Talk about Travel

Oct 24, 2011

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service. This week we explore different kinds of fall colors, eat our way around Boston and spend the night at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.

Hello, Travelers! Welcome to today's chat. We've got fall on the brain, naturally, thanks to Andrea's great piece on seeing the subtler colors of the season by getting your head out of the trees and looking DOWN for a change.

So that leads us to today's question: Tell us about your most colorful fall trip (use "colorful" in whatever way you want!), where and when and what made it special. The winner gets a prize!

Time to chat, but first you should realize that our regular guests Carol Sottili and Chris Elliott are unable to OFFICIALLY join us because of ongoing tech problems with the chat software, but we're emailing them questions to get their take, so you'll see lots of "Chris says:" and "Carol says:" introductions to their answers. But it'll be worth it!

My husband needs to travel to Australia in the very near future and his passport has expired. What is the best and quickest way to get it done?

If he has two weeks to spare, he can file by mail, paying extra for expedited service. If not, he should make an appointment to go to the State Department passport division ASAP. (Or he can pay a passport service to do it for him within 24 hours.)

For details on all this, check out this explanatory piece from a couple years back.

I'm in desperate need of at least a short break, and am eyeing the week/weekend of Veteran's Day. Any suggestions for a quiet, peaceful break, not too far away since flying is NOT peaceful? Single person, mobility impaired so not looking for outdoor activities. Maybe a spa somewhere?

I've heard good things about the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, which has a spa. The Inn at Perry Cabin also looks like a promising option.

Anyone else have a spa suggestion?

I know it sounded paranoid, yet I do find it interesting that after I posted how I always seem to get unfavorable seat changes whenever I fly through Philadelphia on US Air, a few days later some Philadelphia US Air personnel were arrested for giving friends favorable treatment. Even if my problems were conincidental, it does seem like US Air has a problem, and I hope it is now fixed, and I appreciate those who are resolving the problems.

Chris Elliott says:

Airline employees have the power to make your flight great -- or miserable -- and I don't see that changing any time soon. While I'm not familiar with the incident in Philadelphia, I should add that they are trained (or should be trained) to treat all passenger fairly and with respect. Do they sometimes fall short? Absolutely. I have enough stories about abusive airline employees to fill a book. But I have to believe there are more good employees than bad ones out there.

Hi Flight Crew, I've been reading these chats for a long time (they're great - thanks!), but this is my first time submitting a question. I just found out my favorite band is breaking up, so I'm planning to travel to the UK for their farewell concert tour in May. According to Kayak and Vayama, flights to London are close to $1000 - is that normal for May? I've traveled in March before and seem to recall that I could find deals for less than $500. Thanks!

Carol Sottili says:

$1,000 is much more likely than $500 for May travel, but you may be able to find a fare between the two. Keep checking not only third-party booking sites, but the airline sites. British Airways, for example, allows individuals to register on their site, which qualifies users for special deals and also ensures they receive emails about sales. Other airlines to check include United and Virgin Atlantic. If you're willing to connect, you may get a better deal on Iceland Air, which flies out of Dulles, or Aer Lingus, which has good fares from JFK.

I have tried desparately to sign up for AA's frequent flyer pgm. The letters in the little box at the end were so contorted and fuzzy - I see the point, they want to discourage spammers, etc, but they also discourage normal people! ACK

Funny. Have you -- hang onto your hat here -- tried to call?

I've been reading so many conflicting stories on the floods in Bangkok, what are the chances that the capital is inundated with water and the airport shut down? Also, we're flying from IAD to Narita before connecting to the final leg to Bangkok on United... In situations like this do airlines typically cancel the entire length of the flight or in the event that BKK is flooded, any chance we could fly into Narita and enjoy a few nights in Tokyo until things clear up?

Chris Elliott says:

The Bangkok floods are said to be the worst in half a century, and just a few hours ago, the floodwaters reportedly reached Don Muang Airport. But unless your flight is actually canceled, or your airline loosens its refund policies (which sometimes happens during a natural disaster) you don't have a lot of options. You could call your airline and ask it to bend its rules for you, but I don't want to get your hopes up. You're probably stuck with your flight.

What can you tell me about about this destination

I have not been in ages, but I was somewhat disappointed. The beach was beautiful, but the area is really built up and overrun with Westerns (like me, and many Germans). It reminded me of a Thai Fort Lauderdale. If were to go again, I would hit some of the less-popular beaches areas, such as the ones on the  Samet and Chang islands. However, if do opt for Phuket, try to sneak off to some of the little islands off the coast.

Just got back from a wonderful weekend in New Orleans and wanted to say thanks for all the great advice I got here! Hotel Monteleone was fantastic and in a perfect location. Pretty sure that I'm going through beignet withdrawal...

Good to hear that you had fun in NOLA!

I've always wondered what happens if you are on vacation and lose your wallet and need to fly back home. Can you get through a TSA checkpoint without ID? I've thought about bringing my passport with me as a backup just in case, but I really don't like to leave the house with it if I don't have to. Thaks!

Chris Elliott says:

Yes, you can. You'll have to undergo a secondary screening, but it shouldn't stop you from flying. Here's more on secondary screenings.

Veteran's Day weekend is our last possible time to squeeze in a quick getaway baby moon before our little one arrives a few weeks later. Since we're so close to our due date, we wanted to keep it to less than an hour away driving from DC. We were thinking possibly Baltimore, but are not sure about hotels in the area and things to do. Do you or your readers have any suggestions? Thanks so much!!

In Baltimore, you could look into staying at the downtown Fairfield Inn and Suites. Really! Andrea stayed there last year. It's pretty new and has a ton of cool green features. There's also a Hotel Monaco, which is usually a safe bet.

As far as stuff to do, the Baltimore Museum of Art is free. You might also look into the American Visionary Art Museum. And, of course, there's the National Aquarium and the Lexington Market. Just to name a few things.

Chatters, other favorite Baltimore experiences?

Just to throw out one more suggestion -- and it's only a few minutes' longer drive than Charm City -- maybe you'd like a relaxing country stay. Think about the Ashby Inn. It was just in Tom Sietsema's annual dining guide, although I was lucky to have brunch there the day it came out. Just based on how their service was at the restaurant, I'm pretty sure they'd pamper you.

We just sent our passports in to to renew and allow a lot of time for travel after the holidays. We got the new passports, not expedited in under two weeks. Must be a good time to renew.

Good to know! I need to renew mine, so this helps light a fire. Thanks.

I am planning to rent a car abroad and the cheapest companies for my destination are U-Save, Payless Car Rental, and Economy Rent a Car. I have never used any of these companies before and was wondering if anyone had any experience with them? Would love to save a few bucks but also don't want to hassle with extra fees and unknown difficulties dealing with a bad company.

Carol Sottili says:

U-Save is a car-rental franchiser, so each is independently owned and operated. As with most franchises, some will be better than others. I believe Payless has both franchises and corporate locations -- it's a large organization that's been around for 40 years. And Economy is a broker -- it doesn't run it's own car rental operation. I'd also look at some companies that are headquartered overseas, such as Kemwel.

I am planning to fly from D.C. to Hawaii with a layover in L.A. On the return flight, there is also a layover in L.A. and I plan to leave the flight then (which I know I'm not supposed to do, but....) and then take a shuttle flight to San Diego. I want to take a shuttle on the same airline as the D.C-LA-Honolulu airline, but I wonder if they will allow me to book a flight to San Diego when I am supposed to be on a flight from LA to D.C. Do the airlines' computers track this? Could they cancel the flight from LA to San Diego? Thanks for any insight you may have on this kind of routing.

Chris Elliott says:

Airlines carefully track this kind of activity, and if you're a "no show" for one segment of your flight, they'll cancel the rest of your itinerary and won't offer a refund. They do this mostly to protect their revenues -- if you get off the flight early, and the airline could have charged you more for that shorter flight (don't laugh, it's not uncommon) then the airline lost money. I've even heard of airlines trying to charge passengers a fare difference when they're caught doing this.

How do you avoid it? If you have to get off the flight, make sure it's the last segment of your last flight. Don't check any luggage and make sure you haven't given the airline your frequent flier number. That's how they track you. If someone asks you about a flight segment that you didn't show up for, tell them you missed the flight. (That would be true, of course.)

We're going to Reykjavik the 2nd week of December and are looking for recommendations for great places to have Icelandic cuisine and also for information on any holiday activities in addition to the city's Christmas Market. Thanks!

I know we've had some Iceland fans on the chat in the last few months. Are any of you out there with restaurant recommendations?

But here's some info on Christmas in Reykjavik.

My boyfriend and I are living in England at the moment. We'll be home for the holidays and are flying back to London from BWI in January. The challenging part is that we're attending a wedding in Minneapolis in June. We're struggling to figure out whether it's cheaper to buy a round-trip multi-city flight originating in the States (BWI - LON - MSP) plus a one-way ticket back to London after the wedding, or a one-way flight to London from BWI in January plus a roundtrip ticket from London to Minneapolis and back just for the wedding. My understanding is that round-trip flights from the US are generally cheaper than those from Europe, but any advice would be much appreciated!

Carol Sottili says:

One-way flights frequently cost almost as much as a round-trip ticket. I am a little confused, as you don't mention getting here from London for the holidays. Are you living in England, but you are here now? If that's the case, it makes the most sense to buy a one-way ticket back to London and then a round-trip ticket for the June trip. You'll save a lot of money on the one-way ticket by flying out of New York instead of BWI. Aer Lingus, for example, has a one-way fare of $481 plus taxes, compared to the $1,315 fare on British Airways out of BWI.

if your wallet was stolen, you should probably have a police report. When my passport was stolen in France (20+ years ago), we got a police report. we were told we'd be able to travel around france and get home with it, but that we couldn't leave the country. Needless to say, we went to get our passports at the embassy, but if you have a police report (assuming it was stolen), you should be okay...

This is a good time to remind people to scan in their important documents: passport, plane reservations, etc., and attach it to an email that they can retrieve from any computer.

Hey Guys! I have an opportunity to go to Frankfurt Germany the middle of November. I will be there a week for work and plan on book-ending the week with a day to myself. I want to take a day trip excursion to the Rhine River Valley wineries, but won't have a car. Where is the best place to look for transportation or a guided tour? I looked a little online but haven't found anything. Also, would be interested in any beer houses or the like as well if anyone has any recommendations. Thanks!

You could take the train along the left bank of the Rhine and do your own tour, if you're up to that. But if you only have a day, an organized tour or cruise would probably be the way to go. Unfortunately, November gets tricky. Most of the popular cruise lines -- Koln-Dusseldorfer (KD) and Rossler Linie -- cut way back on cruises after October. Chatters, suggestions? As to beer halls, there's a great one in Cologne (Koln), right near the cathederal, called Fruh, where they brew the city's signature beer, Kolsch (or Koelsch if you're into indicating the umlaut). Not sure about Frankfurt. Chatters, what do you know?

Crew I am heading over to Iceland for a weekend trip. While I plan to go to the Blue Lagoon, I want to experience the famed nightlife. Any recommendations where a 40 year old single guy can hang out? thanks1

More Iceland! This article from a few years ago talked a little about the nightlife. (Be sure you look at the details box.)

I have actually been following this very closely. Partly because I am headed over to SE Asia in a couple of weeks and also because I have friends in Thailand. While areas north of Bangkok in the industrial center have been inundated (Ayutthaya, Lor Buri, Saraburi, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, etc) Bangkok itself has not been flooded. Some of the northern suburbs have flooded pretty badly. And as you note areas near Don Muang Airport have seen some flooding. However, central Bangkok and the places tourists hang out are dry at least for now. Suvarnabhumi (while built on swampland...sounds familiar) is surrounded by a pretty high flood prevention berm which has been added to in recent weeks. So, the airport is likely to stay safe and dry. There have been reports of fairly widespread shortages of things like bottled water and some food items. I guess some of the water bottling plants were in the flooded zone and transport links north of the city have been cut off. But word also is that the situation is starting to get better at least in the places that have been underwater for the last few weeks. The Prime Minister put out a statement telling people to be prepared for 4-6 more weeks of flood danger. But the high tide situation is over now so drainage should be able to continue. The situation is far from normal, but depending on exactly where you are going and what you plan to do you may be able to have a perfectly fine time. I hear the airport has been deserted, so getting in and out should be fairly quick.

Awesome. Thanks for the report.

My husband and I have always considered Seattle to be a place we would consider moving, even though we have never been before! Work is taking me there in a few weeks, and we have one weekend to ourselves. We would love to experience Seattle as a local for the weekend. As in, if we lived here, what would we do on the weekend. Do you have any suggestions for us? Thanks so much!

Deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick, who recently visited Seattle and raved about it, says:

You. Must. Take. Rain gear. Seattle's got distinct neighborhoods -- it'd be great if you could find one of those house-swapping enterprises that would allow you to live in a neighborhood instead of a hotel. Renting a car is key. Take the Theo chocolate tour, eat dim sum in Chinatown, go over to Alki Beach doughnuts at Top Pot. 

Good morning! My husband and I are looking to take a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We only have a week (we'd be going next June) and therefore, we have heard that we should pick one island and focus our time there. We love swimming, hiking, and relaxing and would prefer not to stay in huge resorts. Any thoughts on the best island for us? Many thanks.

You can have that lovely experience on any of the islands, especially if you stay outside the resort towns. But to really get away from it all, I would choose Lanai or Molokai. These smaller islands are crammed with activities, including hiking and kayaking, but are  lightly visited by tourists. For a more intimate experience, stay in a guesthouse or rent a villa or an apartment.  I also love the North Shore of Oahu (you must get a shaved ice from Matsumoto) ; it's a world away from hubbub of Honolulu, despite its close proxmity. As a compromise, you could spend two days on the North Shore, then fly over to a smaller island for the reminder of your trip.

We are planning a tip to Italy in the spring. We would like to find a flight with a layover somewhere. What cities in Europe would be conducive to a quick visit, say 8 to 12 hours? We have already done Paris and Amsterdam.

Zurich would be a good one, I think. Lots to do and see. But I'm not sure about connections to Italy (not sure where exactly you're going?). You'd have to look into that. Chatters, other suggestions?

What is the best way to pick a travel agent that specializes in China travel? My family is trying to plan a trip to go to China to visit my daughter's orphanage. It will be a heritage trip, but we are finding it a bit hard to pick a good travel agent.

Are there any other families you know who have also adopted from there? Ask around and see if you can find some recommendations. I always think that's the safest bet.

Barring that, you can try Conde Nast Traveler's Travel Agent Finder.

I'm leaving to go to Rome in an hour!!!! Curious about the best strategy for my passport while I'm there. Leave it in the room or take it with me wherever I go?

I always carry my passport with me, just in case and because I feel safer having it on my person or in my purse than leaving it in a hotel room, unless of course there's a safe. Folks, what do you all do?

This is off topic, but I am going to Ecuador in a few weeks and had hoped to book some day trips from Quito. Trips with the most well-known company are extremely expensive, more than triple the prices of other companies. I contacted one of the others, which was recommended in at two guidebooks, but when I was ready to confirm reservations, I was directed to send full payment in advance via wire or Pay Pal. I know that many vendors don't accept credit cards because it can be expensive. However, it seems highly risky to pay in full in advance, knowing that there would be no credit card company or other dispute mechanism if the company didn't provide the trip as planned. After all, if I were to give them the full amount up front, what incentive would they have to provide the trip? I realize that in many cultures, one simply operates on honor and trust. Is this customary for Ecuador? I have contacted the hotels where I'll be staying to ask for referrals, but would appreciate your thoughts on the above payment terms, also any recommendations of reliable alternatives.

Chris Elliott says:

Don't do it. While PayPal offers some protections against a fraudulent purchase, I've worked with enough travelers who have seen their money disappear down a black hole on PayPal to know that you're probably better off using a credit card. You're much better off working through a legitimate travel agent here in the States and paying with plastic. You can find a list of reputable agents here.

Hi, I am trying to figure out the best way to handle inter-city travel in Europe in a few months. Is it best to book the rail trips here, before I go, or will I find better prices once I get over there? Also, if my plans change or I miss a train, is it easy to just get on the next one (like Amtrak) or is it more like a plane? I assume that what appear to be major sites (Rail Europe, Thalys, EuroRailways) all are reliable engines - but please warn me if that is incorrect. Thanks!

Carol Sottili says:

It's typically cheaper to buy tickets once you are there. But it may not be as convenient. You may have to deal with language difficulties and some train stations only take credit cards that have an imbedded microchip. When you buy a rail ticket here, it's probably best to go through a broker, such those you mentioned. Also, a seat reservation typically costs additional money. An open ticket just gets you on a train. And Amtrak, like many European systems, does not allow you to just take any train. Look into rail passes if you are unsure of your exact travel plans.

Twenty years ago when I had a GF, her family invited me to go with them on a short trip to see fall foliage in Loudoun County. Well, not only did we see a lot of reds, oranges and golds, we also ended up in Leesburg, a town I had never visited. While walking in town, we also had lunch at one of Leesburg's restaurants, but I forgot its name. However, I'll never forget that trip was one of the better sojourns I've taken with a GF's family.Other trips I've taken to see fall foliage were on my way to and from Emmitsburg, Maryland for training. Just to see all those colors plus the haystacks or bales in the fields made the trips less boring.

I was home from the Navy, and I wanted to impress a woman I wanted to date. What better than a ride amongst the autumn leaves? We hopped in my convertible MGB (I left the hard top home) and spent the sunny fall afternoon driving the scenic River Road along the Delaware River from New Hope to Allentown. It was a perfectly enjoyable toasty fall trip. Then, the sun went down. Of course the sun went down when I was farthest away from my home, and of course, the gimpy little MGB heater was no match for the crisp autumn air, un-supplemented by the heat of the sun. By the time we got home 45 minutes later, the only color I saw was blue (lips and fingers) and she was seeing red. She married someone else.


Please note that e-mail is NOT secure. If you attach copies of your ID info and your e-mail account is hacked you've given all your info to that person in Nigeria. Yes scan your documents but save to a thumb drive. You can also make photocopies and secure in an inner pocket of a main suitcase.

Yes, excellent point.

20 years ago, when I traveled there a lot, I would book rains through the local American Express office. They always spoke English and could explain how everything works in the different countries. I think they still offer their travel might be worth looking into.

Hi -- My husband and I are interested in taking my parents to Austin for the music festival next year. Any tips on timing for booking travel, hotel, etc? I'm assuming earlier is generally better, but so far the website is still about the 2011 festival. We are thinking of going for a full week, so suggestions of other things to do in the area are most welcome! We like good restaurants and museums, as well as moderately active outdoor activities (biking, hiking -- Mom and Dad are in their mid-70s). We will be traveling from the metro area, while my parents will be coming in from the upper Midwest. Thanks!

Yes, book as soon as you can. You know the dates, so why wait?

If I were you, I'd book rooms at the Hotel San Jose and rent bikes to get back and forth from Zilker Park, a mere 15-minute ride that would be hellish if you were trying to drive/park/etc.

As for other things, Austin is rife with possibilities. Check out this chronicle of weirdness that I wrote several months back. For restaurants, make sure to hit Uchi and/or sister restaurant Uchiko, barbecue palace Franklin's, Mexican beauty La Condesa, and food trucks G'Raj Mahal (love that name), Izzo's Tacos and El Naranjo, among others.

Austin has some fine museums. I loved the Arthouse at the Jones Center downtown for contemporary stuff the last time I was there, and am a longtime fan of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and of Laguna Gloria, now a branch of the AMOA. The LBJ Library is pretty cool, too.

It might be a tad cool to swim in Barton Springs, but you gotta see it, and you'll be VERY close while at the festival. And, of course, there are the bats under the Congress Ave. bridge.

We're looking to go to Las Vegas for spring break (March 31 to April 7). Tickets on Southwest are the cheapest we can find at about $450 a piece. Is that high? I feel like you've answered this question a lot of times but is there a website we can look at to see whether or not that is average/high/low for that time of the year?

That does seem a bit high, but I guess you never know with spring break fares. Try playing around with this graph on FareCompare -- it has the kind of historical data I think you're looking for. (They also have a page specifically about Vegas airfare.)

My father-in-law used to work for this company (recently acquired by Google), and the software is great for seeing the real price on airfare: You can do multi-city searches too. You can't purchase your ticket from the site, but at least the price that shows up includes all taxes and fees, unlike most other sites.

My husband and I just went to HI for a week in February, for an anniversary, as well. While we had originally planned on going to Kauai, we ended up doing Maui for airfare/frequent flyer reasons. Similarly, we didn't want to stay in a large resort. We rented an apartment through VRBO on the South Shore for the first, slightly longer, half, then drove to Hana and stayed in a guest house. It was perfect for us and gave us access to hiking, swimming, snorkeling, etc, without being in a big resort (or even really being near a big resort). We did go get massages at a big resort, though.

Work trip is leaving me with about two days free in Paris next month, miday Friday through Sunday morning. Never been before, staying near the city center. What are the do not miss highlights (beside the Eiffel Tower)? Will be with co-workers, so general interest is good.

My goodness, where to start? I would not miss Notre Dame Cathedral, a quick trip to the Louvre and the Tuileries gardens, the Marais quarter and the Place des Vosges, the Musee d'Orsay if you like Impressionism, the Rodin Museum, and the Latin Quarter. And that's already much too much for just two days! Personally, beyond a quick stroll through the grounds and beneath its arches, I wouldn't bother much with the Eiffel Tower, certainly wouldn't wait in any long lines to take the elevator to the top. But that's just me. Chatters, your thoughts?

This is going to sound absolutely absurd, but when I travel I carry my passport with me in a ziplock bag. If it were in my wallet or floating around in my purse I would feel the need to constantly check for it, but when it is in a ziplock bag, I easily check that the bag is still there!

Good thinking! I like that idea. Also protects the passport from any untoward accidents, like spilled coffee or wine. :-)

The discussion about taking knitting needles and crochet hooks on a plane in carryon luggage (and knitting/crocheting on the plane) reminded me of a question I had. I've heard that while they are allowed on US airlines/in US airports, they are not allowed at Heathrow, to the extent that if you're flying on British Airways or Virgin and happen to get them through security, the flight attendants will take them away if you're caught knitting on the plane. So, is this true? If so, is this just Heathrow and British airlines specifically? All foreign airlines and airports? I know this sounds like a trivial concern, but I'm both a seriously nervous flyer and an obsessed knitter and always knit when I fly to both have something to do and to calm me down. Yes, I know I could just read, but knitting is better. Also, related to last week: I always fly with wood (bamboo) needles, and have never had a problem getting them through security. When I knit on the plane seatmates and flight attendants have pretty much always just ignored it and any comments have been positive.

Chris Elliott says:

Knitting needles are allowed on a plane, according to the British government.

If you don't mind, let me say a word or two about weapons on aircraft. Our friends at the TSA have been placing an emphasis on the number of weapons they've confiscated at checkpoints lately.

I think they're looking for the wrong thing. Remember, the 9/11 terrorists brought down the plane with items that were permitted on the plane, such as box cutters. In the wrong hands, a knitting needle could be used to hijack a plane. Shouldn't we be spending our time looking for terrorists instead of weapons?

In response to the question about train travel in Europe: If you miss your train (because of a missed connection), go to the ticket office and they'll stamp your ticket so it is valid for the next train. It happened to be in Brussels, I had a legal connection lasting a whole 12 minutes and my train from Paris was 14 minutes late. On the other hand, many tickets don't allow changes, on the same trip I arrived in Paris from Madrid early and the staff at the Gare du Nord wouldn't let me change to get the train to Brussels an hour earlier, in which case I would have made my connection, because the ticket said it was non refundable/non exchangable. Also, depending on what trains you want to take and the schedules involved, a pass can be more expensive and also more cumbersome than Rail Europe makes it out to be. I highly recommend reading this beginner's guide to Railpass and Eurailpass (and the entire website is a great resource for traveling by train in Europe) to determine what to do on that front.

Thanks for all that!

For the person train traveling in Europe. Just got back from Belgium and France and used the Thayls system to travel from Bruges to Paris and back to Brussels. I believe tickets go on sale 90 days in advance and are significantly cheaper the farther out you buy them. Our tickets purchased on the Thayls site in July were 25 and 35 euros. If we had waited until closer to the day of the trip they would have been 75 to 99 euros for each ticket. These prices were for 2nd Class tickets. By the way the Thayls system is great. On time trains with assigned seats that are pretty comfortable. Also Rail Europe prices are usually higher than the site for the actual train systems as they are a consolidator for many systems.

In the past, if you presented yourself at a passport office with an airline ticket for that day, they would give you a passport on the spot. (Several people in my family had to do this after passports were stolen.) I don't know if this is still the practice after 9/11, but if you need a passport on short notice and live near a passport office, it is worth looking into.

Chris Elliott says:

You can still get an expedited passport, according to the State Department website, and if you have a "life or death emergency" (their words) you can contact the passport office for help.

I haven't personally dealt with a case in which someone received a passport on the same day.

Hi - we are finally venturing beyond the beach house with our two oldest children to go to NYC for a few days and I need help! It's been a long time since I did any serious travel planning and feel out of the loop. I'm looking for good hotel recommendations in the city as well as the best way to book the hotel. We are looking to spend between $200 - 300 per night. Thanks!

I'm a fan of for finding cheaper hotel rooms. I appreciate that they have lots of traveler photos, and their reviews are professional. As for a particular hotel recommendation, I enjoyed a recent stay at Chelsea Lodge. Fantastic location, and the "suites" are sizable, with a futon couch perfect for the kids -- depending on how old they are. (How old are they?)

When I was flying back from Paris on United about 18 months ago a pair of wooden drumsticks were confiscated from someone's carry-on - and these are much duller than a knitting needle. Also, in May of this year the security confiscated 3 different metal nail files I had in my purse and carry-on. Two of these were attached to the nail clipper and I had to break them off. My Mom had gone through ahead of me and her nail file was not confiscated. It seems that regardless of the rules it depends on who is looking at your bag and how well they look. Even if they are allowed under the rules, do you really want to stand there and argue with the security team?

Like Zofia, I will leave mine only in a safe, not unsecured in a hotel room, but if I do that I carry a photocopy with me. Some merchants will want to see it before accepting your credit card or changing money.

Right you are, thanks!

Interesting that they're allowed now. When I last went through Heathrow in spring 2010, they weren't. Good to know!

Knit away!

I'm from upstate New York and I'm always amazed at the ink that other areas, particularly New England, get during the fall, but little attention is paid to New York , which is a) beautiful; b) easy to get to; c) less crowded than other areas. The Catskills and the Finger Lakes are the best bets. The Adirondacks are lovely, but it sometimes snows very early there, which is probably more than most leaf peepers are bargaining for!

Just back from 3 days in Paris. I would suggest St. Chappell for the beautiful stained glass. If you want a mini impressionist musuem with the beautiful Monet water lilies paintings try the l'Orangerie Museum. We walked under the Eiffel Tower while it was blinking on the hour after dark. If it is not too touristy try one of the boat cruises on the Seine. I second the suggestion for the Rodin Museum. I loved the gardens at the Museum and had lunch at the restaurant in the gardens. My travel companion really enjoyed the military museum at Les Invalides.

While the knitting needles may technically be allowed through security, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Heathrow security officers will allow you to take them through. I came VERY close to having a bookmark confiscated by security two years ago when I went through. It was a silver bookmark, about 4 inches long and 1/2" wide with, importantly, a rounded end. They had me put my bags through multiple times in order to find it (as they'd seen it on the scanner), then had to examine it closely, then warned me not to travel with it again, as they were just being nice about not confiscating it. Needless to say, I no longer use that bookmark when traveling.

The only part of my 1997 trip to Seattle that I really, really remember was the narrated tour of Elliot Bay. It was the first time I had ever been on water on the west coast, and I absolutely adored it.

Last year I went through security at Dulles with a cast iron frying pan in my carry on. The TSA agent commented "you could probably use that thing as a weapon" then told me and my frying pan to have a nice flight.

Funny. It was like he was suggesting it! Hmm...

I had a molcajete (volcanic stone mortar/pestle) from Mexico taken out of my carryon and forced into my checked luggage because of the same "it could be a weapon" problem. I think knitting needles would be easier to use as a weapon than this thing... Maybe they were worried I would actually use it to whip up some guacamole.

My husband and I are thinking of going to the Caribbean, but aren't into the whole all-inclusive resort thing. (Yep, read your article on the subject, still not doing it.) We did one of those island selectors, and it came up with Bonaire. Is there enough to do there to fill a week? We like hiking, swimming, snorkeling, good food, and just sight-seeing in general. Not really into a big nightlife scene, other than strolling around a town after dinner. Is Bonaire worth the long trek to get there? Any other island suggestions?

Bonaire is really a destination for scuba divers. I would not recommend it unless you want to stay underwater for most of your trip.

One of my favorite islands is Grenada. Also St. Johns.  You also might consider St. Martin/Maarten, then take a ferry to St. Barts. On both islands (almost three), you'll find lots of great dining, shopping, hiking and water sports. For another duo, consider Trindad & Tobago .

A few weeks ago, you got a request for recommendations for daytrips from Paris. We were there in September and highly recommend Fontainebleau, which easily rivals Versailles but which is often overlooked. The castle and grounds are beautiful and rich with history (it was the royal residence prior to Louis XIV and again beginning with Napoleon) and the town itself is clean, charming, and unmistakably French. It's only a 30-minute train ride away, with trains running between Fontainebleau and the Gare de Lyon station in Paris every 30 minutes. We went to Fontainebleau on a Saturday and to Versailles the following day, and infinitely preferred our trip to Fontainebleau, where it took us only 10 minutes to get our tickets and audioguides and begin the tour (compared to over an hour to get into Versailles, even with tickets purchased in advance, plus additional long waits to get into the gardens and the nearby buildings). Overall, we felt that while Versailles was a good "check-off the list" trip, Fontainebleau is a place that we would gladly return to.

Yes, Fontainebleau is marvelous. I think we mentioned it as well, though not in such detail. Thank you!

My husband's 60th is next October. We are thinking of going to Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay the first week of November 2012 with about 5 other couples. What is the weather normally like in November? Are there any other all-inclusives in Jamaica or any other Caribbean Islands (non-stop air travel and reasonable fares are a consideration) that might be better for us? We are not old fogeys, like to dance, and good food and wine is important. Native food prep and ingredients would also be a big plus. Thanks a bunch!

You are traveling around  the rainy and hurricane season, but don't you worry. Rains come and go quickly, and are often a relief after the relenting sun.

All-inclusives are great for groups, because you don't have to plan anything. All of your food, drinks, activities, etc., are at your fingertips. However what you gain in ease you lose in adventure. Make sure to take some excursions off-property, such as a visit to the coffee plantations in the Blue Mountains. For cuisine, you have to remember that the resort is serving masses, so it can sometimes feel like a tropical cafeteria.

 For resorts with higher-end cuisine, consider Half-Moon, also in MoBay; the Caves or Riu, both in Negril.  

I am planning a trip to Costa Rica in mid-December and am looking for a hotel in Monteverde. After checking Trip Advisor, everything seems to have mixed reviews. We'd like something mid-range and plan to do a lot of hiking in the Cloud Forest. Any recommendations?

I have not been to Costa Rica in ages, so my recommendations are dated.

Chatters, can you help?

When traveling, I always keep my passport in a thin security pouch with a long cord that goes around my neck. I wear the pouch inside my shirt, which I don't tuck in, so I can access the pouch easily if necessary.

Even better thinking!

To the upstate new yorker. Quiet! I'm from Syracuse and the leaves are brilliant the finger lakes are as well with small wineries dotting the lakes. Driving a few miles south of the city brings you through mountains ablaze with red leaves and apple picking, hay rides, unpasteurized apple cider if you know where to look and pony rides for the kids. And we don't tell others about it or we will be as overrun as New Hampshire in the fall!

also, in the right hands a pen could be used as a weapon. I totally agree with you, chris.

For panoramic view of Paris, the top of the Arc de Triomphe is faster than the Eiffel Tower and pretty impressive, and going up to Sacre Coeur is a beautiful view and also you get to see the church and Montmartre while you are there.

We (family of five, kids ages 3-9) went to Paris this summer and rented an apartment in Marais, the gay district. It happend to gay pride week, so their were rainbow banners everywhere! I learned that it way easier to explain what it means to be gay than it is to explain the political implications and the relationships of those implications to rainbows. Likely because I have no idea how rainbows came to symbolize gay pride. I did my best, but the kids just think France is full of rainbow decorations. The kids loved this -- rainbows and little kids go together like French bread and good butter!

We will be spending next week on vacation in San Diego. We have done the zoo & Sea World previously Any recommendations for other must-dos? Especially those off-the-beaten path? We are also open to any recommendations for cheap eats, Thank you!

Not that familiar with San Diego, alas. Let's ask the chatters with help on this one.

One thing: You DO know that the "must-dos" are ALWAYS on the beaten path, right?

For the person thinking of moving there but still visiting with a fee weekend. It depends on where you think you would live and work. If you are a city person likely to live in Seattle then explore the neighborhoods. If you are going to work for say Microsoft then spend your weekend on the east side in Redmond or Bellevue. Local residents don't use umbrellas...they wear rain coats. The weather in November will likely be in the 50 s and you will likely get rain on one of the two weekend days. This is from someone who live there now....

It depends on what you want to see. Fall color in most places occur n October, but some it happens in late September like the central Colorado Rockies and grand Teton, or early November such as Yosemite. If you aren't traveling for wildfloer season or fall colors usually the best times are September for most of the parks and march for the extreme southern parks..Everglades, big bend, Joshua tree, death valley.

Thanks for the fall report!

Is an hour and 35 minutes enough time to clear customs and immigration at JFK on a Sunday evening? We have to catch the last commuter flight to DCA that night. Thanks

It is so hard to know, especially at JFK, which can be a circus. Just be swiftfooted. Get out the door fast, make sure your declaration card is all filled out, toss any produce --and ruuuuuuuuuun for your lives.

We travel several times a year to NYC. If you check the website for Marriott or Hilton at different times you can be offered different rates. To the family traveling with kids, if you don't like the rates you see today, try again tomorrow. Sometimes they go up though, sometimes back down. Travel gurus, any idea why this happens?

It's a volatile market, somewhat like Las Vegas in this regard, with the hotel prices adjusting based on competition.

Back in October 1971, when we were impoverished college students (are there any other kind?), we took a day-trip driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Shenandoah National Park, and back. Along the way we spotted an old abandoned apple orchard, apparently a remnant from residents who lived there before the park was created. Since the statute of limitations has doubtless long since expired, I can now confess that despite signs forbidding it, we gleaned a huge brown paper grocery sack full of apples to take home with us in order to make applesauce. (The paper bag had contained our lunch). I imagine that after 40 more years those old apple trees have long since gone to the big Pie in the Sky.

Watch out for "booking" agencies like RailEurope- they really jack up the price. When I was over there recently we bought all of our in-country, shorter distance tickets at the station. The language issue wasn't too bad even when the agents didn't speak English- we always wrote down what we wanted in the native language and handed it to them. For a longer, inter country trip (Vienna-Zagreb), we got tickets ahead of time with the Austrian railways agency- they were really helpful and always communicated in English, and because we booked a few weeks out we got a better deal than if we had purchased it there (It also ended up being a VERY full train, so we were glad we booked that journey in advance). So I highly recommend checking into the individual railways agencies- it may not be as hard as you think.

I agree that you should not waste any of your limited time in Paris waiting in line to go up into the Eiffel Tower. If you want an impressive view of the city, go instead to the observation deck of the Montparnasse Tower (the only skyscraper in Paris). According to many locals, the view from there is better because it includes the Eiffel Tower, but not the Montparnasse Tower.

Love it, so true! :-)

When I saw in your intro that there was an article about seeing fall colors looking down, I thought it was going to be about flying. I was out yesterday, and the colors are beautiful from a couple thousand feet. And you can see a big difference in how far along the mountain tops, slopes, valleys, etc. are. If you've been thinking about a sightseeing ride in a light plane, this is a great time to do it. Call your local airport.

Thanks! We did do a package of stories last year that were more along this idea -- seeing leaves from on high by taking a gondola up a mountain in Vermont, tree climbing in Virginia, hang gliding in Pennsylvania, zip-lining in Mass. I was the tree-climber and loved every minute.

For the ACL traveler -- also sign up for the ACL email updates. You'll get notices on tickets before they are sold to the general public and the three-day passes can go fast. When it gets really hot at the festival, there are a string of restaurants down Barton Springs Drive where you can grab a cool beverage and a snack and sit in the AC. Recommend Shady Grove.

Thanks for the insider info.

Just stayed at Monteverde Lodge in August and it was delightful! The food was absolutely delicious and the town of Santa Elena was charming.

When we were in Paris this past May, we booked a Paris-Provence round trip on a high-speed train the day before our departure on the journey, at a TGV "boutique" in the 6th Arrondissement (recommended by our hotel concierge). When we entered the "boutique," we took a number (like at an American deli), then when our number was called the agent (fluent in English, BTW) booked our train trip for us easily, and we were able to charge it despite not having a chip in our credit card.

But don't miss Old Town San Diego, particularly Coyote Cafe. And there are a ton of good restaurants in Hillcrest (Crest Cafe and Arrivederci are my favorites), or trek to South Park for breakfast at the Big Kitchen for some of the best biscuits and gravy in the country, as vouched for by my Southern-born husband and his friends.

The revenue managers (people in charge of pricing) are constantly running their computer models to find out how to price the rooms. In places like NYC the revenues from those hotels are so crucial, that they are probably running their models more than once a day...and the data inputs change so frequently, i would say...that's why you see so many changes.

For the traveler heading to Reykjavik - we only had time for a couple of meals, but we loved the Perlan so much we still rave about it. The restaurant rotates so you get 360 degree views of the city, and the food was better than anything else we had in Iceland. When my glass of wine was poured by the waiter, the sommelier quickly noticed the color was a tad bit off and brought over new wine. We were disappointed by Einar Ben, which is highly recommended in certain guide books! Have a great trip!


im considering buying this save to Cerritos Surf Colony in Todos Santos, Mexico. do youu have any special tips with buying packages off of these deal sites or any experience with the are or with this resort?

We have not tried out Eversave yet. But it looks like a Groupon-style deal. I personally would go for it;  I just looked at that surf colony and am smitten.

Anyone out there have experience with this site?

I agree with what you and previous posters have said. I also really recommend this site: I've ordered various European rail passes through them and have found BETS to be honest and reliable. You can explain your route and they can offer good solutions. Germany offers various passes in-country if you buy tickets three days early or what not but buying a pass in the US is certainly easier and often cheaper for long-haul trips. If you call BETS, I'd recommend you ask for Byron. (I'm not affliated with them in any way; just very grateful for their assistance over the years and want to pass on their name to others!)

Thanks for the great questions today, everyone, and for the colorful fall-trip stories. Our prize winner today is the chatter who talked about the fall road trip with the top down that resulted in a chilly end to a date. Send your mailing info to Becky Krystal at, and we'll get you a token of our appreciation.

Happy travels, and see you next week.

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The Washington Post Travel section is your source for narrative tales and practical advice about journeys far and wide -- from weekend trips to the Eastern Shore, to two-week jaunts to the Far East -- plus consumer news, penny-pinching strategies and deals galore.
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