Talk about Travel

Jan 09, 2012

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. This week we visit China, Charleston and Maryland's Eastern Shore and learn about how hotels are recycling soap.

Greetings, Travelers. Thanks for joining us on this not-so-sunny day.

For today's topic (reference:  Sunday's Clean the World recycling soap story), let's talk about recycling on the road. Fun!

Do you take any special steps to reduce waste when traveling? For example, I often carry around my plastic soda and water bottles (which I refill during the trip) until I can find a recycling bin (often at the airport). Do you look for hotels with green policies, or refrain from using the little toiletry bottles? Best idea wins a bag of used soaps. Kidding -- sort of.

Does anyone know why USAirways no longer offers nonrefundable tickets from Washington Reagan to Columbus, Ohio? Only expensive, full fare tickets are available, even months in advance. Delta's nonstops are also prohibitively expensive. Thanks.

Airfares change by the day, and even by the minute. Normally, a fare is discontinued because it's no longer profitable to the airline. But market conditions change quickly (though not as quickly as fares) so check back, and you might find the nonrefundable fare is available again. Having said that, it's highly unusual for an airline to only offer full-fare seats on a flight. It could just be a temporary hiccup in the reservation system. 

In Europe I find it's not so important, as fifty euro bills are common, large, and orange. But in the States (and I speak as a cashier at a high-volume NYC locale), always ask "Is a $100/$50 all right?" if for no other reason than to alert the cashier to the fact that you're giving them a big bill (old 20s look a lot like current 100s). Given the potential fallout in giving the customer the wrong change or having a big difference in your drawer in the evening, and the fact that there are usually cameras trained on all drawers at all times, it is very rarely in the cashier's best interests to deliberately shortchange you. Remember also that there are a lot of unscrupulous people going around convincing cashiers that they gave them a bigger bill than they really did. In fact, there are a lot more dishonest customers than there are dishonest cashiers, as a dishonest customer can always claim innocence whereas a dishonest cashier has his/her job at stake (remember the cameras). Aggressively demanding your change only makes the cashier more suspicious. If you do think it there was a big mistake, good-naturedly request to speak to a manager in order to leave your contact information, "just in case your drawer is off this evening." That, and reviewing the tapes, is the common procedure for dealing with such situations.

Sound advice, thank you!

Hi guys - I just came back from a trip to Scandinavia (which was great, highly recommend). What is the best way to exchange our extra Swedish and Norweigian money that we came home with? Do you have suggestions of how to "cash out"?

My husband took our leftover Euros to the Travelex office and exchanged them for U.S. currency. There was a fee, I believe, but still. It wasn't an inconsiderable amount. They took only bills and full euro coins, nothing in smaller currency, so I imagine it would work the same way for your krona and krone. There are several Travelex offices in downtown Washington, and also at each of the airports. 

I am in the process of planning a two week trip to Paris for our 50th wedding anniversary in July. I was planning to rent an apartment in Paris, but with the current issues regarding the Euro, I am wondering if we should hold off until things stabilize.

I don't think that's necessary. As I noted in a Navigator that appeared last summer, the financial crisis is unlikely to affect Americans traveling to popular European destinations.

Hello: I need to travel to Frankfurt Germany for a wedding in late April. Wow, the ticket price is much higher than what I paid a year ago. I noticed Virgin is offering a deal on non-stop flights to London. What is the cost of taking a train from London to Frankfurt? I'm curious if it would be cheaper than a round-trip airline ticket to Frankfurt. I don't mind the time spent on the train. In fact it would allow me to see more of Europe. Thank you!

A one-way economy class ticket from London to Franfurt costs $273 through Rail Europe.

I'm trying to find a reasonably priced ticket for my son to return to the states (Durango, CO) from Okinawa next August. He is an exchange student. United's lowest fare is $3K+! Am I missing something? Can you suggest a less expensive source for a ticket? Thanks!

Unfortunately, you are not missing anything. Fares are high, especially on less-traveled routes. But you have some leeway so keep on checking the fares.

One idea: You might save a few hundred dollars if your son can fly from Tokyo.  Or save more than a thousand dollars by flying from Tokyo to San Francisco, then book a cheap second flight to Denver (check Frontier).

And sign up for fare alerts.

A trick I use to get rid of local currency without a penalty is to have all my remaining local currency applied to the hotel bill before I pay the final balance on check out.

That is a great idea! It's also nice for tipping hotel staff.

Great story about recycling of hotel soap and toiletries! About a month or two ago, you posted a question about recycling of the hotel shampoo bottles, which generated an inconclusive response, so I am glad to see your reporter doing some follow-up investigation. Is there any indication that this recycling effort will spread outside Florida?

So glad you enjoyed the piece. The organization has partnerships with more than 1,200 hotels around North America, including Starwood and all Laguna Beach, Calif., properties. With operations in Vegas and Orlando, their reach is long and wide.

Some hotels also donate toiletries on a local level, so ask the front desk if they have a program. If not, perhaps a local shelter nearby might want your items. In any event, Clean the World accepts donations.

Dear travel editors, We are a family of 4 -- the kids are 12 and 16. We have about $2000 to spend on an early April spring break trip of 4-5 days. We have travelled previously in the American southwest and are looking for something different. A Florida beach vacation seems to be one option, but sounds little mundane and ordinary. Do you have any suggestions that could squeeze travel (from DC area), hotel, and some recreation out of our buget? Thanks!

If the vacation didn't involve one of the more heavily traveled times of the year, I'd recommend San Diego. But airfare is going to run about $400 per person around the Easter holiday, which will break the budget. Florida is a big state with lots to offer -- you don't have to go to Orlando -- but again, airfare is running $300 to $350 per person to cities such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Is warm weather necessary? If not, perhaps a trip to NYC would be interesting for the kids.  

I've read/heard about pizza tours in NYC. Do you or any of the Post's readers have any specific recommendations?

I don't know about a tour per se, but I think you'd be safe building your own off this list of NYC's 10 best pizzas from Slice, the pizza-centric blog(!) from the good folks at Serious Eats.

My question is it safe to travel to the area of Isla Navidad, Manzanillo? I have not read any mention of this area being safe or not for tourists, Is it a safe area to travel?

Manzanillo is a toughie. The area is popular with drug cartels because of its port, but Mexico security forces, including the Army and Navy, are visible forces there. Despite some major drug seizures, all reports say crime in Manzanillo is under control. So I  say: Go, but  with caution. Ask your hotel about the best places to walk, swim, etc., and only take official transportation.

We're planning a week's vacation this June/July, split between Halifax NS and St John's NF. It seems airfare keeps going up. Any tips for getting there, travelling between the two destinations, best time to travel, or best time to buy airfare?

There is no alternative airport offering cheap flights within easy driving distance of Halifax or St. John's. I'd just keep checking the fares and hope for a sale. But getting to Canada, especially to smaller cities,  is typically expensive, so it's never going to be cheap. There is ferry service between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. I'd opt for going the latter part of June, as ferry schedules are better then. 

Hi there...transplants from Virginia to Orchard Park New York but the Washington Post and especially the ravel Gurus are still are our go-to resource. We want to take a family vacation with mom, dad and uncle ages 67-84 and sons and spouses ages 30-31, 6 of us in all. We are thinking from 4-7 days and are dealing with a lot of different preferences. My criteria: something everyone will feel is special, options for different members to go off on different activities if desired along with things we would all enjoy together. Hawaii was vetoed by one son who felt if he went there he would want to do a lot of things (hiking, rock climbing) that he could not do as he would want without deserted the rest of us. I think an Alaskan cruise might work. A Caribbean cruise might work if it was the right mix of activities (but we would not want to dress up for dinner, etc.) and destinations. One son would be happy with a warm beach and good surf, but the other would likely get bored and the 84-year-old would not enjoy beach lounging at all The 84 year-old is healthy and active and interested in things but should not have to walk long distances on uneven ground. I had thought of a trip to the Galapagos but am not sure of the difficulty involved in visiting there for him. With only 7 days (give or take a couple if the adventure seems worth it), I'm not thinking of going outside North/South America. Costa Rica or Belize might work depending on the range of options and the 84-year-old's comfort level with that climate/environment, and for him, accommodations would need to have western style amenities Ideas gratefully received. Hope I've given some helpful details without being over long. Thanks and Happy 2012 to all.

I like your Galapagos idea. My husband's family did one of these kinds of massive trips there a few years ago to rave reviews. The group included multiple generations, and everyone had a blast. If you can splurge for the trip, I say go for it.

My girlfriends and I have been wanting to visit Prince Edward Island for the past decade to tour the Anne of Green Gable sites, but have always found that flights are prohibitively expensive. We've decided to make 2012 our "PEI or bust!" year. We are planning to fly into Halifax and drive from there. We searched flights last week and were finding prices around the $460 mark from WAS. I just checked again this morning and they have jumped to around $650. What do you think is the more normal price? Are we going to have to suck it up and settle for a $600+ flight?

Give it a little time and see if it drops. I have a feeling it might (sign up for fare alerts as well).

I am looking to take a trip with my husband in mid-March. Our budget is about $1500 total (air/hotel - not including money spent once we are there) although I am willing to go over if I need to. We will be flying round-trip from Chicago. Ideally I would like to leave the states, and go somewhere with cultural activities/sightseeing and beautiful landscape - I think I would prefer warm/hot weather and a beach nearby but I am open to other options (although I think our budget limits us to warm spots - I think most of Europe would be too pricey, but please let me know if I am wrong). I would like somewhere comfortable for tourists, but definitely not touristy and preferably a little off-the-beaten path (ie, no Hawaii, Bahamas, etc). No Mexico either - been there a few times and not sure how safe non-touristy areas would be. Any unique ideas?

That's a lot of requirements for a mighty small budget -- although you don't say how long you'd want to go for. Airfare alone to many places would eat up most of your money. I'm finding Bermuda airfares of about $480 in March, which would leave you about half your budget for hotels for several days, but Bermuda is probably too touristy, based on your guidelines. And not all that warm in March. I'd send you to Bulgaria, but airfare is $800 a person. I think that would seem to leave the Caribbean or Central America as your best bets -- airfares to Guatemala are currently running about $450 a person (check out this recent story we did), to Honduras or Costa Rica about $500. But your best bargains of all would be just heading for California (San Diego for $270!) or Florida (Miami, $322). Chatters, your ideas?

Hi! I recently realized that the only way I'll get to experience a girls' weekend away is if I plan one for my friends. I'm thinking of a winter getaway. We're not skiers but we could embrace some hiking or other outdoorsy stuff. We live in Frederick, Germantown, and Gettysburg, PA, and I am looking for a place no more than a three-hour drive. Probably can't afford something as nice as The Homestead, but other suggestions appreciated!

Deep Creek Lake, Md., is one option. You could rent a little house there or get someting at Wisp. It's a really lovely area.

This cold has me thinking about summer! My family and I try to get together every summer, and this year is my turn to plan. I'd like to find a beach house in North Carolina (some driving from DC, some driving from St. Louis), but have no idea where to start. No specific demands, apart from the space being able to house 12 people, be close to the beach (and possibly have a pool). Cute, quiet town a plus, but so long as we have a grocery store nearby, we're fine to spend all our time at the house and beach. Would really appreciate any advice on how to start my search.

The Outer Banks would be a  good fit for your family. I especially like the Village at Nags Head and Currituck Club, as they have amenities on site. I'd look at the local realtors listings and also at rent-from-owner sites. Places to start include Outer Banks TourismCurrituck Club Rentals,  Village Realty,  Resort Realty, Vacation Rentals by Owner and Homeaway

I am a retired teacher who loves to travel and don't have the funds to travel as much as I'd like to. Are there any reputable organizations that I could partner with whose clients are looking for travel partners to travel with them and their children? An extra pair of hands to make traveling with children easier.

 Most people I know who travel with families have been their babysitter or nanny for a substantial amount of time. Otherwise, most families use the childcare services at the resort or hotel.

In addition, I worry that the family might misconstrue your objective: That you care more about travel than caring for their kids. If you do travel with a family, you will have to work, so I am not sure how fun that'll be for you.

For sound advice, check with a nanny agency in your area, such as the Association of DC Area Nannies. You might also consider working as a seasonal child care provider at a resort or on a cruise ship.

First time to Australia, 3-1/2 days in Sydney on our way to other places in Oz. Is it worth taking a day for the Blue Mountains?

I say yes! It's on my personal bucket list. Chatters, do you agree?

Is the dollar currently stronger than it has been recently?

Yes, it is. The Euro just hit a 16-month low vs. the greenback. Time to book that European vacation!

Looking for fun, easy activities for young kids and grandparent who tire easily. Planning on staying near Central Park for zoo fix. Other ideas?

Have a look at this kid-friendly itinerary from the NYC tourism people.

Has anyone ever purchased Cheap Carribean's $12 All Inclusive Resort deal? It seems like a good deal, but kind of makes me nervous. It is at the Lifestyle Tropical Beach Resort & Spa in the Dominican Republic - Puerto Plata.

I don't know anyone who has booked the $12 deal, but I have mediated cases on similar offers. You really have to do your homework before you book. Make sure you thoroughly research the property, read all of the reviews, and study the fine print (what exactly do they mean by all inclusive?). Also, mind that little asterisk. The CheapCaribbean $12 deal, for example, doesn't include certain taxes and fees, for example. 

Heaidng to Nassau in a month. Just a quick weekend trip, it's probably not the kind of place we'd usually visit. Any recommendations for a relatively chill bar and a good place to have dinner?

Definitely hit the conch and fish fry shacks on Arawak Cay, such as Goldie's. For drinks and people-watching, check out Hammerheads or Sea Glass at Atlantis. The Paradise Island resort also has some celeb restaurants, such as Nobu and Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.

Hi Travel gurus, We will be in San Fran for a day between flights next Wednesday. It's one of our favorite cities and we've done a lot of fun tourist things but I'm having trouble thinking of something to do. Any offbeat ideas?

You could try the GLBT History Museum.

Hi travel crew! My husband and I would like to do a trip to Portugal and Spain (and maybe also France) in the fall. I know travel prices for the summer months are high, but do you know how September or October compares?

It's typically cheaper by about $300 to fly to Europe in October than August. But don't expect much cheaper fares during the early part of September. Madrid will likely be the least expensive destination within Spain or Portugal, although there are sometimes sales to Lisbon. 

Looks like AirTran may have cancelled one of the two direct fligts from BWI to San Juan, Puerto Rico? They used to fly twice daily, but now only the later flight seems to be an option after March. What's the best and cheapest way to get from the DC area to SJU these days?

AirTran out of BWI is still usually the cheapest. And it does offer nonstop service. United flies nonstop out of Dulles, but it's typically about $50 more expensive. 

My daughter will be 13 soon, and my husband and I have been thinking about taking her on a trip out of the country for the first time, but the airfares to Europe and Canada seem so expensive. We usually travel at the end of August, but her summer starts the second week of June, so we can choose another date. Any ideas where to go that would be exciting but not cost us so much? We thought about England (Olympics are maybe driving up the cost of everything?) or Paris but the cost is so high. We also enjoy the train. Thanks.

The subject of airfares to Canada came up in last week's chat, so I'll just suggest what I and many others have done: fly and drive. Fly to Burlington, rent a car and cross the border into Canada. If you want to give your daughter a taste of a foreign country, take her to Montreal, Quebec City or both. We all know the cliche, but it really does feel like France! And August is a great time to go. We missed the hottest week of the year in D.C. when we were in Quebec City last summer.

My sister, mom, and I are going to Spain this May after my mom retires. We'd like to take her out to a celebratory dinner while we are there, most likely in Barcelona but Madrid or Sevilla would work too. Any suggestions? Thank you!

Just one celebratory dinner?

Here are some options in Barcelona: Fonda Gaig, Petit Comite, Dos Palillos.

In Seville: Egana Oriza, Barbiana, Alcoy

I'm going on a 10 day trip to London and want to spend three days in some fabulous country destination and was thinking Bath, Does anyone have any advice on any of the following: 1. A great place to stay there (looking for luxury), 2. Should I drive or hire a car to drive me (never driven in England before) 3. Really cool historic homes I wouldn't want to miss touring. I am so excited about my trip and would love input.

Bath, anyone?

I've just been invited to visit Lebanon in March. I previously traveled to Israel on my current passport, which has an Israeli stamp. Will I be allowed to enter Lebanon with an Israeli stamp in my passport? If not, will I need to get a new passport, or will the State Department issue me a duplicate passport for this trip? It is possible I might stop briefly in Israel after would this be handled with a passport? (I know I couldn't go directly, but I could transit through Jordan.) Hoping you or one of your readers might know what is involved. Thank you very much.

Not sure about the answers to all your questions, but you should consult this page from the State Department. It says, "Travelers holding passports that contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel will likely be refused entry into Lebanon." How you can get around that, I'm not sure. Chatters?

Going to San Diego the week of President's Day. Any suggestions of which area to stay in?

San Diego offers lots of great areas. My favorites include downtown, Coronado, Pacific Beach and La Jolla. All have pluses/minuses. Downtown is close to shopping and restaurants, but doesn't offer a beach. The others, especially La Jolla, are a little farther away from attractions. Coronado has lovely wide beach, and the Hotel Del. PB has a nice beach, good restaurants/bars and a neat walking/biking path. La Jolla offers upscale shops/restaurants and great views from several lovely hotels. I'll be in San Diego next month, and I've decided to stay in Coronado this time, although not at the Hotel Del. We usually stay downtown, but switching it up this time.  

I am thinking of adding a week in Sicily to a business trip next month. I will be in Palermo and flying in and out of that airport. I have absolutely no desire to drive in Sicily, my last experience of driving in Italy was not one I care to repeat. I would like to stay in a seaside town with good public transportation links so I can do some sightseeing, although I plan mainly to relax. A quick look at the map lead me to think about Cefalu, do you or any of the chatters have other suggestions or advice? Thanks!

Driving in Sicily isn't all that bad. As long as you don't want to do a lot of sightseeing, you can take the train to Cefalu, which is a nice little town located close to Palermo. But you'll have to take a bus or train from the airport to Palermo first.  Take a look at the schedules at Trenitalia.  

I also keep and refill the same water bottle when I'm in a hotel (a good tip is that the fitness center usually has filtered water that you can use to fill up the bottle!). For business travel, I usually try to take all my papers home with me to recycle once I'm back, but I do love hotels that have a blue recycle bin in the room. It seems to be in all the hotels in Canada, which is great!

I do the same thing: I use the bottled water dispenser in the gym. It's often the coldest water. Thanks for the ideas.

I like to shop at charity shops abroad, as you can sometimes find unique retro discarded souvenirs of the place you're visiting. I found a nice Maori bone necklace at a shop in Dunedin NZ, that was unlike any of the (thousands of) generic ones at the gift shops, for I believe 75 cents US. In English-speaking countries, you can also pick up some good fiction, mostly not new releases but often times books that weren't released in the US anyway, so they're new-to-you. Remember, the more money you save on souvenirs, the more money you can spend on local food and drink!

Great idea!

My family is looking for a "meet in the middle" vacation this summer for about 2 weeks. There are 4-6 adults and a baby traveling from the US and 2 adults and 2 small children traveling from Russia. One adult is a Russian citizen. We have been considering various locations in Western Europe, but are also thinking about Croatia, Slovenia, and Turkey. Any recommendations for an all inclusive resort or a great place to rent a house? We like the beach but also historical and cultural attractions.

My brother, who lives in Kyrgyzstan, always stops in Istanbul on his way to and from Bishkek for semi-annual visits. We recently did this story on Cappadoccia, which you might find interest. But let me also point you toward Bulgaria -- an up-and-coming but still not that heavily touristed destination, which has everything from mountains to beaches to history and cultural sites galore. I can't recommend a particular resort, but thre are many along the Black Sea. Try a Web site like Bulgarian Sea Resorts. Chatters, perhaps you have recommendations, too?

Speaking of high ticket prices, I looked up prices for DC to Honolulu this summer and they've even higher than last month! Is there a best time to buy tickets to HI? Any special ways to save? Thanks!

Sorry, no secret magic answer here. But there are occasional sales to Hawaii, so fares are volatile. You may also want to look at ticketing the trip from  here to a city on the West Coast, and then from there to Hawaii. It's often cheaper to go that route, but it works best if you can spend an overnight on the West Coast -- missing your connection may be a big pain if you're traveling on two tickets. Take a look at Hawaiian Airlines for sales/schedules. Also, Hawaiian Airlines will start nonstop service from New York to Honolulu June 4, and is offering sale fares. 

Canadian taxes and airport fees make it expensive to fly there. Alternatively, you could fly into Bangor, ME, rent a car and drive to St. John. From there you can ferry to Nova Scotia. It may even be cheaper to rent the car in ME than in Canada, though you'll still need to buy expensive Canadian gas.

Definitely cheaper to fly into Bangor, although it's still not cheap. And then you have to drive eight hours each way to get to St. John's. If you have lots of time and you don't mind driving, that's doable, but wouldn't be my choice. 

I am an advocate of going green, even when traveling. I carry my own reusable water bottle with me (empty, of course, until I pass through security) and carry my toiletries in reusable containers. I even carry a set of three foldable shopping bags in my purse so I don't need to get plastic bags when shopping for souvenirs or other items. In the hotels, I rarely use their little toiletries and usually refrain from having my sheets changed daily. I admit, though, during travel times, I do like my towels changed daily... my one 'luxury!'

Thanks for the tips. Smart idea to bring extra bags. And you deserve those clean towels!

Another idea if you're feeling charitable is to check with one John Kelly of the Washington Post and the Children's Hospital fundraising drive. In the past, a local company has taken foreign currency from donors and converted it back to US dollars to give to the campaign. I know the campaign is falling (fallen?) short this year. And yes, I donated.

Wonderful idea. Thanks!

What is the most cost effective way of getting to Yellowstone? Flying into Salt Lake City? Boise? Spokane?

None of these cities are close. Salt Lake City will likely be the cheapest, as there is competition on that route. Plus there are nonstop flights, a definite plus. But you'll be driving for seven hours to get from there to the park. We flew into Jackson, Wyoming, which is more expensive, but it's just a couple hours from the park. 

Just an anecdote regarding pursuing all options. Arrived in DCA upon return from Christmas travel. My bag didn't come out on the carousel. Eventually we found it behind the baggage claim office desk (by recognizing - staff were unaware it was there and had advised it would be on next flight to DCA). We then learned the bag was there because the zipper had been completely sprung - one side of the teeth weren't in the zipper, so the bag could not be closed. Amazingly, nothing was missing, which led me to suspect that the damage had occurred upon unloading at DCA. I was given a small substitute bag, which held some of my things, and tape to hold my own bag closed. Delta stated they had no liability for zippers, and sent me on my way. I was too tired to argue. The next morning, a Delta agent phoned to ask if I had my bag (red flag #1) and when I explained what happened, she reaffirmed that they weren't liable for zipper damage and offered to send me a $50 travel voucher. That afternoon, another Delta agent phoned to ask if I had my bag (red flag #2) and I explained the situation again and was again told that they weren't liable for zipper damage. Then I went to the website, and found that their contract of carriage didn't cover liablity for damage to zipper pulls, so I called the main baggage claim office number and was ultimately instructed how to submit a claim via their online system. Within a week, I received a check for $150 to cover my damaged bag. The lesson: be patient, polite and persistent and stress your past relationship with the airline and faith that they will set the matter straight. I ended up with a new (albeit smaller) bag, $50 for future travel and $150 to replace the damaged bag.

What a great story, and a valuable lesson learned. Thank you for sharing it. By the way, if you can't get through to anyone at Delta the next time, here are some other Delta management contacts that might be useful.

How about Williamsburg, VA?

Great suggestion.

We've had many wonderful vacations in Maine. It's one of 10 states in the country with a "bottle bill," i.e., you have to spend a few cents more for each beverage in a bottle, but get that deposit back when you return your empties to the retailer. So one of our vacation traditions is, last stop as we leave Mt. Desert Island, we'll return all of our accumulated empties to the store and get a few bucks back. It's usually just enough cash to buy some coffee for the road, but we like participating in this program that effectively discourages littering and encourages recycling. There's no such law where we live, which I think is too bad.

What a smart idea (yours and Maine's). A few other states also have this deposit, such as Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and California. Read the small print before you toss the bottle.

Although traditional international travel can be pricey in the summer, I do hope this family maybe thinks outside the box a bit, and makes it out of the country! That age is PERFECT for int'l travel. My co-worker just took her 12yr old daughter to Italy this fall, and now both have been bitten by the travel bug. My outlook on life and the world (as well as my younger sister's) was very much formed by the year our family spent in Germany when I was in 7th grade. Has the OP considered Iceland? I would think that would be less expensive than continental Europe.... Or what about Central/South America?

I like the Iceland idea.

I would advise the parent to look to try and book the return separatly where you book one flight to Tokyo, a separate flight to the states, then a third flight to Denver. With the Tokyo to USA part look at flying into SEattle, San Francisco, LAX among other airports to find cheaper fares. I dont know if you can even do this, but I would still look into it. Since Okinawa has a military base, and given they are a foreign exchange, you might be able to get a military flight back to the states if you talk to the military and the state department. Like contact people at Peterson AFB near colorado springs.

Thanks for the advice.

On our most recent trip to Sweden, we actually noticed that the local grocery store chain had plastic bottle recycling machines (like the ones in Michigan) that refunded nearly $0.30 per bottle. Aside from the bottle that got mistakenly placed in our hotel trash can, we recycled our other bottles that helped pay for some snacks.

Great to know. Thanks!

Delta just changed my flight to New Orleans from a direct on the way down, to a one stop through Atlanta. Is this something I can demand a refund for? I knew the US Air swap was coming, but I didn't realize it would impact a flight so soon.

Yes, normally when your schedule changes, you can request a full refund. Some airline contracts have a provision that it has to be a meaningful change (more than a few hours between the original and new flight) but I don't believe Delta is one of them.


DEFINITELY go! Definitely my favorite part of Sydney. The "big" things in the city can be done in a day or two. I recommend using Oztrek; price is fair and you see everything you want to.

I recommend Pheonix in March. Since $1,500 is too little to go to a beachy place, head to warm weather and lay by a nice pool. Take in a Spring Training baseball game, roam Scottsdale and see Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West. I firmly believe that "touristy" is what you make it and that anyone can travel like a local anywhere, they just have to look for the "off-the-beaten-path" things and ask locals instead of relying on tourguides.

Yes. Go. Enjoy. Loved our weekend there during our honeymoon.

I've been to the Blue Mountains on two occasions as a day trip from Sydney. With 3.5 days for the Sydney portion of your trip, the poster certainly has enough time to see the highlights of Sydney and make this day trip. It's easy to get to the Blue Mountains by the local train and everything in Katoomba (the main town in the Blue Mountains) is easily reachable by foot. (Although I understand there's some sort of shuttle or public transport these days.) I suggest reading up on the sights to see there before going and be sure to take the funicular train down to the valley to hike around. It's a wild ride!


Fly to Portland, ME and take the Bluenose ferry!

I believe ferry service has been discontinued. That used to be an option. 

I agree with Zofia that the Blue Mts. are worth the trip, though of course it depends on what in Sydney you regard as a must-see. (I was disappointed with the zoo, for what that's worth, but glad I did the harbor cruise.) I went to the mountains midweek to avoid what I'd heard were weekend crowds from Sydney.

I hope the chatter is watching again this week - had asked about options for a week after attending a wedding in Galle; I've been there 3 times and you will be limited by your transportation options. The best bet is to arrange a car and driver - ask around in Galle at various hotels (and not the expensive ones) and get a guide book. Expect to pay about $75/day, and the driver will find his own sleeping. If you stay in the south there are a number of nature preserves to see wildlife (I had no interest to do this.) Or, head north to the highlands and see British colonial heritage in Nuwara Elyia - lakeside retreat, and tea plantations. Also I enjoyed Horton's Plains - a unique highland grassland at a 7000 ft elevation for hiking and visit to World's End - a dramatic 2850 ft precipice. You may make it to Kandy - the cultural capital to see temples, art, dance; but not have time to see the ancient cities - the historic ruins that are all north of there. There are good transport options to the airport from Kandy, so once there send the driver on his way and explore on your own. As to my own "green" travel plan - if I'm staying more than 7 days, I recycle my clothes! Pack less and have laundry done at a drop-off or self-serve laundromat; saves money on excess baggage and jet fuel. It can also be entertaining to see and mix with the locals for an hour or so.

Thanks for the thorough follow-up.

Know the alternative destinations have been mentioned but also wanted to point out that United frequently has saver awards for Montreal. My sister lives there and I fly there on miles somewhat frequently. Never had a problem with availability from Dulles.

Good to know, thanks.

Hello! Have you all been to Berkley Springs in WV? Any suggestions on where to eat, and what to do? Thanks.

Oh yes, Berkeley Springs is a well known getaway from Washington. I actually haven't been in some years, but we recently did a story on a nearby country music museum that includes some info on where to eat, etc., at the end of the second page. And this story of a few years ago has more.

I'm the one who asked the original question answered by Zofia - thanks for the input! I know its a really tight budget for my requirements - was just being hopeful. I suppose I am willing to go as high as $2500, but that's the absolute max. Does that change anything? Oh - and would like the amount of days to be around 5 or 6 (give or take a few).

If that's just for air/hotel, then much more reasonable. I'd send you toward Croatia, or even better, Bulgaria, in that case (just sent another chatter there, too!). Mountains, beaches, culture, history, lots to see and do -- and still reasonably priced!

A friend who visited Israel in the past was able to get a duplicate passport from the State Department when she went to Syria. She said it was a relatively simple process.

OK, thanks!

The poster will have to get another passport issued. It's fairly common, so the passport agency will know how to proceed. I'd just call to ask what needs to be done before you show up to the passport agency!

And more for the Lebanon-bound traveler.

Definitely worth seeing. Most tour companies also include a couple hours at Stonehenge, which is on the way and is also a must-see for a first-time visitor.

Thanks for the tip.

Take the train to Bath! It's easy and the city is small enough that you can see most of it on foot. We were there in June 2010 and took the bus tour of Bath. It was well worth the money. I don't remember how much, but it wasn't terribly expensive. Wander around on foot and enjoy!

Yes, I was thinking the train would work. Thanks for the first-hand account.

I refill my TSA-mandated 3-oz. shampoo, conditioner, hand-lotion, mouthwash, etc. bottles from large ones at home after each trip, so they're ready to go next time (instead of buying new ones). If only I could do the same with toothpaste...

Or contact lens solution! Those tiny bottles are a killer on the wallet.

Just to clarify -- saline solution is exempt from the 3-oz. rule -- but I just hate cramming my big, cost-efficient bottle into my bag.

Head to Alice's Tea Cup (Chapter 1) the kids will love the Alice in Wonderland theme and everyone else will enjoy the tasty tea and relaxation time.


In 1988, we took a Sunday to go to the ZigZag railway in the Blue Mountains--it's a reconstruction of the original way across the mountains before the tunnels. More of the track should be replaced by now. It was wonderful--the regular tracks are close to the mountains and we could see a lot of the geology along the way. It remains one of our best memories from that trip (and we did Ayres Rock sunrise as well as sunset, the 12 Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, and the Barossa Valley on that trip).

Sounds lovely. Thanks!

One tip for the Okinawa traveler - check to see if the flights are cheaper from Okinawa to Tokyo's domestic airport and then do the international leg from Narita. He'd have to transfer but it may be worth it. I flew to Oki once and I know there are a ton more options flying into the domestic airport (the name of which escapes me now)

Thanks for the tip.

I would start looking at our free (for now) national treasures. Lots at this Web site, or this one, or this one. And one more


As a follow-up to the Delta damaged-bag story, here's mine: On a recent trip to South America, Copa Airlines lost my checked bag. It turns out they tagged it with someone else's name and itinerary, so the bag went to Lima, Peru, and who knows where else. After much round-and-round with Copa, where the answers alternated between "the bag will be delivered tomorrow" and "we can't find it," it finally was found and delivered back to my house -- the day after we returned from a 12-day cruise. After two false starts caused by misinformation received from Copa, I submitted a claim for reimbursement of expenses I incurred because of the lost bag (I bought some shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of flipflops, a hat, and some sunscreen). The Copa agent initially said I would be reimbursed in the form of a voucher, but I politely insisted that wouldn't work, so they're supposed to send me a check in a couple of weeks. We'll see how that works out.

Let us know!

For the Prince Edward Island visitors - my hubby is from there - we always fly to Boston of Bangor and suck it up and drive. Much cheaper and the drive across New Brunswick is lovely!

I bet! Make a fun road trip out of it.


Bath is easy to get to via train, otherwise it's a pretty long (expensive) drive from London. Several nice spa type hotels, also lots of good tearooms!

Me again with another question before I jet off to Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice) later this week... any ideas on super awesome souvenirs I should pick up for family, friends and me? And along those lines, are there any items you had trouble getting back into the US with (dried pasta, herbs, seeds, etc)?

I drooled over all the leather goods in Florence, ended up buying some gorgeous wallets as Christmas presents -- my sisters were boweled over. The purses are even more fantastic, but alas, with the exchange rate of the euro, also incredibly expensive. Still, Florence is known for its leather goods, so I'd pick up a few things if I were you, even just small items.

As for bringins back foodstuffs, you should have no problem with dried pasta and herbs as long as they're fully packaged as purchased in a grocery story. Seeds, however, could be another thing -- generally, non-processed agricultural items are a no-no, and I think seeds would fall under that category. So skip them.

You could totally go to Iceland for around $1500 air/hotel. Check Iceland Airways website and TravelZoo. They are always having special packages to Iceland.

True -- but it's not warm in March!

Blue Mountains are well worth the trip. please go - we enjoyed it immensely. See three sister's formation was great - out tour guide mentioned they maybe slowly crumbling away so now is the time to see them.

I flew into Bozeman, MT, two summers ago and drove a rental car down to Yellowstone. It was a beautiful route -- huge evergreens and comfortably winding roads -- and the park is just maybe two hours away from the airport, if I remember correctly? I did it as a daytrip, spending the night in a cheap-but-lovely cabin motel right outside Big Sky before I had to move on. I wish I had had longer but I managed to see Old Faithful, swim in a river recommended by locals -- and many global tourists who got the same good advice, and photograph a bison.


You can find cheaper by flying Southwest into Spokane, Boise, Salt Lake City or Denver. Closer airports are Idaho Falls (2 hrs from Yellowstone and Grand Teton), Jackson, Bozeman and Billing, Mont. The other problem with smaller airports are higher car rental costs.

You could also take Amtrak if you have an extra day at each end for travel: it's a long trip but very comfortable.

As much as possible, take public mass transit to get around at your destination, instead of renting a car or taking a cab.

Excellent point.

Thanks everyone for joining us today and talking travel.

The winner of our eco-travel question is the traveler who shops in charity stores. Please email me at to claim your soapy prize.

See you next Monday!

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