Talk about Travel

Feb 11, 2013

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Good Monday afternoon, travelers. Thanks for joining us today. We took you all over the map this weekend, from a whirlwind trip through Morocco's medinas to quirky Singapore and Cumberland, Md., which I've always driven by but never stopped in. I think I will now! Riffing on the latter two, share with us some of the more offbeat attractions you've visited (I'm thinking of the pinball "museum" my husband went to that was less museum and more like awesome place to play tons of pinball). Best answer gets a little prize.

Let's start!

I am planning a 2015 world cruise. Although, I generally tend to make my own travel arrangements, for this I will use a travel agent due to the extended, complex itinerary. Beyond assistance with various country visas and requisite vaccinations, can you provide other general guidance on what I need to be doing to prepare? Many, many thanks!

Using a travel agent is a smart choice. I would also look into a good travel insurance policy that would protect you if for some reason you have to interrupt your cruise. If you send me a note, I'll share an unedited chapter from my upcoming book that might be helpful. Here's my email address.

Hello! I am making my first trip to Dallas from February 15th-18th. Can you, or anyone else, recommend must see attractions there? Or must-eat restaurants? We will have a car as well so exploring outside Dallas is also a possibility. Thank you!

There's not a ton in the way of attractions in Dallas, but you must of course visit Dealey Plaza, the site of JFK's assassination. The Sixth Floor Museum in the schoolbook depository from which Oswald allegedly shot at the president's motorcade tells the story of that fateful day in film, photographs and artifacts and special exhibits. It's pretty fascinating. The Dallas Arts District is worth a visit, too. Southfork, the ranch made famous by the TV soap "Dallas," is open for tours, if you're into that sort of thing. But if you're going to have a car, then be sure to head over to Forth Worth, barely a half-hour away, but not to be missed. Visit the Stockyards, touristy but fun, and the Cultural District downtown brings together five fabulous museums. It's a town with loads of energy, and supposedly a better restaurant scene than Dallas. Although the only place I can personally recommend is longstanding institution Joe T. Garcia's -- great Mexican food. Have not eaten at Tim Love's Lonesome Dove Western Bistro or Woodshed Smokehouse, but Love is Forth Worth's local celebrity chef. We'll have to ask the chatters for their recommendations here.

Are all fare tracker sites created equal? I have used kayak and farecompare, but want to know if you could recommend a site to track international travel fares. Thanks!

I don't know of any site that does a good job tracking international airfares. If a chatter knows of one, please share. Both Bing and Farecompare do a decent job on domestic fares. But I don't depend on these predictions because they are often too broad -- for example, they may include connecting flights with less-than-great connections.  

So is it possible to take a cruise to places other than the beaches and Alaska? We would like to depart from the East Coast. We are not the type of family who would take a cruise. We prefer the mountains or river tubing to a crowded boardwalk or beach. I can't believe I'm even considering this. Certainly there are cruise options for travelers like us.

Sounds like you all would be prime candidates for a Canada/New England cruise. My parents took a cruise that started in New York, worked its way up the New England coast and ended up in Quebec City. They liked it.

Someone asked about the Rick Steves Europe Your Way tours. My parents took his Italy Your Way tour last October, and loved it: the hotels were charming and the transportation flawless between the five or six cities they visited. Lots of room on the buses. A guide was available in morning and evenings to help folks plan their days, and apparently most evenings, every gathered for an inpromptu happy hour. It was perfect for them, because they have been to some of the cities before, and so could choose their sites and restaurants to visits that weren't necessarily the places big tours would hit. Also could go at their own pace. The company was also good at telling folks what tickets they might want to buy ahead, etc.

Good to know, thanks very much.

I think it would be helpful to point out that Cumberland works well by train. It's one of the few places not on the Washington-Boston corridor which works easily from DC. Amtrak's schedule works well for a long-ish weekend. (You can leave on Friday at 4pm and return after lunch on Monday.) It's relatively easy to walk to most places in town from the train station.

Yes, true, thanks. And starting in May, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad runs between Cumberland and Frostburg, so you can take in both towns, conceivably, without a car. The Thrasher Carriage Museum is just across from the Frostburg depot where that train stops.

Since I already am covered for medical emergencies for foreign travel, I am trying to get stand-alone coverage for trip cancellation/delay/interruption. Do you know of any such policy? Have you had any feedback about the coverage the Sapphire credit card gives and how they honor any claims? Having to pay several hundred extra for coverage I don't need is very frustrating. Thank you!

Most of the policies you would find through sites such as Squaremouth will offer standard types of coverage, which would probably include delay and interruptions as well as international medical emergencies. Your credit card coverage can overlap with that, but it is typically not as extensive as what you would get with a standalone policy. As always, it would depend on your state of residence and the country you're visiting, so it's difficult to offer any specifics. 

Hi everyone, I've greatly appreciated your advice in the past and hope you have some suggestions for me this time- a friend and I are looking to take a long weekend, sometime March-May. We would like to stay under $1000 each for flights and hotels, and not go to an all-inclusive. We're definitely open to leaving the US, although obviously with just three days we don't want a really long flight. An interesting city or spa would be good- she's coming from NYC, I'm in DC. Any suggestions would be great, thanks!

I know we say this a lot, but Miami would be a good bet.

So I'm going to be in Rome from April 24 to the 27 - which, from the news accounts I'm seeing, will be just after they elect a new pope. Oh, and did I mention my B&B is literally right next to the Vatican? Blerg. How big of a deal will this be, if at all? Are we talking massive crowds of Catholics desperate to see their new leader? Or might it only be super crazy on Wednesday, the pope's normal public day? I guess I should just hope the new pope IS elected by then, because if they're still going through that, well, I don't even want to imagine the crowds!

I'd be surprised if a new pope hadn't been selected well before your trip. According to the rules, a conclave to elect the new pope has to convene within 15-20 days of Benedict's official resignation on Feb. 28. So at the latest, they'll start around March 20. I can't imagine that it would take the cardinals 30+ days to elect a new leader. You should be fine -- although, yes, there will be crowds coming to see the new Pope whenever he appears, no doubt.

Just wanted to thank the person from last week who posted that incredibly detailed list of things to do and see on St. Croix! I'm exactly four weeks away from my trip, and really looking forward to it after my Boston snowpocalypse this weekend.

Consider your thanks passed on! I love it when chatters help other travelers. We couldn't do this every week without you all.

The Ritz Carlton in Sarasota is wonderful as long as you're not looking for a young/party crowd.

I visited the "American War" museum in Vietnam while on a trip in college. Growing up in an Army family w/ a dad who fought in Vietnam, it was completely surreal to see another - and completely opposite - view on that war. Even though it was a solemn place, it was a highlight of my trip, especially since it taught me not to take things at face value. There's always (at least) 2 sides to every story.

Where!?? Where!?!

Ha. I believe it was the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California. Closer to home, there's the National Pinball Museum in Baltimore.

If you are in the vicinity of Death Valley... This place is really an oddity at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere.

On a random weekend road-trip, my husband and I were hungry, but try to avoid fast food while traveling. We saw a simple sign on the side of the road with a German flag, and having just come back from our honeymoon in Germany, we thought it was worth a try. We walked in to a small restaurant and were transported back. Complete with giant beer mugs, a tuba and accordion player, and lederhosen-clad wait staff, it was great fun. We stayed for far longer than we planned, and the food was great too. We still go back whenever we're in Southern VA, even if it's out of the way!

Great, but we'd love to hear where it is and what it's called!

oh my, there are a ton of them, I think we have more per capita than Manhattan. Joe T's is in Fort Worth and therefore a bit of a schlep, but worth the drive for the Amon Carter & Kimbell museums. Lonesome Dove is very definitely high quality Texas food. In Dallas, consider Private Social, or any of a gazillion places in the Uptown area. Shop at the flagship Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas, stroll our new Klyde Warren Park (built over a freeway), catch David WIlcox in concert or "Anything Goes" at the Dallas Performing Arts Center...pick up the Dallas Morning News on Friday for the Weekend section, will give you ideas! Y'all have fun....

Thanks, y'all!

Does WaPo or you have a list of top 5-10 the most affordable, direct-flight destinations for families at this time of year? Same goes for a list of one/two day drive-able trips from DC for families (we've already done Philly, Hershey, Sesame Place, Williamsburg,VA Beach, Lewes DE, and Front Royal.) THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!

We don't do a ton of lists around here, but I did last year do a roundup of destinations you can regularly get flights to for less than $200. Our Escapes feature highlights regional travel. At this time of year, a place like Wisp -- or any other ski resort -- would be fun if you like winter sports.

What are the must do, must see sights in London? I have 3 days and a teenage daughter. Our plans so far include visiting the British Museum, London Eye, and Greenwich (to stand on the meridian). Thanks.

I am debating the same thing myself, for when I make my first trip there this spring. I'll tell you what else is high on my list: Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court Palace, the British Museum and a posh afternoon tea.

What else should these travelers cram into three days, friends?

Looking at the page of Viator, I do not find that the handicapped can go to the Vatican or St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Do you know about options?

There is disabled access -- ramp, elevators, rental wheelchairs, etc. -- to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's, but those requiring a wheelchair have to take some longer routes to get from one to the other to avoid the many stairs and generally have to do the museum tour in the opposite direction from the route most visitors follow. Have a look at this very helpful information from Sage Traveling.

Thanks for taking my question. I have a work trip to New Zealand next month (!) and would like to add 4-5 days of travel on the South Island. I will be traveling alone, and I am not at all comfortable driving on the right so do not want to rent a car. Can you or the readers please suggest other ways I might get around? I like to hike and could join a group if there's one that matches my dates and timeframe. Thanks for your help!

New Zealand seems to be fairly well-served by buses. Anyone have a specific line to recommend?

As a physician, when I heard about this museum, I had to visit while in Tokyo. There are exhibits of various parasites that plague humans (and a few animal parasites as well). If you can't get to Tokyo, you can visit the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which has medical exhibits that are equally disgusting.

I assume the poster meant to be funny, but that was actually a somewhat offensive way to pose the question about crowds near the Vatican in late April... (and I am not Catholic). In any case, a lot of people might be excited to think that they will be next door to the Vatican when a new pope is being named -- a front row seat at history, so to speak. I guess it takes all kinds (of travelers).

Yes, it takes all kinds. But as someone who hates crowds, too, I can sympathize. And I am Catholic.

Depends on what they're looking for, but Montreal is a great city for a long weekend.


The London Museum near the Barbican (history of London), Tower of London, take the Thames River cruise to Greenwich and see the Cutty Sark while there, Kew Gardens & Palace, walk along the Embankment.

I would skip Greenwich. That is a full day trip and, although fun, there are so many things to see in London itself that I would save Greenwich for another trip. If you want to do something unusual, I highly suggest the War Rooms museum right in London. It is the underground headquarters of the British military during WWII and is fascinating. And of course there's Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and tons of musicals in the West End.

Mom, is that you? My mom raved about the Churchill War Rooms. I better go when I'm there!

Take the river bus (I don't know what to call it, but it goes from the London Eye to Greenwich up and down the Thames). Walk across the Millenium Bridge from St Paul's to/from the Globe Theatre reconstruction. See the covered courtyard at the British Museum. Find Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. Go to the theatre at least once (good tickets are often available on the morning of the show). When in Greenwich, look at the ceilings of the dining hall.

My alma mater (the U) is having a once in a lifetime season (seriously, we've only made the NCAA tournament once in 10 seasons) and I'm strongly considering traveling to see them play in March. This seems to be challenging to me because games are only known a few days in advance - Selection Sunday leads to a Thursday or Friday game, and the following weekend's games aren't known until the end of the previous one. What is the best strategy to go about purchasing tickets at reasonable fares? I've never purchased for leisure travel on such short notice.

Some airlines, such as American, still post discounted weekend fares. It's best to sign up on the airline sites to receive sale notifications in order to keep up with these. You should also sign up to receive twitter updates from airlines such as JetBlue that offer sales through social media. Consider using alternative airports (BWI instead of DCA, for example). Go to the destination's airport site to find out what airlines fly there to make sure you're not missing a discount carrier that would not show up on third-party booking sites.  

Loved the article about Western Maryland. We didn't get to all the museums since we took a trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. I know they don't run in the winter, but an awesome trip in the fall to see the leaves or in springtime. In Frostburg where they turn around, it's cool to see the engine on the turn table.

Glad you like the story -- and yes, I'll have to go back and take that train ride! It sounds like fun.

A few years ago I had the oppotunity to visit The Chattaqua Institute, a place I had never known existed, and it was amazing! It's a small enclave in upstate NY (not far from Jamestown) that is a summer entertainment/educational resort. For two months they have an in-house theater, symphony & opera company. There are classes from sports to arts and guest lecturere (Sandra Day O'Connor) that come in as each week is a different educational topic. There is no driving inside the resort, and most of the houses are bequethed for generations. The hotel we stayed in had every room named after and decorated as famous writers. On the "quad" musicians would gather & play, you'd see artists with the easels, it was wonderful. I came to find out that St. Elmo's Fire was filmed there (the "Georgetown U" fountain." We only went for a weekend, but I wouold love to go back and spend a week there.

I highly recommend going on at least one London Walk ( I did two in May 2012 and loved them both, especially the Royal London walk that takes you from Green Park to Buckingham Palace, plus a fully guided tour of Westminister Abbey. If you go to Greenwich and don't want to pay to enter the observatory, you can stand on the Meridian just outside the park (there's a BBC travel blog post about where it is), which is much less crowded. And I recommend a Thames river cruise. I took one as part of my London Eye experience and it was delightful. They were having record heat then and it was fabulous to have a good breeze while seeing the sights!

But the War Rooms was my second-favorite thing I did when I was in London (years and years ago) and I assume it's still fascinating.

OK, I am sold. It's so close to my hotel that I can't not go.

The British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Harrods, Keats' House in Hampstead, a walk around Hampstead, anywhere in London.

A few years ago, we were in Anchorage, and took the recommendation of a friend to go to the Alaska Native Medical Center to their craft shop. It was a cab ride away from the downtown area, and the hospital itself was a rather sad place, but since we would have bought Native American crafts in town from a middleman otherwise, we were delighted to buy some lovely baskets and carvings that the craft shop had on consignment form the actual artists.

my husband wouldn't let me take the family to the salt and pepper museum in gatlinburg, TN. I was quite unhappy.

There's a lot to see in Dallas. At the Fairgrounds there is the women's history museum; I think there are other museums there as well. We really liked a city park where houses from old Dallas were relocated and formed a small town (I can't recall the name of the park). Also there are many restaurants; we really liked Papadeaux (sp) seafood so much so that we went twice. The entrees were large so we shared them and the restaurant brought them on separate plates at no extra charge. Be certain to bring a sweater in case Dallas has the AC going at full blast even in February.

Thank you, champion of Dallas!

Thanks for taking my question. How much time would you say one should allow between flights on an intentional flight. This coming summer (Sept.) I am taking a Med Cruise and am in the process of securing my travel. Since I will have to get a connecting flight, I want to ensure that I have enough time between flights; and that my bags have enough time to change planes. I've been seeing flights with 1hr 30min/ 1hr 40min layovers and I don't know if that's enough time. Since I am going on a cruise and will only be spending the night in the city before the cruise, I would hate for my luggage to get lost prior to the cruise. Any assistance is greatly appreciate. P.S. because of the amount of leave I have I cannot leave a day earlier.

Answer depends on the connecting city and the final destination. Are they both EU countries? That would simplify the process. Better yet, is it possible to get a nonstop from New York? Then you'd avoid customs  and immigration until your final destination.


Unfortunately, my work schedule today won't allow me to participate in the live chat but I hope you can still give me some guidance. I live in the South Florida area (closest to FLL, but can get to MIA or PBI, if necessary) and am invited to a June wedding in Montreal, which I would love to attend. My sister, in the DC Metro area (closest to BWI), also hopes to attend. I've read here that it is sometimes best to fly into BTV & drive over, but was also told that there are often discount fares into PBG. My dilemma is in trying to decide if it would be best to fly from here to Montreal, from here to WAS & then fly with my sister, or fly from here to WAS & then drive. Her car is a gas guzzler, so I wonder if the savings would be worth the time involved. Or, if it is worth it to fly to one of the US airports & then rent a car. Any input is greatly appreciated. Thanks, & welcome back, Joe!

I tell you what, I just did a search for flights between the Miami-area airpots and Montreal in June. I'm seeing nonstops (from Fort Lauderdale on Air Canada) and one-stops for a little more than $400, even less depending on the dates. I would save yourself the hassle and do that. As for your sister in D.C., flying to Burlington and then driving to Montreal is definitely something we often recommend. But flights from here are around $400, and if you all don't have a ton of time and want to make it easy, that's not terrible.

On a drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque my husband and I stopped at the Tinkertown Museum. An amazing place, made out of over 50,000 glass bottles, housing all manner of folk art. The museum was created, built and curated by Ross Ward and is lovingly maintained by his wife. It has been 10 years since we visited and I remember it well and would love to go back. This is off the beaten path at its best!

With only a few days for a first trip you should consider one of the ride on/ hop off tours for one of the days. They cover a lot of ground and you can spend as much time as you want at one stop or skip any stop altogether.

There are InterCity and Naked Bus buses that sell really cheap tickets. And, on the South Island there's a (scenic, expensive) railroad line through the Southern Alps.

Here you go, car-less New Zealand traveler.

I missed last week's chat, but for the traveler that's going to Edinburgh with her husband, I just moved back to the States from the UK and have made that trip a few times. A train btwn Edinburgh and London is definitely feasible, but it's a long ride (around 6 hours) and trains aren't necessarily cheaper than airfare (depends on when you buy, etc.). The bonus of a train ride is that you can see lots of lush countryside and you arrive in one of the stations in the middle of London. If you fly from Edin. to London, you can use Heathrow, Gatwick or London City Airports - lots of flight options, so prices are generally competitive. Plus, it's very easy to get into central London from any of those 3 airports via trains. Don't bother flying to Stansted or Lutin - flights may be cheap (esp on easyJet), but it's a trek getting into London (busses that take over an hour or very expensive taxis). As for flying from the US into Edin. and out of London, use Kayak to price that out versus booking 2 separate roundtrips (1. USA to London and 2. London to Edin.). Just keep in mind that none of the London airports are close to each other, so trying to land at Heathrow and fly out of Gatwick or City requires either several hours of connecting time (if you use public transport to get from one airport to another) or taking a taxi between the two (which would probably cost over $150). That hassle and expense could make it worth while to pay for the convenience of flying from the US to Edinburgh and then out of London. Enjoy!

Thanks for the advice. Hope the original poster sees it!

What is a reasonable senior ticket price for round-trip air between San Diego and Geneva leaving June 21st and returning July 7th? Is buying tickets 10-11 weeks out good advice for snagging best fares for summer trips to Europe?

Only a few airlines offer senior discounts, and they often aren't cheaper than the going economy rate.  Looks as if you'll pay about $1,600 round trip for flights with good connections. I would start tracking the fare now. There have been various studies done on best times to buy air tickets, and they often contradict one another. It all depends on demand. If there are empty seats as summer gets closer, sales will take place. If not, no sales and higher prices.  You may be able to save money by flying out of LAX or by tweaking your travel dates. 

I like to visit Harrods (the candy room would be great for a teen). Tea the London Ritz is unlike anywhere else, but that may not appeal to a teen.

On a girls weekend to Toronto, I visited one of the most fun, quirky museums I have visited. It was the Bata shoe museum in Toronto. This doubles as a suggestion for the poster asking about a girls weekend!

Synergy between questions?! I love it.

I would like to take road trip with my 13-year-old son this August. He his a huge Stephen King fan, and wants to visit the author's hometown: Bangor, Maine. We will be driving from Falls Church, VA. Can you suggest some interesting stops along the way (other than New York City), and some things to do while in Bangor? My son is interested in art, design, science, etc.... history, not so much. Likes beaches and hiking. An amusement park would be a nice diversion too. Thank you!

Hmm. How long a trip do you plan? I'd stop in Princeton, N.J., on the way up, for a stroll through the Princeton campus, then maybe somewhere in western Massachusetts -- Stockbridge is lovely, has the Norman Rockwell museum, or Northampton or Amherst, both beautiful college towns, then head east to the coast. You can stop at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, N.H., if you want an amusement park, then head to Portsmouth, N.H., or Ogunquit, Me., or Kennebunkport. Then up through Portland and on to Bangor. That's just a rough itinerary. The University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor has a good collection, including Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth. There's a police museum and a fire museum, too. And lots of lovely 19th-century architecture.  What else, chatters?

Hi, I hope you can help. My sister and I are looking for a summer getaway that is not too expensive. We looked at doing Philadelphia historical tour or Hershey Park. Do you have any suggestions for a summer getaway on a budget?

It would be SO helpful if you would tell us what kinds of things you like to do. Indoors? Outdoors? Museums? Sports? You could always head to Western Maryland per my very recent story. :-)

Hi Crew. I'm starting to think about a possible trip in June to South America. I don't speak Spanish so first of all, I'd like to find a place where that won't be a huge problem. I was thinking Peru because of Macchu Pichu but then I was thinking about Argentina or Chile because of the wineries. I'd like to spend up to 5 nights on this trip and want it to be somewhat relaxing but would also like the opportunity to do some sightseeing (including wine tasting). I'm very food-focused so is one of these options better than the other? Flights to Peru from IAD seem to be the least expensive option but I'm open to the other places too. Thank you for your help!

Peru sounds like a winner to us, especially since we ran this story on Peru as a culinary destination by our Food section colleague Tim Carman just the other month.

On a road trip last autumn (Boston to Mortland, ME) we stopped at a place called Len Libby's chocolate because I had heard there was a "Chocolate Moose." There was, and it was so amusing. A life size chocolate moose "lenny" surrounded by life size chocolate bear cubs.

Yum. Maybe we should have sent Andrea there on her moose tour the other month.

While driving across the West a few years ago, we came across the first American nuclear reactor, EBR-1, in eastern Idaho not too far from Craters of the Moon (also worth a visit btw). It's now a museum with free guided tours but it's really in the middle of absolute nowhere. We had no idea it existed until we saw the road signs encouraging us to pull over and walk into this desolate building near a windswept semi-desert highway. Then you open the door and suddenly some smiling young tour guide greets you warmly and shows you around. The closest analogy I can think of is in the movies when the main character stumbles across the secret government lab hidden in some innocuous place, and suddenly they're standing amongst all these people and projects going on in a hidden NYC subway tunnel or a sunken ship or whatever. It was awesome.


While on a Tauck Tour of the UK, we went to a private home for lunch plus tour of their home and property (this is a nice feature of Tauck tours). The homeowner sat me next to him, and throughout the meal I kept thinking I was dining with Hugh Grant (!) -- he sounded EXACTLY like him, from the voice to the cadence of his speech. Going inside a historic, private estate and asking questions of the homeowners was priceless. He was so patient, though we knew he had answered the same questions hundreds of times before.

Hi Travel Gurus -- I wanted to answer the person looking for public transport options in New Zealand. I spent 10 1/2 weeks there (based on the fabulous 2005 article in the WashPost) from Dec 2007 through Feb 2007 -- a sabbatical from work -- and did all my traveling by bus. The national system is called InterCity and it is really far-reaching. Lots of locals seem to use it. The system is easy to use and goes just about everywhere. However, on the South Island there are also two small-bus companies. The one I liked the most was Atomic Shuttle (can't remember the name of the other). In my 2/12 months I didn't miss not having a car once. And sitting in the double-decker buses helped to see the gorgeous scenery. Hope this is helpful.

Very helpful.

Maybe check out Camden Market, Covent Garden, Hampstead Heath. A quick visit to Harrods. Hop on a double-decker bus to get there. Another vote for Kew Gardens. Regarding the British Museum: limit it to something you are interested in and a couple of hours. Walk around the immediate area of Russell Square and surroundings. How about a soccer game?

While on a trip to Australia this fall, my husband and I are planning to spend a week or so in Papua New Guinea, and I wonder if anyone can recommend an experienced travel agency to help with the PNG travel.

Whoa, very exotic. Anyone have any suggestions for this chatter?

Hi there, My brother in law just announced his engagement, with the wedding set for October in Melbourne. We are thrilled to have a chance to visit Australia. The flight is obviously going to cost quite a lot and is very long (DC-Melbourne is about 24 hours) so I was wondering what airlines you would recommend or not rated on comfort and customer service. We will be flying economy. Thanks!

Qantas has a good reputation and it will likely give you the best connections. 

Hi Crew. A friend and I are traveling to Amsterdam in May for 4 nights. We've never been and have been searching around for things to do. I know this is a very subjective question but are there a few things that we absolutely must do while we are there? We are looking into which museums we should visit and maybe a canal tour--and we really like good food so a great restaurant recommendation would also be appreciated. Thanks!

Yes, a canal tour is great, and definitely visit the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House. Most people take a walk through the Red Light District, for the voyeuristic/curiosity factor. Some chatter will no doubt recommend that you go to one of the pot cafes, so I will leave that to them since I do not personally frequent such establishments. What else, chatters?

My husband and I took the kids for two 'big' adventures in Georgia. We went to the GA guidestones - which are literally in a field in the middle of NOWWHERE. You can drive right past them (sadly, we had a busy day, so we couldn't go to the town museum to learn about them, but there isn't much information about them, it's quite a mystery) And we also went to the Howard Finster house, which is also in the middle of nowhere, really. I'm glad we did that - as we have since moved out of Georgia!

Check out the Boston Science Museum if he hasn't been. The snow should have melted by then. :)

One can only hope.

I've done a three-day with a 10 year old. Becasue we arrived early in the day, we couldn't check in to the hotel. We headed to the Tower Bridge and took that tour, it is heavy on mechanics, but you get to go across the "ladders" up high. We had a reservation for the London Eye and that takes about an hour (35 minutes all the way around). We used the underground for EVERYTHING - except the obligatory double deck bus ride past Picadilly Circus. We hit almost everything we set out to. Other stops (we were based in Paddington) - British Museum, Kensington Gardens, Greenwich by boat (you get a narrated tour, lots of Dickens drinkning stories and torutre at the Tower, maybe 3 hours including standing on the meridian which my son thought was stupid at the time). Tower of London is an absolute must. Harrod's, though don't get caught there at rush hour, you won't get a train. Buckingham Palace. You can't feed the birds any more at Trafalgar Square. You will, by default, walk past Pariliament, Westminster Abbey, St.Paul's. Completely ignore anything to do with Olympics, Millenium, etc. And you probably won't wake up early, so buy underground passes good only after 9 am. Cheaper. And figure out where the free rest rooms are.

That sounds like an ambitious itinerary -- and a game 10 year old. Bravo.

Not comfortable driving on the right... this seems to be a common issue with some of your readers. Come on people, it is NOT that hard. One of the best ways to explore a country is to rent a car and just drive. Most likely the biggest issue will be having the windshield wiper come on when you are trying to use your turn signal. JUST DO IT!

I embrace your "just do it" mantra, but I also think people are right to be cautious. If they're really not going to be comfortable, there's no shame in letting someone else do the driving.

Gettysburg and then swing down through to Antietam and up the C&O canal.

As a solo female traveler, I traveled extensively via bus on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand and it was the perfect way to get around. Safe, clean, reliable, etc.

I understand Andrea is the expert on this area. I am planning a trip to Mongolia for late-August-September. I plan to take the train from Beijing to Ulan Bataar, and fly back from Ulan Bataar to Beijing. Can you, or anyone, recommend a tour company which isn't too high-end? I identified Mongolian Expeditions, which has a tour I'm considering. I'm also looking for a recommended airline (RT fares vary widely). Any recommendations would be appreciated.

I flew United, connecting in Beijing, but my friend Ed always flies Korean Air. For my trip, I chose the cheapest fare. But I have heard very good things about Korean Air. and Seoul is a great layover airport.

I wish I had taken the train; I heard that it was an amazing experience.  But, of course, it requires more time than flying.

I would add to the list of recommended tour groups  Boojum Expeditions. Unfortunately, because Mongolia has a developing tourist infrastructure, the trip will be pricey. However, you can save money by opting for more budget lodgings and cheap eats.

Hello, I am headed out on my very first cruise (Celebrity through the Caribbean) in a few weeks and was hoping you had some tips for a newbie like me. I've looked online, but there is SO MUCH information that I could really spin myself up without trying too hard... Thank you!

Check out this piece from Cruise Critic, which has tips for first-timers. Who else has advice?

I'm running the Paris Marathon, and managed to get a decent cheaper flight to London, Heathrow, and am planning on connecting to Paris via Eurostar. Is 3.5 hours enough time to clear customs and get to St. Pancras train station in London?

You can take the Piccadilly line from Terminal 5 at Heathrow to St. Pancras. The trip takes about an hour, so that should give you enough time even with the typically long immigration process at Heathrow. 

when my husband and I were in st louis, we kind of stumbled upon the city museum. It was awesome! We didn't really know what it was - but I'm SO glad we just went inside and checked it out. Interesting aquarium, too...very bizarre place...

Yes, I've heard about this. Sounds very cool.

Definitely dedicate one day to visit outside the city. Totally different experience and totally worth it. We took the English Bus Tours operated by Chris over there and it ended up being the highlight of our 4 day trip!

and on the topic of quirky places: Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ, Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ, Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Thanks. Love the Grounds for Sculpture. I think Rhode Island is too out of the way.

We like to do things outdoors like walking tours amusement parks historical areas. Our budget is around $1000 or less. We like museums. We live in Maryland and have already done the museums in DC.

How about Williamsburg? Visit Colonial Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown and Busch Gardens, maybe hit the sand at Virginia Beach if you have time.

Muesum of Glasses in Amsterdam - you could event purchase some of the exhibits!

More synergy -- Amerstdam + offbeat. Score!

This isn't a museum, but we visited the Celestial Seasonings tea factory a few years ago - they had a very good tour. Only two in our group (the guide and my friend - a sturdy sort) could take more than half a minute in the mint room - it's where they keep the mint safely away from all the more delicate flavors.

Back when I was a young guy, summer of '89, I traveled to France for the summer and ended up joining the foreign legion on a five year contract. I deserted after less that a year and returned to the States. I have traveled internationally since, but not to Europe. How could I find out the chances of being stopped at the border and returned to the legion if go to France, or another EU country, today?

I don't think any of us would feel comfortable giving you advice on this. May be one that needs a legal opinion. 

also consider The Grape (provided one contestant for current Top Chef), St. Martin's (old-fashioned continental, very dark, live piano) thru Hignland Park and look at the swanky houses!


On a day-trip to the Mother Lode region when I was a child growing up in Northern California, due to map misreading we wound up in a ghost town called -- wait for it! -- Timbuctoo! Back then there wasn't much there except the city-limits sign, good for taking photos next to, although I gather there may be a bit more nowadays. 

The Rembrandt House doesn't seem to get much press but I thought it was fascinating. I also took a diamond tour and really enjoyed it.

Oh yes, the Rembrandt House is a good one. Thanks!

Take a quick stop at the USS Albacore in Portsmouth , NH. It's a a ditch! If you have a smartphone, download the roadside attractions app, it's got a bunch of fun stops in that area.

The main LL Bean store in Freeport is open 24 hour a day, 365 days a year and has a lot of fun things to see if the son likes outdoor gear. Booth Bay Harbor is beautiful. Catch a whale watching tour. York Me for a beautiful beach. White Mountains for hiking and beautiful resorts too. Acadia National Park too far? Portsmith NH is beautiful as well.

MIT has its own science museum!

Do you camp? You can visit all sorts of wonderful places that way, if there are campgrounds within a short drive (even an hour or two each way).

We have traveled this route twice once as a longer road trip to Nova Scotia and once with Maine as the destination. NYC is a great stop. The contradiction between Maine and NYC is amazing and really showed the kids the diversity on the East Coast. We stopped in Rye New Hampshire for the beaches and some hiking. Portland ME is a good place to spend a day or so off the road. The LL Bean Flagship Store in Freeport is worth going to especially for a kid interested in hiking, The Dessert of Maine is fun and an interesting off the beaten path stop. We did a bit of hiking in Vermont, went to a Robert Frost homesite and a small museum near Bennington VT which I remember enjoying but do not remember the name.

Thanks. There are so many options. I agree that the beach in Rye is lovely. And the LL Bean store should be fun for a teen.

to portland oregon, and there's a hat museum nearby. As in, I could walk to it. I haven't visited it yet, but maybe now I will make it more of a priority!

Do, and report back.

If she likes shopping, I'm sure she'd love to explore Harrod's and some more hip places like Topshop flagship store, etc.

For the person asking about Amsterdam, the place my husband and I enjoyed most was the Van Gogh Museum. Really moving. We also loved walking in the city and bicycling outside in the countryside.

You're going to love Melbourne! It's one of my favorite places of all the places I have been. October is a nice time too since it's the start of their Spring (if it's late in the month anyway). For airlines, I would probably take a look and see which airlines serve MEL by looking at the airport's website or a google something like Melbourne airport wiki. Every airport has a wikipedia entry that lists airlines serving it and destinations. You can also use a site like or maybe tripadvisor's forums to get some opinions. I think some of the Middle Eastern airlines might be an option if you want to go around that way instead of via the West Coast. I'd probably use a site like ITA to check fares.

Going to Melbourne via the Middle East takes a lot longer, but there are some nice airlines, such as Emirates, that offer these flights. Qantas does have the shortest flights from here to Melbourne. 

For the road tripper with the 13yo son, there's Mystic, Connecticut. Yes, lots of history at the Seaport, but also art and science and design. It's a good place for an active kid, lots of hands-on stuff. And there's a good aquarium in the town, too. Of course there are the museums in Boston: Fine Art, Contemporary Art, Science. If your boy likes architecture, there's Newport, RI. There are at least three Six Flags properties between Falls Church and Bangor, as well as Hersheypark and Dorney Park in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately I'm not sure what state the Jersey Shore towns will be in this summer, but keep your eye on them as well.

Women's Museum unfortunately now defunct, and Pappadeaux is a chain out of Houston....though they do have very good seafood. For something different: tapas at Cafe Madrid, on the border of Highland Park & Dallas, good people watching if the weather is nice!

Thanks! I didn't think I'd seen a women's museum in Dallas. . .

Is there a good place to start doing finding rates? We have a family wedding...and need around 7-10 rooms. Calling the 800 numbers doesn't do much good.

Call the hotel's direct number, which will be listed on its Web site, and ask for the person who handles group bookings. To figure out what hotels are close to the wedding, a site such as Tripadvisor, shows map locations. 

We are trying to figure out where to go for our summer vacation. The twist for us this year is our new puppy. We are looking for a place we can bring her. We would love to go somewhere that we would all enjoy (Mom, Dad and 12 yr daughter). I was thinking Deep Creek would be perfect but it is EXPENSIVE. Most places on the lake are running 2500-3000 per week. Is there somewhere else we should look?

West Virginia is a very pretty state and I love it for a summer getaway when it gets oppressively hot in Washington. Try looking for places in or near some of the resort areas, such as Canaan Valley or Snowshoe. State parks also often have reasonably priced, pet-friendly accommodations.

Decades ago, when we were young, we camped at a campground just outside of Freeport, Maine. Also, enjoyed a walk on Popham Beach.

While I certainly understand why a travel writer would make sure to include information on vegetarian options, I can not understand why a travel writer would ignore the meat and leather options, expecially for a place so linked to meat and leather as Morocco. It seems that your writer did a disservice to your readers by this huge omission.

I'm sure that countless other articles have touched on these aspects. Not every story has to mention the obvious things. Every travel writer brings his/her own perspective.

Other off the track attractions include the Lucille Ball museum in Jamestown, New York - her birthplace. Near the Chautaqua Institute an earlier writer described.

I had a couple of days after a work trip on the North Island and went around by bus, too, because I was a afraid to drive. The one thing is that there's a lot to see and do in between stops and down roads not on the bus line. NZ is virtually unpopulated so the roads aren't crowded. I realized that if I had someone with me as a second set of eyes, I wouldn't have hesitated to drive and explore on my own.

When we were in London in May, 2010, the lines for the London Eye were appalling. It was an hour to get tickets, then over an hour wait to board. We decided not to waste our time. The Tower is a must. The line to see the crown jewels can be long, get there early. The British museum is huge; I spent a full day there with very little stopping--I read placards on the move. I'd suggest figuring out your must-sees before entering the doors. If you like pubs, go to Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, the oldest pub in London. It's near St. Paul's Cathedral, where Diana and Charles married.

Cruise leaves out of Amsterdam and returns to Barcelona so yes both EU cities. Thanks for the thought of Nonstop out of NY (I'll add that onto my search when I investigate flights).

Traveling from VA to ME don't miss the Higgin's Armory in Worchester, MA, You can also visit the Salem Witch Museum, and the House of Seven Gables in the area.

Hello - I am planning to use frequent flier miles to travel to Hawaii in May. Is May considered off or shoulder season? Does Hawaii even have an off season? I'll likely stay in Oahu and am also interested in how to find the best hotel deals as close to the ocean as possible without breaking the budget (I am thinking about $150 - $175/night plus taxes and fees as my rooming budget for six nights). I'd also like to have a room with a kitchen or kitchenette so I can save some money by eating some meals in the room. Would it be better to look for a condo to rent? The problem there is that I am not staying an entire week. Any recommendations you have would be appreciated. Thanks!

May is the tailend of shoulder season, so prices will be lower than the peaks of summer and the holidays but a little higher than the low season ( mid-January to March).
Booking accommodations with a kitchenette is a great way to save money. This way, you can take advantage of the farmers markets and make breakfast and pack lunches from "home." You might also want to bring your Costco card and even bring some staples, since sundries are much more expensive on the islands.

Many lodgings come with kitchen facilities, not just condos. Check Oahu tourism's Web site, which has an accommodation-finding tool. Also check the main booking sites, such as Kayak and Expedia. The hotel description will include the availability of a kitchenette. One example: Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, which has 10 properties on Oahu.

What a great hour! So cool to see how many great places you all have been to, from random museums to the best hits of London. Today's prize goes to the chatter who went to see the chocolate moose in Maine. For me, chocolate is the trump card. Please send your name and address to so we can get you your reward.

We're off next week for Presidents' Day. If you're traveling for the long weekend, have fun and stay safe. We'll see you back here Feb. 25!

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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