Talk about Travel

Jan 27, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Past Talk about Travel chats


Hope everyone was able to enjoy the 60 seconds of warmth we had this morning. But now that we have all been driven inside . . .  send us your travel questions or share your wanderlusting stories.

For today's topic (for inspiration, read Sunday's piece about Malaysia): Tell us about an unexpected or surprise turn your trip took -- for better or worse. Best answer wins something special from our secret stash of prizes.

My wife and I are planning a trip to Switzerland in the fall (Sept.) to the Zurich/Bern/Interlaken area. We would also like to make a brief stop in Milan ( to see the Last Supper) but there appear to be no direct flights. Whats best ? to fly into Zurich then fly to Milan or to do this thru another city? Thank you

If you are leaving from the Washington region, there is a nonstop on United to Zurich. And there are nonstops between Zurich and Milan on Swiss

I am part of a group of 6 that is leaving Baltimore in August for a Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona that ends in Venice. When is the best time to shop for airfare and hotels for the 3 day stay before the cruise? Can you suggest an air line for the one way from Venice back to Barcelona? any hotels you love in Barcelona?

You should start shopping for both airfare & hotels  now. Airlines are starting to announce summer sales to Europe. Compare the fare you get  with what the cruise line is offering. Vueling is a discount carrier that flies between Venice and Barcelona. It's based in Barcelona and also books hotels. Hope one of my colleagues or a chatter can respond to your query about a good hotel choice. 

For a high-end dinner in June, try the outdoor terrace at Hotel des Bergues: first-class food and great service. For a bistro (more informal), go to Chez Bouby. Both are near the river and a short walk from the old city - which is well worth wandering around.

From the other week -- thanks for following up.

May will be fine here. With a group that large, try hotels in Yountville or north Napa. For wineries, try both small (do some homework) and architecturally interesting (Darioush, Sterling).

Another follow-up -- thanks!

We (60s couple) had been planning to visit Yellowstone Park this year, but due to an injury, we can't drive (even locally). Do you know of a guidebook or similar about visiting there without a car?

Here's some info from the park itself. You can do bus tours in the park and take buses to and from the park. Then again, I'm seeing opinions online about how some people think it's best to have a car. Does anyone have thoughts on this? Best to put off the trip for now?

I am flying with my teenage daughters to Tampa, looking at a college, and then spending the rest of the week at the beach. We like good food, great beaches, exploring nature and wildlife and doing activities like canoeing, etc. No interest in high-end shopping and high rise boardwalks. So far, we've zeroed in on Pass-a Grille beach, Fort DeSoto and Siesta Key. Anything we've missed? And do you (or chatters) have recommendations for places to stay (ideally with a kitchen and space for 4)? Thanks!

I was in Tampa for the GOP convention and came across some really fun activities, such as the Musuem of Science and Industry, Ybor City, a tour of the Bucs stadium and sailboat racing. Here's the piece.

You also found some great places across the bridge. I'd add to that list the Dali museum and other attractions (St. Petersburg College Planetarium,  St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum) in St. Petersburg.

I stayed at Sailport Waterfront Suites, which had a full-size kitchen, a pool and a nice porch overlooking the water. I had a one-bedroom, but they also have two-bedrooms and family suites. Warning: It's not high-end.

Hello, I will be traveling to South Africa in March for a wedding. While I've found great activities in and around Cape Town, and we'll also be going on safari for a few days, there is incredibly little written about Johannesburg. Due to all the wedding activities (most of which are in the evening) we'll actually be spending the most time in Joburg. Any and all suggestions and recomendations for 3 twenty-somethings and 60+ year old mom are more than welcome. My mom is not super athletic but everything else (museums, gardens, etc.) are more than welcome.

You must not have found our Johannesburg story from a couple of years ago in your research! Check out the details box especially for recommendations and safety pointers. Joburg has improved a lot, but it's still a city you need to careful in. Stick together and exercise caution and you should be okay.  Chatters, do you have recomendations for Johannesburg?

We're looking for a mid priced hotel in safe section of London with access to restaurants and local transportation to see the sights. . We're spending several days prior to a cruise out of Harwich in August. How do we get from London to Harwich?

Don't know what you would call mid-priced, as London is expensive. The Premier Inn chain offers what I call budget lodging at locations throughout in London, although summer rates often hover around $215 a night at its centrally located properties.  The cruise line likely sells transfer from London to Harwich.  Getting between the two places via public transport is not simple. 

My husband and I would like to take a one-night getaway sans kids one night in February. We'd like it be a)someplace romantic (with stuff to do besides hang out in a hotel room, b)less than two hours from Northern VA, c)reasonably affordable (as in, less than $175/night or so), and it has to be someplace that doesn't require a two-night minimum. Someone suggested the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michael's, but it's way out of our budget. Any ideas?

I love the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va. It's right on the Potomac, near Antietam Battlefield, the C&O Canal towpath, and the lovely little town of Shepherdstown itself, which is fun to walk around. If you get a room in one of the chalets, with a view of the river, it can't be beat. The rooms are definitely within your budget. For some other ideas, check out our romantic hotels and B&Bs roundup from last year. The Bartlett Pear Inn in Easton, Md., for instance, could be a more affordable alternative to Perry's Cabin. Chatters, if you have suggestions, please chime in!

Great review of the new boutique hotel -- hit all the high spots and the (few) low spots. But, I was wondering why you took a taxi instead of the subway from Penn Station to the hotel -- and then I looked it up on the map. It would take 2 transfers to get there from Penn Station, which is not convenient at all. From the PA Bus Terminal (Bolt bus, etc.), it would take one transfer and a longish walk. In reviewing NY hotels, you should note whether it can be easily reached from the train station or the bus terminal.

Thanks for the kind words. With luggage, cold weather and arriving after dark, I thought it would be easier to take a cab. And had the city not been experiencing  a major water main break, it would have been fine. For our Bed Check features, we don't include sidebars about transportation, but  I did take a subway back to Penn Station: It was a fairly easy journey on the B train to Herald Square, with short walks on both ends.  

We're hearing again about mass sickness aboard a cruise ship. Do you have any tips about not falling victim? Is norovirus something that spreads from person to person in close quarters, or is it likely to infect the water supplies, cooking facilities etc.? Should passengers wear gloves and masks everywhere (you can tell I'm not a cruise person, but maybe I'll go on one someday)?

Norovirus is passed via people -- by touching infected handrails or doorknobs, for instance. So you need to make sure you clean your hands often (I carry around a small bottle of anti-bacterial gel).

Cruise ships have been vigilant about containing this virus, erecting gel dispenseries throughout the ship and forbidding guests from refilling their bottles from public fountains and dispensers. However, when you pack thousands of people on a giant raft, the virus can make the rounds.

For the best info on the virus, I defer to the CDC. The center offeers many preventative measures, but masks and gloves are not one of them (you don't want to turn the cruise into a horror movie). I have been on more than a dozen cruises and never contracted the virus. Maybe I was lucky, or just prepared.

I'm planning an August trip to see baseball games in Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Kansas City (bonus if we can squeeze in Minneapolis!). Because I have family in Chicago, I'd like to spend 4-5 nights there, but otherwise be on the road for the remainder of the 12-14 day driving trip (and strongly prefer not to make a loop). I would prefer flying (nonstop, if possible) United out of and in to National to avoid parking fees, but am open to other airlines and airports if adding parking costs still produces savings (fat chance, I know). Any suggestions for the cheapest air route I should be looking into?

There are a lot of ways to go on this, and I'm sure I haven't priced out every possible combination. But if you're willing to go to BWI, a top contender should be Southwest to Chicago and then Southwest from St. Louis to BWI. Nonstop, relatively reasonably priced and it will make your driving loop work if you go counter-clockwise from Chicago to Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Kansas City and then St. Louis. Whew, that's a lot of driving! Making me tired just thinking about it.

We're headed to The Homestead in May, and since we don't golf (other than miniature), what should we do? We'll arrive on a Monday afternoon and leave on Wednesday. We already have a dinner reservation for the main dining room on Tuesday night. We are planning on doing a spa treatment, but what else?

Have you looked at the resort's site? There are tons of activities, but it all depends on what you're interested in. There's tennis, Segway tours, kayaking, hiking, falconry and more.

I live overseas for work, and am mandated to spend 4-5 weeks (at one time) in the US every few years. It sounds like a great vacation, but when I don't own a home or a car in the US, it gets really pricey. Last time, my husband and I rented a car and went from house-to-house of our friends and relatives, but we are too old to be that dependent again, and it got exhausting. Do you or the chatters have ideas for resources to find a place to stay that's a step up from a tent, or travel ideas for 4 weeks that won't break the bank?

How about a home exchange? Seems like you might be able to find an academic (or someone else who has that much time off at once, if you could do it in the summer or over the winter break) in some city you wouldn't mind perching in.

Another idea would be to check out RV rental. Some companies offer special deals for one-way rentals, to help them reposition RVs. Cruise America's list, for instance, includes deals of 50% to 85% off, and it includes pickup/dropoff combinations that are close to one another (Bakersfield to Fresno, CA) and farther flung (Atlanta to Manassas, VA), so you could theoretically design a road trip around one of those, at a discount.

Chatters, any other ideas?

Example of just one of many options:

I try to be a good air citizen and play by the rules, and so dutifully check my bag and pay the fee. It seems as if most flyers try to haul everything onto the plane with them, and when the bins are full, those bags must be checked at the gate. Do they then have to pay the fee? And if not, how easy is it to game the system by not checking my bag/paying the fee, and then trying for a (free) gate check. If there are tricks to this, I haven't yet caught on!

It's nice of you to check your bags and pay the fee. I'm sure your airline is grateful. But until the airlines close the loophole that lets you check your carry-on luggage for "free" when they run out of overhead bin space, this situation is unlikely to change. It's too easy to game the system by taking too much luggage to the gate. The solution is for the airlines to find a better way of making money than charging a bundle for our luggage. Don't even get me started!

When I was an exchange student in the UK, I befriended a fellow foreign student from Poland and was invited to spend a week at her home in Wroclaw prior to returning to the US. Another friend came, and we booked our flights in to Wroclaw and then our return to London from Prague. We were assured that we'd be put on a train to Prague by her family. Unexpectedly, we were put on a train that had an overnight stay in Dresden, Germany without warning. We found ourselves in Dresden with no euros, no place to stay, no way of getting to Prague for our flights the next day, and neither of us spoke the language. Fortunately, we found an internet cafe (this was before smartphones or wifi but thankfully still in the internet age) and scrambled to find a place to stay for the night. After much patience and sign language we got a ticket to Prague, and we spent a great evening in Dresden. (And yes, we were able to make it back to London the next day after a lovely afternoon in Prague's city center!)

What a fun and unexpected night in Dresden! Glad it all worked out.

I thought the Malaysia story was interesting but found it odd that the author was in Kep, Cambodia and didn't notice Bokor Mountain right across the water from Kep. He said he went in search of mountains so he set off to Malaysia. Bokor Mountain has the remains of the old French hill station including the King's villa, a casino hotel and an old church. Or at least it did when I was there a few years ago. I think some Japanese developers were planning to redevelop the hill station and put a new hotel up there so I don't know if you can still go up and see the ruins. There's also a hilltop temple in central Cambodia between Phnom Penh and the south coast. I believe it is called Phnom Chisor. You have to climb several hundred stair to get to the top but it has really nice views over the valley below. So, it's not like Cambodia is a flatland devoid of higher elevations.

I think the writer was taking some poetic license, as it's called. :-)

I visited Yellowstone in August. I have a difficult time imagining relying solely on other transportation unless it's some type of multi-day tour. I would think something like that would exist, but don't know because it's not something we looking into while planning our trip. And what about walking? Is the person who cannot drive alright with walking? Some of the sights are wheelchair-accessible, or can be seen with just some walking, but many do require a fair amount of walking.

Thanks for the insight.

On a vacation in Arizona, my wife and the friends we were vacationing with had a weeklong apartment rental in Pheonix. One day's trip was to the painted desert and petrified forest. I was in charge of the map (a time before GPS and smart phones). I noticed a road that was far more direct, but which was labeled as a rural route. I told the driver to turn onto that road. at first it was a regular two lane road with lines. Then the lines disapeared. We drove through a very small town and the road turned to gravel. Soon we crossed over a cattle guard and sign that said we were now in open range land. We drove through dry land pastures, saw working windmills providing water to cattle and many cattle as well. what caused us great uncertainty as it unfolded is now a cherished memory. We did reach our destination right on schedule.

What a great detour!

Now that my mom is retired, she would love to do some more travelling but can't get over the fear of flying. Any recommendations of ways to help her? Therapies, medications, etc.

Here's our story from last year about one writer's efforts to get over his fear of flying.

Have there ever been any outbreaks of this kind on the cruise ships that ply European waterways? Are their regulations preventing this sort of outbreak?

The CDC keeps track of outbreaks and investigations on cruise ships, listing the vessels, dates and other info. I would have to cross-reference this info, but it's likely that some occurred in Europe.

For the data, see here.

Hi! I apologize for the silly question, but how do we find out about airlines advertising flight sales to Europe? I'm looking to book flights for a trip to London and Paris in late August or early September. I've been keeping an eye on Kayak. What else should I be doing to find the best prices? Thank you!

I'd follow the airlines on Twitter, as well as signing up for their newsletters. You could also sign up for alerts on a site such as Yapta (powered by Kayak). Then just buy when you find a price you like.

I think I'd wait, depending on the nature of the impairment. If the problem is greater than just being unable to drive -- for instance, someone's in a wheelchair or can't easily climb the 3-5 (sometimes high) steps into a bus or hotel shuttle van; seriously, never underestimate the difficulty of mountaineering/contorting into a full-size passenger van -- then you might want to wait. If it's just that you can't drive, but getting around is otherwise not that bad, you might go ahead with your trip. You might pay more to fly into a smaller town where you can hook up with the bus tour, though. Let the logistics dictate what you do. I would get on the phone to the tour agency to explain the situation and ask questions before I booked anything, regardless. If this is a permanent issue, you'll have to decide if you want to tackle the challenges of traveling now or later, and no one would blame you for wanting to take a bit of time to settle into "new normal." Good luck!

Good advice.

We just got off a cruise (by NCL) and they were obsessively spraying our hands every time we got on the boat and went to eat. Having to be sprayed before you eat is vile and made us feel like animals instead of guests. However, no one got sick. I think if you wash your hands regularly, you will be fine.

Good advice!

Dozen or so years ago I was in Tampa, and checked into the airport Hyatt in the late afternoon. I asked the front desk for a west-facing room so I could watch the sunset -- Florida sunsets are a big thing for me -- but they didn't have any available. I was really disappointed. So I checked into my east-facing room then went to the lounge to try to watch the sun. Totally by happenstance they had a Yankees-Mariners playoff game was on. I watched my Yankees take the lead as the sun went down, thinking this had suddenly turned into a good evening. At the end of the half inning I went back to my room and turned on the TV. Suddenly the local affiliate went split-screen and started live coverage of a space shuttle launch that was going to go right after sunset. And since I was now in an east-facing room, I walked to the window, pulled back the drapes, and watched the shuttle go up. I still remember the gorgeous exhaust trail arcing away -- gray on the bottom, then red, orange, yellow and finally white as the shuttle raced up into the sunlight. One of those once-in-a-lifetime things that only happened because I didn't get the room I asked for.

All I can say is . . . Woooooooooooooow!

Don't even want to drive a couple of hours. Would rather take advantage of the culture and dining scene in town. Any suggestions for a nice hotel?

If you want romance, head to the Mansion on O Street. Positively womblike, in a fabulous way. Chatters, do you have an in-town favorite?

I'm not sure if the OP wanted to return to Barcelona for addition vacation, or if s/he was just worried about doing a round trip ticket, but I would definitely look into booking it as just two one-way tickets. We've done this cruise itinerary in the past, and it was actually cheaper to fly home from Venice than to do a round trip from Barcelona.

It likely won't be cheaper to book it as two one-ways, but  an open-jaw intinerary, where you book it as a round-trip, but fly into one city and out of another, may not cost all that much more than a round-trip into a single city. And as far as which city is cheaper to fly to, depends on what airline is offering a sale. 

How do you all feel about booking flights with Student Universe? Thank you!

Never used SU.

Chatters, can you help?

My family is interested in travelling to Ireland for a week over the summer. In gerenal, which month would be best for travel or cheapest? What would be a good target price for round trip tickets?

Summer is high season, and prices for flights spike (currently I am seeing $880 for connecting service in June; $1,100 for nonstops). For lower rates you need to travel 0ff-season. If you are determined to travel during the summer, go either early or late in the season.

You also might save money with a package. Check CIE Tours, for example, or Virgin Vacations.

I will be taking a Transatlantic Cruise to Barcelona this Fall, will spend several nights there and then take a 7-night Mediterranean cruise. Are there any direct flights from BCN to either IAD or BWI? Do you know a site I can use to find what airlines fly from BCN and to compare schedules and rates?

Unfortunately, there are not any nonstop flights between Barcelona and our local airports. Sounds like the kind of site you're looking for is something like one of the airfare search engines -- Kayak, Bing, Orbitz, etc. You can also check out this info provided by the airport.

I had a crippling fear of flying that I eventually cured by... flying more. I know it sounds weird, but I started flying places that I'd always wanted to see, and I wanted to see the destinations more than I wanted to be afraid. Eventually, I stopped panicking when even thinking about flying (I later learned this is what's known as "exposure therapy" - get over a phobia by being exposed to it more and having it not hurt you). I will never be completely calm on a plane, but I have learned to accept it as a necessary evil and I consider it the "price of admission" for travel. If your mom books some flights to places she really wants to see, she may just be able to get through the flight. If your mom can travel with a companion, that can help immensely as well. Best of luck to her - I hope she's able to do some exploring.

Thanks for sharing your experience, and congrats on your progress.

Last April I spent several wonderful vacation days in Savannah, and had intended to spend three moseying back up to the DC area by way of the Outer Banks. But when I got to where I should turn east, I suddenly and inexplicably didn't really want to anymore - and because I had no reservations, there was nothing stopping me from changing my mind. Instead, I drove to High Point, NC to look around the furniture shops. Dealing with my disappointment that the perfect coffee table wouldn't fit in my Saturn, I then drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway, and eventually over to Skyline Drive. I went from heavy fog to bright sunshine to fog within miles. Met some really nice people when getting out at trailheads to photograph. I hiked a few short loops. One day some cows came over to check out my lunch - I don't think they were supposed to be there, but - I've had worse company. Somewhere along the way I turned off all music. It was one of the most peaceful interludes I can remember, and one that wasn't at all on my itinerary.

You just can't plan that kind of serene experience.  What a lovely adventure.

This may be kind of an extreme measure, but the retired mom who is afraid of flying might consider taking flying lessons. No, I'm serious! Many years ago I had a mild fear of flying (nowhere near a phobia, but bothersome nonetheless). After I got my license and instrument rating I was a much more relaxed airline passenger, because I know what's going on, why the airplane is doing what it's doing, what those weird noises are, etc. I also know the level of proficiency that the captain and first officer must attain in order to be flying on scheduled passenger service. Trust me, it's WAY higher than my private pilot license!

Now that you mention it, here's our story on flying lessons.

I get a kick out of the media saying the cause of the cruise ship sickness "hasn't been determined." This happens every winter, and it happens to every cruise line. It's the norovirus and happens in schools, hospitals, retirement homes, dorms too.

You are so right!

we had a car and a map (this was a while ago). There was a detour on one of the roads, but apparently, the detours are only where you turn off the major road, they give you all the directions (in spanish, of course) and that's that. So we had quite an adventure trying to maneuver through spain to our next destination...

How do you say "hilarious" in Spanish?

The Apartheid Museum is really good, as is a tour of Soweto. Sandton is rather upscale (think Tyson's Corner) for shopping. There's a Lion Park near Joburg where you can actually play with lion cubs (missed out on this one when I was there, so you should go for me :).

Great tips, thanks!

our trip got postponed because of surgery. so we went about 6 weeks or so later than originally planned. We went the end of october. it was COLD. but we had heard how crowded everything gets - so we actually were kind of happy that we went when we did. we just prepared by having lots of layers and we got to buy some cool sweaters. I wouldn't suggest summer since - it's CROWDED. we heard the stories!

Thanks for the insights!

I was always extremely nervous/anxious/freaking out by flying. Then, right before a trip across the country, I got the flu. I know, I know, I should never have flown and been around all those people in an enclosed space, but I was so sick, I didn't care anymore about being afraid. After that, I've been ok with flying!

That's one way to deal with it, I guess...

I am looking for an overnight locale to take my 90-yr old father next month. He lives in the Miami area and we would be willing to drive an hour or two to a locale. He's very mobile. Food should be good but not the primary focus of the venue. I am not a sun worshiper so we need activities like museums, etc. I'd like to stay on the eastern side of the state.

Palm Beach is beautiful. I love the Flagler museum in the railroad magnate's former mansion, Whitehall. The Four Arts Gardens are lovely. Even if you didn't stay at the Breakers, you could have tea or lunch or something there, just for the experience. It's an incredible hotel. If you want to go further north, Vero Beach is also terrific, with many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and a number of art galleries and museums, and botanical gardens.  Chatters, what do you recommend?

Hello - I'm planning a trip to Paris and the French Riviera in late August. What is reasonable airfare to Paris from DC?

If you want to fly nonstop, expect to pay $1,600 round trip. But if you are willing to connect, price drops to about $1,200. 

Thank you, Mr. Elliott for answering my question last week about my daughter's lost luggage. I am happy to report that the day after I read your not so hopeful answer, her luggage was delivered to our house!

I'm so happy to hear that. Thanks for letting us know.

Our family is going to Dalmatian coast this summer. Do you have good suggestions for travel with kids 9 and 11 (including sightseeing and Swimming in pools and sea)? What are best places to visit? Is it possible to include travel to Venice without too much hassle?

Any suggestions for this poster, folks?

A group of us are considering biking and hiking along Hadrian's Wall in England in early August. Can you tell us about the weather and crowds at that time of year, and what to expect in terms of accomodations? Have you visited the area and have any recommendations? Thank you for your reply!

Summer is usually a peak travel time in Europe, so you may see some crowds. Weather may be on the cooler side, in a nice way -- I'm seeing at least one chart showing an average high temp in the upper 60s. I'm going to refer you to the Hadrian's Wall site for more info. Anyone else have more insight?

Travel gurus, This cold weather is driving me nuts. But I can't get away to warmer climes right now. Still, I need a break. I could have a little r&r....right here at home in DC. I want to stay for a night in a posh DC hotel where I can order decadent room service, lounge happily in a comfy bed, etc. What would you recommend? I'm a 40s female singleton. I hate b&bs, frippery, and loudness. I appreciate attentive service, good food, and fancy hotel bathrooms with lots of thick towels. Where would you recommend I stay? (A nice view is a plus.) Thank you.

I started running through my head of some of the good D.C. restaurants located in hotels to satisfy your request for decadent room service. The problem is that the in-room dining food isn't always from the restaurant kitchen. That being said, top options include the Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Four Seasons and the Willard. Of course there are tons of posh hotels around here. Anyone have a favorite?

Recently you posted the name of your favorite website for obtaining the best airfares but I can't find it on your page. Can you please let me know what the address is? I am trying to monitor flights to Maui in May from the DC/BWI area. Thanks

There are several sites out there, so I'm not sure which one you may be referring to. There's Bing, Yapta and Kayak, among others. Here's a comparison chart from Airfarewatchdog.

After a two week East Coast trip visiting family, from western NY to Florida, we had our first cancellation in Seattle (traveling home to Alaska in January has its risks). There has been a fog bank at the Juneau airport that hasn't lifted for a couple days. We had checked our bags and gone through TSA before the cancellation and should be able to get in Tuesday a.m. Instead of putting the checked bags from the cancelled flight on a luggage carousel, the airline was staging bags and individually bringing them to travelers after they presented their baggage claim tickets, which seems the least efficient way of doing things. I was told it was for "security reasons," although that was as much info as I could get. Have you heard of this? Is this a TSA/government regulation or an airline policy?

I'm not sure if there were any real security concerns, since the bags were already screened and presumably loaded on the aircraft. It's possible that this was just thought to be the most efficient way of returning your luggage to you. Then again, maybe not. I'm unaware of any regulation or airline policy that would have forced your airline to handle the offloading in that way.

Trying to plan a ~3 week vacation. Narrowed it down to either Malta or the Canary Islands. Any ideas? We love sun, beaches, history, architecture, museums, good food. We loved Sicily (which made us think of Malta) and the Balearic Islands and other parts of Spain (which made us think of the Canary Islands). Thanks!

I am going to pick Malta, based on my parents' glowing review. I have another friend who also puts it at the top of his list.

So I know Chris has written about the pitfalls of frequent flyer mile travel, but I've generally had pretty good luck redeeming my AA miles in the past to travel to SE Asia and the Caribbean. Our next big international wish is Italy, so I saved up my miles until we had enough for two round-trip tickets. I was booking many months in advance and there seemed to be numerous options available on their partner, British Airways, so I thought we were golden. But when I went to actually book the flight, I discovered that BA flights came with whopping fees- ~$700 per round-trip ticket! This can't be right, I thought, so I called AA resverations. Sure enough, the agent told me that BA flights are assessed extra taxes. What gives? There was no way I was paying that much for a so-called award ticket. The agent wasn't very helpful in helping me find lower-fee alternatives so I literally spent hours on AA's website trying to find connections involving only AA, AirBerlin, and US Airways (thanks to the merger!). I did manage to find a good option to Rome on US Airways, but the best I could find on the return flight was a three hop with a tight connection in Dusseldorf. One of the biggest annoyances is that the fees aren't transparent when you search on on other airlines (United, for instance) the fees are listed in the search results, whereas with American, you need to select the flights, login and go to the booking step to learn what exactly the fees are. Not customer friendly at all. After searching a bit online I read that the so-called BA taxes is actually a fuel surcharge- do you think other airlines will be following suit with this sort of tactic? I'm a bit disillusioned about it all now and don't know if it's worth making an effort to save up miles anymore- or keep my AA credit card.

This isn't the first question I've received about the lack of airline transparency, when it comes to fees for redeeming award tickets, and specifically about British Airways' "fuel" surcharge. You probably know I was going to say this, but here it goes anyway: Is this game even worth playing anymore? Wouldn't it make more sense to just buy the ticket and to find a decent credit card that doesn't charge a high APR and annual fee? I think you know the answer. But I will have to write something about this in a future Navigator.

What would be your recommendations for the Tampa area? Any specific beaches, activities, or sites not to miss?

I answered a similar question earlier in the chat. Check the transcript if you have a second.

We just got back from a wonderful vacation on Maui. One day our goal was to drive all the way around West Maui. About two thirds of the way, on highway 340, we hit a two-mile section that was one lane only with drop-offs of 500 feet or more! No fence, no guardrail. It was "interesting." About a quarter mile after returning to two-lane roads we came upon a "road closed" barricade! No warning, no nothing! We had to turn around and drive across the two miles of one-lane road a SECOND time. My wife was near tears! We made it, and it's quite a memory!

I've done that drive, too. It's one of the most beautiful road trips in America -- and the scariest! Thanks for sharing the memory.

Chris: Are you still with National Geographic Traveler? I haven't seen your column lately and noticed your email address had changed.

Yes, I'm an editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. The magazine was redesigned a few months ago and my column moved to a Q&A format, which I love. I also have a new book coming out with National Geographic called How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler. I'll have an excerpt here soon.

went to a wedding in Siesta Key and really enjoyed it. we all stayed at the Tropical Breeze resort. Also definitely not high end, but the rooms had kitchens and were walking distance to the beach. Everything from small 1 bedrooms to suites bigger than my old apartment. There are tons of places like that in Sarasota, Longboat Key, Bradenton Beach, etc. But it's in season right now down there, so if you're hoping for a winter deal, you probably won't get one right now.

Thanks for the helpful comments.

Driving into "open range land" without a GPS or cell phone signal is colossally stupid. If the car had had a flat or worse, it could have been truly deadly. This isn't the kind of detour you should recommend. If the road disappears maybe you're in the wrong place.

Remember for many eons, we traveled without GPS or cell phone and survived. Best to have it, but not necessarily fatal if you don't.

Thanks for the suggestion, but it looks like the owners have increased their rates by about a hundred dollars a night since you ran that piece! Do you find that happens often, that business pump up their prices once they've been profiled someplace like the Post?

Hotel/lodging rates generally have been trending upward, even when The Post has been nowhere near a property! :-) We're finding a starting rate of $179 at the Bartlett Pear, plus there's a midweek 20 percent off special. But perhaps you're looking to go on a weekend.

I very much agree with the person who said getting over fear of flying is aided by flying more. I don't like flying, but I love being in faraway places, so I have to get in and go. I do take Dramamine because I'm a bit prone to motion-sickness; the slight sleepiness that gives is all I take as far as meds. BUT I would like to say that I generally fly better alone than with a friend. The more coddling I get, the more I (over)think things. Instead, sitting next to people completely indifferent to the bumpiness, and who are not patting my hand in concern, is generally my best sedative!

Hey, if it works for you!

Six to ten of us are taking a family trip to Switzerland this summer, and I'm trying to decide whether to rent a couple of 5-passenger cars, rather than rely on public transit. I was looking into the 8-day transit passes SBB offers, and they are over $400 per person. We've been there before, and driving/traffic seemed very orderly. Vans/SUVs seem to be available for around $1,000 a week; cheaper than the pass and more flexible. Can you offer any insight? Are our US licenses valid in Switzerland? Thanks!

If you're traveling with a large group, a car is often a much better deal than the train, not to mention more convenient. Your US license will work in Switzerland. You might want to check with a company like AutoEurope, which offers reasonable rates for rentals in Europe. 

Hello. My brother-in-law is living in Shanghai and we would like to plan a trip to China. My son does not get out of school until June. If we go in early June, will the weather allow us to sightsee or will it be to hot and rainy? We were thinking of visiting Shanghai and Beijing. Any other recommendations would be welcome.

June is much better than July and August; you will still be able to enjoy sightseeing outdoors. But try to go as early in the month as possible.

I don't know how long you have in China, but focusing on those two cities can easily fill two weeks.

We are thinking about storing our luggage at a downtown train/bus station in Amsterdam at the end of a river cruise. Do you think our luggage will be safe while we take a city tour for the day.

I don't think we can answer this with 100 percent certainty one way or the other. I would feel comfortable using a locker. I'd also just not leave anything valuable in your stored luggage. Only clothes.

Hi there. My husband and I are planning a trip for our 10th anniversary. I was thinking Scandinavia or Iceland, but I'm not sure the best way to see it. By cruise? By self-drive tour? And if we only have about a week, what to focus on? Thanks!

Depends, I guess. If you just focus on Iceland, I might lean toward a self-drive tour. You can spend a few days in Reykjavik and then tool around at your own pace. If you want to see more, a cruise might be the way to go, especially since Scandinavia is pretty broad.

We arrive at Heathrow at 10:25 am, and are going straight to Paris. So far as I can tell, we'd have to take the Heathrow Express to Paddington then get to St. Pancras to get the Eurostar to Paris. Anything more direct--get on at Heathrow and get off in Paris? And the flights seemed to be about the same as the train, but is there any reason why one would be preferable to the other? Thanks!

It's simpler to fly directly from Heathrow to Paris, plus it costs only about $145 round trip on Air France. You'd have to take the train from CDG into the city center, but it's a fairly easy & short trip. 

I was recently in Israel, and drove from Jerusalem to Safed in the north, and then to Tel Aviv. I loaded my Garmin GPS with the Israel file from, a reliable (and free) alternative to Google and the official Garmin maps. All was well, even driving through the jammed city streets, until we decided to take a detour to Caesarea. I pointed the GPS to Caesarea National Park, and continued down Route 2 (a major highway) until I was told to take an exit to the "Israel National Trail." I did, and found myself in the tight alleyways and streets of a small Arab village, Jisr al-Zarka. I kept following the GPS until we wound up on a hiking trail within sight of the Mediterranean. No road, just sand and a few curious onlookers. It seems the Israel National Trail IS a hiking trail that goes from north to south, but in some parts parallels major roads, such as Route 2. The Trail does lead through Jisr, but we should not have stayed on it--the exit to Casaerea was about three miles further south. I'm not sure if this was the fault of the map or of Garmin's interpretation of it. Luckily, we got back to the highway--we later found out Jisr is relatively safe--but never got to Caesarea. BTW, trip to Israel was incredible. Aside from the usual awe-inspiring sites, my son and I went to a hookah bar near the old city of Jerusalem at 10 pm one to see a British football match! How that for a mix of the sacred and profane!

It's the perfect balance!

Another good rule of thumb for the fearful (assuming they can bring themselves to board an airplane, that is) is this: If the flight attendants don't look worried, you shouldn't be worried. They have seen it all, believe me.

Where are the best places online to find great deals on airfares to London for this summer?

Sorry, but I don't think there is a magic site that offers cheap airfares to London in the summer. So-called consolidators don't typically cover London. Your best bet is to check with airlines such as Icelandair and SAS for sale fares. 

Hello -- I'll be in Mexico for work in March, and would like to take 5 additional days to relax. I'm looking for a beach city with few foreigners (especially around spring break), culture, and good food, and a short flight from the DF. We're thinking either Puerto Vallarta or Puerto Escondido. I've heard mixed things about Puerto Vallarta. Any thoughts? (I speak Spanish, so language is not a consideration.) Thanks.

I haven't spent more than a few hours in Puerto Escondido, and it was looooong ago, but I have enjoyed a trip to PV and surrounds. It has everything you mentioned -- well, the culture and good food and access from DF. But I'm not sure about the "few foreigners" requirement. I went when I lived in Boston, and loved the fact that the Americans who were there were West Coasters rather than East, because I was tired of such small-world encounters as seeing my dentist on the beach in Puerto Rico.

But the thing is, PV is a MUCH more developed resort city than PE (which is renowned for its surfing). Much bigger. That might be good, because the impact on the city of an influx of spring breakers could be felt less acutely than in a smaller place. When I was there (granted, it was something like 7 or 8 years ago), my friends and I had a delightfully quirky weekend by escaping the city and going to the nearby town of Yelapa for a couple of nights.

My boyfriend and I are looking to take advantage of direct flights to Iceland. When is the best time to travel there weather-wise where we would still be avoiding peak travel time/prices? Do you recommend doing guided tours or just sightseeing on our own? What about prices of hotels vs. condos, etc?

Chatters, I know some of you have done this trip. I think May or early June might be nice. Hoping others can weigh in on the rest.

How about the Caroline House B&B in Fredericksburg? We've stayed there twice and it is fantastic. It is the middle of DT Fred, so plenty of shopping and great food (recommend Bistro Bethem or La Petite Auberge for romantic meals). There's also a whiskey distillery to tour not too far away, which is really neat.

Thanks for the suggestion!

When friends and I were in Munich for Oktoberfest, we didn't have a place to stay, so we figured we would stay in the train station like everyone else. During the evening, we met some US servicemen who graciously offered us their living room to stay. We had a great night! And didn't have to sleep on concrete.

US servicemen save the day --and night.

My fiance and I won't know until mid March to early April if he can take off work for our honeymoon in early June. We are searching for places that are a cheap, short flight from DC/Baltimore that would be good for a long weekend if vacation time doesn't get approved. We would love a quiet beach but have the option to kayak or snorkel, etc. Thanks!!

The Bahamas is a quick flight, and fares are usually not too expensive. The Cancun region has extensive lodging/beach choices, but it will cost more to get there, and the flight is a little longer. But both offer nonstop flights. I'd also look into Puerto Rico. 

I usually turn to Kayak to research flights, with Vayama as a back-up. Are there any search tools that would produce more or different results from those two? I know that some airlines like Southwest don't appear in any mass search, but are some of them likely to appear in some tools but not others?

I don't find many differences in airlines/fares among the third-party booking sites and aggregators. I use Kayak and To figure out whether a discount carrier flies between destinations in Europe, I use  I also use  airport Web sites to see which airlines fly  my targeted route, and then go directly to the airline Web sites. 

I too have a huge fear of flying but love to travel. The website has been an enormous help (along with Xanax) and I am now able to fly. Some things that have helped me on flights: telling a flight attendant about my fear, most have been very sympathetic and come and check on me when there are bumps. Also sitting in a seat where I can see the flight attendants during take off and landing: seeing that they are not worried is very helpful. And the surprise: For one flight to Boston, I heard the weather was snowy. I kept asking the gate agent about the weather, and finally the gate agent told me I could ask the pilot who was standing nearby. The pilot was very reassuring about his ability to fly the plane safely. In the middle of the flight, a flight attendant came up to me and told me the pilot wanted to buy me a glass of wine! (But never mix Xanax and alcoholic beverages.)

Great advice.

Do hotels lower their prices at the last minute to fill empty rooms, and if so, is the hotel's own website the best place to look?

The very best thing to do is to call. Always. I find that I often get a better price -- even if it's only $10 better -- if I call to make a reservation than if I do it online. This is particularly true if I'm looking to book at the last minute. Many hotels will also waive two-night minimums, for instance, if they haven't filled all their rooms.

I was on an Alaska cruise last May. They had sanitizer dispensers at the entrances to the buffet and the restaurants. There was a staff member stationed at the doors to insure that we all used the sanitizer. One woman flatly refused, and was refused admittance. She protested, but it didn't get her into the restaurant. It did get her a lot of stares from fellow passengers, though!

That's a good call. You need to sanitize, especially if you're heading to the buffet. Remember, it only takes one person.

I walked portions of the Hadrian's Wall path in August about 10(?) years ago. The hike itself didn't feel crowded - instead, there were just enough people on it to reassure me that if I twisted my ankle or somesuch (I was walking alone) I wouldn't lie there for days or even hours. And those who I pace for some time or vice versa were without exception cordial. The problem, though, was that the lodging within easy reach of the path was all booked solid. Because I was doing day hikes and had a car it wasn't critical, but if you're planning on walking straight through, you want to make sure to have reservations.

Good to know, thanks.

Have used them several times with no problems.

Another plus is that the flight is only 45 minutes, so even with the extra time to get in to the city, it's a shorter time commitment than the train.

For the chatter thinking of renting 5-passenger cars in Switzerland: The European idea of a 5-passenger car isn't the same as the US idea; therefore, it's very possible your party will be cramped. We rented 7-passenger vans in two locations in Greece a few years ago. They accommodated our party of 7, but when you add in the luggage -- and the fact that two of the 7 were teenage girls -- we were pretty crammed in there. Also, you'd better be able to drive a stick shift, though maybe in Switzerland they're moving more toward automatics. Greece was stick only.


I have a strange question-- I am required to get travel insurance for a safari, but it is only the last stage of a multi-leg trip. Because most of what we booked was through miles or hotel points, travel insurance doesn't really make sense for the first stages of the trip. Do you know if it is possible to just get insurance for one part of the trip (while we are on the safari, from when we leave the airport to when we return)

I am guessing that you can pay for coverage for just a portion of your trip. I would contact an agent to discuss the best coverage for your needs. Check out for options.

The tour operator/safari company might also have a plan.

I'm the one just back from Maui. Found a wonderful smartphone app called Gypsy Guides. No affiliation, just a happy customer. It's like having a private tour guide in your car! Best $10 I ever spent. They make tour guides for about a dozen different cities/areas.

Thanks for spreading the news.

...are the best (and worst). If everything went according to plan, our stories would be far too boring to tell. I've had cars break down in three countries, was stalked by a wolf in Mongolia on my 29th birthday, traded dumpling-folding lessons for English-language conversation in China, hitchhiked in Italy, gave a ride to a Tarahumaran in Copper Canyon who'd never been inside a vehicle, learned how to offer a bribe the proper way, vomited in eleven countries, had more unplanned bivouacs in cars/riverbanks/mountainsides than I can count, learned to surf with sea turtles riding my wave, negotiated my most prized posessions over gallons of tea, and had a guide abandon a group of children in the dark to manhandle me. I've experienced the most human of humans, and the most inhuman, along the way. Wouldn't choose to relive all of it going in, but now that I survived, wouldn't trade it for anything.

Your answer took us on a most unexpectedly delightful detour. Thank you!

Spent two nights in Haltwhistle near Hadrian's Wall in late August. The B&B was the Ashcroft and it was nice. There are a number of b&bs all along the wall. Walking west from Haltwhistle we didn't see very many people at all. But walking east toward Once Brewed and Housesteads Fort there were quite a few other folks. Temps were in the 60s one day, the low 50s with rain the next. It's a lovely area and I would think the Military Road that runs parallel to the wall would be good for biking. The Hadrian's Wall website is very helpful, as was the Hadrian's Wall Bus (AD 122!). There's not a whole lot of actual wall in most places, but there's enough to strike the imagination.


I'd like to give a great rec to my latest London accommodation: Burns Hotel  in Earls Court. It's a Best Western hotel and the room was small, but clean and overlooking a beautiful park. Two blocks from Earls Court tube, so it's on the Piccadilly (great from Heathrow), District and Circle lines. I stayed there in October for less than $150/night.

Much appreciated!

My daughter's spring break is from March 22-April 2 and I was hoping to get away some place warm - Caribbean ideally. Any suggestions of a good all inclusive place - am hoping for 5 nights 6 days. Ideally under $2K. Looking for 2 adults and 2 kids 3 yr. and 10 months.

I hate to be negative, but if your budget is $2,000 including airfare for the entire crowd, not possible, especially over spring break. How about driving to Florida? 

My husband and I have a 10 hour layover in Reykjavik on our way to France. Do you think it's possible to spend some time in the city while on our layover?

Probably. It's about 45 minutes by bus to the city. The Blue Lagoon is only about 20 minutes from the airport.

I've gotten into running marathons and have found they make great destination vacations. Ran Paris last spring, and Dublin the previous fall after running Marine Corps twice in 2010 and 2011. That being said, I was thinking about the October 19 Marathon in Amsterdam, but a friend wants to run Marseilles on September 14. Is mid September in the South of France too warm for a 4 hour run? And seeing how I was just in Paris, am I wrong for wanting a different location from France?

There's nothing *wrong* with your wish to visit someplace different. What you want is what you want. Temperatures in Marseille average in the 70s to maybe lower 80s in September. That doesn't strike me as too warm for a marathon, but them I'm not a runner. You'll have to decide.

Hi, we are a family of four with two children ages 16 and 11 and are planning a 10 day trip to the Pacific Northwest in late July. We are torn between splitting the time between Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Vancouver. Which would you recommend and what are the must see attractions in any of these locations? Thanks

You won't go wrong on either pairing. I might lean toward Seattle-Vancouver -- although it's mostly arbitrary. I guess I just like the notion of crossing the border to another country. That and I've only heard raves about Vancouver (not that Portland isn't awesome). Guidebooks are really where you should be looking for must-sees. Check some out from the library and let your kids help you make the decision. I think they'll appreciate the trip even more that way.

so maybe this does or does not go with your topic, but the lost luggage person reminded me of it. My husband went on a trip, and his luggage wasn't there when he got off. He filled out that form, etc etc. Every day - at least - he would call the airline to ask about it. and then they told him it was delivered, yet we did not have it. He spoke with the person who delivered it and the guy said: yeah, i delivered it - I went over the fence, and left it on your back porch and those dogs you have back there are really vicious! He said: we do not keep our (very friendly, by the way) dogs in the back yard. Where did you go again? it turned out that the guy had delivered the bag to the wrong place and so he had to go retrieve it and get it to us.

A few months after my wife and I married, she traveled to France as part of her MA program to teach in a French high school for a year. For one reunion we had arranged (so we thought) to meet at one of the train stations in Paris and go south to Tours to visit friends. Unfortunately, we each spent about a frantic 2 hours trying to find each other (days before cell phones were common) and our train left. When we finally connected we decided to just hop on the next train even though we didn't have tickets and throw ourselves on the mercy of the conductor. Well, the conductor never showed up and we jumped off the train as soon as we hit the station. I was a nervous wreck and and found some needed some cidre right away.

I tagged on a trip to Iceland on the way back from Paris last April. Weather reports called for 50 degrees but the high when I got there was 28. No worries, though, Its absolutely stunning and any excursion tours will provide high tech gear. Do the Blue Lagoon, it's touristy but worth it and Reykjavik is entirely walk-able downtown. It is cheap to get there, but incredibly expensive on the ground though. Think$10-12 for a beer and $35 per person for simple meals. Still totally worth it. Happy people and a friendly culture.

I knew those Iceland travelers were out there.

Traveling to Burlington at the end of March to look at UVM. Any suggestions for activities and/or restaurants? We are staying at the Hotel Vermont.

I'd say ski, but you'd have to drive at least an hour to get to a downhill area. In Burlington, hit the Church Street Marketplace  and the Echo Lake Aquarium & Science Center. Mirabelles is a good place for pastries & breakfast. 

An old friend of mine, John Delpha, is chef-owner at a fabulous bistro in next-door Essex, Vt., that's worth checking out: It's called The Belted Cow. Tell him I sent you!

Regarding the poster asking about hotels in Barcelona, if your cruise line is the one that is offering the 3-night pre-cruise package, then you're probably restricted to the hotels participating in that package. That said, however, if you want to stay at hotels that aren't on the line's list, then feel free to do so, but you'll probably have to pay for your own transfer to the pier because a line's pre-cruise package will include transfers only from the hotels in that package. Regarding hotels, I recommend looking at Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia for nice ones. Two hotels I've stayed in on two separate pre-cruise packages have been The Majestic and Hotel de Condes Barcelona. The latter is on the Passeig de Gracia, a great shopping street. That street also has nice examples of Gaudi's work in apartment buildings. If you're in Barcelona for the first time, you'll find out that Gaudi is to Barcelona as Pierre L'Enfant is to DC: architects who left their handprints on their cities.

There was still a road, just gravel. We did have lots of water, supplies and a spare tire. So we were not completely unprepared.

You can definitely swim in the sea, it's calm and will be warm enough in the summer. Beaches aren't really sandy; pebbly is more what you'll find. Wear water shoes or risk stepping on a sea urchin like I did - YEOWCH!

Even April in Iceland can be terrific. We needed jackets and hats, but were still able to enjoy all of the outdoor sites, and swimming in the hot pools was even more magical since it was cool out. And there are usually great deals to Iceland when you're off the summer travel schedule

Right, thanks!

What a trip that hour was!

Thanks everyone for joining us and please come back next Monday, especially if we did not have a chance to answer your question. (It was a very busy day.)

For today's winner: the chatter who was chased by wolves in Mongolia, surfed with sea turtles, etc.-- and fearlessly jumped on the back of chance and serendipity. Please send me your details at

Have a great week!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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