Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Oct 19, 2020

Join us to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc.!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel! This week we took a look at the influx of visitors to Vermont. Do you have a destination to recommend in the Green Mountain State? Tell us about it below. Most compelling pitch wins a handsome Washington Post mug. 

Flagging here for everyone to bookmark: The Post's live chats live here. And you can find Talk About Travel archives at the top of the section's landing page.

As always, here's the link to the Post's coronavirus live blog, which is continuously updated. You can also sign up here for the Post's Coronavirus Updates newsletter; all stories linked in the newsletter are free to access. 

Let's get going with your questions!

Thank you so much for these chats! My daughter is moving from the East Coast to L.A. at the end of November and I will (COVID allowing) be driving with her and then flying back. My son lives in KCMO so our plan for the first half of the trip is to get there as quickly and painlessly as possible. We are allowing ourselves 4-6 days for the second half of the trip so we can explore a bit of the Southwest - it will be the first time for both of us. We were thinking about spending a couple of days in Santa Fe and/or Taos and we, of course, have to see the Grand Canyon. I'd love some suggestions on what part of the Grand Canyon we should head to - it's awfully big! - and on anything else we should try to include. I have no doubt that we could spend months exploring that part of the country, but hope to make the best of our limited time so recommendations would be very much appreciated!

That sounds like an awesome road trip. For the Canyon, I'd head over to the visitors center on the South Rim. I'd also recommend checking out Sedona, which has some beautiful rock formation and will probably be a little warmer in November. Chatters, any recommended stops for a West Coast adventure?

Any chances to visit??? I am ready to drive now weather permitting. Toronto or Montreal.

Canada isn't welcoming us at this time. Border is closed till Oct. 21 and indications are the closure will be extended. 

On July 17, 2020, I bought a ticket from DC to Whitefish MT in June 2021 based on the following cancellation policy written on the Amtrak website: "Amtrak is waiving all cancellation fees for reservations made by 8/31/2020. This includes reservations made with points. If you want to cancel your reservation without a fee, call 1-800-USA-RAIL and speak with an agent." In early August I sent the following email to Amtrak's general inquiries email address: "I have a question about your current cancellation and change policy. When I booked the above reservation, your site stated that any reservation booked before 8/31/2020 would have no change or refund charge. I assumed it meant that I could cancel or change at any time without a charge. When I added a person to my roomette, I spoke to an Amtrak representative who said that policy meant I could cancel or change before 8/31/2020 with no charge. She said because I have a room, I can cancel at no charge only at 121 days or more before the travel. Can you provide the correct interpretation? I see now that Amtrak has extended the same policy until 9/30/2020 and I want to understand it before I book any other travel." I got an email from Amtrak on September 3rd saying they would get back to me but they never did. Can you recommend someone else to contact at Amtrak on this issue? I don't know whether in February we will know enough about what the the COVID situation will be in early June to realistically make a decision to cancel or not at that time. I thought the website cancellation policy was pretty straightforward but did I just interpret it the way I wanted it to be? Thanks for your opinion and help.

Unfortunately, the correct interpretation is Amtrak's. Like every travel company, they write the rules and they interpret them however they want. But that doesn't mean you're out of options. You can appeal this to a manager at Amtrak. Here are a few Amtrak executive contacts.

Do you expect any chance of skiing this winter? Particularly in either Utah or Colorado? Thanks!

Yes, we did a piece recently on the 2020 ski season, you can read it here.

So after weeks of looking, the Bryant Park Holiday Market will open, with modifications. Am I crazy to take Amtrak up to NYC? I'm really overdue for a trip.

You are correct, the holiday shops will be open beginning Oct. 30 with modifications. Make sure you check New York's list of restricted states. Right now, Virginia is on it, but Maryland and DC are not. As for taking Amtrak, currrently it is waiving all change fees for reservations made by December 31 and all cancellation fees through October 31. Amtrak says it is doing enhanced cleanings and limiting bookings on reserved trains. You can also now see what percentage of a particular train's seats are booked. 

Please tell me Andrea Sachs would not seriously consider returning “lightly used” polar travel gear—the only jarring note in an otherwise delightful article. I think readers deserve a bit of clarification, and then maybe a piece on what you do with the odd clothes and gear from destinations or climates you’ll never again visit...

Thank you and to clarify: We bought a ton of gear that we never wore, but we did pack it. So it's not still-in-the-packaging new but it is close. REI has a very good return policy: Our gear will allow future polar explorers to suit up for less than new equipment.

In addition to returning it, you can give it away, of course, or sell it at a consignment shop. For winter wear, try shops near ski resorts. Anchorage has some great second-hand clothing stores as well.

In response to my recent queries in the chat, I received several useful tips for my first airplane travel since January, to see an elderly parent. (I would not have traveled otherwise.) Thank you again to all who responded—I so appreciate the expertise of the Wash Post folks and the chatters. Here’s a brief report on the round trip, which included a layover in Atlanta and a destination of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Delta does not fill middle seats. They constantly reminded passengers about social distancing. Most complied, but not always. They had passengers board the planes from the rear forward, which worked well. They asked while deplaning that everyone stand up one row at a time and allow each other plenty of space. That plan worked well on two flights; not so much on the other two. Mask wearing was almost 100%. But on one flight, I had to ask the man in my aisle’s window seat to pull his mask over his nose. He complied and left it up for the entire flight, so I thankfully didn’t have to involve a flight attendant. I wish the flight attendants had done a final pre-takeoff mask check along with their usual final safety check. On another flight, I noticed a man who wore his mask only when we were in the air. At ATL’s Terminal B, the kiosks and a few shops are closed. The touch screens that provide info on shops and restaurants are gone. The food court was packed with mask-less folks, especially at the sit-down restaurant, so I grabbed something from Wendy's and left ASAP to eat elsewhere in relative solitude. The ABQ shuttle bus to the rental-car center limited the number of passengers, but I still had to sit right next to another person, which made me uncomfortable, even for the brief trip. Per advice I gleaned in this chat, I selected a place with a Superhost who was following optional Covid-cleaning protocols. It was a stylish, convenient, and clean place, with a responsive host and nice amenities. I’ll try Airbnb again based on this experience.

Thanks for the report. 

Great article by Andrea Sachs -- except for that first paragraph where she hinted at "returning" travel clothing that was only worn a few times to the store. Please, don't even think of that. Anything that has been worn (other than in the fitting room) should not be returned for a refund or exchange. If still wearable, donate to a local charity that takes used clothing...

I just replied to this comment but will explain again that we bought a ton of clothes that we removed from the packaging but never wore. It was not correct to say it was new, since it did mingle with our other garments. And REI does discount some returned items, so future adventurers can afford high-quality gear for less.

We enjoyed our visit to Hildene a few years ago. It was the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of Abe's to reach adulthood. Lots of history to see, from Pullman cars to goats to an electric pipe organ in the house. Trails to walk between the sites or a little wagon to shuttle you if you don't feel like walking. Probably the one thing that surprised me the most (SPOILER ALERT) is that Abe has no currently living descendants. Robert and his wife had kids, but none of Robert's grandchildren had children. The last died in 1985.

Two Vermont favorites: I loved touring the Rock of Ages quarry in Barre, Vermont as a kid and have been back there several times in the decades since then. Currently closed to outsiders due to the pandemic, the quarry normally offers guided tours of their granite quarrying operations as well as their granite carving facility. If you ever wanted to learn about how those tombstones are made, this is the place for you. Even if you never thought about how they are made, still go. I promise you'll find it interesting. The Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT is also well worth a spot on your Vermont travels, especially if you have kids in tow. At the moment, the museum is only open online, but post-Covid should return to their usual in-person experience. There are lots of buildings/vessels that have been relocated to the sprawling museum -- from a steamship to a post-modern home to a lighthouse to a circular barn. There are also exhibits on art, design, and historical topics.

Definitely the Cog Train on the White Mountains!

I took a quick trip to Boston over the weekend, flying both ways. People generally followed mask guidelines, but I had some challenges asking laggards to comply. My seat mate on the return flight had his mask down, then up but not over his nose, and when I said ‘May I ask you to please pull up your mask?’ he did so while saying sarcastically, ‘I’ll try’. I encountered a masked couple in the hotel elevator who asked me questions about Boston, and when I indicated I would answer when we were in the lobby (CDC advises not to talk on elevators,) the man said to forget it and as I walked away the woman said ‘enjoy your paranoia.’ On arrival at DCA, an apparently college-age group congregated at the baggage claim and most were not wearing masks. Signs and announcement clearly called for masks, but there was no airport staff in sight – and thus no enforcement. I couldn’t leave without my luggage and did not feel safe, nor did I feel comfortable speaking up given the two previous experiences. Note that those in and around Boston could not have been nicer or more mask compliant – these encounters were with travelers. This was my first trip during the pandemic. I think travel can work if people are considerate, and these encounters are discouraging. I would appreciate advice from you or readers on how to address such challenges. Thank you.

I think I'd do as you did in these situations. Ask politely when you can't move away. Had the person not responded positively, you could ask the flight attendant. If there are no official personnel, just get as far away as possible. As for the elevator crowd, I would pretend I don't understand.

Does anyone have a favorite dog-friendly hotel in DC? Trying to do a little staycation but I don't want to be away from my pup or pay for a sitter or kennel. Are hotels less into having pets stay because of the virus?

If anything, I think hotels have become more flexible and welcoming to guests with dogs. They have to be, because there are so many covid puppies!

My favorite is the Line Hotel in Adams Morgan; the lobby feels like back stage at the Westminster Dog Show (at least it did before covid). Kimpton hotels also have a great pet policy.

I've never been to Vermont, but if that were to happen, I would visit the Ben & Jerry Ice Cream plant and places that process maple syrup. Aside from those establishments and because I'm not a skier, I have no desire to see the famed ski resorts at Stowe. The next part of my trip would include visiting the hometown of my late deceased relative in Western Mass and to one of the big casinos in Connecticut before taking a plane back to DCA.

In Norwich, Vermont, the King Arthur Baking Company store and baking school. My spouse and I stumbled upon it pre-kids. Now, I can't wait to do a girls' trip for a long weekend of baking baguettes and all sorts of things. Post-COVID, it's on the top of my list.

I adore Vermont. My uncle lives there and so I am painfully aware that even Massachusetts is on Vermont's "you can't travel here unless you quarantine for two weeks after you arrive" list. So, in no particular order, St. Johnsbury has all sorts of miniature versions of things you might think of as big city amenities like a science museum. Adore it. The last 20 or so miles of the Appalachian Trail before you cross over into New Hampshire are lovely, though they lack the bald peaks you get after you get deeper into the White Mountains. There is a particularly quaint old cemetery in that stretch with grim poetry about death on head stones. And back in the day, you tramped through a town that had a gas toilet you could use in the library, I think. Plus a chance to buy ice cream at the general store. And, honestly, Burlington does a terrific job in the downtown area on the Friday after Thanksgiving with buskers and some live reindeer to look at. I like the used book store where I found an obscure volume called "Puritans in Babylon" about Americans plundering the the Near East for ancient artifacts. It wasn't just the Brits.

Hi Travel Team, do you think that traveling by car is the wisest course this holiday season? Or can we expect significantly fewer people flying?

I just finished a story on this topic. I lean toward flying because it takes less time. If you can minimize contact with restaurants and hotels while you're driving, it's pretty safe. Nothing is 100 percent safe, though.

Hello, I'm planning to ski this winter in the Tahoe area. Is it safe to rent gear such as jackets, skis, and goggles? Do I need to save money to buy my own gear? I'm not a big ski person so I don't imagine I'd use this stuff more than once a year maximum (this is my first time going), but I also don't want to not be able to return it if I buy it. Help

Renting skis, poles and helmets is probably fine. But I would buy your own jacket and gloves.

We did a 4 week roadtrip to LA and back. What I regret not doing: the Meteor crater, all of the National Parks so close together in Arizona (Petrified Forest, Walnut Canyon, Grand Canyon rim) which we did in too short a time. We did do the helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, drove the South Rim in 2 hours, and the Skywalk. All took so much time and the Skywalk has so much off road access. I want to see more, but that is not likely now. I became disabled and these are all places to see when walking is not a challenge. The helicopter ride was the best part because we saw the way the river cut the canyon. The Skywalk was also good--the rim is straight down there, not mule train trail accessible as is the Park's rim.

Thank you. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Which Caribbean islands are welcoming American travelers right now?

By welcoming, do you mean with no restrictions? Many are allowing tourists, but restrictions may include a recent negative Covid test or a period of quarantine. The Dominican Republic doesn't require testing or quarantine, but the United States warns against traveling there. 

What about Hoover Dam for a brief visit and Death Valley for perhaps a bit longer stay?

Hoover Dam is worth an afternoon. Death Valley would be good in November -- not so hot. Thanks!

What's the tourist infrastructure like in Puerto Rico these days? Are there travel restrictions for "mainlanders?" Also Hawaii is apparently starting to open up? What are the new rules?

Here's the latest info on Hawaii, with links to other info sources. Like Hawaii, PR requires testing before arrival. There is a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew in Puerto Rico till at least Nov. 13, and bars and clubs remain closed. But public beaches are open. 

Um, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is in New Hampshire, not Vermont. However, Hope Cemetery in Barre, Vermont, is definitely worth a visit. It is a wonderful sculpture garden. The headstones are works of art, you can see some here.

Noted, I think the poster figured it was close enough!

Any suggestions for a Thanksgiving or Christmas week getaway within one day's driving distance of NOVA. Interested in a scenic "cabin in the woods" experience, but not too far from restaurants and activities. Just need a change of scene where we can maintain healthy distancing.

Look at the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. The town of Davis has some restaurants and breweries, but it's basically a great place to enjoy the outdoors. 

Hi, I would like some help in determining what kind of travel insurance plan I would need for a trip to Antarctica and who are the reliable companies that I should go with.

You can compare travel insurance policies at Web sites such as SquareMouth, InsureMyTrip and QuoteWright. And ask your tour operator. 

Where would you recommend that a family with teens in the DMV area go for a brief getaway during the holidays? How are the big resorts like the Homestead and Greenbrier handling covid safety?

If your kids are active, try a resort like Wintergreen or Deep Creek. If they are city-teens, go to NYC or Philly, which at the very least will look festive. Or maybe Williamsburg? (Not the DMV, but I didn't think Takoma Park was far enough away.)

Major hotels, and small ones too, are being transparent about their safety guidelines. All you need to do is look online. Here are the ones for the Homestead, for example. What matters more than what they say is what they do, and enforce. So,  call before you book and ask about how/if they are enforcing masks in public places.

This well-regarded company offers all kinds of guided trips in the Grand Canyon, including one where you stay in a hotel and take day hikes. (Disclaimer: My sibling is a guide for the company.)

We'll allow the plug, as the company does have very good reviews. 

Please tell me the best way to find the safest places to stop on a road trip from the DMV to Fort Lauderdale. I will be stopping in Chapel Hill to visit with family but, from there on, I will be traveling at a leisurely pace since I am driving solo. Are rest areas safer than restaurants or gas stations for bathroom breaks? Is there any sort of guide other than just using Waze?

I stopped in two I-95 service areas this past weekend, and had no issues. Both were clean. I wore a K95 mask and was in and out as quickly as possible. Newer rest stops are much better, as they have automatic entry doors and touch-free restroom facilities, but not sure how you can determine the year they were built unless you've been traveling the same route for a long time. Chatters have thoughts? 

Are a lot of people wearing the face shields while flying these days? Do they really add anything?

My friend does (over a mask), but she is in the minority. Most passengers are wearing cloth masks. Here is the CDC's position on face shields.

I'm not likely to visit Antarctica anytime soon -- or maybe ever -- but if I do, could I rent the specialized one-trip only gear that you bought? As a percentage of your total cost it was probably small, but it's still substantial.

Yes, you can.  Many Antarctica tour operators have partnerships with gear outfitters that rent items to passengers. Here is one example. Passengers also receive a jacket and rental boots, so you really just need undergarments and gloves.

Don't forget to "Get Your Kicks on Route 66"! There are many websites/guidebooks about what to see along the route, but the highway will take you from Santa Fe through Winslow, AZ (where you can stand on a corner) to Williams, AZ which is about 75 minutes south of the Grand Canyon visitor center. The place bills itself as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon" and there are lots of places to stay between Williams and the visitor center if you don't want to stay inside the park.

Yes, both great suggestions. Thanks!

 

Just for your information, prime minister Trudeau announces that the border will remain closed until Nov. 21 and since we are in the middle of the second wave in Canada and that Toronto and Montreal are both in red zones, I would be really surprised if tourists are allowed soon. Sorry!

Hot off the presses! Thanks for the update. 

As in other areas, how you ask is important. "Cover your face!" is likely to get resistance. "Sir, I see your mask has dropped below your nose" at least gives them a chance to correct an oversight.

Yes, being polite is never a bad idea. 

Spend the night somewhere in the park, get up early and see the sunrise by the El Tovar hotel. Breathtaking! Go inside after for breakfast at what used to be a Harvey restaurant. Find a park schedule and go tour the Kolb studios.

Thanks for the tip.

Do you know if the traditional Christmas attraction in New York City will be up and running as usual this year? Tree at Rockefeller Plaza, holiday shop windows, etc.?

Many of the classic NYC traditions are still on, but without the crowds, such as the Rockefeller tree. Not sure about the department store holiday windows, since the stores have really suffered. We should learn more over the coming weeks.

Note: The Times Square ball drop will be virtual, which is great news for revelers who don't like standing in the cold and have small bladders.

for lunch and buying every baking supply imaginable. We went to VT March 6 and 7 and then a few days later the world imploded here in Boston. Those 36 hrs gave us a lot of joy in retrospect...

St Johnsbury has Dog Mountain, which was featured recently in the Post. It's a lovely place to visit with your dog, and buy some pet related art. Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover doesn't perform their puppet shows in the fall, but their museum of life sized puppets is open. It's a barn filled with puppets from older show. Sometimes they have art for sale made by the puppeteers.

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting, everyone! King Arthur Baking Company fan, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel.

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. 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.
Helen Carefoot
Helen Carefoot is Travel's editorial assistant.
Recent Chats
  • Next: