Talk about Travel

Dec 17, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 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.

Good afternoon, chatters. It's a dreary Monday here in Washington, so a perfect day for a little travel escapism. Hope you all enjoyed our wonderful story on Peruvian cuisine (and yes, yes, I know Peru's on the Pacific, not the Atlantic as our caption in the print edition incorrectly stated. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, and we ran a correction on Saturday already!). And I don't know about you all, but I loved the essay about getting pickpocketed in Paris. Let's use that as our springboard for today's question -- tell me about your most memorable misadventure while traveling. I had a whole lot of money stolen from my purse once when I was in Warsaw. It was the typical scam and I fell for it (I was younger then)  -- a young gypsy woman came up offering to read my palm, I stupidly held out my hand, and while she was telling my fortune, her younger charges were filching my purse! Luckily, I realized right away what had happened, and my friend and I chased them down the street to a police station and got the cash back (well, most of it). Best story wins the prize!

We're also looking, for an upcoming issue,  for anecdotes about getting sick overseas -- not just food poisoning, but coming down with serious illnesses or having accidents, etc. If you have a story, please e-mail Andrea at with your tale. Thanks!

Now let's have your questions:

My fiance and I would like to look at RVs for what we've planned to be a cross-country honeymoon road trip. We wanted to go to the expo in January at the convention center, but we'll be out of town then. Are there good places to look at rentals? Also, are there places where we can try out driving them (hopefully for free)? We really appreciate any and all advice you have on this topic. We are complete newbies to it, minus reading the "RVing for Dummies" and Frommers.

So funny that you should ask about this! We have an Escapes about RV shopping coming up in January. Yes, you can test-drive them, if you dare! Our author went to Beckley Camping Center on Rte. 15 in Thurmont, Md., and Safford RV in Thornberg, Va. They are sales centers -- not sure whether they rent or not, but you could certainly call to find out. Good luck!

Let's as the chatters to chime in, too. Any RV experts out there?

pls fix

Thanks for letting me know. Try it now. Should work.

I liked Chris Elliott's column about using Twitter while traveling, in case of problems. I usually follow whatever airline or hotels I'm using during a trip, just in case. I'm wondering how else I could maximize social media - for example I'm going to Delray Beach and Key Largo over the holidays - who should I follow? I already added @elliottdotorg!

Well, that's really all you need! (I'm kidding.) In addition to following @elliottdotorg here's a list of top travel Twitter handles for your consideration.

The story in Sunday's Post about the man who was pickpocketed in Paris - and who found himself without money or credit cards - drove home for me why I always travel with two credit cards and two ATM cards from different accounts. I never carry more than one credit card and one ATM card. That way, if something happens, I have the 'extra' cards back in the hotel and I have ready access to cash and credit. Since adopting this practice, which was inspired by an event similar to that experienced by the man in Paris, I've never needed the back-up, but it's great to know it is there. Sorry - not a question, just passing along some hard won wisdom.

Very smart of you! I, too, carry cards from two different credit accounts, but I never thought about two ATM cards before -- makes a lot of sense.

I've noticed quite a bit on here in the past and on other travel forums that people can be pretty judgmental about the travel styles of others. I.e., someone asks about the best tour to take, and people respond by saying "Don't do tours! You need to get out and just people watch!" (I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea.) This has bothered me for some time now, and I would really like to ask people to remember that not everyone is the same, and what works for you might not work for other people. I actually had someone tell me I was focusing too much on seeing the sites of Rome and that I needed to focus on food and what really matters. Um, the sites are what really matter to me!! Maybe some people like people-watching or eating above everything else, but to me that's something I do in between seeing the sites, not something I spend a whole day doing (unless I'm in New Orleans - that's a different story). So please, don't be so quick to dismiss someone's preferred way of traveling or, at the very least, do so AFTER you've answered their question! Thank you.

I really don't think we here at Travel Talk judge people's traveling styles. At least, we try not to. But you make very legitimate points, definitely worth sharing with all our readers/chatters. Thanks!

Hi...We are four people ages 30-33 and three ages 67, 77, 84 looking to spend 7-9 days together with things to do both together and separately for (1) the younger, adventurous group and (2) the older, less energetic more relaxed group. One of the options I'm exploring is an all-inclusive in the Caribbean that would have sand, beaches, golf course and snorkeling, hiking, etc. The choices appear overwhelming. We would flying in from different parts of the country. Budget is not unlimited but is not the major concern, having fun together is. Also being considered is Costa Rica or Alaska (cruise most likely). Thanks Gurus.

For this group, I'd recommend a cruise. All-inclusives can get pretty boring for those who don't want to do adventure excursions or sit on the beach. Even if the older folks are in good health, they want to have more options. Cruises offer shore excursions plus lots to do onboard. My 80-something mom, for example, really looked forward to high tea and hitting the ship's casino. I know cruises aren't for everybody, but when you have a crowd that spans different generations and interests, they can work. 

My boyfriend and I are looking to get out of DC December 28-January 1. We dont have a car but can rent one, and wouldn't mind taking a plane if it was cheap. We've already done NY, Boston, Monticello, and Baltimore. Just looking for a nice place we've never been thats reasonably priced.

You could head to any number of places, depending on what you like to do. Sort of sounds like you're a city girl, so there's Charleston/Savannah -- both beautiful, historic, atmospheric. You could choose one, or possibly hit both, as they're not far apart. It'll be warm down there, too, though not hot yet.  If you wanted to head more toward the mountains, Asheville, N.C., is also beautiful, in a different way. They do it up at the Biltmore Estate for the holidays. If you want a bigger city, Philadelphia is close by and a great place to visit, with museums and fine dining, gorgeous parks and more!

southwest is putting in a cancellation fee for noshows and amtrak has started withholding some refunds from cancelled tickets. What does that say about their operations, that they have enough so they can turn off customers and they are so hard up, they need to nickel and dime like Spirit.? Happy holidays, Dean

Southwest is being really clever about how it adds fees. It's stayed away from many of the most hated ones, such as fees for the first checked bag and seat reservation fees. Something tells me it did a lot of research before deciding on the cancellation fee, because this one was likely to go over easier with its customers. Maybe they were wrong?

RV rental...I would try and do this cross country. Instead focus on an area and fly there and then rent from there. You can find places in Vegas, Denver, Salt Lake City, Calgary, and other places.

On a business trip in Rio de Janeiro several years ago, we were walking down the beach on a nice Saturday afternoon. A boy pushed one of the guys in our group, and grabbed the contents of his pocket. The boy ran a few hundred yards away, slowed down, and looked at his booty. When he saw that all he got was a handkerchief and a room key, he brought them back!

Served him right!

When I was in college backpacking through Europe with a friend, I had arranged to meet my brother's girlfriend for the first time since we would both be in Florence for the first time. The three of us had a great time over a huge Italian feast filled with too much food and wine. We were having so much fun that we didn't realize how late it had gotten. My friend and I ran (with our oversized backpacks) to the train station and found that our train had a red "30" next to the track number. After scrambling to find track 30, we finally realized that it meant the train was 30 minutes late. We were so relieved! We sat outside the train station, caught our breath, and, well, how shall I say, "relived" that fine food and wine! We recovered on the train out of town.

That was lucky for you!

Rumor has it that the WP site may go to pay for access. If it does, I will not be paying anymore. I wanted to let you all know that I velue your work and your chats, but due to the poor quality of the editing and technical issues witht eh WP site, I cannto justify paying for access. It's too bad--The Post used to be a great paper and the chats are such a valuable resource, I am saddenned that management has ruined them.

Don't go yet! The paywall, if it happens at all, won't happen for a while. And we're working on improving the Web site, really we are! But I hear you.

Please answer a vexing question. We recently stayed at a lovely B&B. In deciding whether a tip was appropriate, we researched the issue and concluded that they are not common where the owners provide the housekeeping services. I felt very awkward, however, to be presented with a credit card slip that had a line for a gratuity to be added to the total. I didn't leave a tip, but will certainly recommend the place and intend to write glowing online reviews. Did my research lead me astray?

I've seen that line on some B&B bills, too, and have ignored it. No need to leave a tip to the owners, is my feeling. They are, after all, the ones getting the benefit of your payment for the room, not some larger corporate entity.

Chatters, where do you come down on this?

I am going to Phoenix in late April and the price for nonstop flights is holding steady at around $550. It was around $450 a couple months ago, but I wasn't ready to book. I know you can't read the future, but do you think it's worth holding out or is $550 standard these days? Thanks!

$550 seems high. Can you leave out of BWI. I'm seeing late April flights on US Airways for $370 round trip. 

My mom doesn't travel much (even though she loves it) because she is afraid of flying. When I studied abroad in college, she managed to get up the courage to fly with my aunt and little sister to visit me in Spain. The day before they were to fly home, she got pickpocketed. (Like the essayist, she wasn't wearing her safety pouch. She took it off and stuffed it in her purse.) The problem wasn't the money or credit cards but they got passports for her and my 11 year old sister! Between my mom's panicked and tearful calls to the consulate, the airline and my dad, we managed to get them on a plane back to the States. We don't let Mom travel alone's too stressful for the rest of us.

Dear, dear!

Hello travel folks! So we just got back from a trip and noticed something curious. During both our departure out of DCA and return from Chicago, TSA scanners were having everyone go through the high-tech body scanners AND giving patdowns after the scan. My husband said this has been the case on his recent work trips as well. I thought the whole point of the scanners was so everyone didn't have to get a patdown? As you can imagine it slowed down the security process considerably, especially in Chicago where for some reason there were only two lines open (even though there were about 10 TSA officers standing around doing nothing and chatting about Christmas shopping- but that's an aside for a different day!). Is this going to be the common routine now?

TSA says the full-body scanners are optional, and that if you don't use them, you'll get something called an "enhanced" pat-down. If something is turned up during the scan, then you're patted down, but an agent can pat you down for any reason (and they sometimes do). Bottom line: walking through the scanner is no guarantee you won't also be patted down.

I spent a week in England for Spring Break and over the Easter Weekend, the entire ATM network for the country went down. I only had a few dollars cash so everything I did had to use a credit card. It definitely focused my travelling/eating/taxi rides for a few days.

Wow, that IS a misadventure! Don't know how we used to travel before ATMs.

looking for a winter getaway in February - nonstop flight from DC, good beaches, maybe some activities and culture scene are high on the "must have" list, busy nightlife/party scene however is not. where would you send a married couple, mid-thirties, on a 2-2.5K budget?

Here's the list of nonstop Caribbean destinations from our area, but many are seasonal or operate only one day a week -- Nassau, Bahamas; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Cancun, Mexico (yes, I know it's not technically the Caribbean); Aruba; Grand Cayman; Punta Cana, DR; and St. Maarten.  Cancun probably offers most in terms of culture of those choices. 

I enjoyed Roberto Loiederman's piece on being "broke" in Paris. It made me wish he'd been a little more specific on where he was walking, as I'm going to be in Paris next month. I saw many of the major tourist highlights in past visits when I was younger, and the real point of this trip is to spend time with my sister (who is living there temporarily). Walking around the city together seems ideal for quality sister time. Which are your favorite neighborhoods/areas for just walking and enjoying the general atmosphere of Paris?

I've walked all over Paris, and all the neighborhoods are great, each one a little different. I do love Montmartre, as well as the Latin Quarter and St. Germain-de-Pres. Also Montparnasse. On our last trip, my husband and I spent some time in the Eiffel Tower neighborhood, whch was something of a pleasant discovery. Chatters, what are your favorites?

Travelers' checks, credit cards, cash.

Yes, of course. I wasn't being entirely serious. :-)

More than 20 years ago I was in Portugal at the tail end of a 3 month European adventure so I felt pretty travel savvy by then, having watched pickpockets in action in other countries. So I was on the Lisbon subway during rush hour, standing up with my backpack between my feet. The car wasn't very crowded but at one stop two men got on separately, one in a suit and one casually dressed with a newspaper under his arm. They took standing positions in front of me, slightly too close considering there was room but by then I had gotten used to men with a different concept of personal space. I decided to pretend they weren't there but then after a minute or two I looked down and saw the newspaper pushed up against my jacket. While I watched, it pulled back with a hand underneath. I was wearing a windbreaker with a big Velcro pocket across the front and the pocket was completely open. The guy was so good I'd never felt it, but he was in there trying to get to the camera & other goodies stashed in my fanny pack I had underneath my clothes. I looked him in the eye and said "you didn't get anything, huh?" and he smiled and shrugged. Then Mr. Briefcase starts pushing at me and fussing in Portuguese, as in "go sit down!" Turns out they were a team. An Australian woman I'd been traveling with for a week was seated already and asked what was wrong, and I said these guys were trying to rob me! They shrugged again. None of the working folks in the car said anything, they just watched. The next stop was mine and on the way out I told the men what I thought of them. Ahem. They got nothing of mine yet I felt violated anyway. In retrospect I was amazed - I was never able to duplicate the opening of that giant Velcro pocket without feeling the tug or hearing a loud rip. Impressive, when you think about it...

Those were obviously real pros!

I had just moved to Merida, Mexico to live abroad and learn Spanish. I was living with a family there who didnt speak english, but were very friendly. They invited me to dinner and offered me what I thought was an amazingly rich fudge at the end of my meal for dessert. Little did I know- it was refried beans. My reaction was priceless and they never let me forget that... Embarassing but hilarious!!!!

Very funny!

My friend and I were taking the train from Valencia to Barcelona, where we had a flight to Rome. This was when I was younger and not really used to the European way of writing flight times using 24-hour clock. Of course I miscounted and we arrived at the airport about an hour after the flight left! It was the last flight out that day and was on a small Spanish airline (can't remember the company now). The agent did not speak much English and my Spanish is barely passable. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but in the end my friend and I each gave him 50 Euros to put us on the flight the next day. I am fairly sure it was a bribe and he pocketed the cash! But it ended up being a great mistake because we go to spend that evening and the next day in Barcelona. I almost wished we would miss another flight to stay a bit longer in that great city.

Yes, if you have to get stuck somewhere, Barcelona is a great place.

My family is considering renting a vacation house out West. I've looked at listings at vrbo, but am at a loss as to how to independently vet these properties. Any suggestions?

As someone who has both rented and listed properties via VRBO, I'd recommend talking directly to the owner and asking for references. I'd look for properties that have excellent reviews and current photos. Don't wire money. And I feel better working with someone who takes credit cards, just in case there is a disagreement later. 

My problem is most likely different than those others will write about. I always try to be very careful with my belongings when I am traveling, including using safes provided by my hotel. Imagine my surprise when the room safe, filled with my wallet, my passport, my keys, etc., wouldn't open. First thought that I was using the wrong code proved to be wrong when every code I tried failed. Finally, I put my pride aside and called down to the front desk and admitted that I was unable to open my safe. When the Maintenance Man came in, he discovered that the batteries in the lock had died (who knew there were batteries in there?). He had to use a small machine to open the safe in order to access the batteries, at which point we were able to reprogram it. Nothing major since I still had all my personal items, but sightseeing was cut short that day due to the time involved to get everything taken care of (all tolled, about 2 hours).

I'll bet that gave you a few moments of panic!

When I was in Paris, I kept my wallet in a FRONT pants pocket -- and then kept my hand in my pocket on top of my wallet AT ALL TIMES. I'm quite surem judging by their behavior, that I was approached at times by prospective pickpockets, separately or in small clusters, but they got nothing off of me.

That is what I always advise people to do!

On my husband's first trip to Vegas for a conference, he got pickpocketed BEFORE he got off the plane!! Had it when he stood up to get his stuff in the overhead bin, and by the time he came down the passageway into the terminal it was gone. Was tough to get into his hotel with no ID but he managed. Vegas made quite an impression on him, and not the kind they were going for!!

I'll bet!

Thanks for showing your drivers license photos on the chat page. It is always nice to visualize who we are chatting with.

You're welcome. They're not actually driver's license photos. They're the photos from our Post IDs.

I'm assuming this is your last chat before the holidays - happy holidays, and love your pictures on the side! I'm heading to St. Pete's Beach over new year's - any must do'd? Thanks!

In addition to the great beaches, I recommend checking out the Dali Museum. It's relatively new and has a number of excellent exhibits. 

I travel internationally a lot for work (>125k miles a year) but I am in generally well developed, urban areas. Next year I am going to Africa on vacation. What drugs would you recommend I ask for from my doctor before I go? I am not talking about travel vaccinations and anti-malarials, but rather things like antibiotics (cipro?) anti-diarrhea meds, etc. What should I be sure to have with me, just in case?

Good question, and one we hope to be able to answer in an upcoming issue in the new year. Meanwhile, let's ask the chatters what they recommend for travels in Africa, as I have never been to that continent.

We are traveling to New Zealand at the end of this month -- flight is on United to Sydney, where we land at about 7 a.m. Our flight to Auckland (on Air New Zealand) leaves at 7 p.m. that evening. We would like to take a shower at the United or Air New Zealand lounges when we land in Sydney, store our bags there, and then go into Sydney for a few hours of sightseeing before returning to the airport to board our flight for Auckland. We are 1K members of United (and Air New Zealand is part of the Star Alliance with United), and will be traveling first class (finally found a great trip where we could use those frequent flier miles!). But neither our travel agent or United or Air New Zealand seems to be able to tell us whether we can use either of the lounges or store our luggage there. Any thoughts? We're really frustrated at not being able to get an answer on this from either the airlines or the agent.

I found info on  Smarte Carte Baggage Storage on the Sydney Airport Web site. They can store your carry-on luggage.

My husband is 1700 miles short of platinum premier on USAirways this year. Where would be a easy (and not expensive) day trip from either DCA or BWI that would get him the four segments or be far enough to get the mles. Are there any specials that would get him premium status miles?

I have two answers. The first one is, don't do it. Mileage runs are wasteful and ultimately futile flights to nowhere in order to qualify for "elite" status. Your loyalty will probably never be adequately and fairly recognized. Second answer: sites like Flyertalk have forums devoted to mileage runs, and you'll find out more about how to do it there. But I wouldn't.

This isn't a funny story - instead, I shudder to think what could have happened if it weren't for a guardian angel disguised as a grumpy cab driver. This was in 1980 - a friend and I had spent our last year in high school in Europe and were taking a train from Germany to Amsterdam to catch a plane home. I was 18, she was 17. We were assured there was a free shuttle that would take us from the train station to the airport - but when we got there, we found the last shuttle had left and the next one wouldn't be until the next morning - not in time to catch our plane. And we had been counting on this free shuttle and had spent the last of our money at our going-away soiree the night before - so we were stuck at the train station. No credit cards either. We were discussing our dilemma when two very seedy-looking men came up to us and offered us a ride to the airport, a place to stay for the night if we wanted it, an opportunity to "freshen up" if we wanted that. I was not about to take them up on this offer, but my friend was wavering, asking me if we even had a choice. Then two similar-looking men started offering us the same deal, whereupon the first men started arguing that they "saw us first". As their argument moved a little bit aways and grew quite heated, a cab pulled up and the driver urgently said "Get in." We told him thanks, but we had no money. He repeated "Get in. Fast." So we did, at which point the four arguing men started yelling at the cab driver, who pulled away and took us to the airport. Once there, we gave the cabdriver all of the small change we had and profusely thanked him. He was shaking his head and had a disgusted look as we poured our small change into his hand, and in response to our thanks answered with "Ja, ja, go home." He may have been grumpy, but he saved our silly selves...

Wow. Very scary. Thank goodness for the grumpy cabdriver.

My religious elderly mother would very much like to visit the Santiago de Compostela. The problem is she cannot walk very far (perhaps a mile at best). Is there a way for her to 'experience' this walk? Are there certain towns where she can visit and go to the local cathedral to get some sense of this trip? More broadly, how do you suggest I find out such information on my own? I tried searching on the web but did not come up with any tours or suggestions to experience this area for those who cannot walk the trail.

I would get in touch with the Confraternity of St. James and American Pilgrims on the Camino -- one of these religious organizations may be able to help. 

First time I encountered a card key for a hotel room: the bellhop showed me how to use the card to open the door, then handed me the card while he carried my bags into the room; I tipped him, then he left. I tried to turn on the lights and TV, but nothing. I had to return to the desk, and they came up with me to show me what I needed to do: stick the card in a slot by the door to activate the electrical power. Who knew???

Right, who knew? Now we all know, though.

Hi - love the chats! I'll be traveling from DC to Honolulu, Hawaii for a wedding the first week of July. When's the best time to purchase a plane ticket, and what's a good price to aim for?

Start tracking the fares now, so you become familiar with the going rate. As soon as a sale hits, buy. It's sometimes cheaper to book in two segments -- DC to West Coast, and West Coast to Honolulu, but problems could arise if you miss the connection. I think this strategy works best if you can stay on the West Coast for a day or two, especially on the way out. Prices will be high in July -- if you can find anything at $800 or less, grab it. 

VRBO....also I would independently verify who the owner is through a different source.

Just got off a plane an hour ago and I wish the flight attendants would add one more thing to their speil. Can they tell people not to use the backs of people's seats to support themselves, and instead use the overhead bins to steady yourself. Thank you.

Hmmm. An interesting thought, but it seems to me that if an unsteady passenger needs to hang on to something to avoid tipping over, you're asking for trouble by requesting that they reach up over their heads to grab an overhead bin.

Speaking of pickpockets: before I went on a trip to Africa, I bought a shoulder bag from REI that was advertised as slashproof and pickpocket-resistant. The brand is Pacsafe. It has a lot of compartments, and there is a latching mechanism for every zipper, so it can't be surreptitiously unzipped by a pickpocket. I always wore it with the strap across my chest, not just on one shoulder. Thankfully I never had to find out if it was truly slash-proof.

Good to know, thanks!

Shortly after we married, my wife left to teach in a public school in Le Havre for a year as part of her MA program. We made plans to meet at one of the train stations in Paris for a trip to Tours. Well, we neglected to say we would meet up at a specific place in the station so we spent 2 hours running up and down stairs and passageways in what seemed a vain attempt to find each other. We finally connected about 15 minutes after our train left. We then decided to jump on another train and pay for our tickets when the conductor came by. I kept envisioning being thrown off the train into some small town and was nervous the entire trip. Well, the conductor never came and we ended up in Tours in a combined state of anxiety and relief.

And sounds like you got a free trip!

The poster who was wondering about which meds to ask for in advance of a trip to Africa should check to see if there's a travel clinic in his/her town. The biggest hospital in my city has a small travel clinic (part of its infectious disease department, actually), and before I went to Morocco last year, I made an appointment there. Based on where I was going and what vaccinations I'd already had, they were able to pinpoint what I needed (in my case, hep A and B shots and a typhoid vaccination), and also gave me a prescription for cipro. And they took my insurance, so I didn't have to pay for any of it.

So do you guys have any good tips on the best ways to avoid pick pockets? I'm going to Rome next year and have heard about all the schemes people use to lure you over to them, but what about people who try when you're on a city bus or subway? I guess I'm just wondering if I should keep my credit card and passport in one of those secret pouches you wear under your clothes. it seems safter but also a bit of a hassle for whenever I want to buy something. I'm a woman, so I carry a purse sometimes, but I like to believe it behind on days when I'm doing a lot of touring. In these cases I would normally leave my credit card in my back pocket, but I"m not sure that would be smart in Rome.

Never put anything in a back pocket. If you must use a pocket, use a front one -- and keep your hand in it! If you're really concerned about pickpockets, wear the secret pouch; it's worth it. I personally have never had any problem with pickpockets, even on public transportation, and I carry a large purse most of the time. But when on a bus or train, I pretty much hold it on my lap, and when walking, I clutch it to my person.

Planning a trip to Las Vegas from DC in mid-February. Non-stop airfares have been steady at about $440 per person. Any ideas about whether the fares will drop as it closer to February, or should I just bite the bullet and buy them now. Thanks

$440 round trip is about right for nonstop flights to Las Vegas, especially if you're not flying midweek. Once in a while, you'll see a sale fare for under $400, but they are few and far between. I'd buy it. 

I would like to take my 15-year-old grandson to Quebec City for a week so that we might both study French and see the city. He is a beginner and I'm a little more advanced. Is there a school that would take us, in spring or early summer, for a week only? We would prefer six hours of instruction each day, but would settle for 3 hours if that's the only option. We would also need a home-stay situation, rental of a small apartment, or rooms on campus.

The Ecole Quebec Monde has an Intensive French program of 20 hours of instruction per week (a group program), plus an Individual French program of one to 35 hours per week. They tell me that an adult can enroll in the group program at $290 per week (Canadian), but a 15-year-old would have to take individual instruction, which is much more expensive at $50 an hour. You pay extra for lodging with a host family, plus there are various fees (registration fee, "accommodation administration" fee, airport pickup fee, etc.). There are undoubtedly other schools, but that's the first one I could find that offered the short-term instruction you're looking for.

My college age son is embarking on a 7 month travel abroad to Santiago, Chile in February. Any suggestions for airfare that he can possibly change the return date? He will travel DC - Buenos Aires - Santiago - DC. Also the rest of our family would like to visit him in Santiago in June for 10-12 days. Any suggestions for places to stay and see in and around Santiago during that time, which will be winter I understand.

If you change the return date, you'll have to pay the penalty fee, which will likely cost $150. I will leave your question re: Santiago up to my colleagues and/or other chatters. 

First off, bravo! It was great to see an article about an excellent Latin American cuisine that looked beyond Mexico. Of course, it's easy to stop at Mexico 'cause the food there is amazing, but hey, it's a big hemisphere! Two questions for Tim -- Why did you choose *not* eat at Astrid & Gaston, which you report is "considered one of the 50 best restaurants in the world"? ... And, if you know, do "average" Peruvians eat regularly at the restaurants you recommend, besides the $5 rotisserie chicken place, or are they immensely expensive for local pockets? By "average," I'm thinking school teacher or newspaper reporter, not bank manger or corporate attorney. Thanks so much!

Tim's not with us today, but I forwarded him your question, and here's his response:

Thank you for the kind words!

To answer your first question: I didn't go to Astrid & Gaston because, frankly, it was already well-known and was already a tourist destination. I figured I would see what else Acurio had up his sleeve. Plus, I was curious about the chef/restaurateur's take on chifa cuisine, which is the fusion of Peruvian and Chinese cuisines. My decisions seem like poor choices mostly in retrospective, after lackluster meals at Madam Tusan in Lima and Chicha in Cusco.

Your second question is a good one. It was one I was trying to answer as well. There is still a lot of poverty in Peru, so these restaurants are clearly out of reach for, about 25 percent of Peruvians, who are just struggling to survive. And while wages in Lima are going up, according to some news reports, the average monthly income is still only about $473. So based on that and my own observations in restaurants, I'd say the middle-income family in Peru is not dining at these establishments a lot. But that's still just a guess.

Has anyone been to Guatemala lately? I'm considering a trip to Antigua and Tikal and have been reading on the internet that it might not be so safe, but I'm not sure how much of that is internet out-of-proportionness and how much of that I should take seriously. Thanks!

Although the State Department has no current travel warnings in place re: Guatemala, it does note several caveats on the Guatemala page on its Web site. For example, it says that public demonstrations are common and can turn violent; that the areas near the border with Mexico can be very dangerous; and that tourists should avoid contact with  local children because they could be seen as potential kidnapers.

Thinking either Seattle/Vancouver or a beach vacation somewhere in the Caribbean or Costa Rica. Or just take the kid to Disney?

I never took my kids to Disney, but they never asked to go. We did take them to Yellowstone, Europe, the Caribbean, California, skiing, etc., and they still talk about those vacations years later. Much depends on the age of your child. If he/she is a little older and is a patient sort, a city vacation could work. Caribbean or Costa Rica beach resort would be easy. 

When I was studying abroad in Nice. We decided to go to monaco one evening (well, um, the first or second evening we were there). A few of us gave our passports to one of the girls we were going with - she had a tiny purse to carry, and you know, no one had any pockets. We get to Monaco. She doesn't have the passports. Someone took the passports out of her purse when we were on the train. *sigh*. We had JUST arrived in France! We had plans. The next day our teacher took us to the police station to fill out reports, which we were going to need to get our new passports. We had to take a day off from classes and we went to Marseilles where the closest embassy was. We had to get new passports. Fortunately, we took the advice of others and had photocopies of our passports. We get to the embassy, and they are clearly quite bored...they were playing with us, asking questions. I used to live on Long Island, and they asked me: what is the stop AFTER your stop on the LI railroad from NYC? I kinda panicked because I never took the train that way! So I didn't know! I answered kind of uncertainly. They were laughing back there, I just know it. We finally got our new passports, which were kinda cool since we got them overseas.

they should use the armrests. i hate having my hair pulled by the idiots who grab onto the seat in front of them

I'm not going to recommend what meds to take--there are a standard set--I suggest the poster ask their own doctor. If they do not think their doctor will know (or know where to find out), they should see a doctor at a travel clinic. The Travel Crew are wonderful, but you're not doctors, right/ And posters are wonderful, but we don't know where they got their medical degrees! :)

True, we are not doctors. But we do a lot of traveling. :-) Thanks for your good advice.

"....They're not actually driver's license photos. They're the photos from our Post IDs...." If those are the best pictures the Post can produce OF THEIR OWN STAFF MEMBERS, no wonder the place is going down the tubes.

Well, um, gee, not sure how to respond to that rather offensive comment.

Is the crew member who has recommended visited Medellin there? If so, could she tell me what about Medellin she recommends to tourists? I was there recently and thought the city was ok but did not see much of interest to non-Colombian tourists.

Nancy Trejos unfortunately left the Post about a year ago.

If one is trying to get a ticket for air travel for a soon upcoming trip, which websites do you feel are best to take a look at? Thanks.

I like Kayak and Bing Travel. Google also has a airfare search site. You could also try Hotwire and Priceline for last-minute flights. And always go directly to the airline sites. 

There were two things I found during a similar layover-- I couldn't check in early. I packed light and took my bag with me (I was determined to see the opera house!) and it was a really easy trip. If you can store your bags for cheap, I would, but I had no problem rolling mine with me. As far as a shower, I didn't ask to use the lounges, but just went gross. A lot of gyms and YMCAs allow you to get a day pass, so it might be worth it.

Thanks for the tips. 

I've noticed this the last couple of times I've flown as well- what I think what the poster was trying to say, or at least what I noticed, is that it was essentially a two-step process for everyone- scanner, then patdown. Previously, they only seemed to pull occasional people aside, i.e. if something looked funny in the scan.

If anyone has experience a two-step process like you're describing, please send me an email and I'll look into this for you. This should be the exception, not the rule. If it isn't, I will have to write something about this.

I live nearby. Have lunchdinner at The Hurricane in Pass-a Grille--great fish sandwiches on a Gulf-front deck. (And while you're there, walk around Pass-a-Grille. Go to the Fla. Aquarium in nearby Tampa. And if you like books, Haslam's used book store is a must!

A friend and I are planning to fly into Fairbanks (and then onto Bettles) to see the Northern Lights in February. Flights are about $770 right now with two stops. Do you think that seems reasonable? Also, any tips in general about Northern Lights viewing in Alaska or other must dos while we are there?

Yes, that sounds reasonable. Any chatters done this particular itinerary to see the lights? 

Last week you praised the new spinner luggage as easier to maneuver than traditional two-wheelers. I can imagine they would be easy to push across smooth airport floors, but how are they if you have to walk a couple blocks on city sidewalks, say from a subway station to a hotel? They really look to me as if they would be harder to roll on a rough surface or up or down hills. What's your experience?

You know, they have four wheels. You *can* tip them over and drag them on two wheels just as you do the older two-wheel models.

Back in college when I used to backpack through Europe all the time, I always would keep things like tampons and toilet paper in the outer pocket of my backpack. I have no idea how many times I found that pocket unzipped, meaning someone had tried to rob me, thinking perhaps that I kept my wallet there, but my tampons and toilet paper never got taken. It always would make me laugh when I imagined the disappointment of someone who found that stuff. I was always good about keeping important things like money, passport, etc., elsewhere and (knock on wood), never had anything stolen.

Good for you! Foil those thieves. . . .

Many people who carry "secret" pouches and waist belts make the mistake of carrying EVERYTHING in them. That means that every time they buy a snack from a street vender they are pulling up their shirt or fishing a string out of their collar. Use the pouch to conceal your passport and credit cards, but carry the cash you need for the day in your pocket and keep the pouch "secret."

Great advice!

Coming in very laet: My Mom had an ambulance ride at 4 AM on Lake Como, in May. Many hours in the ER (about 10) and no charge. Lots of tests, too.

Oh this sounds like a story for Andrea (she's working on an article about health emergencies when you're traveling). Can you e-mail her at

Hi, I'm very excited that I just booked a 7 night MSC cruise for early November 2013! We leave from Barcelona, and go to Valencia, Tunis, Rome, Genoa, Marseilles, and back to Barcelona. I was just hoping to get some tips from you or chatters on best times to buy the flight from BWI, excursions vs. exploring the cities on our own, or anything else that might be helpful! Thanks so much!

Start looking at airfares now. International fares are often cheaper farther out. At the very least, you'll have lots of time to wait for a sale. And don't limit yourself to BWI -- you may be able to get cheaper fares from Dulles. As for excursions, ship-sponsored ones are often more expensive, but they vet the tour operators. I'd also look at Viator to see what it offers. If you are experienced travelers, you'll probably do at least some of these stops on your own. 

Don't do a milage run! US Airways lets you buy up to the next level - check their site. It's not super expensive if you need less than 5000 miles. I just returned from Sydney and I used the Air New Zealand lounge. The lounge is nice, and they have showers, but I'm not sure about luggage storage. There are also free showers in the international terminal, departures section, in the bathrooms behind check in counter C. (and maybe also K). I used these on arrival - you need your own towel, soap, etc, but it was really great to be able to take a shower before getting on another flight to Brisbane. If you do use the showers in the ANZ lounge, I'd bring shampoo anyway. They should have it, but the one I used was out.

Thanks. Good advice. But again, make sure you run a little cost-benefit analysis on the elite status before you buy.

For the chatter wondering whether lounges or luggage storage is available during a layover: there is a website that describes the amenities (showers, lounges, etc.) at airports all around the world.

My sister and future husband are registered at an all-inclusive resort for their honeymoon; so while mostly everything is included at the resort, do you have any suggestions, perhaps outside of a spa credit, that would be nice to give them as a gift? As a background, for my honeymoon, she got us one of the cruise packages that included champagne and hors d'oeuvres, massage, picture, etc.

Motorized watersports are often not included in all-inclusive resort prices. And some have more upscale restaurants that cost extra. Or maybe a round of golf if that's their thing. 

OK, while I admire Chris's consistent take on mileage programs, you didn't really get an answer. If the certain benefits (e.g. waived fees) that you know you'll accrue under the terms of the program over the course of the next year are enough to outweigh the cost of a mileage run for the status, then why not do it? That's even before the less certain things (miles bonus, upgrades) that you might value, too. Anyway, how about looking for a destination featured by a low-cost carrier and/or that goes on sale - see if US Airways matches. An example might be a BWI-east coast/southern destination that you'd have to connect for with US - giving you the four hops you need.

I'll admit that as years go by reward flights are harder to come by, but my husband's British Airways Gold status has gotten me re-booked first after: an Icelandic volcano, a wild cat catering strike, a snow storm. It's not always about the free trips. If you love to travel anyway, take that mileage run and maintain your Platinum status (PS a really good example of someone being told not to do something rather than getting an answer to their question).

I want to take a fairly complicated, high-end, 3-week trip to Australia and New Zealand and was thinking about using Zicasso to find a travel agent to help plan it. Anyone have any first-hand experience with Zicasso? Thanks

I don't, but maybe some chatters do?

Not to state the obvious, but remember it's going to be cold. As in COLD. If you are going to try and take photos, it is quite possible that your camera will freeze and not work properly. You can keep t under your coat until you're ready to shoot, but check first that there's no condensation in the lens, and hold your breath - it will show up in the picture.

I visited Italy when I was about 20, and because I'd heard from someone that Lake Como was really spectacular, I went there. The town of Como was nice enough but not as wondrous as I'd expected, so I decided to take a boat ride around the lake, which -- from what I could see from the dock at Como -- appeared to be not very big. This was back before the Internet and I very, very foolishly didn't buy a map or carry a good dictionary. Instead, I looked at the time chart for boat departures and since they left every half hour or so, I figured it was the one boat going around and around. Like the hour-long boat rides here to see the cherry blossoms. Need I tell you, the lake is huge, and the round-trip travel time by boat turned out to be most of a day! (I no longer remember how long it took, but it felt like a full day and part of a night!) Luckily, the boat had a restaurant so I didn't get hungry. It was a spectacular ride, and I later went back to Bellagio and some other towns to explore, and it was all stunningly beautiful. (Not for nothing George Clooney has chosen to live there!) And I always carry a map now!


I was the one to ask the question about whether the flight cost to Fairbanks was reasonable or not. Thanks!

Just back from a month's vacation in Asia. Was supposed to be nice clear blue skies this time of year in Taiwan and Hong Kong and "cool season" in Thailand. Instead things were just the opposite. Rain and clouds pretty much the whole time in Taiwan and HK and HOT and humid in Thailand. Is it global warming to blame? So much for my planning to choose the best time to go!

Me too! I always let out a very loud "OW!" and find that it never happens again during the trip :)

Beware! In October, I was surrounded on the Metro by three 11-12- year-old boys who attempted to pick the pocket on the leg of my cargo pants. I was completely oblivious, just annoyed by their rudeness. They rushed off the train as the doors closed. My son and I were alerted to their actions by others passengers. The boys managed to open the snap on my pocket, but were unable to remove any of the contents. I was lucky. Always keep your valuables around your neck, inside your clothes.

I live rather close to Paris, Virginia, and has always wanted to go. Your article has convinced me to take a friend there for a meal as a combination birthday-Christmas present. (But let's face it: this is actually a gift to myself, too!)

My wife and daughters (at the time 15, 13, and 10) spent 2 weeks last summer studying French in Quebec City with a program called InterEdu and loved it.

How about having the zipper on your suitcase break during the airport check-in process, and then your belongings fall out and come around on the luggage carousel piece by piece -- underwear, shoes, tampons, etc! It's happened to me twice!


And there we are -- out of time again! Thanks everyone for the great questions and travel misadventure stories! Lots of good ones, but I think the winner has to be the chatter who got saved from who-knows-what by the grumpy cabdriver in Amsterdam. So send your contact info to me at, and I'll send off your prize.

And that's it for us for 2012 as well, folks. There'll be no chat on Dec. 24 or Dec. 31, but we'll back fresh as daisies on Jan. 7 to pick up where we left off and answer all your urgent travel quries. Till then, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and see you in 2013!

In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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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