Talk about Travel

Oct 15, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Hello, traveling friends! We are back after a week off. Two of our stories on Sunday were a bit of the warm and fuzzy kind, on taking a family heritage trip to Scotland and following in the footsteps of Winnie-the-Pooh. Then there was Andrea's practical piece on travel health. So let's go with that -- what are the worst or strangest maladies you've experienced while traveling? Try not to be too graphic, but perhaps we can all learn something!

All right, here we go.

My family loves Disney World because of the no-worries feel. When you stay on WDW property, there's always transportation, food, something to do. We are looking for other East Coast locations with a similar feel - activities when you want, places to unwind when you don't, and no difficult logistics in between (driving, parking, where to eat). Kids are 7 & 11, so museums, zoos, etc. are great. Any ideas?

Disney World is sort of in a class of its own, so I'm struggling to come up with something on a similar scale. Here are a few suggestions.

- Palmetto Dunes in Hilton Head

- Mohonk Mountain House

- Hershey

- Massanutten

What other options am I missing, everyone?


Greetings from someone who loves to travel but doesn't get to travel very much. I am trying to see a friend in San Francisco at the end of Feb/beginning of March. Fares on AirTran right now are $400. Do you think it could get much better than that? Is there any site I can go to see trends? I've been using Bing/Kayak. Thanks for your help.

If you can get nonstops at that fare, that's about right. But I would probably watch and wait for a bit longer. Keep checking Virgin America - it often has sales, and its planes offer personal in-flight entertainment systems. 

Just returned back from the most wonderful two weeks in Argentina. We'd highly recommend it, but we wanted to just point out that what we thought was going to be a relatively budget-friendly trip was in fact very costly, due to high inflation in the country at present... something that all of the fellow travellers we met on our journey were shocked about. One way around this is bringing US Dollars (currently banned in the country) and changing them on the black market for a higher rate. This itself generated lots of 'morality' questions amongst our travelling friends. I wondered what your thoughts were on the morality of changing money on the black market like this, to essentially make a profit? p.s. worth mentioning that its still possible to find some great budget fun if you're creative and adventurous..the city has lots to offer. we highly recommend closed door restaurant iLatina, Graffiti Mundo and a little known tour called Foto Ruta.. if anyone is heading out there soon you should check them out!

That is an interesting little ethical dilemma that you raise. Back in the days of communism in Eastern Europe, I traveled all around that region exchanging money on the black market. I considered it almost an act of patriotism then, and of moral support for the people of those countries, who lived severely oppressed lives. There was a dual economic system, with "dollar stores" selling all sorts of goods to those who managed to get their hands on any U.S. currency, while the shelves in the regular shops, which traded in the local currency, stood empty of supplies, leading to the famous long lines of the day. I don't imagine that this is the situation in Argentina currently, but I do wonder -- who's running the black market in currency there, and who benefits from it? I guess the answers to those questions would help me decide the "morality" of such transactions. On the whole, I feel that if you can save some money and simultaneously help out the natives, why not? But if the only people benefiting are certain savvy or unsavory types, I'm not sure. What do you think, chatters?

Hello, We are planning a trip to Disney World in late November. The number of options of hotels and packages is close to overwhelming. We want to stay about 5 or 6 nights with one day off to see non-Disney attractions. Do you (or the chatters) have a website or travel agency to recommend? Thanks!

Well, you could definitely go the official route with the resort's own planning site. I feel like people here have recommended AAA is a good resource as well.

Chatters, anything to add?

last chat someone asked about this - outside Santa Fe. GO! It's marvelous! A few dollars gets you access to 9 mineral pools and nice hiking. We spent a day - and you can go in and out. We soaked in a few tubs, then drove to see some Earthships, then came back, hiked and soaked more.

I impulsively bought a ticket to a play in Chicago (Sweet Bird of Youth at the Goodman, and Diane Lane is in it!) and it's coming up--Oct. 27. I need to just stay that night and of course I don't have a hotel booked (was counting on a friend's sister in law to help--she works for a hotel chain, but she's not helping). It's coming up soon and I have nothing. I do not want to pay $300. Suggestions? I know how to search all the sites such as Expedia but I'm not coming up with much. Needs to be downtown and not a flea bag place. thanks.

How much are you willing to pay? Perhaps it's too close to your $300 limit, but on Expedia, I'm seeing the buzzy Public Chicago for $285. I would totally snatch that. 

Who else has a recommendation? The only place I've stayed at in recent years is close to $400 that night, which is way more than I paid! For some reasons, things are rather pricy when you want to be there.

Ok. I'm nominating Dulles airport as the worst international arrivals airport of the year. I've have had to clear customs and immigrations (C&I) 29 times in 14 countries so far in 2012. So far my four times through Dulles are 4 of the 5 slowest experiences I have had. I always time from when the door opens on the plane to when I get in the taxi. I returned last Friday at 3 PM from a 2 week trip that had 6 C&I clearances. On arrival at Dulles things started off poorly, we ended up at the last gate at the mid-field terminal, so we had to walk the whole length of the terminal to get to the "people movers" (who thought that having a hallway so narrow that you cannot pass someone who has stopped and is on the phone talking? Things looked up there was a mover there and it moved pretty soon. Then we arrive at the immigration area, complete and utter mess. The visitors side line has filled the Disney line back and forth with a large mob waiting to get in and therefore blocking access to the US citizens line which has nearly filled the Disney line area. A quick count reviled that of the 22 lines for US citizens only 6 were open. My question is that if during the busiest part of the day (3PM for international arrivals is the rush hour) only 1/3 of the lines are open, why did they waste tax payer dollars building the other lines? Too make a long story short, from plane door open to handing my passport to the immigration agent, 1 hour and 23 minutes, a new IAD record. I shouldn't complain -- the person next me on the flight in who ended up in the visitor line still had 3 back and forth trips left in her wait. But the fun had only started, next is finding your baggage. I check the screen to see which carrousel my bag is at. The whole area is a disaster, bag piled up everywhere. At my carousel I start sorting through the bags, there were bags from 4 international flights dumped by the side of the carousel, such that you could barely walk through the area. 12 minutes later I find my bag, by a different carousel. Then I head to the customs line which stretches nearly across the whole baggage area, I time the customs line 9 minutes. Only one challenge left, finding a taxi. Total damage from plane door open to taxi door shut, 1 hour and 57 minutes, thus assuring that I would reach the beltway at 5:20 on a Friday afternoon. For comparison; earlier in my trip, 1 hour 57 after door open in Zurich I was in Bern Switzerland, having cleared C&I, found my bags, bought a train ticket, waited for the train and had a wonderful 1 hour and 2 minute train ride and was waiting in Bern for my connection to Interlaken (it was only a 6 minute wait). In Istanbul, in 1 hour 57 I had made it to my hotel and had a cold drink in my hand watching the boats in the Bosporus. Can anyone explain the pathetic service at Dulles?

That's quite a tale. We asked the airports authority to comment, and here's what they said:

We apologize for the customer’s experience and agree there is room for improvement. We recently completed a major expansion of the International Arrivals Building, including additional Customs booths, to accommodate future growth at the airport. The successful operation of that facility is predicated on optimal staffing by U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel. The Airports Authority employs Student Ambassadors who assist passengers and manage the queues so CBP staff can focus on their primary duties. Additional CBP staffing at peak times would decrease the passenger wait time and reduce baggage claim backlogs. We are working with this federal agency, to the extent possible, to encourage the allocation of additional CBP Officers at Dulles.

Traveling to Moscow and saint Petersburg for 10 day later this week. I would like to pack light--but am uncertain what to pack for touristing. How formal do I have to dress? I have many silk blouses and wool trousers, but really don't want to spend $$ dry cleaning while traveling.

My rule is that no tourist ever has to worry about dressing truly formally. A nice but not necessarily fancy dress or pair of slacks will take you to most nice restaurants, etc., unless you're planning to meet the Queen or something. During the day, while touring, you can be utterly casual. No need to dress up at all. I wouldn't bother with silk beyond one blouse for a nicer restaurant. Take knits that fold easily and don't wrinkle -- there are so many travel knits nowadays that will hold up well over 10 days. It will be chilly where you're going, in the 40s most likely, so wool trousers aren't a bad idea, though I always just take black knit slacks and wear warm socks. Take several sweaters and warm tops, a scarf or two and a hat, and you should be set.

Hi Gurus! Thanks for the great chats- I now have a long list of cities and places to visit when I finish grad school! Heading to Vegas w a group of friends for a quarter century bday over MLK weekend and it is everyones first time. We are seeing flights currently 387 with stops both ways and decent timing to get there friday night and coming back monday at 11 am so not arriving until 9:30 (out of BWI, into IAD on Delta). This seems high from what I have heard, should we expect better or book now. I understand Vegas flights can fluctuate based on how far in advance. Birthday girl really wants to stay the full 3 nights but I would consider doing a red eye sunday night . Any thoughts are much appreciated Thank you!!

Those long holiday weekends are very popular for the Vegas bound. If you're willing to do the red-eye Sunday night, and go in and out of BWI, you'll save about $50 per person. If you can take the red-eye Monday night, you'll save $100. I would be surprised if fares go any lower than that. 

I love the Hotel Allegro - it's a Kimpton property. And they offer federal rates even to off-duty feds. They also have senior citizen rates. And AAA.

hotel in Chicago, did same thing last month for my birthday, tried boutique Amalfi, very disappointing, i'd try Westin River North, 2 blocks to theater. You could also try checking in with Trump, as his is even closer but pricier.

Last week I had the extremely unpleasant experience of flying out of Terminal A at National Airport. The security situation is absurd and unacceptable. There is nowhere near the room needed to effectively screen everyone that goes through there. Does this situation exist because only third-rate carriers use that terminal? Is there going to be any improvement in the future?

No joke. I went through that insanity when I flew JetBlue a few months ago. Here's what the airports authority has to say:

Reagan National is experiencing record levels of passenger traffic, in part due to new flights authorized by Congressional legislation. Also, JetBlue acquired additional flights in Terminal A as part of the DOT approval of a slot-swap agreement between Delta and US Airways. We are addressing the security-screening congestion in Terminal A by constructing a new and improved screening checkpoint that should be open next summer.

Hi-not really a question but more of an FYI. I had booked a roundtrip ticket to Boston through US Airways. For various reasons I was unable to take the outbound flight and spoke to the agent at US Airways and informed her that I would not be on the Boston flight. When I tried to check in on Sunday, I was unsble to and when I called customer service, the agent informed me that because I was not on the outbound flight, USAirways automatically cancels the return flight. I received no notice of this cancellation, the agent did not tell me that this was going to happen when I spoke to her about not taking my outbound flight. My ticket can be used as a credit, however, after the 175 "reissuance fee" I'm left with very little. So basically my trip to Boston for 260 dollars turned into a 700 fiasco. And another note, it seems like the airlines no longer are trying to work with the customers, but more to just charge them for everything they can. Very disappointing.

Unfortunately, that's a common practice in the airline industry. If you don't use the first leg, the rest of your itinerary is canceled (often, talking to an airline representative won't help -- the ticket is canceled). Your case could have ended up worse. So-called "no-shows" aren't entitled to any ticket credit.

My girlfriend and I (mid 20s) were looking for a relaxing, refreshing 2-day jaunt within driving distance of DC to go on either the last weekend in October or the first weekend in November. We did the Shenandoah Valley over the summer and were thinking St. Mary's or something similar. Any thoughts on that area, or any other good areas where we might be able to book relatively last minute and have things to do if the weather is poor?

I love St. Mary's -- it's really lovely down there. Here's a story I did on the area a couple of years ago, following the Maryland religious freedom byway. There were several beautiful little churches, and St. Mary's City was fascinating. We stayed in the Brome-Howard Inn nearby; very nice. I recommend your idea. If you want other thoughts, I spend this past weekend on the Eastern Shore, near St. Michael's. This is also a beautiful area. St. Michael's is of course charming, if a little touristy, and I really liked Easton, which has cleaned up beautifully in recent years. It's larger and you might more easily find accommodation there.

Chatters, your thoughts?

I need to travel to Tokyo in early December; I can travel from any city in the US as I will be coming from South America. From which airport and airline I can get the best deal?

I would say LAX is a top contender. Shorter flight, a good amount of competition. I'm seeing flights at around $800 in early December.

Please sign up to be a member of People there are diehard disheads and are very helpful with planning and tips. I find that staying on property is the best deal, mostly for convenience. We either buy a discounted hotel room, get our tickets from an online consolidator and just pay for our meals, or get the package with the meal plan (must pay rack rate for hotel). However, the meal plan price has increased since the last time we used it, so I am not sure it's worth it if you can get a room for 40% off the rack rate. Also sign up for the newsletter.

Re: Question about worst or strange maladies while traveling, I recall being on an Aegean-Black Sea cruise 18 years ago on Holland America's Statendam that stopped at Mykonos. After eating ice cream at a cafe, and dinner later that day on the island, I felt like crap that night aboard ship: I started having lots of bad stomach aches and loose bowels. This condition continued for the next few days and didn't disappear until my ship arrived in Italy over 9 days later--the voyage was 12 days in duration. Two lessons I took home from this island visit were: 1. The only thing you should eat or drink in a place you know nothing about is nothing, but drink something safe such as Coke or Pepsi. 2. Always consult w/the infirmary whenever you feel ill: That's what the infirmary is there for: to treat guests, the ship's officers and the crew members. I wish I had followed lesson #2 instead of my instincts or common sense. In the case of this voyage, common sense failed me.

My siblings and I are spread out from DC to Cincinnati and we are looking for a rental house for Thanksgiving (and possibly future get togethers). I've found some possibilities on various websites ( comes up a lot -- can chatters recommend other good sites?), but I've never rented like this and I am somewhat nervous about committing a substantial amount of money. What are the typical pitfalls of these arrangements and what can I ask or do to avoid them?

Chris Elliott has discussed scams that can occur when booking via this sites in his Navigator column. I have had good luck, but due diligence is key. Common sense also comes in handy. Talk with the owner, don't wire money or send cashier checks to a P.O. Box, ask for current photos and look for positive reviews. And if the deal is too good to be true, pass on it. 

Isn't there a vaccine for hepatitis A and Hepatitis B? Does anyone know how long these vaccines last? Do you need another one after a certain number of years?

I'm going to just refer you straight to the CDC's hepatitis vaccine site.

Hi Crew, Starting to do very preliminary planning for a vacation next summer that will include a stop at Mount Rushmore. I've never been to that part of the country before, and am wondering what else we should see in that area? We'll probably have 2 or 3 days. Does the Crew have any local South Dakota favorites?? Thanks! p.s. LOVED the Scotland article - especially relevant given the upcoming independence vote!!

You should visit the Crazy Horse memorial being sculpted about 17 miles from Rushmore. It's a fascinating story. I'd also go to the Badlands, and to Deadwood. What else, chatters?

Glad you liked the Scotland story!

grad school girl to Vegas: Virgin America has lowest fares Sat returning Tuesday so three night stay is perfect, i got $337 for this weekend.

Two pieces of jewelry were stolen from my luggage during a trip from San Antonio to Dulles in August. I submitted a claim to the airline (USAirways) asking for reimbursement and included receipts. After 4 weeks, I had heard nothing so I resubmitted the claim twice (the last time by certified mail, so it was signed for) -- still nothing. Is there anything else I can do (besides NEVER pack jewelry in luggage again)?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but US Airways' contract of carriage is crystal clear about its liability for jewelry, or lack of liability. Even if you show it a receipt, it will not refund you for jewelry. And on the second item, you're right: Never pack your jewelry.

I know that you've covered this before but of course, now that I need the info, I can't find it. I'll be going to England for 4 weeks next year and have a regular flip phone with Verizon. I'd like to have something I can use in England, mostly to make calls while I'm there. We'll be traveling around the country side in a rental car and I'd like to have it in case we break down, need to call ahead for hotels, etc. Thanks!

Here's Andrea's story on using phones abroad, as well as my primer on the surfing the web.

Thanks for the piece on Romney: I drove through there recently myself and was also intrigued by the name. Now I know what to do when I go back! For travelers looking to extend their visit, I also recommend stopping in Capon Bridge, WV, which is just about 30 minutes south on Route 50. It's smaller but has some nice places to eat as well as pretty houses and good access to nature.

Thanks so much! I appreciate the thumbs up. And I concur on Capon Bridge; it also has some interesting historical aspects to it. The whole area is lovely, especially this time of year -- there was much more than I could jam into my article -- farmers markets and pumpkin stands, antiques barns, flea markets and more.

We plan to spend one week in London with our teenagers next March. Are there three or four full-day or half-day excursions that you would recommend? We like history and nature, but don't expect to do much outdoors given the likelihood of inclement weather. Also, any advice on the best areas for an apartment rental?

If you're only going to be there for a week, plan on spending much of your time in London rather than going to other cities. There's so much to see in the city: Tower of London, Imperial War Museum, London Eye, cruise on the River Thames, etc. My teens also enjoyed spending a half day at Hampton Court Palace. We also did one full-day excursion to Oxford, which everyone liked.  As for apartment rentals, we always stay in hotels, but we like the area near the Tower Bridge.

About 20 years ago, my husband, son and I went on a western Caribbean cruise with my parents (on an Italian cruise line). While in Mexico, we took a private taxi tour but when attempting to get out of the cab, my husband discovered that the inside back door handles had been removed. He ended up puncturing and cutting his hand on a large nail that was sticking out where the handle should have been. On board the ship, we went to the infirmary where the ship's doctor brushed tar over the wound, something we had never heard of before. We wondered what year the kindly doctor had graduated from medical school as, to us, this seemed like something from another century. However, on return to the US, we were able to seek further attention with no additional problems, thankfully.

Wow. Yes, that could have turned out much worse.

Once, while in Brussels, I got a weird rash around my eyes. I went to the pharmacy, and they gave me a cream, but it didn't work, so I ended up going to my friend's doctor. She tried to turn my eyelid inside out but I was physically unable to let her do this. The diagnosis ended with "well, it's not herpes!" (I didn't know that was possible) and 3 prescriptions for medications that did the trick, although I still don't know what it was. Also, armloads of forms to file with my insurance upon my return home. Considering the small total bill (including all the scripts), I did not bother filing!

We have been to Disney World 8 times in the past 8 years. I would definitely use AAA for your arrangements. They are know their stuff and you usually get some sort of freebie- a special story time, a photo, or viewing area for a parade. I would also look at so you know what promotions are going on for while you are there. (I trust a good agent, but I also like to have a little knowledge so I can tell the agent what I am looking for). Finally, make sure that you look up the park schedules for when you will be there now and try to map out where you will be each day. Then make sure you make reservations for any sit-down restaurants as soon as possible. They do fill up. has reviews and menus for the restaurants, which is helpful too.

There is more than just MT Rushmore to see in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. There are two other national parks in Badlands and Wind Cave along with Custer State Park. I would suggest 4-5 days.

Why do you think so many people put their luggage in airplane overhead bins the wide way when they would fit the narrow way? Are they just clueless? I ask that chat readers try to put their luggage in the narrowest way, so there's more room for other's luggage. I travel VERY light so I've never had a problem, but I've seen people have to check their reasonably-sized bags because of passengers's poor use of overhead bins. (Some flight attendants are good about fixing this. And I'm not talking about people who bring on luggage that exceeds the limits-that's inexcusable and airlines should stop them.) Now the people (usually men in my observation, who take up the overhead bins with their jackets. There's a place in hell for those people (seated behind the recliners).

I think that's one of the only reasons anyone wants to board as soon as possible.  I flew Southwest to Los Angeles last weekend and talked to several fellow passengers who paid the extra fee to get earlier boarding  number for not only an aisle seat, but because  they were afraid overhead bins would be filled and they'd have to check bags. Luckily, the overhead bins on the new 737-800, which Southwest uses on nonstops between BWI and LAX. were big enough to fit the bags of 175 passengers. But on many planes, that's not typically the case. I always just do it myself and  shift other peoples' bags around to fit mine. And I have no problem moving a jacket to the top of a piece of luggage. 

Oh dear. Well, let's see. I got giardia in China, Leishmaniasis in Mexico, and cholera(yes, cholera) in India. I can't see how I could have avoided any of them, seeing as I am a seasoned traveler. Just comes with the territory I guess. But I can never give blood again because of the Leishmaniasis, and that is a bummer :(

I was travelling for work over the summer and came down with a horrible head cold and losing my voice. I survived my meetings by living on soup and ice cream but the 3 hour flight home was bound to be miserable. I went to the gate attendant with my boarding pass and as I sniffled, asked if I could have a seat alone if possible since I didn't want to sneeze and cough all over anyone. I guess I must have looked as bad as I felt as she handed me a new boarding questions asked.

look at LAX, San Fran or Seattle for deals. Many don't realize Seattle has direct flights.

Ah, that might explain the many Japanese tourists I saw in Seattle last week!

Many years ago we went to Williamsburg for the first time on a mid-autumn weekend, and found it most enjoyable. Crowds weren't bad, William & Mary campus is nearby...

Good suggestion! I stayed in the historic lodgings in the restored area for one night. So cool.

i beg you, go forth and fly the new A380 anywhere, took AF to Paris last week and it's a flight like no other, electronic faucets flash bleu and rouge. Mon dieu.

Sounds magnifique!

two questions: 1. Recent chats have mentioned needing cards with chips. My credit card company says they don't issue those. Will I have a problem traveling in Finland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia next summer? 2. Ideas about keeping in touch with back home? I have Verizon and have heard different stories about being able to text without roaming charges.....

You may, you may not. Some people have written to us to say they've had problems, others have said they haven't. It just depends. If you want one with chip-and-pin, here's a list of options. And here's Andrea's much-referred piece on phone choices while you're traveling abroad.

I plan to (finally!) visit Sweden this summer as part of a longer trip to Germany. Right now I'm planning to take the train up to Stockholm through Copenhagen and Malmo, and to stay at hostels to save money. Would you recommend visiting anywhere else? Right now I'm considering Uppsala, which would be close, and Gothenburg, which would be much farther away. I'm a big IKEA fan and have always been interested in Almhult, the company's home town, but wonder if it's worth the visit? Thank you!

You really can't go very wrong in Sweden. Where to go may depend on how much time you plan to spend there. Uppsala is lovel, home of a famous university (the oldest in Scandinavia). I would definitely go there as it's not far from Stockholm, only about 45 miles away. Gothenburg is much farther, closer to 300 miles, although there's excellent train service. We recently ran a story on Fjallbacka, a small town just north of Gothenburg that's the scene for a series of popular Swedish noir crime novels, and it also sounds really pretty. I'm afraid I don't know anything about Almhult (apart from IKEA, not sure there's much there), but perhaps one of our chatters out there does. If so, we'd like to hear from you!

Hello Travel gurus, We decided last night that we want to get away for Thanksgiving and now we have to pick a place and don't have much time. Any suggestions? We love international travel but over Thanksgiving that's tough to squeeze in. Ideally, 5 hours flight maximum or within driving distance. We like good food, nature, and history. Beaches and swimming are great but we'd give that up for the right place. Previous Thanksgiving excursions have been to Aruba and Puerto Rico. We are not cruise or resort types preferring to eat at local restaurants. It would be my husband, me, and college age daughter. Any suggestions? Thanks!

How about Naples, Fla.? It will be too cold to swim, but you can still visit the beach. There's lots of nature stuff around, including a nature center with a free boat tour through a mangrove forest. Renovations there should be finished by Thanksgiving and the tours should be available. Old downtown Naples is beautiful, and if you like shopping, there's plenty of that.

I grew up spending my summers in the Black HIlls and it is still one of my favorite places. With only 2-3 days available, I would skip the long drive to the Badlands, as interesting as they are. There is enough to see and do in the Black Hills to easily fill up those days. Here are just a few ideas: 1) Drive the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park to see bison and prairie dogs, 2) Visit the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, 3) Climb Harney Peak near Sylvan Lake, and 4) Tour Wind Cave and/or Jewel Cave. There are some good guidebooks out there with loads of info on the Black Hills, so I suggest reading them.

We spent too little time in the Black Hills. What we did: drive the Needles Highway southbound on 87. Drive the Pigtail north on 16A (the highway is laid out to frame Mt Rushmore in the tunnels). Do not drive anything bigger than an SUV, because they won't fit through the tunnels. Definitely go to Crazy Horse--the Indian market (inside) is worth it, as is the view to the monument. Mt Rushmore was a disappointment after that, so go to Mt Rushmore first. Custer State Park has buffalo. Do not get out to look at them closer than the safety of your car. If Wall Drug Store is on your list, they close at 7pm sharp (and don't tell you until you reach Wall's exit from I-90). We want to go to the Badlands NPS. We'd like to take the train from Hill City to Keystone. There is gambling in Lead and huge Victorian houses paid for by mineral mine owners in Spearfish.

Who knew you all would be such great South Dakota resources? By the way, here's our story from earlier this year on the Black Hills.

Backpacking around India ten years ago, I fell terribly ill with a stomach bug. I was on a bus going between Jaipur and Pushkar, and suddenly I became almost delirious with fever. A kind Sikh man on the bus saw that I was in a bad state and insisted on taking me to a hotel in Pushkar where I could rest. I was apprehensive - I was a very young, single woman traveling alone - but the gentleman insisted and told me that the Sikhs have a strong code of hospitality that obligates them to care for those in need. So I blindly followed the man to a hotel, checked in and collapsed for three days. During that time, water, fruit, and oral rehydration solution magically appeared at my door. And when I recovered, there was no bill! My guardian angel wears a turban, I think.

That's pretty incredible.

Hotels/motels with complimentary breakfast bars can be one of the most dangerous places during travel because of the lack of organization. I received a very bad burn at the coffee urn when someone bumped into me just because the space was so tight and the temperature of the coffee was like MacDonald's. At another place we stayed children ran around and carrying food became an obstacle course to avoid spilling hot coffee on them. In another place a child was allowed to touch the food that had been put in an easy to reach spot and when I told the child no since the parent was not paying attention to the child the parent had a fit. [Not personal safety but the worst yuck was when a toddler wet his pants and the parents had to be told as the urine was coming down the chair. They stood the child up and more came out.]

Is there a common process for dealing with an airline making significant changes to your reservation? I thought if the airline made a significant change that was unacceptable, your options are either to request a rebooking, or ask for a refund, without being charged cancellation or change fees. Or is that airline specific? I recently went through a debacle when American Air cancelled a flight for my return from Thanksgiving, changing me to a new flight number leaving over 6 hours earlier on the Friday (cutting short my trip from three days to effectively two). Of course, it wasn't surprising given their issues, but I booked before news was out. I called Orbitz first, then was bounced around between American, United (apparently the overall reservation holder) and back to Orbitz over the course of four hours. None of the other rebooking options presented could meet my needs, and I requested a cancellation and refund so I could book through a different airline. They each tried to charge me nearly $200 in change fees, or suggested I start my trip and only then call back to cancel the return (waiting until Thanksgiving to get a return flight the next day?!? No, thank you). In the end, I managed to receive my refund - though apparently the only way to do so was for them to cancel the FULL reservation, including the Tues departure I wanted (which was the United flight). Extra steps to then re-book a one-way trip on that same flight again. Why was this so difficult to cancel one leg with a stand-alone airline, due to significant changes on their part - aside from the fact that this is just how travel works these days?

This is a pitfall of buying a ticket using two different airlines through a third-party booking site -- lots of players here. I don't believe your experience is unusual. Not sure how it was ticketed, but whenever you mix and match, especially with so-called legacy airlines, this type of confusion can occur.  

On a family vacation in Rome as a kid, I got itchy red spots on my body and felt weak when walking to the Vatican. My mom thought it was spider bites from the hotel room and told me to suck it up. When my sisters came down with chicken pox in Salzburg a week later, my mom apologized.

This happened to a colleague while we were both in Portugal for a conference: He arrived a couple of days early in order to do some sightseeing, and one afternoon bought some fried octopus from a food stand along the waterfront as a treat, and wound up trapped in his hotel room with the food-poisoning from hell. When I arrived the night before the conference I called his room, as we were supposed to have dinner together that evening, and he told me his tale of woe. I was still tired and not too hungry from my trip anyhow, but we met up at the hotel restaurant, which had a sumptuous buffet that neither of us could face. My colleague, being a native speaker of Portuguese, explained to the waiter that he was still green around the gills from food poisoning, and asked if we could just get their homemade caldo verde (kale soup, the national dish), some bread and butter, and hot tea, without paying the full price. The waiter said of course, and we each wound up having a light supper in a nice dining room for only about 6 Euros apiece. We went our separate ways afterwards, got the rest we needed, and both felt much better when we met up the next day for breakfast and the start of the conference.

Be careful of getting sick and also of the treatment you get. Back in 1995, I traveled with a student group to Russia. One student got very sick and despite telling Russian chaperones and doctors that he was allergic to antibiotics, they gave him an antibiotic. The treatment rather than the original illness got him airlifted to Helsinki as they didn't think he would make it as far as Frankfurt.


Visiting the Gobi Desert in Mongolia while living in China (and a bout of giardia that I'll spare you the details of), I had some kind of violent digestive bug. The doctor they called in while I was semi-conscious pumped me full of tablets. Among the ingredients: Opium. Turns out it's a traditional treatment for stomach problems (and for managing hunger) in East Asia. Fortunately, I didn't have any drug tests too soon after that. Also, I am officially the worst roommate ever.

Original poster here--thanks so much for the feedback. I've heard good things, so will definitely plan a trip when I'm in New Mexico next summer.

My husband and I have booked a trip to Italy for late April. I recently booked all of our hotels/B&Bs, and because of the site I used, I won't be charged until we actually get there. The prices are set in Euros. Because we're on a tight budget, I would like to maximize savings by getting Euros when they're at their lowest in the next few months compared to dollars. My husband works for a bank, and as such won't get charged any fees to do an exchange here. Do any of you guys know of a good website or other resource that tracks and/or predicts how currencies will go compared to each other? The Euro is at about 1.3 dollars right now (or is it the other way? I'm so confused by all of this), which is lower than the last time I was there. But if it drops down to about 1.2, I can save another $70 - which could help pay for a nice dinner while we're there! Or should we just wait until we get there and hope the rate is good then? I know I've heard exchange rates are usually best when you're in Europe, although I'm not sure how that works.

There are a lot of currency resources out there. I use XE a lot. Typically your best bet is to just take out money at a bank once you've reached your destination. But if you think you're getting a great deal through your husband's employer, go for it.

Hi, Travel Gurus--I liked the article about the Abercrombie Family visiting the Old Sod with the 9 YO son in tow. I was wondering what the couple thought of Scotland having been granted its own Parliament and its own anthem when they visited the country a dozen years ago. Specifically, did Mrs. Abercrombie think that the Scottish National Anthem, "A Man's A Man," composed by national poet Robert Burns over 2 centuries ago a little sexist? I thought the son trying haggis on his own was a brave thing to do, especially since I can't see myself eating things like caviar or escargot! Your thoughts?

Thanks for your comments. Paul is a freelancer and on the road right now, so we don't have his thoughts on the anthem.

Bristling at sexism is my hobby, but gosh, aside from the title, can you even tell what the heck the song is about? An excerpt:

Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord
Wha struts an' stares an' a' that
Tho' hundreds worship at his word
He's but a coof for a' that

Compared with Burns's "Tho' Women's Minds," it's a veritable feminist anthem!

And yes, I was dazzled by the kid's courage in eating the haggis.

I bet a good travel agent could help them find a tour where all the decisions of where to go, eat and see are all made for you. They have to exist, because I see the tour buses here in downtown DC all the time.

A little harsh, aren't we? I totally see where they are coming from. They don't want everything prepackaged and planned, they just want easy access to activities and amenities for all their family members.

Hi - my husband and I ask for pat downs rather than go through the machines. Sometimes security makes us step away from our bags coming out of Xray while they hunt down someone to pat us. What can we say, and not get in trouble, to stay near our wallets? Do we have a RIGHT to be X feet from our wallet? It just seems like nowadays you say a wrong word to someone in a bad mood and the whole thing can blow up! Also - on one occasion we had to change plans and go through security again, and almost missed our flight because they took so long to find someone. Who is responsible if we had missed it?

I had an identical experience when I was patted down at DCA over the weekend (like you, I never go through the scanners). I don't know of any rule that says you have to be within X feet of your personal belongings, but as a practical matter, the agents are trained to keep you and your belongings together. Still, I would tell an agent you want to opt out of the scanner before you put your belongings on the conveyer belt. Otherwise, they could be sitting there unattended for a while, until they find someone to frisk you.

Definitely go to Jewel Cave National Park. The cave is immense and there's a park above it that's actually pretty big. Wind Cave NP also has a cave, obviously, but in my opinion it's not nearly as impressive. It's also not that far to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Hot Springs, in the southern part of the Black Hills, is an old spa town and has some nice places to stay and eat. I found that the further north you get the more commercialized and cheesy the region becomes.

Mt. Rushmore is worth about an hour of one's time, at most, on the other hand the Crazy Horse monument and the story of the family is well worth the detour. There are several nice caverns in the area. Wind Cave NP is one.


I was in Ireland last year when I awoke with an irritation in my eye. No amount of eye rinse would relieve the irritation, so the only thing to do was find an eye doctor. We were traveling along the Ring of Kerry and stopped in the Tourist Information Office in the largest town around, Cahirciveen, to ask about how to get to the local ring forts and where I could find an eye doctor. The lovely lady running the office directed me to the optometrist's office at the end of the street. The optometrist was out taking a walk at lunchtime, but her office manager called her on her cell phone and she was back in a few minutes. She took a look, removed a grain of sand that had wedged itself under my eyelid and it was instant relief! From start to finish, we were in the office about 20 minutes and they charged only 20 Euros. Oh, and I while I was in with the optometrist, my husband got a great recommendation for dinner that night from the office manager!

We would like to spend a long weekend in Buffalo, NY taking in the architectural sites. Any highlights we should see? Can you suggest other things to do while we are there?

This is from someone who has been to Stockholm, Oslo, Zaventem, Neasden, College Park, Emeryville, Gateshead, and LA (name escapes me). So, don't expect anything different. Even the food is the same (with some regional changes).

Once, long ago, I was traveling to Italy to see a concert with my cousin who lives there. I took a valium on the way over so I could sleep on the overnight flight. When I landed, I smoked a cigarette (yes I have now quit) and had 2-3 espressos to wake up and face the drive with him from Milan to Rimini for the concert. Milan had just experienced record rainfall, so the roads were in bad shape and traffic on the autostrade was horrid. Just when we were in the thick of it, I had a terrible episode of gastrointestinal distress. We were nowhere near a rest stop and stuck dead in traffic. I jumped out of his car and hurdled the guardrail, and then promptly slipped down a 10 foot embankment that was about a foot thick in mud. I was covered head to toe. And I still had to "go" on the side of the road and figure out how to clean myself up before my cousin would even think of letting me back in the car. Lots of lessons to be learned there.

Oh, dear.

For Mom's 80th birthday she wants to have her 4 kids plus 8 grandkids (ages 16 to 8) to have a Christmas week family vacation on the West Coast of Florida. The first option was $7,000 a week for 2 houses on North Capitva Island. A number of us are skeptical of the idea of being stranded on an island ($32 per person round trip to get off the island). So we are looking for alternatives. Do you know of "Sea Colony like" resorts on the West Coast of Florida were we could rent condos or houses? Do you have certain areas of the State which you could recommend? I am looking for pools and beaches plus activities that could interest the kids if we get weather that is a little to cold for swimming. It seems like weather in the high 60's to low 70's or even colder is a very real possibility. I am also curious of your take on getting suite hotels with free breakfast as an alternative to houses. I've looked and it seems like you can get room for around $200 a night which makes 5 rooms cost around the same $7,000 as two house but people have more space.

Consider a hotel timeshare property. I enjoyed my stay at the Hyatt Coconut Plantation in Bonita Springs, but it may be a little pricier than renting houses. There are many more choices in the Orlando area, and they'll be cheaper, but that's a very different type of holiday. Here's a good Web site that gives you lodging choices for Sanibel and Captiva. 

Went there last month and doing the scenic drives in Custer park was one the best part. Agree that Crazy Horse was a good choice. We also went to Wyoming to see Devils Mountain.

Did you ask them why they carried their bag when it is free to check it?

I carry my bag because I don't like waiting to get my luggage. I'm anxious to get on my way, especially after landing late at night and facing an hour+ ride home. 

In 2005 on a 3 week Jaunt through Russia with the DOS, I unfortunately either had a bad cold or sever allergies or a combination of both. Well on this trip we visited several animal labs for site Visits and I inadvertently hugged a baby chimp (made for an awesome photo) at the Moscow circus. Needless to say, three weeks of nothing but snow, and being around all of those animals made for a miserable last day in Russia. I learned to always travel with allergy meds.

I am flying out to Phoenix from DC for a weekend in mid-April. I've been tracking the flights and I haven't seen anything under $400 (one stop) or under $500 for round trip. Are these prices average? Thanks!

Southwest used to have occasional sales from BWI to Phoenix, but they've dried up. I'm guessing you meant under $500 for nonstop flights. You will definitely pay up for flying nonstop. I'm seeing some fares closer to $350 on United for one-stop flights out of BWI -- don't think you'll see anything much lower than that. Since it is several months away, I'd probably keep tracking for a while longer before buying. 

I went on a school sponsored trip to Greece in 7th grade. The first few days were based in Athens. The travel agency that booked the trip had the motel provide breakfast, bagged lunches for the bus and dinner. The motel had the stereoptypical view that Americans at meat and potatoes. Boiled meat and potatoes may be filling, but it does not help with bowel movements. By the time we left athens and went on a cruise I was plugged up harder than I had ever been in my life. Fortunately the cruise ship offfered much more real Greek food, including vegetables with fiber

This person travels enough internationally that they should seriously consider enrolling in Global Entry. I breeze through the immigration line in record speed.

Good thought.

I would wait to book this in mid December/early January when there will likely be fare sales since the time you are traveling is not a peak travel time. Also keep open the idea of traveling into Oakland then taking BART into San Fran. There is a small fee shuttle bus that takes you from the airport to the BART station. If you arrive say late one night you can spend a night at an OAK airport hotel where you get a free shuttle to the hotel then from hotel they give you a free ride to BART.

Checking fares to Oakland is a good idea, although not a given any longer that it will be cheaper than SFO. 

I get this very mellow relaxed feeling combined with looking forward to each day with great cheer. Funny, it rarely hits me when I am at home.


We were in Paris in the first half of May 2011, when there was quite a heatwave. While I was a meetings my husband, who's very fair, bought a multi-day on-off sightseeing bus pass. When we met back at the hotel the first evening, the poor baby's face and arms were lobster-red, and painful. The next morning he went to a pharmacy near our hotel, and even though he speaks NOT A WORD of French, just pointed to his face and arms -- and the sympathetic clerk directed him to the suntan lotions and sunburn ointments, where he could select what he needed to buy.

I don't understand the hate for IAD... I think it's a pretty airport. Hands down the worst I've been to is CGD in Paris. We set foot on the airport 2 hrs before our flight home ... and nearly missed it.

Going to Lapland in February. We will be in Helsinki, Roveniemi. Ivalo... I have warm clothes, boots, etc. Any tips, restaurants, places I must see?

Haven't been to Lapland, though I'd love to go. Let's give this one to the chatters. Your recommendations, please?

I have a roller board that fits length-wise (narrow) on 99% of the flights I've taken with it, regional jets it gets checked plane-side. However, the issue the previous chatter mentioned is why I switched it out. I found a rucksack that fits everything I need for a long weekend (winter) or a week (summer). It fits under the seat and I no longer worry about space. Work travel I check the bag.

I've done exactly what the airlines want you to do and given up trying to do carry-on. I just hate fighting other passengers.

I went to Belize in February 2009, both to the beach and the jungle, and used insect repellent while hiking in the jungle. Surprisingly, I returned home with a mosquito bite that just wouldn't heal and grew increasingly painful, even 6 weeks after returning home. One morning, I stepped out of the shower and removed the band aid I had put over the bite on my shoulder and was shocked to find something bursting out of the bite! It turns out I had a botfly larvae (3, actually) in my shoulder for 7 weeks after returning home. I finished pulling it out, dropped it in a bag, and raced over to Georgetown Hospital to see what was going on. Fortunately it wasn't serious, just seriously disgusting, and I have major issues with the thought of spending any time in jungles in the future!

I can understand why!

I was once visiting my parents in Ottawa, Canada and developed a case of conjunctivitis in both eyes. They were so swollen and I looked so terrible, that I was afraid the U.S. wouldn't let me back in. Luckily I had no problems, but I did wear my sunglasses the whole way back.

We were going to go skiing in Steamboat during the christmas break and now have decided that we want to go somewhere warm. We seem to be late to the game and Costa Rica seems hard to do, so we were thinking an all-inclusive in the Domincan Republic (so many of the other islands seem to be booked). There is space in the Dreams Punta Cana, but does anyone have firsthand experience with the hotel? We are worried becaseu there is space there and so many of the other hotels are sold out. There was also space at the Iberostar Bavarra, but we heard the food was inedible, not just not good, but inedible. Any thoughts on Domican Republic in general and hotels specifically? We are a family of four - - two teens 17 and 15.

I haven't stayed at the Dreams Punta Cana, but the chain has a good reputation. Stayed at the Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana, and it was fine. I've stayed at Iberostars in Mexico, and would not say the food is inedible, but it's far from gourmet. I have never stayed at an all-inclusive with fantastic food. It ranges from meh to decent. 

Hi - need to buy a RT ticket for Helsinki next Aug 1 (return on the 31st). What would be a reasonable price? What would be a great price? When should I start shopping? thanks!

Icelandair will likely give you the best fares. Start tracking it now. A reasonable price would be about $950. A great price would be $800. 

My parents and godparents are coming to DC this year for a visit (3 or 4 days). My parents have been here before, but my godparents are very, very wary of cities in particular and anything they haven't done before in general. As far as I can tell, they mostly go to Williamsburg every year - wood working is his hobby and hers are quilting and cooking. I have been asked to find a hotel that is close to activities but won't freak them out. I wil be playing tour guide. I think we will end up using one of the hop on/hop off tours for at least two days, so a place near one of the stops will be essential. And, here's the kicker, I think they will end up being here right around the cherry blossom parade weekend. Any recomendations about a downtown or maybe Dupont Circle hotel that won't feel too unfamiliar to my lovely but easily intimidated relatives during a weekend that crowded? Technically they could afford anything (though my parents could not). Under $250 a night is preferred, but we could probably go to $300 in a pinch.

Wow. OK, that time is going to be tough in the city. Here's my suggestion: Look at outside D.C. I think Alexandria would be a very nice alternative, maybe one of the Kimpton hotels. The Morrison House may even remind your relatives of Williamsburg a bit. Better still, I'm seeing rooms for less than $250. Plenty of things to see and do in Alexandria and it's easy to get to the city on Metro, if they can handle that.

The pricing now generally doesn't differentiate between Saturday stays or round trips vs. one-way bookings. If the pricing doesn't matter, book the flight as two one-way legs instead of round trip, which will prevent the cancellation of the second part.

That's one way to do it. But make sure you're not paying a premium for booking as two one-ways. And be prepared for additional security screening: One-way tickets sometimes cause extra scrutiny. 

We would like to combine train ride and driving when we visit Italy next summer. We plan to fly in and out of Florence. After visiting Lucca, Pisa, and Cinque Terre by train, we would like rent a car and visit Siena, Pienza, and Assisi. I am not sure from which city should we pick up and return the rental car? I read that parking is a headache. Do hotels in Tuscany offer parking space? Would you recommend we base in a town and take day trips, or change lodging and walk around?

I'd make Florence your base city here, as all these towns aren't far away. You could in fact take public transport to all three and make them each day trips from Florence, which may be smarter than renting a car, as parking is, as you say, a headache. Generally you can't drive into or park in the town center, but will have to park your car on the outskirts and walk in. They're all small towns, of course, so it doesn't matter that much. Chatters, what do you advise?

Also: Vancouver

They said any city in the U.S., but good to know.

I came back to elementary school from Christmas vacation all bit up by mosquitoes in Texas. My teachers didn't believe my story about mosquitoes in winter and sent me to the doctor to check me for chicken pox. Finally, my parents were able to vouch for my story.

In my opinion, Rushmore is much more impressive. Not only the sculptures themselves but the way the whole approach is landscaped so you see the faces through various tunnels and overlooks as you drive near it. Crazy Horse, on the other hand, has just completely gone off the rails. It'll never get finished, it's expensive, and the museum has almost no rhyme or reason to it. It's worth the visit but we just left shaking our heads.

Yes, the Crazy Horse thing is definitely kind of crazy. But that's what makes it so fascinating, IMHO.

Forgive me repeating myself, since I've mentioned it here before, but I think I reduce the risk of having my wallet stolen while passing through TSA inspection by always wearing oxford-style shoes, then cramming my wallet etc. into the closed end of one shoe, where it's not visible. No system's perfect, but I believe this reduces the temptation for anyone -- TSA or passenger -- to steal my wallet.

I broke my ankle last year in Cappadocia, Turkey. Had to spend the night in a Turkish hospital with no English spoken and then navigate my way back to Istanbul and the US without being able to walk. Be very careful on those slippery rocks in Cappadocia!

Well, thanks for another hour. We appreciate you not getting too detailed on your travel maladies. So tough to choose a "winner," but I'm going to go with the story about the person who had sand removed from their eye in Ireland. Please send your name and mailing address to 

See you next week!

In This Chat
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
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.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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