Talk about Travel

Dec 19, 2011

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. This week we help you figure out where it's safe to visit in Mexico.

Greetings, all, and welcome to the chat!

We hope you got a lot of good ideas from our section yesterday, including Andrea's piece on how to play it safe in Mexico, Tom Sietsema's Postcard from St. Louis, and Maya Kroth's fun look at a new style of touring in Tijuana

This is our last chat of 2011, can you believe it? We will not have a Travel section on 12/25 -- we're going dark that day -- and Monday, 12/26 is a Post holiday, so we won't be working, either! (It's also my last Travel chat for even longer, as I'm taking a yearlong leave to work on a couple of book projects.)

In the holiday spirit, here's our question for you: What's your favorite strategy for handling holiday travel? The winner will get a prize.

And now shoot your questions our way -- we're here to help.

My wife and I are looking for a three night trip without the kids. Because we only can leave for three nights we want to minimize travel time ideally flying direct. In April and May what islands can we get to direct? After are first was old enough we went to Grand Cayman which was great. Additionally we have been to San Juan, my wife is not thrilled about the Nassau idea but perhaps with a unique or very nice small hotel she would be. Lasty we know Mexico is an option but we also have been there twice. Any thoughts would be great.

Not many islands offer daily nonstop flights from the DC area. Choices include San Juan, Puerto Rico; Nassau, Bahamas; Cancun, Mexico; and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Nassau has a few nice boutique hotels, although they're not cheap. Take a look at Marley Resort & Spa and Graycliff Hotel. 

Loved the article on Progressive Field's winter activities! My husband and I are leaving for his hometown Saturday to visit his family over Christmas, and this sounds like something they'd love to do (while I'll stay at their house, nice and warm and not repeatedly falling on my butt!)

Thanks! Indeed, Becky did a nice job with that piece.

In the last few years we have noticed a growing use of credit cards in Europe with holograms and a rejection of our cards; especially in grocery stores and smaller towns. Holland was a bit of a problem this summer but France too. Are there any plans afoot by our credit card companies to address this problem? Thanks, In the last few years we have noticed an increased use of credit cards/bank cards with holograms and the rejection of American-issued cards in Europe. Are there any plans for someone to rectify this problem? 

American credit card companies are beginning to offer so-called "chip and pin" cards -- Bank of America is the latest to do so -- that should address this problem.

Hi - We leave for LA out of Dulles on Wednesday at 5:50pm. We live in Silver Spring. How much time should I give myself to get there and park (satellite)? My plan was to leave around 3:00 (when my kids get out of school), but I can pick them up earlier if need be. Any advice is much appreciated! Thanks!

Hmm. How long has it taken you to get from satellite parking in the past? Are you checking a bag? Depending on where in SS you're coming from, it's a 45-minute drive with NO traffic, so let's say it takes you just an hour to drive. That would put you there at 4. I'm sure there are frequent shuttle buses from the parking lots, but let's say it takes you a half hour, between waiting for the bus and other people's stops. You're there at 4:30, without only about an hour to get through security and to your gate? Even if you're not checking a bag, that seems like it's cutting it too close, even for someone like me. I'd leave by 2:30 -- earlier if you're checking a bag. Anyone want to vote for other times?

We'd like to get together with our children and young grandchildren for our special anniversary weekend in January. One family is local and the other is in NYC. Where could we stay that is more or less equi-distant for all and would provide space, fun, and togetherness for a multi-generational celebration (six adults, six children 3-13). We'd love to rent a big house for two nights but are open to other options. Thanks for any suggestions.

I love Cape May, N.J.  Even in the winter, it's a charming place, full of Victorian houses and hotels, restaurants and shops, all providing endless atmosphere. And I find the ocean in winter beautiful in a haunting kind of way. I don't know how many people you're talking about, but I see lots of rentals in the area on VRBO, and you should be able to get good rates in January. Or you could stay in a B&B or one of the hotels -- Congress Hall is beautiful and open through the winter. So that's my two cents. Chatters, other ideas?

I have to put in a plug for Southwest, I've been flying them since the baggage fees were implemented by other airlines. I had a round trip flight scheduled for BWI to Denver for Thanksgiving, but then one of my relatives passed away in California. I decided to go to San Jose first, and then Denver and back to BWI. I tried to change my itinerary online to get the online fares but was not able to figure out how. So I called SW and I wish I had gotten the lady's name, she was so helpful. She said she would not be able to change my tickets herself and get the online fare, but she could talk me through the screens to do it. So long story short, no change fees and I got the webonly fares. Thank you Southwest!

It's nice to hear about an airline going out of its way to offer great customer service. I just wrote about that in this week's Navigator. Southwest has a well-deserved reputation for being helpful.

Staying home, duhhhh!

That's a tried-and-true one, isn't it?

Don't. It's the one time of year I'm okay with not having any family and not being Christian. It's a quiet day to sit and read.

I sense a pattern here. Staycations, everyone!

In late winter or early spring, we'd like to get away for a long weekend with our 2 and 4 year old kids somewhere within driving distance (preferably 2-3 hours max). Can you suggest anywhere that would have child care so we could get a a half-day or so alone? We'd really like access to an indoor swimming pool, but otherwise it doesn't have to be fancy; in fact, we'd rather not pay for elegance and amenities we don't need. Nearby kid-friendly activies would also be a plus, but just a playground or woods to hike through would be fun too. (I see that the Cambridge Md. Hyatt has a kid's camp, but they don't take 2 year olds. The Boar's Head in Charlottesville has child care, but it's a bit expensive and doesn't have an indoor pool.)

Canaan Valley has a "Kidz Korner" for children who are potty- trained. It also has an indoor swimming pool and rates are reasonable, but it is a 3.5-hour drive from the District. Wintergreen is a little closer and more upscale, but kids have to be at least 2½ for the childcare program.

It is a nice idea to "donate" hotel shampoo, soap, etc. to charities, but isn't that really an involuntary donation on the part of the hotel? I assume that only unopened bottles are donated, and that if the guest had left them behind, the hotel would have left the unopened bottles for the next guest. Or am I wrong, and hotels routinely throw out all bottles, regardless of whether they are opened, in which case one might as well take the unopened bottles for charity?

The personal-size soaps and shampoos are almost always included in the price of your room, and the hotel doesn't expect you to return them or try to recycle them. Now towels, on the other hand, are not meant to be removed. But that's another story.

Our port are Grand Turk,Half-moon Cay, and Freeport. Should we do the shore excursions ourselves or the ships? How do we find out about alternatives?

Depends. Are all 11 of you going on the same excursions? Then you could book your own private tours. You can find out about them through the individual destination's official tourism sites. And read customer  tour reviews that are posted on various cruise sites, such as Cruise Critic. But my guess is that everyone will split up during the day. Some will want to do adventurous things (Snuba, for example, was fun, as was cave snorkeling), while others will be content to lie on the beach. I typically go through the ship if I'm doing anything that could be dangerous because the line vets the tour operators. But it does typically cost more to do the ship's excursions.  So if I'm just going to the beach, I go it alone. Just hire a taxi and go. 

I will be meeting friends this Wednesday for a short visit only. Due to circumstances, we will just have a few hours to get together and thought traveling to the Orlando area is a more or less central meeting place. There will be 4 - 6 adults (20s through 80s, all in good physical condition) and a 1-yr-old. Would we be better off meeting somewhere along International Drive, in Downtown Disney, or elsewhere (I guess we could also go to the Fort Myers or Naples areas - some are coming from Tampa & some from Fort Lauderdale)? As none of us live in those areas, we are not sure where to meet but figured there would definitely be SOMETHING around there. We are trying to keep the cost down so any of the parks are out of the question. Thanks so much for your help - I keep coming back to asking you my travel questions as your answers in the past have always been spot on!

What about Winter Park, just north of Orlando. A lovely village, with many shops and restaurants on the main street, Park Avenue, as well as museums all over town. And you can take a cruise on the canals.  I loved going there when we lived in Orlando. You could eat at The Ravenous Pig, or Bosphorous Restaurant, if you like Turkish cuisine.

Chatter, your thoughts?

My parents are keeping the kids for two weeks this summer so my husband and I can go away for some alone time. We had just thought of escaping to Hawaii and relaxing for a couple of weeks, but we have friends in La Serena, Chile who suggested a trip to Chile instead. Now that we've opened our minds to another destination, any ideas? We'll use miles to fly business class, but probably don't want to go as far and jet-laggy as New Zealand (another dream of ours). Would rather have a scenic/relaxing/nature/hiking vacation v. museum/shopping/urban setting.

I'm a big believer in traveling where you have friends. They can take you to see some of their favorite things, and they have great local insider knowledge, so you'll get deeper than the average tourist would. (In that vein, I need to get to London, Tel Aviv, the Philippines, Singapore and Mexico City sometime in the next couple of years.) So I vote for Chile!

If you don't want to see your friends (hmm...), what about Southeast Asia? Vietnam, Laos, Thailand?

The most important thing to remember is that very little is in your control. The holidays are a crazy time and the best way to minimize stress when you're traveling is to just relax--when you're flight is delayed, yes, it sucks, but try and enjoy the company of the person you're traveling with, and know that, while it might not be on time, you'll get to your destination at some point. The holidays are about being grateful for what we have. Be grateful that you can afford to travel and that you have family to visit. That being said, definitely be prepared. Load new music onto your mp3 player, bring a bunch of books (or get them on your e-reader), pack healthy snacks, and wear comfy clothing. That way, no matter what happens, you'll be prepared.

I'm breathing easier just reading this! (And I'm not traveling this holiday season either -- well, I'm driving up to Brooklyn, then Cape Cod, then Maine on 12/30, 12/31 and 1/1, but other than that...)

Checking airfares to San Francisco or San Jose in March, the lowest I've found thus far are around $400 round-trip. Do you think airlines will be offering lower fares after New Year's, or should I snap these up now?

You may score a sale fare of closer to $350 round trip, but it won't get much cheaper than that for convenient flights. I'd probably watch it for a few weeks, but wouldn't wait too long. 

To stay cozily at home. Enjoy your leave, Joe. We will miss you in the Travel and Food chats.

Thanks! Appreciate it.

My husband and I will be taking a 10-night cruise in Europe in May. I know that people say use your ATM card to get Euros, but do you have any other suggestions? We were planning to use our ATM, but we wanted other options as well. I hear that travelers checks are not a good idea any more because they are hard to cash.

Another good option is a pre-loaded debit card.


Aha. The traveler's little helper?

When is the Telegraph Road project scheduled to be completed? It seems lately the traffic in the Sprinfield to the Wilson Bridge has gotten worse instead of better. The road has been paved and it looks to me it's about done but then I have been wishing that for a long time.

Funny, I just drove through there yesterday. Looks to me as though it still has a ways to go. But actually, I believe this is a question you might like to ask Dr. Gridlock, whose chat is going on right now as well.

Do you know if American provides its staff with any flexibility re: its recent stroller policy? We're flying with our 9 month old twins and a 3 yr old and a double stroller that is 3 lbs over their policy's stated max. It folds up small-- could go in the overhead bin if needed-- but I'm worried they'll make me check it at the ticket counter. I did call and was told it would be fine; a friend called with the same question and she was told she'd have to check it. If it matters, I bought seats for all the kids. (And yes, you should be glad you're not on our flight, although my three year old is extremely well behaved, and loves to fly!)

I think you'll be fine. I've traveled with a lot of strollers (I'm the oldest of five, and I have three young children of my own). They won't force you to check it at the counter. If it must be checked, they'll probably do it at the gate. But if it's only a few pounds overweight, I think they'll probably let it slide.

STAY HOME. Okay, we don't celebrate christmas. So there you go. But even so, years ago, I stopped visiting my family on thanksgiving. Just not worth the hassle. Maybe we'll take the kids away for a few days (we live in atlanta, thinking either NC or Alabama) - and hopefully stay somewhere with a pool. We'll see. But very low key is what i'm thinking.

I'm pretty excited that my sister is coming to see me for a few days over Christmas, and helping me get ready for my move. She might end up being stressed out about traveling, but I won't be! (And I'll help ease her stress, of course, by treating her like the queen that she is when she is here.)

I just wish to please register my surprise at an airline that downgrades how they consider you just because you use some of their miles for a free flight. I still have 150,000 unused miles and I use their credit card, which alone is supposed to qualify me for early boarding. Yet, ever since I used some miles, they place me in boarding zone five. So much for loyalty to your frequent customer.

Check the fine print in your cardmember agreement. The benefits may be based on your elite status, not the number of miles you have. Then again, I'm on record as a frequent flier skeptic. Often, the loyalty only goes one way.

Happy Holidays, one and all. A special thank you to all the Flight Crew for The Talk about Travel Weekly Chat. And, to the many helpful chatters, too.


Hi - wrote last week about touring near Colon SAFELY - seems I didn't communicate clearly that I only have HOURS not days. I am taking a cruise and the shore excursion takes me from Gatun Locks back to Colon and then I still have 4 hours. Ideas? Prefer outdoors or even shopping to history and forts. Thanks!

I suggested this for outdoors activities. Don't have time for that?

to Chris Elliott: good to see you on first Virgin America flight to Palm Springs.

Wasn't me. But my doppelgänger has good taste in airlines.

Just a thought: it's not just chip-and-pin that you want for travel to Europe, but that PLUS no foreign transaction fee. Chase Brit. Airways Visa fits; Capital One too.

Right. I always use my Capital One card over there.

The best place to find a vacation rental in France outside major cities is A gite is a vacation rental on a farm, organized by regional organizations to provide extra income for farmers. A year or two ago I rented a place on a farm outside Quimper, in Normandy. The only trouble was the bedrooms were in a loft (in a converted stone barn) with a steep staircase and the bathroom was on the main floor!


what's your take on booking a cruise excursion versus finding one once you get into port? Landing in Port Limon, CR and thinking I might find an excursion to the canals once I'm there. Will I save money? Will it be better than touring with 50 people from my boat (I hate crowds. BF wanted the cruise....I'm more the solo backpacker.) Thanks!

I'm with you on those huge bus excursions. When I take a shore excursion offered via the ship, I pick those that are geared to small groups.  I think this is one you could do on your own. Just take a taxi to Moin and then take a boat tour from there.  

I read Food Critic Tom Sietsema's St. Louis dining adventures. The last time I was in St. Louis was back in 1990 for a Government conference at the Hyatt Union Station,, a hotel connected to a mall in an old train station, sort of like our DC Union Station. May I ask where Tom stayed during his 3-day sojourn? Thanks.

Tom says:

Funny! I stayed at the same place, which looked as if it had been last remodeled in the 90s. 

I'm racking my brain trying to think of where to go in February or March for a long weekend getaway before our first child arrives in May. We don't want to drive more than 3 hours, and we're not overly into spas. In general we like to be outdoorsy so I thought about Harpers Ferry, but I'm not sure what outdoorsy activities I can do with a pregnant belly in the cold weather! We went to Philly last year for a long weekend and loved that; do you perhaps have ideas for something similar?

How about Charlottesville? Since you're eating for two, there will lots to satisfy you there!

I mentally anticipate that my travel will take twice as long, and plan that way. I usually arrive pretty happy, because it usually doesn't take that long, so I feel like I've beaten the system :)

The old lower-your-expectations trick. Nice.

I've found the key is to to travel on the day of the holiday. Catch a 6am flight on Thanksgiving morning and 9 times out of 10, you're there in time for turkey. Catch an afternoon flight on Christmas Day and you get to have Christmas morning the way you'd like it to be and still make it to the family for Christmas dinner. It's usually cheaper, much less crowded and lower stress. Of course, #1 key to good holiday travel is to ship all presents and wrapped packages in advance!

That's terrific advice!

just found out an old friend lives in st thomas. Just thought y'all would be almost as excited as I am. Hoping to get there soon!

Yep, I would be pretty excited about this, too. Book that trip!

My significant other wants to spend Christmas with his kids, which I'm totally supportive of, but wants me to accompany him - which means spending the holiday with someone else's in-laws. Someone else's ~former~ in-laws. Can I please have a note from my travel advisors for an excused absence from this one?

To Whom It May Concern,

Name Goeshere has a medical condition called Exinlawitus that requires staying at home around the holidays.


Dr. WaPoTravel

When flying, I book a flight that leaves in early afternoon. That way I'm well rested. It might be delayed, but there's not much worse than dealing with incredible crowds at 7 or 8 in the morning and you've been up since 6am.

Hear, hear.

I know this is kind of mean, but my husband and I have started a game of finding the weirdest people when we travel and posting them on our Facebook pages.

Photos, you mean? Funny. And risky!

I assume you will not be doing the Free Range chats either? So sad for us, but best wishes for you and good luck with the books!

I may make a guest appearance from time to time on one chat or the other, because I'll be writing occasional things for both sections, but will mostly be gone, yes. Thanks for the good wishes!

Not really a qestion, but a word to the wise. My husband and I drive a 1994 Taurus w/150,000+ miles on it. We recently rented a 2010 VW Passat and were completely clueless as to how to operate it. We didn't think to check the glove box for the owners' manual, which wasn't there. Fortunately we stayed more or less in the same vicinity so were able to check back w/the rental car folks whenever we had a question. The final question was how to open the gas tank cover -- it turns out that you tap on it, and it pops up. This after we searched everywhere for the appropriate lever or button. Do you know if this is standard practice? Next time we will know to check before leaving the facility.

Great advice. I remember renting a car in Europe and not being able to figure out how to put it in "reverse." This might make an excellent Navigator column. Can you email me? (And for that matter, anyone else this has happened to!)

Would you expect the National airport to be extremely busy this Friday morning? A few years ago, we had a flight out of Dulles on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. We arrived almost 3 hours in advance and still had to run to the gate. That brings up another question - other airports I've flown out of do a sort of triage when security lines are long. If you're flight takes off in less than 45 minutes, you go to the front of the line. Why don't they do that in this area?

It'll definitely be busier than usual, that's for sure! That's a good question about the front-of-the-line thing. They might not want to encourage people like me who leave everything until the last minute. Why reward our bad behavior?

I like to go to the Ixtapan de la Sal Spa in Mexico. It's a couple hours from Mexico City though we've started flying into Toluca because it's only an hour or so away from the spa. Any idea how safe this area of Mexico is? I didn't go this year because my parents and friends are super paranoid about safety in Mexico, but went last year and had absolutely no problems.

I devoutly hope that you saw our big Mexico spread yesterday. The whole point is to tell tourists not to be afraid to venture into Mexico, which is a large country with a myriad safe spots. Andrea's story doesn't directly address Toluca or the spa, but I would place those in the safe to go column. The only places the experts really warned against were the border towns, the states of Baja California (except for Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas) and Chihuahua, some port towns such as Mazatlan and Veracruz, and, alas, Guadalajara and Acapulco. Chatters, your experience?

Leave yourself at least 15-20 minutes from the time you park your car to get to the terminal. Life in the terminal is MUCH easier if you leave yourself 90 minutes to check back and get through security. From Silver Spring, I would budget at least 1:15 to get to Dulles satellite lots. My motto: it is much easier to waste time in a bar/restaurant near a terminal than it is to worry as you sit in traffic or a security line.

So 1:15 + :15 + 1:30 = 3 hours. So if you have a 5:50 flight, leaving at 2:30 would seem to do it. Ha! Just like I said -- so we think alike here.

Hi. A few weeks ago there was some back 'n' forth on the Chat about American Airlines and how awful they were. That has not been my personal experience at all, but I wanted to mention that Stanley Kubrick's film "The Killing" (1956) ends at the airport in LA. It's a great final scene (will not spoil it with any details) but my favorite thing about it is how it shows all the period details of the airport, and how although the rules for flying were very different then, the rules for baggage were quite similar. The snarky American Airlines clerk is a hoot. Watch it!

Ooh, you've piqued my curiosity. Have not seen that one, but now I'll have to make it a point to do so.

thanks - yes, I have tried to contact them and haven't had any response. Will keep trying. I think some other folks posted things to be done over a series of days.

Hi- I bought a flight months ago on Delta- when I purchased it, the flight was direct DCA to Miami. Now they've changed it so I have a layover in Atlanta on both legs. I'm sure they can technically do this, but do I have any recourse? Pretty annoyed they waited until two weeks before my trip.

When there's a schedule change, you can usually ask for a full refund. Check Delta's contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline, to get the details. 

with that big of a group, lots of people, how about cafe tu tu tango? it's a fun place to eat, and the kids would probably enjoy it, too... miss the one that used to be in Atlanta...

Another thought. It's right on International Drive.

Joe, are you temporarily departing the chats or is this a permanent move? If so what will you be doing?

Like I said, it's a yearlong leave to work on a couple of book projects. So it's just for a year, not permanent.

I can't believe I'm hearing about this leave just now. What are you going to be up to? I'm definitely going to miss you on the Free Range chats (and occasional Top Chef recap video!!) where I'm a regular. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your leave.

Thanks! I'm working on a couple of book projects -- nothing I can officially say just yet.

How far are some of the LA sights from LAX and do they have storage facilities for luggage? I am meeting up with a group for a late night departure and was thinking that I could arrive early and spend a little time in LA before meting with the group.

LAX does not offer baggage storage. There are some private companies, such as LAX Luggage Storage, that will pick up your luggage, store it and then deliver it back to you, but this may take more time than you have. Los Angeles is spread out and the airport is south of the city. If I had limited time,  I'd probably just go down to Manhattan Beach or Venice. You can get the Ocean Express Trolley from the airport area to Manhattan Beach for just $5 round trip. 

we have a young cousin and her boyfriend visiting in January. They are late twenties and have traveled to New York before. How can we entertain them in the area?

Do you mean the New York area, or the Washington area? I'm not clear.

So Joe, if you're absent for a year, who's running the travel (and food) show at the Post?

The fabulous Zofia Smardz will be steering the Travel ship, and the fantastic Bonnie Benwick will be stirring the pot in Food.

Will your book be on travel or food? Do tell (after all, we're part of your potential market)!


Come between Victoria Day in May (3rd Monday) and mid September for sightseeing and hiking in the mountains, it can be cold. Driving between Calgary and Edmonton, use the secondary highways either east or west of the QEII for more scenic drives. If you go to Drumheller, use Hwys 56/13/21 for farming. Else from Cochrane west of Calgary drive Hwy 22 for the foothills, getting onto the QEII before Red Deer, then take 2A north (the old highway). In Edmonton, go to Elk Island Park (30 miles east), the bison are often by the roads at dusk. Fort Edmonton is a reconstruction of a Hudson's Bay Company fur trading fort. Good walking trails along the N Saskatchewan River. West Edmonton Mall for shopping - but call it West Ed... Drive south on the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper for better views. In Jasper, Maligne Lake and the boat to Spirit Island -- an iconic spot in the Rockies. Stop at Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks just east of Lake Louise - used to be on the reverse of the Canadian $20 bill. Limited parking so go early. The old CPR hotels (now Fairmont) in Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. Kananaskis if you have time.

Appreciate the ideas!

My husband and I will be taking a cruise in Europe this spring with Star Clippers. We need to decide whether to book their travel insurance. What's your take on travel insurance, particularly when it's offered by the cruise line itself -worthwhile? What should we look for when deciding whether or not to do it?

I'd read the fine print and then compare what is offered and the price to other options via a Web site such as InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright or SquareMouth.  Make sure that what you fear is covered. For example, if you have a sick sister-in-law whose funeral you would not miss, make sure the policy covers in-laws. If you break your leg and would want to fly first-class back home in order to be comfortable, make sure that's covered. Again, read the fine print. 

We're taking a family trip to Southern Utah next August to see as much of the area's national beauty as possible, including Bryce, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Monument Valley. Any hikes or restaurants or anything else that we should definitely plan to include on our trip? We're flying into and out of Vegas.

Wow -- August in Vegas and Southern Utah? I know this isn't the question you asked, but are you ready for the second-hottest month of the year there? Strenuous exercise would seem to be a little risky, at least mid-day... As for restaurants, you mean in Vegas, right? I'll exhibit some hometown bias and say you should get to Jose Andres's China Poblano and Michel Richard's Central.

We're taking a cruise out of Miami in mid-January. The day we return to Miami, the ship is scheduled to dock sometime in the relatively early morning on a Saturday (approximately 8 or 9am). Our plane out of MIA doesn't leave until nearly 9pm. We're probably going to rent a car for the day, but now we need ideas on what to do! Neither of us has ever been to Miami before. Thanks!

If it were me, I'd head to Miami Beach to catch a few rays and then grab dinner at Versailles.

My secret weapon is being early for everything, especially plane flights. I'd rather be bored than frantic. One person changing a flat on the side of the Dulles Access Road or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway can mean the difference between making your flight or not, so why not just get there early and have a cup of coffee or some exercise via walking through the terminal? You'll be happier for it.

I know this mindset and I respect it, even as I do not tend to adopt it myself.

I'm traveling with my boyfriend out to Colorado this week, and we're connecting from BWI to Atlanta to Montrose, CO. It's going to be a long day of travel in both directions and now that airlines don't serve meals anymore, we're going to be starving. I plan on bringing some snacks/food for the plane but I don't want to lug full meals along. What are the best places to grab something to eat at these airports (breakfast/lunch on the way there and dinner on the way back)? We're looking for not over the top expensive and something that will have vegetarian options. If not specific recommendations, maybe some tips on how to safe money and eat a little healthier during our travels. Thanks!

Funny you should ask about this. A recent survey just rated BWI ninth best airport for healthful food -- meaning that 31 of its 41 restaurants offer at least one "low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free breakfast, lunch or dinner entree." Which 31 restaurants this is, however, I don't know. You could look up the survey from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine when it comes out tomorrow (Tuesday). 

Beyond that, chatters, do you have any ideas?

While I agree that a trip to Chile would be fantastic, the poster should note that it is winter in Chile when it is summer here. I am not familiar with the weather in La Serena (or whether that matters to the poster), but thought I should mention it since they originally were planning a beach vacation in Hawaii. That's two very different climates.

Yes -- good point! I ignored the whole timing piece, didn't I?

Time. That's my strategy. Plan as far in advance as possible and give myself lots of time whether it be at the airport (to park, ticket & go thru security) or planning the drive to take longer than normal. If I expect things to take more time than normal I'll usully still be on time and sometimes even pleasantly surprised by the ease of traveling.

You may be converting me.

Hope for the best but plan for the worst. To me that means leaving as early as possible if we are driving and leaving extra time if we are flying.

Got it.

I may not be afraid to go to Mexico, but I don't want to go. I'm unhappy with how their govt works, why should I support them? There are other countries to visit and spend my tourism dollars at (I have a good friend from mexico city who know lives in the husband and i went to her wedding in MC, and I have been to MC with her before, too).

You don't have to go anywhere you don't want to go. The beauty of independence! Spend your time and money where you feel like it. For me, Mexico has so much that I love that it's worth it. But you should follow your bliss.

you mention contacting folks through tourisms experience is that most don't return emails and it's difficult to get through by phone. Am I daft? Is it too chancy to have a price in mind and then see what appears at the port? Are there other ways to contact tour guides? I've had the same challenge with folks listed in Lonely Planet.

I always look at the listings on tourism sites and then I do more research on the interesting ones via review sites. I've had good luck with getting my emails returned. And, no, I don't mention that I'm a travel writer. I wouldn't go with a group that isn't easy to contact. But time is fluid in many countries, so you need to be patient. And sometimes you need to send a couple of emails with IMPORTANT in the subject line. 

We rented a car in Italy and started driving to Slovenia. We took a wrong exit on the highway so my husband turned into someone's driveway (in the middle of nowhere) to turn around. Could not figure out the reverse. Could not read the manual. Nuthin' . Then the owner of the house came out and wanted to leave his driveway. It took a minute for him to figure out what our problem was, but then he knew right away how to put it in reverse. Since then we do check out the car pretty thoroughly before leaving the lot.

I've heard about this problem from friends. Often, the manual cars in Europe have a little disk on the stick shift that you have to squeeze upward in order to put the car in reverse. 

Be extra nice to the people who are working -- flight attendants, gate crew, etc. It may not make your trip any better, but it means a lot to them. Hey, at least you're on your way somewhere and not working with hundreds of stressed out people!

Nice. Thanks.

For me, living 2 hours from my family is the best strategy. I know to drive to north of Baltimore, if I don't leave by noon on Friday, I need to stick around town till at least 7. Usually I leave work, have a nice, leisurely dinner, then head home. Though, since I'm driving to SC for New Year's, I'm sure there'll be a disaster or two to report.

Wow -- what planning. You moved just 2 hours from your family just so holiday travel would be efficient. I'm impressed! ;-)

In all the cars I've rented, the manual is NEVER there. Don't know if they've always been stolen, or they're not there to prevent someone stealing them!

keep in mind that even though you're docking that early, miami is a very busy port. I mean, when we docked in Pt Canaveral, we were off the boat in a jiffy, no big deal, but miami - there are a zillion boats there, etc, it might take a lot of time to get off the boat, you might not get off til past 12. or later. just saying (cause there's customs, etc).

I had a creative solution to this two years ago - I had a big suitcase from my Asia travels, but had one day for sightseeing in LA, and a reservation at the Sheraton in Santa Monica. I swung by the Sheraton LAX and showed them my reservation at Santa Monica (and my Sheraton Starwood Preferred Guest card) and they were happy to store my luggage while I toted my overnight needs in a small backpack. If you have a reservation or elite status with any major chain, their LAX property should do you the same favor.


I figure the main arteries (like I-95) will be jam packed, so I travel secondary roads. On a regular day, these would take longer, but during the holidays, they'll take just about the same amount of time, and the scenery is much nicer.

It is the hottest time of the year but it is a dry heat. The other factor is elevation will make it cooler. The hottest part of the trip will be in Moab, where the temps will likely be above 100.  In Moab the hikes you do in Canyonland and Arches should be done near sunrise from about 5am-10am, and near sunset from about 3pm-9pm.  During the day go into Moab and either hang out at your hotel and wim or shop/eat around town. In Escalante, Springville, and Torrey you will be able to find local places to eat.

Thanks for the info!

I definitely read the article which is why I asked the question. The article didn't seem to mention interior Mexico that much. Also, I've heard that there's been some violence in Taxco and to avoid it, and we've done Taxco as a day trip from the spa before. It's still a couple hours away through the mountains, but I didn't know how much concern we should have about the area. Note: I really have no concerns about going to the spa in Mexico. We're picked up by the spa at the airport, it's an hour drive on the toll road. Once on the spa grounds we basically don't leave so unless we walk the few minutes into the main part of town to hit the few shops, we're really isolated at the spa. But Ixtapan de la Sal is a wealthy get away for people from Mexico City. We've seen helicopters arrive on the golf course for a day trip of golf. That makes my dad paranoid that someone's going to attack the attached golf course going for wealthy Mexicans. But then again, he's a pretty paranoid guy.

So glad you read the article. I think it didn't really talk about the interior that much because it's generally safe, though as Andrea noted, you should always exercise common sense and caution. Andrea, unfortunately, is on the road today so can't speak to this, but we did highlight the dangerous areas, and the area within several hours of Mexico City is not one of them.

I'm planning a trip to Rome in May. I know every year around that time Rome makes all the museums and landmarks free for a week, but I can't find out when that week is for 2012. Has this been released? If not, when can I expect that information to be posted? I'd like to buy airfare soon. Thanks!

Dates are April 14-22. Details are in Italian (I used the Google translator) at Italy's cultural minister's site.  

Our holiday travel strategy is that we have four kids, so the grandparents come to us instead. It's simple in concept, but a lot of work in practice.

More amazing foresight! To have those children just so you can make holiday travel easier! ;-)

"I know this is kind of mean, but my husband and I have started a game of finding the weirdest people when we travel and posting them on our Facebook pages. " This isn't kind of mean - it's really mean. Look at the different person - look at the poor person, look at the unattractive person.

Laughing at the gas cap story. We've had similar problems. Spent 10 minutes in a parking garage in Italy trying to figure out how to get tiny Fiat into reverse. In Florida, we actually had to call Budget because the car would not start. Turns out you had to have your foot on the break to start it. It's always a good idea to try all the basics before leaving the rental garage... of course, I never remember to do that, but do as I say.

That's a great story. Please email me -- I'll include it in the column.

I'm going to a wedding in Cap Ferret at the end of June and will spend a couple of days in Bordeaux and Paris. Any suggestions about the best time to buy air fare to France? What is the best airfare I could expect to find for that time of year? Any suggestions for nearby must see places are also appreciated!

I'm not familiar with Cap Ferret and environs, though I wish I were! Chatters, can you help us out here, with things to see and do? Re airfare, as we say repeatedly, there is no "best time" to buy. Sign up for sale alerts with Air France and on, then buy when you see a price you can afford. At the height of summer, fares will be high, though, so be prepared.

has some normal airport fare. but there's a ben and jerry's (terminal c, i think). you can probably google what restaurants are there. the varsity just got a contract for there, but that's not til at least next year. Come to think of it, there's a nathan's so that is good, if you're into hot dogs...

I grew up on the border. We used to go grocery shopping in Ciudad Juarez. People went to the dentist there, saw doctors, got prescriptions filled. No one ever thought twice about it. It really is different now. Very sad.

Yes, sad is the word.

Can you recommend someplace near BWI (will be driving from there to Arlington) for lunch? I will be picking up friends at 12 noon next Tues and we don't want to eat at the airport.

Oh that's a toughie. Let's ask our Maryland chatters. Folks, what would you recommend?

I went to Ixtapan de la Sal in the state of Mexico about 5 years ago and loved it. In fact, over the past 15 years I've been to 20 of Mexico's 31 states. I've given up on Acapulco, not so much because of the danger, but the airlines have cut back on service to the point that it is difficult to get an affordable flight with reasonable connections - the last time I went I was on a tiny regional jet. I have plans for Guadalajara in February - I'll report back on that trip to share with other chatters. It's a big country with a lot to offer; and I like to go to warm beaches when it's cold up here.

I agree -- Viva, indeed!

I know this wasn't the question, but don't miss Capitol Reef. Most people tend to have this on the list of things they "might" do while in southern Utah, but it's really a can't miss. So much more tranquil than the other nearby national parks, and the drive along scenic byway 12 is one of the most beautiful drives you'll ever make.

Just got back from a fabulous Fri (left Thurs night)-Monday trip to Paris. Other than London, what other European destinations are do-able from BWI or Dulles on a weekend? We're thinking you need a direct flight that arrives Fri morning and a return back to DC area Monday night. Other suggestions?

There are nonstop flights from Dulles to many cities in Europe, but most don't offer evening returns. Frankfurt is one option. friend who is in her sixties travels with small loaves of bread (pumpkin, cranberry, etc.) to keep her happy during her trips. They are laced with marijuana, but never has she been caught. It might be her unlikely appearance as a druggie, dunno. NB: I'm NOT recommending this, just sharing!


Thank you for the link to Mr. Elliott's article. It was great and useful. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about frequent flyer programs.

100+ degrees Fahrenheit is still plenty hot, even if it isn't humid!

Well, we've come in for a landing, so you may now use your cell phones until we reach the gate.

Thanks for the great q's today. Hope you got some useful info from our a's. 

Now for the prizewinner: It's the chatter who said, "The best way to minimize stress when you're traveling is to just relax." Send your mailing info to Becky Krystal and, and we'll get you a little something fun.

Until next time -- remember, that's Jan. 3 (a Tuesday instead of the Monday holiday) -- happy travels!

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