Talk about Travel

Nov 18, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Good afternoon, everyone! Looks like you missed us last week, because we have a ton of questions from you all. We'll get to as many of them as we can. Hope you got to see this week's very nice stories on India's Ziro Valley and Nevin Martell's fishing trip with his dad. To riff on Nevin's sweet piece, tell us about your most memorable trip with your parents. Funniest, most touching, most whatever tale gets the prize.

Now let's get going!

The Sunday column on layovers was timely! When going overseas recently, the plane sat on the runway (at Charlotte) for 1 hour for no reason the pilot ever stated, which of course made those waiting for the return flight late. Then, upon return to Charlotte, we sat on the plane at the gate for nearly 1 hour, because immigration was backed up. Then it took nearly another hour to work our way thru the maze, then customs, then baggage drop-off, then jog to the next gate. The column implied that gates are close in Charlotte, but our are always one end of the airport to the other! Oh, and US Airways changed our carefully timed flights and layovers to 1.5 hours, which would have been totally used up by the gate and immigration delays. We insisted on the original timing, and glad we did!

The US Airways representative I spoke with didn't suggest the gates were close together, although you can see for yourself on this terminal map. I'm not sure about the scale, so don't put too much stock in it. Incidentally, the column was inspired by another incident which, in retrospect, I should have included. It involved a Delta passenger with a too-close but "legal" connection. I contacted the airline, and it agreed to change her schedule. I will get around to covering that one soon.

Last night we decided to fly my mother-in-law out for Christmas, from SGF to WAS. I checked flights last night and was surprised to see that there were several options priced at $302. However, when I checked today they were all in the $400's, with only one flight at $367. Is this just a daily fluctuation and the prices may go back down, or is this because I just crossed a date at which all of the holiday airfares go up? Should I wait and see if they drop back down? Is there a good day to try it on? (I've heard Tuesday is good). Thanks!

Just for the fun of it, try the search from a different browser. Not that I believe the airlines track our searches, but nothing to lose by trying that. I'm seeing fares as low as $263, but I may be looking at different dates. If you're flexible with travel days/times, should be able to do better than $400. As for which day is best to search, some studies have shown that Tuesdays are better for domestic flights because more sales are launched on that day. 

Trying to plan a one week trip to Scotland for next September. What we know: Edinburgh, yes.... Glasgow, no. We'd like some beautiful scenery and quaint towns as well. Any lodging suggestions would also be welcome. Thanks!!

Have a look at these Scotland stories that we've run: Here's one about both Edinburgh and Inverness, one about Scotch whiskey that takes from Edinburgh to the Isle of Islay, which sounds fabulous, one about walking in the highlands, and one about taking a train through the Highlands to the coast. Check the details boxes of all -- they'll offer lodging and dining suggestions. Scotland just sounds so gorgeous.

We'd like to visit our son, studying in London next semester, and also travel to France, staying about 2 weeks. I'm unsure where to begin--literally. Can we fly into London and out of Paris, or is it best to fly in and out of the same place? Should we take the Chunnel between countries? I know we want to stay in London the whole time we're in England, but we'd like to be in Paris for 3-4 days and then Normandy and Brittany for a couple of days. Rent a car in France for travels outside of Paris? This would be in late March/early April. Thanks!

To answer everything:

1. Yes, you can fly into one and out the other.

2. Sure, you can travel via the Chunnel.

3. You can rent a car to go beyond Paris. Or I guess you could take a train to one of those areas and then rent a car.

I leave tomorrow for Milan and am trying to confirm if the train leaves directly from the the Milan Airport to Florence. I cannot tell from looking at train schedules and I recall your Sunday Travel section discussing this. I don't remember the date it appeared. Can you please help answer? Do I need to go to the central train station and then connect to Florence?

I believe that you have to connect through the central train station in Milan. Chatters, anyone know for sure?

My husband and I want to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this winter with a 4-7 day trip to the Caribbean (my first - I usually choose cool weather locales). We're not especially extravagant people; just looking for a clean, quiet, destination that won't break the budget. It would be nice to have a long sandy beach and casual dining available but we're flexible. No cruises please.

The next time I go on a real Caribbean vacation, I want to return to Les Saintes, a set of islands off Guadeloupe. I loved my trip there many years ago -- love that a lot of Guadeloupe natives vacation there -- and a lot of French. And that a lot of French run restaurants there. Found it delightful.

My son will be studying in Luxembourg this Spring and I am planning a visit. He will be in class during the week and I will want to explore nearby either for the day or a couple of days away either by car or train. Any suggestions of places to visit would be greatly appreciated. I am open to flying into a different nearby country, spending time there and then making my way to Luxembourg. Any suggested itineraries, places to stay, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

You could certainly pair Luxembourg with Paris. Or Belgium. Brussels and Paris are both pretty short train rides from Luxembourg.

My maternal grandmother was from Scotland, so I grew up around a brogue and stories of her life there. She passed in 1975, but a few years ago my Mom and I took a trip through England, Scotland and Wales. We visited one of her first cousins who lives in Glasgow. I trace our familiy history, so I told them I wanted to visit a cemetery, no longer active, where another cousin had been unable to find our relatives. I emailed the cemetery caretaker, who met us with a huge map of the gravesites. This first cousin initially wasn't going to come (she strongly dislikes cemeteries), then said she'd stay in the car and finally joined us on the hallowed grounds. We found the graves of my mom and her cousin's grandparents, which were the flat type on the ground and mainly covered with grass, which we pulled away to reveal beautifully decorated headstones. We also found 5 relatives stacked in two columns with no headstones, for which I hope to get everyone to chip in and buy. It became a very emotional, yet happy, visit. We were so glad to restore those gravestones and say "hello" and share stories. I hope future generations will benefit from our curiosity and exploration.

What are some good last minute travel sites?

If you're flexible, my two favorites are Hotwire and Priceline. Both give you access to so-called "distressed" inventory in exchange for stricter terms on the purchase (tickets are totally nonrefundable) and not knowing the name of the company until after you book. You can also try signing up for your favorite airline or hotel's "deal" newsletter, which often sells last-minute travel products. Try following one of them via social media (one favorite is @JetBlueCheeps, which sends out deals every Tuesday.)

When my mom and sister came to visit me while I studied abroad, my mom managed to get pick-pocketed in Madrid and lost her passport and the passport of my then 11 year-old sister. Lots of calls to the airline, consulate and my Dad so we could get them back to the States. I took them to the airport and served as interpreter to get them checked in, through security and to customs. Nobody asked me for ID or a plane ticket the entire time. Customs finally stopped me. Turns out, they thought I was from the consulate because I was wearing a suit and hand-holding these lost Americans!

Oh, funny.

You might also want to try Jetsetter.

The trans-Atlantic airline I most often fly has recently announced a new fare system that's based in part on luggage weight. Their lowest fare allows only one piece of carry-on luggage, with a weight limit of 17 pounds (8 kg). My question is: Can anyone recommend a super-lightweight carry-on bag, perhaps something made of tough nylon, in which one can carry a few changes of clothes and minimal toiletries, while still remaining under the 17-pound total limit? Is the only option a duffel bag?

Have you tried the Delsey Helium line? It's some of the lightest luggage out there. 

Back in the 1980s, my Dad and I would travel and visit museums etc around the country while mom enjoyed her time off at home. One night we called home from our hotel in Michigan and there was no answer for hours. I fell asleep, but remember waking up to find Dad still on the phone, and just sobbing. He had called all the hospitals in southern Wisconsin and had the highway patrol looking for Mom's car. Eventually the city police went to house and found Mom -- safe and sound. It turned out she had a migraine and unplugged the phone, and the message she left at our hotel was never passed on to us. I'll never forget Dad's tears of distress or his joy at finding her safe.

Yikes. Glad everything was OK in the end!

My uncle was a taxi driver who owned his own cab. When he died my parents inherited the cab and had it repainted. It became our family car. I joined them on a road trip to Quebec City to visit a friend Dad had met through ham radio. On the way back, customs officials recognized that our car had been a taxi and did a search. They came up with a box of syringes my dad's friend gave him to use in oiling hard-to-reach areas in the radios they both liked to build. We were pulled over to the side of the search area, questioned extensively, and everything was thoroughly searched. They even pulled out the back seats. Three hours later we were back on the New York Thruway...tired and a lot wiser!

I've arranged for a July home exchange to Copenhagen for my husband, 5-year-old son, and me. I'll seek specific activities in the city closer to the trip, but for now I'm wondering (1) when the best time is to buy plane tickets, (2) if there's anything besides Stockholm that's worth a brief side trip, and (3) if there is any savings to flying into one city versus the other (ideally we fly into one and out of the other, if we're going to both).

I'd start pricing tickets out now. For the past few years, especially last summer, fares for travel to Europe in summer have been very pricey, caused by a combination of high demand and fewer seats. I'd keep an eye on SAS sales.  Airfares to Copenhagan & Stockholm are similar. It may cost a little more to do an open-jaw ticket into one city and out of another. As for other places to go, I'll leave that to my colleagues and other chatters.  

Have you seen Masterpiece Mystery's fantastic "Wallander" series with Kenneth Branagh? Even if you haven't, I'd consider checking out picturesque Ystad.

Since I can do all the options I was considering, do you recommend one more than the other? Is it easier or more complicated to fly into, say, London and out of Paris rather than doing round trip from either London or Paris? And if we took the Chunnel from England to France, would it be easy to rent a car from wherever the Chunnel terminates and drive around Normandy and then drive into Paris? Thanks!

I would save yourself the time and just fly into one and out of the other (although, as Carol says, open jaw tickets can be more expensive). The Eurostar train (the Chunnel) takes you from London to Paris. So you can spend time there and then explore wherever else you want to go and then make your way back to Paris to fly home. There are also ways you can cross from England to France by ferry, but I think that would be more complicated.

Chatters, does this sound reasonable?

When I was 10 (in 1969), my family was living in Brooklyn. My father worked in a clothing factory and salivated at the thought of his two weeks a year in the summer, drive the old Buick Electra (and the five of us) 500 miles a day due west. This year, we were heading to Pikes Peak. Somewhere in Kansas, he handed me, the oldest kid, the map. "You're a grown up," he said, "you can be the navigator." All was well for a while--Kansas is flat and we were just speeding along the Interstate--until we hit the Colorado border, where the roads begin to get curvy. We were turning northeast, and I told him the correct road. "And after that," I said, looking at the AAA map, "you take the squiggly line for about 50 miles." "THE SQUIGGLY LINE?" he shouted, grabbing the map back. I've been in therapy since...

Hi - I am not sure you all have any info on this, but I am wondering how much irradiation airport security x-ray machines deliver to items in our carry-ons, like medications, lotions, snack items such as granola bars or dried fruit, etc. Am I just being paranoid for wondeering whether we should worry about this?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, "There are no known adverse effects from eating food, drinking beverages, using medicine, or applying cosmetics that have been irradiated by a cabinet x ray system used for security screening." But I won't tell you not to worry. I don't like having my food radiated before I board. Just a personal taste thing.

End of WW 2, we had no car during the war years and my Dad had been able to buy a used sedan. Sunday morning they dragged me, a teenager, out of bed to drive about 100 miles where they were looking for a Lake property. I was so annoyed that I did not comb my hair of brush my teeth. About 50 miles into the journey, the tie rod broke completely disabling the car. Luckily, we were near a roadside tourist attraction so we had food and shelter while waiting for a late afternoon Greyhound bus back to Detroit.. Then a city bus back home. Needless to say, I never again left the house without properly grooming myself and my Dad never again bought a used car.

My favorite travel memory was actually with my parents and grandparents. When we were younger, my parents invited all 4 of our grandparents to come on a trip to Disney World. Unfortunately, being that it was hot and they were all a little older, they tended to tire quicker. One afternoon, all 4 of them decided to head back to the hotel. My family walked them out of the Magic Kingdom and directed them to the correct monorail, which stops at the hotel (The Polynesian), before heading back to the park. Somehow my grandparents ended up on the wrong monorail (we still dont know how since it is a separate entrance) and spent several hours going round and round on the express monorail, which does not stop at the hotel. The best part is that none of them thought to get off or ask someone. Instead, they just kept going back and forth between the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket/Trans Center, passing the hotel each time and wondering how to get off. Needless to say, we did not leave them alone again that trip.

I will be traveling to Cuba in December (with a group someone on this chat recommended) and am trying to decide how much money to bring and in what form. I have seen conflicting information about what Americans can bring back (other than cigars and rum) and also about the different types of pesos and whether to convert dollars in the US or in Cuba. Would appreciate clarification on what we can buy, as well as whether to convert money before leaving, and whether euros or Canadian dollars are better. Thanks.

Alas, Andrea, our Cuba expert since she went there last year, is traveling this week. But have a look at her tips for traveling to Cuba. Apparently, euros or Canadian dollars are better to take, because there's no surcharge for converting them to the CUC (convertible peso, which foreigners get). You can only bring back "approved" souvenirs, which includes art, books and educational materials (Andrea brought back a carved wooden whale).  I think it'll be pretty obvious to you once you get there what you may and may not purchase to bring back to the States.

If anyone has been to Cuba and has more info, please chime in!

Did it last year, and I'd also suggest a quick stop in Lille, a quaint northern French city on the Chunnel train line. Totally different from Paris, more like Brussels. Great food, easily walkable.

Luxembourg is great! We were there a couple of years ago. I would recommend Vianden Castle -- they were restoring the ramparts when we were there, but they should be done by now. And do not miss the Military History Museum -- it has an amazing exhibit on the Ardennes Offensive. And if you're going to spend more than a day, get the Luxembourg Pass -- it will get you in free to most sights, and it's good for riding the trains and busses throughout the country. The tourist information office is great, and everyone speaks English. We'd go back in a minute!

One of my favorite travel memories is the trip that my dad and I took to Amsterdam, when I was a senior in high school. It's where my love of Van Gogh started! But the truly memorable was my dad taking me through the red light district saying "keep your eyes on the street and head facing forward." All to see a church that had been built in a house - when Catholics had to practice in secret - on a canal in that area.

How can you say that these cities are "not that far apart" and that you can get to Prague from Budapest in 2 or 3 hours? Actually by train these cities are 7 hours apart. Vienna to Prague is 5 hours and Vienna to Budapest is over 2 hours. My source is Rail Europe.

I suppose it depends on your definition of "far." I don't consider a two-hour train trip all that far. The Vienna-Budapest-Prague triangle is a frequent itinerary for many travelers.I suggested that the travelers, who are flying in to Vienna, head from that city to Budapest, which is closer than Prague, as you note, then go from Budapest to Prague. Mea culpa, however - I did say that there was an express train between Budapest and Prague that would only take three hours. This is wrong. The express train takes just under 7 hours (there's also an overnight train, if you want to save time by traveling at night). That would be the longest travel time between destinations. It's also possible to fly between Budapest and Prague (or to take the bus or to drive).

When I was in junior high my dad was on of the chaperones of our class trip to DC. I was not that thrilled to have him along until the day we went to the Vietnam Memorial and stood with him looking up the names of his friends, including the neighbor he walked to school with when he was in junior high. Standing next to him at the Wall as he cried and told stories was a huge eye-opener for me about life, war, my dad, so many things. Don't get me wrong he still embarrassed me on that trip, but I am glad we had that moment then.

Any tips on visiting the Louvre, other than avoiding the crowds on the first Sunday of the month when its free? Any advantage to going on a weekend versus weekday?

Hi gurus! I'm planning a trip to visit Paris and Barcelona this January. Any suggestions on mid priced hotels (3.5-4 stars) in each city? Would like to be near the center of the action and near restaurants/shopping, but perhaps on a quiet street. Thanks in advance!

I often recommend the Hotel Therese, where I stayed the last time I was there. I loved it, and it was reasonably priced. Four stars, and on the Right Bank near the Palais Royal, Louevre, etc.

It's been far too long since I've been to Barcelona, but if I were going back soon (wish I would like to be), I'd look into the Hotel Villa Emilia, on a quiet street but just off the Passeig de Gracia and near Sagrada Familia. calls it one of the best boutique hotels in the city, and yet the rates are under $100 a night! That leaves you money for shopping and eating!

My husband and I are taking a 2-year belated honeymoon in January. We're looking for either a cruise or a resort somewhere warmer than DC in January. We would prefer to minimize travel time and maximize relaxation time. Neither of us has been to the Carribean, or Central or South America. We do have passports. I'm a vegetarian, but he is not. Any suggestions on where to go or how to get started on deciding where to go?

Don't know if money is an issue, but cruising would probably be the cheapest way to go, especially if you don't drink much. And even if you do, many cruise lines are now offering alcohol packages. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival sail out of Baltimore in January, which would minimize travel time. Many all-inclusives are also reasonably priced, but you'd have to fly to the Caribbean, which can be expensive. American is offering  a sale to the Caribbean right now, so take a look at those fares. Several islands are offering promotions, including Jamaica, Bermuda &  the Bahamas.  From Houston, you can get easily to several cities in Central & South America, including San Jose in Costa Rica. 

My father worked two jobs all of his working life and he also really didn't enjoy traveling, so we only took one family vacation - I was 4, and we drove from Chicago to Yellowstone. I have a few fuzzy memories of waiting impatiently for Old Faithful, of the boardwalks through the hot springs, but the one that I remember the most is the bear pawprint. One of the first things that happened when we entered the park was that a bear approached the car for food (in those days it was a given that people fed the bears from cars) and boosted himself up on the window, leaving a huge muddy pawprint. My parents were going to wash it off, except I protested (I believe the words "unprecedented tantrum" have been used when recounting the incident) so effectively that the pawprint remained on the window for the whole week, and even made it back to Chicago. Somewhere there's a photo of me smiling through a backseat window, pawprint just off to one side.

I have a granddaughter graduating from high school in the spring and would like to "make a memory" with a trip ....possibly to include her mom and 14 yr old sister...they live in the midwest...New York, Paris, a train trip, something fun and that I can keep up with too! suggestions

Well, that could be a lot, couldn't it? Europe would certainly be memorable, so if you're game for that, I say go for it. Paris, London, both -- whatever everyone is interested in. There's enough for all parties to do. If you feel like you need a break, they can stay plenty entertained while you relax at a cafe or whatever.

I want to fly from Dulles to Seattle in early June and visit Olympic National Park and the San Juan Islands. I had planned to stay in a cabin inside ONP but the reviews of them are horrendous. Any suggestions ?

Chatters? You could look into staying in nearby Port Angeles or Sequim.

We want to go to the Galapagos islands, but are worried about seasickness. Advice? Calmer time of year (we're thinking April), size of boat (is 48-person large enough-we've been told larger will be more crowded onshore), pills/patches...? Any suggestions for a place to try a short cruise this winter under similar sea conditions to test our sea legs and stomachs?

Need your Galapagos expertise, chatters, as Andrea -- she's our Galapagos expert, too! -- is away. Advice for these folks?

During WW II, my parents and enough of their friends pooled their ration coupons to take them all in a couple of cars from the San Francisco Bay Area (where they lived) to Yosemite Valley for the week between Christmas and New Year, where they enjoyed among other things ice skating on the parking lot at Camp Curry that management flooded every night so it would be frozen the next morning (started getting slushy ca. 11 AM, my dad said). I was born the following late September, so I'd guess my first trip with my parents was the journey home from Yosemite (not that I remember it).

I looked up the Helium bag you mentioned earlier -- but unfortunately the page doesn't list the bag's WEIGHT, which is my most important consideration if I'm to snag the lowest airfare with only a 17-pound carry-on. Do you know how I can find out the bag's weight?

I ran several searches, and the uprights weigh about 11 pounds. I have a unit somewhere in my closet that seems to be significantly lighter, though. Which airline are you flying on with a 17-pound limit? 

We are planning a family reunion next fall, Oct 30-Nov 3, in or near Ft. Lauderdale / Florida Keys. 26 adults (3 generations), 11 children age 1 to 11. We'd like to get one (ideally) or two adjacent houses on or very near the beach. But money is a factor. How do we go about finding houses other than VRBO and similar sites? I think we need a real person that we can work with, but don't know where to start.

I'd narrow it down to a specific destination first, and then start by contacting local rental agents. You can do an Internet search for them, but then research them to make sure they are reputable. Look for how long they've been in business, their ratings on the Better Business Bureau, references & reviews and membership in trade organizations. I'd also contact the area's tourism organization. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, for example, has a person on staff who helps plan family reunions, although she will likely steer you to hotels. 

Hi Crew, I just found out that Air France changed my ticket, and I now have a 13 hour layover in Paris instead of a two hour layover mid December (10:30 am to 11:30 pm). I do not know Paris and am wondering what I can do in that amount of time besides sitting in the airport. My bags will already be checked through, so I won't have to worry about that. What is worth doing?

What's worth doing? In Paris?? Everything! You have a whole day in the City of Light -- get out there and enjoy it. At the very least, take in Notre Dame and the Tuileries Gardens, maybe check out the Marais quarter or the Eiffel Tower, find a nice cafe and just sit and take in the atmosphere. If you want a museum, try the Musee d'Orsay, although it's often busy. Chatters, what would you do?

My husband and I would like to take a trip during Christmas week. This is probably our last trip before starting a family and we'd like to make it a big one. Any suggestions for last minute week-long vacations that will run us no more than $5k? Vienna, Prague, Costa Rica are all on the list.

All sound good. You'll probably get the most bang for your buck in Costa Rica. But Vienna and Prague will probably be lovely around Christmas.

most memorable trip to Okefenokee Swamp in an RV, my grandmother stood up and ran out during snake demonstration, her brother in law passed during that trip but i think she was more upset about her face to face with a snake.

We will be flying with our infant for the 1st time this Thanksgiving, and I am super nervous. How early do you think we need to get to National for an 8:45 am flight? We are really close to the airport and I was hoping to take metro but it doesn't open until 7am. I just read something that National will be the 6th busiest airport during thanksgiving, but I doubt they meant the actual day..right?thanks so much!!!!

Just heard from an airport spokesman. He suggested getting to the airport at least two hours early, so you may want to line up a way to get to the airport other than the Metro. Maybe just call ahead for a cab. He said Thanksgiving day could be a bit busy in the morning.

Hi, I love the chats. Thank you for doing them! I was wondering if there is any way to search just the entire chat archive, or certain years of that archive, for a specific topic, e.g., Chile, Barcelona? that would be tremendously useful. Thanks!

It would, we know. We'll ask whether that's even a possibility.

I found Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Oslo (especially Oslo!) well worth the trip during my Scandinavian trip last July but I was traveling on my own and not with little ones in tow. While frustrated with hidden Ryanair fees (make sure you print your required tickets en route during their short time window or risk hefty penalties), I can say I was pleasantly surprised by the quick travel time and cost of Swedish Rail tickets. Their bilingual website is That said, I'll be going to Malmo and Copenhagen over Christmas and would be happy to report back my findings during the first January chat!

We are looking for an area to rent a few houses together next summer. Requirements: beach is kid-friendly (think Cape Cod Bay, not National Seashore). We have done Cape Cod and the Outer Banks and would like to try some place new. Three families coming from Maine, Connecticut and Toronto. Kids range in age from 5-15. Thanks for the wonderful chat!

How about Block Island? If you've done the Outer Banks, I guess you're not averse to coming south. In that case, something like Rehoboth Beach would be nice. Or the Jersey Shore.

Not really a single trip, but a memorable experience across trips to different cities with my mother when I was young: we would stay in budget accommodations, but we would stop to use the rest rooms at the fanciest hotels, the Fountainbleu, the Waldorf Astoria, the Pierre. A little touch of luxury!

Take a ride on one of the boats along the Seine. Bateaux Mouche, I think they're called. Will let you relax a bit while still seeing a lot.

A bag would be much lighter than a suitcase. Kipling makes very durable ones, albeit not the most fashionable.

Thanks. Good advice.

To the chatter asking about Olympic National Park, my parents went over the summer and stayed in a cottage here. They were really happy with it.

When I was a kid, my parent rented a cabin on the shore at Schroon Lake, NY. It was not well equipped so they brought along a hot plate to boil water and make eggs for breakfast. When we were unpacking the car, I yelled to my Dad from the cabin porch "DAD, BRING IN THE STOVE!!" All the other cabin doors opened and people looked out expecting to see a full sized GE wheeled into the cabin....and we were asked about it later by the owner of the cabins as well.

We want to visit Dublin in the Spring & then travel to the countryside to see nature & village life. We don't want to drive; not excited about small group travel due to loss of flexibility; and afraid a private driver is too expensive. Are we hopeless?

No. You can put together your own tour using the nationwide bus service.

What are the best plans for visiting San Francisco in late March early April. May husband and I love to walk and rent a car and do day trips to places North and South of San Francisco. Where should we stay (2 adults)? Should we book everything in advance? Any information will be helpful.

Sounds fun! I'd book the hotel and at least a few restaurants in advance, yes -- especially the celebration dinner, if you're planning one! I loved my stay at the Clift, near Union Square -- very stylish, and I got a decent rate by booking a month in advance and pre-paying. I also stayed at the Good Hotel -- much cheaper, and in a little grittier neighborhood. Charming in its way, but perhaps a little more hostel-like than you might want. Chatters, other hotel ideas?

You can get really good results out of Google if you search "talk about travel" topic

Awesome. I've done that strategy with our main site, but not the chat part. Thanks!

Hi Travel Gurus: I really enjoy your chats! Do you have a recommendation for the best beach snorkeling in the Carribean for a winter (January or February) vacation? I've never been to an all-inclusive - I'd consider it if it weren't too cheesy. But other suggestions also welcome. Thanks!

I quite liked the snorkeling in Cozumel, Mexico. Grand Cayman is also very good. I've not been to Bonaire, but understand the snorkeling and diving are fantastic there. I don't think you need to stay in an all-inclusive unless you really want to do that. There are plenty of other lodging choices in these destinations. Any chatters have thoughts? 

My husband and I have earned 220,000 air miles to date and are thinking of a possible, well overdue, two weeks abroad in late summer of next year. We love Paris but are uneasy about the Muslim situation. Being seniors, we will be on a tight budget because of the global financial situation. We look for small, neighborhood hotels and good neighborhood fare, plus reasonable auto rental. Any suggestions? 

Not sure what you mean by "the Muslim situation." If you're concerned about rioting, there really hasn't been any problem in Paris since the summer, and even then it was in far out suburbs, not the heart of Paris where tourists mostly go. We can ask the chatters for recommendations of small neighborhood hotels. Folks?

OK, I am not a cruise person, so yes I am biased, but I have a couple friends who did the cruise honeymoon thing and wished they had gone to one place instead. Depends on your budget but consider St John- you can be as active or non-active as you want, and take side-trips to some BVI islands as well. As a vegetarian you will be fine (although options are even better if you eat fish).

My future in-laws have generously given us a cash gift to be put towards a honeymoon. We are getting married in May, but want to tack on our honeymoon to the week after we complete a half-Ironman in Texas. Since we'll be that far west, we were looking at an all-inclusive in Central or South America. Only requirements? Nothing super-fancy (not our style) on the beach, with the opportunity for activities such as scuba diving, maybe a day trip to a rain forest. I was thinking Belize or Costa Rica, but that's as far as I've gotten. Any suggestions, and when would be the best time to book our vacation? Thanks!

Based on your requirements, I think either Costa Rica or Belize would fit the bill. I believe there are nonstops from Houston to Liberia, Costa Rica and Belize City, Belize. Both places offer all-inclusives, although there are more to choose from in Costa Rica. I really liked this funky little out island near Belize City called Caye Caulker, but there are no all-inclusives there.  

Saw the article last year about kids in Rincon, but what about a toddler in San Juan? Any suggestions, specific activities, or restaurants you can recommend?


Oh, go to Vienna. It's *lovely* at Christmastime.

You must be very brave to be considering driving in Paris. Just suggesting what we did on return from Normandy: stop in Rouen for the afternoon and drop the car there, then train into the city, avoiding all that crazy traffic.

If you want a fun theater experience, there's nothing like "Beach Blanket Babylon." I think it's close to the North Beach neighborhood.

Checking prices for late-January flight RT Dulles-Rome, I'm finding that if I use the United app the price can vary wildly from one minute to the next. If I check it several times in a row it can alternate between one price and more than double. Is it possible that the price is really changing this rapidly or might it be a glitch in the app? If I use the full United website this doesn't happen.

It's difficult to say without uploading the app and trying to duplicate the fluctuation. But to answer your question, yes, prices do fluctuate, sometimes dramatically. If you feel you're getting the wrong price through the app, try booking online through I'll ask around to see if anyone else has seen these price spikes on the app.

I second the suggestion about the boat ride on the Seine. Also, assuming you're flying in from the States, it would be really helpful to have a little rest before heading out. Too bad they don't have a Yotel yet in CDG, but maybe you could visit one of the lounges?

The person visiting their son in Luxembourg should take the train down to Trier. It is really a fantastic city that really drips with history.

Thanks for the response. I'm using the group Andrea recommended. Am wondering if there's any advantage to Canadian dollars or euros; when is she back?

She's gone till a week from tomorrow. Do you mean whether there's a particular advantage to using either euros or Canadian dollars? I'd say no. Neither is charged an exchange fee. I'd get whatever's easiest for you to obtain. Andrea did choose euros, if that helps you any.

Best memory and full of smells...breaking down on Christmas Eve driving to my grandparents in New Jersey circa 1981. I was 3.5 and sister was 14 months and we spent time in a fish truck staying warm with the nice fishmonger while waiting for Dad to come back with the tow truck.

Hi! Returning home from a recent trip to Europe, I booked myself two separate flights to save money -- the first via AirFrance (Paris to Dublin) and the next one on Delta (Dublin to New York). Even with a 3-hour window between the flights I knew that opened me up to danger, but I figured since the airlines are in an "alliance," if something went wrong with that first flight I could get help from either member of the "family." You see where this is going: I missed the first flight (my own fault) and neither AirFrance nor Delta was willing to help me get back to the states without making me buy a brand new ticket -- they basically each tried to pass me off to the other. Thank goodness I had extra AA miles handy. Moral of the story: Don't do piecemeal ticketing. Too risky. (Though I wonder, is there *any* chance that Delta might at least issue me a credit if I write them nicely?)

Thank you for sharing this story. You're right. Don't do that!

If you don't mind going further south - Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island (both in SC) are both very family friendly and have day time activities for kids and adults.

We stayed at the Best Western Tuscan Inn near Fisherman's Wharf on our last trip and were pleasantly surprised. It's cheap, it's close and easy to walk to whatever you want to see or jump on a street car, there's a car rental nearby, and it's just off to the side of the Wharf enough that you're not right in the middle of the tourist throng down there (plus in March there aren't as many tourists anyway). A good option if you just want a convenient place to sleep and don't care about being in the lap of luxury.

For a family trip to Costa Rica, is it worth booking a package trip or a tour (and if so, can you recommend any reputable companies?) or is it more cost effective to piece together an itinerary on one's own? From what I'm reading it seems like the logistics of DIY could be daunting, but I'm usually wary of tours and of traveling with other families.

Depends on what you want to do. If your goal is to see all the sights in Costa Rica, a tour may be easiest. If you're a little adventurous and don't mind driving, a good compromise may be to book an independent tour, where you'll be on your own, but with a pre-arranged itinerary.  Tour companies such as Gate 1 and Goway, offer these.

Hi, my husband and I have collapsible hiking poles that will fit into a carry-on bag. However, I don't know whether the TSA will let them through security. Do you know whether hiking poles are permitted? And even if they are, I'm concerned that a particular agent may not let us through, at which point there isn't much we can do. If I am at security with a carry-on, and they won't let it through b/c of the hiking poles, would I be able to go back OUT of security and check in my bag? Or is the only option to have the poles confiscated? Thanks.

Since they are collapsible, maybe you'd be able to bring them aboard, but I would not take the chance. They are not specifically discussed on the TSA Web site, so it is up to the individual agent. If you do try it, yes, you can head back and check your bags if the agent won't let them through, but give yourself lots of time if that's the plan. 

Summer is a great time be in that part of the world since the sun doesn't set until like 11PM. I wouldn't consider Stockholm to be a sidetrip exactly. But Malmo and that whole region of Southern Sweden is a short train ride away. I liked Lund very much. There's a cool outdoor museum there that has collected old buildings from around Sweden and reassembled them there. Ystad is very cool. The Polish influence is quite interesting. Of course there are tons of things in Denmark too.

That will do it for us today. Thanks for being here and for all your great stories and tips. Today's prize winner is the person who had the bear paw print on their parents' car. Please send your name and mailing address to me at

Come on back 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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