Talk about Travel

Oct 22, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Good afternoon, chatters, and Happy Monday! It's chilly enough here today that I'm almost wishing I could head for the Caribbean, as we did in our section yesterday. Hope you all enjoyed the articles -- they certainly made *me* want to hop on a plane and go! Now let's hear your stories -- tell us about your favorite island memory (doesn't necessarily have to be a Caribbean island). Mine is being on the beach of our hotel in St. Martin (we stayed on the French side, years ago), staring across the water of our bay at the ruins of an old mansion in the distance and making up stories about the tragic romance that had bloomed and died there, along with the house. Best story takes the prize.

Now let's chat.

Thinking ahead to winter break and trying to find a ski resort in PA that is roughly an equidistant drive between DC where my husband and I live and western, central NJ where my family lives. Our group will include six adults and one 8-year old. Any suggestions?

Do you mean a long equidistant drive, or shortest drive for each one of you? The best place to ski in Pennsylvania for my money is Seven Springs. It's about a four-hour drive from Washington, and would probably be about that from western central NJ. Most of the other larger resorts will be much closer for your NJ relatives, as they are in the Poconos. 

Where would I find a good B&B in Escazu, Costa Rica? Any recommendations?

Wow, what a specific question. I think your best bet may be to inquire of a travel agent who specializes in Central America. But meanwhile, let's throw this out to our chatters -- maybe you'll get lucky! Folks?

Hi there and thanks, I have the best kind of problem. I just found out that the small company I work for will be closed Thanksgiving week but my husband and I can't decide where to go for last-minute vacation. My mom is having an early TG dinner the Sunday before, so from Monday to the next Sunday is wide open. Since it's not that much time we don't want a really long plane trip (Europe). We live in SoCal. My husband is leaning toward Hawaii, but we've been there recently and it's still 5 hours by plane. I'm pushing for Vancouver, where we've never been. I think it would be neat to be in another country over a US holiday. He worries about rain and cold but I wonder if that matters on a city vacation. Any thoughts? Thanks.

I wouldn't let weather deter you -- then again, I wasn't afraid of booking a trip to Seattle in October (ended up being gorgeous). Your husband's concerns aren't totally unfounded, though. Fall is rainy up there. You could also consider doing a Southwest jaunt. Check out Andrea's recent report from the area.

I normally book my hotel rooms online, but for an upcoming convention, I had to book directly by calling the hotel. While they took my reservation, I must say that I really miss having the email confirmation, link to the hotel for directions, and other benefits that come from booking online. Why is there such a disconnect between the two types of reservation? They could have easily asked for my email address.

Then again, you could also have asked them to e-mail you directions and a confirmation, and I bet they would have done that. You can't expect them to read your mind.

Unlike you, I almost always reserve over the phone -- I find the e-mail reservation system for so many hotels these days frustrating, with days blocked off for "check-out only" -- what's that about? Also, even when a hotel's site is telling me that I can't book the dates I want, it happens often enough that if I call, I can actually get a room after all.

Not one, but two islands that come to mind: Vancouver Island where my family and I stayed for a week one summer, out in the middle of the island near Sooke. A July trip where we just really enjoyed ourselves and the water with two young kids, got to see some fabulous killer whale pods and a humpback whale (not to mention beautiful Victoria itself)! Second favorite island would have to be during college in visiting Bermuda. This was my first trip out of the country (excluding Canada/Mexico) with my college's cross-country team. Had never run XC before (I was a last minute addition), but the scenery alone was worth it - pink sand and meeting other runners for a race that was scenic. I still haven't been back, and would love to someday (same with Sooke).

Yes, I love Bermuda, too! Haven't been in years -- you've made me nostaglic. And have never been to Vancouver Island -- on my bucket list!

After a karaoke and food filled evening I left town with friends to go back to our beach house. On the way back we stumbled upon a sea turtle laying her eggs. We went from giggling to silence (we were 18 at the time). How amazing. I really felt honored that I got to watch such a special event.

It's amazing, isn't it.

Hello flight crew, I am planning a sailing trip for a family of 5 over spring break 2013, and I have hit a major stumbling block in trying to get to Marsh Harbour. Flights from DC are reasonably priced into Nassau (under $500 pp), but it seems that Bahamas Air has a stranglehold on flying between the islands and it drives fares up to over $700 pp. The airlines that fly directly from the US into Marsh Harbour do not have good deals from DC so fares are still over $700 pp. Any advice from yourselves or fellow chatters on how to get a reasonable (i.e. $600 or less) fare to Marsh Harbour the last week of March? We would be willing to do an air/land package deal for up to 3 days if it helps. Thank you!!

Perhaps you would be better off flying to Florida and then taking a flight from there. Some airlines that offer service to Marsh Harbour include Airgate Aviation from Daytona Beach and Bahamas Express or Craig Air Center out of Jacksonville. You'd have to price it all out to see if those options work.

On our honeymoon, my husband and I drove the Road the Hana in Hawaii, using both Fodor's and Frommer's guidebooks as suggestions for where to stop. One of the stops included walking through a Ritz Carlton resort onto the private beach (which to this day when I look up the name, I get conflicting info on which beach we were actually one), so we did. Something about the warm ocean just relaxed me. After a year of wedding planning, as any married couple can attest, relaxation is a requirement. Walking into the water, where only a handful of others were, was the most amazing feeling. I literally felt all the stress I had felt for our engagement year, drift away. I'll never forget saying I wanted to bottle up that feeling as it was indescribable. No one to bother me, tell me their opinion, offer an "opinion", be offended, be upset, none of that nonsense as it was just me and the warm ocean water (oh yeah, and my new husband!).

Don't forget hubby! :-) Thanks for the memory.

We're making plans for a trip to England and plan on getting a rental car from Heathrow and driving around the country for 3 weeks. The car rental comment sites routinely bash car rental agencies in Europe and some are specifically harsh on agencies that rent from Heathrow. For example, Hertz at Heathrow gets bad reviews about hassling people with up charges at both checkin and checkout times. Are there any reputable firms you'd recommend we use that won't break the bank? We'd prefer an American company only because if there's an issue, it'll be easier to deal with them when we return stateside. Note that we did something like this 6 years ago and don't remember having the volume of problems that we see reported online now. Have things changed so much? Thanks!

I would stick with a major car rental brands you recognize. Another good option is AutoEurope, which works with some of the smaller European car rental brands but offers a point of contact in the United States. One more tip: Research the insurance requirements and find out what your insurance covers before you arrive, otherwise you could get strong-armed into buying uneccessary insurance.

I am submitting early since I won't be here during the chat, but I wanted to recommend the agency CR Referrals for anyone interested in going to Costa Rica. The company is based in CR, and they have preplanned packages, but will also make custom itineraries. We sent them a list of things we wanted to do, places we wanted to go, how many days, and our budget and they created the perfect trip! Hotels, activities, transfers, some meals, all for much less than other places where we received quotes. They will work with you to create the perfect itinerary, and reconfirm every activity or hotel stay the day before so there are no glitches. Of course we could have done planned it on our own, but it was so nice just looking at the schedule they sent telling us when to be ready and not worrying about anything. I wish I could find an agency like them in every country!

Thanks! Maybe they could help our chatter looking for a B&B in Escazu.

We spent the first 3 days of our honeymoon in Chania on Crete. Our hotel was in a (very) old building with balconies overlooking the Venetian Harbor and lighthouse. We spent our mornings sipping coffee on the balcony, watching passersby (attempt to) navigate the narrow water front (including the world's smallest food trucks, ice deliveries, various restaurant touts, and salesmen of ...stuff), loosely interpreting (or re-imagining) the conversations and imaging our future in the older couples out for morning walks along the water. I'd go back to Crete in a heartbeat.


Probably very different than what most people are thinking, but my visit to Prince Edward's Island was amazing. Once we disembarked from the ferry, we just started driving around the entire island. Seeing the colorful Acadian houses with the children playing in the yards, the northern flora, lobster traps all over... it was such an unusual island experience! We went at the end of August so the weather was clear, crisp and cool, making the skies seem even bluer and the flowers seem even brighter. It was definitely a trip I will never forget.

It's a lovely place, for sure!

Do you think there's any chance I'll find a round-trip, non-stop flight between DC and Paris for less than $1000? I'm going over MLK weekend. The person I'm visiting thinks I should hold out for $800-900 fares, but Bing says prices are going up... I guess the bigger question here is, at what point do you just bite the bullet and buy? Are there other tools besides Bing that can help me decide? In this case, I have 3 months before the trip. Thanks for answering my (admittedly, very elementary) question!

Holiday weekends are typically more expensive because the seats fill up and the prices then go up. You are going to pay for convenience. Nonstops out of the Washington region aren't going to go much cheaper than $1,000. If you're willing to get to New York, you can find connecting flights for as little as $650 round trip on Finnair. But you'd waste a lot of time traveling. When you're only going for a long weekend, time means much. Bing is the only site I know of that predicts international airfare trends in any type of reliable way. 

Best memory is renting a catamaran for a week, with skipper, and sailing all over BVI for a week. Since we had a local captain, we were able to sail to an island that isn't visited very much called Anegada. The snorkeling was fabulous and we didn't tell my sister in law, who won't go in water past her knees, about the shark that was lingering just a few feet further out in the surf. We also rented jeeps and went off road where we encountered feral cows who looked like they were ready to defend their turf against all invaders. The island gets so few visitors that it's like having your own private hideaway. We also visited the Willie T (a bar on a ship moored off Norman Island) and jumped off the top of the ship, a practice since discontinued because it was too dangerous to have inebriated patrons jumping off basically a two story height. Fun!


In last week's chat Chris said that he always opts for a pat-down rather than getting body-zapped at airport security. At what point do you announce that preference? It looks to me like most security lines are routed directly to the scanners; there is no "Choose A or B here" sign. How and when do you get out? Also, how intrusive is the pat-down? Do they make you feel that they are punishing you for not going with the program?

There's no fixed point at which you're given the option of a scan or a pat-down. At DCA, for example, the full-body scanners are located almost next to the magnetometer, giving you only a few seconds to say, "I opt out." My advice would be to pay close attention to the way passengers in front of you are being screened, and don't mindlessly obey the TSA screener. Otherwise you could find yourself in the microwave.

When I was about 5, my grandparents, an uncle or two, and my family went to visit La Maddalena, in Italy, where my grandfather had been stationed while my mom was in high school. I was too young to remember most of it, but I clearly remember staying in the house my mother and her family had lived in and looking for seashells on the beach nearby. Its a fuzzy memory at best, but I just remember thinking that it was so cool to be there. I've had some great island memories as an adult, but that one was the first thing I thought of when I read your question. (Oh, and I've won one of your prizes recently, so I defer!)

I like your memory, even if you defer. :-)

i hate to be the cliche, but my best experiences yet are on the beaches of negril. it's the water, the sand, the rum and the reggae in the background. Not just any reggae, but the "reggae-fied" american soft rock LOL. it's the natural beauty of the people and the island. i hate travelling to places of abject poverty, and then walking onto the resort and pretending that no one is starving outside. i know, the poverty exists whether i see it or not, but i like to be surrounded by real people, that have problems like me, and yet are not so distracted that they can't be genuinely hospitable to guests that might possess more than they do. negril is a pleasant community. i say so, because i walked outside the "compound" into surround neighborhoods and felt relatively safe. as they say there "peace love respect"

Nice, thanks.

My favorite island memory is definitely hiking a dormant volcano in Salina, one of the Aeolian islands off Sicily, with constant views of the green hills collapsing into the Mediterranean. At the end of the hike, we made our way to a local, rocky beach where we swam in the warm water while watching the sunset. It was the most amazing reward after a hard hike and the most peaceful time in the sea I've ever had.

Sounds great.

My family is looking for a convienent location to meet up for Thanksgiving (no one wants to host!). We live in Philadelphia, New Brunswick NJ, and Boston. We'd like to meet someplace that's not too expensive for hotels and restaurants (so not Manhattan) and kid-friendly, if possible. Any ideas? Thanks!

Somewhere in Connecticut? Mystic might be fun. Here's their tourism site's page on kid-friendly activities.

We were on our honeymoon in the BVI, staying at a great boutique resort on Tortola. On the first day we went to Cane Garden Bay Beach, and loved it so much that we returned the next day. My new husband was by then very comfortable in the water and promptly swam straight out into the bay; moments later he yells for me – I lost my ring. We both started searching in the crystal clear but 12 foot deep water. After about 15 minutes I gave up, but he swam and dove, and swam and dove for another hour before also giving up. He came up on the beach dejected, and I told him to take a rest and go back out for 3 more minutes. He was pretty annoyed at me, but did as requested. Not 2 minutes after he went back out a loud and honestly rather terrifying yell came from the middle of the bay, I reassured the other tourists around me – don’t worry that’s just my husband, he must have found his ring. Sure enough he had found it lying on the bottom of the bay. Of course we celebrated with rum punches on the beach; the bartender couldn’t believe how lucky we had been – he said no one ever found their rings after losing them in the bay. While it was a little more exciting an afternoon than I would have chosen, it certainly has made the memory of that beautiful beach stick.

A little secret -- the same thing happened to me with my first husband. . . but we never found the ring.

Gurus, I plan to rent an apartment in Florence in January, and the management co. expects me to pay the full balance due in cash upon arrival (860 euro, about $1135, including damage deposit). Since I don't know that I'll be able to access that amount of cash when I arrive, especially since banks will be closed (mid-afternoon), what's the best way for me to purchase the euros here? Thanks so much.

I think you could probably get the money from an ATM when you get there, but if you insist on going with it in hand, I will -- at the risk of being yelled at by all the, er,  thrifty-minded travelers out there -- direct you to  Travelex. They have stations at the major airports, so you can do the exchange there, or, if you live in Washington, head to their downtown office at 18th and K (they undoubtedly have offices in all the major cities, too).  Yes, their fees are somewhat high, but you'll have the money and peace of mind may be worth it to you. You could also inquire at your bank -- even if they don't exchange curreny, they may direct you to a bank that does, and where the fees may be a bit less than at Travelex.

Islands are fantastic and come in so many flavors! When I was a kid, we used to camp out on islands in the Saranac Lakes in the Adirondacks: campfires, s'mores, and cold-water swimming at its best! (Except for the time I came face-to-face with a dead Northern Pike that was floating by as I dove into the lake -- that creeped me out.) Now, I work on Manhattan Island, and it's never a dull day. My favorite vacation islands are Britain and Cyprus -- not exactly secluded garden spots, but wonderful places for a sojourn.

A few years ago, I took a cruise that included a day in Cozumel Mexico. I had booked a shore excursion to the Tulum Ruins in Mexico. The captain said we had encountered a cold front that the forecast said should have moved on but had stalled over the area. We had to take a ferry to the main land and that was the roughest ride I had ever been on. The boat was bouncing and rocking all over the place. The air inside seemed hot and stale. It started with just one or two people feeling sick and by the time we reached our destination, the bags, pails, and other containers were all full. Somewhere between a third and a half of the passengers lost it and to be honest, if it lasted another 10 minutes, I might have too. We were hoping the seas would have calmed by afternoon when it was time to return to our ship, but they were still rough. It wasn't quite as bad, but several people still got sick.

Yikes! I hate getting seasick.

They have pirates. Visit Pirates Bight bar and restaurant on your next visit to Norman Island.

Not surprisingly, my favorite islands are the ones where my grandparents were born, Portugal's Azores, in the middle of the North Atlantic. Yes, after 6 visits it still boggles my mind that Portuguese (and some others) would settle in such a distant, isolated location starting in the 1400s -- although nowadays it's only about a 4-hour non-stop flight from Boston (since there's nowhere to stop in between!). The island chain is not tropical, although it's very, very green, and there are palm trees and many other indigenous as well as introduced plants in abundance that thrive in the absence of freezing weather. Love the unspoiled scenery, fresh food, friendly people (a good deal of English is spoken), sense of safety there, "green" environmental concerns, and so much more!

AAA will order foreign currency for members, usually for lower fees (and at the same exchange rates) than Travelex. It takes a couple of days, so plan accordingly.


Singapore, taking their Night Safari. Sat next to a work colleague as the cars were puttering around the course and mentioned "Oooh, look! A Malaysian spitting viper!" He didn't like that.

I'll bet he didn't.

We were visiting with some friends of my parents that lived near the Atlantic ocean. We all walked out to the edge of the sandy shore with supplies for that day including drinks and food and stuff that the dads carried in a big metal tub. As we headed for our spot, we crossed a lower sort of damp area before we got there, which was a little confusing. A good time was had by all playing in the sand and the waves and searching for shells. Late in the afternoon it was time to go home. We started to go back and...oops...the damp area was all water as the tide had come in. I wanted to swim back. Really, really wanted to. But since the adults all had to help with the "stuff" no one could closely supervise the swim in water that was well over my head. My little brother and I rode back to shore in HMS metal tub.

Funny. But thank goodness you were able to get back. Sometimes those situations are dangerous.

Is this a good idea? they are 7 and 10. How many days/nights should we stay? it seems like I can find some good deals - but let's say we stay at circus circus - there seem like a few things to do there - what about other hotels? Then, I suppose I'd rent a car and go to the hoover dam, that's one day. Is three nights a good time? too long? not enough? Thanks!

Las Vegas tried marketing itself as a family destination a number of years ago, and it fell flat. The city is simply not geared toward kids. Adventuredome at Circus Circus is the biggest draw for kids. There's also an aquarium and mermaid show at the Silverton Hotel.  Two nights is about as long as I can spend in Las Vegas, but I'm not a gambler. I think three nights works for those who like to hit the tables. 

What is the easiest way to get from the Disney Contemporary Hotel to Universal Studios Harry Potter and return without a car. Thank You.

There may be a local bus route that could work, but this might be the time for a cab. Try calling VisitOrlando -- 800-972-3304. They will obviously have a better sense of the area.

I am looking at booking my Christmas flight from BWI to Dallas soon. American's prices are good ($400RT); my second option would be a less-than-desirable routing on US Airways for a little more. Is it crazy to even consider AA given the labor issues with the pilots union?

I've had no recent reports of problems on American flights from readers. I don't think I would have any misgivings about booking a flight on American, particularly if the routing is more convenient.

Husband and I are looking for family friendly vacation ideas for May/June 2013. We'll have a 3 year old to keep entertained and 4 month old. We prefer a resort driving distance from DC (under 8 hours) with upscale condo/apartment style accomodations and outdoor activies suitable for the young ones. We want warm climate so it will have to be south as you can never tell what MD and north will be like that time of year. We ruled out Florida for the length of the drive.

It's just exactly 8 hours to Charleston, S.C. I stayed at the Wild Dunes resort on the Isle of Palms and it was really wonderful. Should be quite warm by that time of year. A little further north, so not quite as far, is Pawley's Island, which sounds beautiful and restful. If South Caroolina's  too far, you could head for the Outer Banks, in North Carolina, and rent a condo or house there (there are hundreds and hundreds of beautiful rentals). It should be warm enough there as well, that time of year, and there's lots to do, up and down the Banks. For a sampling, check out this story from last year.

Chatters, let us know if you have other suggestions.

Rumours persist of more pirate gold to be found on Norman Island, although to date no applications have ever been made for treasure trove.  Got treasure maps?

Hmm. I'm beginning to think we have a PR rep for Norman Island lurking here.

Naive question, but I have always wanted to find somewhere where the water was this clear. Where are the best beaches for this, around the world? I went to Bali and the water was just as cloudy green as VA Beach. Is this just a Caribbean thing?

I've been to three places with crystal clear waters (and, yes, there are plenty of others) -- Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic; Cozumel, Mexico; and Grand Cayman. 

My first island memory was attending the 1984 Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan. We saw famous politicians marching, we saw three Broadway plays, we saw NYC Chinatown for the first time, etc. It was really an eye opening memory for a high school kid from a small farm town.


Read last week's transcript and wanted to add a suggestion on the Mt. Rushmore trip. If you're in the area overnight, the evening Mt. Rushmore lighting ceremony is very moving. At the end, the rangers ask any veterans to stand, the national anthem is played, then the faces are illuminated. We were actually on a Caravan bus tour and didn't have enough time at the monument during the day (there are walking tours, videos and more), but a local man has a tour company that will pick up people at Rapid City hotels to take them to the evening ceremony. It worked out great and was a highlight of the trip.

Thank you for passing that along. It sounds lovely indeed.

I'm going to be in Rome in about a month, and have enough time for a day trip. Where would you recommend? Thanks in advance!

Thoughts, chatters? Here a few to get get you started.

I am looking ahead to the K-12 spring break this year and it's early - basically March 25-April. Trying to come up with an idea for a family trip including 2 boys (15 and 10) that is high impact but relatively low cost. We like Nat'l Parks - last year we went to the Grand Canyon and did a lot of hiking - but it's early for a lot of parks and the teenager has requested less focus on hiking this time... yet don't want to just sit on the beach and no theme parks please. One idea I had was to drive some portion of the Pacific coast - either San Diego to SF or maybe SF to Portland - but unsure whether the weather would be favorable. Ideas?

At that time of year, I'd probably head south instead of north. The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Highway 1 is remarkable; LA to San Diego is nice, too, but you don't get the same dramatic cliffs and you miss Hearst Castle. If you love national parks, you have to check out Crater Lake in Oregon. But bundle up. It's gonna be a little chilly.

I'm planning a trip to New Orleans at the end of March. I've been monitoring airfare for a while and so far, $310 round trip is the lowest I've seen. Should I continue to wait? Any idea what a good price would be? Thanks.

If that fare is for nonstop flights, I'd buy. Easter is March 31, and spring break vacations are often around that time. 

We have the option of a 4-day jaunt to Europe without our daughter or a two week trip to Europe with her (she will be 2.5 at the time of the trip). Without her we would have no "parental" limitations, but it would only be a short trip. With her, it would make things challenging, but we would have a longer time and the memory of a family trip to Europe (and we plan on renting a house, which is easier than hotel rooms). Has anyone else vacationed in Europe with a toddler this age? Is it worth the hassles and stresses? Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Take your daugher and go! My husband and I took our boys to Europe when they were 3 and 5, and I don't remember it being particularly stressful at all. And we stayed in hotels. We rented a car for at least part of the time, which did make things easier, but even when we were in Berlin without a car, it was really not a problem. Kids like riding trains and subways! And put them in a stroller and walk around, and they're fascinated just staring around them. Just be sure to take some favorite toys or her blankie to keep her company.

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

I am in the same situation, but I'm going to ask if the folks will accept "cash equivalent" traveler's checks. I do not fancy the idea of flying overnight and/or dealing with transportation to apartment, with a big lump of Euros in my pocket screaming "steal me!"

My kids are somewhat older, but I just use Vegas as a place for cheap air fares to see all the great national parks that are so close. Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon are so much better than Circus Circus.

As my husband suggested we take a vacation late winter, I'm jumping at the opportunity to nail something down. What are your thoughts for where to travel internationally during the end of February-beginning of March. Up to 2 weeks, budget is somewhat flexible, preferrably under $5,000 (if possible for airfare, hotel, meals), we like hiking, kayaking, not big foodies but like to try the local cuisine, like doing touristy stuff but also some off the beaten path. The last few years we've done Seattle & Portland, Mediterranean cruise, New Zealand. We're in our early 30's and while he'd like to visit Asia, it's not high on my list, we've kicked around S. America, but I know we'd both rather visit more of Europe first - though we're not skiers so snowbound countries aren't a necessity. Suggestions?

Two ideas come to mind: Sicily or a sea kayak trip in the Sea of Cortez. 

Visiting friends in their native Brazil showed us many places that most tourists do not get to see. One day, we rented a yacht and visited Paquetá, a lovely island that does not allow any cars (except for the 3 emergency vehicles). You must get around either by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage, unless you are walking the cobblestone streets. From there, we went to visit the Governor's private island (our friends are VIPs, so this was a very special trip) and spent time on the completely isolated beach with fine white sand and water so clear that you could see little fish swimming right up to you. The best part was having the Governor's Mansion to ourselves (other than the staff of housekeepers and groundskeepers). So much opulence but a very special treat for us!

Definitely a treat!

My favorite island memory is being in Venice in the winter, not long before the start of the Carnevale season; they have carnival games set up on the Riva degli Schiavoni, next to the Piazza San Marco, and stands selling food. I went in the evening with my boyfriend at the time and watched the sunset while I ate a "frittella", Italian fried dough lightly flavored with citrus and covered with sugar. The relationship is long over, but whenever I see pictures of that part of Venice, I feel nostalgic about eating the freshly made fritella (trying not to burn myself), bundled into my scarf and hat, while watching the churches and monuments turn to silhouettes against the bright colors of the sunset.

Nicely put!

When my sister and I were in college, we took a mother-daughters trip to Aruba. We decided that horseback riding was the best way to see the less-developed parts of the island-- even though none of us had ridden a horse in a decade or more. The horses took us through the small desert area, and then, finally, galloping along the beach at twilight. My mother was smiling as her horse raced past me and my sister. Great memory.

Love it. Especially the part about mom. :-)

My favorite island by far has to be lovely Amelia Island, FL! I spent every summer there as a kid and grew to truly love the place. So many wonderful memories!! Even as it's become more popular, the beaches themselves are unspolied and relatively uncrowded. It's my favorite piece of heaven on earth!

Someone else loves it, too!

My parents' friends were well aware that the sand bar would be an island by late afternoon. The adults could all walk comfortably. It was just too deep for the little kids.

Glad to hear that. :-)

One of my island memories was several of us on a tour in the BVI (don't remember which island), standing in water to mid-calf. One of the men was taking pictures of his feet in the water. His wife asked why, he said "because no one in Galveston would believe water was this clear without the picture." We all took pictures of our feet!

While bouncing through Heathrow on the way to and from Prague (which is marvelous), my wife's bag was 'randomly selected' for security inspection - twice, within 15 mins. We were very late to our connection, in no small part due to the first inspection. Do they not mark the bags that have been inspected so they don't get looked at twice? It seemed ridiculous. Also - my suitcase had a TSA approved suitcase lock on it when we left. The lock was gone when the suitcase arrived. No inspection sticker, no info of any kind. No evidence the bag had been opened, other than the missing lock. Based on my experience, the terrorists have won...

Good luck getting anyone to explain what happened to your bag, or to tell you why your lock is missing. The ways of airport security -- both here and abroad -- seem to be a mystery. But it's only because we let them. Until we start asking tough questions, like, "Is this really necessary?" as a group (not just a few dissidents and consumer advocates like me) they'll keep doing whatever they please with our personal belongings.

I missed so much my home in the center highlands of Puerto Rico! I grew up in a coffee farm with lots of tropical fruits and fresh air. Going to the beach was not as easy as people may think considering that the closest one was only an hour and a half away, however we always visited the river; pristine rivers hidden in the lush forests, some of them with amazing falls. This was our alternative to the beach and still is very popular to see families in the rivers. Here in the US is a little different, but well, I have my memories from my younger years and I treasured them!

And you should!

Grand Herron Island in the Great Barrier Reef. Advertised catamaran was in dry dock, so we were sent over in a solid hull boat. i got sick. Could still enjoy the SCUBA diving and the island wildlife (heard nesting birds throughout the night). For the return, we were told that those of us with flights would be sent back viua helicopter at no extra cost since the boat was slwoer than the usual catamaran and people might miss their flights. My first chopper ride!

When I was twelve, my family spent a lovely August week on Sweden's Oland Island, a long skinny island in the Baltic Sea. It's almost completely flat, so great for biking and hiking. The Swedish Royal Family has their summer residence on the island, as well.

I'm celebrating my 35th birthday and would like to go somewhere tropical to celebrate. I'm looking at 4-5 days, ideally a direct flight from the DC area and warm enough that we can sit on the beach and have some drinks with umbrellas in them. I've been to Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean. Do you or the chatters have suggestions for where a group of mid-30 year olds can go that would fit that criteria? Thank you!

I'd start by figuring out where you can fly nonstop. If you want to stay in the United States, Miami, specifically South Beach, may fit the bill. Cancun may also be a good choice: Get there via nonstop flights from Dulles on United and BWI on Airtran.  

I just read an article about a new travel website, You put in your parameters, it gives you about 10 choices. You pick 2, and give it your booking information and credit card number. The site books your travel then tells you which one you got. The idea is to provide options for the traveler who really is open about where to travel but does not want to pay full price. It's in beta test now and is supposed to go live on November 1. Have you heard of it? What's your opinion?

Haven't heard of it. Honestly, I would not want to pay and then find out where I was going. I want total control over my vacation!

I'm not a sand and hot weather island type of person. My favorite island is Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park. Been there a few times over the past 20 years and I simply love it there. In fact, I seriously consider the idea of having my ashes scattered there when I die. I also love the island of Prince Edward Island in Canada. I had always wanted to go since reading "Anne of Green Gables" as a kid and as it happens my husband has some family living there. We drove there on a marathon 15 hour drive from Montreal-- which we did in a day. I fell asleep in the car as my husband drove so missed out on the drive over the bridge-- woke up on the foggy, quiet, peaceful island. The family had us in their guest cottage- lots of locals are involved in tourism to eke out a living there-- and some of my best mornings ever were spent in with a fleece over my pjs (love that their weather doesn't get blistering hot) looking out onto the water with my coffee. Bliss. Especially loved Prince Edward Island National Park and Cow's ice cream in Charlottetown. Next time I wil have to do the Anne sights.

You mean you went all that way and *didn't* do the Anne sights?

We were visiting a castle in Ireland (can't remember which one, even after looking at our itinerary) and took a boat ride out to an island in the middle of the nearby lake. There was an ancient monastery on the island, so we wandered around the worn stone walls. It was so beautiful and peaceful there; small yellow iris grew at the water's edge and the lake gleamed in the gentle sunlight. All you could hear was the lake water lapping at the shore and the birdsong.


I have a 12 hour layover at LAX returning from holiday vacation in Asia. We'll be arriving at 10:30am to LAX and departing at 10:05pm to take a red eye back to DC. We're thinking we should try to stay awake during this time to fight jet lag. Should we pay for an airport lounge pass or should we tour LA if we want to see a few sites? Also, do they have left luggage at LAX for us to store our carry-ons?

That seems like a reasonably long layover. Get out and see some sites, if you're not exhausted. The airport does not have luggage storage.

Was so excited to book a flight on the A380 on Air France for the spring, but just got notification that they have changed equipment and will now be flying 777s. If chatters are interested in taking it on the IAD-CDG route, looks like they only have until about mid-January to do so. Guess I just have to keep my fingers crossed that they change the schedule again since equipment change isn't sufficient to allow me to cancel or reschedule!

You're not missing much. I've been on the A380, and it's a pressurized aluminum tube, just like every other modern aircraft. In the 21st century, most people travel for the destination, not the journey -- at least when it comes to air travel. 

I've been told they're very bad there, but I live in DC and grew up in New York, so I know how to protect myself from petty crime, Aside from the usual precautions--wallet in front pants pocket under a long coat, spread cards and cash in different pockets, take as little as possible--is there anything else I should do or watch out for?

I've been to Paris twice in the last 3 years and had absolutely no problem with pickpockets or anything similar -- and I carry a big purse. I thought the women begging on the streets were more of a problem. But if you're worried about it, it sounds as though you've got all the right ideas. Just be cautious and alert, especially on crowded streets or in large gatherings. Women should keep their purses close at all times. My other thought is to keep your hands in your pockets -- if yours are there, a pickpocket won't try to put his/hers in!

Hi, thanks for the Caribbean special in Sunday's travel section. I am trying to figure out where to look for a comprehensive list of direct flights from the three Washington airports (National and Dulles strongly preferred over BWI) to the Caribbean. All my boyfriend and I really care about is that the location is far enough to the south that we will be able to swim and sun in mid-January, and we don't want to spend a day on each end of our trip in travel. Any suggested resources or locations?

You could try The airport sites also list nonstops -- here's Dulles and here's National. Here's my roundup on new nonstops from the area airports.

Someone asked about dining in Charelston, S.C. a few weeks ago. My fav place, Garibaldi Cafe on Market has been closed for relocation, but the Dining Group South has other restaurants, like Anson, right accross the street. Fabulous food!

Yes! Anson is my husband's name, so of course I had to  have my picture taken with the sign when Iwas there a couple of years ago.

The question about dealing directly with the hotel for a reservation brought my recent experience to mind. We recently booked a room on They guarantee that if you find the rate cheaper on another website, Hilton will honor the new rate with a greater discount. On the same Hilton hotel came up at a lower rate. I called the hotel and they matched the new rate. The next day I called the Hilton customer service area after seeing an ad that we are entitled to a $50 gift card. The Hilton customer service group would not give us the gift card because we had called the hotel directly about the rate so they say the offer is not available. Apparently would have charged the questioned hotel for the $50. Just wanted to make sure my fellow chatters get their gift card if appropriate.

Interesting. Thanks for the advice.

You answered the first part of my question about avoiding the scanners (it sounds like you should be saying "I opt out" pretty much when you walk into the airport), but what about the second part? How intrusive is the pat-down? I'm a middle-aged guy without any medical problems, but if I found myself subjected to some of the blatant assaults that have gotten media attention I would feel like punching somebody out (which I recognize would not be smart).

I've experienced several "enhanced" pat-downs, and they are fairly thorough. I was firmly touched on the legs, arms, and torso. The TSA agent during my last pat-down asked me not to look at the procedure, but I did anyway. The agent did not look like he was too happy to be conducting the procedure, and he seemed to go out of his way to not make contact with my genital area.

Do you have any advice for young adults that want to start travelling internationally? I'm in my early/mid 20s, so I was considering using a company like EF College Tours or Contiki. Do you have any advice or reviews about these companies or anything similar? Thanks!

Let's ask the chatters! Anybody used these companies?

Just go. Yes, it will be different, but having a toddler along forces you to slow down and appreciate things you might not otherwise do, such as a nice park or nice cafe with a table outside somewhere. You'll have to save the museums for another time, or have one parent go while the other is on kid duty, but hey, you can all go on the next trip.

I really enjoyed your articles on Statia and on lionfish removal. This summer we spent some time on Statia's neighbor, Saba, and had a beautiful view of Statia, St Kitts, and Nevis from our cottage (Flamboyant Cottage). We were there primarily to dive, and I got instruction on lionfish removal from the Saba Conservation Foundation. The local dive operators were happy to have another diver in the water who would help with the lionfish population, and I got a vacation experience that I won't soon forget!

Yes, it certainly sounds like quite the experience!

What are the best times of the year to catch cheaper airfares? "non-peak" travel times? I can never seem to find great airfares anymore.

Fares are typically lower when demand tapers off, which happens just after Jan. 1. But there's no guarantee that prices will fall, so I would just follow the tried-and-true advice: Book at least two weeks in advance and if you see a fare you can afford, buy it and don't look back. Your time is too valuable to play low-fare roulette.

bought the plane tix for March, now need a hotel. Under $50/night and prefer something with character....often rent private rooms at youth hostels although we're nearing 50 and not into partying. Just don't like boring hotels. Suggestions?

For $50 or less, not sure about finding something with character. Take a look at Knights Inn. Most of the area's bed-and-breakfast inns that have good reviews are more expensive. 

I spent my 50th birthday on Mykonos, as a solo traveler. In the morning, I met 2 30-ish ladies at a beach cafe, and upon hearing it was my birthday, they threw me an impromptu birthday luncheon, complete with champagne, baklava with ice cream, and a dirty-dancing waiter. In the evening, I went to a piano bar, started talking to a man next to me, and wound up being serenaded with "Happy Birthday" by about 40 gay men. I was the only woman in the place. It was definitely a memorable birthday for me!

Yes, that would be memorable!

While on our honeymoon in French Polynesia, my husband and I hit up the concierge at our hotel on Tahiti for a dinner recommendation. She quickly recommended Le Belvedere, which is high up the hillside overlooking the beautiful Tahitian waters, where we can watch the sun set over Moorea, the sister island. This sounds lovely, and we eagerly signed up. She told us the van would pick us up at 4:30. We whiled away our afternoon, enjoying the water and tropical flowers, and then got ready for dinner. The van arrived, we climbed in, and bumbled off. After several more stops to pick up others, it was 5:30 and the sun was waning. As we headed into the canopy and the hills, we saw the last rays of sunshine. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, it was dark, with the only lights in view those from the cargo ships in the major harbor in Papeete. With no view, we looked forward to dinner...but alas, that night anyway, it was not good. I drank my wine and giggled about our dinner with the lovely view! By the time we headed home, it was pitch black, I was tipsy from a glass or two of wine on an empty stomach, and the van hurtled down the narrow road with no guard rail in the dark like it was driving on a straight road in broad daylight! We arrived back at the hotel, and I eagerly ate all the pretzels in our minibar. The next day, a bartender asked us how our evening had been, and when we recounted this tale, with much laughter, he smiled and made us a reservation somewhere else, that was very lovely, and said he was sorry we'd gone there, but was glad we hadn't let it ruin our trip. How could it - we were in paradise, and what's a vacation without a funny story about something going awry? I will say this, though - dinner that evening was wonderful, and we did see the sun set over Moorea.

Love your attitude!

My cousin's wedding was in Rincon, Puerto Rico so it ended up being like a big family vacation, which that in itself was funny. Imagine 2 vans full of hungry people looking for a place to eat and every time we attempt to go somewhere it takes 2 hours. The GPS keeps telling us we're in Miami, the radio stations automatically flip from English to Spanish stations, we saw clowns waiting at the bus stop, drove through a political rally, and upon stopping for gas, the station was closed! We persevered, found food, and believe it or not, tried again a day or so later!


A friend lives in Australia, I am in the midwest -- looking for a good place to meet in the middle for 10 days in February. What do you suggest?


We had two marveloous daytrips last year from rome--one was Pompeii, using Context travel, a bit pricey but totally worth it to have a PhD historian take us to all the best places in ancient Pompeii--and helped us navigate the local trains! The other was the day we went on our own via train to Ostia--the Roman port quite near Rome, and a wonderful day to walk around looking at the ancient shop stalls and baths.

Here you go, Rome traveler! Good to know Pompeii is possible. That was one place that came to my mind.

My husband and I flew back from Charlotte to BWI yesterday morning on Air Tran. We sat on the runway for 45 minutes, almost as long as the entire 1 hour and 2 minute flight! What upset me was the absolute lack of communication from the pilot or flight crew. Updates along the way, such as "We're fifth in line for take off and it should be about 20 minutes more" would have made the delay a lot better. Why don't flight crews do more to inform the passengers about what's going on? This isn't the first time this has happened.

Maybe it depends on the airline, or the individual flight crews? I've sat through many delays and have gotten reasonable updates about why they were happening and when they might end. Do other chatters have opinions about which carriers do better in communicating with captive customers?

Leaving for India on Friday!! Plan to be there two week, spending 4 days in Delhi to start, and then Taj Mahal. But no other concrete plans -- any recommendations, in Delhi or a train ride away?

Here's a story we did on Hidden Delhi -- unusual historic places -- and a more recent one on Hampi, India. If you have two weeks, you may be able to get there. Chatters, what do you recommend?

Are there any low-cost carriers which operate from FRA (Frankfurt's main airport)? Thanks!

Yes, Frankfurt Airport is served by Air Berlin, Condor and Brussels Airlines. Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is a hub for Ryanair, but it's 80 miles from Frankfurt. A good Web resource for discount carriers in Europe is

Thinking about heading to Philly with a 12 and 9 year old over the 2 days Montgomery County has off for Election Day. Is there anything you would recommend doing with the kids that won't ultimately bore them? My mother mentioned the Andrew Wyeth (or Wyatt?) museum. Thinking of perhaps visiting Valley Forge, but remember that's quite a ways outside the city proper from a trip with the (now) 12 year old we took with his class a few years back (traffic slowed down our trip somewhat). Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

There are tons of kid-friendly activities in Philadelphia. Here are some ideas. Off the top of my head, I think the zoo, Franklin Institute, Please Touch Museum and all the Independence Hall area stuff would be good. You could also take a tour of the Phillies stadium.

Hello! I enjoyed your recent feature on Hoi, An Vietnam. Not sure if you'll know the answer to this but if not perhaps another chatter will. We're planning a trip for later this fall and the weather info has been confusing, particularly for the central part of the country. We'd like to stop for a few days in Hoi An and Hue, but it will be early December, which is still the rainy season there. Our question is, just how bad is it REALLY? We're ok with some rain, but not flooding!

Anyone? Maybe someone at the embassy could help.

Istanbul over New Year's with a preschooler - bad idea? He's a city kid and a pretty decent traveler.

Take him! (See our response to a similar question above).

I am in desperate need of a long break and think I'd like to spend a month in AZ or NM, probably in January (if it'll be warm enough there). I live in DC and have been out there a couple of times and find the landscape spiritually inspiring and fulfilling. I don't want to do much travel - I'd prefer to mostly stay put and soak in where I am. My past travels have generally been 10 days and whirlwind. So I'm sort of at a loss as to how to plan such a long, more relaxed trip. Do any organizations offer month long travel programs? Or are there particular hotels or resorts I should consider? Any thoughts are appreciated. Budget is maybe $5-$7K. Thanks!!

I'd look into renting a house or condo. Take a look at sites such as VRBO or Homeaway. And, of course, make sure you talk with the owner, and don't wire any payments. 

Maybe they could take a ferry.

Asking this question will make them ask you what time your flight is, and then hassle you until the flight is gone. That is why none of us are brave enough to ask this question. Welcome to East Germany.

Thank you.

Why not Mexico? Go to Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Morelia or Patzcuaro to see colonial history and enjoy great food. I also like Ixtapan de la Sal for natural hot springs - there are spa resort hotels there in all price ranges.

Over the course of 4 days in Seattle you will likely have 2 days rainy and 2 days where you have a slight chance of a light shower but portly overcast to partly cloudy. The Friday after thxgvg Seattle does a downtown tree lighting that is crowded. Temps will be in the 40s. Another option in Portland (no sales taxes). Vancouver is another option. The wether will be about the same in all 3 cities.

I did Contiki in Europe when I was in college and loved it-- it isn't the best deal and it can get frat partyish, but my tour included people from all over the world and I saw more places than I would have alone. You have some structured time, but a lot of time on your own to explore. It is great for a first solo trip, but I wouldn't recommend it for a seasoned traveler.


My family took a month-long trip to Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti when I was 19. It was such a great trip, and Bora Bora (in Tahiti) was the highlight. I made friends with a young woman named Gabriella who worked in the hotel's gift shop, and she showed me around for most of our four days there. We took a small boat to a motu (sandbar) and had a picnic with her young cousins. On the way back, the boat's motor stopped, and we rowed. It was a long time ago, but I think I remember that her uncle finally rowed out to us and fixed the motor. She drove me around on her moped (everyone had them), and when I asked her if it was tiny sand particles that were hitting my face, she said no, those were bugs! We had a difficult time with spoken communication because she spoke Tahitian, French, a little English, and a tiny bit of Spanish. I speak English, and back then I was almost fluent in Spanish. That's how we met - for some reason, I tried to talk with her in Spanish in the gift shop, and she replied in Spanish. She told me that everyone speaks Tahitian and French, but that the schools had recently begun requiring one more language, and her choice was Spanish. She brought me to her house, and I met her mother and siblings. She told me that she had two children, but that since her uncle and aunt couldn't have children, she gave them her son to raise. She said there's no such thing as unwanted children in Bora Bora. The living room had very little furniture, but there was a giant TV with a VCR and a big display cabinet for her mother's collection of seashells. She showed me a tape of a recent local wedding. She and her family were so welcoming. It was a wonderful experience!

And that's it for today! Thanks so much everyone for your questions and comments and stories. So many stories! So many good ones! Really hard to choose, but I just have to go with the traveler whose husband lost -- and miraculously found -- his wedding ring in the water! Send your info to me at, and I'll send you your much-deserved prize.

Thanks again and see you next week, everyone!

In This Chat
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.
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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