Talk about Travel

Jan 07, 2013

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Greetings, all, and welcome to the first Talk About Travel chat of the year. Happy 2013!

Hope you enjoyed this past weekend's section. In keeping with the theme of writer Kelly Dinardo's story on "aerotropolis" Songdo, South Korea, here's my question for you today: Tell us your nightmare stories of an airport that was woefully inaccessible from your destination, or, conversely, sing the praises of a city with the airport beautifully easy to get in and out of. Our favorite story wins a little something.

On to the chat!

My wife and I have about a seven hour layover in Seattle this June between the time we disembark the train downtown until we catch our flight. What do you recommend we do as it will be a first for both in Seattle? Plus we would be looking to have an enjoyable meal during our brief stay.

Check out Pike Place Market for sure. Go to the Space Needle if you must, but I skipped it with no regrets. Not to be missed, though, is the adjacent Chihuly Garden and Glass, which is spectacular. Oh, and you really ought to do the Theo Chocolate tour. A lot of great food in Seattle, but two places we enjoyed were Serious Pie and Chan.

My friend and I, both in our 60s, have decided to finally make a dream happen...a week in Paris. We're thinking mid-Sept. We've never traveled internationally before and would like to know if we should seek a hotel/air package, or work with a travel agent, or do-it-ourselves. Also, we can afford $5-6K apiece for this that an adequate budget for a nice hotel and restaurants and shopping? A Long-Time Reader, but First-Timer Out of Country

You could conceivably do this on your own, but if it were my first time traveling outside the country, I think I might go to a travel agent for help in finding the best rates for both flight and hotel and making sure that the overall cost meets your budget. A travel agent can also advise you about which part of the city to stay in and even conceivably recommend restaurants, etc. Plus, an agent will be on call and can help out during your trip in case anything should go awry.

That's my two cents. Chatters, what do you think?

My husband and I are expecting our first child in June, and we've planned a "Babymoon" to the Florida Keys for mid-February (Key West two nights and Key Largo two nights). Since we won't be as into the party/bar atmosphere as usual (with me not being able to drink), do you have any particular recommendations for activities and/or restaurants to check out? Especially those that would be accessible for a 24 week pregnant woman!

Key West offers some relatively sedate, family-friendly activities, like the Hemingway Home and Museum, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and reasonably good shopping on Duval Street. If you have wheels, take a day trip up to Marathon to see the bridges and maybe visit Bahia Honda State Park. Key Largo is a little more of a challenge. A trip out to the reef might work (you can snorkel when you're pregnant). I think the Diving Museum is worth seeing, too. Don't miss dinner at the Fish House.

My local volvo dealer is pushing the deal of picking up your new car in sweden. A town in western sweden. The will pick up the plane tickets -for two- and one night in a hotel. Any information? Good deal? I was thinking if airfare is picked up then it would make a great deal (that is sometimes half the cost of a vacation). And i have never been to sweden. And we were recently talking about getting a new(er) car. What say you?

It sounds like an adventure in the making, so if a Volvo is the car you want, I'd consider it, sure. Could be really fun. I was initially a little more skeptical about whether it's a good "deal," though, as I'm generally suspicious of packages like this, figuring that the manufacturer must have figured a way to make this worth their while, so they may be figuring it into the price of the car, for instance. But this piece by MSN Autos would indicate that these are generally a pretty good deal and that people who have taken these trips seem happy about it. So if the price of the car seems fair to you and you want a vacation, seems like a fun way to accomplish both.

That MSN piece points up a few cons, btw: namely, delays. It can take a couple of months between the time you order the car stateside and you pick it up in Europe, and then it can be another many weeks before it gets delivered to you back in the States. (You typically get to drive it around in Europe, then turn it in and it gets shipped to the US.)

Make sure you read the fine print.

Hi guys, I have been following you from the very beginning and I think you do a great job, HOWEVER, I fail to understand why none of you ever suggest Colonial Williamsburg to folks looking for a weekend destination; it is so peaceful, beautifully kept and has so much to offer besides history. I have meant to complain about this for years but last Monday when you suggested to a couple to go to Asheville!!! Eight hours away! I had to write. CW is our favorite weekend destination, it has such a calming effect, with its bucolic atmosphere and its pedestrian streets. We stay either at the Lodge or in one of the historic houses. The food at the Lodge is great, and so is the service. Now, they have added a pretty fabulous SPA to boot. The interpretive history program changes constantly so there is always something new to experience/learn. The other advantage of CW is that there are so many venues that even though it can be crowded, it does not feel like it.

Mea culpa. We shall certainly add Colonial Williamsburg to our recommendations list. I think it's just so familiar that we overlook it sometimes, trying to suggest more unusual destiations. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

Please suggest an interesting place to visit during the long holiday weekend of Feb. 16-18 (President's Day) for my adult son and me. I can take the Amtrak or drive my car. Thanks for any suggestions!

Wow. That's a pretty wide net. Easy options you can do car or train for include New York and Philadelphia. And since a fellow chatter is bringing it up today, think about Colonial Williamsburg. Charlottesville is another popular choice, and you can get there by train if you so choose.

I spent last weekend in Vegas and as I am still breastfeeding came home with pumped breast milk in a small cooler. Each bag was individually tested. Thankfully I was only gone a short period of time, but this is a major pain. and Seriously? Each bag? I am now traveling again in two weeks this time with said baby. But I will be bringing pumped milk both in bottles and frozen as I'm going skiing and the baby will be in the nursery all day while I am skiing. Additionally, baby has food allergies so I will be bringing enough homemade food to last us through the weekend. How much flak am I going to get from the TSA when I carry all this with me through security? It's really not that much but definitely more than three ounces. The TSA guidelines say a reasonable amount, and to check the rest, but who is to say what's reasonable?

Here are the TSA's guidelines for liquids. And here are the guidelines for breastmilk. My experience covering this agency is that it pretty much freaks out whenever you try to take liquids through the checkpoint (could be a bomb, you know). If there's any way of finding food when you're there, or checking the food with your luggage, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble. 

We are taking my Mother-in-law to Fort Myers for her 80th birthday over MLK Birthday weekend. MLM is reasonably active for her age and can walk around, albeit slowly, but long hikes are out. While we will be a nice place with a pool I doubt the weather will be quite that warm. Do you have any suggestions for activities to do or sites to see within a 2 hour drive. We are planning a dinner in Naples but other than that everything is open. Thanks so much

There's actually quite a bit right in Fort Myers, if you're into history and mansions: The winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are big attractions there, right on the main drag, McGregor Boulevard, and well worth a visit. Another historic home you can visit is the Murphy-Burroughs House, the former home of a wealthy cattle rancher. The downtown is a historic district and pretty to walk around in. In nearby Naples, there's the Naples Zoo, plus of course some terrific shopping If you want to go farther afield, in every sense, you're within two hours of  Big Cypress National Preserve and the Corckscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with its two-and-a-half-mile boardwalk.  The Everglades are about three hours away.

Chatters, your thoughts?

A few years ago we needed to get a last-minute ticket from London to Chicago and ended up on a flight that transferred in Dublin. There were three of us, including me with an infected toe, hobbling in my shoes. To our amazement, we had to walk about a mile total, out through the baggage claim area, back in through a narrow hallway and several doors, up and down stairways, then through immigration and at last to our gate area. No fun at all!


I flew from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia and back last month. I'm a big proponent of the Israeli security methods and while I realize that some of them might not be so popular in the US), one difference in particular stood out to me. The security officers in Israel, while firm and still asserting a sense of authority, are polite. For example, instead of just yelling at passengers waiting on the line to remove all laptops from their carryons at the metal detector as is done in the US, the Israelis ask each passenger "are you traveling with a laptop today" and then kindly request that it be removed from the carryon. Passengers who have trouble understanding the instructions have the instructions repeated to them politely, no one barks at passengers who forget to remove something from their pocket or who have trouble understanding English. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia on the return trip to Tel Aviv, I was strongly admonished by the TSA officer for not assuming the precise position required for the body scanner on the first attempt (I pass through more airport security checkpoints in other countries where they don't use these machines than I do in the US) and then forgetting to remove a metal clip from my pocket that I didn't even realize was still there. While I don't expect to see the TSA turn from security theater to actual security measures anytime soon, it would be nice if they went about the security theater more politely, it would make a huge difference. (PS I'd love to see a story on the security at Ben Gurion Airport so others can get a sense of how different security is in Tel Aviv than in the US)

Great question. You're right, the least we can expect from the TSA is that they have reasonably good manners. I like your idea of comparing US to Israeli security. I'll see if I can add it to the Navigator lineup.

Love these chats. I think you get this question before every summer, but I don't remember the answer! Looking at fares for travel from DC to Germany in July. Icelandair offering $1040 RT. Any reason to wait? Should I expect prices to go down at all? Thanks.

That looks like a pretty good price to me. Summer, as you know, is peak travel season. There's no real reason to expect fares to go down. You could try signing up for fare alerts, but personally, I'd say that if you can afford that fare, snap it up.

Saw your 23 December RV rental comment in travel Talk. Here are a few in the region: Manassas; Herndon; Ashland; and another in Ashland. The first two are National rental companies and the second two are regional companies. Looking forward to the upcoming article.


Thanks very much! The article runs this weekend.

Do you know of any reasonably priced hotels in London and/or Paris that are especially quiet? And I mean quiet between rooms. Seems like so many hotels have no soundproofing at all. I tend to not sleep well in hotels and I don't want to be awakened in the middle of the night or early in the morning by noisy neighbors. Thanks

I haven't been to London in far too long, but I really liked the Hotel Therese when I was in Paris last. Stylish, centrally located (right near Palais Royal on the Right Bank), not terribly expensive (I got a room for under $175 a night, but now I see them starting at 165 euros). And very, very quiet. Great service, too.

I have never read about this anywhere, but your readers should know that airlines may refund the penalty for changing tickets when one's original flight is canceled. I changed my ticket on United from December 20 to December 18, and incurred a $150 penalty. On December 21, I checked the flight status of my original (December 20) flight and found out that it was canceled. I called United, told them of the situation, and was immediately refunded the penalty. I doubt if the penalty would have been refunded if I had not called United. So it pays to keep abreast of the status of one's original flight when one changes flights.

That's interesting. Airlines are obligated to fully refund a ticket if they cancel your flight, but I haven't heard of them refunding a change fee if the original flight is canceled. I will have to ask my United contact about this. I'll try to update this later in the chat.

I would just stick with downtown...spend time in Pike Place Market. There are numerous museums downtown you can check out plus places to eat. Its easily walkable. There are 1-2 hr boat trips you can do. The issue is when is your layover? Why--Pike Place tends to only operate 9-5 so if you are talking an afternoon layover then that will be closed.

I'm planning an April trip to Iceland, and have found a lot of resources online, but would love any tips from the Crew or chatters. We will be there for a week, and plan to start in Rejkyavik then travel up the west coast. It looks like we should be able to book activities and hopefully even hotels/guesthouses once we are there, to make us more flexible (we'll have a rental car). Anything we shouldn't miss, should avoid, or should know before going? I haven't found any pals yet who have been there, so would love some trustworthy tips. Thanks for all your advice and great stories!

I'm definitely throwing this out to the chatters since I know we've had many of the them rave about the island... And I'll be interested to hear what they say because I'm considering doing that trip myself! So, friends, hit us with your best Iceland tips.

Happy New Year, Travel Gurus! I liked Becky Krystal's article about New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom in WDW, but as a guy I was wondering what we guys could get out of the princess fad. For example, has Disney Imagineers thought of having Prince Charming conduct how to be "charming" to one's loved ones, including girl-friends, BFFs, wives, kids, etc.? How about a tandem class taught by the Beast and Gaston on how to be less "Beastly" to those loved ones? Of course, the last time I had visited the Magic Kingdom was 15 years ago, so I'm sure lots of things had changed there. Thanks for the reply!

Glad you liked the story! Perhaps the clever folks at Disney can take your amusing idea and run with it. :)

I will say, though, that New Fantasyland is not as nauseatingly girly as you might think. My husband liked it -- even inspired us to break out the "Beauty and the Beast" VHS at my parents' house the other week! The rides are fun for anyone to experience, and so is the immersive experience of the setting, especially the restaurant at the Beast's castle. Plus, there will be that new Snow White-themed roller coaster in 2014.

Have you ever wondered why restaurant reviewers go to great lengths to preserve their anonymity by not putting their photos online, and by using other people's names when making reservations? There are sound journalistic integrity reasons for doing so, and it has nothing to do with whether or not the reporter is photogenic. Thus, why are you now posting your photos online? This practically guarantees that you will get free upgrades and better treatment when you arrive at hotels, particularly in the "local escapes" reports. I am, of course, assuming that you routinely book hotel reservations under other people's names, not your own names. Thanks for the continued great reporting!

We do book under other people's names for hotel reservations, something that I have insisted on since we started Bed Check. But frankly, those hotel reviews are a very small part of what we all do, and I think it's more important that our readers feel a connection to us than that we run the (I think very small) risk that some little B&B on the Eastern Shore is going to recognize one of us. You're right that we should then keep a close eye on the service, to try to make sure that other people are being treated as well as we are; that's the restaurant-critic strategy to help make up the difference if one is recognized.

By the way,  photos of Travel section staffers have been posted online for many, many, many years. I remember looking at the chat from afar when I was in Boston and marveling at the size of the participating staff in DC!

Maybe more of a travel logistics question, but impacted by travel of those to DC for inauguration. I have an 8:30a international flight out of Dulles on Jan 19 (Saturday). Typically to be at the airport no later than 6:30a, I wouldn't think traffic on the road (cabfrom downtown DC) would be trouble so early on a weekend - but do you think that would change with the influx of tourists in town for Inauguration? I'm planning on budgeting an hour to play it safe (arrange a cab at 5:30a), do you think that'd be sufficient, or should I buffer even more?

At that hour of the day, on a Saturday, two days before the parade and balls, you should be fine. I can't imagine that any of the hordes of tourists will be up at that hour.

Missed the chats over the holidays...our long national nightmare is over at last. In the past couple of months you ran some reader comments on traveling to Ularu in Australia. I am unable to find these references...could you please link or tell me how to search? Thank you!

Yeah, it's not easy to find. But I did, eventually. We talked about Uluru on Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and Nov. 19.

I recently booked a two-week tour with Cosmos vacations and booked a flight separately through Orbitz. Two weeks before I was due to pay the final deposit, Cosmos decided to cancel the tour. We thought about using the plane tickets anyway, but decided it would be better to just cancel everything and start fresh. We had bought "cancel anytime for any reason" insurance with Trip Mate. After round after round of denials, I got to someone senior enough at Trip Mate who would agree to refund the plane tickets. Here's the rub: once we actually canceled the flight, we found that American Airlines would let us reuse the tickets minus a total of $600 in change fees for the two of us. Frankly, we don't want to use them on principle, paying $600 on $1800 worth of tickets to use them again when the trip was canceled through no fault of our own. We also dislike AA and would prefer to fly other airlines to other destinations. If I file our claim, I could now see Trip Mate denying it because we can reuse the value (it took days to get them to even agree to honor their policy), even though we have no plans to do so. Any advice as to how we can completely cancel these tickets and not reuse the value, so we can get the whole thing refunded?

Yes, you can cancel your tickets and send the receipt to TripMate. That will be all the evidence it needs that you don't plan to fly. I would speak with TripMate before doing this, to make sure you are doing it correctly and sending them all the information they require.

Hi Travel Gurus -- thanks for all of the great travel advice you provide. I'm hoping you can help me plan a trip with my mom. She's decided that she wants us to take a trip together and she would really like to go to Montreal and Quebec. She's in her seventies and hasn't traveled much, so I'd like this to be a comfortable and budget-friendly trip for her. Any suggestions on timing and travel? For timing -- to avoid a lot of tourists, is spring or fall better? For travel, I was trying to figure out what would be the easiest and most budget friendly, e.g. fly to Montreal and then take the train to Quebec; fly to Vermont and rent a car to drive up to Montreal and then Quebec; fly into Montreal then back from Quebec; something else? Right now a quick search shows spring flights from DCA to Montreal for around $400 -- does that sound like a good deal or should we look for something better? Finally (last question!) she would love to stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec if we could find a special deal -- any suggestions? Thank you so much for your tips!

You sound like a very considerate son/daughter. Good for you for trying to figure out the best way to do this. I love Montreal (though I shamefully haven't been to Quebec), but here's my take: I think you should look into flying to Burlington and renting a car. That would not only be comfortable, but the drive is lovely, with lots of cute places to stop between Burlington and Montreal -- and then lots to see on the drive to Quebec. I didn't check the rental prices, but I see flights from DCA to BTV at about $260 in March.

On the Chateau Frontenac, you're in luck; they're running a 120th-anniversary deal right now: rooms start at $189.30 through June, in honor of the 1893 inauguration of the hotel.

Agree with Joe. When we went to Quebec the other year, we drove there from Burlington. Very pretty ride, and price-wise there was no comparison. That's assuming your mom doesn't mind a couple-hour car ride. If you'd rather fly across the border, consider going on Porter. They often run sales, and compared to other airlines, their fares to Canada are quite reasonable.

We have elderly retired friends who've traveled the world for decades, and when I was planning my first trip abroad 10 years ago they told me they always work with a really knowledgeable travel agent the first time they go to a country, for the sake of their own peace of mind and expertise that the agent brings in planning an itinerary, so that they'll have a decent hotel and guided tour reservations so they won't miss the don't-miss points of their destination. Then if they return to visit that country some years later, they plan their trip on their own, because they know better what it is they want to see. I can tell you that I'm so glad I took my friends' advice!

I was 32 weeks pregnant (that baby is now 27, so it's been a while) when I had to travel to Dallas for business. This was on Eastern, and of course we had to change in Atlanta. On the way back, we were delayed because the pilot discovered the plane hadn't been fueled, but we were certainly okay with waiting for fuel. Of course we had to circle Atlanta and didn't arrive till just about the time our connecting flight was to leave, around 11:30 p.m. That crew was kind enough to wait for us, but naturally we were a terminal away from that flight, so we RAN the whole way. And me big pregnant! Surprisingly, our bags made it too. I didn't go to work the next day; I figured I deserved the rest!

The Gum Wall, easily one of the most unhygenic attractions that doesn't involve kissing a rock in Ireland, is very close to Pike Place and is pretty fun.

Happy New Year to all of you! Many US visitors spend their time in the south-west of Ireland, but, fly into Dublin. During peak season, flying into Shannon, if that's an option, makes a lot more sense. Plus, you clear customs and immigration and arrive in the US, as if you were flying on a domestic route. In fact, it's Europe's first pre-clearance airport. Additional flights from some US airports this year to cater for The Gathering Ireland 2013. Alternatively fly into Dublin and out of Shannon.

My fiance is pregnant and in Michigan. I'm in school in Canada. Do any airlines offer flexible flights for medical emergency situations? I know there's bereavement fares and that they've been mainly phased out...but I'm hoping to avoid a $1000 flight. Thanks.

Not really. If you don't care about the airline or the connections, you could try bidding for a last-minute fare on Priceline or booking through Hotwire. Otherwise, you could pay that $1,000 walk-up fare, unfortunately.

When is she due? If I were you, I'd think about buying a ticket for, say, a week before her due date, making sure you get permission from your teachers to be away -- you can take work with you, maybe? -- and then you can change it if need be later. Or you could price a more flexible ticket. (How long can you be away from school?)

Your budget is good. I did a week in Paris for $500 as a backpacker six years ago, so you should be able to do some damage. Some other advice - skip the Louvre. Too crowded, too few pieces you'll actually want to see. (I've been twice and the Mona Lisa just isn't worth it). Instead, hit up the Musee d'Orsay. Cheaper, smaller, and every piece is something you'd recognize. Enjoy your trip!

It seems like an awful lot of hassle. Perhaps the chatter might want to reconsider going skiing this one season, while her baby's still nursing, and wait till next winter when the baby's weaned.

Of course it's the dreaded Presidents Day week, but $540? Really? I don't even expect it to go down. I just had to rant a bit.

We feel your pain.

Hi travel crew, thanks for taking my question. We're looking for something to do come MLK/Inauguration weekend. We'd like to meet up with some people from Pittsburgh, so we're looking for a destination we can all easily drive to. We've done DC and Pittsburgh so many times, we thought it would be fun to try somewhere else. Since it'll probably be cold, perhaps some place with more indoor activities? (i.e. tons of breweries or something of the sort). Thanks!

How about Harrisburg, PA? Among other things, that's the home of Troegs, maker of Beer Madness winning brews.

Submitting early: Spouse and I are interested in taking our first trip to Italy. We would like advice. Anyone taken a tour with Trafalgar? They have a 14-day tour that hits all of the places we would like to see. Any other advice? FYI, we are over 60s travelers.

Trafalgar is a well-known company, but I haven't taken any of their tours. Chatters, can you help us out here?

I am going to need an early morning cab to DCA from Alexandria in a few weeks. Do you or chatters have a favorite, reliable cab company that I could call ahead of time to arrange a pick-up?

I've gotten an early ride to the airport on Red Top with no problem. Other recommendations?

Hello - I will have a short (4.5 hour ) layover at Heathrow on a Monday afternoon (final destination is Philadelphia). Is there time to do anything outside of the airport? If not, what are some good time fillers inside? Thanks!!!

I'm not sure that's enough time to get out. Inside, you could check out the No. 1 Traveller lounge.

Heathrow is notably far enough away from central London that there's a faster, more direct train option than the tube. Being cheap youngsters my boyfriend and I figured it was worth saving the 20 or so pounds and taking the tube. This turned out to be a mistake when I ignored my pained stomach and not even 5 or so stops down the line it became clear that the situation was much much more dire than just some grumbling. We had to exit somewhere random and beg a cafe owner to let me use the bathroom. We had to get back on and this time I was determined to make it to our stop, which felt like it took FOREVER. It was, as you say, a total nightmare.

What happens if his teachers don't give permission? Should he miss the birth?

Paging Carolyn Hax!

Believe it or not, at Heathrow 4.5 hours is only just enough time to make your connecting flight, especially if you have to change terminals. Last time I changed planes there, I had a three hour layover and barely made my connection! Though, to be fair, it was about four months before the Olympics and Heathrow was undergoing a major overhaul at the time, but that airport is such a labyrinth I suggest buying a book and grabbing a pint.

It's pretty pedestrian for most things, but Liverpool's John Lennon Airport has a Yellow Submarine Sculpture outside and the slogan is "Above Us Only Sky".

Maybe it would help to get a note from your pediatrician explaining that your baby has allergies and needs this specific babyfood? Might help, but you're a the mercy of whatever agent you draw.

I wish that were true. I've spoken with people who have doctor's notes, and it made no difference. But it's worth a try.

Thank you for answering my question. We do not travel all that much and generally when we do, it is within the United States where this issue does not arise (at least where we travel!). In the Spring, my family is travling to Costa Rica for the first time. Yea! We will be doing a lot of outdoor adventurous activities. I know that, we should not usually leave our passports, wallets and money in our hotel rooms, but carrying them with us may be impossible given the ziplining, cruises, swimming, surfing, etc. we will be doing. What do you recommend? We are staying at hotels that should have safes. Should we just leave the documents in the safes? Thankk for any help or insights you can offer.

Yes, the safe is the, er, safest place for your valuables. If you do not have an in-room safe, then the front desk should provide a safe for your belongings. 

Keep on hand, though, a bit of cash and some form of identification. Also, in the event of a theft,  jot down all emergency numbers for your credit cards (so you can cancel them) and make a copy ofyour passport. Leave an itinerary with a close friend or family member, so they know your whereabouts.

I haven't been to Bermuda since 2008, but at that time there was a direct flight on US Air from DCA. Now, I can't find a direct flight from any of the WAS airports (DCA, BWI, Dulles). Could that be possible? Seems odd that there wouldn't be a direct flight from any of the three airports given the proximity to DC so figured I'd check with the travel gurus in case I'm missing something. Looking for flights in September. Thanks!!

Carriers do fly nonstop from D.C. to Bermuda -- I assume that is what you mean; usually direct mean one-stop without changing plane -- but they run seasonally. 

 According to a press release announcing Airtran's new service to the island (in 2011), it flies from BWI to Bermuda April through October.  I am also finding nonstops from Reagan National on US Air during the warmer months.

Many years ago, my family took a trip to Brazil. Because this was in the days the airlines were still regulated, we were able to stop in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Colombia for no additional fees so we took advantage of that. I remember landing in Colombia and traveling what seemed like forever to get from the airport in Bogata to our hotel on the other side of the mountain. It was exasperated by the fact that it was election time and there were road blocks everywhere. Our hotel bus was stopped and searched three times! Then, once we got to the hotel, we were warned not to leave the premises... AT ALL! We cut that part of our trip down to only 2 nights but it was a very exciting two nights, nonetheless.

I'll say!

We're hoping to visit Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. Since we expect to rent a car for two weeks anyway, we don't mind flying into a major city that's a day's drive away. What city in that general part of the country has the best combination of airfares and rental car prices?

I would fly into Salt Lake City. You'll probably find the lowest fares and best car rental rates from there. It's a 6 1/2 hour drive, but it takes you through some of the most beautiful country on earth. We were there last year, and can't wait to go back.

Wouldn't the Dublin airport have had mobility assistants who could've wheeled the chatter through the airport? In every airport where I've had to be wheeled, the service is free, although one should always tip well.

I used one of the many Porter sales to fly to Billy Bishop City Airport in Toronto this September. It was as easy as you could wish for. I flew in and was on a free barge from the island to the south edge of Toronto after a lightening quick stop at customs a few minutes later. Then a free bus shuttle from the waterfront to the heart of downtown, half a block from the main train station, but I could have walked to almost anywhere I needed to be. Any number of people told me they were willing to take much less convenient flights to get to fly out of Billy Bishop and not have to get out to and back from the main Toronto Airport. And if that wasn't enough, on the way back I got to hang out in the Porter lounge where they serve a lot of complimentary free drinks and snacks (water, coffee, tea, juice, soda, nuts, fruit, cookies, etc.). Nice to have all that after you go through security so the drinks don't get confiscated at the x-ray machine.

We are researching travel to Germany this summer for our family of four. Airfare from Dulles to Germany is in the $1400+ per person range....which isn't affordable. Is this likely to be as good as it gets? How do we find special deals? So far, there's no difference among the airlines' websites.

Try using an aggregator like Kayak, which lists the fares being offered by multiple airlines, from cheapest to more expensive. Another chatter just mentioned an IcelandAir fare of $1,040, which I confess I'm not finding, but she/he didn't say which city they were flying into, nor did they give any dates. I'm finding an IcelandAir fare of $1,157 into Munich in early July. That's better than $1,400, though not a whole lot, I admit. Flights to Europe have become expensive again, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Sign up for some fare alerts from various airlines -- Lufthansa, American, IcelandAir -- and maybe you'll hit pay dirt. Chatters, your advice?

Hi there! We will be in Seattle late July and plan to take an Alaskan cruise with our 5 year old son. Any thoughts on which itinerary would be best and most important which ships/cruise lines we should focus on. I have never taken a cruise, but I understand open seating is the best option with a child, but not sure who offers it. Any and all thoughts are most welcome and apprecaited! Thank you!

This sounds like a job for CruiseCritic, which has a wealth of information to help you make your decision. Anyone else have advice?

Hey - I have a few weeks of free time before I start a new job, and am interested in traveling somewhere fun. I'm fine with going anywhere - domestic or international - and am interested in seeing if there's a place that lists fare deals from the D.C. area. Any recommendations? Thanks, as always!

Try Kayak Explore and Airfare Watchdog, to start. Also check out the under-$200 roundup I did last year.

Thanks you for finding that for me....very helpful!

A little surprised by the article encouraging people to go to Koh Phangan. A British tourist was shot and killed there a couple of weeks ago. And it has a reputation of being pretty lawless in general. Those crazy drunk kids are always getting into trouble.

Ouch. I confess I did not know about the British tourist. That's tragic, obviously, and maybe we should have held the story for a while before running it. But people also get mugged and pickpocketed in Paris. Wherever in the world you travel, things can happen.

Have you thought of Winchester VA? I visited for the first time this weekend. Took a nice walking tour of the old city. It looks like there are things to do (although better in the summer months) Some of the restaurants looked very interesting.

I recently saw a link to an article about an independent hotel's poor experience using Expedia and how it ruined their business. I personally tend to book directly with hotels and not through a third party site but I have considered using those sites and now I'm starting to wonder. Have you seen this article and is there any truth to it?

Yes, actually I was contacted by the hotel's owners and tweeted a link to their blog post during the holidays. I was going to write something about it, but I see the story already got picked up. I believe the story is true, although I'm not sure I would advise anyone to stop booking on Expedia -- only to be aware that they aren't seeing every available hotel, and that there are things going on behind the scenes that you aren't aware of.

I am looking into airfares to Europe this summer. It seems that it is cheaper to depart from JFK vs Washington Dulles (approx $175 -300 per ticket, depending on continental destination on -- not necessarily insignificant for a family of 5. Are there any good /reasonable drive-park-fly options near JFK? also, do you think there will be any deals in the spring or should I book a summer trip now?

There are lots of park/fly options near JFK, yes. Another option is park/sleep/fly, which can be even cheaper, and certainly more convenient if you have an early flight. You stay at a hotel for a night, and parking is included in their rate -- even if you leave your car for, say, a week -- and much more affordable. Check out this site for more info. As for the buy now or wait option, well, we'll say what we always say: If you can afford the fare, snap it up, because anticipating future "deals," especially in this day and age, is very risky.

As much as the amenities at larger airports can be useful, sometimes a small airport is even more practical. My mom lives in Kalamazoo, MI - clearly a small city, where nothing is more than about a 25 minute drive; one year after Christmas as I was flying back to DC, my morning flight was cancelled and I was rebooked on the afternoon flight. I called my mom - she'd just gotten home, but she turned around and picked me up at the airport (which has all of about three entrances and maybe six gates) - we enjoyed some shopping and lunch before she dropped me off again for my afternoon flight.

True enough. We were horribly delayed trying to get off of Nantucket (cute, cute airport!) this summer, and we very easily could have just left and come back except the situation was so in flux.

The C section is scheduled for April 8 (7 days before finals) but babies can come at any time...I can take Via to Windsor in about 12 hours but that leaves me about 3 hours short. Although a flight with a connection is going to be around 8 or 9 anyway with travel to the airport, customs, etc. I'm making sure my finals are mainly take home but I may have one or two...I was thinking Priceline but forgot about Hotwire. Thanks. Would booking a one way now and just incurring the change fee be a possibility?

It's true that babies can come at any time, but if she's scheduled a C section, I think I'd just buy a r/t ticket for, say, a week before the surgery date, coming back just in time for your finals (unless you can make them ALL take home). Depending on the airline, a one-way might be VERY expensive.

It's not the first time they've had to deal with it. I'll just have to take whatever exams late. I'm not missing the birth. It's my first.

What's your general opinion of the promo cards that all of the cities and in Europe market via their tourist boards? Typically they offer free public transport and discounts to museums and other attractions, restaurants, etc? Are they usually a good value?

I think this is one of those questions that will have a different answer for every person and every destination. Compare the prices on the card versus what you'd pay for each attraction. Are there a bunch of things you really don't care about seeing? Then it might not be worth it. I'm a little more inclined toward free public transport options. I like having the flexibility of going wherever whenever, and when you're abroad and fumbling with foreign currency, that's a big plus.

In the last chat before the holidays, a poster asked about safety in Guatemala. In November, I spent two weeks in Antigua studying Spanish and hiking and camping on Volcan Acatenango. I'm a 30 year old woman who was traveling alone and it was my first time to Guatemala. It was a great trip and I never felt unsafe. In fact, I'm looking forward to going back and seeing more of the country. I never heard of any unsafe incidents when chatting with others who were traveling throughout the country or spending more time in Antigua. There were some reports of pickpockets, etc. but store your passport and money safely and I wouldn't think you'd have an issue. Hope this helps.

We were thinking of doing something different for us for our summer vacation. We usually go to the beach but I proposed renting a cabin for a week but don't know where to begin the search. There are 3 of us, two adults and a 12 year old. We want something that we can drive to and bring our dog. I would like something on a river or lake that we could swim, fish, canoe. I would also like a place that we could have a bonfire at night. Do you have any suggestion of a website I could use to narrow our search? Or the best location that might fit the bill? I don't know if I should look at Luray, Shenandoah Valley, WVA, NC. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the choices.

Here's an article we had a few years ago on regional cabins. Be sure you look at the accompanying chart

Anyone have a favorite place to recommend?

I'm headed to Melbourne FL in late Jan for a getaway, and am wondering what there is to do in the area?

Lots of Florida questions today! Must be that time of year. . . 

Melbourne's on Florida's "Space Coast," so there's quite a bit to do/see in the vicinity, actually, including Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center -- the space shuttle Atlantis just went on view there. Downtown Melbourne is a historic district, and there are some good museums and historic homes to visit, including Historic Rossetter House,  as well as the Brevard Zoo. Check out this story we ran a couple of years ago. And as always, let's ask the chatters for their input.

When you've checked in at the airport, gotten boarding passes, luggage is gone, you are at the gate, and the flight is cancelled/delayed? Where does luggage go? I ask because I have to pack expensive scuba gear, and don't want it to end up in Outer Mongolia or worse. Thx

Typically, the airline holds the bags at the departing airport until the next available flight to your destination.  For security reasons, they try to avoid sending bags without their owners onboard.

Before you wave goodbye to your luggage, though, make sure the checked baggage tag carries the name of your final destination airport. Also, secure a tag with your name and contact info on it (you might even consider putting the hotel's address,). Airlines also have very good tracking capabilities these days, so if there is a mix-up, go to the lost baggage office and provide a very detailed description of the bag and its contents (as backup, take a picture).

My sister and I are going on a southbound Alaska cruise, ending in Vancouver on May 27, We plan to stay a couple of days each in Vancouver and Seattle. We're going to see Butchart Gardens, and the libraries in both cities for a quick look (my sister works at a library). What else should we see? We like outdoors, but could use some inside activities as well in case it's pouring rain.

Just to make sure, you realize Butchart Gardens is not in Vancouver but in Victoria, Vancouver Island, right? If you are getting to the island, though, I highly recommend it.

Perhaps others can weigh in on Vancouver, but Seattle I can do. See my previous answer to start with some inside options. For more outdoors activities, take the bus to Discovery Park. You'll forget you're still in the city. Gorgeous. Woodland Park Zoo is also very nice. And consider taking a day or half-day trip to one of the nearby islands -- we really liked Bainbridge.

When booking a hotel room, how can one be assured that there are no hidden "mandatory" fees? Are there fees I should ask them about beforehand (e.g., will I be charged for using the pool even if I don't use it at all)? Many thanks!

The only way to be sure is to ask the hotel directly before you make a reservation. Be very specific. "Are there any additional mandatory fees?" You can't rely on a travel agent or on the hotel's website, unfortunately. (They may tell you, but there's no guarantee.)

Hi Crew! I'm searching for a long-weekend flight to Madrid and recall that United (I think) used to have lots of non-stops from Dulles, generally red-eyes. Now I can't find a single non-stop on any of the usual suspects -- Turkish Air seems to have the lowest flights now, but with not great schedules. Are the non-stops offered in the peak months only? I'm looking to travel in the "off" season, which seems to go through March, to see if I can get some sub-$850 rates. Thanks!

As far as I can tell, there are no longer any direct flights from Dulles to Madrid. You have to connect either through New York or some other city, depending on the airline. Turkish does have the cheapest flights, but you have to fly to Istanbul and then back to Madrid. Is that worth it for $100? Wouldn't be to me.

Coming late to the chat but for the lady with breast milk and homemade food, what about mailing ahead.

That's a possibility, although I'm not sure how frozen breastmilk would fare. At this time of year, probably fine.

to the poster who suggested the new mother delay her trip. Wow! you certainly do not sound like someone I would like to know.


I went to university in Melbourne, but haven't been back in quite a while. Lots of beaches on the other side of the causeway if you are into the beach thing and the weather is good. There's also the botanic garden at Florida Institute of Technology. We used to call it "the jungle" but it has nice paths and markers identifying the plants. I think it is something like the largest collection of different palm trees in the world. (or something like that). All in all it's a pretty quiet, laid back type of place.

OP here. If I could figure out which foods my child was reacting to, i would certainly buy some prepared foods. and yes, the whole trip is a Pain, but I'm meeting my college roommates one of whom lives in Burma. She wants to meet my son, and she is definitely worth the trip.

"Worth the trip": Music to my ears.

My husband's uncle just died and he can either drive 9 hours or fly to the funeral. Which airlines still offer bereavement fares? Does Delta (best schedule for his needs)?

Over the years, because of competition in the airline industry, travelers can often find cheaper flights booking regular fares vs. bereavement fares.

Do a general flight search on Kayak or Expedia, and also check Southwest.  Then call, say, Delta or American, to get a quote on a bereavement fare. May the cheapest fare win.

I'll throw in a vote for Eilat, Israel. Walking distance to downtown (10-15 minutes), and you get a nice view on approach (including of the pyramid that shows IMAX movies). Minus - same Israeli security as elsewhere. I got 30 minutes of involved questioning, including looking at the photos on my camera, that only got resolved when they called a business colleague (who still ribs me about it to this day).

This isn't about the travel part. Former professor here. I would go and speak with your dean of students now and let them know when the baby is due and aks their help in strategizing around your exams. There is plenty of time for you to plan so that you can be at the birth and face no academic consequences. You might be able to take some exams early, or if you'll miss them perhaps you can take an incomplete and make up the exam a few weeks later. Trouble shoot this now, and I'm sure you can work it out.

This is directed to the Costa Rica traveler, but makes sense for anybody. Before traveling, xerox and scan all your documents - front and back of credit cards, passport, etc - and hand it over to a friend at home whom you can contact in case of theft or loss. That way you will have all the 800#s to call. I've also heard of people taking a photo of their passport with their phone, which is also a good idea.

I took a two week tour for Italy from them in 2011. It was good. A few things--make sure you pick the right trip. They categorize them as "leisurely" or "active" etc. which really is a difference as to how much travel time each day (not leisurely) and moving hotels every single night (which is a drag for packing up etc.) Our trip gave us some free time--a lot of people went back to the hotel, but my friend and I took advantage of it (yeah, we got lost once, but a very lovely Italian lady actually walked us back to our hotel--about 20 minutes away--and she didn't speak English at all) You see a lot and do a lot on these tours, but pick the one that gives a couple of nights in Florence etc. so you don't get run down.

The problem with my 5:30 am flight from Istanbul a few years wasn't so much the hotels inaccessibility, as it was that they the guidelines stated I needed to be there 3 hours early, the trains stop running at midnight, and a middle-of-the-night cab would have cost at least $100 from downtown (to say nothing of the expense of half a night in a hotel room during a Formula 1 event). Being cheap, I finally decided to take the last tram to the airport, found a nice looking family to sit myself near (as a single woman traveling alone), played some cards, and then curled up on the floor for an hour-long nap.

For a ticket to Paris in April, what would be a "good" price for a round trip straddling a weekend? Thinking of taking my wife for a surprise anniversary trip, but wondering when to pull the trigger on purchasing the tix.

Nowadays, a "good" price would  be in the $900-$1,000 range, believe it or not.

Alexandria Yellow Cab has a website (or I think you can use Taxi Magic app) where you can reserve the cab in advance (the night before, for example). I've had to use them often for early morning cabs to DCA and they have always been on time. Plus they send you a text when your cab is on the way.

Let me second the comment above. I have an artificial hip, and am younger than the average person with artificial joints. I also travel with saline solution for my contact lenses. The type of saline that I need to use does not come in small sizes. Saline is specifically called out on TSA's website as allowed in larger amounts, when declared. The agents never believe me. Every time, my saline is impounded. Every time, I am subject to a thorough pat-down. And every time, they are hostile and rude, and I am not allowed to keep an eye on my stuff, sitting along on the conveyor belt, while they make me wait to be harshly searched. I have really come to hate air travel.

Oh, this is so upsetting to hear.

Get out to the University and see the Museum of Biodiversity and the Museum of Anthropology. And there are some gardens on the campus that I missed in August, but I bet they would be lovely in the spring. You van get there by public bus (one transfer needed).

Good - on approach, you can get gorgeous views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The shuttle to the domestic terminal goes past their hangars, which are impressive. The Air New Zealand lounge has a diorama of little kiwi birds. Half the people in the airport look like they're extras in a Billabong ad. The domestic terminal has a great museum of Qantas through the years. Bad - if you have to pick up your bags on a domestic flight before going international, you have to take the subway to get to the international terminal. Getting between the domestic and international terminals usually takes more than an hour.

Keeping in mind that the train station is at the south end of downtown (the space needle is north), and that Sea-Tac is south of the city, don't try too much. One absolute "don't waste your time" is the Duck Tour. First of all, it's up at the space needle, second, they dump you into some lake full of houseboats and talk about Sleepless inSeattle ad nauseum. Consider Underground Seattle, which is in the south part, after the fish market. Turn of the 20th century neighborhood literally now underground. And if they are aports fans, the station (King Street) is in the middle of the stadium complex. Finally, during the day, all city buses are free in the downtown area, I think I rode it to the airport to for next to nothing. Convenient and cheap. And remember to look at Mount Ranier.

There are so many things there that AREN'T the mona lisa. But I do love Musee d'Orsay. And the Rodin Museum.

Aside from the warnings on the car rental place that animal carcass smells may include a cleaning fee, there's an airport restaurant (the Nugget) that serves amazing pies.

Hello Travel Talk crew! My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Australia to ring in NYE 2014/15. We'd like to make it a two week trip and aside from several days in Sydney around and over NYE, we're trying to plan out the rest of the trip. Ideas include: Melbourne, Great Barrier Reef, and Ayer's Rock. What are we missing/should we be considering? Obviously two weeks doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of everything to see and do in the country, but we'd like to plan to hit all of the main highlights. Thanks in advance!

You're being pretty ambitious, even for a two-week trip. Australia's a big country/continent, and it takes time getting from one point to another, though you have listed probably the main highlights. I might add Perth and Adelaide.

My passport was damaged by water and I want to get it replaced. Why in heaven's name would the State department requirement to provide my damaged (but current) passport AND proof of citizenship to get it replaced? I have used this 'damaged' passport to travel at least five times, so it is not like it is unreadable. I'm a federal bureaucrat but I really hate it when federal bureaucrats make things more difficult than they have to be.

I have to side with you on this one. That makes no sense, since the passport IS your proof of citizenship. The only reason I can think of is that maybe the State Department is worried that your passport/identity has been compromised and therefore wants to be sure that you are that flag-waving American you say you are.

Buchardt Gardens is in Vicotria on Vancouver Island. In late May it will not be pouring. If it rains it will be a shower/drizzle. Nothing to kill the day. Both cities hava a ton of museums. To get Victoria you can take a sea plane from Vancouver or Seattle or take a boat there....the boat trip also doubles as an orca whale watching trip. What you could do is take the boat to Victoria then a sea plane via Kenmore Air to rental car needed. There are numerous tour buses that will bring you to the gardens for the afternoon.

If it's any consolation, the prices were about the same when I booked my flight back in October. I ended up going with easy-to-change dates with Icelandair -- I figured the $100 or so extra would be better than the hundreds it'd take to make changes but others may be comfortable with the risk. A big reason I went with Icelandair is that I could fly through Iceland into and out of two different European cities -- something to consider if people are going to a lot of traveling while there.

Do a cost comparison between Salt Lake City and Denver with the flight and 2 week car rental.. Salt Lake City last year started tacking on a rental fee surcharge to pay for some stuff.

Yes, indeed, there is help for those with limited mobility travelling through Dublin Airport. BTW, The longest walk at Dublin Airport is reserved for those who travel with Ryanair, just in case anyone wants to use the low cost airline from there.

I was flying from DC to New York to visit a sick friend in a hospital in the Bronx. Stupidly, I got a flight into JFK, not LaGuardia. The air fare was $60. The one-way cab fare was $70! (I took a convoluted 2-hour subway and bus trip back for the one-hour flight.)


Spend at least a week in Sydney alone. Beautiful city with lots to do.

What is the best time of year to go to New Zealand for about 2 weeks. No kids on school schedules or anything like that, so don't need to coincide with school breaks. Just trying to figure out when is the combination of best weather, not super duper crowded and things open (i.e. New Zealanders aren't all on break)!. Thanks!

You defiinitely want to avoid mid-December to late January, New Zealand's winter (their summer) holiday period. Also be aware of summer (their winter) break.

New Zealand has lovely weather year-round, but if you want to avoid crowds and jacked-up prices, travel during their fall and spring.

I arrived at Nairobi airport at 6 AM a few months ago, after two exhausting overnight flights. My ride was there as planned. We headed into the city, but before long were stuck in the horrendous traffic that is part of every day life in Nairobi. We headed off-road, on some painfully bumpy roads, some of which were completely covered in mud in which other drivers were getting trapped. We headed down a yet to be completed bypass road, which leads through the slums, and which, since it was not yet completed, was barricaded by soldiers. The driver got out and offered a bribe, which he insisted they wouldn't except, but pretty soon the barricade was removed and we were allowed through, only to get back to the main road and the traffic again. Spent about half my time in Nairobi in taxis.

You may now use approved portable electronic devices, because we've landed this chat. Thanks for the questions and advice today. Did anyone else notice how many times pregnancy came up today? Is it something in the water?

Now for our prizewinner: It's the chatter who was, yes, pregnant 27 years ago and had to run through the Atlanta airport. Love the visual. Send your mailing address to, and Becky will get you a little something.

Until next time, happy travels!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting 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.
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