Talk about Travel

Dec 30, 2013

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It's the last chat of 2013. Let's make it sing and party and wear purple like Prince in 1999!

For today's chat topic: What are your 2014 Travel Resolutions? I'll start you off . .. In 2014, I plan to [pack lighter] or [visit a new continent] or [be kinder to airline agents]. Best resolution earns you a free membership at the gym-- kidding. I'll find something left under the tree for you that does not require sweatin' to the oldies.

Last summer, to celebrate a girlfriend's 40th birthday, 4 of us ladies went to the Hershey Spa in Hershey, PA for the weekend. We had a decadent chocolate spa day, lounged in our yellow spa robes, stayed at the hotel, had brunch the next day and then headed back to DC. I'm having a milestone birthday mid-February and would like to plan something similar. I'm not opposed to going back to Hershey, but would like to check out another place if you have any recommendations? Somewhere drivable from DC for a one- or two-night stay, that will feel luxurious and relaxing...bonus points if the cost isn't as luxurious as it feels...but it's also OK if it is. Thanks!

Take a look at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort about three hours from D.C.  It has a large spa with an extensive array of treatments, several restaurants & a casino. 

Unfortunately, I can't help you with outfitters (I travel self-supported and camp). In addition to the Rhine, consider the Danube from Donaueschingen to Passau, the Elbe from Dresden to Hamburg/Cuxhaven or the Weser from Hann.-Munden to Cuxhaven. From Kassel you're just a few km from the beginning of the Weser. You could even cycle down the Fulda to get there. I cycled part of the Rhine last spring (Karlsruhe to Mainz), the Upper Rhine in the early 90s (Strassburg to Basel), the Weser from the source to the mouth in the summer of 2012 (adding a few days on the island of Helgoland at the end). Another popular tour is the Baltic Sea Coast from Lübeck to the Polish border (cycled that a few years ago too). Any of these tours should be no problem in terms of fitness and the signage is usually excellent. You should be aware, however, that you're not always directly on the water. The route can take you through forests or (especially on the Upper Rhine) the system of basins for containing flooding. In Northern Germany (Lower Elbe or Lower Weser), you see a lot of dikes and sheep. (In short - at times it's boring.) In the East, bike routes can involve a lot of cobblestone and the other unpleasant surfaces. Still, nothing beats seeing Europe from a bicycle, the sun on the back of your neck, or the rain, happening on a place for a drink just when you need it, watching the tiny ferries cross the rivers. Once you've decided on a route, google that along with "Radtour" "Fahrradurlaub" "Veranstalter" (in varying combinations) to find outfitters. You can do this on your own if you rent bikes and rent, buy or bring panniers. Book accommodations in advance, unless you're camping. I highly recommend the guides and maps published by Esterbauer / Bikeline.

 Hope our would-be biker is chatting this week. Thanks very much for the ideas.  

Hi - I wrote in earlier in Dec. about United not giving me seats in advance of our flight, despite me traveling with 2 small children. So - I called a few days before the flight and had a very frustrating conversation with United where I was told that the reason they couldn't give me seats was because they reserve 20% of the seats for the gate agents to distribute to people with special needs, such as people traveling with small children. . . I was assured that there was a note in my records stating that I was traveling with children, and that I needed seats together, and that the agents would consider that when assigning seats. I tried again when I checked in on-line 24 hours in advance, but no luck. So - when we got to the gate (I was first in line), I was very surprised that the gate agent had already printed out new boarding passes for us, all together. Even better, we had been upgraded to coach plus. I don't know if that was because coach was full, and the only way for us to get seats together was in plus, or because I had been a squeaky wheel. Either way, it worked out. That said, it caused me a lot of stress, since I was worried I would have to wander the plane begging people to switch seats with me. While I had a happy ending - I honestly don't know why airlines would manage their seating assignments in this way. Sorry for the long story, but I wanted to report back.

I'm so happy this all got worked out. For a minute there, I thought I was going to have to help you find a missing child. Honestly, the way airlines handle their seat assignments makes no sense, at least from the point of view of a family with young kids. (It does, however, make them buckets of money.) They can do better.

I will be going to South Africa in August. We will meet traveling companions in Durban and we will go to Thula Thula, d Thonga Beach Lodge.. Trying to decide what to do as a pretrip....Victoria Falls or Joburg or Cape Town...what would you choose? Is the Livingston Safari Lodge worth the price? Thank you.

I would chose Cape Town, because the city is so stunning, vibrant and interesting, with lots of nature, cultural activities and exceptional dining. There are also many possible side trip options (wineries, Robben Island, penguins, etc). Of course, I am biased, because I am not a waterfalls person (a big confession, I know!).

Can the chatters help with the Livingston Safari Lodge?

Good afternoon! My dear husband gave me a weekend at a ski resort of my choosing for Christmas. We are by no means avid skiiers, but we love the winter and are looking forward to a skiing lesson or two. I'm hoping to do some snow tubing and maybe a trail horseback ride. Looking for some place within driving distance (was thinking Pennsylvania). I love the whole feel of a roaring fire in a cozy cabin, but I don't want this trip to get TOO expensive. Any thoughts?

Not sure what you would consider driving distance. The biggest ski resorts are Snowshoe in West Virginia and Seven Springs in Pennsylvania. Seven Springs is about 3.5 hours, and Snowshoe is about 4.5 hours from D.C. You might want to consider a smaller, closer resort, such as Wisp or Wintergreen.  

With all the complaining about too small seats and too late flights, I wanted to talk about the best bargain in the skies three years running, a Saturday-only flight from JFK to Palm Springs, Calif. I was on the first Virgin America flight in 2011 with Sir Richard Branson and it's still the best deal in the skies. Only problem: finding enough to do for a week in Palm Springs, but I'd suggest the International Film Festival in January.

Thanks for the tip! There is always golf, of course, and the tram to the top of the mountain, where you can possibly engage in wintery sports.

Heading to Key West for two nights and Miami for three next week. Have never been to the Keys, but hear that Key West is very touristy and wondered if there are any "off the beaten path" things to discover there. Thanks for any help.

If you have a day to spare, head to the Dry Tortugas, which is a world away from Key West, and definitely off the beaten path. My favorite activity when I'm in the Keys is diving, and one of my favorite dive spots is Looe Key. Nice and quiet under 30 feet of water.

Hi Travel Guru's, submitting early b/c I'll be on a conference call at the same time. My husband and I want to travel somewhere warm in Feb or March before the baby arrives in the spring. We were thinking of either flying into Miami and driving down to Key West for a few days. The other option, which is more expensive b/c of airfare, is to go somewhere in the Caribbean. We are at a standstill. I am sure there are other wonderful beaches in the U.S. but I assume they may not be "wear your swimsuit on the beach" warm like Miami and Key West in Feb and March. I wanted to see if you or the chatters had recommendations for somewhere warm, on a beach and easy to get to from DC (i.e., not Hawaii or the West Coast) that we may be overlooking. If we stay at a resort, we'd prefer non all-inclusive unless there's strong feedback that says the food is worth it. Many thanks for your help!

First, Key West is not known for its sandy white beaches; you might have to settle for some rocks. For silken sand, I suggest you go to Florida's Gulf Coast.  Weather-wise, though, Florida can be risky in February and March -- as in here comes the cold snap. Brrrr!

You can find some Caribbean deals that don't feature all-inclusives. For example, the Bahamas tourism office often has sales to the Outer Islands that include air and lodging at smaller hotels. You might also consider Puerto Rico, which has endless choices of cozier accommodations, such as family-run paradores.

In 2014 I plan to try to take some of the stress out of travel. Leave the house in plenty of time, get to the airport in plenty of time, plan appropriate snacks and diversions for the trip, etc. and subsequently be calmer, nicer and happier.

All wonderful resolutions that every traveler should adopt!

I was wondering if anyone has good recommendations for travel to Grimsby, Ontario from Chicago? There are a few train options in my area (16-19 hours) as well as some United e-fares from O'Hare. Any other reasonable flight/train options? I'm open to flights/trains to alternate cities nearby.

I'd fly Porter Airlines from Chicago Midway (MDW)to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ). I think you can then take the Lakeshore West train for most of the journey between the two. 

I'm looking for some much needed one-on-one time with me in 2014! Interested in any travel recommendations you have for someone looking to get away, relax and reflect. My only requirements would be a locale with warm weather, beautiful scenery, spa amenities, and peace and quiet. Thanks in advance.

Every year about this time, I dream of going back to Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah, where I had a fantastic vacation, oh, a decade ago now. It fulfills all your criteria, I think. In the same vein but for a different season, I've eyed New Life Hiking Spa in Vermont with great interest.

We're headed to India in February, and some legs of the trip are by overnight train. In some cases, we're waitlisted for the higher tier cars, and in the meantime we are booked in lower tier cars. How bad is 3AC? What about the dreaded sleeper class?

Great questions, but sadly I can't answer them.

Chatters, can you shoot some cold air toward this India-bound traveler?

Since your baby is due in Spring, check with your doctor to see how late in your pregnancy you'll be allowed to fly. Otherwise, you might need to select a nearer, drivable destination.

Excellent point! Thanks.

My two middle aged sisters & I are trying to plan a 4 day vacation together in April. New Orleans worth visiting by now? (I've never been.) By that I mean it will take at least me all day to get there and isn't cheap to fly....thanks!

New Orleans has been worth visiting for some time now! ;-) I'm not sure what your interests are, but if food, music, walkability, history and culture are on the agenda, New Orleans should be, too. One of the truly great, unique American cities.

Are there any regions/countries that should be a good value for 2014? I am particularly interseted in Asia and Europe. Thanks and Happy New Year!

Consider countries that are still trying to get back on their feet, such as Greece, Portugal and Italy. For Asia, Thailand is a great value, though troubled at the moment politically, so pay attention to unfolding developments. You can also find great bargains on food and lodging in Indonesia, but the flight can be pricey. Final thought: Cambodia.


Have New Year to you as well!

In 2014, I plan to take at least one international trip (if not more) with my 75-year-old grandmother. She's still going strong and can travel with the best of them, but who knows how many more years she'll be able to easily travel internationally. She's also an awesome travel buddy - our travel styles mesh well. Figure I better make the most of it while I can.

I love this so much. Good for you! You and your grandma will have a memorable time together, I'm sure. Where are you going?

In 2014, I plan to pack a swimsuit, bicycle, and running shoes into a very large box, ship it to Lubbock, Texas to compete in my first Ironman with my husband of 28 days, then happily hold his hand sipping margaritas on some beach Central America/Caribbean for our honeymoon. It'll be his first trip out of the country, and we would love a mid-range (we'll be cash-strapped newlyweds) all inclusive. Any suggestions to help me make my resolution a reality?

Steve Jermanok, who has been to many generic all-inclusives in the Caribbean, wrote a piece for us in 2011 in which he proclaimed Riu Palace Tropical Bay Resort in Negril, Jamaica, different from so many of them -- in a good way.

My family is considering a trip to Nantucket Town in June. Though the island is small and apparently easy to navigate, we'd like to stay near to the Town proper. We were not planning to take a car so we'd be dependent on public transportation, bikes, walking, etc. I've been looking at rental houses but they are quite expensive directly in town. I have several questions: Will June (especially early June) be sufficiently warm to enjoy the beach? How much hindrance would staying more than a mile outside of the historic "Town" present to easy access to activities and the beach? Are some neighborhoods/areas around the town better than others, and/or what are their defining characteristics? How easy is it to get to beaches without a car? Lastly, any tips you could give to first-timers? Thanks in advance for your assistance!

Nantucket is gorgeous. But first things first. When I first moved to New England from Texas, I wondered why people didn't make a big deal about Memorial Day being the start of summer. You know why? Because June -- especially early June -- can still be chilly. I mean, you might hit a warm spot, but in general, you can't depend on being able to enjoy beaches (as in, in your bathing suits) in early June. Average temps that month have highs in the mid-60s, but the wind off the ocean can make it feel much cooler than that when you're on the beach. But if you don't mind layering your clothes a little bit, it can be a pleasant time to be there. (Although my favorite time to visit Nantucket, the Vineyard or the Cape is just after Labor Day.)

For better news: Transportation is easy without a car. Bike rentals, moped rentals, shuttle buses abound, and you can easily use those to get to beaches. The town is so compact I don't really think there's too much difference in character between the "neighborhoods." Of course, the closer you are to downtown and the wharf the busier things are going to be, but other than that it's pretty quiet.

Arrived at IAD from Oakland this morning. I anticipated TSA searching a checked bag that had 2 bottles of red wine vinegar, and they did. But the bottles were not rewrapped in the bubble wrap, the Ziploc bag they were in was not resealed, and the bottles were placed on top of the clothes rather than reburied. Luckily, they came thru intact. I've packed similar bottles (and had the luggage inspected) previously, and TSA rewrapped and replaced carefully. I'm aware that I take a chance when packing liquid, and especially glass bottles, but I was particularly miffed the bag wasn't zipped shut. So I wonder... Is "quick-and-dirty" now TSA's SOP or was it just a sloppy agent?

That's an excellent question. TSA agents are under an enormous amount of pressure to screen bags quickly and effectively. When they damage items or fail to repack your checked luggage correctly, which happens fairly often, it is considered the price we pay for security. I'm not sure if there's a fix for this, except to maybe ship your liquids the next time. Of course, the real solution is to allow liquids in carry-on bags, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Taking a long family vacation end of May, to SanFran area including a few days down the Coast to stay in Big Sur for hiking, kayaking, relaxing. Not as interested in a Ventana High-end place; rather more rustic/lodge. Would like honest appraisal of the "iconic" inns like Big Sur River Inn vs Deetjens Big Sur Inn vs Big Sur Lodge. Husband and I stayed at one of these 25 yrs ago but cannot recall which! Other lodging suggestions welcome as well. I realize this area may have suffered damage from recent wildfire but we'll tackle that as time goes on. I'm sure Big Sur has been discussed in some past Post article or chat but your on-line search engine is difficult for this task. Thanks! Kathy M.

Throwing this out to the chatters -- anyone stayed at these places in Big Sur?

Planning to make our family's 2nd trip to Paris next summer and we'd like to start out in another European city. I've been reading a guide book about Amsterdam and it does not excite me. Not sure if Brussels/Bruges would be better or we should go somewhere else. We've been to London many times so that is out. What suggestions do you have?


In late April we arrive in Istanbul from Dulles at 5 pm and leave again at 1 am for Johannesburg. Is there anything to do in Istanbul during that time or should we just get a hotel room and take a shower and nap? Naturally the time is really much shorter by the time we actually get out of the airport and then have to get back 2-3 hrs before the flight. Maybe dinner in a special restaurant?

I recently had a seven-hour layover in Istanbul and struggled with the decision to hang out in the airport (ugh) or explore the unknowns of Istanbul (yay!). After some serious thinking, which included my mother's warning about the awful traffic there, I ultimately decided to stay. And the time oddly flew by: There were lots of restaurants, shops and benches for naps.

I think at that hour, you would be wise to stick close to the airport. If you are flying Turkish Airlines, the carrier offers free accommodations based on the length of your layover. The airport also has temporary lodging options.

I plan to get back in the swing of taking advantage of e-fares and Net Saaver weekend trips. While my international vacation hasn't completely come together yet, I can take quick trips to destress, build miles and just unwind.

Great idea. Trips don't need to be long, exotic adventures; the shorty ones are just as satisfying and often more relaxing.

So far we've discussed taking trip to Panama, Portugal, Spain, Czech Republic/Austria, and Germany. Still narrowing down the choices...but we're both good at putting together a trip quickly.

Fabulous. I like your style.

In 2014 I resolve to say "yes" to as many travel experiences as possible whether it's a day trip to a local festival or a ride on the Trans-Siberian.

Be like Jim Carrey, and say yes! Love it.

We *never* travel during peak season, but with spouse in grad school this semester we are going to have to wait until mid-May for our big "outside of north America" trip this year. Haven't settled on a destination (Belgium is in the lead, but thinking of Berlin or Dublin as well) but I'm wondering if we should start getting serious about planning now in order to secure the best flights and hotels. Any advice on destination or booking timeframes appreciated. We're into staying in walkable cities with lots to do, museums, bars, music, food, etc.

Start planning now, especially your air travel. First you'll have to choose the destination, but it helps to become familiar with the usual airfares so you know when to buy. Dublin is likely going to be the cheapest of those three because Aer Lingus serves it, but Berlin may also have some good fares via Air Berlin.   

I am traveling to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic in late Sept-Oct for 25 days. I plan on 4 days in Warsaw, 3-4 days in Gdansk, 4 days in Kracow, 2 days Bratslavia, 4 days Budapest, 4 days Vienna, and 4 days in Prague. I will be traveling by rail once I arrive in Warsaw and will be traveling solo. I would like to stay in hotels that are near train stations and walking distance to sights in each city. Any ideas? Also what are the must sees and must do's for each of the cities I will visit? Am really excited and want to eat and drink my way through these countries.

That sounds like an amazing trip, but unfortunately we'd need a whole year to list all of our suggestions.

Best to start perusing guidebooks and travel Web sites for ideas (or chatters, if you have any specific recommendations, please pipe in).

For hotels near train stations, if you book online, filter the options by clicking a box regarding distance to train station.  The tourism offices can also help.

Here's my New Year's Resolution -- hotels should save on water by not having so many pillows (and pillowcases that need washing after every guest) on every bed. I just returned from a trip that involved 2 hotels and a B&B -- each one had SIX pillows on the bed! The last place also had a bolster pillow, for good measure. That's overkill. Even if you have 4 small children sharing a bed, they only need 4 pillows total. It is hypocritical for hotels to ask guests to save water by not leaving towels on the floor to be washed each day, when the hotels create the water problem by having too many pillows, each with a pillowcase that has to be washed.

Good point. Did you see our piece a few years back about how hotels often fall short of the promised reuse-the-linens-and-towels thing, anyway?

Finally going to St. Croix for the first time! Does anybody have recommendations for the best seafood restaurants? Doesn't have to be pricey. Thank you!

I haven't been there in a long time, but I have heard good things about Savant and Kendrick's. Chatters?

Given 2013's high profile politics, Terry McAuliffe's Jan 11 Inauguration in Richmond, VA, will be a very popular day trip for Greater DC supporters and media. Taking Amtrak VA Regional Trains, which have doubled in popularity in 5 years, offer a cheaper (1 or 2 travelers), safer, more relaxed, and more productive option than a car. Alight at Richmond's historic, 112 year old Main St Station and walk (10 min, 5 blocks) or take taxi to free festivities around the State Capital: inauguration, parade, and executive mansion open house. [Use Train 67 going and Train 66 returning.] If staying for the Inaugural Ball (paid tickets), return the following day. See for event tickets and for train tickets. The price of an Amtrak ticket includes a "Designated Driver."


Thanks so much for another awesome year of travel advice and stories - this chat is one of my favorite times of the week. In 2014, I plan to USE my vacation time in week-long chunks! Even though I earn 3-4 weeks per year, I tend to let it pile up, and usually use just a day or two at a time for "long weekends." That's nice, though it doesn't feel like a true vacation. When we've taken 7-day cruises or other trips that take at least one solid week off, those are so much more relaxing and memorable, so I need to remember that and plan for it!

I'll go you one better: You should think about taking at least one two-week vacation. You won't believe what a difference it makes in terms of your letting go of work and truly taking off. (If you had a week more, I'd suggest doing one 3-week trip, which I vow to do this year!) I know you want to spread things out, but trust me, it's worth it once a year.

My 2014 travel resolution is -- to start traveling again! I love to travel but have been so limited, since I went back to school 5 years ago and funds were really tight. Now that I'm working full-time again, I'm going to start working through my Need to See list. I have about 30 states I need to visit, but Europe is really calling my name. The hardest part will be deciding where to go first! Happy New Year, everyone!

Let us know where you land!

Even if you are not usually a camper, think about camping in the redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Camping under those trees is the place I always call to mind when asked to think of somewhere beautiful or peaceful!


Thinking of a trip to Istanbul this year. Since I don't speak any Turkish, curious what to expect re: people speaking english? I know it's supposed to be a very cosmopolitan city in parts, so I'm perhaps falsely assuming that finding english speakers wouldn't be too difficult. Thoughts?

You should not have a problem, especially if you stay in the main tourist areas. Istanbul is very English language-friendly. I was recently in Ankara and chatted up  a storm with lots of locals.

If you feel more comfortable, consider hiring an English-speaking guide on your first day to show you around.

Agree it is always worth visiting, and note the Jazz Fest is the last weekend in April & first weekend in May. Hotel prices go up, but if you love music it is the city at its best.


Love your chat. Why, oh why, do people announce that they are posting in advance because they will otherwise be occupied? Who cares? Just ask your question. That's an oddly infuriating piece of info. Done with rant. A very happy new year with many exciting travels to you all!

I hear you, but I've always assumed that they say this just in case we throw the question back to them with another question or response seeking more info. You know, they're trying to say that they won't be around to interact. Sort of the equivalent of the call-in-radio statement, "I'll take my answer off the air."

It seems like it is pretty hard to suggest a "city in Europe" to the chatter going to Paris without some idea what sorts of things they like to do and see. Europe is full of interesting places. I'd imagine that France has more than it's share of nice places to visit depending on what you like to do (though I've never been to France). I suspect they are looking for places that are within easy travel time/distance of Paris, so maybe Barcelona isn't the greatest idea in that regard.

Of course, it helps to hear someone's interest. But if they don't express it, I stand by my recommendation of a place I love -- and, actually it's now much easier to get between the two, thanks to the new TGV high-speed train. I'm going to do this the next time I'm in Paris!

Hi Crew...and HNY! My resolution is to start taking more 3-4 day long weekends away to places and towns in reasonable driving distance from DC that I've always wanted to explore (Richmond, Norfolk, and Deep Creek Lake come immediately to mind) . The wife and I need to re-connect and get off the work carousel more often and really catch up with all I've been missing in the 36 years I've lived in the area. I figure (hope?) this could do the trick. Wish us luck!

More regional travel -- I like it! And good luck!

We took the train in from the airport and I would recommend doing it to see the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. It is really easy and worth it. We found Istanbul to be safe and beautiful with incredible food street food near the Mosque and Grand Bazar. The chicken shawarma is to die for.

Thanks for the insights. However, this traveler arrives at 5 p.m. and leave at 1 a.m., so they will be in the dark for most of the visit.

My goal for 2014 is to travel to every inhabited continent before my passport expires. If all goes well, I should hit it in May with a safari! And as part of the challenge-- all travel has to be done with the same carry on bag. It is tough to pack for 2+ weeks in a single carry on, but I have been fairly successful at it so far.

You're hitting all the continents in 2014, or you're hitting the ones you haven't been to yet? I think you mean the latter. Anyway, good for you on the carry-on bag.

Joe, you are so right about the failure of the "reuse the towels" movement. During the last year I stayed in four different chains of hotels, and not one of them left my towel - neatly hung to dry on the rack - for reuse. Even though the stickers on the mirror implored me to help save the planet, and even though I followed the directions, not once did I have the same towel there after housekeeping went through.

Yep, this was my experience at several hotels a few years ago, which prompted me to get Juliet to look into it and write that story.

I have seen several hotels post signs telling customers that they can help the hotel go green by indicating if they want their towels and sheets replaced daily or not. However, it seems that many times, they will replace things anyways. I can tell the difference between a towel that has just been refolded and one that has been replaced.

Yep. That was what we found, too!

I'm going to be in Anaheim in late June, and my husband would like to spend a few days in the San Diego area. Do you have suggestions on where to stay and what to do? We will be taking afternoon tours of Taylor Guitars and Deering Banjos, so anything music-oriented would be a plus. Thanks!

How about taking in shows in the Gaslamp Quarter? Lots of live music there, of all types.

My husband and I had no problem speaking English the whole time. We took public transportation and ate at restaurants for every meal. Most restaurants in the tourist region had English menus or someone would translate for us.

Great to know. Thanks!

Wouldn't another solution be to have a way to inspect the bags right away as they are checked so the passenger may be present for the inspection and repack their own bags?

Interesting idea, but wouldn't that slow things down considerably at check-in?

Isn't the idea, too, that the TSA agent is the last one to touch your bag? You could always slip something in (well, not you, but you know what I mean) while repacking.

Rick Steve's guide for Istanbul has one page with Turkish vocabulary in the back. The guidebook is excellent, and the vacabulary was just what I needed.

Vacabulary! You may not have intended it, but I like the coinage.

My 75-year old parents are planning a trip to London and Paris this spring. They'd like to do a side trip to Normandy to visit the D Day memorials. What would be the easiest way for them to do that? There are tour companies that offer single-day bus tours from Paris, which seems like a good option given that time is tight and they'd be more comfortable with something that wasn't logistically complicated (like renting a car and driving). Does that seem a good way to go? Is there a tour company you would recommend? Thank you for your help.

An organized tour makes sense. Take a look at Viator's choices -- it also offers two-day and longer trips. 

We went to Caneel Bay on St. John. It was perfect. Easy to get to, technically the U.S. (in case we needed to get out quickly), beautiful, quiet, easy to navigate (hike, see other beaches, go to town) and not all-inclusive (though the food was very good).

Good to hear!

We travel quite a bit, but always lower-end. Only lately have I started to splurge on "Economy Plus" seating. No roadside motels, but never five-star hotels or B&Bs. However, we have decided that next year we want to go to a tropical paradise, which we've done before, but this time stay in a bungalow on stilts over the water, which we have not done before. So because we are going to either the Maldives or Bora Bora, and because there is no such thing as a cheap bungalow on stilts in the Maldives or Bora Bora, our resolution is: Save money for vacation.


I mentioned a few weeks ago re trans-Atlantic airfares based in part on luggage weight. Here's the link: Fare for passenger with a carry-on up to 8 Kg (17 lbs) is $200 less than for the next more expensive category of carry-on + 1 checked bag up to 23 Kg (50lbs). I'm thinking that maybe if we buy one of each kind of ticket we could put our heavier clothes in our single checked bag, then pack the rest of our light-weight items in the carry-ons. Do you think that would work? (We're already accustomed to traveling fairly light anyway).

Seems like that would work, yep.

I'll take all the extra pillows you might have...

I'm with you. I like my pillows.

My pet peeve about hotels is being asked to re-use towels to save water, without adequate towel bars so towels can actually dry between uses. I am fine re-using a towel, but not if it's been wet since yesterday. This is especially a problem when traveling with a family or a group, as a room for 4 people will usually have only one small towel bar.

I hear you. But there's also the top corner of the bathroom door, and the doorknob, and the shower curtain bar...

New Year's resolution- less griping! But since it's still 2013- can I get one more gripe in? How, in the age of online check-in, do all airlines not have a "bag check" line at major airports like DCA? United was a hot mess when we flew out of there two days before Christmas. There were two lines- first/business class and self service, and two agents working the latter. Nobody was directing people to step up to the self-service kiosks, although many of the people in line were trying to rebook cancelled flights anyway (from the previous weekend's storm). Then there was another group, including us, who had checked in online, printed our boarding passes, and paid for our checked bags. Why there was no differentiation and so few agents working before a holiday is beyond me. Although thanks to United, I may have finally convinced my husband that he needs a new a) cell phone, and b) cell phone carrier. When our return flight was cancelled, they notified him by phone/email the evening before, but he had no reception in his parents house and didn't get the message until the next day! Even though the airline had my contact info and in fact had emailed me our boarding passes earlier that day, I never was notified about the cancelled flight. Don't get me started on the re-booking process. OK, I'm done now. Maybe my second resolution should be to give United less business this year. I used to think they were better than most, but our entire experience with them this time around was unsatisfactory. When American Airlines starts looking good in comparison...!

Let it all out in the remaining time of 2013.

Hi gurus - family of 3 (18 month old included) looking for a relaxing vacation spot that we can fly direct from the DC area in 3 hours or less. We don't want to rent a car so it'd have to be pedestrian friendly. Looking for a low key city/town - Charleston and Savannah have come to mind, but we welcome other suggestions. Somewhere with fun outdoor kid-friendly possibilities would be great, a beach would be even better. Planning to travel end of April/early May.

Perhaps Amelia Island, which isn't very far from Jacksonville, would also fit the bill. 

You might also consider Tampa, which has lots of fun kiddie activities.

My resolution is to try to find the right balance between exploring new destinations and going back to those places I've been to but where I know I can relax, refresh and recharge (like the Red Mountain Resort apparently is for Joe - as well as other people I know).

That idea is great and great.

Last weekend was rather warm... When I entered my hotel room, I noticed air blowing by the window and assumed it was the AC/Heater unit. It wasn't until later that I realized someone had left the window open. Not knowing how cold it would get, I shut the window and went to adjust the unit. Nothing happened. I assumed it was set to heat only, but couldn't get the fan to turn on. Later, I noticed there was a thermostat on the opposite wall near the bathroom. That was the trick to turning on the unit. My question is why there wasn't a sign on the unit that said it was controlled by the thermostat on the wall.

Yes, you've got to scope out the location of the thermostat as soon as you enter the room. And ask if you're not sure!

I remember a disastrous weekend at a swanky hotel in NYC a few years ago, where there was indeed a thermostat -- which didn't really do anything but control the fan. The heat level was set by the whole building, of which the hotel occupied only part. Yikes.

Yep. That's been my experience as well. The hotels go to great lengths to tout their "green" initiatives but either no one in housekeeping got the message or they don't really intend to go green. I stayed at a new hotel in Singapore last month that goes to great lengths talking about how "green" they are. But the towels were always replaced. I assume the sheets were too. And they have a mix of indoor and outdoor corridors with swing doors that were left open frequently. They sent me a survey during my stay and I highlighted all of these issues. Not sure if anything would change though. Did you ask the hotels about this? Why they don't live up to their side of the bargain?

Yes, we did -- it's all in that story I linked to!

Look, the maid is going to get blamed either way, whether she leaves a dirty towel someone wanted replaced, or replacing a towel someone was will to reuse. When in doubt, they're going to change it out and save the aggravation. No one calls down and asks for some dirty towels, but they will ask for clean ones.

That was essentially what the hotels told us, that it's a training issue.

Sure, if TSA allows passengers to repack their bags after being inspected, it might be possible for the passenger to slip something inside. But, to be a successful approach, the passenger would have had to specifically packed their bag in a way that would require it to be opened in the first place. If you don't know which bags they will inspect, you couldn't rely on it as a way to sneak something inside... and most likely it would have to be very small to go unnoticed.

Very true.

I don't get this either. What's the point of doing everything online ahead of time if you just have to wait in line with everyone else at the airport anyway?

So true. Maybe that should be the  air industry's 2014 resolution.

Don't forget the Omni Bedford Springs, it's only 2 1/2 hours away, very charming, great pool and several on site restaurants to choose from.

Tourist sites, restaurants, etc.?

Which island?

Explore more!!! We moved to Portland, OR about a year and a half ago, and have definitely taken advantage of living here, for the most part (go to the coast, kids and hubby went skiing last week, we've been camping, to crater lake, to bend, to the gorge). But there is so much to see and do here! I can't believe it (we're from the east coast). Some family is talking about moving to CA - so hopefully we'll be able to get there. I still haven't been to Seattle, hoping to get there. We already have a plan to go to Hawaii in 2015 (with a group the kids are involved in). We'll have to go back east to visit family *sigh* -- but I love exploring this part of the country. It's SO much fun!


is JetBlue. I do not know if they are in DC or not - but we fly them now from Portland OR to NY JFK. Unfortunately, we have family in Atlanta but they are not there yet. :( WE LOVE JETBLUE. The seats are bigger, much more leg room, and everyone is pleasant on the flight. One checked bag for free. I have flown them coast to coast three times now (in 2013 alone) - and I can't say enough good about them.

And that's a wrap for 2013. Thanks so much for joining us for the last chat of the year.

For today's winner: The chatter who is going to say YES to as many travel experiences as possible. Please message me at with your contact info.

Happy New Year and here's to a 2014 filled with 365 days of travel planning, dreaming and real-life adventures.

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.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
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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