view!

I'd like to plan a trip to Reykjavik and Akureyri, Iceland and Stockholm, Sweden. How difficult would it be to plan a flight to Reykjavik, to stay in Iceland for 4 days, then on to Stockholm. Ideally I'd like to fly back to Reykjavik and stay another day before returning to D.C. How difficult would this be to pull off?

Not difficult, especially if you fly Icelandair out of New York. The airline typically offers free stopovers in Reykjavik.

My boyfriend and I are planning a multi-city flight to/from Spain and right now the deals seem to be on Iberia. We've heard many horror stories about this airline and were curious if maybe it's just a case of "you only hear the bad and never the good." Does anyone have positive experiences to report on this airline?

Iberia testimonials?

I had the most bizarre experience traveling I've ever had this weekend so wanted to write in about it. My boyfriend and I booked a room at the Wades Point Inn outside of St. Michaels. He did it last minute on Wednesday and gives the owner his credit card. We drive there (it took almost 4 hours) on Saturday and arrive and the woman at the front tells us we canceled. She goes to talk to the owner and comes back and points at me to say that I called to cancel on Wednesday because my husband was pulled away to work on the Gulf. I told her that was impossible because we didn't cancel, we weren't married, and he doesn't work on the Gulf. She then told us that luckily there was another room but it hadn't been air conditioned and it was more expensive, while simultaneously insisting that I called to cancel. I think her words were "it's just too much of a coincidence for you not to have done it." I asked if they would give us the same price as the other room since there had been a mistake. She said she didn't think so but went to find the owner. The owner comes out, points at me, and says she spoke to me and I'd canceled. I again explained it wasn't possible. There was not a single apology or even acknowledgement that the mistake could have been made on their part (my boyfriend has a common last name). They show us the room, which is burning hot, small, and not very nice. The owner did not offer us any discount or apology and acted like we were lying. We felt too weirded out and completely turned off by the whole situation and were lucky enough to find somewhere else to stay and had a great time. However, I'm still blown away by such an unwillingness to be hospitable. They were rude, unforgiving, and even hostile. Have you ever heard of something so ridiculous in the hospitality business?

Yes, I have. If you're unhappy with the resolution the hotel offered, I would write a brief, polite email to the hotel, explaining what happened and outlining what you think might be a more fair resolution. At the very least, they should apologize for their customer-hostile attitude. If they write back and tell you to get lost, please let me know. Here's how to reach me.

Any recommendations on when to buy for flights to Europe (going to Krakow) in mid-December? Thanks!

This question is asked again and again. And answer is always the same, regardless of destination. There is no best time to buy. You have to hit a sale, and the best way to ensure that you know about sales is to educate yourself about going rates and sign up for sale notifications. For Europe, you can also look into flying to a large city, such as London, and then ticketing a separate flight to your final destination to see if that saves money. But you will almost definitely have to switch airports to catch the discount flight, which may cost more than the money you would save.  Euroflights.info is a good resource for discount carriers in Europe. 

My wife and I will be in Blacksburg, VA this weekend helping our daughter move. Can you suggest anyplace in the area we should check out to exend our stay by a day or so?

I grew up going to Mountain Lake. It is, of course, where a good chunk of "Dirty Dancing" was filmed. I don't know if that helps or hurts in your book.

A friend is going to Chicago with her two-year old daughter and seven-year old son. She's looking for suggestions of kid-friendly activities. Any thoughts from you and the chatters?

They should be sure to check out the Navy Pier, with its ferris wheel and children's museum. I think the Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry are kid-friendly too. Perhaps they'd also like a boat ride.

I was in my apartment in Santa Monica, CA talking to my friend when we heard an intensely loud noise. I had never heard anything so loud. After looking outside and seeing that there was no 50 car pile-up we wondered if a building had collapsed. Turns out it was a sonic boom from a space shuttle...

I would call it more of an inconveince that we were prepared for because we followed suggested items to bring. For our 25th anniversary, my husband surprised me with a windjammer cruise on Penobscott Bay. One week with no electronic access in the middle of the Bay, overnighting by uninhabited islands. On the fourth day we had rain. Not just a shower, or even a thunderstorm, but steady rain all day! We put on our sailing rain gear, pants, jacket, hat and all. We were fit to stay topside instead of being confined belowdecks all day. The Lewis R French carrys a crew of three and 22 passengers with the cabins allowing one person at a time to stand so we were glad that we were equipt to be on deck. Walking involved holding on to something so we did not get blown away. As usual, we passengers helped haul sails and handle the anchor and prepare the meals or clean up afterwards. The only time that we went below was to eat, so the wind would not take our food. We were one with the elements and having a ball!

In high school, I went on a hike with a bunch of Explorer Scouts (an extension of the Boy Scouts which allows girls to participate). We were on the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia, but had three days of solid rain. We were all cold, wet, muddy and miserable. We abandoned our trip and went home, only to find out later that we'd been in the eye of a tornado (or hurricane--forget which). I've never been so glad for a hot shower in my life.

My husband and I flew from Heathrow to Frankfurt back in June and took two bags each on the plane. Man, Terminal 5 is AWESOME. We had first class seats on BA which gave us access to the club level. Amazing the food and drink available for free...

Rub it in, why don't you?

If you make it to Aswan, PLEASE go to Abu Simbel. IMHO, it puts the Great Pyramids (as iconic as they are) to shame. The trip will take half a day, as you can fly from Aswan directly to Abu Simbel and back.

I don't know what route the family will be taking, or when exactly, but if they're going to Sedona and Jerome, they might want to hop over the mountains and visit Prescott, AZ. It's Arizona's first territorial capitol and a cute little town, and in the last week of June (ending on July 4), they host a rodeo that the boys might like. Otherwise there's Arcosanti, in Cordes Junction, good for a partial-day stop. They could even choose to overnight in Prescott and make a one-day push to San Diego.

Hey travel peeps. What do you think are some of the best cities for the solo female traveler? Prefer non-US. Europe? South America, perhaps? I like doing the cultural, sitting-at-a-cafe-for-hours-watching-the-world-go-by kind of thing. As a reference, I've already done Barcelona, Madrid, London, Edinburgh, Prague, Paris, Budapest, Istanbul. But these trips were not solo. I'm really interested in attempting my first "big" trip on my own!

After a very quick poll of a couple of girlfriends, here are some suggestions: Rome, Stockholm, Belize, Vienna. I've done Antigua, Guatemala and Amsterdam on my own and felt safe. Can any other ladies out there suggest cities?

I just purchased tickets to South America directly from an airline (it appeared the brokers like travelocity were sold out). They did not have an option to purchase insurance. Is there a way to buy this independently?

Yes, you can buy independently. Shop around at InsureMyTrip, Squaremouth and QuoteWright.

Hello Travel folks, I'm traveling to Slovakia or Slovenia in September and wondering if anyone else has spent time in that part of the world recently. All suggestions welcome on places in either country to visit. Thanks!

He's a recent story on Slovenia. Sounds fun.

Hi, We would like to escape for a week before our first baby is born. Due to schedules, etc., we would likely travel mid- to late-October. Two problems: 1) I'm afraid to fly and can't take my anti-anxiety meds now that I'm pregnant and 2) We've been lucky enough to travel a lot and feel like we've done everything on the East Coast. If I grit my teeth and bite my nails, I MIGHT be able to swing a very short flight of 2 hours or less. Driving is also an option. Any ideas? Gracias.

If you can bear the short flight, try Miami. It'll be nice and warm in October. For driving, have you been to Charleston or Savannah? And Asheville, NC, is supposed to be tons of fun. In fact, I recently took a trip down the Blue Ridge Highway through North Carolina. There are some lovely towns and B&B's along the way.

Crew: how would you go about finding a rental car for a two-week vacation in Italy?

Start with AutoEurope. If the rates aren't to your liking, you might check an "opaque" site like Priceline or Hotwire, or one of the major online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity.

AirTran lost my niece's luggage Thursday on a flight from Denver to DC, and it didn't show up until Saturday morning. Seeing as how they charged a checked bag fee, is there any way we can get that $$ back?

Generally, airlines don't refund their baggage fees. At least for now. But it's worth asking. Here are a few AirTran contacts -- try an email. If it doesn't work, let me know. Here's my email address.

My fiance and I have about 10 days (including travel) for our honeymoon. We are pretty set on going to Europe. We have both been, but neither of us have been to Southern Spain or Northern Italy. Do you have any preference or any other suggestions? Thanks!

I love both, especially the less touristed areas. Favorite part of northern Italy is the Dolomites for scenery, wine, food and hiking. Favorite part of Spain is the Costa Blanca coast for leisurely seaside meals, wine (again) and shopping. I'm sure fellow chatters will chime in with their picks.


Good to have a backup indoors plan. Thanks.

Not sure if Iberia is any worse than any other airline. I can say we flew it RT to Madrid (and also Barcelona-Madrid) in the last year or two and it was fine-- plane was modern, flight attendants were helpful, etc.

Flown it 2-3 times with no problems whatsoever.

How about Portugal's Azores islands? More coastline than beach, museum(s) on each island, breathtaking scenery, lots of wonderful fresh food, less expensive than mainland Europe, and safe! Pretty much mild weather year-round, depending on when your anniversary is. Fly to Boston, then catch overnight non-stop flight.

Hope to get this in before the chat ends: If the Blacksburg-bound family is at all into live music, check out the annual FiddleFest in Roanoke this weekend (fiddlefest.org). Lots of great regional and national acts, plus impromptu jam sessions.

Assuming the weather's good, Millennium Park also has those giant fountain sculptures, right next to the Bean, that spray water all over the place (including from the "mouth" of a video image of people's faces). Kids love it.

Yes, how could I forget. Thanks!

Oaxaca, Mexico! Small enough to be able to walk all over, fantastic shopping and museums and food, easy to arrange private or group tours to nearby towns to see markets, ruins, etc. I spent a couple of weeks there on my own and loved it.

Look off airport grounds you will find noticeably lower rates.


hello, does anyone know the difference between standard class and first class on the train from Prague to Vienna? I'm wondering if it is worth the upgrade? Also, are the trains air conditioned in August? Thanks!

I believe second-class seats are smaller, don't recline as much and have less leg room. It's about a five-hour journey, so I wouldn't pay up too much. As for air-conditioning, pretty sure it's across the entire train.

I am looking at flights to Rome and the best priced flight includes a 5 hour layover in Amsterdam. Is that enough time to see anything? If so, any recommendations on what to see? From my research, it seems as though the airport is not too far away - but I would rather pay additional money than have such a long layover with nothing to do.

If you've checked your bags through, you might be able to squeeze an hour or two of sightseeing. Usually, European airports have frequent shuttles to the center of town. You definitely can't miss the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.

The person traveling to Maui in September might also want to check with their hotel to see if they have special car-rental deals. This works best if you do it at the time you book your hotel (like through Expedia or Orbitz, etc) by checking the "hotel plus car" option--I'm currently doing that and the car is much cheaper that way--but often the hotel will have a relationship with a car company that the hotel will offer you. Just call the hotel's 800 number and ask.

Crazy weather: spending a lazy afternoon in Coober Pedy, Australia. I was staying in an underground hostel which had one room with two beds and then the big room with bunks. I was the only person there, so had chosen one of the beds in the room. I was standing outside when suddenly I saw a wall of dust headed my way! I had just enough time to dash into my hovel and fearfully curl up in bed. As I listened to what sounded like a mortar attack, I noticed the the bed next to me was directly under the airhole! Rocks and debris were flying down. How lucky that I hadn't chosen that bed!!!!!!!! Question: would like to go to Barbados and St Lucia in January. Flying out of Norfolk, VA. To where should we fly (and presumably get a ferry to the other island)? When might best airfares come out and what would they be? Is a package deal the better way to go? many thanks - just transplanted and will keep reading you online!

Sorry we ran out of time to answer your question, but I love your anecdote.

When are you going? I love both, but does depend on the season. I'd vote Southern Spain for a cold time of year, and Northern Italy for a warm time of year.

Dear Gurus, I love to travel and usually I travel solo because everybody is either too busy or have no time/money to go with me. My previous experiences traveling solo in the Middle East and China have been more or less OK (scary situations, lost etc) -- now I'm about to get a package with Intrepid tour for a two week trip to the Indian Subcontinent -- I'm kind of scared. I'm not very social (shy) so it's hard for me to make friends on my way, also I'm not a party person so in groups were this is a tendency I'm usually left out. Do you have a recommendation on how to overcome this or how can I enjoy more my solo traveling? (Yes I've read journeywoman and some books)

First of all, you show tremendous courage and gumption for taking on such an adventure. I would speak with the guide in private, telling him/her that you are traveling solo so that she can be aware of your situation and make sure that you are not left out. Many people on these trips are sociable. Strike up conversations while on the bus or during lunch. Ask simple first date questions, like where are they from and have they traveled in India before? If there are other solo travelers or small groups your age, ask if you might join them, or if you have something you enjoy, see if anyone else in the group wants to tag along. Most important, enjoy yourself, and others will want to enjoy it with you. Have a great trip!

Got off the plane in a rainstorm during our February vacation one year to Ft. Lauderdale. My wife wanted to play golf anyway. It was in the low 50s and the rain was coming down sideways. Soaked to the bone. She loves golf.

We are looking to honeymoon in the Caribbean but somewhere that is not often mentioned for honeymoons or vacations. Any Ideas? Thank you.

My vote is for Barbados. Anyone else got suggestions?

My friend and I are planning our first trip to Spain for 9 to 10 days sometime between mid October and early November. We were thinking of anchoring the trip around two cities with side trips. Originally we thought Barcelona (with trips to the Dali Museum and Montseratte) and Madrid/Toledo. However, several people have told us that since we live in NYC, we probably will be underwhelmed by Madrid (personally, I have had the same experience with trips to London as compared to other destinations). My friend and I are now rethinking the trip starting out in Barcelona and then heading to Seville, Cordova and Grenada. (1) Will we regret not going to Spain? (2) Are we trying to squeeze too much into a 9 day trip? Most important to us is a combination of culture and scenery plus great food. We are also trying to do this trip without renting a car. What do you advise?

I don't think you'll regret it. I've had friends who made the same choice and were happy they did. I think four cities in nine days would be hard particularly if you won't be renting a car. Public transportation schedules take a little longer. So I would recommend Barcelona, Seville and Grenada. They are very distinctive. Cut out Cordova.

Looking for a beach without a long drive. Went to North Beach but was disappointed about how small the beach is. Are there other beaches along the Bay that allow public access. (I know about the state park)

Try Chesapeake Beach. It's not far from North Beach, and perhaps not all that different. But I had fun looking for fossils in the sand, and there are a few good restaurants. 

The only way to avoid driving through New York City is to take one of the cross-Sound ferries. I'd suggest the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry since Orient Point (from New London) is farther east than Shelter Island (to which they'll need to take another ferry). Or don't you consider Queens and the Bronx to be part of "New York City?"

I assumed that the chatter means avoiding Manhattan. Of course, you can't avoid every borough if you want to get to Long Island, unless you have a boat or go all the way to Connecticut, which makes no sense.

I've traveled solo four times to the Azores, and have always felt completely safe there, even at night. Lots of outdoor cafes for people-watching -- I like to nurse a Kima passion-fruit soft drink while writing picture postcards to friends back home, for cover! -- museums, lots of cultural and historical attractions, especially on the larger islands.

It's a little farther away and the tickets might be a little pricier...but I loved doing Thailand, Vietnam and Laos by myself as a 20-something female traveler. Great food, cheap lodging, amazing shopping and historic sites ... what's not to like?

I would advise you to do this: from Vegas, go to Zion for a day, Bryce for a day, go to north rim for 3 days, go to Page for a day (slot canyons and lake Powell).

Well, we certainly paid for the privilege! And the train trip from Frankfurt to Leipzig was not pleasant...first class carriage with the a/c broken. It must have been close to 100 degrees. We were miserable on that leg of the trip...Leipzig is a cool place, we enjoyed walking the old town and the tram is excellent....

I travel a lot on my own, and I really liked everywhere I went in Germany- I never felt unsafe, and it was easy to get around. I also traveled in Poland- Krakow and Warsaw (one of my favorite cities). I have heard from friends to NEVER travel in Ukraine or Russia on your own (even for men) because the trains are unsafe. For the traveler going to Slovakia- definitely check out the Tatra mountains. Poprad is a sleepy mountain town that is cute and easy to get to by rail. Zilina is also a nice little town. Piestany has very famous spas, and the region has fun, developing vineyards that you could try out, depending on when you're going.

Take Exit 10 off the Jersey Turnpike--it's the Outerbridge Crossing exit. Follow 440 to the Verrazano and go from there. If you have a GPS it should pick up the route pretty much as soon as you get off at Exit 10; at least, mine does (after it squawks at me for a minute for not taking the turnpike to 278).

I'm not a big Outerbridge Crossing fan - I'd rather minimize time in Staten Island for traffic reasons. But it saves money because you shave three exits off the turnpike.

Any suggestions for this? are all whale watching outfits created equal (the two I found both sell adult beverages on board the ship..woohoo) but really..any advice you can give would be appreciated. It will be two familes with kids aged 3-8

I always look for the companies that have eco-cred,  as in  they donate a portion of sales to a marine nonprofit and use biofueld, or have an affiliation with an aqaurium or marine center. You want to be sure your guides are educated and not filling dead air with patter about sea gulls. I would also go with a company that has a good viewing record (they should be boasting sightings of the day on their Web site) and if you can, find a comany that offers a guarantee that if you don't see a whale, you can ride again for free the next day. For safety reasons, be sure they are accredited and follow safety standards. Call ahead and ask if they have small life jackets and protective railings.

There was a discussion on this board a few months ago about travel agents. I just had a bad experience that I wanted to share. I asked a highly credentialed, highly recommended agent to put together an itinerary for 2 weeks in Italy and she came back with a beautiful package, but with a price tag of 9000 euro, including hotel, train tickets and a couple of guided tours. It seemed high, so I got online and researched each hotel she recommended, and plugged in the exact same dates and exact same room category as she did,then added the highest prices that I was able to find for guided tours and train tickets. When I added everything up I came up with a total of 6000 euro. When I asked her about the difference, she never explained it, but she said that she could rework the package with lower category rooms for 8000 euro. Needless to say, I haven't spoken with her since. What exactly is it that a travel agent is supposed to do? I really can't figure out how she got a package rate 50% higher than I could have done on my own. While I am grateful for the hotel recommendations (not all of which I will take, after checking out the tripadvisor reports, btw), it just seems a no-win proposition.

I'm a big proponent of using a travel agent when the occasion calls for it, but I'm troubled by your experience. It sounds as if your travel adviser was either not the greatest at finding deals or was putting together an itinerary with "preferred" suppliers that were paying her a bigger bonus. I would definitely talk to the agent and explain your concerns. If you feel strongly that you're being conned, consider filing an ethics complaint with the American Society of Travel Agents, the trade organization representing agents. You could also complaint to the local Better Business Bureau. Hopefully, none of that will be necessary.

Don't forget about the possibility of disputing the charge on the credit card (you mentioned your boyfriend charged it)!

taking advantage of Air Tran's new nonstop to Orlando next weekend, $196 r/t.

Say hi to Goofy for us.

Well, that was quite an hour. The prize goes to the person who ducked into their underground hostel in Australia, so send your info to travel@washpost.com. Thanks for joining us. We'll chat next week!

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