Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Oct 08, 2018

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

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. This week we explored British Columbia's picturesque Okanagan Valley, which writer Dave McIntypre calls "the best wine region you've never heard of." Have a great wine tour or winery to recommend? A tale of wine-inspired travel? Tell us about it below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of "Safari Style Africa," a photographic compendium of the country's most spectacular lodges. On to your questions!    

I live in Bethesda, MD. I have a four day-window in December (22-25) that I would like to plan something special for a short vacation with my two adult children (25 and 27). Any recommendation on where we can go and have a good time? Maybe to somewhere within the driving distance and can be four days or less. Thanks!

Do you ski? Then look at some of the closer ski resorts, such as Wintergreen or Wisp. I'd say go to Manhattan, but it's madness there during that week. Maybe another city, such as Philadelphia or Baltimore. Chatters have thoughts? 

I need to rent a car for 5 days in Dallas. I hate booking and then getting all these add-ons at the counter. I feel pushed, but I don't have my own car so I have to buy full insurance, yet I don't want to get needlessly gouged. Any recommendations for a fair deal?

You have lots of options. You can get affordable coverage through your travel insurance policy or your credit card. You can also buy a standalone policy through a site like InsureMyRentalCar.com or RentalCover.com. I would buy the car rental insurance only as a last resort, since it's usually quite expensive.

Last week Carol mentioned Verizon’s TravelPass was $20/day. It’s actually $10/day and not necessarily the best deal depending how long you are traveling. On several occasions I have used the “Monthly International Travel Plan” where you pay for 1 month of service in up to 8 countries (from a list of approx. 150). Currently, it costs $70, which is a massive increase from a few months ago when I paid $40, but still not a bad deal if you don’t want to deal with SIM cards, etc… You get 100 mins, 100 texts, and 500MB of data… this is more than enough to ensure I can communicate with my husband if we go off to do our own thing or to do a quick check in with folks back home and ensures I can do some research on my phone when Wifi isn’t available. You have to be very deliberate in picking the plan on the Verizon website because they default you to the $10/day TravelPass option… which is fine if you are traveling for less than 7 days or want unlimited usage. My trips tend to be 2-3 weeks at a time and often cover several countries and I don’t need or want to be using my phone much… I find the monthly travel plan works really well for that type of travel.

I realized that after the chat was over. It was $20 a day for both of our phones if we used them both, but just $10 a day for one phone. What I liked about that plan is that they only charged us if we used the phone to make calls or to reply to texts, so between the two of us, our bill for the entire week was $20. But yes, the monthly plan may work better for those who are traveling for longer periods and use their phone frequently. 

Having used Booking.com for several years in several countries and US, started realizing properties were often described as wonderful that weren't, despite great reviews. After a recent fiasco at the Gaslight Inn in Rossnowlagh, Ireland, I submitted a very mixed review. (Room over a bar/restaurant that was noisy all night, non working shower, etc., nice staff, good location, etc.). They posted that it was now on view for their searchers. Looked; it wasn't visible anywhere; lots of reviews of all 10's, then noticed many were repeated word for word, then noticed they supposedly all came from young couples, despite seniors like us being there, and undoubtedly offering reviews. Is Booking.com now as worthless as I suspect? Had heard this as well about Travel Advisor reviews, and was even offered free early check-in in San Francisco this year if I showed them a good review for Travel Advisor! Can none of these reviews be trusted?? Any investigation appreciated. 

I'm sorry about your missing review. I've noticed an uptick in complaints from unhappy hotel guests who say TripAdvisor isn't publishing their negative review. I think I may have to investigate. Has anyone else had a censored review? Here's my email address.

Now, that I'm an empty-nester, I have been taking one big international vacation each year, either with a family member or with a tour group. I've decided that there are a couple of things worth spending extra money on: non-stop flights instead of connecting flights. Another is airport hotels. Most (maybe all?) major airports have hotels attached to one of their terminal buildings. When I have a late arrival, or an early departure, I will stay in the airport hotel, instead of an offsite hotel. It has cost about an extra $100 for one night to stay in the airport hotel in Paris and in Mexico City, compared to an offsite hotel. For me, it's worth it.

Agree on the nonstop flights. With flights going out full, it's often difficult to get a seat if your connecting flight is canceled, so you can lose a big chunk of your vacation time. As for hotels, I think that makes sense if you have an early flight out and you don't live near the airport. Re: late arrivals, I usually prefer going right to my hotel in the city because I don't want to switch the next day, but could work if you're getting in at midnight and just want to crash. 

DC to Vermont. I usually buy in July if I can, but my family took a while to decide where to have it this year. I ended up flying out of IAD instead of DCA because the only flights left out of DCA required plane transfers which I REALLY try to avoid on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Also flying a little later than I usually do. So, getting to Dulles on public transportation (from Union Station) and that $5 bus, getting through security and getting to my probably in the boondocks flight (Wisconsin Air flying as United Express - two seats on a side) for a 5:15 PM flight. I'm thinking I leave no later than 12:30 to pull that off. Maybe noon. At least the darn thing came in at under $400. Barely. But only by coming back on Friday.

Maybe you would have saved time (and money) by driving! Although we all know that driving that corridor over the Thanksgiving weekend can turn into a nightmare. You must really love your family. 

What information can you provide about Vanguard and Associates, Redemption and Release, and Omni Ellis? Each for a fee promises to get a timeshare owner out of their time share contract.

I just wrapped up a story on timeshare exits. My reliable sources say 99 percent of timeshare exit companies are "scams." I would ask your timeshare directly if you can return the unit instead.

Can I use my US driving license when driving in other countries, or do I need to obtain an International Driver's license?

Generally, no. Some countries, including Austria, Poland, Italy and Spain require the license for a car rental, according to Autoeurope. But I've rented cars or driven in all those places and have never been asked for an IDL. I would ask your car rental company before renting.

In keeping with the Canadian theme, the Niagara region of Ontario has some nice ones. It's been more than a decade since I did a little tour, but if nothing else, the ice wine can be to die for.

Good point -- thanks!

Has anyone done this and would you recommend it? I've done it in Chicago a couple times and it's wonderful, but I've never heard anything about the Boston one.

I have not, but would definitely go. The history and architecture lining the Charles is amazing. I might try it next time I am home!

Has anyone taken this tour? Thumbs up or down?

Hi, I also don't have a car and rent them quite frequently. I used to have a credit card that would cover any damage (called LDW or CDW) -- however, in July, they changed their terms and now won't cover any loss-of-use fees charged by the rental agency. That makes it pretty useless to me, so I got a new credit card. It's always a bit risky to get a whole new credit card for a benefit, since credit card companies can change them at any time, but it's worth it to me. I got an American Express, and while I hate paying annual fees, the $95 fee is easily made up in just three days of waiving CDW. I now only pay for the liability insurance (about $15/day), and waive everything else. I looked into getting standalone insurance (I forget the technical term, but you can all agencies and ask for auto insurance for non-car owners), and was nearly "fooled" into getting it, since it came to about $25/month for six months. But that only covers $25,000 for injury and property damage each -- meanwhile, last I checked, the liability insurance you buy from a car rental agency covers $1-2 million. Really not worth it. So! In conclusion, I recommend getting a credit card that covers LDW, including loss-of-use fees, and just buying supplemental liability from the agency.

Thank you. Excellent advice!

Hi! I'm headed to Montreal in mid-November, which I've discovered is a bit of an in-between time: too cold to spend much time outside but not cold enough for most of the traditional winter things (sugar shacks, skiing, etc). Outside of museums (which I've already got covered!), any recommendations for things to do during the day that won't leave me freezing?

You could take an Old Montreal food or craft beer tour. Speaking of which, Restaurant Week runs Nov 1-11. Also during that time period: The Francophone Film Festival (avec subtitles). Go ice skating, indoors or outdoors. Chill out at the floating spa, Bota Bota (it's on a former ferryboat.) Take an audio walking tour of Leonard Cohen sites (music warms the heart, right?). Check out the music, films and performing arts of the Arab World Festival.

Today's code is TT3297. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

 

We were pulled over for making a U-turn in Spain, and the police made quite a fuss about our not having an international driving license, which the rental company had not required.

Thank you for letting me know.

I had a few follow up questions: (1) What are bricks? (2) What devices generally do not need a converter? I have not personally had problems with cell phones and tablets for which an adapter has met our needs just fine, although one needs an adapter for the particular country as the foreign plug design varies. (3) What are your recommendations for adapters that just have USB ports for our US devices? Thank you.

Thanks for the questions. A power brick is part of the external power supply for a gadget. It's the thing between the plug and your device, a way to convert AC from a power source into DC that can be safely used by the device. Generally, most smaller devices (phones, computers, shavers) don't need a converter. I'll have to get back to you with recommendations.

Has anyone been to the Oberammergau Passion Play, which starts its next once-every-decade cycle in 2020? Is it largely a long religious service for believers, or can it be appreciated as a unique theatrical event?

I have not attended, so will throw this one out to our chatters. 

You need to understand your decision devices. I've travelled the world and only needed adapters for electric razors, smart phones, tablets (when the item is marketed world wide, less likely need a converter, but check). For CPAP, I bought one designed for travel and only needed an adapter. When i lived in Europe, I had converters for some things, so I know the difference. Again, just check before traveling.

Thank you. I appreciate the additional information.

We travel frequently and prefer a hotel room with bathtub + shower. Of course we complete a reservation using the hotel's own channel, but sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor are useful to get an overview of prices (recognizing that smaller non-chain properties and discounted rates such as AAA don't appear at all). Although there are check-boxes for hotel amenities such as "Internet" and "Airport Transportation," I've not found a site that includes the ability to restrict the search to rooms which have a bathtub. Yes, I can select a hotel's review on TripAdvisor and look at traveler-submitted pictures: but that's hardly efficient and at best imperfect (a hotel may have tubs but no one has uploaded a picture). Do the travel experts have any favorite sites or other approaches to finding hotel rooms with tubs?

No general booking site has "tub" as an amenity option, and many chains are phasing them out. You will have to look at the individual hotel. Or consider a B&B; most smaller, homier accommodations have fancy tubs. You might also want to read this Southern Living piece (or not) before stepping foot in a tub.

Lol, your topic brought to mind a vacation I'd like *not* to repeat: when I was 15 and my cousin 19, my parents took us both on a vacation to Napa Valley, CA. My cousin, who has zero interest in wine, even today, went along with my parents on all the vineyard tours and tastings, but at 15 I looked way too young to participate, so I was relegated to the car--if they had waited a year, at least I could have driven them around! Would love to go again as an adult, but didn't Napa Valley get hit awfully hard by the wildfires over the last few years?

Book that trip! Andrea went to the area after last year's wildfires and found its recovery already well underway.

Local may be the wrong word. what are nice resorts 2/in a 90 minute drive from downtown which are not prohibitively expensive (like the Salamander). Looking for yoga, hiking, spa, zipline maybe.

Difficult to respond without knowing what you want to spend. There are plenty of nice inns in the Virginia countryside, including Goodstone Inn in Middleburg and the Inn at Willow Grove in Orange. But they aren't cheap. If you're looking for something more barebones, check out Cacapon Resort State Park. I still miss Coolfont -- it went out of business a while back, but would have fit the bill here. 

I'm heading out to Oahu for work again (I know, cry me a river) and I want to take some time to visit the other islands. Are there any good tours for 30-something single travelers, or should I look to put an itinerary together myself? If so, where to start? How many days should I leave for each island (assuming I can get to 2-3 in 10-12 days)?

There are tours to Hawaii for young adults, but it sounds as if you will be hopping back and forth, so they won't work. Hawaiian Airlines and Mokulele Airlines both fly to the various islands, and fares are often reasonable. I'd probably spend at least one night on the Big Island and one on Maui. 

For Andrea Sachs, next Tuesday, October 16th, MPT2 is supposed to show the French Riviera episode of "Travels with Darley" that you observed and wrote about. I wrote in a couple of weeks ago to a chat wondering if you had seen it and you said you hadn't. If your cable/satellite system gets MPT2/Create TV, you should be able to watch it. I think it's at 3:00 p.m. They may have another showing that day. I hope that works out for you.

Thank you! I will be traveling out of the country (back to France, but without Darley this time). Maybe a certain friend can tape it for me.

Read Andrea's story here.

I didn't own a car and kept a policy for YEARS for maybe $150 or $200 per year. The advice I got was when I bought a car (I finally did) I would have years of data to show the insurance company.

Oh, that's interesting. I haven't heard of that.

From Chevy Chase to my destination in northern Vermont is 9 hours of driving with essentially zero traffic delays (google maps was showing blue pretty much the entire way). If the flight leaves on time, I'll be there by 7 PM. Noon to 7 vs. (at a guess) 15 hours? I'll pay for the flight. Yes, I love my family. I've only missed Thanksgiving once when the airline cancelled my flight because of weather in other places and the only option was going to be fly to Philadelphia and then get cancelled there. Even an overnight bus was sold out.

I hope your flight is on time, and all goes well!

An IDP costs $20 and is good for a year (and you can set the beginning date). Out of admittedly many rentals in Australia over the past several years I was asked for it two or three times. I consider having a current IDP in-hand a reasonable cost on the modest chance the clerk asks for it.

I just got one at AAA in DC and it was so quick. If you have a membership, they discount the cost for the photo.

My husband and I have a milestone anniversary in 2020. We would like to go on a safari and have decided on Botswana. Since we're flying halfway around the world, we would like to visit somewhere else in Africa besides Botswana. I'm interested in the wine region in South Africa, although I know it's not exactly next door to Botswana. Any recommendations for somewhere to go after/before our safari?

Actually, Botswana is next door to South Africa, so that is a good option. You might also consider a visit to Victoria Falls. If you like beaches and lemurs (and who doesn't), I recommend Madagascar. Namibia is also amazing, with its ghostly mine towns and German-esque towns.

We are going to France (mostly Normandy) in 2 weeks for about 10 days. We are planning to rent a car at Orly and use it our entire trip. Is there anything we should know about renting a car in France? How about actually driving around? That is, are there any unusual traffic laws in France? Thanks.

Since we are two minutes away from the end of the chat, I am going to "connect" you with Rick Steves. He has a whole playbook on driving in Europe.

For the poster, I think NYC is a terrific option. Embrace the chaos, do a little bit of planning ahead (theater tickets, tenement museum tickets, a restaurant reservation or two) and enjoy a very festive time of year - Union Market has a great holiday market and many other once-a-year opportunities abound.

Only for those who don't mind crowds!

Hi. I'm heading to Greece for the first time for about a week. I think I'll be spending most of my time in Athens but was thinking about doing one night on one of the islands. Any recommendations for where to go in November for a night (and the best way to get there)? I was thinking about Mykonos but I'm not into the party scene at all. Thanks!

We are out of time, but here are a few suggestions: Crete, Santorini, Naxos, Paros, and Rhodes.

Two things I knew they had in NZ but didn’t really appreciate until I got there: sheep and wineries. I knew they had both, but was still not prepared for either the sight of sheep, fairly densely packed, as far as the eye could see, or finding that driving through the Marlborough region is like driving through Napa, winery after winery after winery after winery. I also paid attention to the wine lists at restaurants, and not a single one had anything but NZ and Australian wines, except for French Champagne.

Another often overlooked wine destination -- thanks!

Looks like we're out of time -- thanks for chatting today! Ice wine fan, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. Enjoy the rest of your Columbus Day, and join us here next week for more Talk About Travel. 

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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