Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Aug 10, 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, our cover story looks at a writer who visited Mammoth Lakes, Calif., a beloved childhood travel destination. The coronavirus pandemic forced changes in his usual itinerary.

Our question for this week: What's the most memorable trip you took as a kid? The chatter with the best answer wins a Washington Post mug, to be mailed to you at a later date.

As usual, here's the link to our live updates on the coronavirus pandemic. These updates are free to access, as are all the stories linked in our coronavirus updates newsletter (sign up here).

And some more housekeeping: we are still accepting entries for the 2020 Travel Photo Contest, an we encourage you to enter. You have until 11:59 p.m. EST on August 17 to enter your best travel photo for a chance to win prizes and have your photo published online and in the paper. Enter through this form, and review the complete rules here. We can't wait to see your creativity. 

Now to your questions!

I'll get on a plane once fast testing becomes commonplace at terminal entry points. Any news from airline & cruise execs this may happen soon?

Emirates Airlines tried doing rapid testing a while back, but results were highly inaccurate. I have not heard of any airline or cruise line having solid plans to incorporate rapid testing. 

Sorry about the delay, everyone -- we had an error connecting to our chat server. We are back online and ready to take your questions!

It's 2:25 and no questions / answers are showing up?

We are very sorry we had an error with connecting to the server that caused the chat to go down. We are back and trying to catch up. We appreciate your patience!

We were disappointed our Rhine River cruise was canceled this summer, so we decided to do the trip virtually the week we were supposed to be on vacation. We posted daily on social media with the activities we ‘did’ each day and posted photos sourced from our prior Europe trips and from internet travel sites. Our friends told us it was fun to follow along and it almost felt like we really had a vacation. On a related note, Delta Quickly refunded us for our Europe flights (within 48 hours of our request) and also an August trip we had planned in the US. The first was via a phone call and for the second we tried their new text feature.

What a great idea! If we can't travel, we might as well dream about it, right? Kudos to Delta for the quick refund, too.

Can the U.S. (federal) govt. legally restrict where Americans can or cannot travel? If so, what is the current status of restrictions? Are there any federal regulations in place for adjusted numbers of people on domestic air flights?

The federal government doesn't prevent you from traveling to most countries, but not many countries are welcoming us. Yes, it is possible to get around restrictions. For example, you could fly to the UK and quarantine there for 14 days and then travel to another country in Europe. But most typical tourists don't have the time or money for this. As for the number of passengers allowed on domestic air flights due to Covid, again, no federal restrictions. It's up to the airline. 

Not a question, but our trip to Ireland to return home to see family is now postponed (Aer Lingus is not going to be resuming flights from Dulles by the end of September, hence the cancellation of our flight.) and, we've just learned, that both the United States and Brazil are expected to be on the Ireland's red list this Friday. That would prevent anyone flying back to Ireland unless they are a citizen or hold an Irish passport.

Your memorable childhood trips:

The summer I turned 13, a very long time ago, we drove across the county over the course of a month. That meant we didn't stay long anywhere, but even though it was a long time ago, certain things have stuck with me. (1) Be careful taking a single teenager to Disneyland. I guess I had an okay time, but being there with just my parents seemed to take something from it, and 13 is an awkward age to begin with. (2) We didn't know San Francisco could be so cold in July. Cut that part of the trip short because we didn't have any warm clothes. (3) I remember there being a Chicago museum that I loved, but I probably couldn't tell you which one it was. (4) We also had a bit of an adventure at the Grand Canyon, as the motel we stayed it had a leaky roof. Oh, those were the days....

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I never encountered snow until I was nearly 11, when my family took a summer vacation to Lassen National Park. After a blistering hot early morning drive up the Sacramento Valley (Red Bluff was already red-hot by 10 AM), we headed for the town of Mineral just outside the park. Eventually we reached a road that had been plowed only recently (not in the winter), so there were tall snow banks along the uphill side. At the same time, the ice in our ice chest had already melted, so I suggested to my father that he pour out the melt and refill the chest with snow. Worked like a charm. He also took a picture of my mother and me standing in front of the snow bank in the 80-degree weather, wearing our matching sleeveless printed seersucker sundresses.

I took many memorable trips as kid, whether with my family or as part of a group of special education late teens and young adults. That said, if there were special trips I took with either my family or with that special education group, I could narrow them down to two. One was trip was first long-haul flight with my family from PHL to MIA in April 1972, to not only attend a cousin's Bar Mitzvah, but also to visit other sights: Miami Seaquarirum, Key West, the Everglades, and Lion Country Safari. The latter trip was conducted between July and August 1974, for my first trip to Europe. As previously mentioned, I traveled with a group of 14 learning disabled teens and young adults along with three adult chaperones, leaving from JFK and landing initially at Heathrow. We stayed in England for two weeks: 1 week at a girls' school in out-bungalows and a week at the Regency Strand of London, near Piccadilly Circus. Then we took what was then called a boat train (train-to-ferry-to-train) from London to Paris for week's stay there (I forget the hotel's name). We visited the Louvre, took a Bateaux Mouche boat down the Seine, visited the Arc Triumphe, Champs Elysee, Versaille and Notre Dame Cathedral. The fourth and final week was in Madrid, Spain; we flew Air France from Orly Airport to MAD, and stayed at a nice hotel whose name I don't recall except that it was in walking distance to Retiro Park. The cost of the trip: $1550, including 3 meals a day, accommodations, and air and train transportation. We returned to the US on the same day as Nixon's resignation. Altogether a truly memorable trip with newly made and resurrected friendships.

I was supposed to fly to Europe on SAS in May, but of course the flights were cancelled. I requested a refund and was pleasantly surprised how quickly I received the refund of my ticket from SAS. However, I had also spent about $100 on seat reservations, and those were not refunded even though they should have been. I cannot recall if it was from this chat or elsewhere that I learned about the Dept of Transportation complaint portal. I made the time to enter all of my information (including PDFs of the receipts for each seat reservation). This morning I received a response from some in DOT that my complaint is valid and that they are sending it on to the airline. With that office probably being inundated with an unprecedented number of complaints, I was thrilled to receive a response which outlined what will happen next. Even if I end up not seeing those $100 again, it's great that consumers have a source to turn to when things go wrong.

Way to go, DOT! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

I'm honestly very scared to travel and am trying to think of ways to make staying at home better. I'm immunocompromised, so I'm trying to find things that will make me feel like I'm getting away without leaving. Any ideas? I'm not that interested in virtual trips, to be honest, because I'm sick of looking at screens.

We've covered this topic pretty heavily. Take a look at our list of suggested books for armchair travelers and these board games to play. You could also assemble a travel photo scrapbook. You could also go through photos from past trips and edit them; here's how

If you do turn to screens again, try your hand at improving your language skills through apps and chatting virtually with locals. We also have lists for TV shows and movies that will fulfill your wanderlust. And here are travel sites around the world you can visit virtually.

Is it possible to get refunds vs future credit for airline travel which was cancelled due to the coronavirus? .. Or is this dependent upon the airline.? Several trips scheduled -- multiple airlines -- all cancelled.

Yes, if your airline cancels the flight, it is required to refund your money. Otherwise, you would have to accept a credit.

My wife and I found old postcards we had bought on overseas trips over the years, and have started sending them to friends and family, allowing for a little reminiscing and a little extra in people’s mailboxes.

What a wonderful idea, and a great way to support the United States Postal Service! 

Can you recommend any roadside stands within 90 minute drive of the district. We are mostly looking at the drive as something to do and the market as a destination but it would be nicer if the drive was pleasant and the market had good variety/ quality. If it makes a difference we live in Northern Virginia. Thanks for any recommendations.

I just went peach picking at Chiles Family Orchard near Charlottesville. It was such a gorgeous setting, with lots of ripe and plump peaches. You can find other fruit-picking farms in the area, plus country markets selling fresh produce and breweries with outdoor seating.

I have a big work deadline coming up on 9/15 so could use a quick trip, maybe 2 or 3 days, somewhere quiet near water with good takeout options nearby after it. I live in Woodbridge VA so can drive for 2-3 hours without stopping, and am comfortable with airbnbs as long as I don't share indoor air with someone else. I've looked at the Northern Neck of VA and VA Beach away from the boardwalk. Is there anywhere in MD on the western side of the Bay that would be nice? I'd like to avoid going over the bridge.

Chesapeake Beach and North Beach in Maryland are nice. Chatters have thoughts? 

A friend is flying overseas this Friday evening at 10pm, and I offered to drive her to Dulles. I have no idea what any airport is like nowadays--I'd figure less busy, but also with fewer staff? Is arriving 2,5 - 3 hours before an overseas flight still the way to go?

Friday night is busier than other times, although it's likely the wait won't be longer than a half hour. But the airport does recommend arriving 2.5 to 3 hours in advance of an international flight. 

This week taking my child back to college in New England. Can't get a hotel room anywhere in NE because I'm from a bad state, so breaking the trip up and adding extra drivers and staying at a hotel in Pennsylvania. Have you encountered any special rules (other than wearing masks) at hotels? May I opt for no cleaning people and just fresh towels? Any suggestions for the best things to do or not do?

Hotels are following the same protocols as other businesses -- masks and social distancing in all public spaces. Many have also introduced contactless payment and check-in. Hotel restaurants may have altered their menus or only offer grab-and-go. Fitness centers and spas might, if open, may have limited capacity or require appointments.

I would look for a major chain with transparent cleaning procedures and protocols, such as Marriott or Hilton. Skip housekeeping and clean the remote before using it!

More memorable trips from childhood:

We lived on a farm in central Wisconsin, and the only family vacation trip while I was growing up (either the summer before or after sixth grade) was a three day road trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Six of us (2 parents and 4 kids) in our '64 Bel Air. I don't remember much about the trip, just (1) driving somewhere on the road to Sault Ste Marie and seeing the tree canopies completely over the road - it looked neat coming from the scrubby pine tree country where we lived; (2) touching the concrete wall on the Canadian side of SS Marie while on the boat excursion through the locks - and I think also getting a Canadian ice cream sandwich while waiting for the water to lower in the lock, and (3) apparently kicking or pushing my kid brother off the bed we shared and into the motel closet - I was always a restless sleeper. My lack of travel as a child has made me an avid traveler in the 40+ years since.

There were plenty of day trips. And the occasional weekend thing to visit a relative in college, but my parents spent all the "summer money" on our camp. There wasn't anything left for big trips. Except for one year, when the four of us flew to El Paso to visit a friend they made while my dad was stationed overseas in the Air Force. We stayed in her house and did day trips like Ciudad Juarez and Carlsbad Caverns. And then the five of us did a road trip around New Mexico and Arizona. Canyon de Chelly, Taos, Santa Fe, Grand Canyon, Phoenix. But the bits of the trip I remember the most were getting bitten/almost bitten by three different animals. The yippy little dog of my parent's friend's parents actually broke the skin. A horse in a corral behind a restaurant made contact with my 9 year old arm pit, but didn't actually bite anything, though it seemed like it was trying. And a goose on the front porch of (the same?) restaurant got a good peck at my shin. Why anyone would let a goose hang out on the front porch of a restaurant remains a mystery to me. They are pretty foul tempered birds and very territorial.

The 1964 New York World's Fair. It was mind-blowing for an 8 year old from the ex-burbs. The Unisphere! Color TV. Of course, the dinosaurs (for 50 cents you could make your very own model to take home). And how could I ever forget my first Belgian Waffle?  

First long road trip, we took the ferry across the Mississippi River. I leaned over the railing, and next thing I knew, there was something wrong with my mouth. Checked, and my first tooth was gone. Sure, maybe it was on the boat, but I panicked that somewhere a fish was going to choke to death on my childhood rite of passage.

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I never encountered snow until I was nearly 11, when my family took a summer vacation to Lassen Volcanic National Park. After a blistering hot early morning drive up the Sacramento Valley (Red Bluff was already red-hot by 10 AM), we headed for the town of Mineral just outside the park. Eventually we reached a road that had been plowed only recently (not in the winter), so there were tall snow banks along the uphill side. At the same time, the ice in our ice chest had already melted, so I suggested to my father that he pour out the melt and refill the chest with snow. Worked like a charm. He also took a picture of my mother and me standing in front of the snow bank in the 80-degree weather, wearing our matching sleeveless printed seersucker sundresses.

I flew a few weeks ago and had different experience as it was two one ways. On United, I was notified the afternoon of a morning flight that the flight was near capacity and I could change if I wanted but other flights they offered were similarly booked. I changed my seat three times and hoped that the middle seat would be empty. The return flight was on Southwest with a guarantee of an empty middle seat. Is Southwest making less money or is this a marketing tactic to try to build more loyalty?

I think Southwest and Delta, both of which are blocking middle seats, are doing it out of a genuine sense of concern for your health. If this is a publicity stunt, it's a very expensive one. I don't believe it is.

Cook foreign cuisines, or order takeout if feasible.

Thanks for the tip!

Hi everyone! Thanks for taking my question. With absolutely nowhere to go, I've taken to planning imaginary trips (the Camino Primitivo and a few weeks in the UK top the list). Now my BIL has given me a real reason to plan a trip: he recently moved from Georgia to outside Portland, OR. The rest of us are all located in the southeast and have started talking about taking a road trip next summer out to see him and his GF. I'd love to hit Yellowstone on the way in, but have a question about where to stay. We'd realistically only have one full day, so I'm wondering where we should stay (no camping) to get the most out of it. I know reservations fill up quickly, so I want to make some ASAP. Thank you!

We stayed in a cabin at Roosevelt Lodge, but it wasn't the best. I love the area around Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge, but did not stay there. I'm sure you've seen the Web page that describes all the options within the park. Chatters have favorites? My favorite place to stay in that region was in Grand Teton National Park: a cabin on the lake at Signal Mountain Lodge

More childhood travel memories:

I live in a very rural area of Virginia. Very rural. No elevators. No escalators. No taxis. Lots of cows....river....mountains... A group of people from here took a bus trip to the World Fair in New York. I was 10 y/o at that time. OMG - what an eye opener. We rode the subway, ate from an 'automated cafeteria' where the food was in boxes in the wall (!), crowds of people hurrying everywhere. The sights and sounds of New York, and the Worlds Fair were beyond description. All those countries represented, foods, clothes, cultures. Amazing for a little kid from the country!

I was about 8 or 9 years old, my parents rented a condo right in the mountains at Steamboat! Cool things as a kid were the spiral staircase to the loft where my sisters and I slept, outdoor hot tub (snowing while in hot tub is awesome no matter what your age though!), and one night we took a sleigh ride through the woods to a teepee where we had this amazing salmon (I remember this salmon from almost 30 years ago!). We also did all the skiing, hanging out in the lodge, etc which was beautiful too. My parents weren't wealthy by any means but they saved up for a truly memorable trip!!

Mt. Washington, NH. It was a gray, drizzly, gloomy day when we drove through the White Mountains and Robert Plant's "Big Log" was on the radio at some point, which was just perfect. Then we drove up Mt. Washington and my father had my brother looking out the passenger side window to make sure he stayed on the road. Boy, that was a steep dropoff. And I was just fascinated with how the trees got smaller the higher up we went and the branches started growing in one direction, which I later learned was because of the regular high winds. Then when we got to the top, it felt like winter. I remember the visitor center and the platform outside and the pictures on the walls and yeah, a science nerd was born.

My family lived in an old-fashioned house with a claw-foot bathtub, so I never saw a shower until we stayed at a motel (I was about 9 or 10 at the time). Parent had to show me to use it.

Mine is Hawaii

Los Angeles, so I can see my daughter again. 

Bring the ambiance to you! A friend who loves Hawaii, flowers and arranging flowers was given a birthday box full of lovely tropical Hawaiian cut stems, ordered by her husband from a flower farm on Maui. She got to arrange them and wound up with three large vases full of flowers that lasted for a couple of weeks.

That's a wonderful idea. This is the reason I planted some California poppies in DC.

A friend had to come to the US from Germany to deal with some family issues. When she got home to Germany, they tested her at the airport and she needed to quarantine for the 2 days it took to get the test back. Super easy.

Testing is not going as efficiently here in the United States. 

My hometown, so I can see my elderly relatives there again.

This is a common answer I think nowadays, thanks for sharing.

Brought back even more fond memories. I already posted, so won't add, but I want to thank them.

Us too! Thank you everyone for sharing your memories with us and for chatting with us, we appreciate it. I know it helps me feel a little better during this tough time, and we hope it makes you feel better, too. 

What do you think will happen to the very cheap airfares we are so used to now? Trying to game out travel for next year (fingers crossed) and I have no idea how much it will actually cost. Hoping to plan a trip to London from DC.

No, I think cheap fares will always be with us!

i just finished a long road trip. Stayed in some hotels from major chains. All had stopped housekeeping visits during multi-day stays. None seemed any cleaner than before covid. National park campgrounds that were open seemed very crowded. Re masks and social distance: Gas stations seemed fine. Rest stops seemed fine. Mostly shopped in grocery stores to stock up and skipped restaurants. Grocery seemed safe, but a couple restaurants seemed like the clientele weren't worried about safety. Lots of covid denial out there.

Thanks for reporting back. As usual, we encourage everyone to follow guidelines from public health authorities and local officials. 

Do you think this will now free up the backlog of passport renewals? Want to get mine renewed but worried about all the chaos and delays. Does this mean they will process them faster than before

One does not have anything to do with the other.

I'm an avid tea drinker and there have been many online seminars with others around the world that have appeared since Covid re: tea. It's been ALMOST like traveling there with slide shows and tips as well as mailing of exotic teas. Also, I've been wearing a lot of my lightweight travel clothes this summer and my travel backpack when I go shopping at the farmer's mkt.. It helps a little :)

These are fun ideas, thank you!

That does it for us today, chatters. We are so sorry for the tech issues during the chat, and our team is looking into how this happened. We appreciate you joining us and for your patience as we resolved the issue. 1964 World's Fair traveler, please email with a shipping address so we can (eventually) send you a mug. And thanks to everyone for sharing your wonderful memories! Thanks for joining us and for your readership. Take care of one another, stay safe out there and see you next Monday for more travel talk.

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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