Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Dec 17, 2018

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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel's final chat of 2018. In this week's section, the You're Going Where? series spotlights Buffalo, New York. Have a suggestion for an undersung U.S. city the series should highlight? Tell us where and why below -- bonus points if it's in a state we haven't yet visited. Most compelling answer gets a copy of National Geographic's "Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Greatest Trips." On to your questions!

I might try to get to NYC to visit with family over Christmas. I would have to go into the office on Christmas eve to do shut down procedures. I'd think of driving up on Christmas Day itself. Is that reasonable? I once took close to 8 hours to get to Long Island on Thanksgiving, but I wonder if 95 would be packed that day. Is it take the train or you are going to be miserable? I'm guessing that by the time I was able to buy a ticket (Monday afternoon), the buses wouldn't be much cheaper than a train ticket.

I drive up to Long Island just about every Christmas Day. Leave early! If you can get out no later than 6 a.m. (preferably earlier), you should be fine. You know the drill if you've taken that trip: You make it to Staten Island in good time, but then it takes hours to get from there to the Island. If you get there early enough, you'll avoid the local traffic going to see their cousins in Massapequa. 

We are taking our first cruise. People are suggesting we take Bonine with us. Does it serve any purpose to take other than for choppy seas or during a storm?

Bonine is normally used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness caused by motion sickness. (Thanks,WebMD.) It's also used for treating vertigo. I've used it on a cruise and when I taught scuba diving on the open ocean, and it worked pretty well. Some minor side effects.

I'm looking for the best ski resort within driving distance of D.C. for about four days in early January. When I say best I mean hopefully good skiing but also a nice atmosphere apres-ski. We went to Massanutten and enjoyed the slopes but the area was woeful. I'm looking at Snowshoe but am hoping you might have some other ideas? Thanks!

Snowshoe is the closest we have to a real ski resort within decent driving distance of Washington. Yes, there's Seven Springs, Wintergreen, Wisp, etc., but Snowshoe would be my first choice. If you have four days, consider going out West. You can get an early morning nonstop to Salt Lake City, for example, and be skiing in Park City by the afternoon (the time difference works to your advantage). Yes, it's more expensive, but the skiing is wonderful. 

I'm in the market for a new carry-on size suitcase and would love to know which ones the travel team uses and likes.

Here's a Navigator I wrote on luggage, which may give you a good starting point for finding quality brands. But I will also do some research on this and find a few recommendations for you.

We recommended the Samsonite Eco-Glide Underseater in this year's Travel Gift Guide.

Any recommendations for a weekend trip this winter within a ~4 hour drive of northern VA? We like hiking (that can be done in the winter), breweries/distilleries, good food, and other interesting things to do. We aren't looking for a resort/spa and don't ski, and have been to Williamsburg recently. Besides Charlottesville, what should be on the list?

How about the Maryland or Virginia Eastern Shore? Look at St. Michaels, Easton and Cambridge in Maryland and Cape Charles in Virginia. 

My travel partner and I are looking to visit a low-key Caribbean island. He is an avid diver, I barely snorkel, but all I really need are a few interesting things to look at and a hammock for the rest of the week. My question is more about how to plan such a journey. It's been easy to pick amongst offerings on St Martin and the Caymans, but a little trickier when the island is so small that you're committed once there (Saba, St Eustatius). Any tips?

As a former scuba instructor, I've dived many of these places but haven't been to any of these islands recently. Chatters, please help!

Hi, can you tell me what electric plugs I will need for a trip to India? I think I need to get a converter but am finding the information online to be somewhat contradictory. Mostly I will be in hotels that cater to tourists, but will need to charge camera, phones, etc. I will also be on the train, the Palace on Wheels, for a chunk of the time. Does anyone know the outlets on that or have general advice for the train?

Standard voltage in India is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Here's more information about the plugs you'll need.

Any suggestions for areas to stay in Florence and Venice next fall? How reliable is Air B & B in these cities? Is it legal/tolerated and would we have problems? Thanks.

Chatters, any advice on accommodations?

As for your Airbnb question, both cities -- and especially Venice -- are struggling with overtourism. One of the culprits is Airbnb, which is removing units from the rental pool and is forcing locals to move out. To help preserve the cities' culture, I would recommend a guesthouse, inn or local hotel over a short-term rental. Here is my piece on overtourism.

Today's code is TT3807. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

I'm heading to Fort Myers for a last-minute solo-plus-dog road trip after Christmas. I have nothing planned except hotel bookings. I see that Sanibel Island's beaches are all dog friendly, which is nice. Any recommendations? I've never been to this side of Florida before. Thanks!

Sanibel is very nice and low key. Marco Island, farther south, also has a laid-back atmosphere. 

We are planning a big trip for this summer to Australia and New Zealand, and I'm thinking we should get travel insurance in case something happens. We are planning to stay mostly in AirBnBs and most of them there seem to have the strict cancellation policies, so we'd be on the hook for at least half the cost if we cancel. Do you have any recommendations for travel insurance that will cover those costs along with the airfare?

Research your options on a Web site such as SquareMouth, QuoteWright or InsureMyTrip

I'm considering a tour to Lebanon with a company that specializes in small group tours for women. We'd be based in Beirut with day trips. I've read the State Dept. advisory which suggests travelers reconsider going to Lebanon. I've read elsewhere that Lebanon is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. Family is divided on my going. I'm in my mid-70's but don't think that should be a factor. I've traveled in Europe both solo and with tour groups. Any of you been to Lebanon?

The State Department does advise Americans to "reconsider travel," but if you read the specifics, most of the trouble spots are along the border with Israel and Syria. There is no mention of Beirut.

If you are going with a reputable group that keeps its ear to the ground, you should be fine. I would ask the company about their evacuation protocol and how they would respond to a possible outbreak in violence. I would also recommend travel insurance that covers cancellations related to political or safety issues. Also sign up for the State Department's STEP program, which will send you alerts in the event of an attack.

I have not traveled to Lebanon but I recently met a couple from Jordan while traveling in the Middle East. They told me that I must go to Beirut for New Year's. And I have to admit: I am tempted.

How far south do you think we have to go to get warm weather in the Caribbean in January? Is the Bahamas far enough? or go further?

Last time I was in the Bahamas in January, it was definitely not hot. We were there during a week that was cooler than average, but typically, it gets to about mid-70s during the day and mid-60s at night. DR and Jamaica were both nice and toasty when I visited those islands in winter. 

Try St John or St Croix. Scuba, snorkeling (often right off the beach) or just enjoy picture-postcard beaches with a picnic. Definitely low key with a nice balance of lots to see and do. Rent a car and explore--you can't get lost either place. We were in St John last summer---most businesses up and running post hurricanes and the locals are more than ready for visitors to return.

Thank you!

I was just in St. Croix, many options for scuba, beach hammocks, historical destinations and rum tours. It's a little rough around the edges after the hurricanes last year but it's really making strides to come back.

Great recommendation!

My wife's birthday is coming up a couple days after New Years. Every year, I try to plan a staycation around dinner somewhere in the city on some list she's been reviewing or heard by word of mouth. This year, I've planned for dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant, but MY GOD the price! I think you know where I'm going.... If I get the wine pairing, all of a sudden I now have a price where I can plan a nice, short getaway possibly with sun and beach. It might be on the frugal side, but any recommendations?

Airfares to warm spots are not typically cheap in winter, so the chance of finding some lovely, but inexpensive weekend in the sun is not all that promising. Miami comes to mind, but nice restaurants and hotels are expensive there. You could drive to a beach in North Carolina where it won't be warm, but you'll be able to get nice accommodations at a good price. Look at the Sanderling in Duck. 

You're Going Where? should highlight Tulsa! The Kaiser Family Foundation just opened a new, huge, amazing park -- The Gathering Place! I haven't yet been but it looks awesome.

Passed through Spokane a while ago. It struck me as a place I'd like to go back and visit sometime. Guess it's not getting another Expo anytime soon to draw everyone's attention!

We love Sarasota, Florida. The city has great restaurants, a lively shopping area. You aren't far from the beaches and there are lots of attractions or cute town to do day trips.

We went last year to visit some friends who had moved to Louisville, KY. What a gorgeous town! We loved the restaurants and the shopping. We spent a great day exploring the Horse Farms in the area. And don't forget the Bourbon if you are into liquor. What a wonderful surprise. I was sad we only had a short weekend there.

Are you particularly susceptible to motion sickness? Where is your cruise? Is it in an area particularly known to have rough seas? Is your ship a large one? The larger the ship, the less motion you'll notice. And is your cabin at an end or near the middle? It's the ends of the ship that will have the most motion. As a child, I was motion sick any time I was in a car, and I still have problems in airplanes if there is turbulence. However, I've been on 2 cruises, one in the Inner Passage of Alaska, and one in the Western Caribbean. I had no problems with motion sickness on either one. I'd recommend having the Bonine handy, but not taking it unless you have a need.

Those are great questions. Thank you for the insights.

I hadn't thought about it before, but I do think there's something to be said about using more traditional accomodations in cities where airbnbs have taken over. To that end, we loved staying in the Residence Corte Grimani in Venice. It's an apartment style hotel in a convenient location, so you get the perk of having a kitchen and separate rooms, but still in a hotel.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Why isn't Pittsburgh (a/k/a Home, Sweet Home) on the list yet? Museums, sports, music, dining, breathtaking vistas, more bridges than you can shake a stick at! All at generally lower prices than the DC area, and only a 4 hour drive away!

Because it's already "sung," and rightfully so -- the tagline for the series is "the best vacation destinations you've probably never considered."

I know you've pointed this out before but there are two separate issues. The voltage is different in overseas countries. Things like computers, phones and cameras are smart enough to figure that out. You simply need an adapter to be able to plug your device into the wall. However, your hair dryer, hair straightener, etc are more basic. Those devices need to have a switch on them to toggle between 120 and 220 voltage. DO NOT try and use just a plug adapter for a 120V hair dryer unless you want to have it blow out. I know you can buy converters but they don't work very well for devices like hair dryers that must pull a lot of current over a longer time period.

Thanks for the very clear explanation of using electronics abroad!

Any suggestions for locations within one hour of Alexandria that my 78-year-old mom would enjoy? My ex is taking the kids the week between Christmas & New Years and the two of us are going to go out and enjoy the area that week. She is fairly mobile - but gets cold easily and can't walk for more than 1 or 2 hours (so hiking is out). Thanks!

If you really want a different experience and environment, sticking to the one-hour radius is tough. If you can stretch the drive time a bit, I suggest Harper's Ferry or Frederick, Md. You can also take the train to Philly, a great city for walking and sitting. The ride is less than two hours.

I'm submitting this separate from my question on travel insurance. We are going to Australia and New Zealand in June. Our plan is Australia first, with a few days somewhere outside of Sydney, we're thinking Port Stephens, and then a few days in Sydney. Then we're gong to NZ and we're thinking a few days up north around the Bay of Islands area, a few days around Rotorua, and a day or two in Auckland. Do you have any suggestions for "can't miss" attractions, or things that are off the beaten path that might not be in the guide books or on TripAdvisor? Thanks.

We ran this great piece on hiking and camping in New Zealand. And you should definitely visit the Cedar Creek Wombat Hospital, about 100 miles north of Sydney. And if you have the time and money, the Three Capes, a 29-mile track in Tasmania.

Chatters, any other suggestions?

Haven't the permitted size allowances been decreased a bit on these lately by airlines? Do you have an update for those of us who fly in coach?

All of the airlines post their carry-on  and personal bag sizes on their Web sites. For example, United states: The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.

Staying in the area for Christmas week and looking for a few day trip worthy items. Are there any good winery or ciderees still hosting tours in the winter that are worth going to? Open to any other non-urban adventures. While we understand that a little Christmas cheer and decorations are part of going anywhere this time of year, we would like to avoid anything overly religious. Thanks for any thoughts

The Leesburg area has lots of wineries, breweries and cider spots. Some of my favorites include Fabbioli, Stone Tower, Vanish, Casanel and Quattro Goombas. There's also this insane-looking lighted village at One Loudoun that I'm going to visit sometime this coming week called LightUp Fest

The challenge with a government shutdown is not knowing how long it will last. I am visiting family over Christmas with plans to fly home on December 26th. If there is a shutdown, I could extend the trip, but I don't want to pay a fortune to rebook the flights. If I know the shutdown won't end before January, I would stay until after the start of the New Year. If congress is working on funding, then I need to come home just in case it ends. What is the best way to extend a trip at the last minute without paying too much extra?

Book a flight on Southwest, book a one-way ticket or drive.

It's not that far away but what about Richmond VA? Plenty of places to hike by the river, plus plenty of walkable neighborhoods in town, fantastic craft beers and distilleries, art galleries, museums, history, shopping, and any kind of dining you could want.

Great suggestion. Here are some ideas for a Richmond visit.

I impulse bought a sort of rectangular duffel at FAO Schwartz back in the day. It has a dark background covered in fairly small Kermit the Frog heads. It is absurd but I love it. I have never found an airline seat it doesn't easily fit under. And when they are asking us to gate check all bags (for whatever reason on really small planes) I never have to worry about anyone picking it up as their own by accident. It is starting to have some rips in the lining and won't last forever. I will miss it when I have to give it up.

Irreplaceable, much like Kermit himself!

I'm considering a trip to the UK this coming summer, but I am seeing a lot of conflicting advice as to when is the best time to buy a transatlantic ticket, i.e. how far in advance. I feel like these days the airlines and price aggregators (kayak et al)are getting pretty good at gaming the system so that old advice like "buy at least three months in advance" may not be valid anymore

Thanks for the question. I follow the research on this pretty closely, and the best advice I've found is: buy when you need a ticket. Try to avoid a last-minute purchase (less than two weeks in advance). If you see a fare that you think is a good deal, book it.

I agree with the poster who said to bring it, but only take it when necessary. I've never felt remotely seasick on the big boats, but have been able to feel movement when I've had cabins at either end of the shop. I've only taken bonine on tiny boats with rough seas, and definitely had the side effect of being drowsy. You could also try ginger gum if you have mild symptoms.

I agree. Thanks for the observation.

I like the eBags brand. It's typically a lot less expensive than the big name brands and most of their pieces are very well thought out.

Thanks!

I just returned from a 3-city trip in India. I flew back into O'Hare Airport. Wow - I was stunned with the rudeness the airport officials exhibited toward international travelers. Mocking and exasperated when people didn't understand them or asked directions! I had just come from being the foreign visitor who needed a little extra help, and I was so disappointed to see the way Americans treated these visitors.

At JFK last week, several people, including a NYC firefighter, stopped to help a couple who spoke no English and were desperately trying to figure out the AirTrain and subway system.  I thought it was lovely to see these busy New Yorkers being patient with visitors. But these weren't TSA or airline officials. I'm thinking our observations are just a snapshot of the good and bad travel experiences that we've all had.  When possible, I try to help when I see someone in need at an airport. 

Lots of great hiking nearby, burgeoning art scene, food is very good as well. And well within the time parameters.

Great idea. Love Roanoke!

How about the MGM National Harbor? Maybe a half hour, but if you pick a weeknight you might get a bargain on a room. Great food there, too. And if you like to gamble, I hear they allow that now as well! Added bonus, you can take a shuttle to the National Harbor to see the sights there!

Fun suggestion. Thanks!

Be careful about hotels - I stayed in one that looked lovely online,was in San Marco etc Only to discover that I was on the sixth floor in a hotel where the elevator only went to the fourth and that the two flights up to my floor were clearly not originally intended for guests (wood in that floating style as opposed to marble) andddd that I was clearly staying in converted maids/staff quarters. I'd have much preferred an airbnb for the same amount where I had a sense of exactly what my room would look like. Channeling Tom Sietsema I asked for a different room but was told they were full.

Thanks for the warning, but even with Airbnb, you don't know exactly what you are getting. Best to ask a bevy of questions before sending in a deposit.

How about going to some of our many Old Towns in the area? Fredericksburg, Occoquan, and Manassas, in VA are compact and walkable with plenty of shops and restaurants and galleries to stop and warm up in.

Great idea!

I bought a suitcase from Away Travel two years ago, and it's been manhandled on 14 flights since then with nothing but scuff marks to show for it. It also comes in lots of colors including pink, baby blue, and purple, so you can pick something other than black to make it easy to spot on the luggage carousel.

Thanks for the suggestion.

As a fellow motion-sick sufferer and pharmacist, I highly recommend bringing scopolamine patches (need a prescription) for possible seasickness. They cause some dizziness and dry mouth symptoms, but I tolerate them much better than bonine or other oral meds.

Thanks for weighing in!

You guys may be in the know already, but both Qantas and Virgin have announced they will both weigh at check-in your carry-on bags, on their domestic flights. (This might apply internationally as well - I was only alerted to domestic.) Your two bags (rollerboard/large one + purse/tote/briefcase) can only total 7kg or 15 pounds. Otherwise you need to check something. So your last-minute ask from Santa this year is a personal luggage scale so you can be sure you are under their limits.

Good to know. I have noticed that on my most recent international trips, the airline agents have been checking the weight of all of my bags and are serious about overpacking.

A great place to visit if you are fond of the blues. Museums and restaurants. A low-key kind of weekend.

Kennett Square is a small town that is easy to reach. It has good food and drink. There are interesting cultural things to do: Longwood Gardens, Winterthur American Antique museum, The Hagley gunpowder museum, Nemours Mansion (this supports a du Pont children's hospital) It is half an hour from Wilmington Delaware, which has sports, culture, and shopping. You can stay anywhere from the standard Hilton/ Mariott hotels to the Inn at Montchattan. Plenty to do at all price points!!

Yes, Gertrude, there IS a "there" there!!! Diverse city, fine food, cultural attractions galore (and just a quick hop up to Berkeley, the next town to the north), top-notch public transportation (buses, BART), with the best panoramic views in the entire Bay Area.

I second! The beach on Siesta Key has the softest, whitest sand I've ever seen because it's like 99% quartz crystals, and there are morning yoga classes there a few times a week. I also enjoyed kayaking through the mangroves and they have a nice botanical garden and The Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy which is as "Florida" as it sounds.

Not sure if it counts as "unsung," but a place I hadn't heard of until moving to California. It's about equidistance between LA and SF, so just far enough afield to avoid large crowds. Has a great college-town vibe, lovely hiking nearby, great beer and wine scene, and about 15 minutes from the awesome central California beach towns.

We did both the north and south islands, but sounds like your time will be pretty limited. I generally found the Rotorua area disappointing, but OMG did we love Waiheke Island. Plan a full day to take the ferry over, explore the wineries and restaurants (either on scooter or on the win bus), and then come back to Auckland at sun set. Also, GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. I had a major accident on a trip earlier this year, had to go to an emergency room in a foreign country, and fly home immediately to get surgery. Was so thankful to get reimbursed over $10k for the medical expenses, airfare change fees, and our lost tour.

Thanks for the suggestion and glad you survived that scary episode.

Looks like we're out of time -- thanks for joining us today, and for a year's worth of funny, provocative, informative chats! Clarksdale blues fan, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. Talk About Travel returns on Monday, January 7. Happy holidays!

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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