Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Aug 17, 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 in Travel, contributor Henry Wismayer wrote about how he came to embrace boredom while sidelined by typhoid in the Himalayan foothills. Have you ever learned something unexpected about yourself while traveling? Tell us about it below! Most compelling answer will receive a handsome Washington Post mug. 

And, 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!

Back in June, we planned a trip to Iceland that didn't happen. The flight was cancelled, so we asked for our money back. We've received several emails from Iceland Air that our refund is coming. We are now in August. I filed a complaint with the DOT and received another email from Iceland Air saying the same thing - that "Due to a high volume of requests, it is taking longer than usual for us to process your request." Initially, I figured, they are backed by the Icelandic government, so it's likely that they will give us our money back. But 2 months after the flight, I am having serious doubts. Is there something I can do next?

I think two months is way too long to wait for a refund. If you've already filed a DOT complaint, you might want to take this up with your credit card company.  Consider filing a chargeback.

Wanted to share my Delta flying experience in case it helps anyone who may be nervous about upcoming travel. The experience was interesting. On arrival to DTW, we were instructed to file off the plane row by row one at a time, leaving the aisle empty. Everyone complied. When I returned to IAD, we had the same instruction but no one compiled -- people beelined down the aisle to wait for the doors to open. Boarding was called by groups of rows rather than zones, starting from the back of the plane, which was helpful. Lots of overhead bin space that meant for the first time in years, I didn't have to gate-check my carry-on. Only parties traveling together were allowed to sit together and the flight attendants were happy to move anyone who felt uncomfortable. I would recommend that if anyone was nervous about being in close proximity to others, upgrade to Economy+, Comfort+ (whatever it's called) or spring for Business/First Class because those sections had only two or three other people whereas Economy/back of the plane had someone in every row. No beverage service, but upon boarding, we were offered a bag with a Purell wipe, small bottled water, and two packs of cookies. At IAD, the economy parking lot was closed and everyone was rerouted to park in Garage 1, where we could pay the economy lot daily fee ($10) vs. the garage daily fee. Everyone in the airports were good about social distancing and it was mostly empty so I didn't feel too worried. (Frankly, the only time I was worried about people was on my return flight to IAD when everyone stood in the aisle to get off despite the flight attendant's instructions.) (And yes, people still took their shoes/sandals off on the plane. Gross.)

Thanks for the report. Did passengers wear masks for the duration of both flights? 

We live in Raleigh, NC and are trying to decide where we could meet our son who lives in Brooklyn, NY. We want to have separate accommodations and be socially distant at a beach, spending our time outside. Any suggestions?

You'll need to check out the quarantine rules before you go, as they are changing frequently. Right now, you could go to a beach in Delaware, such as Rehoboth or Bethany. 

Hi, I had a trip to Egypt that was supposed to occur at the end of this month. It was canceled, and thanks to advice I received from this chat I was able to get my money back. First United canceled a leg of my flights, so I quoted the applicable laws when I called. That refund only took a week. The refund for my tour was more complicated. Flashpack denied a refund after they canceled the trip (which was contrary to their policy at the time I booked and paid in full for the trip). Luckily I paid with my Amex, and they came through on the chargeback dispute. I’m extremely thankful I saved the terms and conditions from Flashpack’s website at the time I booked, because they have since changed them. In addition to expressing my gratitude for the advice you have provided that helped this go much smoother than it would have without it, I did have a question about unused travel insurance. Since I was able to get refunds myself and never made a claim, what happens to the policy? Can I try to transfer it to a different trip? At this point I have no idea when I’ll be traveling abroad again. Thank you!

I'm glad you were able to get a refund. You should be able to get your money back for the travel insurance or to apply the credit to a future trip.

I am the OP from early August who wondered where her renewed passport was. I sent our old passports to Philadelphia on June 1st, along with $140 each for a renewal and an ID card. The checks were cashed on June 3rd, then....silence. I am happy to report that today 7/17/2020 we each got a Priority Mail envelope from the US Department of State. Each envelope had a new passport. The enclosure said that the ID card and the old passport would arrive separately later. This seems massively inefficient, but the new passport is the most important thing. Eleven weeks isn't so bad, considering the tremendous backlog they had. THANKS DEPARTMENT OF STATE! Now if only our Viking Cruise of France had not been cancelled for November! The company has cancelled all trips until 12/31/2020. We have already rebooked for 2021. Hopefully, this one will not be cancelled because of the Corona Virus.

That's terrific. Thank you for sharing that with us.

Never been to Delaware Beaches. Any preferences? Thanks.

Rehoboth is the most popular and largest, with a nice selection of shops and restaurants and a boardwalk. Dewey Beach is more of a party scene. Bethany is all about families, as is Lewes. Fenwick is quiet. 

Yep, everyone wore masks consistently. On the plane, flight attendants reminded people to put them on if they weren't eating. In the airports, I saw some people without masks who were sitting by themselves in empty gates but as soon as other people were in their vicinity, they put their masks back on. Everyone gave each other wide berths (more than usual). I also learned that you can take a 12oz bottle of hand sanitizer through TSA in your carryon. They did an extra screening on my bottle but otherwise no hassle.

Yes, Delta is especially strict about masks.

Not a humorous story, but: I began drinking alcohol in my early 20s, and as an impoverished student I never turned down free drinks. Eventually I began to realize I might have a problem, so I tried to quit several times, but it never lasted more than a few weeks (to my credit, I never drove drunk). Then just after I finished up grad school I got seriously drunk (again), and was monumentally sick and hungover. My long-planned graduation gift a few weeks later was a camping trip with my SO to the Pacific Northwest, and I figured I might have more luck staying sober away from the social situations that served as triggers for my drinking (including free liquor). All went well until we reached Vancouver Island, where we met a lovely retired Canadian couple who were staying in their travel trailer in the same campground. One evening they invited us over to visit, and in the normal course of hosting the wife offered us some sherry. I declined, which they accepted after my second polite refusal, and suddenly realized I might be able to become and stay sober after all. My 50th sobriety "birthday" is next week.

Thanks for sharing your story!

My husband and I are looking to take a roadtrip somewhere the first week of September. Looking for water and no crowds (get in line, right?) and want to protect ourselves from covid-19 and respect residents of where we are going. Originating in Maryland. Suggestions?

I would recommend the Outer Banks. You can easily rent a house well-spaced from other visitors and find a slice of beach without crowds. My favorite spot is Ocracoke, an island off  Hatteras. (Ferry required -- so stay outdoors and wear your mask.) Just double-check the quarantine restrictions before you go and return home. Maryland recommends testing and self-quarantining if you have visited a state with a positivity rate of more than 10 percent.

As a travel advisor, I lead several small group trips each year (well, except for 2020!). I honestly LOVE the company of my clients, who seem to be universally well-read, curious, sociable, and just all-around great company. I always look forward to spending time with them just as much as the destination itself, and I love the interaction I see among them. I structure these trips to include free time and independent meals, but I usually end up with at least a few clients by my side at virtually all times (I try to make sure I spend "extra" quality time with each person). But I have learned over the years that even though I genuinely enjoy their company, I need to find a few hours of my own somewhere near the end of the trip. I might take a two-hour walk or eat takeout in my room, for example. Feeing the need to withdraw--even just a little bit-- was a strange realization for a person who feels pretty extroverted. In my non-travel life, I don't usually feel that need. But now I know I ought to do that, and making that small space for myself before the end of the trip is a stress reducer and gives me a break from feeling "ON" 24/7....even if I do still have my phone at the ready and am glad to assist anyone at any moment.

Yes -- people so often underestimate the importance of factoring downtime into travel!

Hello- years ago (15) the WP published an article on a bike trip traveling the area between several states via ferries and some bridges- I believe maybe NY RI Conn. area or possibly further up the coast. I copied it but with moves lost it. Is it possible that one of your team wrote it, or you can locate it in your files or a reader remembers. I have googled but had no luck.

What an amazing memory you have! I wrote that piece ages ago -- one of my favorites. I cycled and ferried from Connecticut to Long Island/Hamptons to Rhode Island and back to Connecticut. Unfortunately, I am not sure if that story has been archived or if all of those ferries are still running. But you could probably piece it together if you look at ferries in Montauk, Shelter Island, New London and Block Island. You can email me if you need some help filling in the blanks, and I can try to help re-create the trip.

Hi there! Like so many, we've foregone our usual summer vacation plans and now are really itching to get out of the house... safely. Considering renting a house on the Eastern Shore for a week, so it would be just our family, but we've never been there before and don't know each town's particular charms. (If we'd even go into town... all TBD.) Any particular advice or guidance? We don't necessarily need a beach, just space to relax, though water would be a nice plus.

St. Michaels is a nice waterfront town that would fit the bill. 

I've never been to Branson, Mo., and it wouldn't usually appeal to me. But it appears to be one of the only places in the U.S. that is presenting live entertainment. Their website shows a full daily schedule of magicians, acrobats, country singers and tribute acts. Do you have any idea how that's working out? What are they doing to be able to function at a time when almost all other theaters and concert halls across the country are closed?

Branson's tourism office said establishments must follow CDC guidelines, but that does not guarantee your safety. Here are the recent covid numbers for Taney County. If you go, choose outdoor entertainment or theaters with limited capacity. I have not heard of anyone who has visited Branson during the pandemic. I went years ago; it was not my flavor of entertainment but the area is pretty.

Our son is flying to Orlando from Indianapolis, where we will pick him up. He needs a break from his very busy job, and Mom can't say no because we don't get to see him very often (usually once a year). I looked on Spirit Airlines web site for their covid rules, and it appears that mask wearing is mandated from the time he enters the airport, on the airplane, and in the destination airport. Has anyone traveled Spirit who could confirm that they are actually making passengers adhere to this rule?

Chatters, has anyone flown on Spirit? Even if they're not enforced -- and that's a big "if" -- I would ask your son to wear a mask.

A 2.5 hour flight seems less risky than a longer duration. How strictly enforced is mask wearing for the duration of the flight?

Very strictly. If you don't wear a mask, you could be placed on a no-fly list or ejected from the plane midair. I'm kidding. They'll show you the door when the plane is on the ground.

I had just under one year remaining on my Global Entry membership. Went to Trusted Traveler and applied for renewal. Within 24 hours, I was notified my renewal was accepted. I received my new card in the mail 4 days later. Impressive!

Very impressive!

Why can't Americans travel to Europe while the restrictions are not the same for Europeans to come to America?

There are travel restrictions for Europeans traveling to the United States. 

Why are States (esp. NE) stating quarantines ($500/day fine, documents, hotels informing, etc.) when they do nothing that they state? Example, we wanted to go up to MA for family visit but when Gov. came out 8/1 with new rules, we decided not to go. Members of family (from Tenn) flew in, stayed with family 5 days. No documents at airport on either end. They encountered no problem (except maybe not good judgement). So nothing is enforced and many know this and it seems like just empty words.

 The traveler has to take some responsibility for the state to enforce its measures. Your family should have filled out a Travel Form. If they had, officials would have reached out to them, checking in on their self-quarantine. A friend was on Cape Cod and received frequent texts during her stay. We all need to work together and not skirt the requirements assuming enforcement is lax.

Southwest is offering to exchange travel fund money (that is, money you have banked for nonrefundable trips you had to cancel) for points that, they claim, will never expire. Since the funds will expire in a year or so, is this a good idea?

Yes.

I am dating someone that lives in London, he was supposed to come and spend a month with me in July. When are we going to allow United Kingdom citizens to enter the country?

That's a great question. At the moment, many UK citizens can't come to the US and there's a 14-day quarantine. There's no sign the restrictions will lift anytime soon.

That's something I hadn't thought about, and it's easy enough to do. Otherwise you have nothing to prove that they didn't say "we get to keep your money no matter what!" when you signed up.

Yes, it was a good move.

 

We recently drove from Florida's Gulf Coast to near Washington, D.C. The trip went surprisingly well. We brought a supply of masks, gloves, sanitizing wipes, and disinfecting spray; at gas stops I wore gloves while refueling, then switched to a clean pair to go inside to the restroom. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were wearing masks, and how many restaurants had mask requirements, even in deep-red Florida. For our overnight stop we picked a Hilton property, which was extremely clean. The restaurant was closed, but we had no problem finding places to eat that had either outdoor seating or social distancing or both. I think the most effective way to stay safe on a road trip is to avoid low-end restaurants and hotels, and also to pick gas stations that are not right at highway interchanges -- the ones a mile or two down the road are likely seeing less traffic.

Thanks for the report!

I live in the DC area and need to travel to Jackson, MS for family reasons. My two questions are: (1) What's the best way to get there? and (2) Can you suggest somewhere pleasant to stay within, say, 35 miles of Jackson that would make it less of an ordeal? Many thanks!

I'd think you'd want to get there quickly, so I-81 to I-59 to I-20. Not sure about where to stay. Maybe on the Ross Barnett Reservoir? Chatters? 

I’m currently vacationing in Massachusetts which requires quarantine or 72 hr old negative test. As discussed in prior charts, it’s hard to get a test turned around that fast in the DC area. We found & can recommend Picture Genetics — fast turnaround AND the test meets travel requirements. It does cost $119 and your self-nasal swabbed sample is fed-ex’d to their lab but worth it to not quarantine.

Thanks for the tip!

If I drive to another state that requires me to self-quarantine for 14 days after I arrive, what does that entail, exactly? Can I venture out to buy food? Stay in a hotel or rental?

Self-quarantine means that you can't expose yourself to anyone in the outside world. You can stay at a rental or hotel, but best to have a kitchen or cooking facilities. You will need to order food or buy groceries in advance. And cancel housekeeping. Of course, if you have an emergency, you can leave, but ideally you should stay put till the two weeks are up.

Earlier this summer, I booked a non-stop flight for early August from IAD to SLC - I bought the base ticket meaning no refunds, changes, etc but I bought the flight insurance. Thanks to the advice from this chat, I kept on waiting for the flight to be cancelled which it never was. So, two days before the flight was scheduled to depart, I requested a refund due to COVID and AZ/UT being a hot spot. Much to my surprise, my flight was fully refunded - I was expecting, at best, a credit for a future flight.

What an encouraging story. Thanks for sharing!

A few years ago, at the end of a month-long stay in Italy, I was in Rome on my way back to my hotel from the Vatican and someone stole my phone on the subway. I knew who did it (long story about how I figured it out, but I was certain) -- two women dressed as tourists with a child (who wasn't really a child but was dressed like one). I still can't believe I did this, but I tried to talk them into giving it back to me because all of my pictures for the entire trip were on it (What iCloud?). I begged and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get the police (who of course were nowhere to be found on the train). Probably not the smartest thing to do, and of course they denied it, but when I got back to my hotel and calmed down I thought, "Did I really just do that? All for some pictures?" I'm the most easygoing and mild-mannered person there is. While I mourned the loss of the photos for quite a while, the time that I was there has become even more special because I have to use my memory to relive it…and that travel really does live in you no matter what.

Kudos to you for wresting a positive message from the experience!

My 8 year old expressed an interest in going to the Arctic. I'm all for encouraging travel and exploration so I started looking into and one thing i found was a cruise offered by Lindblatt and National Geographic. They are very pricey. Has anyone been on those type of cruises and care to report back? Are they worth it? And as a side note, if 2020 cruises are/were moved to 2021, what does that mean for availability for 2021 cruises? I don't think I would ever consider going on a cruise to 2022 but I'm just curious.

Lindblatt and Nat Geo are top-of-the line. Yes, they are expensive, but you can feel confident that you are traveling with the best -- and brightest. I am sure some people will avoid cruising for many, many years, but those who are sticking with the industry will be lining up for the next available cruises. You might see dates selling out, so book whenever you feel comfortable -- just make sure the reservation has a flexible cancellation policy and buy travel insurance.

I just got a refund at the end of last week for a round trip ticket with a May 31 departure, and my parents got one a few days before me for their trip, which was supposed to depart May 27. So I think they are plowing along in order of departures, just slowly.

Good to know. Maybe wait a few more weeks?

We buy trip insurance for most of our travels. With the arrival of the pandemic, we cancelled two significant (for us) trips. When we contacted the insurer, after undertaking we had not and would not be making any claims, they issued certificates for the full amount paid good for a year in each case. In hopes that next year travel will open up, we have made plans. We contacted the insurer about using the certificate. When we outlined the details for the 2021 trip, they quoted a price that was multiple times what we had cancelled, so we declined. They offered, and we took them up on, a full refund. Credited to our credit card account in 3 days.

Sounds as if they did the right thing. Care to share the name of the company?

Here is the link to that piece from 2005.

Thank you for finding it! Wow, 15 years ago.

I want to go to one of the 9 countries Americans can actually visit, but I have connecting flights through countries that ban U.S. travelers, is that okay?

It all depends on the country, but many are allowing travelers to transit as long as they don't enter country, i.e., pass through customs and immigration. Others might allow American as long as they don't stay more than 24 hours. You need to check with each country, but you could be ok.

Are there any updates on NJ mandating 14 day quarantine? My family (live in VA) has rented a house at the NJ shore for the week after Labor Day and are unsure if we should cancel or wait it out? We don't have plans while there, but would like to be able to go to the beach, pool, out for ice-cream etc. which doesn't sound possible now. Any chance they will take VA off the no-no list in the next 3 weeks? We really need a socially distanced change of scenery!!

Everything you need to know about traveling to NJ is on its Covid-19 Information Hub. The state will update the list of states whenever the positivity numbers go down. We have no idea whether Virginia can achieve this by Labor Day weekend, but your lodging hopefully has a flexible cancellation or rebooking policy.

I've seen several reports of people being told to get off (or be escorted by police) the plane if they fail to wear one on departutre and being banned from flying with that airline if they fail to comply when in the air. Though one of the worst incidents I read about the passenger - who refused to wear a mask despite having it hanging from her ear assaulted a gate agent.

I've been reading the internal airline memos on the subject. I would say they're very strictly enforced. Please wear a mask. I don't want to have to write a story about you.

We were to fly to Portugal next month and now few days ago TAP Air Portugal pushed our flight date back by a day. We are of course not flying. They want us to confirm this change or request a credit voucher. Doesn't this change qualify for a full refund instead? Thanks.

You qualify for a full refund.

Will the days before Thanksgiving still be the busiest travel days of the year in 2020? How do you see holiday travel panning out? Is this the year everyone stays home?

At this rate probably not, especially since Thanksgiving typically involves family members in the vulnerable categories.

Not about myself, but about my husband. He'll talk to anyone. We were on a tour of Monument Valley that included lunch, and we were sitting across from an Asian couple. It soon became apparent that they spoke little or no English, but my husband kept up a conversation the entire mealtime. This was on our 25th anniversary trip, and you'd think I would have known this about him by then, but apparently I didn't!

That counts -- thanks for sharing!

My wife and I have always loved road trips, travelling by car and staying in hotels along the way. We had long planned to do even more of those trips in our retirement. For the first two years, everything went as planned, but now--with the pandemic--we're a bit skittish about venturing out again. About a month ago, we drove around our state, and at the end of the day, for the first time since January, stayed in a hotel which is part of the world's largest lodging company's portfolio. Everything seemed clean, precautions were put into place by the hotel, we wiped everything down in our room upon arrival, and all in all, we felt comfortable. Last week, we dipped our toes in a bit deeper by staying 3 nights in a similar hotel, in an area that has a very low Covid rate. Again, we felt pretty comfortable. Now, we're itching to jump in a bit deeper, with a two/three week drive around the country. We don't go into restaurants, we try to stop in places where the virus has a relatively low profile, we always wear masks when in a public place, and, in general, are cautious in everything we do. Are we being foolish?

Do you feel foolish or do you feel as if you can manage your risks? Everyone has a different comfort level. I'd at least stick to places that are not hot spots and take note of all quarantine requirements. If you go, make sure you figure out beforehand what you want to see along the way. Many places are not wide open. And read Andrea Sach's recent article

For the Arctic traveler -- I believe it's Lindblad, not Lindblatt. But more importantly, I doubt that a company operating trips to such a remote and inhospitable region would allow children. That should be easy to check, though.

Correct, but we are casual here with spelling.

From Nat Geo: Children of any age are welcome on our Arctic expedition. We believe sharing an expedition with your kids or grandkids is a life-enhancing experience. Take $500 off the double occupancy rate for each person under 18.

It's LindblaD. 

Got it.

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting, everyone! Fifty years sober, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com. 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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