Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Nov 13, 2017

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel! In this week's issue, we highlighted the diverse and unique charms of Eugene, Ore., as part of our ongoing series, You're Going Where? Do you have a favorite Oregon spot? Tell us where and why below for the chance to win a prize. Remember, only one travel prize per household every year. Okay, enough talking. On to your questions!

Writing in from the last stretch of a road trip here with some observations on hotels: Please folks, STOP providing only strongly scented soaps, shampoos, etc. They are unpleasant to use, and make you smell like cheap perfume for days and days. (I have taken to traveling with a small bottle of unscented Dr Bronner soap because of this. It works for soap and shampoo and hand laundry in the sink) And on that note - if your hotel has guest laundry that sells detergent, please consider offering unscented products. (I have taken to traveling with unscented laundry detergent sheets to avoid this problem.) Also, the whole sink in the main area with no way to close it off is frustrating. Using the sink often wakes the other person before they need to get up. And finality, if the hotel room is meant to sleep 2, please think about that. Why only ONE luggage stand? We have 2 suitcases. And why only have a nightstand on ONE side of the bed? We both need a place to put our glasses and books at night.

Thanks for sharing your pet peeve. That's one of mine, too. Interestingly, it's usually the expensive hotels that go heavy on the smells, including that in-room scenting they do for some inexplicable reason. Makes you wonder what they're trying to cover up, doesn't it? 

My sisters and I have put a deposit on a Holland America cruise that goes to Cuba in February 2018. Will the new Trump restrictions affect our trip? Will the cruise ships be allowed to go to Cuba? Should we cancel or proceed with the final payment due on November 17? Thank you for your insight. ~Sisters at Odds

If you've already made a reservation, your trip should not be affected. Here's our story on the new rules.

Happy Monday! I'm looking at flights to London from DC and the least expensive option is to connect through Dublin on Aer Lingus. However, I was a bit surprised to see a flight option that gave me just over an hour to connect to my second flight on to Heathrow. I won't have any checked luggage, but I was wondering if I'd have to go through security screening again between Ireland and the UK. Do you think this is doable?

Yes, probably. As I wrote in a 2013 Navigator on "legal" connections, that's all figured out by the airline. And if you miss the plane, they'll rebook you on the next flight at no charge, as long as your itinerary is connected.

Hi, I got great airfare from IAD to Barcelona (Delta $500 R/T) in August and booked without looking at hotels. I am finding hotels to be a little pricey. Can you or the chatters provide me with a list of hotels under $200 that are nice, safe neighborhood decent room size (for two) and centrally located to the downtown area?

Chatters, any advice?

Any idea when resorts in Puerto Rico will be open and local attractions ready for visitors? I'd like a warm weather vacation, and support the island.

According to the most recent status report from the Caribbean Tourism Organization,  72 percent of Puerto Rico's hotels are now open, with many of those located in the San Juan area. You can read the full report on the CTO Web site. 

I met with a PR tourism official last week and he said Old San Juan is ready to roll (and accept cruisers), but the island is really focusing on "tourism with a purpose" for now. They are going to announce their re-opening to traditional tourists on Dec. 20.

Hi there! I am planning a birthday trip for my partner and I was thinking about booking a vacation rental in Tulum for March. Cancun seems like a reasonably priced airport for people to fly into from multiple cities and I think it might be the perfect combination of things to do/place to lounge on the beach. Is it safe to drive from Cancun to Tulum? Do you have any recommendations for must-do activities in the area? Thanks!

It is safe to drive from Cancun to Tulum. It's about 75 miles and the drive should take you about 90 minutes unless there is construction. As for must-sees, the Mayan ruins, snorkeling in the cenotes and hitting the beach are my favorites. 

Where do u recommend for day trip or overnight weekend getaway to W.Va?

I'm partial to the Canaan Valley for an overnight adventure. For a day trip, Berkeley Springs.  Feel free to chime in, chatters. 

Anybody home?

Apologies for the delay! We ran into some tech issues. Should be working now! 

Hi, I keep reading that the cruises are going to the Caribbean cruise ports. I live in the Miami area and I know the damage hurricanes can do. I guess it's what the term ready means. If it means the ships can dock, fine. But won't the passengers get a watered down version of those areas, to say the least. Thanks,

The major cruises have started to return to Puerto Rico and several of the islands affected by the hurricanes. And you are right: Cruisers will not experience the full breadth of the islands, since many places are still recovering. But visitors can feel good about supporting the local economy and the islanders.


What neighborhood(s)?!?!?

Make sure to check AirBnB, VRBO, etc.

Yes, but can you help with neighborhoods?

hi, I have some time this December for a quick vacation and would love to visit a European Christmas market. Am I too late in finding air deals? And assuming I can find a flight, any recommendations on which cities/countries to visit? I lean towards a German market but how are the London ones, for example? Thanks.

I would go with the original and most traditional market scene, so that means, Here you come, Germany! I visited the German Xmas markets a few years ago; here is my piece. Germany has hundreds of markets, but you should base yourself in a major city, like Berlin, Stuttgart or Dresden, and fan out to the smaller towns and their charming markets. Most markets run from mid-November till the night before Xmas.

In the discussions of hotels offering points or discounts if daily housekeeping isn't required, some have said that housekeepers will be out of work. While it will cut down on labor costs, hotel owners are more likely reacting to the difficulty of hiring good housekeepers. It cannot be an easy job to fill. And it's probably getting harder to fill as immigration issues play out.

Thank you. That's a great point, and it's one I'm going to make in an upcoming Navigator on this topic. Stay tuned.

I sent a list of hotel peeves. One more I forgot - toilets that are so low you are practically sitting on the floor.

Is that a new thing? Which architecture school dropout came up with that idea?

Hi! Do you think it's possible to get enough time in Hawaii and Japan (Tokyo/surrounding areas) with five nights in each location? My partner has never been to either, and we're trying to plan a trip!

You can definitely see both places in 10 nights, but don't try to be too ambitious. Pick one or two islands (say, Oahu and the Big Island) and one major city in Japan (Tokyo or Kyoto), with planned side trips. For Japan, buy a train pass in advance, which will save you money and time.

Loved El Jardi in the Gothic Quarter. Get a room overlooking the lovely little square!


There is an excellent Christmas market in Bratislava, Slovakia. Multiple trains are available from Vienna, and it takes about an hour. It has been years since we were there, but the market had a lot of traditional food, handicrafts, and music. Bratislava is smaller, although still a capital city, and has a completely different feel from Vienna or Budapest.

Thanks for the idea. The train is also cheap, with prices starting at $19 each way. 

I highly recommend Shepherdstown with a trip to Antietam, and add on Harper's Ferry if you are there for more than couple days. (You really need to give yourself at least half a day for Antietam, and sign up for a guide, too).


What is the best way to travel to the ferry for the Isla Mujeres from the Cancun airport? How long does it take to get to the ferry? Thank you!

There are several different ways to get to the ferry, ranging from public transportation to private taxi. This Isla Mujeres Web site details all the options. 

for the question about Barcelona. Reviewers often mention how long it takes to walk to certain sites from their hotel. And you can specify a price range and then look at the list by rating and by price. When you find something near the top of the ratings and not too far up the price range, you have found your hotel.

Yes, TripAdvisor is helpful but if you have no idea where to start, I think chatter suggestions are better.

Anakena House, just under $200, in the Eixample, convenient to Universitat, Passeig de Gracia, and Placa Catalunya metro stops. We were two women traveling alone and the area felt very safe, even though we were out walking after midnight.


Also check regular B&Bs. We liked (a few years back) the Casa de Billy in the centrally-located Eixample district.


For the past four years, Senior Discovery Tours Canada has been running a England's Christmas Traditions tour. (Sorry it's too late to book for this year but you might want to look out for next year's tour - it should be available for booking in June/July). Every year, they've gone to a different area of England, with a few overlapping places. I've gone the past two years and am booked to go again in 3 weeks. I had a great time, despite the fact that I don't shop!

Thanks for sharing!

I'm heading to Orlando for MLK weekend while on maternity leave.  I will have a six-week-old and an 18-month-old.  I've picked a resort in Kissimmee based solely on getting a suite with kitchen, heated pool and playground. Any suggestions of activities or restaurants for a young family? We may want a few ideas besides just pool time -- and don't want to pay for Disney or Universal tickets.

There's plenty to do in that area. You could head north and visit Kennedy Space Center or check out some of the less expensive theme parks, such as Gatorland or SeaWorld. I also love Bok Tower Gardens, which is not far from Kissimmee. 

Made it to the Kennedy exhibit in Portland that you recommended. It did rain every day but the Historical Society and Powell's saved the trip.

Great! Glad it worked out so well, despite the rain.

Being a native of Northern California, my favorite Oregon spots are in the southern part of the state: Ashland (with its Shakespeare Festival) and nearby Medford, and bluer-than-blue deep Crater Lake National Park.

My favorite Oregon destination is Ashland, just over the California border. Ashland is a terrific small town and the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which produces terrific plays each year. Great restaurants and parks, Crater Lake is only 90 minutes away, and the Oregon Caves about 2 hours away. Ashland is just a great place to visit.

Lots of favorite spots in Oregon. Crater Lake is gorgeous. Somehow better when it is threatening rain. The grey clouds reflected in the water are spectacular before the wind picks up. Ashland is nice little theater festival surrounded by a nice little theater festival town. And Powell's City of Books because I could practically live there. Oh, and any place in Oregon that will serve me Marionberry sauce or jam to go with my pancakes or scones, respectively. 

Just starting to dream here and need some ideas to get started. My newly turned 6 (in May) year old son and I have two weeks to travel. Last year, we had a great trip to Jordan. Looking for ideas on where to go this year. I want warm. He wants sand, and pools. We don't mind changing locals every few days. I've been thinking of Greece or Portugal. Any other suggestions?

Both are great suggestions. I would add to that list Morocco (if your son likes sand, he will love the Sahara!) and the Azores.

In 2014 we stayed with the Catalonia Hotels chain in their Catalonia Catedral hotel. In the Gothic Quarter, the hotel is a block from the cathedral, short walk to the Placa de Catalunya, their website shows a double from 169 euros in August. Great location, restaurants and shopping nearby, lovely hotel with a contemporary vibe, terrific service, rooftop pool, too. We would happily stay there again.

Thanks for the tip!

I know that kindereggs are not legally sold in the US; but, when I visit Europe next week, may I bring some home in my luggage? I promise I won't sell them to unknowing children! Thanks.

You may just want to wait till January when a version of it, Kinder Joy Eggs, will become legal to sell in the United States. 

Hello, please post the Post Points Code before signing off. Thank you

You got it! Today's code is TT6303. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

ICYMI There is a trend to lower toilets. They’re supposed to provide a more natural position. If you have the traditional height toilet, you can purchase a toilet stool to adapt. Really. Google “Squatty Potty” or “Poop Stoop.”

Really? Thanks for sharing that.

On a completely unrelated note, I saw a sign in the bathroom in Arches National Park yesterday. It said, "No standing on toilet." 

I must really be behind the times ...

My wife is a teacher, so we can travel over the holidays or in the summer. She's decided she wants to see Miss Saigon on Broadway before it ends -- so we're going up there December 29-31. Yes, right before NYE. Whee. Shall I assume that hotel prices are not gonna get any cheaper? We're leaving before all the parties start, but we're still getting hit with those Event Weekend Rates. Any secret suggestions you might have will be VERY welcome.

Hotel prices are likely not going down between now and then. And if they do, it will be in the form of last minute sales to book unsold rooms. If you're willing to live dangerously, you could try the Hotel Tonight app, which allows you to book up to seven nights ahead of stay. Or you could look in outlying boroughs or New Jersey. 

Oregon has long been on my bucket list. What other places outside of Portland are worth visiting? I hear good things about Bend and would also love to see Crater Lake. Is all that doable on a single visit?

It all depends on the season, but I spent an amazing week driving down the coast, from Seaside to Seal Rock. I also recommend driving the Mount Hood Loop and visiting Ashland, especially if you are a Bard fan. I don't know how long you have for your  "single visit," but you can see a lot in 10 days to two weeks.

I think this is a big myth. I've seen them all over the US. I imagine most European stores have them.

They are illegal (choking hazard, according to our laws), although you can find them or knock-offs in the United States. 

Hello Travel Crew! I am heading to Liverpool and Manchester in the next few weeks. I have been to Manchester before and seen the main highlights; what else can I do for a few days of interesting sights? And besides Beatlemania, what are some fun things to do in Liverpool? Thanks for your insight!

There is no "besides Beatlemania" in Liverpool. Kidding. There is lots to do that doesn't (directly) involve  John, Paul, Ringo and George. For example, check out the British Music Experience, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool or Tate Liverpool. Or take a tour of the Liverpool Football Club's stadium. The largest cathedral in Britain is in Liverpool; it's name is easy to remember: Liverpool Cathedral. If you are a pub crawler type, consider stopping by the Baltic Fleet, Ship & Mitre, and the Philharmonic Dining Rooms.

Chatters, do you have any fave spots?

On a recent Delta flight to Boston, once the passengers were seated and buckled up, the attendant said "Welcome aboard flight [number] to Honolulu." I (age 72) gasped and grabbed my chest in shock and fright over the possibility that I'd somehow boarded the wrong flight in spite of myself. The attendant then said, "Just kidding." On the return flight a few weeks later, the same thing occurred, except this time the attendant said, "Welcome aboard flight [number] to Las Vegas," and I had the same reaction. She then said, "Just kidding." Is this some sort of Delta policy to be humorous? As we all know, you never EVER joke about certain topics on a flight (or even in the airport), and this needs to be added to the list, IMHO.

That's the oldest joke in the flight attendant manual, and it should be banned. I think crewmembers do that because they know we, their passengers, ignore the in-flight announcements, and they want us to perk up and pay attention. Problem is, that's one of the reasons we tune out the announcements. We don't believe what they're saying anymore. 

They are available in Canada, for people joing north rather than north-east.

But they definitely aren't worth a special trip!

Thanks for the reminder of Kinder Eggs! That was actually my son's number 1 request for our trip is to go somewhere where there are kinder eggs. He got one every day in Jordan.

Who knew Kinder Eggs were so popular? 

My partner and I are thinking about taking a trip to Atlantic Canada this summer with our 15 yo daughter. We plan to take the car ferry from Maine and then drive back through VT. We will have about 10 days total, and are having a hard time figuring out where to spend our time. We definitely want to spend some time on PEI, but are not sure where to be for the remainder - Nova Scotia or New Brunswick? Or should we do both? Thoughts?

When I was little, we did the same trip, and we combined PEI with Nova Scotia. (My sister was a big Anne of Green Gables fan.) I would definitely recommend visiting both. If you want an even bigger adventure, consider Newfoundland and Labrador, though you might need more than 10 days!

Really appreciated Christopher Elliott's luggage article. One lesson I've learned in traveling with a small child is that while I have her "responsible" for her own backpack (with doll, blanket, water bottle and coloring book), I always grab a clip or carabiner. This means that when she inevitably falls apart - or I need her to run to get the wiggles out pre-boarding - I can carry her stuff without inconveniencing myself. It also gives us a bag to put under the seat with all the important"entertaining" stuff while I put my backpack* up above. *I promise it's a reasonable sized backpack. We check most of the "stuff" - but it's nice to have backup entertainment and clothes onboard. . I would add that volumes of luggage that appear reasonable at the start of a trip may not be by the time you land.

Thank you. I'm so glad you liked my story. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Packing up my father's house for a move, we found some old Spanish pesetas from a vacation before the advent of the European Union. Can they be exchanged for dollars (or euros)? Or are they essentially worthless at this point?

Yes, you have until 2020 to exchange them, according to the European Central Bank.

If you had a week (with a day or two wiggle room) to spend in South America in January, where would you go and why? Try to plan a trip and can't decide!

I loved Ecuador, for the mountains, markets, architecture and culture. But I might consider going to Colombia, as well. I have only been to Cartagena and definitely want to see more of the country.

A visit to the International Slavery Museum is well worth a visit. Yes, really. It's one of several outstanding National Museums of Liverpool.


My boyfriend and I stayed at the Sercotel Amister Art Hotel  this past March and really liked it. Great quality. It's not in the center of Barcelona, but it's in a nice neighborhood with great transit links. They did go heavy on the in-room perfume though....

Thanks for the tip! Note: Bring your nose guard.

We LOVED Prince Edward Island! On separate trips we've also visited Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, and Halifax and environs (including Peggy's Cove) in Nova Scotia. Highly recommend both Fundy and Halifax, so take your pick if you can only do one. (Also recommend Dalvay-by-the-Sea on the north shore of PEI for a superb dinner).

Thanks for seconding me (and suggesting other great ideas)!

I stayed at the Hotel Catalunya last August -- nice hotel, clean modern rooms, extremely tiny elevator, reasonable rates, and friendly staff who spoke English. It's a block off La Rambla and a block from the Playa Catalunya. The main drawback is that it's on a no-vehicle street which got a lot of pedestrian traffic (and noise) late at night. I think it's this hotel.

Thanks for the suggestion!

Oh, I can top THAT: a king-sized bed on a sloped floor, so that the person who sleeps on the near side can climb into bed easily because the bed's at a reasonable height -- but the person who always sleeps on the far side (that would be me!) only has a single step up from the floor, so I'd climb on from the foot of the bed, then scoot up to the top. AND THEN, I discovered that the switch for the bed-lamp was on the wall, a full FOUR FEET from the edge of the bed. Even Kareem Abdul Jabbar couldn't have reached THAT!

Oh wow. That's a good one.

Probably one who was sick of hearing about how the toilets were too tall for children. Often it feels like an elementary school when you are in a hotel bathroom these days


The beautiful, wild Rogue River Valley.

Agree with everything Oregon. Really enjoy staying in a yurt at one of the coastal parks, but they go fast in season. Please consider filing a travel-related update on status of the Gorge (post-fire) sometime next year.

I was recently on a number of foreign flights (as well as two domestic ones), and on each one we were repeatedly reminded that "This is a non-smoking flight." This got me to wondering: Is there any airline or nation that still perhaps smoking in-flight? (I'd certainly want to avoid it).

You're unlikely to fly on an airline that allows smoking. I've heard rumors that certain Inter-African flights and domestic flights in China still look the other way when passengers light up, but I can't find a reliable source to verify it.

Hello, I was wondering if you (the travel gurus) wrote about your experiences among the different types of rentals and their advantages/disadvantages. Having done both hotels and vacations rentals (I've yet to try Airbnb), I've always preferred the hotel option. To me, hotels are more secure, you get better service/hosts, and the daily cleaning is nice. We only do vacation rentals when the amenities we need (primarily multiple bedrooms and a kitchen) are not available in a hotel. What I find with vacation rentals is that the range in quality is so wide that it can easily ruin a trip if the accommodations are not adequate. Also, I've found that some hosts treat you like they are doing you a favor, or giving unsolicited opinions (regarding traveling together as an unmarried couple), than treating you as their guest.

I'm more of a hotel person, too, but it's often much, much cheaper to rent an apartment or house, especially when you're traveling with a family or larger group. The key is to talk to the owners before you book. Make sure the photos are current. Read the reviews. It's definitely more work than booking a hotel room, but worth the effort. 

The lower toilets may be more natural, unless you have mobility issues. The contractor who just remodeled our bathroom said those low toilets are the worse for people as they get older. Those 'no standing on toilets' signs are everywhere more and more. Melk Abbey has a really interesting combination sign inside the ladies' stalls. That's the first place I saw one! Laughed so hard I, well...TMI.

I'm not the previous poster, but I too have thought about visiting Cuba. If I understand your linked story correctly, an American who travels with a legitimate group tour operator is legal, and the operator will comply with the restrictions. Is that right?

Correct. It goes back to people-to-people tours run by licensed tour groups.

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, on Cape Breton Island, is probably Nova Scotia's most-popular attraction. It's reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg.

What are some of the travel guides, especially for international travel, in your opinion? I'm partial to books but would be open to apps and websites. I'm new to travel and could use practical guides that spell out things like local customs, electrical outlets, tipping practices, local transportation, etc.

I am still a big fan of Lonely Planet and Frommer's.

I like Bradt.

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting today! Northern California native, please drop us a line at to claim your prize. And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel! 

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