Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Jun 08, 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 looked at what it's like to go on vacation at a newly reopened resort. Have you traveled since restrictions began to ease? Tell us about it below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Jess Moss's "Easy Weekend Getaways From Washington, D.C.: Short Breaks in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Beyond."

Before we get going, I want to once again share the link for the Post's coronavirus live blog, which is continuously updated with the latest developments. You can also sign up here for the Post's Coronavirus Updates newsletter; all stories linked in the newsletter are free to access.

On to your questions! 

It looks like passengers are required to wear masks from the time they enter the airport until they leave. Does this mean that there is not even beverage service on planes? I can't imagine a cross-country flight without even getting water (or coffee in my case!).

It depends. I've had beverage service on longer flights, but on shorter flights, you'll have to just enjoy that bottled water. And, of course, you're allowed to remove the mask to eat the pretzels.

Hi - My mom is 79, cancer survivor, and in medium health. She still lives alone and is starting to get a little stir crazy. She is a 14 hour drive away, so driving down to get her and bring her to our home is a little daunting. At what point is is safe for folks in her age group to get onto planes and fly? Would a train ride be safer (she could get on Amtrak at Sanford and get here in a day).

The risk is still very real. A lot of folks are saying they won't return to [fill in activity] till we have a vaccine or treatment. That said, a friend of mine did take the train to NJ and said it was empty and the few riders onboard were well-spaced out. If your mom booked a private cabin and brought all of her own food and drinks, plus wiped down the surfaces, she could significantly reduce the risk. To shorten her train ride, could you pick her up halfway?

After waiting 5 weeks for AA to refund me (despite their website still saying it would take 7 days) I made a complaint - as you mentioned several times - to the DoT on 4th May 2020. Although I wasn't expecting an immediate reply it wasn't until today (8th June 2020) that I did and that they would send it (not they had already sent it) to AA. I did actually get my refund a week later (around 14/15th May) but that is obviously a coincidence as AA hadn't had the DoT complaint to chivvy them along but I had sent a web complaint to AA at the same time (which they havn't responsed to either) So people don't rely on the DoT speeding up your refunds!

Thank you for sharing your experience.

We're thinking of renting a vacation house for a week or so during the summer, not too far from home. We're paying attention to cancellation policies, in case the virus flares up. We'll ask about cleaning, and bring at least some of our own food from home. Is there anything else we should be thinking about?

I would bring your own hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, if possible. Clean all the high-touch areas like door handles and TV remotes yourself, especially if you're traveling with kids. Chatters, what are your best vacation rental tips?

In the spirit of optimism and with a good deal we made reservations at an all inclusive resort for December (cost $5,000). Got a good deal on Southwest and bought airline tickets. The hotel is with a major chain, and my credit card will not be charged until 2 weeks before we arrive and we can cancel the day before. The airlines tickets are good for credit but I will lose the money because the credit goes to the ticket holder (my adult kids) not the ticket buyer, me. Also travel insurance covers missed flights like a beltway traffic accident, medical insurance, baggage loss, etc. I am trying to figure how much travel insurance to buy and when. I want insurance for the airline tickets but I don't want to pay insurance for the hotel - at least not yet. So the question is can I buy travel insurance now for the flights and later for the hotel. Or do I not need any insurance for the hotel bill since the insurance for the flight will cover everything other than the hotel bill. The odds that I will need reimbursement on a week long hotel bill that I cancel the night before the trip seems pretty low.

Unfortunately, that's not the way travel insurance works. You're insuring the total cost of your trip, including the hotel and airline tickets. You would have to cancel your trip for a covered reason, unless you buy "cancel for any reason" insurance. And remember, "cancel for any reason" can double the price and only reimburses up to 75 percent of the cost. 

Like Chris Elliott, we're semi-nomads who spend 3+ months per year overseas. So we consider ourselves experienced travelers. Nevertheless we have benefited from guidance provided by the Post's travel team. Our story: in October we purchased tickets on Delta to travel to Australia from early June to early September. Then came the pandemic, Australia closed its borders, and Delta canceled all flights Down Under through May 31. Based on the Post's advice and the link to the DOT's regulations we DID NOT cancel. We waited. And waited. In mid-May we noticed that Delta's DCA-LAX and LAX-SYD flights for early June were no longer available for purchase. We waited. About 4 days later we received an email notifying us our itinerary had been canceled and offering an eCredit. We did not click the link in the email but instead submitted an online refund request (carefully taking a screenshot with a timestamp). We waited. After about 2 weeks (well over the 7-day requirement) we called Delta for an update. The hold-time was only about 20 minutes and the first-line rep immediately processed the refund (specifically saying, "I won't hang up until you have received the emails confirming the refund, there will be one for each passenger"). Although the emails said to allow up to 2 billing cycles, in fact in 2 DAYS the full refund posted to our credit card. Again, THANK YOU for the advice and to all: Do Not Cancel before the airline does!!

I'm so glad you got your money back. Thank you for sharing your story.

Thanks to everyone for taking questions today. What's the latest on travel from the U.S. to Europe this summer? Any developments in the last week? Thanks.

Not much is happening. Portugal is allowing U.S. citizens to enter without quarantining. Iceland will open up later this month, but U.S. citizens will have to have a Covid test done upon arrival. Ireland and the United Kingdom are allowing U.S. citizens to enter, but you have to quarantine for two weeks. 

Do you have any information on the state restaurant areas? Are they going to have extra cleaners in the restrooms? Are they requiring masks? If I drive from DC to PA or MA will I find the rest area safe to stop?

Most all rest stops are open.  My guess is that extra cleaning is happening, but I would bring lots of antibacterial wipes. And I'd pack a cooler full of food and drink. 

When will travel resume between the US and Europe (Germany)? Also, what about passports?

EU countries will open internal borders first, by June 15, according to the latest reports. We don't know when non-EU travelers will be allowed to visit Germany or other countries in Europe. Not sure what you are asking re: passports, but here's a recent story on the subject.

We are planning on driving to Myrtle Beach in a few weeks for a week in a rental. A few questions I'm hoping you all can answer: Any good places to plan for stops for meals along the way (leaving from Alexandria) What suggestions for Myrtle Beach? We plan to try and socially distance ourselves from everyone but our family...but still might want some things to do like parks to visit, etc. thanks!

I'd bring my own food for the ride or stop at drive-throughs. Most everything is open in Myrtle Beach, so you'll need to establish your own comfort zones. Here is a link to the latest info. 

i know that anyone contemplating air travel should wear a mask. What about goggles and, if goggles are needed, what are the best kind to wear? I want to do a plane trip to Boston and back from DC.

I did hear a report about a heath care expert who had contracted the virus on a plane ride even though he was 99 percent covered up. The one body part that was uncovered: his eyes. I am not an infectious diseases expert, so I would ask a medical professional for advice on goggles. But I would think any full coverage specs, like ski or lab protection goggles, would work. Or take a style cue from Bono.

Hello there! I bought roundtrip tickets on Southwest on March 24 for an upcoming trip June 12-15. I would prefer a refund for these tickets since the event has been cancelled. It doesn't look like I can do this online so I'll need to call them. Is there anything specific I need to say to get a refund? I thought I heard some rule you all mentioned about all flights purchase during this time being refundable but haven't been able to find it specifically and thought it'd be best if I have the wording all out before I call. It's Southwest so worst case scenario I get travel credit but would rather have the full refunded amount. Any help you can provide is appreciated. Thank you!!

You probably won't get a refund unless Southwest cancels your flight. But you can visit the Southwest Airlines site to initiate a cancellation. 

I was supposed to leave this week for a trip to Berlin with a stopover in Iceland. Flight and Berlin hotel have been refunded. The Iceland hotel will only offer us a voucher good for 24 months. Is this legal? Do we have any other options than to take the voucher?

It is legal, since the hotel did not cancel on you, but it's not very nice. I would press them on the urgency of the situation, or ask your credit card to assist. Another option: If the hotel is part of a larger chain, you could ask for a credit for any of the hotels in the company.

Some countries have announced that they are reopening to Americans this summer -- but do you think it's too soon to travel internationally to, say, Greece or Portugal? Will tourist spots be open once you get there?

We can't answer that question for individuals, as everyone has a different comfort zone. Airlines are stepping up their cleaning procedures. Each has a different approach toward how packed they will allow the planes to get: Delta, for example, is capping occupancy at 60 percent, while American has no formal policy. Greece hasn't announced any plan to allow Americans into the country. Portugal is open, but I'm guessing it'll be quieter than usual. 

We were booked on a June cruise around Iceland tat was cancelled in May - we rebooked for the same cruise for next July. We had ( independently) purchased our plane tickets on Icelandair, and were waiting to see what they were doing with their flights; we just got a cancellation notice from them as well. They offered a voucher for the complete cost of the tickets, good for 3 years, or a refund. Their email was very specific about what costs were covered by the voucher - airport taxes, any upgrade fees, etc - but not specific at all on the refund. That raises the question in my mind as to which one we should go for. Do you think the refund could be less than the full cost? Is Icelandair in reasonable financial shape, so that we could expect to be able to fly them next year?

I would go for the refund. You can always rebook the cruise when you're ready. But I can't vouch for the financial health of any of the companies you're working with. If they go under, your vouchers will be worthless.

My family had a vacation planned early during the pandemic - it was right when airlines and hotels were revising and finalizing refund policies almost daily. Airlines were not yet cancelling flights, so I ended up with vouchers for travel that have to be *booked* by October 24 in order to waive a change fee penalty ($200/passenger for 4 tickets!). Two questions: 1) Given that better policies have been put in place, and since we now understand the gravity and long-term nature of covid, do you think it's worth trying to get an actual full refund? 2) If not, what would be your booking approach? Find a short, direct flight as far into the future as possible somewhere physical isolation during vacation is possible?

Ask for a refund. If your travel dates fell within the pandemic, the airline should grant you a refund. If it doesn't, ask for an extension. Most vouchers do not expire for a year or even two. I don't quite understand why you would need to book your trip by Oct. 24.

It is impossible to say what the world will look like in October, so I would wait a few months before deciding on location.

Question for Chris or Andrea: Have you noticed that third-party hotel booking engines such as Travelocity or Hotels.com show warnings about the need to offer proof of "essential travel" before booking a room, but don't offer guidance about where or from whom are you to obtain that proof that your travel is essential? Is there a legal reason why there is no guidance provided by these booking sites?

I am going to hazard a guess, but maybe Chris can throw in his two cents are well. The hotels, per local or state requirements, might not be open to non-essential workers. So the third-party sites have to issue the requirement but can't offer specifics, since it varies by location and property. I would call the hotel and ask for the required documentation. The hotel might request professional credentials or just accept your word.

I have a question about US travelers being asked to quarantine once they arrive in the U.K. -- what does that actually entail? How are they defining quarantine? Only leave your hotel for food? Can you even stay in a hotel? Confused.

It means you must travel directly from the airport to wherever you are staying and self-isolate there for 14 days. You can't leave the premises. You can go to a hotel. 

On Saturday we drove from DC to Pittsburgh. We chose to go via I-68 + I-79 rather than the PA Turnpike (ANYTHING to avoid Breezewood, folks). The Maryland rest area that is just beyond the start of I-68 was open with "Masks required to enter the restroom." The PA rest area on I-79 that is just north of the WV/PA state line was open and masks were not formally required. We brought sandwiches to eat in the car. More generally, Pittsburgh is now "code green": we have eaten inside restaurants and have tickets to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo tomorrow.

Thanks for the report!

I was pleased to see this article about Andrea's visit to Nemacolin Woods. However, I was distressed to see the room photos with the colorful decorative pillows and cloth on the bed. Was this a stock photo, or a photo of the room where Andrea stayed? I am horrified to think that hotels will continue to use decorative pillows and throws - these items are not cleaned between guests, and pose a potential health risk. Thank you.

Good eye! That was a pre-Covid stock photo. I should have mentioned that in the caption. The bed was stripped down: four pillows, sheets. I had a remote and coffee maker, and the toiletries were sealed with a little band. That was it!

We have spent the past months exploring NYC's more remote parks and beaches but tried to wander one county over this weekend. Sadly, it was a failure as they were checking ID's at the trailhead; we tried to hike and everyone without a county ID was turned back. We found the nearest small town, hung around in a completely empty park for an hour and waited for a local ice cream place to open up. So a total failure became a nice little outing.

Glad you had a happy(ish) ending!

First time traveler to the Outer Banks. Will be staying in Duck for a week. What are the must see/do activities while there beyond going to the beach, etc? Suggestions on places to eat, etc? Thanks so much!

I haven't been there for several years, but one of my favorite restaurants was the Blue Point, which still gets great reviews. There's lovely kayaking on the bay side (several outfitters rent paddleboards and kayaks). If you go south, Jockey Ridge State Park is lovely, as is Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. 

So based on your experience at the resort, would you recommend it for people looking to get away?

I would. It was so pretty and relaxing out there, and the change of scenery and activities was wonderful. The manager said occupancy would likely stay at 35 percent on non-holiday weekends, so you will have a lot of space to stretch out. Just remember that not everyone follows the rules, so if the idea of seeing maskless faces worries you, you might want to think twice about visiting. (Hopefully, the hotel will step up enforcement after my chat with the manager.)

Not a question, just a sad comment. I'm supposed to be in Hawaii right now. Instead, I'm at work. Sigh.

We are sighing with you. Make yourself a pineapple and play Israel Kamakawio’ole's cover of "Over the Rainbow."

We currently have tickets to fly to England in August, on BA but booked through American. We're not keen on going even if the flight isn't canceled because of the pandemic. If the flights aren't canceled, what are our options for a refund? If no refund, are we able to get a credit without penalty? Thanks.

From Chris: If your airline cancels the flight, you get a full refund. But if you cancel, you will only receive a credit. The credit rules have been getting tightened up in recent weeks. Forgive me, but I'm driving through a remote part of Oregon and don't have a reliable internet connection -- otherwise I would find American's policy for this summer. Chatters, if you can help out, I'd be grateful. I'll try to send a picture from the road.

So far as I know, hotels in the UK currently can only house essential workers. If you choose to enter, and do not have a private home to go to, the UK Government will direct you to its choice (not yours) of accommodation.

Good point. They likely won't reopen till July. But even if they were open, I don't know why anyone would want to sit in a hotel room for two weeks. 

Any indication of when Falling Water will re-open to tours? Am guessing the groups will have to be much smaller than in the past.

Saturday. Here is the info.

If the hotel was open then your credit card won't help but your travel insurance might Credit card chargebacks are for then a company has failed to provide the goods / services you bought. The hotel was open so did not fail in its contractual provisions to your writer.

Excellent point. Thanks!

I bought a ticket in January for a March flight that I cancelled and Southwest is giving me until September 2022 to use the credit. Seems pretty reasonable and accommodating to me.

Yes. That gives the world plenty of time to right itself.

I have been holding out with regard to cancelling our AirBnB reservation later this month. I have been checking the app periodically, first waiting for AirBnB to include our reservation date and then the cancellation procedures. Up until a few weeks ago, AirBnB was clearly making it difficult to request a full refund for reservations in Japan, basically presenting you with your host’s cancellation policy or AirBnB credit. I think you had to get on the phone somehow and go through that ordeal. But at some point, they’ve added an electronic option to request a full refund. Instead of hitting continue at the bottom of your smartphone screen, you hit a different button to request a full refund. You select from a menu the reason (covid-19), and then AirBnB requires you to submit documentation. You have to take screenshots of government websites that show why you can’t travel and then on the following page, explain what all those screenshots mean. So, these are the websites I submitted: U.S .Embassy in Japan, Japan National Tourism Organization and Ministry of Justice, Japan. I submitted my request last night and woke to an email from AirBnB stating the request had been approved, so I will be getting a full refund. So these websites are credible to AirBnB, and hopefully this will help others and save others time when they cancel AirBnB reservations in Japan.

Thanks for the tip!

and there is a deliberate opening along the bottom. It would be better than nothing and definitely would remind you not to rub your eyes, but they wouldn't necessarily protect you. A snorkeling mask would be better, but really uncomfortable.

We should ask Robin Givhan to critique the new travel look: ski goggles and face mask.

The Post has a story today about how hard zoos have been hit by their loss of income. Many tourist sites around the world rely heavily on ticket sales and don't have large reserves. Are you hearing about popular places that might not reopen because they can't survive months of lost revenue?

I'm hearing now mostly about smaller businesses such as restaurants and arts organizations, but there are sure to be many others.

Good afternoon, Is this Administration still restricting New Yorkers from renewing or enrolling in Global Entry?

According to CBP: Additionally, residents of the State of New York will no longer be eligible to apply for or renew membership in U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler Programs due to state legislation that restricts CBP's access to records and other critical vetting information that compromise the safety and security of the United States and its citizens.

Meals: Roadside bar (Duck); Food Dudes (KDH); Salt Box Cafe (Collington); Agave Roja (Corolla) Activities: Biking on path (Southern Shores, Duck, and north); Whalehead mansion tour (Corolla); Strolling the boardwalk at sunset (Duck)

Thanks for the recommendations!

I notice that the first photo showed workers wearing face shields but the pool chaise lounges do not appear to be spread six feet apart per social distancing guidelines. Are my eyes seeing this photo correctly?

I was not at the pool when the photographer was there, but  it does look like they were not six feet apart. The staff did not always social distance from each other but they did keep their distance from guests.

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting, everyone! Attempted traveler, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us 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: