Talk about Travel: Driving in Croatia, hotel amenities, Disney California Adventure and more

Feb 24, 2014

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Good afternoon, travelers. Sorry if you had problems submitting questions in advance -- apparently our system was acting up. But we're here now and ready to help! Did you see our jam-packed hotel issue? I looked at trends in lobbies and in-room entertainment, while Andrea shared hotel room accident stories and tested out the luxury Capella in D.C. Speaking of most of the above, what has been your favorite hotel amenity? Best answer gets a little prize.

Let's begin!

Hello, I will be traveling throughout Croatia with a group of approximately 20 family members this summer. We are debating how to get from Rijeka to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Would you suggest renting cars? Is an international permit required to rent cars there, and if so, how is that obtained? I am hesitant since I don't know the language (and hence won't be able to read the road signs), but what other options are there? Thank you. I enjoy reading your column each week!

Car's the best way to go. There's really no good direct public transporation from Rijeka to Plitvice -- you'd have to change in Karlovac and the trip would take 4 hours or so. I haven't personally driven in Croatia, but I understand that the roads are generally good, though winding and often very hilly, especially along the coast. Some stretches can be a little nerve-wracking, so just be aware. Croatia uses international road symbols, so knowledge of the language isn't absolutely necessary. If you familiarize yourself with the symbols before you go, you should do okay. As for iInternational driving permits, they're really not *required* anywhere, but I always think that it doesn't hurt to have one, especially in a country like Croatia, where the police, should you get stopped for any reason, don't necessarily speak or read English. But that's just me. Usually when I recommend getting one, I get an earful from chatters who insist that it's stupid to do so, so you'll have to make your own decision. :-)

Chatters, let's hear from anyone who's made this trip or driven in Croatia.

I haven't used wire transfers often, but when I have my bank charged service fees that struck me as fairly large for the amounts involved. Have you compared the actual costs of "e-checks" vs. credit cards or even debit cards (which don't have the same protections as credit cards but might be a little safer than a straight-out payment)?

That's a great question. Credit card transactions are pretty expensive for merchants, and by comparison, some of the newer payment methods are far more efficient, in that they're less pricey for merchants and ultimately, for consumers. Personally, I think credit cards will eventually die of natural causes -- they're past their prime and they "reward" you with points that can be impossible to redeem. But as they say, that's another story ...

Hello, Love this chat but mostly lurk as we don't travel that often. I am happy to say that we will be going to Charleston in late June for our anniversary. We have a hotel but I could really use advice on "not too miss" activities especially ones that you may not see on the tourism sites. We are not renting a car (but will use taxis and the trolley) and are staying in the historic district and hope to walk to most places. Also any recommendations for places to eat (casual and one really nice restaurant) would be really appreciated. 

My husband and I spent a lot of time during our long weekend a few years ago just walking around the city. It's made for that. Fort Sumter is worth visiting. I highly recommend touring the historic Aiken-Rhett and Nathaniel Russell houses. Plenty of good eating in the city. For nice, consider Husk, McCrady's and FIG. Hominy Grill is more casual but excellent. Check out the French treats at Macaroon Boutique.

I last drove in Croatia in the mid-1980s, and I also speak the language, so I may have a different perspective; that said, however, in the years since 1985 I expect that the tourism infrastructure has improved considerably, as has the probability of finding someone who speaks English. I wouldn't hesitate to rent a car and drive -- just be careful, and you probably need to know how to drive a stick shift.

Oh right -- you can request an automatic transmission, but it will probably cost more. Thanks for this!

You have $2,000 and up to a week off. How would you spend it?

It depends on the time of year.

Sri Lanka during non-monsoon months; Alaska during the nightless summer. Also: a driving tour of Scandinavia, or trekking in Tasmania.

Family with a 12 yr old boy would like to travel to New Mexico during July/August. Where can we go that would not be too hot? Is there a nice resort where we can stay & use as a base to take short day trips from?

It's all about elevation. The higher you are, the cooler it will be. Maybe Taos? Lots of outdoor activities there, and it's within a 75-minute drive of Santa Fe. Chatters have any ideas? 

I have three kids (10,8 and3) and one day to go to either Disney's California Adventure park or Disneyland but not both. I am pretty ignorant of all things Disney and want to know in your opinion which one we should choose. The kids are all easy going and will like anything but for some reason it feels like an important decision!

I haven't been to Disney West. Thoughts, chatters? I would think for just one day, you might want the classic experience of Disneyland. But perhaps someone who has visited can answer.

I forgot to mention that Croatian uses the Latin alphabet, so while you may not be able to pronounce the place names, you should certainly be able to match them to the names on a map. And as mentioned before, the road signs use mostly international symbols, which also helps a lot.

Right, thanks!

Since you're not going to Croatia till this summer, could you buy (or check out of the library) an introductory book on the language so you could learn at least to read (and sound out) the roadsigns and maybe a bit more of the language? Maybe also buy a pocket-size phrase book with phonetic pronunciations of basic expressions, to keep with you on the trip at all times. My personal experience has been that learning even a little of the language beforehand of where I'm going to be traveling enhances my enjoyment of the experience far out of proportion to the amount of time and effort expended.

This is also true.

A chatter asked the following on February 10th: "Should I tip the housekeeping even if I DON'T need them to attend to my room that day?" If you don't need housekeeping service on a given day, you can leave the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the outside door handle all day. My husband and I have done that numerous times, and no one has ever come in to clean on a day on which we have put that sign out. Otherwise, even if you think you don't need service, the housekeeper will usually make the bed, empty the trash can, and in general tidy up -- you are getting services, although you may think you don't need them. So use that "Do Not Disturb" sign if you don't want a housekeeper to enter your room on a given day.

Great point. I do the same thing. After a day or two, I usuallty recieve a note under my door saying that housekeeping stopped by to check on me. I usually assure them that I have been tidying up after myself.

free stretch limo to the restaurant where they made reservations! Staying in Seattle for work and I asked the concierge for a nice restaurant. He replied and I asked how to drive there, since I had a rental. He said driving to Alki Beach could be tricky and there might be traffic, so he'd arrange a car and could I be in the lobby at 6:30? A stretch limo, driver who escorted me to my table and informed the matre d' to let him know before I was ready to leave so that he could escort me out. Wow! Never felt so much like a lady.....


Actually they were both at the same hotel in Rome - at turn down service, they placed THE most comfortable foot mats on both sides of the bed (to comfort your tootsies in the AM, I guess) and the bathroom also towel warming bars. Heaven!

Oh, I like those.

thinking of a trip down the East Coast to see these amazing cities. What are the best months? Warm enough to stroll outside but preferring to avoid prime tourist season....

May or October, in my book. But there will always be tourists in both these cities, so be prepared.

I'm flying back to visit family who's in the midwest in the next couple weeks and will need to rent a car. I was looking for the best deal but it's still more than I was hoping to spend. What is the deal with priceline and is it worth it? My dates of flight aren't changing (already bought the ticket) so I wouldn't be canceling. How reliable is this? I've heard horror stories that reservations aren't honored, people being charged twice etc.

Priceline is what's known as an "opaque" travel site. You pre-pay for a nonrefundable and nonchangeable rental car, and save up to 40 percent off the regular daily rate. I don't get many complaints about it and the ones I do are usually easily fixed. I've booked a car through Priceline, and it worked exactly as advertised.

We are thinking that the self-piloted boats in the canals of Wales would be a good family trip -- surrounded by lovely country, operating the locks, stopping at small villages. Do you or your chatters have experience on the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal? How about September?


I recommend California Adventure over Disneyland, especially if they like the movie Cars. Though it is smaller than Disneyland and I'm not sure if would take up a whole day. Can you swing park hopper tickets and see a little of both in one day? That would be my first recommendation; but, if not, then my vote is on California Adventure if only because Disney World and Disneyland are very similar and offer the same experiences.

You have something funky going on with an invisible ad block that is covering all of the links on the page. I can't click any of them.

Oh, dear, you're right. I'll check in with our team. Wondering if this has something to do with the problems we had earlier.

Lowcountry Bistro is a great casual restaurant. Owned by the same group that owns 82 Queen (also good food) and is right off the market - we'll often grab lunch there when we're in town. Also have to send the recommendation for Husk (and they have great drinks at the bar as well), and SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) is also a good restaurant but definitely pricy.

Disneyland. No contest. CA has improved tremendously over what it used to be, but if you're coming all this way, stick with Disney. Also - Disney takes a few days to really see and enjoy, but CA can be done in an afternoon. There are also "park hopper" tickets, where you can split your time between both parks, so you can see both, which are walking distance from each other across a small plaza (it'll just cost you extra).

Was just there in December with a 10, 8, and 5 YO. I would go with Disneyland. First, it's the classic, bucket-list park. Second, your 3 YO and maybe your 8YO (depending on how big s/he is) will be limited in which rides they will be allowed on in CAD. Disneyland has more younger-kid friendly rides and the 10YO will like it, too because s/he will not have aged out of most of the rides. Third, if your kids have seen and like the various movies, there are more characters to be seen/photographed at Disneyland. It will be more fun for your 8 and 10YO kids if one adult can sometimes stay with the 3YO while another adult takes the older ones on the bigger rides. Or, send them into the "singles" lines on their own (where they get put in with odd-numbered groups) and wait at the exit. You can save A LOT of wait time that way. Don't forget to use your express passes.

Has very little "Disney" about it compared to Disneyland. I don't know if that's a factor or not.

I was in Moscow and the best amenity was the heated toilet seat. You don't know what you're missing until you've sat on one of those (especially after coming inside from the cold). Just's worth it.


At the Hotel du Lys in Paris, a simple but excellent breakfast was left outside our door at the requested time. It was wonderful to not have to interrupt a romantic morning to answer a knock.

Ooh la la.

Hmm, I always think about hotels as a place to stay, but we were here with the family to look around to buy a house (company that was moving us paid for it) so we were at a fancy hotel. We tried to get a reservation at a local restaurant that had NOTHING. We went to the concierge, and they said: for tonight? Sure! So we got in to the fancy restaurant, and not only got a good table, we got some 'tastings' from the 'chef' and a few cookies for dessert. It was really nice.

What's a "good" price from Washington (either IAD or DCA) to Las Vegas? I'm in a wedding that will be in Las Vegas and I just have no clue what a "good" price is for the airfare.

Getting to Las Vegas had gotten more expensive in recent years, but you can still find good deals. Most of the best airfares, however, are for mid-week travel. I've seen fares as low as $230 round trip for Tuesday to Tuesday in winter. That fare goes up by at least $100 for Friday to Monday flights. Try Spirit out of BWI for cheap deals, but pay attention to the extra fees (baggage, seats, etc) before booking. 

Hi! I am traveling by train from DC to San Francisco in April, and I'm very excited about the journey! I have never travelled by train before, so of course I have many questions. What is proper train etiquette, especially with regards to tipping? I know I will come across many helpful employees, and don't want to short change anyone. I will be riding the Capitol Limited in coach to Chicago, then I've got a roommette on the California Zephyr to San Francisco (meals included!). Are there any rules to follow so I will remember who deserves a tip and of how much? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Fun! Be sure to have a look at our story about cross-country Amtrak travel -- precisely your route. The author, alas, didn't include much info about tipping, so we'll have to ask the chatters for their input. Any train tipping recommendations, folks?

The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego asks for your music preferences at check-in so that when you reach your room, your favorite songs are playing.

Hotels in Turkey always have slippers for you in the room. I love those little slippers.

For casual, I'd vote for vickery's. There is one downtown and one by the water. LOVE that place.

I'll be skiing in St. Anton, Austria, next month. Two questions: is there a way of shipping my skis directly to somewhere in St. Anton? And, I'll need to have a lot of euros when I first arrive, in order to pay for lodging at my pension, which only takes cash. What's the best way of getting that cash? Thanks folks.

At least you know beforehand that you'll have to pay cash. I recently stayed at a small hotel in Bad Schallerbach in Austria, and naively assumed they took credit cards. It was problematic getting enough cash out of the ATMs, and it took a phone call to figure out that they were rejecting my card because I was asking for too much money at one time. Look at rates  on a site such as Compare Currency.  As for getting your skis to St. Anton, it can be done, but it'll cost a lot more than taking them on the plane with you.  The price for shipping skis to Austria via a company such as Luggage Forward $174 one way. 

Two from the past come to mind: 1) The Mayflower--before I moved to the area it was the only hotel where I ordered a wake-up call. At the time the phone rang, someone was placing a tray outside the door with your choice of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and the morning paper. They also had a small TV in the bath so I could watch the morning news while I did my make-up. 2) In Warsaw, at the Marriott, there was a knob on the vanity in the bath that when turned on allowed me to pipe in the sound from the TV, so I can listen to the BBC. Also the bath had a walk in shower and a tub. Those were the days......

Through some good luck, I have a free weekend to spend in Italy. Options are Rome or Sicily. I'll be on my own, and have been to Rome before (not to Sicily). I am quite certain I could fill my time in Rome, but I really hate the idea of dining alone, and would be a bit nervous to do so in a big city (I don't know why I find that so scary, and if that's silly, would love dining recommendations). Since I haven't been to Sicily before, that also sounds great, but I'm not sure how I'd fill a full weekend. Would love any suggestions from you or the audience!

I'll admit to my heritage as a Sicilian-American before recommending Sicily. I have a special place in my heart for the island, but I think anyone who loves history and good food would enjoy Sicily. Agrigento's Valley of the Temples, the Greek theater in Taormina & the ruins of Siracusa could keep me occupied for days. And just wandering around the towns and villages is interesting. If you're a woman, it's a still a little old-school there as far as dining alone, but in tourist areas, such as Taormina and Cefalu, you should be fine. 

Is there any chance an airline will agree to adjust an itinerary free of charge -- if their own schedule change creates a much shorter than anticipated layover that could lead to a missed connection? My family's annual international trip requires some careful planning to get the Oklahoma wing of the family and DC wing of the family (me) on the same international flight. I just received a schedule change notification from United indicating that the 3-hour Dulles layover I had booked for them prior to our Frankfurt flight is now a one-hour layover due to their OKC-Dulles direct flight departing later than originally booked back in October. I realize this is well over the minimum layover time Dulles lists for domestic to international connections, but given the unpredictability of Oklahoma weather in May, we'd much prefer a greater margin of error so I don' find myself heading on to Germany alone with no clear idea when they (parents and brother) will be joining me. They're willing to fly the day before or take non-direct, very early morning flights to arrive in DC earlier (aka when they were originally scheduled to arrive). Any experience with United agreeing to be helpful in situations like this if you ask really, really nicely for a worse but earlier flight? Seems like you've addressed issues like this lately, but I can't find it. Thanks!

I would start by calling United and asking for them to change the flights. My guess is that they'll do it without a charge. Let us know what happens. 

Stayed in a hotel in Alexandria VA in 2012 which offered shuttle van service to the Old Alexandria metro and all the restaurants and sights in the area. Very hot weather so it was a treat. Return trip arranged in advance or we could call the van service when ready to return. Cannot recall the name of the hotel but it was near Trader Joes and a good Italian restaurant.

The Hotel Mercure in Zurich has a small TV monitor in the bathroom right above the sink so that you can watch TV while you shave, shower, etc.

My family is thinking about spending a few days at Clearwater Beach in early May. Do you know if the water temperature will be warm enough to swim in? If not, are there other beaches you'd recommend in Florida at that time of year? Looking for a place that's easy to fly into, would prefer not to rent a car. Thank you!

Yes, it will be warm enough to swim. The average sea temperature in May is around 77 degrees

Afternoon all! I'll be flying out of IAD to ICN (Seoul) next week. I've heard that there is a secondary TSA check right before boarding at which point liquids purchased at the terminal is then confiscated. As it will be a long haul flight, I plan on purchasing bottled water at the terminal but am now concerned I will have to discard prior to boarding. Have any of you experienced this? Don't want to have to keep on relying on the flight attendants for measly cups of water in flight. Thanks!

Some foreign airports don't allow liquids onboard, even ones purchased after security. I had to chug my water before I boarded the plane in Doha, for example. However, to my knowledge (we are double-checking with our TSA expert), Dulles permits travelers to carry on liquids bought post-security. In any event, you can always ask a flight attendant to fill your empty bottle.

I'm taking a trip to Reykjavik and Aukureyri, and it was easy to find suggestions for Reykjavik. Aukureyri is still a bit of mystery to me, so I throw myself on your collective wisdom. Help?

Well, the area has a web site, so that should help. Other advice?

Hi Travelers, my husband and I are going to Turks and Caicos this weekend. I keep missing the chats, hence the last minute question of what activities and restaurants would you recommend? I am 6 months pregnant (doctor gave me the go-ahead to travel) so certain activities, like horseback riding, are prohibited. Thanks for your insight and advice!

Have a read of our Turks and Caicos story from last fall's Caribbean issue, and be sure to check out the details box for recommendations. You can swim, parasail (well, maybe not at 6 months pregnant), head out to the coral reef and more or just laze around on the beach. Sounds idyllic. And let's ask the chatters to weigh in as well. Any restaurant or other recommendations, people?

We stay at Land's End Inn in Provincetown on Cap Cod. The inn provides wine and snacks every day at 5:00. It's our favorite amenity! We meet other guests who congregate on the large porch, and we can relax and unwind while we decide what to do with our evening.

I really like it when hotels and B&Bs do this too. Really helps keep me from getting too hangry before dinner.

Different canal, but we had a "self-drive" canal boat a few years back in England, and it was wonderful. I'll bet September in Wales will be a bit chilly, but it should be pleasant enough -- except, of course, for traversing locks in the rain. But the overall experience was excellent, and I would do it again.

Just a reminder that housekeepers rely on tipping as part of their compensation. Even if they don't service your room for a day or so, they get it ready for your arrival and clean up when you leave. If you don't have them clean during your stay you are saving them labor, but to do so to save in tips is to deny them part of expected compensation. I wish this wasn't the case, but it is.

I had left the cord for charging my phone at home. I asked the concierge to help me out - and they 'lent' me a cord. I asked if I had to give it back and they said: nah, someone left it here - it's from lost and found...

How nice, but I hope that guest didn't call back looking for their cord!

Try the Hyatt regency Tamaya, in the valley of the Rio Grande between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Lovely resort, with lots of activities.

Sounds nice, but it'll be hot there in summer. 

In the article on hotel lobbies, it says, "The centerpiece of the new space is a combination coffee shop and bar (insert joke here)." What's the joke supposed to be? I honestly can't think of a punch line where the set up involves a coffee shop and a bar. I figure I should ask you all before asking Gene Weingarten.

I guess I was getting at the opposite effects of caffeine and alcohol. Sorry if that was unclear or not funny enough.

You included this as a $2000 option, but flights alone would be about $1500. Am I missing something here? Thanks.

I honestly didn't do a full budget. But camping is not very expensive. Some national parks just charge an entry fee ($10 per person for a 24-hour visit) or a nominal fee ($5).

Here is a list of charges.

I have favorite and least favorite hotel amenities. Favorite amenities: the complimentary soaps and shampoos in the bathroom, the business centers, swimming pools and hot tubs, free breakfast serving areas. Least favorite amenities: Unstaffed or overpriced gift shops and complicated alarm clocks. Regarding the former, a Doubletree Hotel property outside Philly has an unstaffed gift shop, where, after the customer chooses his or her item(s), they have to it/them to the front desk to pay for the merchandise. Regarding the latter, can hotels and other inns re-think the concept that a complicated to re-set alarm clock is not a good item? Instead, they could buy a whole bunch of Radio Shack clocks: the device has bright digits, it's easy to set the time, alarm and volume of the buzzer, and the clock doesn't cost an arm and leg. I have one at home.

Looks like my husband, 9 yr old son, and I will have the time and money for a spring break trip the first week of April. We'll be flying out of Chicago and the flights to Las Vegas are plentiful and cheap. My question for you is, do you think Vegas will be overrun with other spring breakers, particularly college age partiers? We'll be targeting magic shows, aquariums, and other family friendly venues, so maybe my quiet little family can co-exist with any wild party animals?

Most colleges have spring break in March. You should be fine. 

One of those weird toilets with heated seats and incomprehensible symbols in Japan. I kind of enjoyed pressing random buttons to see what would happen.

If I only have one week in England, should I stay in London or would I have time to see some of the countryside? If the answer is yes, what would be a good second home base?

If you've never been before, you could easily spend an entire week in London and still not see everything there is to see. But if you want to see the countryside, then sure, take a day trip or two. You could go in any direction, but a few suggestions are Canterbury (seat of the Church of England, home to the famous cathedral where Thomas a Becket was slain); Chawton (country village where Jane Austen spent her last days) and Winchester (another cathedral, lots of history); Bath (more Austen, plus it's gorgeous); or Stratford on Avon (Shakespeare). You could get to any of these places via train or bus in just a couple of hours. Chatters, your thoughts?

Are located right next to each other. If you start early, you can totally do both. My husband and I spent the day at Disneyland and the late afternoon/evening at CA Adventure. Fun times!

For the chatter with kids going to Disneyland or CA Adventure, I pick Disneyland every time. There is just more to do for all ages. It's full of the rides you remember as a kid (or have seen on TV or whatever): Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Toon Town for the little one, Matterhorn, Small World, Storybookland for the little one, etc. and there's just more to do. Of course, CAA is less crowded (and has a Starbucks), but for the money, I'd go Disneyland.

Sometimes if you meet a person who doesn't speak your language, and you don't speak theirs, it may turn out that you both know at least a little of a third language. E.g., once in Portugal I was seated for dinner with a nice couple from Italy who spoke no Portuguese or English. Fortunately we all knew a little French, plus it happens that some Portuguese words sound similar in Italian (although spelled a bit differently), so we wound up having a delightful dinner conversation after all!

Lovely! There are always ways around those language barriers.

not really an amenity, but we were staying at a hotel in bend, OR and lamenting that, it being christmas eve, nothing was open, so we stayed in and had the food that was in our room (we had bought the day before for dinner) but husband and I wanted some wine. I went to the front desk for something else (ice for an injury) and was lookign around the gift shop when....lo and behold! they sold wine in the gift shop! it was AWESOME that they did. Having just moved to OR from GA that was unheard of to me! So I got a bottle and that was great to have with dinner.

Which of the islands would you recommend for a posse of teenagers?

I'd consider Oahu or the Big Island. Maui, maybe. It's more of a honeymoon destination, although my kids love it there.

In Asia, the Conrad brand of hotels provides a yours-to-keep mini-stuffed animal with turndown service: bears in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo; elephants in Bangkok; monkeys in Bali. In addition, there are rubber ducks (elephants in Bangkok), that are also yours to take home.


The link doesn't work for me. Is it the system? Otherwise I'll email you after the chat to get the link. Thank you!

Yes, we are apparently having linking problems. Feel free to email and I'll get you the link. Sorry about this!

The turn down service at the Raffles in Phnom Penh leaves a card on your pillow each night with a different short story. The most memorable was a colonial-era travel memoir about a visit to an opium den. There are also historic photos of Jacqueline Kennedy's 1967 visit to Cambodia in the corridor - what a neat thing to see!

Previously, on Talk about Travel, someone asked a question about nerdy looking compression socks. I stumbled on Support-Like-Crazy-Compression-Knee-Highs at a site called goldviolin. They come in a variety of florals (and one leopard?). I gifted some for Valentine's day -- very cool looking, no report on effectiveness yet. I wanted to thank you for your Christmas Market suggestions, I'm really liking the idea of a river cruise. As I look around, there appear to be a number of attractive February sales, which gives me only 4 days to make up my mind. Is this typical? And are these the best prices I am likely to see? (I think Viking was 2 for 1).

Thanks for the info on the colorful compression knee highs. Sky Mall also sells them. As for river cruises, the luxury lines do offer some very good sales on an almost-constant basis, but these ships sell out. Two-for-one with free airfare is about as good as it gets. Make sure you check with the line to find out how they handle it if the river is too low to cruise. Will they require that you go on the trip and get on a bus instead of the ship? Or will they refund your money or at least allow you to switch it to another destination/date? 

The House of Agnes in Canterbury, UK has a 24-hour communal bar that's on the honor system- take a drink, add your name and room number to the list, and pay when you settle the bill for your stay. It's in the hotel's game and puzzle room, which can make for some VERY convivial times with fellow guests indeed!

The lesser crowds at California Adventure made it the more enjoyable park for us as parents, but I agree that the 3 year old will have more to ride at Disneyland. Check for discount tickets--you might find a park hopper pass at a price that makes it possible to do both. We did!

I have the time, and I have a bit of money - and I would absolutely love to take a random trip - take a week off, go to the airport, and see what catches my eye and is open. Even deciding a few days in advance would be ok, if not as exciting. But is there any way of doing the flight part in a way that wouldn't break the bank? Is there any way to really get an empty seat at a last-minute discount nowadays? It seems the airlines would rather let the seat go empty than sell it cheap, and standby sure isn't what it used to be.

It is nearly impossible to find a cheap last-minute flight these days, since so many of the good deals require advance purchase. However, some carriers will still have their cheaper seats available close to the departure date. For example, Southwest/AirTran, and Frontier. You could also check some of the discount air Web sites, such as Cheapoair. For instance, the site has a last-minute travel deal section with a $256 fare for BWI to Chicago (depart March 5-12).

I always book my rental car through Priceline. I've never had a problem and I usually save a lot. Once I had an economy car 5 days in Los Angeles for $55 total

I don't think it's possible to miss it, but make sure to see the open-air market (on Market street) and sample the pralines at the candy stores along that strip. My family always enjoys Fleet Landing for a casual meal.

Yes, the market, of course! Thanks for the reminder.

Hello, we live in Washington Dc and are going to live in London for a year or two starting September. We would live to do a home exchange for a year or two. Can you recommend websites or agents who can help us? given the timing, this could work well for an academic coming over here - are there special websites for universities? thanks for your help with this.

I just did a quick Internet search and came across It's BBB-accredited and has an A+ rating from the group, so that might be worth looking into.

Other thoughts?

Why would credit cards die off? Credit card users enjoy legal protections that are not available for debit cards, e-checks or outright cash. Maybe banks and merchants should negotiate lower fees to accommodate the lower processing costs resulting from automation, but I would hate to have to pay cash upfront for an online purchase, particularly a big one, and then hope/beg for a refund if something goes wrong. is credit card use really declining?

True, credit cards offer some protections, but many of the ones we rely on are in compliance with federal laws, such as the Fair Credit Billing Act. Those same protections can be applied to other, more efficient payment methods. And no, credit card use is not declining -- but nothing lasts forever.

This seems such a small thing, but it makes a big difference to me! I love hotels that feature small reading lamps (such as those on movable "arms" attached to the headboard) that can be dimmed. I frequently read myself to sleep, and most bedside lamps in hotels have high wattage, which makes this impossible.


We are planning to stay on Pass-A-Grille Beach in St. Pete's for 6 nights. Is that too long for that spot? Would you recommend splitting our time and heading to Siesta Key or another locale in that area? Thanks.

Most likely, you will start feeling beach fever after a day or two and will need to explore. But Pass-a-Grille is a good base for day trips. You can go north to Clearwater, south to Sarasota and over the bridge to Tampa. Make sure to visit the Dali museum, and try to catch one of the special events (film series, breakfast with Dali, etc.). Also visit the sponge docks and Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs.

Here are some ideas in Tampa to save for a rainy (or windy) day.

You folks have inspired me - someone recommended Buenos Aires as a destination a little while ago, and after an unexpectedly large tax refund, I'm going! I have a question about airlines, though - on the usual search engines, flights pretty much start at about 1200 and go up - except for one airline, which is at 750. If it's too good to be true... can you tell me anything about Avianca Aerovias? Thanks.

Avianca, based in Colombia, is part of the Star Alliance and recently merged with TACA. It's been around almost as long as KLM (est. 1920).

In short: It's true, it really is true.

Take the train to either Windsor Castle or Hampton Court. Hampton Court is at the end of a train line. IIRC you get on the train at Waterloo Station. Walk across the Thames, and you're there! There is also the maze and the original "tennis court."

Yesyesyes. Love both of those. We paired Wimbledon with Hampton Court, although in retrospect we should have allowed for much more time at the palace. We spent a good portion of a day at Windsor.

It's a nice little town! Up the hill behind the major hotel(s), look for the Arctic Gardens...nicely laid out and beautiful views from up there. There are a couple of small but nice art museums. It's a university town, so also plenty of good people watching...and if you catch the Northern lights- amazing!

I visited Normandy last April. The weather was a tad chilly but the nice tradeoff was very few other tourists. I'd suggest April or May before the hordes arrive. I recommend the Hotel Reine Mathilde in Bayeux. Bayeux is a good base for visiting the American invasion beaches and the Band of Brothers sights. Make your first stop the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Unforgettable!


there are also many translation apps for your electronic gizmos


they say the language of love is universal.....:)

All right then!

Me again (the one who went in Dec. with 3 kids). Many people are saying you can do both with Park Hopper in one day. Technically true and good for you if your kids have that kind of stamina (or don't mind lots of walking for not much payoff). We could not do it -- the 5YO was just DONE after Disney. I think a 3YO would not fare much better. If you can do both, great, but it is a lot of walking for one day. Also, get there as soon as it opens if at all possible.

A locked door on the bathroom. I didn't get all the details, but it seems that there was something VERY wrong with the toilet and the only reason I didn't have to experience it was because a clever person on the maintenance staff locked the bathroom door. Seems he (quite rightly) didn't trust the front desk to take his warning not to rent out the room. I got a different room and the problem stayed safely hidden.

We receievd 2 Sazerac glasses, and the recipe at the Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans, home of the famous Sazerac Bar and proported inventors of the drink. Some Peychaud Bitters would have been perfect, but that may be asking too much?

We are renting a cabin in June at Lake Skanaeteles, one of the Finger Lakes in Central New York. We will spend most of our week there enjoying our lakeside cabin, but plan to venture out for a couple of day trips. What are some highlights of the Finger Lakes region? Thanks.

The Finger Lakes are a lovely area. Lots of cute little towns. In Ithaca, there's of course Cornell University, which has some good museums, like the Johnson Museum of Art. The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning is fabulous. In Seneca Falls, there's the Womens Rights National Historic Park, which includes the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. What else, chatters?

While renting a car in Florida, I suffered a flat tire. The rental car place (Fox) told me that if I could take it to [National Tire Chain X] they'd give me a new tire for free, but there were no locations within the range of my spare, so I wound up having to pay out of pocket for a new tire. Do I have any recourse to get my money back, on the grounds that I had no choice but to go somewhere else?

You might. I list some executive contacts for Fox on my site. I would start by sending a brief, polite email through its site, and then, if necessary, appealling to one of the executives. Please let me know what happens.

The chatter posting about getting a phrase book and learning at least a little of the language before going is spot on! Croatian isn't easy, unless you have experience with another Slavic language, but the payoff can be tremendous. When I visited Greece, Turkey, and Brazil (not all in one trip!), knowing only what I had been able to pick up from the first-level Pimsleur course, the locals were thrilled that I was even trying to speak their language, and I think I got more out of the trips than I otherwise would have.

Yes, learn a bit of the lingo -- even just 'please' and 'thank you.' It'll earn you many many bonus points from the locals!

Every country in the world I've visited - including and especially those who have non-Roman alphabets - have put street signs and train announcements in English in addition to the native language. I haven't been to Croatia so it's possible they're the exception to the rule, but I'd be surprised.

Yup, good point.

I've also used Hotwire to rent cars when I have firm travel dates. You save some money because you are pre-paying.

Thanks. I've also used Hotwire, and it also worked as promised.

I have driven in Croatia (to the area around Rovinj). I think an international drivers permit is a good idea - it just helps the police understand more quickly who you are.

My point exactly, thanks!

I was there a zillion years ago - but right now they are advertising the 'park bands' the new way they are doing the I don't know if that is for both parks. I have heard awesome things about it from people who are disney club members and have used them in FL - so right now they are experimenting on people who don't have the inside scoop. So I don't know if that is JUST at disneyland or also at CA.

Yeah, I just got a mailing about those bands the other day. I may get to Orlando this fall, so I hope to be able to try them then.

Going with a friend in April. Have booked our flights in and out of Auckland but not much else. The big question: North Island or South Island? We both live in Southern California so beaches are not high on our list of must-sees. What would you recommend for the first-time visitor?

I would drive around the South Island, which has an amazing mix of glaciers, mountains, extreme sports' activities, Maori culture and the stunning Milford Sound. The tourism office lists some inspirational sample itineraries, such as the eight-day Christchurch loop that includes Fox Glacier, the old mining town of Greymouth, Queenstown and the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. 


I am coming up with outrageous rates for the end of March. Any suggestions for deal hunting? Anyone have any experience with the lower priced companies such as Sixt, Payless or Fox?

Try Hotwire, Priceline, Autoslash and CarRentals (run by Expedia). As for the discount companies, check online reviews. I stopped using Hotwire for renting cars in Los Angeles, for example, because it always sent me to Fox, and Fox always gave me a PT Cruiser, which I hated (and which are no longer made and no longer the dominant rental car for discount companies).  

Am looking to travel in the 3rd week of April, would like something low key and relaxing to celebrate the end of a stressful work project (which is why all-inclusive sounds so appealing, but I am open to other low key options.) I love the water and sun, but my boyfriend doesn't know how to swim. Is there a place that would be a good compromise for us? Thanks for your help!

All-inclusives emphasize the sun-and-surf, so your boyfriend may not be all that happy, unless he is content to sit poolside with a book and a mai tai. If he's OK with relaxing, take a look at all-inclusive packages from companies such as Liberty Travel, Vacation Express and Apple Vacations.  If not, maybe go to a town in  Florida where he can do other things. 

A friend of mine was recently robbed at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. It's something that never occurred to me, so people should be aware. He was playing a video slot game and was up by a significant sum. A random stranger sat next to him, but he wasn't actively playing the adjoining machine, just clicking around to check payouts and rules. When my friend pressed "Cash Out", the stranger tossed a wallet on the floor and exclaimed, "Hey, is that your wallet?!" When my friend looked down, the stranger grabbed the cash out ticket and beat feat out of there, He cashed the ticket less than 2 minutes later, so too late for security to do anything. Just a reminder to folks to be aware of your surroundings!

Wow. Thanks for the heads up. Always be aware, people!

".... Those same protections can be applied to other, more efficient payment methods." Sure, they COULD BE, but at present they are NOT. Unlike credit cards, debit cards, e-payments etc. take money out of your bank account at the time of the transaction and send it to someone else, who might use it as you expect, or not, or just disappear. In any case your money is gone. The laws could be revised, but they would have to transfer some of the risk to your bank, which would in turn have to result in increased bank fees.

Most flight attendants will not refill your water bottle during the drink service. They are using bottles to refill clean glasses and it isn't sanitary to refill your personal water bottle that you have been drinking out of.

In my experience, the flight attendants have kindly filled my bottle using a new bottle of water. They can't hand over the bottle but they can transport the water from container to container. Or they will give me a few smaller unopened bottles. I also ask before they start the service.

however, chris, as you have written many times, sites like vrbo offer one no protection if one wires money - even if someone somewhere is supposed to be complying by some laws. then your money is gone. with credit cards, your credit card company has a lot of clout, much more than you as an individual have.

Tour a winery!

I'm amazed by people, such as Andrea, who don't use hotel housekeeping services. For someone's who's too messy at home, it's a joy to come back to my hotel room and have a beautifully made bed and fresh, or nicely rehung towels. I ALWAYS tip, every day, and pretty generously -- sometimes $5 a day or more. To me it's well worth it.

Since I am just one person and I don't spend much time in my room, I am happy to make my own bed and clean up after myself. I also feel that they could probably use the break. But maybe I am overly sensitive because I have worked in the service industry.

Hi crew, Any ideas for a hotel in Baltimore with a small child? We'd be looking to do the usual touristy stuff (Inner Harbor, Aquarium), but would love other ideas.

I'd say that any hotel with room service and a pool should do the trick! Be sure to go to Fort McHenry.

I think it is time to update this information. Some of the lower cost busses have moved their pick up/drop off points to be quite a bit further west. Not a problem if you are fairly nimble, have limited luggage and there isn't any snow on the sidewalks. It can be a problem if the previous three conditions aren't all met.

I am not sure if you are referring to points in NYC or DC. But a few still pick up in the Dupont area and drop off in Midtown (and vice-versa). But maybe we will consider an update. Thanks!

That does it for us today. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Sorry about the linking problem -- those might be back up and running if you check in later on the transcript. You all shared some really cool hotel amenities, but I'll award the prize to the person who told us about the bedtime stories in Phnom Penh. Please send your name and mailing address to me at and I'll get something out to you shortly.

Until next week, happy traveling!

In This Chat
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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