Talk about Travel

Dec 02, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Good afternoon chatters -- it's our favorite part of Monday, time to talk about all things travel! Send in your questions, and we'll do our best to help you plan your trips, choose your destinations and otherwise solve your travel problems. I hope you enjoyed our beautiful winter sports issue, with the fun story about learning to snowboard, the illuminating piece about Lake Tahoe resorts, and the thoughtful story about hut-to-hut skiing on Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula. In keeping with the snowboarding story, tell us about your biggest adventure learning to do something new in your travels. Camel-riding? Parasailing? Funnest tale wins a prize.

Now let's chat!

Next week, we'll be arriving at LAX around noon and don't depart until 12 hours later. Any suggestions for something nearby without being rushed? Thanks.

Go to Manhattan Beach! Just a few minutes away by cab, and you can while away the hours enjoying the beach and surrounds: shopping, eating, etc. I'd rent a bike and tool around, swim, sunbathe, that kind of thing. Sounds nice, eh?

I forgot to submit this for the Nov. 25 chat, but I was interested to see your article on pre-check since I got randomly selected to go through the Pre-Check line last week (er, November 20) when I flew out of Richmond. I have to say, it was a fantastic and FAST experience, and it made life easier. On my way back, out of Boston, I went through regular security and it took about ten minutes since one of the belts got stuck and we all had to move to a different line. I hadn't really been considering pre-check before, but I am now after this trip, even though the security concerns are a bit of a thing. Thanks for writing about it, in any event- food for thought for sure!

Thanks for the report! Glad you liked the piece.

We are an engaged couple in our 40s, who will be getting married next year. We have more stuff than we can possibly use, but we would love to take a nice honeymoon. So we are thinking about registering for a honeymoon. 1. How common is this? One of us comes from culture where giving money as wedding present is not customary. 2. Do we have to ask for money for a travel package, i.e. a cruise? One of us is open to a cruise, the other not so much, and would rather plan a trip on our own. But we wonder if people will give money to an open-ended honeymoon.

I don't know how common this is, but I do know that my husband's niece and her groom had both a honeymoon *and* a traditional registry. I believe they registered for a specific resort in Guatemala, or somewhere in Central America, though I don't quite recall (it was severalyears ago). Afraid I don't know how it's most commonly done? Chatters, anybody know?

I'd like to take a quick trip with the family down to the Gulf side of Florida in early January. Any ideas for a specific location/resort? I hear a lot about "old" florida - would that be places like Cedar Key or Longboat Key?

When I think of "Old" Florida on the Gulf coast, I think of a place like Sanibel or Captiva Island. On parts of the islands, you don't find a lot of development, and the beaches are pretty amazing. Chatters, any other suggestions for an "Old Florida" getaway?  

I like to cross country ski. My husband likes to play poker. The perfect vacation would involve skiing with a group for me and casino poker-playing for my husband. Can you suggest a place with a casino adjacent to a cross-country ski area? I'm thinking Lake Tahoe would be a good possibility, but where?

Well, um, we just ran a Lake Tahoe skiing story, but alas, it doesn't mention any casino resorts. There is the Hyatt Regency Resort, Spa and Casino, but I've never been there. Chatters, anybody have a recommendation for this poster?

There is a website for this that friends of mine used for their Paris honeymoon. People could buy experiences such as dining in the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. You'll never please everyone, but often it comes to how you communicate about your needs/interests to people who love you and want to support you the best way they can.


Any of y'all been to Armenia or the area around there? I am in the process of trying to plan out next year's travels before my UA miles get devalued even more. I am thinking Armenia which looks pretty fascinating. I have a quote from a specialist travel agent that seems relatively reasonable for the kind of trip I want to take. (But I'm also considering Indonesia to maximize my miles' value...obviously two very different destinations)

I haven't been to Armenia myself, but we did run this story about it a couple of years ago, and yes it does sound fascinating. Also cheap! Chatters, anyone been?

I am planning a 2 week trip through eastern Europe (Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Munich) and Johannesburg. We can leave anytime between March and June. Is there a best time to travel? We would like to avoid crowds and have nice weather. Are there any times where there are festivals or activities which would make a particular time better?

Late April to early May is a lovely time of year, in eastern Europe, anyway. No festivals then that I know of, though. In Johannesburg, you'd be in late fall around then, so it should still be nice there, as well. Chatters, any thoughts on this?

True Olde Florida on the Gulf Coast is probably Everglades City in Collier County, but you're remote from all the wonderful cultural activities, fine dining, etc. in the Naples/Marco Island area. Depends on what type of experience you want. Visit

Thanks. Been to both places, and I agree.

Last year my husband and I went to an Iberostar Grand all-inclusive resort in the caribbean for an exercise retreat. I fell in love with the place, but he's just not into the resort experience and doesn't want to spend the money to go back. I, however, loved the relaxed feel, the service, the food and drink, the pools and beach and I'm desperate to go back, especially now that winter has hit. I'm trying to talk him into the idea of me going back by myself for a few days this winter (no friends or family are available to go with me). I'm craving the warmth and the relaxation. However, I'm a bit worried about going by myself. Even though I'd stick to the resort - where I felt very safe last time - I'd worry about people either seeing me as someone trying to get picked up, or as an easy target for theft, etc. And on a minor note, I'm uneasy about eating alone in the restaurants, although I'd be content with a book to read to not feel awkward. Do any of you or the other readers have experience/advice for being alone in paradise? Also, can you recommend any other Iberostar Grand resorts where I may have a better experience? (I fell in love with the Iberostar Grand brand!) Thanks!

I understand your concerns, but if you go to a quality place, you should have no problems. I went to a lousy all-inclusive with my then 13-year-old daughter for work many years ago, and we did not feel safe, plus we were constantly bothered by random men. But that was a cheap, subpar place.  I have stayed at Iberostars, but not an Iberostar Grand. There is one in Riveria Maya near Cancun, and I have always felt safe in resorts within that region. As for meals, I've eaten alone at restaurants all over the world, and as long as I have my Kindle and a notebook, I feel quite comfortable. And people-watching is always fun.  

When my wife and I travel, we put a bit of time into picking our seat assignment trying to meet a number of criteria - window vs aisle; near the pitch axis for stability of ride but aft of the wing root so we can see out; not too far back so we stand a chance of making our next connection if delayed; etc. On a recent 7 hour return flight via Al Italia from Rome to New York: 1) our seat assignments were changed from our carefully selected seats all the way back to the second last row without explanation (the check in clerk knew nothing), without pre-notification, and without apology. Do we have any rights regarding this unwelcome change?, and 2) The built-in viewing/control panel for the seat my wife was assigned did not work. The flight crew said sorry! we're completely full, there is nowhere to move you.This is a major inconvenience on a cross-Atlantic flight, but more importantly, I think it is a flight hazard. All the safety instructions and emergency response instructions are given via these screens and my wife could see or hear none of it. What should/could our response have been to this situation?

Unfortunately, you don't have any rights to compensation for the botched seat assignments. Seat assignements typically aren't guaranteed. But the airline offered a product it couldn't deliver when your wife's entertainment system didn't function as advertised. You might try these Alitalia executive contacts. A brief, polite email should get more than an apology, but I wouldn't expect anything beyond a few miles or a flight voucher. It's definitely worth asking, though.

Sorry, but I think a honeymoon registry sounds like trolling for cash. Not having a registry and having family members respond to questions regarding what the couple wants by suggesting cash may get the couple to a similar place. Or, it may not. Either way, I think it is up to the couple to figure out how to finance a honeymoon.

So far we all agree.

Why did you omit from your answers to several questions to Travel Talk in the Winter Sports 2013 edition any mention of the premier cross country ski destination in our area - White Grass in West Virginia? Additional xc skiing is available at nearby Blackwater Falls SP. Also nearby downhill skiing at Timberline and Canaan Valley. This is the mecca for all types of skiing!

Travel Talk in the print edition is just excerpts from this chat. When we answer questions here, we're doing it on the fly, and can't possibly be comprehensive. The answers were just what occurred to whoever responded as they were quickly typing. But thank you for this additional information on West Virginia resorts. I love the wild and wonderful Mountain State!

I am going to Ecuador next week.Will land in Quito and will have an escorted tour. I understand that Quito is at a high altitude andI  should be aware of altitude sickness. A few years ago, when we traveld to Peru, my wife developed this problem and needed oxygen inhalation in the hotel. This time, we are preparing for this possibility again. My question is whether Ecuadorans are aware of this problem and have provisions as in Peru. The city she had a problem in was Cuzco. All hotels in that city are aware of this problem and they have oxygen tanks ready for their guests. Is it the same in Quito? One thing I felt they should have was an oxygen tank on every tour bus, but they did not. I would like to know whether in Quito, they have it on tour buses. Thank you.

Andrea, who's the only one of us who's been to Ecuador but can't join us today, informs me that she did not hear of any Quito hotels providing oxygen tanks. She recommends that your wife invest in some altitude sickness pills before your trip. Chatters, does anyone have any different information?

Don't do it. It sounds like a great idea, but what happens is that the website will take a chunk of the cash in exchange for the site. You will also may get one massage bought, but not the other half-- will you want to pony up to buy the second one or just pocket the cash and lie when the giver asks you how it was? Many feel that they are tacky, especially if money is not normally given. If money is normally given, you will get less because the website takes a fee out. Instead, I would suggest making a very small registry for your family and then spreading through word of mouth that you hope to be able to splurge on your honeymoon. It worked out far better for us that way.


Hi, travel gurus! My mom and I want to go to Mexico City after Christmas. In a chat awhile back you recommended the Red Tree House. Sadly, it's booked. Any other spots you can recommend? Is Condesa the place to stay in Mexico City? Seems to be. Thanks for your help.

I looked at rooms at CondesaDF, beautifully designed and, yes, in the hip Condesa neighborhood, and thought it would be a good option if the RTH were ever booked. But it's a bit more expensive, of course -- around $200 a night the week after Christmas. But here's a thought: Did you try asking the guys at RTH for recommendations of other places? (And did you see their other accommodation, the Gallery?)

DH and I went to the Waitomo caves in New Zealand to go blackwater rafting. You zip into a wet suit with booties and a helmet with headlamp, then carry your tube through narrow, dark passages filled with running water to get to the underground river where you can actually relax and watch glowworms on the walls and ceiling as you drift along. I am not afraid of the dark. Not claustrophobic. Not afraid of the water. Figured I'd be fine... Turns out I had an unknown phobia about putting my feet down in the dark under water where I can't see the ground. After the first two minutes, I was pretty positive I was going to snap an ankle, and my glasses were fogging up like crazy and covered with water spray even though I'd used anti-fogging stuff on them. We were in a group of 7 people including guides, so I was scrambling along practically blind, going as fast as I could so as to not hold up the rest of the group, completely freaked out, squeezing along through narrow passages and underground waterfalls, just trying to follow the light from the headlamp of the person in front of me. Finally made it to the actual underground river, but I was so far behind that I was still racing to catch up. I hopped in my tube and started paddling as fast as I could to catch up with the rest of the group, then finally caught my breath and looked up - spectacular. One of the most amazing sights in the world, and I had a chance to see... *bump*, ran aground. That was it, end of the road. I had sprint-paddled almost all the way through the glowworm river. Wait, these stories were supposed to be fun?

Maybe it wasn't fun, but it's funny! Thanks!

Don't do it. You'll give Miss Manners a stroke!

My family will be in London for a few days next week and would love any recommendations you have on christmas markets, light displays, and anything else we should see/do this festive time of year. Thanks!

Have a look at the TimeOut website, which offers all sorts of ideas for Christmas in London -- markets, ice rinks, light displays, concerts and more. You'll have so much fun -- I'm envious! Chatters, if you have specific info, please chime in!

When traveling in Mongolia I got really good at navigating based on the sun. With almost no paved roads outside of the capital and no road signs, we hit the steppes with our trusty "road map" detailing the main dirt tracks throughout the country. You can really manage quite well by say, using the sun to direct you in a north-east direction on a medium-traveled dirt track. We navigated to some amazing spots around the country just using natural signs. I still find myself checking the sun sometimes when I'm not sure if I'm headed in the right direction, even in countries with better signage!

Ah, the way they used to do it. Now that's a valuable skill!

How low do airfares go for travel to Japan? Right now, it looks like $2,000 for the back row of economy for next summer. Do fares fall during certain seasons?

Summer fares to Japan are high right now, but that $2,000 fare is for nonstops, right? I'm seeing $1,700 for flights with connections. If you can travel in May, that connecting fare goes down to $1,400. and in winter, it's closer to $1,200.  

I *hate* this practice; but, it is becoming more common. Many of my friends have set up accounts through Honeyfund and then people can donate for the honeymoon (I think you can set it so they specifically designate the money for an activity also - like give money for a para-sailing trip while on the honeymoon) through that. Just expect some push back with more traditional types because it's equivalent to asking for money.

Honeyfund -- that was it! Where my niece registered. Thanks for this info. (For the record, I think the practice is pretty obnoxious myself.)

I was pulled out of the line at Dulles after my hands were swabbed for bomb residue. (I had put Curel foot lotion on and rubbed the excess into my hands before i left home.) I had to go through a private pat down and everything in my luggage was tested for bomb residue. Interestingly, my teenage daughters did not have their luggage swabbed, nor were their hands tested. What kind of protocol is this?

The TSA offers what it calls "random and unpredictable" screening, which may explain why you  were swabbed and your daughters weren't. The agency does this to prevent terrorists from gaming the system. Unfortunately, it's also confusing to airline passengers.

The prevailing opinion among the etiquette folks is that honeymoon registries are kind of tacky. Personally, I wish people didn't get quite so huffy about things like that. As long as you spread the word in the normal way (i.e. only tell people about the registry if they specifically ask about one as opposed to including the info in the invitation or emailing it/posting it on Facebook or whatever), then I think they're pretty handy. As a guest, I would rather give a couple something they want, even if it is essentially a cash grab with a honeymoon facade, but then I usually just give money anyway. Watch out for some of those web sites, though - some (all?) of them charge a percentage or some kind of fee.

I think such a thing is practical. Especially if this is the second go of it for people 35 and older who have likely already established a home and living on their own and they already had to go through stuff when the moved in of whose toaster to keep, what couches to keep, etc. Instead of asking for cash its a far better substitute for those who dont like to give cash.

Okay, a different view. You make some good points.

Earlier, I submitted a question about solo travel to all-inclusive resorts. I have a follow-up question. I've been targeting the Iberostar Grand resorts in Montego Bay and Punta Cana because I had such a nice time at the one in Montego Bay last year. I figured they would be safe because of my familiarity with the brand and both are adults only. I don't have anything against children, but I'm looking for a quiet resort experience without kids around, though not a "singles" experience (I'm married and am only looking for relaxation). Can anyone recommend any other all-inclusive adults-only Caribbean resorts that are good for solo travelers who are looking for relaxation and maybe some fun excursions but not a singles scene?

There are plenty of adult-only all-inclusives that you might like. Take a look at Royal Playa del Carmen, any of the Secrets resorts, Jewel properties or Excellence resorts.  But be aware that romance is a big draw at these places, so you may be surrounded by happy couples. 

I submitted a photo I'd taken of a funny sign back in September and never received an acknowledgement of its receipt by the Post. Is that the usual practice, or should I resubmit and request an acknowledgement?

I'm afraid we receive so much mail and so  many submissions that we can't acknowledge everything individually.  If we decide to use a particular photo, we let the person who submitted it know. But we can't acknowledge every photo that comes in, so sorry.

Do you know of any great hiking in the Phoenix area? Easy to moderate only please.

Chatters, we need your help here. Where would someone take a hike -- er, go hiking -- near Phoenix?

My wedding is over Memorial Day next year, and I've started looking at flights for my parents and sister, who are coming from Detroit. We almost always fly Southwest because they have good prices into BWI. I looked today and about half of their flights are already sold out! Do you think they'll open more flights soon? It seems crazy that things are booking that fast six months ahead for non-major holiday.

Memorial Day is the kickoff for summer, and BWI is a Southwest hub, so many people traveling to all over the country go through it. Have you looked into Delta? It offers flights from Detroit to BWI at reasonable prices. I'd book sooner rather than later. 

I travel by myself a lot - to all parts of the world. I feel especially safe when doing to Caribbean resorts. I normally meet people, but even if not, I am comfortable eating by myself, sitting by the pool myself, entering into the activities, going on excursions, etc. The best part is that you do not have to consult with anybody else on what to do and when!

Yes, there are good things to be said about traveling alone. All-inclusives are a bit different because they cater to families and couples rather than individuals. 

We're thinking of taking a car trip from Atlanta — 3 or 4 nights. Is Savannah worth seeing in December, or should we wait until spring? What about Jacksonville? Thank you!

I answered this question for you last week, but here's my advice again. Head to Savannah --  and Charleston, which is only two hours north of Savannah. You could do both cities, which are equally fantastic. It will be lovely weather, temps in the 60s. Jacksonville is not really that great a destination. You could, however, go to Amelia Island, which is very nearby, maybe only an hour from Jacksonville. Or you could go to St. Augustine, which is beautiful and only an hour further south from Jacksonville. So it all depends on how far you want to drive.

I contributed to my first one of these. I guess I find it something I personally would never do, but I'm not offended by it per se. Now, the lack of acknowledgement that they got or used it (it was either a massage or a meal), via the missing thank you note, that really chaps my butt.

I'd had two years of Portuguese classes before the first time I went to Portugal -- Brazilian Portuguese, however (all that was available at the only nearby university that offers Portuguese, and I didn't know there was a difference, anyhow). So it was quite an adventure trying to pick up the differences in accent from the locals, which are considerable and harder for a Brazilian-speaking person to acquire than vice versa because the European Portuguese lop off their unaccented final vowels so the words whiz past a lot faster, whereas the Brazilians pronounce them (so the Portuguese were able to understand my Brazilian accent just fine, especially since they watch Brazilian soap operas on Portuguese TV)! Fortunately I met lots of nice folks there who seemed so delighted that an American was trying to speak their language that most of them went out of their way to help me, and to teach me how to pronounce words the European Portuguese way!

Language lessons -- love that!

Just to note that May 1 is a holiday in most (all?) of Europe, so major sites like museums will be closed.

Thanks for the reminder, though I'm fairly certain that May 1 would not be a holiday in the former Communist countries -- Hungary and Czech Republic in this case. Am I wrong, chatters?

Thank you for answering the Savannah question -- very sorry for resubmitting! I missed you last week and didn't even realize it. You are all so wonderful!

You're welcome, and thanks for the compliment! Our cheeks are burning!

That may be a Hax question! You can register for anything you'd like. How people react (in words or purchasing deeds) is up to them. Point from Miss Manners: Only provide the info if asked; do not include it in your invitation. I think most people wouldn't think one way or another about you if you registered ... just don't make it a demand.


I am going on a business trip to the Atlantis/Bahamas Dec. 12-15 and my daughter and her boyfriend want to join us. What is your recommendation to get the best hotel deal? I have heard they are generous with upgrades and wondering if its best to upgrade our room to a suite or just get a separate room?

 Atlantis offers accommodations at many different price levels.  A two-bedroom suite may very well cost more than two separate rooms, especially if you go to a cheaper tower. I wouldn't plan for an automatic upgrade.  Call them and see what they will do for you. Or, even better, if you know the travel agency for your company, you could get them to help.   

Apologies for asking a question that has been answered before (if only the archives were searchable...), but what is the city in NJ that you often recommend for Manhattan visitors to stay in, especially if they're driving, from which they can easily take public transportation into the city? Any particular hotels there you'd recommend? Thanks.

That would be Hoboken, right across the river from Manhattan. Andrea stayed at the W there. But perhaps the chatters have other recommendations?

Thanks for your great article on Lake Tahoe -- having only been there in the summer, it makes me want to go there in the winter, too! However, it is incorrect to say that both United and US Air have nonstop "flights" (plural) from DC to Sacramento. There is only one nonstop flight each way on that route, operated by United, but also sold as a "code share" by US Air. The code share may allow crediting the miles to other carriers, or using miles earned on non-United accounts to this flight, but there is still only 1 nonstop flight a day on this route. Thanks.

Right you are. Nostra culpa.

Update to my earlier message - when I go to the Caribbean by myself, I always go to all-inclusives & never feel uncomfortable. My last trip in October was to Secrets Royal Beach in Punta Cana - all-adults & the staff took exceptional care of me.

Good to know. 

May 1 appears to be a holiday in the Czech Republic.

Okay, then, color me wrong! Thanks!

Have a look at the city's Parks Department website. That should turn up some easy-to-moderate itineraries. Also, even though it's winter, bring more water than you think you'll need. There are stories of hikers getting into trouble all year round.

Thanks for the tips!

I was travelling with my 85-year-old mother and we both got selected, which was great. But I really need to stay with her, so if next time only one of us is selected, I guess my only option is to make her go through the regular line?

This just happened to me on Friday. My 90-year-old mom was flying home from DCA to Islip, and I usually get a pass to go through security with her. She had been selected for PreCheck, but when I went to the counter, I received a pass that required I go through the regular line. The TSA agent told me to get on the PreCheck line with her and I then explained the situation to the TSA agent checking us through. They let her go on and opened a gate to the front of the regular line for me.  I met her on the other side a few minutes later. Very easy, and everyone was kind to us. PreCheck for an elderly person is golden -- she didn't have to remember to take out her hand sanitizer or take off her coat, etc., which made the process that much easier.  

A friend of friend's daughter wanted cash for wedding presents, not stuff. Her solution? Return for cash ALL the gifts they received off their registry. (we were appalled.)

Oh dear. That *is* sort of apalling.

Hi Travelologists - this isn't really a question, but recently I was absolutely gobsmacked to find out that Amtrak has exactly TWO STATIONS in the entire state of Tennessee, one in Memphis and one in the outpost of Newbern. I am attempting to get my son to Nashville for an audition and we are terrified about being forced to gate-check his guitar. Now it appears we will have to drive. Seriously, Amtrak?

Frankly, you're lucky there are those two stations. You should know that outside of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak loses money bigtime. That's no doubt why there are so few stations in Tennessee.

Recently released figures showed that Virginians are returning to passenger rail in record numbers over the past 4 straight years, increasing 57% overall. More spectacularly, boardings and alightings for VA's Amtrak Regional, state-supported trains have doubled state-wide and have even tripled for specific stations like Manassas, Virginia. So, over the Holidays, consider the more relaxing, more productive, greener, safer, and often cheaper (1 or 2 travelers) Amtrak option. Travel reporters should take Amtrak on occasion to cover Virginia travel destinations. They could prepare for their assignments by surfing the internet on the way down, using the free Wi-Fi, and completing and filing their stories on the return journey. You can't do those activities and drive!

And you would be -- the Amtrak spokesperson? :-)

Thanks for the report -- and the suggestions.

Hi - My wife and I just booked a trip to Morocco for a week over Christmas. We fly into Casablanca but we are trying to decide how long to stay in Casablanca and whether to visit Marrakesh, Fez or both? Do you have any advice? Thanks!

If you have time, yes of course, visit both Marrakesh and Fez! Take a look at this story about the medinas in those cities to inspire you.

"I'm fairly certain that May 1 would not be a holiday in the former Communist countries -- Hungary and Czech Republic in this case. Am I wrong, chatters?" It was definitely a holiday in Slovakia from 2002-2005 when I lived there. I just checked the embassy websites, and still a holiday in Czech Rep and Hungary too.

Yup, I've been corrected, thanks!

It depends on what side of the city you're on... within suburbs limits are South Mountain and Camelback mountain (maybe more I hate hiking :)) a couple hours away you can get to Tucson (more hiking) or Sedona (way more hiking). Just ask your hotel, there will be plenty of suggestions. A ton of people hike out here!


I have stayed at the Excellence Punta Cana and can say that you would not feel out of place as a solo traveler there - while you will mostly see couples there, we also met friends traveling together and a Mom/Daughter duo. The spa and grounds were nice and the food was decent. (Only quibble would be that the rooms were a bit dated, but they were updating them when we were there last year).

Thanks for the input!

I wasn't questioning the random pull-out. I was questioning why my daughters' luggage wasn't similarly checked once I came up "positive." Couldn't I just put my "bombs" in their luggage? Seems pretty absurd not to check the entire traveling group.

Reason has very little to do with the process, unfortunately. The TSA can't swab every bag, so it's just doing it randomly.

Hi - 20 year anniversary coming up. DH and I would love to spend a week puttering around the Southwest US, which we have not seen. Targeting first week of February. We do NOT want cold weather, but temperate to mild is OK. Doesn't have to be blazing hot. We enjoy local food and culture, off the beaten path attractions, natural wonders. OK to make it a road trip! Any suggestions of where to start/stop, or a home base?

How about basing yourselves in Sedona? You could drive north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon then continue on to take in a nice loop first heading north and then east to include Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands parks, into Colorado for Mesa Verde park and Durango, and then south into New Mexico for Santa Fe and Albuquerque and back. Lots of food, culture, nature to dive into in those parts.

Hi Crew, Logistics question for you today. I'm planning a trip to Italy in July & we can't decide whether to fly in & out of Florence or Rome (itinerary is the classic Venice-Florence-Rome circuit). Price difference is $10 so not a factor. My main concern is, which airport is smaller/easier to navigate/easier to get in & out of from town? Which is closest or has the best connection (train?) to its city? Thanks!!

The Florence airport (Peretola) is very small, very manageable. Easy and inexpensive 15-minute taxi ride into the city (you can also take a shuttle bus). If you have a direct flight (not sure there are any anymore), you may fly to Galilei airport, which is closer to Pisa, but the train from there to Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence is quick and fairly inexpensive.  I'd do Florence. Chatters?

I think there's a good and a bad way to do it (I've been on the receiving end of both versions). The Honeyfund or the just straight up cash request felt way too impersonal. However, I had friends do it through the Marriott resort they were staying in. We purchased them a "dinner" (although I think they just got the total sum of all purchases as one big gift card, which eliminates the issue discussed above about only get one massage or something). The bride and groom sent us a nice thank you card, which included specifics about the dinner they enjoyed, and even emailed a picture. It made it feel like a much more "real" purchase rather than just a cash grab.

Well, if you must do it, this does sound like a good way.

Phoenix is full of great hiking at all levels, in and out of the city. Piestawa peak is super popular, but it's also crowded, steep, and very boring (imo) BUT there are lots of other trails in the same park and it's pretty centrally located. Just go past the first few parking areas all he way to the back of the lot and take any of the trails from there. They're all easy/moderate. There's also great hiking in the San Tan mountains, Cave Creek regional park, McDowell Mountain park... One of my favorites is Dixie Mine Trail out near Fountain Hills. Rolling hills, lots of scenery changes during the hike, breezes, and occasional bald eagles. There are so many options, though. There are whole books on this -- many of them. There are lots of resources online, too. To the Google!

Thanks for the wealth of info!

I highly doubt that. Unless you have the actual receipt that shows it was paid for by cash, you will probably just get store credit.

Depends on the store, methinks?

Miss Manners would frown on it -- just a way to extort money from your guests.

Some serious classical musicians with large portable instruments (e.g., cellists) actually buy an additional ticket for their instrument.


Hello! We are looking to head to New Zealand for a few weeks in Feb/March. We are looking at flying into Christchurch and focusing on the South Island, and are seeing flights for about $1700/$1800 - I know you get this type of question alot, but since we're not too familiar with international flight prices, does this seem reasonable, or do you think it will go down? Thanks so much - love your chats (and if you have any specific recs for New Zealand - we're already planning on renting a car - feel free to share as well!).

That sounds about right for Washington to Christchurch.  There is a Air New Zealand Cyber Monday deal today for $200 off all flights, so I'd jump on that. Any chatters have tips for visiting New Zealand? 

If you want the convenience of going into Manhattan, for less than the W, I'd also recommend staying in Secaucus - one of the hotels near the convention center - Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites, all on Plaza Drive. The NJ Transit #320 bus is accross the street, 15 minutes into Manhattan, and when you get back, all of 4 minutes to get on the NJ Turnpike. Sweet!

Good to know, thanks!

A friend of mine offered to let me borrow her carryon, which is extremely light, for a 4-week international trip with many flights. Has anyone used IT luggage? Does this nylon covering hold up well?

I haven't, but perhaps some chatters have? Anyone?

Another option-- look to first flying to the west coast and then fly out of SFO, LAX, or SEA and then book a separate flight to those cities. You may save some money. Delta has expanded service out of SEA service both Tokyo airports. A quick check in June you can get fares <$1000 out of LA.

Worth a look. But give yourself lots of time to make that connection or you run the risk of missing your flight and having no recourse. Breaking up the trip with an overnight on the West Coast is one way to go. 

"Travel Talk in the print edition is just excerpts from this chat. When we answer questions here, we're doing it on the fly, and can't possibly be comprehensive. The answers were just what occurred to whoever responded as they were quickly typing." That's a fair explanation of why the Chat is "on the fly", but not of why the same is true of material you put in the print edition six days later, which your subscribers are paying for.

We indicate at the top of the column that these are excerpts from the online chat. We don't add new information.

Last year on my way to Florida for a two-destination trip I hurt my knee limiting my walking. One of the freebees was a day at Universal. My husband rented a wheelchair for me. We learned how to get around (and not get around) an amusement park in a wheelchair. For some rides it was a plus because we got to go ahead of the line. For others, I could not get the full experience, and for a few I was prohibited. My thanks go to my husband who pushed me around!

An interesting lesson, I suppose!

Dont expect to get miles for said Cello as Lynn Harrell made famous last year when Delta pulled his FF account.


Husband flies with his all the time, never had to gate check. Usually they'll put it in the closet in front, only once or twice has he had to get into an overhead.

Good to know, thanks! Nashville traveler, these tips are for you!

Try the local exotic produce. Listen to the birdsong. Don't, DO NOT, try to drive to Milford Sound; take a bus or fly. Stay on the south island and soak in all the incredible diversity. Realize that you can't see it all, no matter how crammed your days will be.

On the return portion of an upcoming trip to Europe I have a 22 hour layover in Amsterdam. After I get my checked bag to go through Customs and Immigration, will I be able to check my bag back in with my airline for the 2nd portion of the trip even though it doesn't leave until the next day? I'd rather take just a day pack in to the city. Thanks for your help!

Yes, you should be able to do that as long as it's all one one ticket. If you booked the tickets separately, it may be problematic. 

We were there for a couple of days in mid-March, and it sleeted. :(

:( is right.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon will be quite cold then. Bryce Canyon could well be closed, as I believe they don't plow the roads (need to check) -- but in any event it would be quite cold and snowy there. Perhaps the chatter could check month-by-month temperatures of possible destinations online.

Where can we go between Christmas and New Year's to get some sun? We would like to fly nonstop from Dulles and get there fast. An all-inclusive resort would be ideal. Expecting too much? Thanks for your help.

You'll pay top dollar for travel to the Caribbean that week. And cheapest fares and rooms are already booked. From Dulles, your best bet for all inclusives are to fly nonstop to Cancun.  There are also lots of flights to Puerto Rico, but it's not known for its all inclusives. I'd also ask a tour operator or travel agency, such as Liberty Travel or Apple Vacations to compare prices.   

In European and South American airports, I see luggage shrink wrapped in plastic film. Sounds like a good idea, What does TSA do when you get to the States? Any recommendations for using these services?

Really, shrink-wrapped? Never heard of this and no idea what would happen on this end. Chatters, anyone familiar with this?

I have an IT suitcase, probably the 22 or 21 inch size. I use it several times a year and have had it for 4-5 years now. Trips are often 2-3 weeks in length. My packing cubes and toiletry case fit perfectly, it is extremely lightweight, I am very happy with it, especially since I got it reduced online. The only thing that took getting used to is the handle on top/side--they are sewn on and not reinforced like they are on other suitcases. But thankfully they are still holding strong on my case. Go for it, your back will thank you!

Thanks for this!

I know you can't predict the future but airfares to France have been going up steadily over the past weeks. I am going to Paris from MSP in August. Any idea whether purchasing a ticket now is smarter than waiting?

Fares to Europe for next summer are through the roof. Try to figure out how many seats are left on these flights. If the flights are empty, fares will level off or go down, but if they are selling out, fares are going to keep rising. 

What's the latest on the pushback by flight attendants and at least some (if not most) passengers against allowing cell phone use on planes? I can only imagine the potential for air rage.

It's unlikely we'll be able to use cell phones on a plane for a good long while. Part of the reason is technological -- the planes will need to be fitted with systems that will allow you to make a call from your phone. But you're right, a bigger problem will be the resistance from flight attendants and other passengers. I don't think we'll see phones on planes until 2015 at the earliest, but who knows? I left my crystal ball at home today. Promise to bring it in next Monday.

Trudeau airport in Montreal does this too.

And . . . over and out. Thanks for all your questions and travel tips. Our prize winner this week is the person who learned to navigate by the sun in Mongolia. Send your contact info to me at, and I'll send you something right away! Thanks again all and see you next week!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
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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