Talk about Travel

Jan 28, 2013

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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.

Good Monday afternoon, fellow travelers. Thanks for coming back after our holiday hiatus last week -- did you miss us? I spent this cold weekend reading the paper and catching up on TV shows. Fans of ABC's "Nashville" should definitely read Andrea's "Their Town" with the show's creator to get a sense of the city. We also featured Philadelphia's hot dining scene and Queenstown, New Zealand, where you can take art to an adventurous level.


But back to "Nashville" -- what places have you wanted to visit, or actually have visited, thanks to something you saw on the big or small screen? Best answer gets the prize.


Here we go.

I'm sure you've been asked this before, so I apologize in advance. If a person's main goal in participating in an airline's loyalty program is to use the miles to upgrade to business class for international travel, which airline program is the best? I live in a Delta dominated city and am a Gold Medallion flyer, but I'm tired of attempting to use Delta miles to upgrade. It's nearly impossible! What makes more sense?

If you're living near one of Delta's fortress hubs, such as Atlanta or Salt Lake City, my advice would be to stick with Delta. But if you're in a city with real airline competition, you might be able to get a competitor to status-match, and switch to flying on that airline. It may actually make more sense to just buy a discounted business class ticket on the airline with the best connection and the lowest price, instead of offering your loyalty to one airline in the hope that it might throw a few scraps your way. The changes I wrote about this week are just the beginning, unfortunately.

In early April I will spend three nights in Austin and four nights in San Antonio. I will not be renting a car. What are the "must sees" in each city? Where is the best place to stay in Austin? I plan to stay on the River walk in SA, but hotel suggestions are appreciated. Since I will be there for a short time, I am more concerned with location than price (within reason!). Thanks!

You can't find a better source on tips for Austin than Joe's story from the other year. See this page for hotel recommendations. And here's our recent San Antonio story, complete with hotel advice.

We will be celebrating our 20th anniversary in a few months. We would like to take a vacation to someplace warm and memorable with our 2 children, ages 5 & 7. We have been banking Marriott and American airlines points which could cover all or most of the air and hotel. However, we want to try to keep other costs down as well. Any suggestions for location. The children really don't understand history, and get bored at museums. We were considering Costa Rica or a Carribbean island if we could find one with more than just beach. We've also considered Hawaii, but don't know if the length of the flight and costs of island hopping out of reach. We are flexible with dates, but were considering late April or early May. Any suggestions??

I think you may be surprised at how few destinations are available using frequent flyer miles, especially if you want convenient connections. Start by plugging in a few  you'd consider as destinations before you set your heart on a particular place. I'd be surprised if you could get Hawaii at this point. Costa Rica might be good, as you can do the jungle tours from a beach resort (there is a beautiful J.W. Marriott in Guanacaste).  

Our daughter won a Fulbright scholarship (yea!) so we are heading to Eastern Germany to visit her (Leipzig area), and taking a weekend trip to Prague (staying in Old Town). Aside from the Bach churches & museum in Leipzig, any must-sees in either city? Any restaurant recs also appreciated because it's gonna be chilly there, and tromping around in the snow works up my appetite. Thanks!

In Leipzig, you must see the Volkerschlachtdenkmal, or Battle of the Nations Monument, which is one of the largest war memorials in Europe and quite stunning. It commemorates the Prussian coalition's victory over Napoleon in the 1813 battle of that name. Be sure to visit the Auerbachskeller, where Goethe often ate while studying at the university. He set a scene of "Faust" in it. I can't vouch for the food, but it's historic! There are also several good museums. For more, check out this article we ran on several cities in eastern Germany, following in the footsteps of Martin Luther.

As for Prague, well, the sights are so numerous it's impossible to list them all -- the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, the Charles Bridge, the astronomical clock in the square in Old Town, the old Jewish cemetery, Wenceslas Square, the Lennon Wall, the Kafka museum. I could go on and on, but if you just walk out your hotel door in Prague, you'll find something worth seeing whichever direction you go in!

It's been far too long since I was there, so I can't recommend any restaurants, but I'm sure our chatters will have some favorites. Let's hear from you, folks!

How accurate is Bing's Price Predictor? We are looking to fly to Las Vegas at the end of March and tickets are quite expensive but Bing says to wait and they are 80% sure prices will drop by at least $50. I'm okay with waiting, but so far all I've seen the pices do is go up.

Bing, which is owned by Microsoft, doesn't share that information with anyone. I did read an article that said Bing claims an independent audit verified its accuracy at 74.5 percent. I don't depend on it because even if the fare does go down $50, it may apply only to flights with inconvenient connections or to an airline I don't want to fly. You can't ask it to predict nonstop flights, for example. 

Posting early because I have meetings during the chat! A few people had asked in the last chat about travel in and around Greece. We did an island-hopping honeymoon this spring and the absolute BEST thing we did was go through an Athens-based travel agency (we used Dolphin Hellas and had a great experience. We found them recommended at Lonely Planet and a couple of other (good) travel sites)). I'm normally a "plan it all myself" traveler and love doing things that way. However, this was a fabulous low-stress option. They were able to put together an itinerary for us based on our time/wants and the ferry schedules. They were also totally transparent with how their pricing structures worked and which hotels/companies they represent. They even helped rebook us on a flight when the ferry company we were supposed to take from Naxos to Athens went on strike--and collected our ferry tickets to get us a refund. I HIGHLY recommend the travel-agency option (and our agency!) for travel to Greece. Basically, we pre-paid (via credit card), then showed up at the first hotel and they had vouchers for us for the rest of the trip. Their services were also free to us as they make their money from the hotels, etc. However, the marginal price differences when we did cost comparisons vs booking direct were pretty negligible.

Thanks for the advice.

Why not recommend Untours in Media,PA to the two friends, both in their 60's, making a dream trip to Paris and undecided about using a travel agent or making the trip on their own. Untours will provide lodging, transportation, advice, current happenings in Paris, have someone on call in the city to consult with, and yet let them do things on their own as they wish. It seems to me they are the ideal answer to these two friends.

Untours, which specializes in independent European vacations, is definitely another option. It's been around since 1975, has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is well regarded. 

My best friend of 35 years and I are planning to celebrate our birthdays this year by flying to San Francisco and taking a week to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. My friend has never been to California, so I want to make sure we experience the area to its fullest. My question is, what towns should we visit and stay in and for how long? We are flying there on May 18 and flying back on May 25. If you could suggest a possible itinerary that would be so helpful. Thank you so much

The most beautiful part of PCH in California is from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I would spend at least two days in San Francisco, a day in Monterey, a day in central California -- maybe San Luis Obispo -- and a day in Santa Barbara, if you're just going down to LA.  Set aside at least two days for LA, too. Chatters, where would you go? And would you stop in LA, or keep driving?

Being that they're with kids a couple of places come to mind. Orlando, San Antonio texas, greater Los Angles, San Francisco and Chicago. Also, fwiw, I think they can use their Marriott points at the Gaylord resorts now to.

I'm still a little embarrassed to admit that I did something I saw on TV, but here goes: While touring around New Zealand, I channeled "The Amazing Race" and went sledging near Lake Wanaka. Sledging is basically flying down a river while holding onto a piece of hard foam the size of a surfboard tip. It was cold and wild and incredible fun and made me want to go on "The Amazing Race" more than ever.

Wow. You are brave.

I have always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island because of Anne of Green Gables. More the books than the movies, but I love the movies too so I think it still counts!

It definitely does. I really want to go there too.

There is alot more to Nashville than just what the article said. There is a web site called Nashville originals that is a network of locally owned restaurants. 2nd street and broadway is where many bars as well as tourist traps and overpriced restaurants.

You know, there's a lot more to just about every place we write about than just what's in the story -- that's because it's impossible to mention everything about a place in a single article. But thank you for the info.

When I was a kid, my mom's sister and family moved to Seattle. On one trip to visit them, we visited Roslyn, Washington, Alaska-stand-in for the show "Northern Exposure." I wasn't as a devoted fan as my parents were since it usually aired after my bedtime. But it was fascinating to walk around the town and see things that I'd only seen on TV before. It was the first time I really started to understand how television works. I was very disappointed, though, that we didn't get to see the moose from the opening credits; I assumed he was always just hanging around!

Obviously Monterey and Carmel, and San Simeon if you want to see Hearst Castle. I'm quite partial to the Half Moon Bay-Pescadero area just south of San Francisco.

I just went to PEI on my honeymoon. We went to the Anne house (both the official and unofficial one) and it was amazing! I was a little scared that the built-up infrastructure around it would lessen the experience, but it didn't. I think that's mainly due to the fact that we were there in the off-season - early September.

I think this is going to be a popular theme. Long live Anne!

I always book my own flights, but I'm stumped on this one. My daughter is studying abroad in Brisbane next semester (Feb - June) and my husband and I would like to visit her while she's there. We are also celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and figure the travel time together is part of the fun. I'd like to book us a flight to Australia through LA, but would like to spend the night in LA. Do I need to use a travel agent? How can I book online and get an overnight layover? Thanks.

If you're staying in Los Angeles overnight, you may be better off (plus save some money), by ticketing the trip separately. In other words, buy your tickets to Los Angeles separately from your  flights between there and Australia. 

All of the amazing destination spas seem to be near or on the west coast, in Utah, or New England. In your opinion, is there anything worth visiting in the National Capital Region (or rural Virginia) that doesn't look like an asylum from the 1920s from the outside? (I'm refering to the Homestead in VA - the look of it really turns me off.) Thanks in advance!

Ouch. I guess there's no accounting for taste, but I happen to think the Homestead is gorgeous -- and it definitely predates the 1920s. I've been there multiple times, and I wouldn't knock it until you've gone. End rant.

Anyway, other people here have recommended the Omni Bedford Springs, Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay and the Inn at Perry Cabin. They're not in Virginia but worth considering. Keswick Hall near Charlottesville has a spa.

Hello! With talks of an American merger with US Airways, how worried should I be that my miles with AA won't be any good (or "as good") -- i.e. right now I have enough miles for a flight to Europe on AA, but is there a chance the miles might not go as far if a merger is announced?

No, I wouldn't worry. But it's true that all loyalty programs are undergoing a devaluation, and that would include American's, with or without a merger. Put it this way: I can't imagine AA's program becoming more generous any time soon.

This might not qualify, but I have always wanted to visit Prague because of listening to Smetana's piece, "The Moldau," His music tells the story of the river, and follows it from its source, past a hunting scene, past a wedding, takes you through night on the river, over the rapids, and its grand entry into Prague. Someday...

My wife and I have a layover of 14 hours in Frankfurt, Germany and we would like to experience the culture of the city during that layover. Any recommendations on places to visit or places to eat that can fit into that short time period (from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.)?

Frankfurt is not a huge city -- you'll be able to see lots in a small period of time. I took a river cruise where we spent just a day in Frankfurt, and we managed to see the Romer (City Hall), Frankfurt Cathedral and Goethe-House. A walking tour might be a good way to get the lay of the land -- daily tours are offered by the tourism office. I wish I would have had time to take the Apple Wine Express tour. 

I have made reservations for Christmas this year at Disney. I am excited and have made all of my arrangements. IMy husband and I are taking my parents (in their early 70's), my 15 year old step son and my 6 year old daughter. We are staying at the Beach Club Villas because I am hoping my parents can walk around close to the rooms and enjoy things while we go to the parks, etc. But I am concerned about Disney at Christmas. Are there any tips or advice you can give me to make sure all of us throughout the ages enjoy our trip.

Christmas is a great time to visit Disney World. I did it numerous times with my family, in addition to being there right before Christmas for my story on New Fantasyland. (Also a fan: Our colleage Steve Hendrix, who wrote about his experience the other year.)

Really, there's nothing to be concerned about. The decorations are beautiful. The crowds are smaller, though there are times it can feel busy, such as at the light extravaganza at Hollywood Studios. Make sure you pack warm clothes, weird as it sounds. We needed them! The rest of the usual Disney advice applies: Pace yourself, use Fastpasses to your advantage and have fun.

My understanding is that if someone misses the first leg of a multi-leg flight, the second and later tickets will be routinely canceled as a passenger no-show. Can the traveler call the airline and say, "I missed my first flight, but I'll get there some other way in time to catch the second one?" (Flights with other airlines might be available, or if there's enough time you might even rent a car or catch a train.) Or are you just out of luck? (If you're at the second airport in time to catch the second flight, why does the airline care how you got there?) Alternatively, if the airline is willing to rebook you on a later first flight that arrives too late for the second one, will they rebook you on a later subsequent flight, or do you still end up stranded?

Yes, if you miss a flight, or are a "no-show" in airline parlance, all of your other flights are canceled. They will try to charge you for a new flight, and it won't be cheap, because they will quote you a "walk-up" fare, which is an unrestricted economy class ticket priced for business travelers. 


You should know that airlines have a "flat tire" rule that allows you to be rebooked on the next flight, if there's availability, as long as you can show you made a good-faith effort to get to the airport on time. So next time someone tells you you're "out of luck" ask about the flat tire rule.

My wife and I are planning a 17 day trip to Spain in May. We will be starting in Barcelona, then on to Seville, possibly Jerez, then visit friends near Granda, and ending our trip in Madrid. My questions are: Can you suggest some mid-priced hotels in Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid? We like hotels that are quiet, in safe neighborhoods, and are well located to explore the sites (either by foot or metro). Good local restaurants are a plus. We do not enjoy staying in the middle of the main tourist areas. Is it feasible to use Seville as a base to explore Cordoba and visit the May Horse Festival in Jerez? If we decide to spend a night in Jerez, can you suggest a hotel? Do you know how to get information on Jerez May Horse Festival? It seems hard to find any definite schedule of events. 

I don't think I can answer everything in your question, but check out this Going Our Way from the other year, which does have some hotel recommendations. Here's a page I found on the horse festival -- read the Spanish or use a translation tool.

I'm working with a travel agent on my first European trip. The flight to Europe she's suggesting has only 1:25 to change planes (and go through customs?) in Brussels, which seems really short to me. What's the minimum amount of time I should have to change planes in Europe?

You should be fine. Flights in the reservation system used by your agent have something called minimum connection times, and your agent will make sure you're not cutting it too close. I've made many connections in Europe in far less time.

We are traveling from Rome to Sicily in April. What is the best way to purchase airline tickets for travel within europe? Can we purchase tickets at the airport? If so, is the cost of the ticket higher than purchasing online? And, is it difficult to get a same day ticket at the airport? Thank you.

I'd recommend purchasing your tickets in advance. Seats could be sold out, plus it's almost always more expensive to buy a same-day flight. Discount airlines that fly between the two include Blu-express (Catania and Palermo), easyJet (Palermo) and Meridiana (Catania). 

Travel for me, has been a passion, especially the act of seeing new things and places. The internet also has allowed myself to provide views for others to see. What concerns me now, will that fact of having relatively a free look, reduce the amount of Travel that occurs in the future?

It hasn't so far!

I am planning a trip to Mongolia for late-August-September. Can you, or anyone, recommend a tour company which isn't too high-end? I identified Mongolian Expeditions, which has a tour I'm considering. I'm also looking for a recommended airline (RT fares vary widely). Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Alas, Andrea, our in-house Mongolia expert, is on the road today and unable to chat. But let's throw this out to the chatters. Mongolia, anyone?

I have not flown for several years, and have not been overseas for 15 years. My family of three intends to take a trip to London and Paris this summer. We will fly out of DC, Richmond, Philadelphis, JFK, or some combination of these (we live in Richmond). There seem to be a lot of horror stories about the TSA checks. I prefer not to go through machines since there doesn't seem to be enough research to convince that they are not harmful (or potentially so in the future). Am I going to get hassled. Is the pat-down obnoxiously invasive? What about my 14 year old daughter? Your thoughts, and those of the chatters, are appreciated.

I've done both the machines and been subjected to pat-downs. I even got brought into the private room once for the super-duper secondary check after I went through the machine (turned out there was a solid metal pull on my shirt that they identified as potentially dangerous). I find these pat-downs somewhat annoying and time-consuming, but I've never felt them to be particularly invasive. I'm sure some would disagree. Also, the contoversial body-scanning machines are in the process of being removed from airports -- they may all be gone by the time you travel. 

In light of your story on Delta miles, what will happen if you don't spend a lot of money on airfare but the majority of your purchases are on the Delta card? Thanks.

I didn't mention it in the story, but if you spend at least $25,000 a year with your Delta-branded Amex card, the money requirements are waived.

Personally I like the north part from where CA1 starts near leggert down the past o San Fran with an overnight in Mendocino then another one near point Reyes. For the other part I would stay in Monterey or a day then drive the central coast for the day stopping near San Luis obpisbo/ morro bay area. Next night in Santa Barbara or solvang area for 2 day do a whale watching trip, the other explore Santa ynez valley....then nto LA.

PBS fan that I am, I have been completely captivated by the New Year's Day in Vienna Strauss Concerts. I know I'll never be lucky enough to score a ticket to THAT but I dream of someday attending a concert in that beautiful hall. (I'd also like to be one of the gorgeous ballerinas twirling to the melodies, but that's a whole 'nother story....)

Oh, PBS. Has added Highclere Castle, the real-life Downton Abbey, to my bucket list. I'm even going to be in England when it's open for a few days in May, but tickets sold out before I even knew they were available. Sigh.

I was obsessed with these books when I was a kid and always wanted to visit various places Laura lived, but I could never convince my family that trips to South Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin, etc. would make for fun trips. Maybe someday!

One of the Going Out Gurus recommended Poplar Springs Inn in Casanova, VA. I'm considering going.

Yep, we like that, too.

For the trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, make sure to make a stop at "Nepenthe" near Big Sur for lunch, coffee, or just for a bit of a walk-around. It's a beautiful, tranquil place that really captures the "feel" of the Northern California coast.

Hello, I am submitting my question early today to make sure that I don't forget! I am researcing travel insurance for a cruise. I'm going with my parents in May and my father is not in the best of health. Several questions here: Do I have to purchase the insurance that Celebrity is offering? Do I need to purchase the insurance at the same time I'm paying the final payment (which is coming up on Thursday)? Any recommendations on who offers the best insurance? I travel all the time but I've actually never purchased insurance based on the types of vacations that I take but this time I definitely want to make sure that we get it. Thank you!!

Some policies require that you purchase your policy at the same time you buy your travel. I think it's a good idea to take care of travel insurance now, even if you have a little extra time.

Travel insurance is such a complex and often misunderstood issue, I devoted an entire series to it on my consumer advocacy blog recently. If you have questions after reading it, please contact me directly and I'll do my best to help. Here's my email address.

I am going to Helsinki this summer. I'll have time for one side trip: Tallin or St Petersburg. Which do you recommend? Tallin is closer, and there is no tourist visa requirement according to the State Department's website. The Russian visa requirements look...complicated. But St. Petersburg; it could be worth the hassle!

Yes, St. Petersburg is fantastic, but my vote's for Tallinn. It would definitely be easier if there's no visa requirement, and it, too, is a beautiful town, supposedly one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. The Old Town is lovely. Tallinn is also closer than St. P, just across the Gulf of Finland, so would presumably be cheaper to get to. Have a look at this story on the city that we ran last year.

Campobello Island, New Brunswick, home of FDR's summer "cottage," because of having seen (as whildren) the film "Sunrise at Campobello,"about the future President having come down with polio there.

Hey, Travel Crew! We are heading to Europe next week, and wanted to buy some euros here at home first. 1) Do you know if different US banks charge different rates for euros? 2) About how many should we bring with us? Our intention is to take enough to grab a train or cab to our hotel, then hit an ATM the next day, if that seems like a wise plan...we plan to put meals on our credit cards. Thanks!

Exchange rates and fees can vary by institution. How much should you bring? Depends where you're going, for one. Maybe the equivalent of $100-$150? But, really, that's just me shooting from the hip. Try to price out what your transportation costs will be plus a little more just in case.

I caught the tail end of a report about best time to catch the lowest airline fares. I think she said 49 days in advance of US travel and 71 days in advance of international travel. Does this sound about right? 

I keep reading different studies with different results. A few months ago, Kayak said its study of a billion airfare searches concluded that the best time to buy a domestic ticket was 21 days in advance and 34 days for international tickets. I don't put much stock in these studies. I instead start checking prices as soon as I know my travel plans. I familiarize myself with the going rate and  buy as soon as I see any noticeable drop. 

I hate to ask the eternal (and ultimately unknowable) "will fares drop" question-- but I'm hoping to head to London during the last week of April and stay through the first week of May. Right now I'm seeing fares around $900-1000. Any chance that they'll drop as the date gets closer? In January, March fares appeared to be around $700-800, which made me think that waiting until closer to the date of departure to book the ticket would be more advantageous... thanks for your help!

Hey, maybe we'll see each other there! I bought my tickets last week for a hair over $1,000 after watching closely for a while. They had increased from about mid $900s. I don't think they're going to drop to the March levels. Honestly, I'd buy now if you can stomach the $1,000. It will hurt more if it goes up.

A day through the Santa Ynez-Valley area is worth it if your chatters are wine drinkers, FWIW. The "Sideways" craziness has subsided a bit, thankfully, and the charm remains.

Thank you. I'm making the drive up PCH this summer, and I'll have to check it out.

I've always wanted to go to rio but everything I read about it-- even books tailored to independent travellers--refers to huge safety concerns. I love visiting cities where I can stay put for a week or two and just wander around exploring various neighborhoods. I don't want to be stuck in a very limited touristy zone. Is it safe to travel on my own to rio and just hang out there and explore? Are the warnings exaggerated or out of date? Thanks

Read our story from last year on Rio. The gist: It's much safer now. Just be careful and use common sense.

I'm flying to and from Boston for connecting flight to and from Europe, and want to book a single night layover in Boston on my return (before flying home the next morning). But when I try to do this on the airline website, the only option it offers is a hotel for every single night between my departure from Boston and my return. Assuming the airline offers a better rate than booking directly through the hotel, do you know a way I can "work-around" and book a round-trip Boston flight + 1 night only in a Boston airport hotel? Thank you.

I would not assume that the airline site will offer the lowest price on a hotel. Cast a wide net, and don't forget the opaque sites like Hotwire and Priceline.

Dresden is a train trip away also, maybe a day event?

Not a bad idea, if there's time.

A couple of years ago I was driving accross Washington state (for work, not for fun) but we made two stops: the Twin Peaks diner, for the obligatory cherry pie, and then the Northern Exposure stop in Roslynn, where we had a coke at the Brick, since we were being responsible drivers. The amazing thing is that both towns seem to get lots of television tourists after all these years. Hokey but fun.

Cannon Beach, Oregon because it looked so awesome in the Goonies. I even made my mom drive around the town to see if we could find the house. We didn't, but the beach was simply beautiful!

Hi - Does anyone out there have a recommendation for a pre- and post-safari Nairobi hotel near the airport? We're not looking for luxury, just a safe clean place to crash for a few hours after and before international flights...Many thanks!

Another one for the chatters!

Are we crazy? My husband and I are thinking of taking a trip to Paris in May/June and taking our toddler with us (he will be 2 in May). Is this do-able? We know it would be a very different trip that if it was just the two of us. We would look to rent an apartment as opposed to staying in a hotel. We have extended family in Paris whom we would ask for babysitting recommendations, but any idea how much we could expect to pay for some help while over there? Any other advice/suggestions for traveling to Europe with a toddler would be much appreciated!

Here's another one for the chatters. Anybody have an idea of what the going rate is for babysitting in Paris, or any other advice for these travelers?

I have found the pat-downs to be invasive. I have an artificial hip, and am fairly young. So they don't believe me and the pat-downs are fairly aggressive as they look for the metal. Really, it's imbedded in the bone! Not going to find it in a pat-down!

I can understand your frustration. 


After seeing "White Nights" back in 1985, I wanted to travel to Leningrad/St. Petersburg. Although the movie's exteriors were primarily shot in Finland (because the Soviet government prohibited filming in Russia at the time), the movie included several shots of actual buildings, landmarks and street scenes in St. Petersburg that were secretly filmed by a Finnish crew. These surreptitious shots - and the knowledge of how they were acquired - piqued my interest. Just eight years later, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, I got my wish when I was sent to St. Petersburg as part of a language and cultural study program. I fell in love with the city and with one of its inhabitants in particular. We have now been married for nearly 20 years. We have been back several times, and the city is just as magical and wonderful as ever (as is my wife).

There is a book by Wendy McClure called "Wilder Days: my adventures in the lost world of Little House on the Priairie" where the author has made exactly the trip you're dreaming of! Maybe you can travel vicariously...

I would urge you NOT to do a one-night layover in Los Angeles on your way to Australia. I used to live in Australia and I made the flight between Washington D.C. and Sydney many times. One time, I decided to try a one-night layover in LA thinking it would make us more rested upon our arrival in Sydney. It certainly was NOT the case. It was a pain to retrieve our luggage in LAX, schlep to an airport hotel and do the reverse the next evening. (The flights to Sydney generally leave late at night.) We did not feel any more rested after this one night in a hotel and we spent time and money that we could have spent in Australia. I always recommend that travelers to Australia just bite the bullet and endure that long flight because what's waiting for you at the other end is so fabulous!

I see your point, although some prefer breaking up the trip. 

Over the MLK weekend, I took a trip with my 8 month old son on United. Direct flight into Denver, he had his own seat. When I booked the tickets, we were sitting next to each other. When It came time to check in, we were split up, he was 5 or 6 rows behind me. At that time, I checked the return seats, still together. However, when I received the email saying we'd been automatically checked in for the return portion of our flight, he was once again 5 or 6 rows behind me on his own. I'm sure whoever was in 19B would have loved sitting next to my 8 month old son! Luckily, on both flights, there was still two empty seats right next to each other. I don't get it. If we were traveling together, same confirmation number, with the info that he was an infant, shouldn't the computer have kept us together. The only thing i can figure out is 1) he was moved to the seat where the infant lift raft is, and 2) on my profile it says that I prefer a window seat, and of course I couldn't sit in a window seat since he had to sit in a window seat in his car seat. It's occasions like these that make me distrustful of airlines saying that they are going to try and keep families together. Obviously, we weren't kept together on our flight, and there were even open seats, and I'd made sure we were sitting together, just two days before the flight!

I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, United's seat reservation system is optimized to make money, not seat families together. I recently wrote about a case similar to yours on my consumer advocacy site, involving a mother of five-year-old twins who were briefly separated from her because of a seat reassignment. I think the airline industry is playing a dangerous game by not being more accommodating to families with young children. If enough cases like this get reported, they risk new legislation requiring them to seat families next to each other.

I use it all the time, but there are ways you can get more info about the flights you want. If you use farecompare, you can put in your two airports, and it will tell you what the lowest published fare is over the next few months. So if Bing says the price is $400, and expects it to go down $50 with 80% probability, and farecompare says the cheapest available ticket for my month is $350, I may or may not decide to chance it - is it worth the uncertainty for $50? Sometimes, but sometimes not. I was looking for a ticket to FLL, and Bing said wait, but when I allowed it to search West Palm and Miami also, prices dropped $30 and Bing said buy. Well, it was worth it to me to pay an extra $30 and be guaranteed a flight to Fort Lauderdale. Your mileage may vary.

You can spend hours researching airfares. There's a fine line between obsessing and getting the best deal. If I save $50, but I've spent six hours on my computer in order to do that, is it worth it? I try to cover all the bases --look at an aggragator site, the airline site, the airport site (to make sure there isn't a discount carrier serving my destination that sells tickets only through its site). I also consider alternative airports. But once I familiarize myself with the usual fare, I don't spend hours looking to save $50.    

I am flying to Chicago for a long weekend in a couple of weeks and would like to get a spinner carry-on so that I don't have to check my luggage. Any recommendations? As for your question, every time I watch "The Enchanted April," I long to go spend a month in Italy in springtime--you can almost smell the flowers and feel the warmth of the sun right through the screen.

I love my Dash! By Brookstone.

I apologize if you got this twice. Before Southwest charges for checked baggage, I would like to see some fees for carry on. The luggage keeps getting larger and heavier. What never gets addressed is that those with carry on frequently take up two to three seats in the waiting area so those of us who have checked baggage gets inconvenienced and are left with few seats. We made several trips in December and the waiting areas were a mess because of the selfish people putting carry on on the seats and not removing stuff when asked to sit.

There's some logic to this. When I see travelers cramming big bags into the overhead bins on Southwest and JetBlue, I just want to pull my hair out. Free bags, people!

I was born and raised in the East Bay, but remember seeing the city of San Francisco (which I'd rarely visited while little, even though it was clearly visible from where we lived) depicted on TV in the '50s police procedural series "The Lineup," with old-time actors Warner Anderson and Tom Tully, and as a young adult in the TV series "The Streets of San Francisco" with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. Later there was the Mary Tyler Moore spin-off "Phyllis" with Cloris Leachman, and more recently "Monk" with Tony Shalhoub. While I've been to The City (ahem!) hundreds of times, I never tire of seeing movies and TV shows set on location in San Francisco.

Just wanted to say thanks for taking my London fares question--it's always a thrill to see the answer pop up in the chat! And the info is super helpful. See you there, Becky!

You're welcome. Have fun!

I just booked a flight to Barbados for the last weekend in February. I'm looking for accommodations now. Any suggestions from you or your readers on which part of the island to stay (west or south coast), or a specific studio or 1BR condo/apartment for a 50-ish woman traveling solo? I'd rather not pay double-occupancy hotel prices when I won't use most of their amenities. I just need a clean, safe place within walking distance of the beach and public bus routes. Thanks!

The west and south coasts are both calm, with lovely wide beaches. A Barbados story we ran a couple of years ago suggests the Sea-U Guest House as a place to stay. Chatters, any recommendations?

Hi, I'm planning a week-long trip to Athens in late September. Any recommendations for things to do and see (especially for a limited budget) beyond the obvious? Day trips in the area that are accessible by public transportation? Thanks!

You can take the public bus to Delphi for a day or one overnight trip that would be worth doing. What else, chatters?

We want to make 3-week trip to Australia and NZ, and know we want to avoid Dec-Jan heat in Oz, but aren't sure what time of year to go. Which months offer a balance of decent weather in such diverse locations as Cairns, Uluru, and NZ fiords? No strenuous physical activity planned, but we would be outdoors sightseeing for most of the trip.

I'd think about April or May. From my quick checking, looks like June and July have the best temps in Cairns and Uluru (averages in the upper 70s in Cairns and a little cooler in Uluru), but it's pretty chilly in, say, Milford Sound, NZ, with averages in the low 40s. But if you go in April, you'd have low 50s in Milford Sound, low to mid 80s in both Cairns and Uluru.

Roundtrip flights from IAD to London increased almost $300 from last week for a trip that I have planned in late May. I checked the seats on all of the available flights and they are wide open. Should I wait to purchase a ticket?

See my earlier answer to our fellow London traveler. If it went up that much, it probably isn't going back down, especially that close to peak travel season. If you can swing it, buy now.

I had a weekend trip planned this past weeked. My outbound flight was canceled three hours before departure because of 'aircraft maintence.' The airline (USAir) could not rebook me on a flight that would get me to my destination in time for a family party, so I canceled my trip. I am out some actual money (my pet sitting fees), and the disappointment of missing my family gathering. I asked the airline representative what compensation they would offer (because they would change me $150 if I canceled for 'Meghan maintenance') and they said nothing. Do you they owe me for my out-of-pocket costs? If not, why do airlines get government protection to screw with passengers and overchage passengers who need to change their arrangements? To be clear, this was not weather-related and I donot expect the airline to fly an unsafe plane but to recognize they had a contract with me and owe something for breaking that contract. I'm not planning to charge them ten times my costs (as they do with their change fees), just want my actual damages reimbursed.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and I wish I had good news. But I don't. US Airways' responsibilities are outlined in an adhesion contract known as a contract of carriage, and under that agreement, it doesn't have to do anything. 

I must have been about 11 or 12 the first time I saw "White Nights" with Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. The depiction of St. Petersburg in the movie was so breath-taking that I vowed to go. I ended up living in St. Petersburg for almost two years in the '90's and to this day, I often have vivid dreams of the cityscape. For the chatter, who is debating between Tallin and St. Pete: my vote is hands down for St. Pete!

Another "White Nights" fan!

Running down the ivy covered pathway like the Von Trapp kids in Salzburg.


I always loved the look of their southwest house with the courtyard in Boys on the Side, and it made me want to go to Arizona. (Not that I'm a fan of AZ otherwise.) Also, the movie's stark contrast between the sunny Arizona weather and the gloomy weather in PA (which looks like it does right now in DC) makes me want to go even more.

Where is warm and somewhat reasonably priced to get to right now, with husband and two year old in tow? This weather is killing me.

How bout Savannah? 70s and 80s, and nonstop from DCA is $200 on US Airways a couple weeks out.

Nairobi hotel - The few hotels close to the airport are quite expensive. I stayed at the Wildebeest Eco Camp where you can get a very nice luxury tent for $70. It is a bit of a ride from the airport depending on traffic, but i'd still recommend it. Rio Safety - Most people who visit have no problem. And it is better now than it was. Don't let what any guide book says stop you from going.

Consider the Desert: Arizona and Utah. The National Parks are amazing (Zion is my favorite, but also Grand Canyon, Bryce), and there are some great Marriotts such as the Marriott Desert Ridge with spas for the adults and water parks for the kids. Even though the kids don't understand history, they might like things like Wutpaki National Monument, where they can climb in and around the ruins of an old pueblo (enough of it is standing so that kids can really understand that it used to be someone's house).

Neat idea.

I would not recommend going to either of these cities, particularly Austin, and not have a rental car. Public transportation is available in both cities, but I'll admit (as a former resident of Austin and a visitor to San Antonio) that it's not on par with what we have in the D.C. area. I think you'll miss out on a lot (or waste a lot of time on buses) if you try to sightsee without a car. (For example, how would you get to the San Antonio missions or to the top of Mt. Bonnell in Austin without a rental car?)

Thanks for answering my question re the destination spa. Seeing how you feel so strongly about the Homestead has made me curious to give it a chance...I think I just dream about spas with an aura of the southwest and desert, and the Homestead just has a very different feel to it from the photos. Anyway, maybe I'll give it a chance! Thanks.

I am glad to hear that! It's quitely lovely and elegant, I promise. And the area is just beautiful in general.

My family of 17 people wants to spend Christmas 2013 in the islands and are considering either Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands. We want ocean front/ocean view with access to a white sandy beach and have a private pool and convenient to golf courses and other water activities (scuba, kayaking). Two or three adjacent houses would work so where would you recommend and should we use an agent or web sites like HomeAway or VRBO or a resort?

You may have a difficult time finding adjacent houses through a rent-by-owner site such as HomeAway or VRBO. Take a look at WhereToStay -- it lists villas separately. 

My mom (a senior with some mobility issues) and I would like to visit Paris for 7-10 days for culture, shopping and dining. We would love to hear recommendations for not-too-expensive hotels, apartments, B&Bs, etc. A place with an elevator is important.

I mentioned the Hotel Therese before; it has an elevator, was clean and stylish, well-located, and pretty reasonable. (That's subjective, of course). I've also had a good experience with this web site for booking apartments.

OK, after just submitting a question about when I should get to the airport in Copenhagen for a flight to America, I just realized I left out some information that could be very useful. My flight out of Copenhagen is actually a very long layover - I get in to Copenhagen at 10 p.m. the night before and leave at 3:45 p.m. the next day. This was all booked together as my flight home from Rome. My plan has been to leave the airport, get a hotel room and then do some touring the next morning. So technically, wouldn't I already be checked in for the second leg of my flight and have my boarding pass from when I check in during the first leg? And my luggage would already be checked in, yes? So if I don't have to deal with all that, would it be OK to get to the airport just two hours ahead of my flight departure time versus the three hours that my airline company, SAS, says on its website? Sorry for all the confusion, but I would love as much time as I can get to tour Copenhagen, considering I'm really only there for half a day. Not to mention, if my luggage is going to be checked through, I need to know so I can put a change of clothes and toiletry items in my carry on!

You will likely be fine getting there two hours ahead, but you will be taking a chance. I guess the question you need to answer is whether you'll be anxious about missing your flight, which could influence your enjoyment of the tour.  

Good afternoon Travel Team! I am looking for a place to meet up with my friend who is currently working in Kenya. The midway point for both of us seems to be Spain, Portugal or Morocco. However, flights there for April/May seem to be over $1000. Is this typical or should I wait to book?

That sounds about right for spring. If you can settle on something, I'd purchase sooner rather than later.

Inspired by repeated viewings of 'Born Free' when we were kids and a recent Anthony Bourdain show about Mozambique, my sister and I have a trip to Mozambique booked for next month! I keep trying to tell her she' can't take a lion cub home with her to raise as a pet...

I have also done the DC to LA to Sydney flight. I would also say not to do an overnight-- the flight leaves later in the day, so you will spend most of your day waiting around. I flew straight through (DC->Chicago->Sydney->Brisbine) and I just prepared myself for it and it made it easier. On the way back I had a very long layover in Syndey to go into the city and it actually made the return flight seem longer because I got a fun break. I could very easily see doing 2 days so you can have some time to enjoy the city-- there are some very cute beach towns 5-10 minutes from LAX and affordable hotels. Get yourself worn out , get your kindle ready, and be prepared for a VERY long flight.

I don't know about other travelers, but I don't carry on to avoid the checked bag fees. I do it to avoid the interminable wait at the baggage carousel after my flight. Particularly when I'm on the home leg of my flights, I just want to get home, and I don't want to schlep to the baggage claim area and then wait for 1/2 hour for my bag to appear. However, I'm also a very careful packer and make sure my carry on bag is really carry on size (so I'm just as annoyed with the people with the giant "carry on" bags that take up all of the space in the overhead bins!).

Fair enough.

I loved Salzburg on a trip 25 years ago because of its connection to The Sound Of Music. The hostel where I was staying played a video of the movie every day at 2 p.m., after which a bunch of the guests would head off to see in person the sights we had just seen in the movie. It really was fascinating.

Greetings, I will be going to St. Croix in March. I've googled all over and can't find much information about the island itself. I'm using points for the Marriott so I'm not deciding among hotels, but there seems to be surprisingly little out there about either of the towns or things to do. I have no interest in nightlife and am happy hanging out reading a book or snorkeling, but is there anything particular that is "special" there?

I'd start my research with the official tourism Web site. Time is short today, but if any chatters have specific ideas, please let us know, and we will post them next week. 

Two museums in Frankfurt that I'd recommend are the Stadel, on the south bank of the River Main, home of many old masters, and the Jewish Museum. And as far as connecting in Brussels, be prepared to walk -- it's a long way from the non-Schengen gates to the Schengen gates.

All right, that was fun! Today's chat has made me want to do two diametrically opposite activities -- watch a ton of movies on my couch and travel to these fascinating places. But we can only have one winner, so I'm going to go with the "White Nights" fan who met his wife in St. Petersburg. Please send your name and address to, and we'll get you your prize.

Come back next week! Until then, happy travels.

In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of 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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