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Talk about Travel: Salamander Resort, haggling and southern Spain

Oct 28, 2013

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Hello chatters. Ready for another fun session of travel talk? Hope you checked out Andrea's and Tom Sietsema's reviews of the new Salamander Resort in Middleburg -- a new getaway option for Washingtonians! And how much fun was Maura Judkis's story about learning to haggle in Morocco's souks? I totally identified with that. I remember the time in a Mexico City market when my companion and I haggled over an embroidered blouse I wanted to buy. When the vendor wouldn't come down to a price we thought reasonable, we shrugged and walked away, whereupon he started yelling at us to come back, that price was fine. When we kept walking, he actually put the blouse in a bag and came chasing after us shouting, okay, okay, here, here, okay, thrusting the package at me. Why I didn't break down and buy it, I don't know to this day. Really wish I had that blouse.

Tell me about your favorite story of haggling over something on a trip, or, if you haven't haggled, your favorite purchase or deepest regret at something not bought.

And now let's chat.

I would recommend that no one use to reserve a hotel room. agreed to refund me 12 euros as a result of their hotel booking error. Many weeks and e mails later they have not paid their agreed to refund.

If you have that promise in writing, then you shouldn't worry. Refunds can take up to two billing cycles. If not, then I would try to get that in writing, just in case forgets. By the way, if it does, I can help it remember. Here's my email address.

My husband and I want to go to Italy next spring and are thinking about flying business class but prices are crazy. I came across ALPHA FLIGHT GURU online, a company that 'sells' discounted business class tickets using aggregated miles and leftover flights from the airlines. are companies like this credible? I don't know whether to use them or just bite the bullet and buy direct from an airline (or fly economy to save money).

I'm  wary of companies that sell discounted airline tickets.  Alpha Flight Guru has an A rating with the Better Business Bureau, but there are lots of negative comments about the company on various discussion boards.  I'm conservative, so I'd steer clear. Have you looked into premium economy? You could fly British Airlines or Virgin Atlantic into London at the premium economy level and then connect into Italy.  

We are two families who are planning to travel to Spain together this summer. We have 10-14 days. We have 6 kids between 13-18 and two sets of parents. We are looking for advice. Our thought was to base ourselves in two places - one urban one more rural or beachy. We would rent a large house or two and use it as a base to explore for a few days. We are hoping to save a bit on meals by having a kitchen and get some flexibility for smaller groups to explore and not have to drag all ten of us around. Only 2 of us have ever been to Spain before!

I'm not sure exactly what your question is here. If you're looking for advice on where to base yourselves, for your rural option, have a look at this story we did last year on renting a house in Ronda, a gorgeous town in southern Spain. It sounds idyllic and like just the sort of thing you may be looking for -- not that far to the beach, either. For your urban choices, I'd look at Madrid or Barcelona, though I don't have any specific tips apart from suggesting that you look for houses through, as the Ronda article suggests, VRBO or airbnb, or get a travel agent to help you book something.  Perhaps the chatters can offer some sage advice here?

My 26 year old daughter will have 4 days after visiting London at year's end. She loves history, pop culture, film. She'll be traveling alone. Any suggestions? Thanks!

I assume you mean not in London, right? I highly recommend Bath. I only spent one day there and could have easily spent a few more. It's oozing with history and gorgeous with all those stone buildings. For pop culture, she could check out the Fashion Museum. Many films -- Jane Austen adaptations, especially -- have been shot in town. You can get a map with locations here.

I am going on a river cruise this Saturday through Germany. Anything I need to know before I go (weather, customs, etc.)? I'm very excited as this is my first river cruise (and first cruise altogether!)

Are you going down the Rhine? Are you doing the cruise excursions or doing the land portion on your own? If the former, everything should be taken care of for you. If the latter, you really shouldn't have any trouble, either. Most Germans speak at least some English and are very accustomed to tourists. Don't be surprised if everybody's forever saying Good morning and Good day and Please and Thank you. They're very courteous that way. If you stop into restaurants, tipping can be confusing -- generally the tip is included, but it's customary to give just a little extra, so you round up your bill to the nearest euro. No need to overtip. The weather in November can be nippy (highs just in the 40s), especially on the river, so pack sweaters, slacks and a jacket. The landscapes and towns you'll be passing through will be gorgeous. Have a great trip -- I'm jealous.

The link you posted goes to Andrea's story. I searched for Tom's story but couldn't find it. Can you please post the link?

Sorry, will fix that!

I've had nothing but success using to reserve hotels in Portugal; I've always gotten the room I reserved and at the price listed. One time when I had to cancel a room, my credit card was credited with the full amount. In fact, I discovered because when I tried to book some hotels through their own websites, they automatically went to

We are considering a visit in late winter, but unsure if the weather will be optimal to enjoy touring the holy sites. Any advice on staying in Tel Aeiv vs. Jeruseum. Is it worth extending our time to see Petra?

Winter temperatures in Israel are generally mild, in the 50s. I would say that seems like a great time to go. Do you have to decide between Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? I think you might find it worthwhile to spend some time in both cities. They're different. Anyone want to weigh in on Petra? It sounds pretty amazing to me. Here's our story from the other year.

Planning to visit SF, but don't want to be stuck with a rental car. How challenging is it to see other Northern California sites, such as the Redwoods forest or Monteray, without a car? Are there good alternatives than the standard tourist bus tours? Is it worth trying to see Yosemite as a day trip or does it ned more time?

If you want to see Redwoods, I'd rent a car. I spent a week in Mendocino, Calif., this summer, and it's an area that's definitely worth visiting, but you'll need wheels -- if for no other reason than to drive your car through a tree. Ditto for Yosemite. Defintely get a car. If you're interested in Sonoma or Napa, you might be able to get away with taking a tour bus. If you're tasting wine, that's probably a good idea.

Hi Joe, heading to southern Spain for 8 days next month, flying into Malaga. Since we don't want to spend every day driving, we're thinking of renting apts in two places (3 or 4 nights in each place) and doing day trips from there. Which 2 cities (or villages) do you recommend (e.g., Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, or smaller towns)? Thank you! Also, is it worth doing a day trip to Morocco -- some folks tell us that unless you have more time, it's like going to Tijuana for the day?! Thanks again.

Not Joe, sorry, but see my answer above to the chatter who asked a very similar question to yours. I refer to a story we ran about Ronda, Spain, which sounds beautiful. Beyond that, we'd have to ask the chatters for their recommendations. Folks?

I've never really been sure what kind of travelers you guys are. Do you ever wing it with just an old school backpack or do you only travel with four premier steamer trunks. Nevertheless, just after we got socked with an overweight charge coming out of Florence, I have been obsessed with the idea of traveling light. After gathering a few supplies, I plan to try and live out of a messenger bag for 2 weeks as a test -- the wife is skeptical. To stock myself, I am searching for the best pair of convertible pants. (This is where I wonder if you guys eschew convertible pants types of travelers). Regardless, I wonder if you have any recommendations for convertible pants -- best, in this case being defined as, convertible to shorts, wash and dryable in the sink, wearable to a semi-nice cafe. Thanks

I love my Columbia convertible pants, but I wear them when I'm in the jungles of Costa Rica, not at a semi-nice cafe. They're not the most attractive slacks. Anyone have a fancier option? 

I visited London a couple years ago for Christmas and it was wonderful - the lights, the general holiday cheer, etc. Very easy to make Christmas Day dinner reservations. One thing to watch out for is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, since a lot of museums/sights are still closed. However, shopping is huge that day (Oxford, Regent Streets, etc)!

for river cruiser: just did one 2 weeks ago from Nuremberg to Amsterdam, you sit with group you booked with so that can be good or bad, no casinos or shows so you might bring your own entertainment. German towns, some good like Rudesheim and not so good, Koblenz. Check out chocolate factory in Cologne over overrrated cathedral and pray your cruise director doesn't talk too much.

You didn't like Koblenz?! Or Cologne cathedral?!

I was on my own in Istanbul for work and I decided to go see the Grand Bazaar. It was SO overwhelming! I am not great at haggling in general and add to that I was worried about insulting someone! I stopped to look at one set of glass tea cups and when I asked how much, the shop keeper kept asking me USD or EUROS and was asking over and over again getting progressively louder. I tried telling him I wanted to pay in Turkish money, but it was not getting through. I said no thanks and he practically chased me down the aisle to the next store. I think if I had been with someone else, I would have been more confidant, but it was just way too overwhelming. I'm not a big tea drinker, but the Turkish tea glasses are very pretty and I do wish I'd been able to bargain for a set! It was quite an experience just to walk through the bazaar though, so no regrets about that!

Yes, that is an overwhelming bazaar.

This is about as low-level and unexotic as it gets, but decades ago on a trip to New York City, I went to the midtown electronics district to look for a small pair of binoculars/opera glasses. I had little money, so really had to find something affordable. I found a couple of possibilities, with no prices marked. When I was told the price, I said, regretfully, that I couldn't afford them. "Oh, but I can give them to you for X!" Still couldn't afford them. We went on like this for a bit and finally came to a price I could afford and they were willing to give me. A win for everyone. Later in my walk around the city, I stopped into a small jewelry store and admired some items. "How much are those earrings?" No, I couldn't afford them. "I can give them to you for X." The lightbulb went on in my brain: So THIS is how it's done? In my youthful poverty, naivete, shyness, and inexperience, I discovered haggling. I went home with binoculars and earrings I could afford (still have them), and they made sales.

Wow. In the Big Apple, no less.

Office worker (ie, not lumberjack or medical doctor/technician, etc) seeks meaningful vacation to use leave before Jan 11th. Sitting on the beach more than a coupla days gets old. Your suggestions?

I am not good at haggling. My sister lived in Thailand and China and is very good at it, so she did it for me. Eventually I would get impatient and say "that's good enough for me". We'd go off with her muttering, "but I could have got them down further". Good haggling takes time. She would get frustrated because she could never get the prices that her Asian friends could get. There were three bottom prices: one for natives, one for expats who lived there, and one for tourists. Usually a percentage of the asking price. She would wear native jewelry or other items that would let them know that she lived there. When she shopped with Asian friends, there often were two prices for the same item. If there was, she would never purchase the one she was looking at... When we were travelling, she would ask the guide what price he could get. She would aim for it, but could never come close to it. And she said never to comparison shop -- if you leave a place without buying and find that the price was more elsewhere, it will be more when you come back to buy.


I once was haggling in a far away country over a local book of traditional recipes. At the same price point, each vendor I talked to firmly said no. I thought they were just being unreasonably tough with the American. And of course, I was too proud to accept a higher amount. But later I realized that I must had reached the true cost to the vendor where they wouldn't net any profit. Years later, I still regret that I "showed the vendors" by walking away without agreeing to their price.

Yes, we live with those regrets.

But charges appear instantly. Strange how that works.

Yeah, isn't it?

Hi - I'm going to London for two weeks and I understand that my cellphone (not a smartphone) won't work there (different technology platform). Do you have any tips on cheap cellphone rentals I can use once I arrive? Thanks.

First, check out Andrea's primer on SIM cards for some additional background info. I suppose there are places you can rent a phone from when you get there -- anyone have advice on that? I tend to be a planner, though, and I think it would be good to have a phone you can use as soon as you land. There are plenty of States-side options for rentals. One is Cellular Abroad. I bought a SIM card from them and had no problems.

I used to work at a popular apparel store in a city visited by lots of international tourists. More times than I can count, a customer would attempt to haggle with me on the price. I needed to learn how to say "this is the price" in a million languages.

The other side of haggling! Thanks.

Re: the value of a Disney meal plan - spring break of 2012 visited Disneyworld with 2 adults and 2 kids age 8 and 11. Got the Disney plan that includes 3 meals and 2 snacks per day per person. I kept a running total of the cost of each meal we ate under the plan. In the end, the meal plan cost around $850 and we "spent" around $850. So - about even you would say. However, and a big HOWEVER, we ate much more than we normally would have. Often, we could have split sandwiches/french fries instead of each ordering our own. The meal plan includes dessert for each person, which is not really necessary at lunch and dinner every day. Many times the 4 of us could have just split one or two desserts and that would have been fine. Also, since the Contemporary Hotel had a free snack bar on the concierge level where we stayed, the kids ate all the free snacks they wanted and we really didn't need the meal plan snacks. To sum it up, if you are very big eaters, or maybe growing teenage boys, then the meal plan is worth it. But for average eaters, I feel it was too much food and I could have spent less just purchasing our food without the meal plan.

Thanks for following up on the thread from last week.

I think four days in Bath could get a little boring for a 26 year old. I'd head north to Edinburgh for history, pop culture, and film.

Sevilla, Granada, and Cordoba all deserve visits--we stayed in caves in Granada (Cuevas el Abanico) in the side of a hill! Great fun...and of course the Alhambra will deserve a day of your time. I think Morocco deserves its own (multi day) will not get to see much that's worth seeing on a day trip to Tangier

I agree o Morocco. Thanks!

Petra really is outstanding--in my mind right up there with Angkor and Machu Picchu. You run into the Treasury made famous by Indiana Jones directly at the entrance; it's thronged with tourists, but the further you explore in the city, the less people there are. I only did a day trip, but could have easily spent two wandering around. And if you're going to be in Jordan, think about visiting Jerash, site of some of the most extraordinary Roman ruins in the Middle East.

I would definitely go to Petra, and maybe allow for another day in Jordan to see a bit of Amman, Philadelphia, Jerash. We crossed the border one morning, saw those sites, spent the night in a hotel just outside the gate to Petra, spent the next day in Petra and returned for an evening crossing. Note: site guides in Jordan need to be certified and keep up their knowledge of current events, so if you get an official guide (and when we were there, the government was pretty firm about not allowing non-official guides to show people around ruins/sites), you will be getting a person who speaks English well, can comment on the news, and is not just making up stuff.

So my girlfriend and I are going to Roatan in early Dec. she is a big diver which is why we are going, but anything outside of the diving that we shouldn't miss? Thanks

Roatan is all about the snorkeling and diving. I went to a couple of its  tourism attractions, including the Roatan Butterfly Garden, but they really didn't wow me. Any chatters have suggestions?

THE best haggling I ever did was over several silk scarves one morning at an open air market in Milan. I also did the 'walk-away' but unlike Zofia, when he ran after me with them in a plastic bag agreeing to my price, I went for it. What was even better was that he told me he added two nice silk ties for myself for the same price saying I was his first customer of the day and that a sale would bring him good luck for the rest of the day. The scarves made for great Christmas presents for family!

You were one smart cookie!

I once spent a lot of time haggling over a video camera in NYC. Finally, we agreed upon a reasonable price. Everyone's happy with smiles all around. Merchant goes to back room to package everything up, comes back, and I almost leave without checking the box. They had switched the new video camera with the very worn and used demo in the display case. After a million fake apologies, I still refused to give this dishonest person my business and ordered it off Amazon.

Good for you!

I recently spent a week in Turks and Caicos and couldn't agree more with your description of the incredible sand, sea, and sky. The colors are not to believed--the water looked like it had food coloring in it! However, I was surprised at your description of Grace Bay. Despite the beauty, I departed Provo fairly sure I wouldn't return. The prices were astronomical, and the beach was bursting at the seams with massive, all-inclusive resorts. I walked a fair stretch of the beach just once because it was choked with people, windsails, and beach chairs that I wasn't allowed to sit in. Additionally, while the diving was good, it wasn't any better than many other Caribbean spots, and again, the prices were eye-popping. So basically, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who's not a fan of all-inclusive resorts. Do you agree or did I somehow miss a lot of the charm? (It's quite possible!)

That piece was written by a freelancer, and it sounds like her experience was different than yours! Beauty in the eye of the beholder, etc., etc.

Docker was doing an "outdoor" line and I ended up with a pair of convertibles that looked nice, but I think they discontinued the line.

I am not a haggler, ever. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I dislike the concept of flexible pricing. That said, my friends mother is shameless - if someone says no she accepts it, but surprisingly often gets the most amazing deals, even in American department stores! The incident that comes to mind was the Christmas tree - it was December 23 when I took her to the lot. She found one she liked - the seller said it was $75. She said "I'll give you $15." I wanted to die of embarassment... until the man shrugged and said "Take it." On the way home she was muttering that she probably could have gotten it for $10.

Funny! Goes to show ya.

I never liked haggling, especially abroad. If it's just a few dollars, usually they need it more than I do. I remember in a small Mexican village, I bought a large hand-woven blanket for $25, haggled down by my friend from $30, and instantly felt guilty. I still regret not giving the guy the extra $5.

Ah, you make a good point.

Years and years ago, on a trip to Cancun, I had with me my father's silver Air Force ring that had been worn for nearly 40 years -- worn to the point that it had broken underneath. He asked me to take it and have it repaired because Mexican silver was much cheaper than in the U.S. I took it to a street vendor, showed him the problem, and asked the price. He said $10 and I said, I'll take it. I will never forget the surprised look on his face ...

What a deal.

while in city, absolutely do not get a car--costly hindrance--but for venturing beyond, it will be handy....if you are travelling solo (no designated driver), bus tour for the wineries!

I agree. In San Francisco, you don't really need a car. The bus tour is ideal if you're drinking your way through wine country. 

My husband and I are traveling to Tokyo 12/16 to visit our son and his girlfriend. We plan to all meet in Tokyo and take the train (Japan Railways) and visit Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Can you tell me the best train to take and places to stay? In addition, we plan to head back to Tokyo on the following Sunday to fly to Okinawa where my son lives to spend Christmas. Plus we would like to see Iwo Jima, can we set a tour up? Any and all tips are welcomed. How much do you recommend we take in Japanese currency to get us started and I was told B of A is where I can exchange currency before heading out? I did call the Japan National Tourism Board as suggested, thank you, not a lot of information was given to me, they did send me some maps and a flyer about the JR, really would like more help, our first travel to Japan. Thank you

Japan travel can be very complicated. I've only been there once, and went from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Tokeido Shinkansen, and we stayed in a lower-priced inn one night (whose name I can't remember, unfortunately) and also at the incredible (and pricey) Hiiragiya. You might look into one of the packages that Japanican offers that include train travel from Tokyo to Kyoto and lodging in Kyoto.

I haven't been to Hiroshima or Nagasaki (or Okinawa or Iwo Jima), but perhaps the chatters can shed some insight? I would suggest that this is the kind of trip that might call for the services of a good travel agent who specializes in Japan, such as Esprit Travel.

I missed last week's chat, but I wanted to share our favorite Caribbean island destination: Saba. We first went to Saba because we heard it was one of the best scuba destinations in the Caribbean (it is). We went in October and found out that it was Sea and Learn month. Sea and Learn is a program organized by some of the local businesses that brings in experts on the land, sea, plant and animal life, and ecology of Saba. It is geared for the lay person and is completely free for anyone to attend. We were hooked! We went back the next year and rented one of the charming cottages there: Iris House, a beautiful cottage in the town of Windwardside. Very convenient, but we found out that Windwardside has many feral chickens, which succeeded in waking us every morning. What really brings us back to Saba now are the people. Saba is very small and the local Sabans are very friendly (we once got a ride hitchhiking with one of the elected council members). It is completely safe and we never bother to lock up our cottage when we stay, as there is no crime on the island. The last few times we went we have stayed at Flamboyant Cottage, a few minutes outside of Windwardside, with a fantastic three-island view to the south and, best of all, no chickens!

Thanks for the tip! We'll have to look into Saba for next year's issue. has worked great for me on trips to Paris and Barbados. Does the OP really expect people to stop using the site over 12 euros that a stranger claims to be owed?

Typing from office in San Francisco: you won't need a car in SF, so don't rent one at the airport. There are car rental outposts in the city; when you want to go to the redwoods or Yosemite or Monterey, rent one then,. FYI - Yosemite is 3.5 hours from SF, so definitely not a day trip. Monterey is about 2 hours south, so it's technically doable as a day - just depends on what you want to see in Monterey/Carmel.

Our family would like to head south for the week between Christmas and New Year's. We've been to historic Charleston, but would like to explore the environs this time. Keeping in mind we will have teens with us, would you recommend Kiawah Island or Isle of Palms (possibly Wild Dunes?) My oldest recently took up golfing, and the rest of us are pretty active with respect to running, biking, hiking. We'll probably rent a home for the week.

I haven't been to Kiawah, but I have actually been to Wild Dunes on the Isle of Palms. I think it'd be terrific with teens. It's consistently rated one of South Carolina's best family resorts. You can rent a whole house for yourselves, and there are a couple of great golf courses, a pool and gym, bike rentals, tennis courts and of course the beautiful loooong beach where you can run/walk/swim to your heart's content.

I'm sure that Kiawah has great offerings, too. Chatters, anyone been to Kiawah or have anything to add here?

I'm heading to LA for a week next month for work and will have to be in San Francisco the following week. I'm planning to drive in between- suggestions for spending my weekend?

I haven't been there in quite a few years, but did like Morro Bay. I stayed at a B&B right on the water, and I can't remember the name, but it had stunning views. Can chatters help my recall here? 

In 2011 I visited my son in Mongolia, serving in the Peace Corps there. It was without a doubt the trip of a lifetime. He took us by city bus (!) through the streets of Ulaan Baatar to what is known as the "Black Market" where everything you can imagine is sold and everyone in the community goes to buy! My son needed sunglasses...he was negotiating in Mongolian with the nice lady who had a large display of glasses. A tall white guy speaking Mongolian always draws a crowd, and a drunken spectator interrupted the discussion and pushed towards my son, yelling and weaving. The lady vendor, not wanting to lose a sale, virtually cuffed the Mongolian, berating him and letting him know that this was not any of his business! You do NOT mess with Mongolian women, especially if you are a Mongolian man! My son got his glasses and the cowed man slunk off somewhere. It was the first of many Mongolian adventures we would have during our visit in this wonderful country.


In researching our 25th anniversary trip to Hawaii next May, my wife seemed to discover that it is cheaper to get lodging renting people's condos vs. going through the hotel or resort itself. For example, you could go to a hotel or resort and pay $300 per night for any room they choose to give you (withing the category you selected, such as oceanview) or you can see the actual room through pictures and reviews that you will be staying in (along with the views) by renting someone's condo for perhaps $225 or $250. Is what I'm describing sound familiar? Is there a catch we are not aware of? We know that the condos you are usually locking in and can't back out of, but if we are sure to go, isn't the condo way the way to go?

The resort experience is usually quite different than staying at a private home or condo. If you like amenities -- restaurants, housekeeping, concierge, spa, pool, room service, etc. -- you'll be more apt to prefer a resort. And that's why it is more expensive. If you're not going to avail yourself of those amenities, renting a private residence may make more sense. Due diligence is in order, however. Don't ever wire money, talk with the homeowner or agency rep, ask for current photos and take whatever other steps will make you confident in the property. To get you started, the Hawaiian Tourism Authority publishes a list of condo rentals for each island. 


We booked the Turkey Tour for washington post readers Nov 1, 2013. They promised many times we would have the information 10 to 7 days out. today is day 5 before the trip and no flight information, We have to travel from DC to NYC to catch the flight. WE NEED TO KNOW OUR FLIGHT TIMES, Can you help us???  Thanls

I'm sorry, but we don't have any connection with those trips at all. They're partnerships worked out by The Post's business operations. Have you tried calling the company organizing the trip? The number listed on the site is 800-753-0465.

We are determined to beat the winter blues this year and head south for a week late January. Here's the plan: Two families (4 adults, 3 kindergardenish aged kids) heading south with a stopover on NC/SC border to visit friends. From there head to a part of Florida where we can be sure to enjoy weather warm enough to enjoy the beach (sand, not necessarily the water) and a heated pool. We could go the hotel route or rent a condo w/amenities. We're trying to go just far enough south to be sure to get the weather we want but do the least driving to get there. Suggestions?

Well, I live in Florida and I can tell you from experience that there are no weather guarantees. In January, you could have 80-degree weather before you hit the state line. Or it could be freezing. Typically, the "safe" zone for nice weather is somewhere south of FL60, which runs from Tampa to Vero Beach. But the farther south, the better your chances of getting tropical weather. That's at least 13 hours in the car -- assuming you aren't caught in a blizzard on the way.

Can you or the chatters shed some light on appropriate haggling in developing countries? Like many others, I always feel guilty trying to talk down the price with someone who clearly needs the income. I've heard that in some places, it's actually considered rude NOT to haggle. Is that true, or just a way to reduce guilt? I've also heard the advice to haggle for additional items for the price rather than just a lower price, thereby still providing extra income for the seller.

I've heard the same about it being rude not to haggle in some places. My feeling is that haggling is something of a custom of the country, in which I am partaking. Chatters, what do you think?

I enjoyed reading the reviews and would love to check it out! The Salamander Resort is out of my price range so it was nice hearing about it even if I'll probably never go.

So glad you enjoyed the reviews!

We went to Disney several years ago and loved the meal plan. At the time, not sure if this is still true, we were able to combine meals to eat at the nicer restaurants. We used two dinners worth of credits one night to eat at the restaurant in the Grand Floridian. We were able to do something similar for a character breakfast. Since the meal plans offer so much food we were able to make these trades and still not have to spend extra dollars on food. We really enjoyed the meal at the Grand Floridian and would never have splurged were it not for the meal plan.

Yosemite is at least a four hour drive from SF--it is a very tiresome day trip! (We've done it once as a day trip, but we live here.) Monterey is closer, but really, you do need a car to get there and get around once you are there.

Just a quick reminder to know what you are saying. I was bargining mostly for the fun for a scarf on a chilly night in a piazza - a euro here of there didn't matter, but ultimately I would say I lost, because I could remeber which word meant six and which meant seven.

I assume you mean that you *couldn't* remember. Good lesson!

Starting to think way far ahead for our 25th wedding anniversary. We want to spend a few days in Paris and then my husband wants to visit the Normandy WWII sites. I am a bad map reader and can't tell the distances between, say, Dunkirk and Omaha Beach. I'm trying to get an idea of how many days it would take to have a decent look at the WWII sites, and then spend two days in either Brittany or Bruges for me. We could go either from North to South, or South to North up the coast. Would a week be enough?

I'd say you need two days for the D-Day sites, but it really depends on how many of the beaches and museums you want to see. Some people consider it a day-trip from Paris. If you want to spend a few days in Paris, plus two days in Brittany or Bruges, I'd think a week would cover it, but it would have to be a week on the ground, so your flying days would be extra.

I visit lots of developing countries for my job and enjoy bargaining in the markets--and in fact, sellers often look disappointed when someone takes their first price. It's the custom and the cultural norm. And I don't feel guilty when I talk them down in cost. Paying too much artificially inflates costs for other tourists, as well as the community's micro-economy. Trust me, they're not going to let you have it if the price you're offering is too low. And feeling guilty for participating in the standard process for buying artisanal goods because you think you're wealthier than they are veers a bit into paternalism.

All good points!

I'm looking for a quiet New Year's celebration within driving distance of L.A. Joshua Tree is one option. How many nights would you recommend, and which campsite offers the best location?

Bundle up if you're going to Joshua Tree. Doesn't get much above 60 degrees in January, and often goes down to 40 at night. My daughter camps there frequently, so send your email address to, and I'll send her suggestions. I'd also consider Catalina Island or Channel Islands National Park

With all the talk about the local football team name, we'd really like to expose the kids (ages 8, 7 and 5) to real Native American culture. Any recommendations on where we could go for a week this summer to get up close and personal with Native American ways? We were thinking Rapid City, SD - where we could also see national monuments and parks; New Mexico; or Phoenix. Any other ideas, particularly within driving distance to save on plane fares? Thanks!

Consider the Four Corners area around Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. A lot of native culture there, as well as national parks. Here's our story from just the other week. You can also learn more about Native Americans in Virginia. The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has put out a guide, "The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail." Here's the link.

Any suggestions for a last-minute girls' getaway over Veteran's Day weekend? Beaches are not high priority, but culture, restaurants, places to walk around would be ideal. Cheap flight or few hour drive are both acceptable. Thanks!

How about Charleston? That's not a long flight. Neither are Chicago or Miami. Driving or train, you could consider Philadelphia, New York or Charlottesville. Many options.

Hi, team! I'm looking to go to Prague in spring 2014. Based on airline award availability, it looks like I can go the 2nd week on April. Is it worth monitoring to see if I can go later in the month/in May instead?

The weather will be a little warmer in May, of course -- highs in the mid-60s as opposed to the mid-50s -- so if you want lots of outdoor-cafe-seating time, then, yes, I'd wait. If you don't mind strolling around in a little jacket and scarf, then April sounds mighty nice to me!

I don't know if this is the right chat for this question, but what are some of your favorite hotels in downtown DC for out-of-town guests for a wedding? Taking into consideration: price, location, free wi-fi, distance to main attractions, etc. I want a good hotel with amenities, but nothing too pricey. Thanks!

Downtown DC hotels, alas, tend to be quite pricey, although you might be able to get a decent rate somewhere by booking through a third party such as or Expedia or Orbitz. Andrea's parents -- who are visiting today, the reason she's not with us --  got a good rate  at the Churchill, on Connecticut Ave. just above Dupont Circle, on

Generous friends are hosting us for a week in Hawaii (Oahu) this summer. Since it is such a long trip from DC, we are thinking about adding on some time. Here are our options: 1.) Stay an extra week on a different island because DH wants to see a live volcano. 2.) Stay a few extra days on Oahu and take a day trip to an island with an active volcano. We'd then split the trip home by stopping in San Diego for a few days (family house & car available to us). WWTGD (What Woud the travel Guru's Do)?

I'd go to a different island, or maybe even two islands, if you're going to stay for another week. You'll want to go to the Big Island of Hawaii, specifically to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And Maui is a very nice island, although it offers no volcano. 

When I was in Madagascar last year, I (accidentally) found the best way to haggle. Go to the market at the end of the day when you only have a limited amount of cash left with you! The people at the market really thought I was pulling one over on them, but if I only have a certain amount of cash, there's no possible way I'm paying more than that.... I think my directness (and limited French) confused the hell out of them.


Any idea when fare sales will start for Florida? We have a vacation planned there in March and tickets (to RSW) are crazy expensive. Thanks!

The days of predictable fare sales are over. It seems as if airlines such as AirTran and Southwest offer their sales every so often, but they are so narrowly focused. You have to buy weeks in advance or fly only on Tuesday and Wednesday or the sale applies to only a short period with lots of blackout dates or all of the above. Fort Myers, Fla., has become more expensive because it's the only airport near the very popular Naples area. But there are several discount airlines that fly from Washington to Fort Myers. I'm seeing round trip flights in March from DCA on AirTran for about $238, and that's a good price.  

I'm going to Kyrgyzstan via Turkey and Greece next summer. Are there differences in my perks and protections (frequent flyer miles, delay/change/cancellation notifications, price protection, etc.) if I buy my tickets from a consolidator, an online travel agent like Expedia, or directly from an airline?

Yes, there are. If you go through a consolidator, which buys tickets in bulk from an airline and then resells them to you at a discount, you might not be able to collect frequent flier miles. Also, the tickets might come with additional restrictions. Specifically, the airline or consolidator may limit the kinds of changes you can make to the ticket. Read the fine print before buying.

Good Afternoon, Several years ago I did a fly drive vacation to Ireland with CIE tours. It was great as they had vouchers for the B&Bs and a book that you could choose where to stay. I'm looking for something similar for New Zealand and wonder if anything exists or if there are companies that specialize in fly drive vacations to New Zealand. Thank you

Yes, there are self-drive tours of New Zealand. I found a good list of ideas and tours on the Australian edition of New Zealand's tourism page. Or take a look at Air New Zealand's fly-drive tour

I was there last weekend. The place is very nice, but still experiencing big time basic training for their employees. They only have one expensive restaurant on-site, so ended up leaving the hotel for dinner. They would not let us tour the spa to decide if we wanted to get a day pass. I would take a drive out there to visit the hotel, have a drink, and drive home. Wait for the prices to drop, and the employees learn a little more.

I'm sure Andrea would agree!

Please remember that haggling is a business negotiation. If you want to spend money on helping those less fortunate than yourself, do so through a charity, not by paying an inflated rate for a basket.

You are tough!

Thank you to Chris Elliot for his article on the high fees that most airlines charge for changing tickets, and why they give passengers no motive to pay to change when charges are higher than the tickets themselves. What motivations do you think airlines could institute to change this situation?

As I mentioned in the story, I think the change fees have to be reasonable in order for everyone to play nice. A $200 change fee on a $150 ticket is absurd, so passengers are intentionally not canceling their tickets when their plans change, hoping the airline won't be able to resell their seats.

I think airlines have to accept that they can only sell a seat once, and are not entitled to double-dip by reselling your seat to a standby passenger and also keep your money. It's possible the government may have to get involved in this argument.

My sister and I are hoping to go to Australia and New Zealand sometime next year. When would be the best time to go? Will we be able to rent a car? We are both in our 70s. We haven't decided on our itinerary yet.

Look at going in September or October, which is spring Down Under; it's not peak travel season anymore (so not as many crowds), but the weather is still nice in most parts of the countries. One caveat: In NZ, school holidays mean you should try to book well in advance.

Of course, you can rent a car!

Years ago, before I had a smartphone, the car rental companies right at Heathrow would rent you a phone, even if you weren't renting a car from them. Not sure if they still do, but worth checking out.

Interesting thought.

Going to Thailand in January - 3 days Bangkok, 3 days in Chiang Mai and 3 days in Phuket. Any suggestions on must-do's or must see's while we're there?

One thing -- go to the elephant sanctuary outside Chiang Mai. Chatters, what else?

Come visit us up in Pittsburgh -- only 4 hours by car from DC! Lots of museums, good restaurants, cultural entertainment, and prices are generally lower than in DC.

Thanks, that brings to follow-up: We're considering waiting until the week before to book our FL accommodations so we can see what the weather will be doing. Good chance of finding deals that time of year?

That might not be the best idea. During peak season, rooms fill up fast. You might try to book at least a few weeks in advance.

We are planning a family vacation next summer for a week. There are two Grandparents (seniors), mother and 3 children ages 16, 12 and 9 Focus is varied educational exposure for the children. We were thinking of Colorado: High mountains, pioneer and Indian history,etc. Suggestions?

Colorado may be a good idea, but I'd go to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We did a trip there with our children when they were about the ages of your two younger ones, and they loved it. We stayed for a couple of days north of Yellowstone at Chico Hot Springs Resort and then went to Yellowstone for a few days (we stayed at Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins, but I would recommend you spend a little bit more and go to a more upscale lodge) before heading to Signal Mountain Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. 

We keep reading about his "upcoming" book. When can we buy it?

How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler is published by National Geographic Books, and it will be available in early 2014. You can pre-order the book here.

Hi- Just found out I am switching jobs and while trying to fit in packing and moving I am also considering trying to fit in a trip with my one week off between positions. That being said, based on other factors, I could probably only do a 4-5 day trip, leaving from middle of the east coast (DC or Philly). It would be about 2 weeks from now. Someone suggest Puerto Rico to me- would you suggest this within these constraints? Is it worth it for the short time frame? Any other suggestions specific to this time of year and a shorter time frame? I am a traveler that likes to do things- try new food, kayak, hike, bike, etc-- but I also like to see different towns and cities and relax and beaches so I could be pretty happy anywhere!

Chatters, what do you think? Is that enough time for Puerto Rico? If it were me, I'd probably stick closer to home to maximize relaxation time. Maybe the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland?

The Key Bridge Holiday Inn. It is cheap ($99 a night this summer if you booked when invites went out), free parking, free wifi, right on the Rosslyn metro, right off of major interstates. Plus, it is an easy walk to Georgetown. My suburban relatives loved it-- they didn't have to "drive city" and it was easy to get into town.

Hi- I used to live there. Don't bother going to Morocco for a day. It will not give you an idea of what the country is like. If you go on a tour they will pass your around from store to store to buy things. Some side trips you might like include Doñana National Park, the "white villages" (pueblos blancos), the Sierra mountains, and more.

Hi! I'll be spending a few days on my own in Copenhagen at Christmas. Do you have any suggestions for must-do activities that are mostly indoors? I'm already planning a day-trip to visit the Louisiana museum of modern art. Thanks!

There's  Rosenborg Castle, the Royal Reception Rooms and Stables at Christiansborg Castle, the National Museum and the National Gallery,  the Botanical Garden and Carlsberg Brewery. I'd also hit the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde and Kronborg Castle in Elsinore. Chatters, what do you think?

for the person who wanted to know if Yosemite can be done as a day trip - I guess it depends on what you want to do/see, but we were there for a week and barely scratched the surface. We did a lot of short hikes (no camping) and drove around, but never got to many parts of the park at all.

I agree -- you definitely need a few days in Yosemite. And, as I mentioned, a car is helpful.

We have a 9 hour layover in Heathrow Dec 24. All of the museums seem to be closed that day! We are thinking of going to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tour, but we would need transportation, since there is no direct train or bus link. Searching the internet for Heathrow transfers, I find many companies with questionable knowledge of English and grammar (surprising for ENGLAND!) and bad reviews. Can you recommend a transfer company that will be reliable (I don't want to be stranded and miss my flight on Christmas Eve!). Or other recommendations for the layover? Taking the train to London seems safer for insuring we will return to the airport on time, but we would like to have an indoor plan in case of bad weather.

I'm with you on the temptation of the Harry Potter studio tour, but I'm not sure it's feasible. It's about 23 miles by road, and like you said, you'd have to find a reliable transfer. If you want to get out, maybe just zip into the city on the Heathrow Express (15 minutes travel time to Paddington) and depending on the weather you can visit any number of nearby attractions, such as Kensington Palace and Gardens (I loved it), the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum.

My funniest haggling experience was at an open air market in Florence several years ago. A vendor sold small embroidered handbags; I looked at them one evening and bargained him down to 8 euros. The vendor was upset but agreed to 8 euros; an American tourist was watching our conversation and as soon as I purchased my handbag, she told the vendor that she was getting a handbag for the same 8 euros. She thanked me and we laughed a lot and I still enjoy that handbag (five years later).

Good for you. Last time I was in Florence, the open air markets were not budging on prices -- "That is a fixed price," several told me -- but the clerks in the nice shops were all too ready to bargain. Go figure.

If you end up in Arizona check out Wupatki National Monument! It's a great and undervisited NPS site near Flagstaff (and in driving range of the Grand Canyon).

I went to Prague in the second week of April 2012. I had a wonderful time, and I found that I did enough walking that I often wound up carrying my jacket. The cooler temps were perfect -- I could be quite active and not work up a sweat. And if you want an indoor break, there are plenty of places to get a coffee (or a beer!).

Back in September I asked about flying to London for a last-minute trip. I flew Virgin Atlantic and really enjoyed it. I also asked about cheap hotels and found, by total fluke, that the London School of Economics rents out their dorms during breaks. (Please excuse me if you're already written about them in the past, but I thought I'd post for folks who may not have heard of them.) The school has dorms across the city center, and they rent them out during breaks as a way to raise funds to keep the rates low for students. I found a great dorm (Northumberland House) with rooms with private baths for less than $100/night, just two blocks from Trafalgar Square - a perfect location for any tourist or person there for work. The rooms are tiny and spartan -- no TV or alarm clock and minimal bath amenities -- but for one or maybe two people who plan to be out and about all day they are pefect. Some of the other dorms have a fridge, microwave, and kettle in the rooms, or free breakfast, but mine instead had a full shared kitchen down the hall. Once I learned to trust that my food would be OK in the shared fridge, it was perfect. I stocked food for breakfast and late-night snacks, and if I hadn't been out with a tour group all day I might have prepared other meals there to save money. With several small grocery stores nearby, I had everything I needed. The rooms are available only three separate months out of the year (the Dec/Jan holidays are the next window of opportuity), but it's worth checking out. Search for LSE Vacations.

Good tip. Our Ireland story from the other week also included accommodation suggestions in school dorms. 

A few months ago, I signed up for a group trip to Australia and New Zealand. Last week, I received my air schedule, and it includes 14 flights in the month of the trip. Whew! I was nervous enough about the two transcontinental flights, the longest I've ever taken, but now I'm nervous about the number of flights. Any tips for how to prepare -- both physically and mentally -- for so much flight time?

So you're taking a flight about every two days? That sounds a little wacky. I'd pack light and bring my Kindle loaded with books. 

Thank you, Chris! I'm so glad that someone mentioned that it's ludicrous for airlines to feel entitled to be able to sell a seat multiple times. What other business can get away with selling the same product multiple times while delivering it only once!

I will second Ronda as a wonderful place, but I just have to mention El Torcal National Park, also in Andalucía. My teens still rave about how great it was to spend a day there. We stayed in a rented house between Granada and Sevilla and had the best day trips. Remember it is simple to rent from the Brits (homeaway, holiday rentals u.k. etc) as it is their playground and they have many homes there!

Made a promise to go this year (or next) but have no idea how to pick one. (could you combine it with a river cruise - that might inject some variety)

All the German Christmas markets are wonderful, I have to say, even if a little kitschy. The big ones are Nuremberg, Munich and Vienna, I'd say, but there are great markets in many other cities and town as well. If I were you, I'd probably do Nuremberg. Beautiful city, famous market. You could combine it with a river cruise. Chatters?

I lived in Japan for 6 months, visiting all over including Okinawa. I would not book any train travel until you arrive in Japan. Especially in Tokyo, the train agents are very helpful in reserving and booking your train, even the day before (and many agents speak English). No need to make train reservations from the States. We used ATMs the entire visit - you need to find, however, ATMs that will use your card. We used ATMS mostly at the post offices (the local banks did not work). For Okinawa, I highly recommend using a Japanese travel agency for the best deals. I think there are a couple in NYC. Also, make sure you have an international drivers license, which is required for a car rental in Okinawa. Okinawa is beautiful - just like Hawaii. Enjoy.

If you anticipate there will be several rooms needed, try negotiating for a lower group rate.

When I studied abroad in Cairo, one of the first Arabic phases they taught us was "I am a student." That always brought the price down. I also found that using any of my beginner Arabic brought the prices down, whether I was in a cab or in the Khan. It was really the friendliest place to learn a language. The head professor of our program always warned us not to get too upset about the times we got taken, because it was just part of the game.


Sorry - forgot to add that the Hyatt is Kyoto is fantastic (if you can afford it!). I would highly recommend it. On the cheaper end, there is a hotel in Kyoto station (I cant remember the name) - but my friends stayed there twice and said it was great. Don't forget to eat okonomiyaki and fresh tofu in Kyoto!

Sevilla and Granada are both amazing, lots of history and architecture. I wouldn't recommend a day trip to Morocco -- I went for a few days, and really enjoyed Fez and Rhabat, but we came in and out of Tanjiers (which is likely the only place you could go for a day trip) and it wasn't that great.

As someone who grew up in a retail family, and had my own store for many years, I hate hagglers, and I never do it myself. I offered a fair price for my merchandise...if you don't like it, shop elsewhere. I was never going to be that desperate for a sale. If I don't like the price of something, I say thank you and walk away. It may be the way of the world elsewhere, but I thought it was and is disrespectful. My favorite was when they didn't want to pay the sales tax. Really? How did you get to my store? Probably on roads paid for by sales tax income. Would you go into a grocery store and ask if they would take $5 less for a steak or $1 off a gallon of milk? I doubt it. We all are just trying to make a fair living.

On my first visit to the Azores Islands I had that many flights in just three weeks. Best tip: Keep your flight info and passport where you can get them out, then put them away quickly. Next best tip: Think of how lucky you are to be getting to do so much traveling!!!

And that's it for us, folks. Great discussion, as always, and some very thoughtful posts about haggling abroad. My bottom line, don't feel too guilty! Most vendors like to haggle. The winner of our prize is the "walkaway" who ended up with a bag of silk scarves and some nice ties thrown in. Well done! Send your contact info to me at and I'll shoot you a little prize. Thanks again all for chatting. Until next week!

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