Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Aug 03, 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 wrote about travelers who are trying to visit every country in the world, and whose efforts have understandably stalled during the pandemic. Do you have a similar goal? Let us know below how many countries you've visited and what motivates your travel. Most compelling answer will receive a handsome Washington Post mug. 

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!

After months of trying to convince United Airlines that our situation regarding a cancelled April flight to Europe qualified us for a refund, we finally got a confirmation that we will, in fact, be refunded our money. Our trip was booked thru Capital One Travel because we wanted to use a few hundred dollars from our point balance. Capital One uses a variety of travel agencies and ours happens to be in Tulsa. Apparently, in this case, the refund will be issued in the form of a hard copy check made payable to the travel agency, who will then deposit the check, wait for it to clear, and then transfer the funds back to Capital One. Capital One will then reallocate the funds, restoring the point balance and place the remainder into my credit card. According to the United website, my "refund completion date" was June 22, 2020. As of last week, Capital One Travel has no record of the anticipated refund check. There is NO WAY for me to contact United for a status. Are you familiar with this convoluted process? Any idea when can I expect United to issue the check so I can get my $2750 refund? Thank you!

That's very convoluted. I haven't heard of a refund process like that since the 90s. Unfortunately, I don't know of any way to track the refund. You just have to wait. I wish I had better news.

the states that are on their "no go" list? What does Maryland have to do to get off?

Here's what  the NY Department of health has to say:

All travelers entering New York who have recently traveled within a state with either:

• a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average; or

• a testing positivity rate of higher than a 10% over a seven-day rolling average, will be required to quarantine for a period of 14 days consistent with the Department of Health (DOH) regulations for quarantine. Data used to construct the metrics that determine the designated states from which individuals must quarantine is detailed in the tables posted publicly by all 50 states. 

My family made a goal to camp at every camp-able Maryland state park. We're almost done. :)

Completely in favor of achievable goals!

I need to go to upstate NY, near Rochester. I am from Maryland which is on the NY 14 day quarantine list. I shouldn’t stay with family because that would put their health at risk. I started searching for hotels that offer quarantine service and rooms. Do you know of any hotels/ motels/ inns offering this type of service/accommodations?

I think you can just check into a hotel with room service and stay put for 14 days to satisfy the quarantine requirements. 

We will be driving from DC to Denver later this month (crazy, I know). I would appreciate any info/tips from anyone who has recently taken any long road trips, particularly regarding rest areas, food service, hotels, etc. We are not campers, and can't even imagine bringing a portable potty with us as a previous poster mentioned on their trip to Montana. Kudos to them for their independence, and I only mention it for perspective. Thanks for any help!

I drove from DC to Denver last summer. We made stops in Terre Haute, Ind., and Topeka, Kan. I would recommend staying in a well-respected chain hotel along the way. Their cleaning standards are pretty decent. Chatters, any recommendations for road stops or food?

Back in December 2019 we paid for a 10 day trip to start in Colorado Sept 5th this year. The pandemic hit and Trafalgar suspended the trip with an offer to issue a credit for future travel(good until Dec2022). We would like our money back($5640.00) as we are at an age where travel gets difficult . They are claiming "Force Majeure" and not allowing us the refund. Is there a way to get the money back?

Yes, you can file a chargeback on your credit card. Trafalgar didn't deliver the trip you booked. Your bank should be able to credit you quickly.

I'm thinking of using Airbnb for the first time later this summer -- how can I tell if I'm choosing a well-maintained property? Is there anything I should look for?

Yes! Here's my Navigator on how to choose the perfect vacation rental.

Chatters on their travel goals:

Mine is/was to find a geocache in every state. I've achieved 39 so far - lacking Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and most of the South. Given the insanity of late, I have very little desire to visit Washington state or Oregon, so I don't foresee finishing any time soon. But you never know!

I've been to 32 countries, which was supposed to be 34 as of this past May, as our trip to the Czech Republic and Hungary was postponed until (hopefully) next year. My goal has been to get to 50 countries. I take the philosophy expressed in the Beatles' song "The Inner Light": the farther one travels, the less one knows. Visiting different countries gives a broader perspective on the world and its many cultures, taking you out of your comfort zone and complacency. You come to realize that what to you may seem like "natural law" is only what happens in your lifetime within 50 miles of you. I also always learn some of the local language before I travel so that I can talk to people there, even in a limited way. They always react warmly when I make the effort, recognizing that I'm not a native speaker. It further unlocks a puzzle, revealing more about the people and culture.

We are a (former) Foreign Service family, so our travel has often been motivated by where we have been posted. (I never have counted the number of countries, but we've been to every continent but Antarctica.) One of our now-grown children has been especially "bitten" by the travel bug and has traveled to a lot of countries that we never got to during our time with the Foreign Service. As a Christmas gift one year, I made him a cross-stitch map of the world and filled in with colored stitching each country that he had visited. On my annual visits to his home, I un-frame the map, stitch in each new country he has visited, and then re-frame it. He just returned from an overseas deployment with the military and as soon as I can visit him again, I know the first thing he's going to ask me to do is to update his map!

I've only visited a few foreign countries (Canada, Iceland, England, and the French Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland), but I have been to 42 states and DC, as well as all 10 Canadian provinces and Yukon. Yukon was actually the first part of Canada I set foot in, as my first job out of college was in Fairbanks. I travel because I like to see new things and visit places that I've read about or seen on TV or in movies. I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and we had one real family vacation in my youth (two nights into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). While there are many spots in the world that I would love to see now that I'm retired, I don't like long and/or red-eye flights. And given my age now (over 60) and the ongoing pandemic, it may be some time before I attempt even a day trip in the car.

Hello! I booked a flight IAD-Dublin in early March for September (thinking the pandemic wasn't a pandemic yet). I also bought trip insurance. My understanding right now is that no Aer Lingus flights are going out of IAD direct, AND obviously, Americans can't go to the EU. So this flight probably won't be happening...but I've heard nothing from the airline. I have a "non-refundable" ticket, and have heard to wait for the airline to cancel so you get your money back, but how long am I going to need to wait for this? Is it worth trying to contact them?

I would check with your travel agent or your airline. If the flight is canceled, you should get a fast refund.

I had a trip planned to, let's call it a 3rd world nation, in April. All flights were basically cancelled - I got a call from my carrier mid-month refunding miles. However, the vendor in said 3rd world nation's view was "we're here, we're available, we're not canceling or refunding anything". I am still waiting for my travel insurance to decide if the airline cancellation was cause to pay up, but I've got a better chance of that than the vendor who is basically unreachable, and still has my money. Fingers crossed!

If your airline cancels the flight, you should get a full refund. The other components, such as your hotel and activities, would be up to the company to refund. But they are under no obligation. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help. Here's how to reach me.

On June first, I submitted two passports (for my husband and myself) for renewal. We requested new passports and the ID cards, which cost $140 per person. The checks were cashed on the third. Under ordinary circumstances, the new documents should arrive in eight weeks. These days, that is not realistic. Two questions: when should I start to be concerned about getting them? We have a trip to Paris booked for November. Also, does the request for the ID card speed up or slow down the process, in your experience? I realize your crystal ball is on the fritz these days for seeing if international travel is even possible. Still, when should I contact my Senator for help locating the passports- September? I don't mean to be unreasonable, I just want the passports. Thanks for your help in these trying times.

The State Department is working as fast as it can (albeit with limited resources) to catch up on its backlog. I would not start worrying yet. You have three months;. the agency can get you a passport within 72 hours if necessary, so please don't bother your senator during these dire times. Here is the latest on passports during Covid. And no, your ID card should not slow down the process.

Re the article about asking people to take your picture. My sister and I (two women in our 60's) used to get this query ALL THE TIME. I'm guessing all the tourists assume, correctly, that a couple of gray haired women won't run off with their iPhone or camera.

Here's Andrea's article about this. Also, never a bad time to share our project on common tourist scams around the world. Not saying every time someone asks for a photo it's a scam, but it's good to be careful. 

You could prove them wrong. . just kidding! I think most people are so in the moment, they don't really think about the risk involved.

I drove from DC to Louisiana and back earlier this summer. I left one rest area in Alabama due to overcrowding, lack of masks, and an indoor line for the rest room. Honestly, I found that gas stations were easier for the bathroom than rest areas - generally less crowded and single use. I also primarily packed my own food, but did go through one drive thru and ate in the car. I was able to stay with family en route instead of a hotel, if that's an option for you.

Great tips. Thank you!

If you had to guess, what kinds of permanent changes to travel do you think we'll see after the pandemic?

Much depends on whether a vaccine is created that is effective and accessible. Once that happens, I'd guess that travel would resume, although there will be bankruptcies and consolidation, at least initially. 

In July my family drove from DC to Denver, and back! We packed food so we could eat lunch outside at rest areas. We wore masks anytime we went inside anywhere. We stayed in a variety of hotel brands (Hilton , Holiday Inn and Marriott) and found amenities oddly variable as far as breakfast and pool usage (or not). Dinner was either carry out eaten in the hotel room or outside at a restaurant. Mostly, we kept to ourselves as much as possible, but were very glad to have made the trip.

Thank you for sharing your adventure with us.

I'm totally confused about who can get into the EU if you're American. I keep reading glancing references to the fact that if you have a long-stay Visa, you can get into France. We do. However, we left our car in Germany. Also, our titre de séjour card is in France. I guess my first question is can we get into France with our long-stay visa? My next question would be could we then travel to Frankfurt to pick up our car.

Here's my Navigator on the EU travel ban. I think you'll be fine getting into France. Once you're in the EU, can pick up your car.

I wrote in earlier about the difficulty getting WestJet to refund flights that they had canceled. I had submitted a claim form with WestJet and complained to the DoT when WestJet denied the claim. I consulted with Christopher Elliott's helpline, and was advised that I had "done everything that there is to do." Not quite. Per another article in the WP Travel section, I called my credit card company and disputed the charges to a sympathetic representative. This time I have hope that I will really get the money back.

Thanks for the update. Yes, there's always the credit card dispute. The Canadian airlines are being really difficult about  refunds. I hope you get your money back.

Do car rentals, hotels, etc., routinely charge people coming from the United States a higher price? That's news to me! But I just experienced it, and I'm wondering if it's a one-off experience or a secret of the traveling world. We went online the other day to rent a car for our upcoming trip to England, and I was stunned to see that it would cost us $650 to rent a car at Heathrow and drive it four hours north and drop it off. Ridiculous! I mentioned this to my British mother-in-law who said, "That can't be right." She looked on her computer and ... same car, same company ... the price was half of what we were quoted! So, my IT-specialist husband connected my computer to a VPN so it looked like I was logging in from England and, sure enough, we were given the cheaper price (which we took). Is this an actual thing companies do?!?!?

That can't be right. Did they add insurance to your car rental bill? Sometimes, car rental companies have insurance requirements that U.S. policies don't cover.

Also, did one person search for a manual transmission car and the other an automatic? Huge price difference. 

Should I reconsider going to the beach -- any beach -- this summer? From what I've read, beach cities/towns seem to be bastions of mask noncompliance and worse. Is that more or less accurate?

I've been living in Ocean City, Md., since early May. We have managed to get down to the ocean just about every day, but it's not without risk. We wear masks when we walk the 1/2 mile there and back, but most people do not wear masks, so we typically cross the street several times to stay away from others on narrow sidewalks. Once we are at the beach, we tuck close to the dunes, and we've had no trouble staying far away from others. If you want to sit right at the water's edge, it is crowded. Very few people wear masks at the beach, but most are at least a dozen feet from the next party. As for going to the boardwalk, the mayor of Ocean City mandated that masks be worn there beginning last Friday -- lots of push-back on social media, but I wouldn't be going there anyway, so can't give you firsthand account. Nearby Assateague Island, with both a state and national park,  is very crowded this summer. The Delaware beaches are similarly crowded. We have not dined at a restaurant, but we have gotten takeout. We hear that a dozen restaurants have had to temporarily close this summer because their workers have tested positive. Most everyone is being good about wearing masks while shopping. Bottom line: I think people have a false sense of security when they're vacationing at the beach. They drink more than usual, which also lowers inhibitions. But if you don't mind sitting on your balcony and taking precautions when you venture out, a beach vacation is still doable. 

but at some point I realized that I was pretty close to seeing all of Shakespeare's plays in a live performance. Most of those happened in little off-off Broadway theaters or in parks in NY where I lived at the time. Once in a parking lot. But then I decided to finish before I turned 30, so I had one spring and most of a summer left. I came down to DC by train to see Taming of the Shew at Shakespeare Theatre. And the very evening before my birthday I saw Henry VIII in Cedar City Utah. Flew into Vegas and drove taking in some national parks along the way. It was fun.

Wow, even "Timon of Athens"?

Hi, last week someone posted that they had a pleasant experience in renewing their Global Entry application. So did I but I haven't got a new card as I have to go to Dulles Airport for an interview rather than BWI, a closer airport. No big deal and this was pre-Covid19. However for my wife's application it is still in pending review after 5 months. What gives? I am a federal employee so that may have helped but her and my application are pretty much same for countries traveled. What gives and don't know how to contact anyone.

Success with GE seems hit or miss, and processing is taking longer because of Covid. According to CBP: "The agency is processing about 60 percent of applications within 15 days. The ones requiring additional scrutiny may take more than 150 days." All you can do is wait or work your federal channels.

I’m in Missouri. We’re gearing up for our second long road trip of the summer. I’ve found mask usage in places like gas stations is really spotty even in states that require them. QuickTrip gas stations - which you’ll find in MO, KS and CO - are typically very clean. If you combine one of those with an area that actually has mask mandates, St. Louis and Columbia in MO, all of KS and CO, they’re a pretty good bet for a relatively safe pit stop. We also use hand sanitizer when we get back in the car. I’ve been to roadside rest areas in several states this summer too, and whether people are masked is super unpredictable. We’ve packed our road meals, and eat in the car.

Thanks.  That's great advice!

This is just wrong. It is nothing to do with being American it is arrivals (of whatever nationality) from the US that are the concern. Americans CAN enter Europe but must quarantine for 14 days on arrival - either having flown direct from the US or have spent the previous 14 days in a 'safe' country that permits entry into Europe without any further quarantine.

You're right, the restrictions are not based on nationality.

Here's another tip for road trips: When it's time to fill up, go to a gas station that's a little distance from the interstate, rather than right at an interchange. You might have a less crowded experience that way.

That could be an option, but I find that highway rest stops often clean bathrooms more frequently than those in more out-of-the-way spots. 

What happens if you've been in a state that's on a quarantine list, but you're just travelling through? For example, You've been in State A for awhile. State A has a high Covid rate and is on State B's quarantine list. You need to go to state C for a family emergency and you're driving through and must stop in STate B. How does that work? Asking b/c I have to go down to TX for an emergency. It is on a lot of state's high risk lists (correctly so), so trying to figure out how to navigate getting home. Thanks.

Most states don't require quarantines if you are just passing through. You should be fine unless you need to stay for longer than 24 hours. 

If you were going to design a low-risk family getaway this summer, what would you do in terms of mode of travel, type of lodging, activities at destination, and so on?

Besides not traveling at all?  I would definitely travel by car, stay in a chain hotel with a cleaning policy that you can understand, and visit state or national parks.

To locate restaurants and lodging along the Interstates, I recommend the book "The Next EXIT" that you can buy online or at AAA for ~$20 or less - it's updated annually. They also have an app that apparently has the same functionality - you buy a subscription for a year. The book will tell you what's at each exit along the Interstates across the lower 48 (the book listings are by state), which can be quite handy if you know your route and want to plan lunch and dinner that day.

Thanks for the recommendation!

We're hearing every day about retailers on the brink of going out of business -- are any travel companies headed the same way?

Some of the domestic airlines are on shaky ground. They're  asking for an extension of their bailout that would last another six months. If they don't get it, I would expect one or two bankruptcies -- and maybe one complete cessation.

I thought Ireland was allowing Americans to visit if they followed a 14 day quarantine (as compared to other countries that simply won't allow Americans to visit at all). Of course this can change at any time. So if your flight us still going as a result, the fact that you may not, as a practical matter, be able to do a 14 day quarantine due to time restrictions (perhaps your planned vacation was only 10 days), perhaps Chris Elliot can explain in general how this type of situation affects qualification for a refund. Can't count on accurate information from the airlines, as many travelers have attested to.

If your flight is still operating, you would not get a refund. You would have to take a credit. The ban is irrelevant to the airline.

When shopping for a rental on Airbnb or other sites, be sure to look for a "badge" (icon) or other indicator that the host is taking steps on behalf of guests during this pandemic. Airbnb has an Enhanced Clean icon which means that the host has reviewed their specifications and agrees to follow them. As a host, I have posted a photo about Coronavirus preparations and detail how the apartment is allowed to air out for at least 48 hours and then cleaned according to CDC/Airbnb standards. Also, PPE is provided to guests. If you don't see this information posted, be sure to inquire!

That's great advice. I agree.

How are these state quarantines enforced? Obviously airports can be monitored. But are authorities looking for out-of-state license plates? Are they checking IDs of long-haul bus passengers? How can this actually work?

They are not checking licenses. But you can be reported if someone notices. In New York, for example, a complaint can result in a mandatory quarantine order. Violations of that can result in a fine of up to $10,000. Realistically, not likely. 

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting, everyone! Cross-stitch map of the world, please 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.
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