Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Nov 20, 2017

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. This week, Travel took a look at ski destinations in Jackson Hole, Beaver Creek and Steamboat Springs. Have one to recommend? Tell us about it below-- bonus points for affordability. Most compelling answer gets a copy of "The Best American Travel Writing 2017," edited by Lauren Collins and Jason Wilson. Now, on to your questions!

My wife and I just returned from a Princess transatlantic cruise from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale. The cruise was great but we saw some unexpected behavior. While on our seven days at sea in the Atlantic, the internet connection was either very slow or nonexistent as you would expect considering our location. What wasn't expected was the reaction by the passengers. They mobbed the IT director at the internet office, complained to anyone who would listen and, generally, were rather obnoxious. We were in the middle of the ocean so high-speed internet or even internet is not guaranteed. The unexpected part is that the cruise was comprised of, shall we say, "senior" cruisers. These weren't millenials but rather people you would think would like to get away from the internet. We felt bad for the IT director and wished our fellow passengers would have enjoyed the days at sea instead of complaining they couldn't get their e-mail.

Perhaps the cruise lines would be better served telling passengers before they book that Internet service may be slow or nonexistent. Princess says this on its Web site: "Please note that Internet access via satellite is significantly slower than high-speed connections on shore." A stronger statement warning that Internet service may drop entirely might work. I was on a Grand Canyon river rafting trip earlier this year where there was absolutely no communication with the outside world for a full week, but they told us that right up front, so everyone knew what to expect. I viewed it as a blessing. 

I'm one of those people who likes to show up to the airport as late as possible - I've only missed one plane yet and that was due to circumstances outside my control (and by that I mean my crazy family). I'm going to be in London soon for a long weekend, and I'd like to maximize my time to explore while minimizing my time in the airport. So, my question for you is - how early do I really have to get to Heathrow for my British Airways flight home on Sunday afternoon? With only carry-on luggage, do I absolutely need to be there two hours early or do I have a little wiggle room? And in case you tell me that yes, two hours is mandatory, any recommendations for places to grab a bite or hang out at Heathrow?

I'm going to recommend you play it safe and arrive two hours early. You really don't want to tempt fate with an international flight. Chatters, any thoughts on a good hangout at Heathrow?

Today's code is TT2488. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

Just back from a couple of weeks' trip. Why do hotels insist on putting those table runners (about 18" wide and several feet long) on the foot of their beds? Then I have to take it off and figure out where to put it when I want to use the bed. What's the point of these things? I get than the plain white duvet covers they insist on using these days might be a little boring but are guests really clamoring for these random bits of fabric?

They're decorative. They serve no actual purpose, as far as I can tell. They always end up on the floor when you try to use the bed.

We (a family of four, the kids aged 6 and 8) are planning our semi-annual trip up to New York City right before Christmas, and are heading back to DC on or around Christmas Eve. With Christmas on a Monday, when is I-95 going to be particularly backed up? Will the roads be terrible on Saturday night or Sunday? Should we avoid the craziness and just take Amtrak? Suggestions on anything new or exciting we should do in NYC this Christmas would be great too. Thanks!

As someone who makes this trip just about every year, in the opposite direction, the only way this will not be a nightmare is to start super early. Get the kids up and get on the road by 6 a.m., especially if you're driving on Christmas Eve.  It may be a little less crazy this year, as traffic will be more spread out over the weekend, but I-95 can be a mess even on a non-holiday weekend. Download the Waze app to make sure you don't get stuck in traffic hell. As far as Amtrak, if there are no disruptions (and that's a big if), it could be a less stressful journey. As for what to do in New York, it'll be very crowded in the city at all the usual tourist attractions (Rockefeller Center being the center of crazy). Try to get to the Bronx for the holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden. 

Christopher Elliott’s column last week about luggage tags really got my attention because of a 2-year mystery affecting my husband’s luggage. Even the most expensive leather or high-tech or gorgeously designed luggage tag is going to be useless if it doesn’t stay attached to your bag. Years ago, my husband had black luggage that looked like everybody else’s (I’ve since given him a set of bright red bags). He’s a beetle biologist and frequently travels to South America for field work. One time when I was picking him up the airport, we spotted his bag at luggage claim but someone else grabbed it off the carousel thinking it was hers. After that I designed for him a luggage tag with a gorgeous, brightly colored leaf beetle on it. The reddish-pink beetle takes up most of the tag and is printed on a business card, which fits into a slot in a clear acrylic luggage tag. I put two cards in back to back, so no matter which way the tag is oriented, when the bag comes along the carousel you can spot that beetle through a throng of tired travelers milling around a crowded baggage claim area. Not long afterward, whenever he flew American Airlines through Miami, one or both of his checked bags would arrive home without the luggage tags. The tags were held on with a buckled leather strap that they came with when I bought them, and although we’ve traveled with these holding our luggage tags for years and they’ve never come off checked bags, suddenly they started disappearing. I tried wrapping some wire around the buckle in case they were coming unbuckled; they still vanished. Next I put the luggage tags on plastic worm loops. The tags still disappeared. There was no sign of stress or damage to the luggage like I’d expect if the tags kept getting caught in something and pulled off. So I stomped into my local hardware store and asked for their strongest zip ties. And still the luggage tags disappeared. By this time I was beyond fit to be tied. At least half a dozen luggage tags are gone without a trace! And these weren’t cheap to buy and they were getting hard to find. Finally I told my shoe repair guy my tale of woe and asked if he had a suggestion. He did, bless him: a sturdy cable wire keyring that cannot be pulled apart but has to be twisted a certain way to open it. Ever since then, the luggage tags have been staying attached. And I stock up on these keyrings to give as gifts for travelers.

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm already planning a follow-up to this story, this time focusing on lost and misplaced luggage. There are so many questions (and mysteries). One of the things I forgot to mention in my original story is that luggage tags make great keepsakes. Someone from your airline or the TSA probably collects them and harvested yours as a trophy.

I recommend Whistler, since I went there with a ski group and had a great couple of days walking around the village, finding places to write an appreciation of the area, while the rest of the group loved their skiing. Now, with the 2010 Olympics facilities in place, there is even more for a non-skier to do.

Thanks for the recommendation! Find out why it's still a good time to ski in Canada here.

Is it correct to assume that air travel is quite high on the day before and the day after Christmas? And Christmas day is light? How about New Year's Day?

It'll be busy and busier. Things used to quiet down on the actual holiday (Christmas and New Year's Day) but increasingly, air travelers are flying on that day to avoid crowds. It's not really working.

Just a head's up -- TSA is requiring that all food be removed from carryon baggage at certain airports. I was flying out of Santa Fe, NM airport a couple of weeks ago and was asked to take all food out before going through screening. There were no signs or announcements prior to reaching the security line. Had I known in advance, I would have packaged my chili cheese bread, biscochito cookies, energy bars, Mexican chocolate, and spiced pistachios, and burritos differently! When I explained that it would take me 20 minutes to pull everything out, they said I could put it on the belt as-is and they would search my bag on the other side of the metal detector. I chose to do that, but the TSA agent did such a good job searching that it was almost impossible to get all my things back in my bag. I can imagine this will create nightmares over the holidays at other airports where they're testing this policy, which I was told will be rolled out nationwide soon. So, I'd suggest air travelers investigate whether this will be the procedure at their chosen airports before packing. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you. Details are on the TSA's what can I bring page.

I recently left a job where I was traveling 40% of the time and I'm now finding myself having a hard time getting excited about planning a vacation again. I have a travel-addicted 8-year-old who is already asking where we're going next, so I could use some suggestions for low-maintenance domestic vacations (ie. carry-on bags only, single-climate packing, maybe even no rental car required). He's been to So Cal, both Disneys, Denver/Col Springs, and much of southern Florida. You'd think having been to most metro areas across the country that this would be easy, but I'm having a hard time parsing apart what was where these days!

How about Utah? I'm in Salt Lake City right now with my three kids. They national parks are really remarkable -- here's my write-up of the Mighty Five national parks from last week -- and the skiing is first-rate. Plus, Salt Lake City is a family-friendly town. Chatters, do you have any recommendations?

Why do they give us four pillows? Two to three have to get off the bed and the only place for them is on the floor or on the easy chair. So where do you sit then? Sometimes there is only one easy chair, although the room is for two. In fact, at my last hotel, there were no easy chairs. The only chair was for the desk but there was so little room between the desk and the bed that you had to contort yourself to get it it and you had to squeeze past it to get to the window. And only one suitcase stand, although the rooms are for two people. And ... and... I could go on and on.

That's a real mystery! Three of those pillows always end up on the floor. I think the idea is to make the room look luxurious while taking away the amenities that are expensive but that no one notices -- until they need them.

I agree with Christopher Elliott. Two hours minimum at Heathrow if you're coming back to the US. I've been there when security was a breeze and when it's been a nightmare when you first arrive. Then you'll have another layer of security going through to your gate. If you're leaving out of Terminal 5 (BA Terminal), there are lots of shops to browse. Terminal 3 has nice shops too, but then you have to schlep to your gate. The BA and AA lounges are super nice, if they allow day passes. Good food, wines and a shower if you want to freshen up before you go on the plane.

Thank you, and I appreciate the recommendations.

I always assumed that these "runners" were provided to protect the bed cover from dirty shoes when guests would recline on the bed and/or when guests placed their potentially dirty bottomed luggage on them to unpack.

Possibly. I've never seen them used for that purpose.

If the poster who wrote about discovering those cable wire keyrings that are hard to open, could he/she please share with us what they look like and where to find them? That sounds like a great solution!

Yes, agreed. If you're reading this, please share your secret.

There is a new miniature world in Times Square called Gulliver's Gate that looks really cool!

Thanks for the idea. 

I love when the hotel has dusty decorations (thinking wooden slatted balls, or knickacks) or a million decorative pillows on the bed that you have to find someplace to put... generally I stuff them into random drawers throughout the room.

Yes, and good luck to the hotel housekeepers who have to find it after you check out. ;-)

a few years ago. It was nearly deserted. We just walked into the tiger and gorilla exhibits which sometimes have a wait. The tigers were particularly active in the cold. We walked on to the bug carousel as often as the kids wanted to ride it. The kids could run on ahead with no chance of us losing sight of them which they loved. It was pretty much the best visit there I have ever had and enough is inside so you don't have to worry about being too cold. I don't know if they day before Christmas Eve will be quite as empty, but it is worth a shot.

Nice idea.

Hello, I am wondering if anyone has had success taking the bus from LaGuardia to the subway to get into Manhattan. I'm concerned the traffic for taxis will be a mess this week. Any tips for the fastest way to get into Manhattan? Thank you!

I've always taken a cab,  as taking mass transit is fairly involved. More often, I fly to JFK so I can take the AirTrain to Jamaica and then take the train to Penn Station. But here's a link on how to take mass transit from LaGuardia. Chatters have any experience to share? 

I second the advice to get out to Terminal 5 two hours early. Unless you have Fast Track status security can be a lifetime. There are a couple pubs airside, but I'd hang out at Plane Food by Gordon Ramsay if you're hungry. And it really does take 15+ minutes to get to the far out C gates, so watch your time.

Thank you.

My friend and I are rusty skiers, who were never that good to being with, but the stars have aligned and we can take a 3 day mid-week ski break in February. We don't have the money to fly somewhere but we are willing to drive up to about 5 hours. Looking for a recommendations for a good place to go, where we would have some choice of trails. The ability to get decent dinners a plus. Any thoughts?

The three largest ski areas within a five-hour drive are Snowshoe in West Virginia, Seven Springs in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh and Camelback in the Poconos. Of those three, I'd recommend Snowshoe. Food isn't going to be three-star, but it has several decent restaurants, including South Mountain Grille. The very nice Elk River Inn restaurant is located about eight miles from the ski resort. 

I have a flight out of Dulles late Wednesday evening. What are the odds I will still be able to find a parking spot at the airport? Do their lots fill to capacity?

I think your odds are good, as the airport has very large economy lots, but you can check on the airport's Web site to see which lots are filled. You can also park at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel

Drive to boston at 7:30 tonight or 5am tomorrow? no children, no copilot just someone who can drive 7 hours without stopping for anything other than gas.

I'd leave tonight. You'll hit rush-hour traffic in New York leaving at 5 a.m. 

I ordered the Tile Slim luggage tag from AwayTravel.com before a recent trip to Mexico and South America. I did not research it thoroughly ahead of time. It depends on Bluetooth (range of 100 ft). So if your luggage is more than 100 ft. away from you, it depends on the presence of other people running the tile app, to locate your luggage. The app was pretty useless in Ecuador and Mexico. My luggage never got lost, but the luggage tag fell off at some point after I checked my bag in the Mexico City airport. Two weeks later, that's still where the app said it was last seen. I give kudos to AwayTravel, I reported what happened, and they refunded my money, even though the Tile and tag were lost.

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad you got a refund.

My kids absolutely LOVE Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry is a whole day's activity, and there is so much more to see. Of course, my kids are still young enough to think taking the El is interesting on its own.

Yes, Chicago is a terrific place for kids. We also loved the boat tour, but if you try that, wait until late May. Otherwise it's windy and cold.

Any thoughts on whether I-66W/I-85 S or I-66W/I-29S would be a better alternative to I-95S/I-85S/I-40W to drive from the DC area to Winston-Salem, NC? Thank you.

I'd just Google map it and look at Waze and follow the quickest route. Also, this may be very old-fashioned of me, but I keep paper maps in my car for the navigator to look at in case we get in a jam. Sometimes there are nice back roads that can get you there quicker, but navigation won't put you on those roads. 

Hi, what's a nice city in Canada please?

Not sure how you define nice, but I like Vancouver, Toronto and Quebec City. Chatters?

I just had a brief vacation where everything that can go wrong did, so I still need a vacation. I think going solo will help immensely, as would doing a resort vs. airbnb/rental car, and am even leaning toward the dreaded all-inclusive resort, although any place with good on-site or within walking distance dining would work. I'm thinking a non-stop flight from National, easy to get to from the destination airport, then just plunk down on a beach chair in the shade so I can watch the waves and maybe a dolphin or three. No alcohol required and I'm not looking for luxury. Just peace and quiet and waking up to tropical birds chirping. Come to think of it, one airport transfer would be OK. Help!

If alcohol is not required, don't do an all-inclusive. You'll only be paying for others who imbibe. You could fly nonstop on JetBlue from DCA to Nassau in the Bahamas. From there, if you want something less touristy, you could take a short flight to one of the Out Islands.  Take a look at the tourism Web site to figure out which property matches your budget. 

I just volunteered to check my carry-on bag for the first time because the flight was full, and ended up having to wait 20 minutes at the carousel for them which made me think I will not be doing that again. Why don't airlines offer something in return? Like just a $10 credit to use toward another flight? But man, that guy who carried a backpack on the plane and immediately stuffed it in the overhead bin instead of under the seat in front of him ticked me off.

I like that idea. I don't know why they don't offer something in return, but I will try to find out.

Well I actually use all 4 all the time in hotels. I have miserable allergies (yes, I am on allergy meds) and need to sleep with my head and shoulders somewhat elevated to breathe properly, and sometimes even stacking all 4 isn't enough as they can be pretty soft/squishy. Jes sayin'.

Valid point. Actually, you can request more pillows if you need them.

I got the pre-check and love it, but why am I allowed to also use it for people coming with me who have not gone through the additional screening? It's happened each time I've flown with a friend. I even manually entered my number for them on my last flight and the system just accepted it.

The TSA doesn't really fully explain why it lets us ordinary travelers into the Pre line. But it's a growing source of frustration to passengers who paid for the privilege.

Errr....Didn’t you mean STOLEN? (“Harvested” indeed.)

Yes, that's what I meant.

Not so fast on the pillows! I actively sleep with three pillows and my husband sleeps with two. So yes, it does make for a crowded bed at nighttime, but we actually find ourselves wanting more pillows most of the time when we travel. I would just put them on the floor--I would hope they wash the pillow covers anyway!

OK, OK, I rescind my pillow comment.

OP here. The keyrings I use are Lucky Line 81101 Key Ring, which is a circlet of metal cable covered by a colored coating. They are 5 inches long and have to be twisted into a Figure 8 to open and close. I will say that these took some time to put on each bag--in some cases I had to enlarge the hole in the luggage tag for the cable ends to fit through--and the short length made it a challenge to attach to the suitcase considering you have to twist the ring and line it up exactly right to close it. But I didn't want something easy to remove or cut through, and these have kept the luggage tags safe from sticky fingers so far. If you don't have much strength or dexterity in your hands, I'd recommend getting someone to help you put these on.

Thank you.

I think its partially due to the fact that we've all become addicted to being connected, but it also makes it difficult to detach from work, depending on your profession and position in that profession.

Agreed, but you can't depend on Internet service when you're in the middle of the open ocean. If you have a job that doesn't allow down time, a different type of vacation may be in order. 

Looking to book a hotel for a mid-January trip to New Orleans during the Black Friday - cyber Monday weekend. Any sales you recommend? It doesn’t look like many hotels are publishing details in advance.

Our What's the Deal? column, which will be posted later this week, will be devoted to Cyber Monday promos, but I don't have anything for New Orleans yet. Many hotels are at least stating on their Web sites that they will be offering Cyber Monday deals starting midnight Nov. 27. I'd do some research, pick a few hotels that y0u like and then check back with them next Monday. 

Its a place to put your suitcase without getting suitcase grub all over the white duvet.

Now we know!

Why do they give you so many pillows? Because my husband wants 3! Good thing I only want the one that's left, and the flatter, the better.

The chatters are starting a pillow fight today.

All cities in Canada are nice . But Ottawa is especially nice, with many museums, boat rides on the Ottawa (weather permitting), skating on the canal (weather permitting), etc. Only 70 miles or so from the US border. With an international airport (flights to Chicago, Newark, Boston, etc) Come visit us.

Sounds like a plan!

Drive up and leave your car at the Staten Island Ferry. Take the ferry into the city, then uber or cab it to the hotel.

I think parking is fairly limited there right now due to construction, but here are details

I actually find taking Amtrak to be rather stressful. No assigned seating means you're clamoring to find seats, you have to lug your suitcases on yourself. It's a crazy free for all. I can't imaging doing it with kids. It's especially stressful to get on board at Penn Station in NY.

You have a point, especially around the holidays. I like flying into JFK and taking the train from there. But I travel light. 

I've done both to get from LGA into Manhattan. It has been a few years, but these are essentially express busses with direct service - the Q70 takes you to the nearest subway station in Queens, the M60 to 125th & Lexington. It is really easy - just one trick - there is Metrocard vending machine to buy your farecard inside the terminal that was kind of hard to spot, but contrary to popular perception, people in New York are always helpful; really!

Well, not always, but there are so many people, you're likely to find someone to help.

Most of the time I take 29S when heading to the Carolinas. Yes there are traffic lights and yes you will hit some traffic in Charlottesville, but it is a much more reliable route than the interstates during a holiday weekend.

But it does vary, so checking is a good idea before taking off. I happen to prefer taking just about any route over I-95, but that's me. 

Some friends and I would like to do a quick (4-5 days) trip to somewhere warm for New Year's, and we're having a terrible time agreeing on a place. None of us wants to do Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or Tampa. We really wanted somewhere in the Caribbean but it looks like the lack of supply following Hurricanes Maria and Irma is driving up demand and therefore cost. Key West is a possibility, but we've all been there several times. We're not really that picky and we don't need the lap of luxury...we just want warm weather, clean rooms, and good food. We prefer to avoid all-inclusives and places where it's not safe to leave the resort compound. Some fun activities (water and land both) would be great too. Any suggestions?

How about Marco Island? It sustained some damage from Hurricane Irma, but I think it's mostly up and running again. 

My aunt used to take cruises all the time when she was still working in the '70s and '80s, specifically because work people wouldn't be able to get in touch with her.

Smart lady. And, on that note...

It looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting today! Whistler fan, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, 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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